The Not So Golden Age of Islam
1 Jul 2014
History of Science
Bill Warner (Bill French)
This video presents a construction of “Islam” as being incapable of scientific reasoning because its philosophy allows for no cause and effect.
Warner presents the term “the Golden Age of Islam” as a European Christian construction to contrast with the Dark Ages, which he ascribes to the Catholic Church. This seems to be a Protestant construction, although Warner provides no sources. (The Protestant reformation started in the sixteenth century.)
Warner ascribes what he calls the golden age to the period 750-1260 CE, which is approximately the period of the ʿAbbāsid Caliphate, one political entity among several Muslim political entities during this period. He presents an animated “battle map” between “Islam” and “kafirs” (see the discussion on this map in the Evaluation, on the right).
Warner asserts that “Baghdad” is taking slaves in the culmination of these battles, capturing “over 1 million Europeