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Islamic Science.

Muhammad ibn Zakariyā Rāzī (Mohammad-e Zakariā-ye Rāzi: Persian: محمد زکریای رازی), known as Rhazes or Rasis after medieval Latinists, (August 26, 865, Rey – 925, Rey) was a Persian physician, alchemist and chemist, philosopher, and scholar. He is recognised as a polymath, and Biographies of Razi, based on his writings, describe him as “perhaps the greatest clinician of all times.” Numerous “firsts” in medical research, clinical care, and chemistry are attributed to him, including being the first to differentiate smallpox from measles, and the discovery of numerous compounds and chemicals including alcohol and kerosene, among others. Edward Granville Browne considers him as “probably the greatest and most original of all the physicians, and one of the most prolific as an author”.

Although Razi (or Rhazes) was a Persian living in Iran, his work was published in both Persian and Arabic languages, as such was the case for most Persian scientists during this era. Such multi-lingual publications in Persia were analogous to the later usage of the Latin language for scientific publications in Europe in the following centuries.

Razi made fundamental and enduring contributions to the fields of medicine, alchemy, music, and philosophy, recorded in over 200 books and articles in various fields of science. He was well-versed in Persian, Greek and Indian medical knowledge and made numerous advances in medicine through own observations and discoveries.

Educated in music, mathematics, philosophy, and metaphysics, he chose medicine as his professional field. As a physician, he was an early proponent of experimental medicine and has been described as the father of pediatrics. He was also a pioneer of neurosurgery and ophthalmology. He was among the first to use Humoralism to distinguish one contagious disease from another. In particular, Razi was the first physician to distinguish smallpox and measles through his clinical characterization of the two diseases.

As an alchemist, Razi is known for his study of sulfuric acid and for his discovery of ethanol and its refinement to use in medicine. He became chief physician of Rey and Baghdad hospitals. Razi invented what today is known as rubbing alcohol.

Razi was a rationalist and very confident in the power of ratiocination; he was widely regarded by his contemporaries and biographers as liberal, free of prejudice, and bold in expressing his ideas. He traveled extensively, mostly in Persia. As a teacher in medicine, he attracted students of all disciplines and was said to be compassionate and devoted to the service of his patients, whether rich or poor.

So a top-notch chap. And this is what he had to say about the Qu’ran

“As for the Koran, it is but an assorted mixture of “absurd and inconsistent fables,” which has ridiculously been judged inimitable, when, in fact, its language, style, and its much vaunted “eloquence” are far from being faultless. Custom, tradition, and intellectual laziness lead men to follow their religious leaders blindly. Religions have been the sole cause of the bloody wars that have ravaged mankind. Religions have also been resolutely hostile to philosophical speculation and to scientific research. The so-called holy scriptures are worthless and have done more harm than good, whereas the “writings of the ancients like Plato, Aristotle, Euclid, and Hippocrates have rendered much greater service to humanity.”

What about prophets…

“The prophets – these billy goats with long beards, cannot claim any intellectual or spiritual superiority. These billy goats pretend to come with a message from God, all the while exhausting themselves in spouting their lies, and imposing on the masses blind obedience to the “words of the master.” The miracles of the prophets are impostures, based on trickery, or the stories regarding them are lies. The falseness of what all the prophets say is evident in the fact that they contradict one another: one affirms what the other denies, and yet each claims to be the sole depository of the truth; thus the New Testament contradicts the Torah, the Koran, the New Testament.”

The Muslim world did science (sort of – I would argue that science only really starts with the Newtonian synthesis) but not because of Islam. One final quote…

“How can anyone think philosophically while listening to old wives’ tales founded on contradictions, which obdurate ignorance, and dogmatism?”

This dead Persian must be rolling in his grave at the antics of The Supreme Dinnerjacket.


  1. PT Barnum says:

    What remains of his writing seems to be only a tiny fraction of his output, the rest having been burnt for his heretical beliefs. The Greeks were therefore obliged to largely reinvent the wheel in their understanding of anatomy, disease and medicine, although real progress was made only by those, such as Avicenna, who made use of the fragments of Rhazes left behind.

  2. John B says:

    On the issue of prophets you do take a somewhat religiously radical secularist stance. Richard Dawkins would approve.
    There are prophets and false prophets.
    As with scientists the thing is to check whether what they say is true.
    I think we find that what the Hebrew prophets said has mostly come about.

  3. NickM says:

    I am an agnostic and not a Dawkenista. As to the profit in prophets – well who knows but my point was that this great “Islamic” scientist was hardly a Muslim was he? Indeed his view of the Qu’ran is very “modern” though I suspect he was not alone at the time in considering Muhammed’s book a pile of dingo’s kidneys. The Islamic World succeeded despite Islam not because of it.

  4. Lynne says:

    A man of foresight. Shame those who followed him have gradually been blinded or scared into sumbission by fundamental jihadist bullshit.

  5. John B says:

    Yes, the point you are making is to the point.

    was a modern moderate in Iran.

    Incidentally it seems the wheels are coming off somewhat in Iran. I wonder why western media is so quiet when it could be to the advantage of the West (to move things along in Iran) to present information indicating what seems to be the true state of affairs there.


  6. Paul Marks says:

    The Greeks were not forced to reinvent the wheel – as they came before this man (although the vast majority of Classcial scientific writing is also lost).

    I found the article interesting – just when Islam looks like it has a great scientists he turns out not to have been a follower of Islam.

    Whereas many Christian scientists were (and are) Christians.

    That does NOT prove Christianity is true – but it does say something rather negative about Islam.

  7. Stonyground says:

    “I think we find that what the Hebrew said has mostly come about.”
    Would you care to cite some examples of this Jonh B?

  8. John B says:

    Moses – Exodus 4,5,6,7,8 . . . . .
    Elijah – 1 Kings 17
    Elisha – 2Kings 7,8,9 . . .
    Jeremiah (the captivity did occur)
    Daniel and the gold, silver, brass, iron, iron and clay Image in Daniel 2.
    Jesus prophesied the destruction of the Temple (some of the best verification of historical Jesus I saw on, of all places, a BBC programme).

    If you would like some serious data on prophecy I will find.
    My position is that I have seen enough for me, and it mainly relates to events now and the last 35 years.
    It’s all happening!
    As one who has always loved the genuinely free, love, happiness, euphoria even, I would love the human race to be happy and to live in pure joy. But it doesn’t seem humans can manage it.
    I live day to day within the knowledge of what is happening. I actually try to do my bit to get people to wake up to the totalitarian structure into which they are being drawn.
    But I also realise that it does seem it is inevitable. Not because God wants it that way, but because that is how people seem to want it.

  9. NickM says:

    Bingo! Head of the nail and the hammer. Bang! Paul, it simply comes down to this, in Sura 5 of the Qu’ran.

    Allah’s hand is not fettered. That is absolutely not a view that chimes with science. The God I don’t believe in can’t make black white on a whim. 2+2=4 regardless of the divine. The first derivative of sine(x) is cosine(x) and God has nothing to do with things that just are. Some things just are. I am a Platonist on math. I believe in imaginary numbers. Hell’s teeth I programmed a Commodore Amiga to show the Mandelbrot set. I can integrate a Bromwich contour so fuck you Allah. We can both scream at the devil together. I shall enjoy it.

    “the set of complex values of c for which the orbit of 0 under iteration of the complex quadratic polynomial z[sub]n+1 = z[sub n]^2 + c remains bounded. ”

    Actually a forward difference equation although I guess wikipedia makes that moderately clear.

    That is real and not some idiocy about not eating pork or prostrating oneself five times a day or fucking nine year olds. The Mandelbrot set is real. Islam is utter bollocks.

    I even invented my own fractal. Can’t recall it but I based it on Kepler’s equations. Did it in Fractint on a 386SX-16 with one meg of RAM. Fuck you Allah! My hand is not fettered. I’m your worst nightmare.

  10. Sam Duncan says:

    Exactly, Nick. And I’d argue that the problem with Dawkinsite atheists is that they don’t understand the distinction. I think many of them would be genuinely surprised to learn that the Judeo-Christian God’s hand is fettered.

    Rome muddies the waters somewhat, but I’ve always understood Christian belief to be that since God is real, He isn’t “supernatural”, but part of nature itself (the rather hippy notion that God is nature is not incompatible with Christianity, but makes no sense in the context of Sura 5, v64). And as an agnostic, it’s certainly true that – as you eloquently put it – the God I don’t believe in would have to be such a being.

  11. Kinuachdrach says:

    “As an alchemist, Razi is known for his study of sulfuric acid and for his discovery of ethanol …”

    Well, that’s it then! Discovered ethanol, he did? Probably in the back of that little place down by the souk where the hussy sometimes fails to get the abaya to cover all her hair.

    No wonder Razi did not have much time for Big Mo.

  12. NickM says:

    A comment way back on Samizdata made it very clear to me. This fella had worked in the ME and he recalled a Saudi or UEA collegue phoning the missus about dinner that night. She said, “there is probably cheese in the fridge inshallah”. The Lord of the Universe is now touring and supplying cheese? How the mighty have fallen. There is actually cheese in my fridge right now. My wife bought it from Sainsburys. Allah had nothing to do with that. Cows, goats, truck drivers, retail management and folks at the till did. Spanish car builders played their role as did many other members of the invisible hand gang but I can explain the presence of cheese in the fridge without recourse to God. Do you have cheese in your fridge. Was it divinely supplied?

    That could be construed as hippiedom or it could be seen as Spinoza-ish who, if I recall, was Reginald Jeeves’ (hardly a hippy – he knew how to iron a shirt) favourite philosopher (he thought Nietzsche “fundamentally unsound”) . Pantheism is a tricky thing but it makes more sense to me than God having a dairy round.

    Of course the Judeo-Christian God is fettered. That Qu’ranic diatribe is aimed at rabbis who are criticised for believing such nonsense. Allah trumps Yahweh because Allah can do anything. If Allah wants to monkey with the set of natural numbers then so be it! Look at a list of Jewish vs Muslim Nobel winners. It’s tragic. Only one Muslim ever won one in the hard sciences (Abdus Salam, Physics 1979 and he is a member of a sect considered heretical). Some Jews have won Nobels but I can’t think who ;-)

  13. Paul Marks says:

    No, no, no – we are all wrong.

    Muslims (believeing devout Muslims) discovered everything in science – and even scientists who thought they were Christian were Muslim really. BBC television series have explained it all to me.

    Just like the endless academics who strut about places like Spain talking about the glories of Islamic civilization – whilst they point at what are clearly Roman ruins.

  14. NickM says:

    An enormous difference between Christianity and Islam is the issue of faith.

    Christians by and large have faith in God whereas Muslims talk about the “proofs” of the Qu’ran. In order to do that they have to demonstrate the Qu’ran is very special and one of the ways they do this is to argue that it pre-figures many modern scientific discoveries. I’ve seen a case made for black holes and it’s drivel. I mean it’s real Nostradamus level stuff. Yet people fall for it the same way people fall for the idea that Da Vinci invented the helicopter. Johannes Kepler wrote what is frequently regarded as the first SF story. It involves a trip to the moon. Suffice to say when Nasa did it in the ’60s they weren’t poring over his manuscripts. It’s like saying Verity Lambert invented time travel. It’s daft.

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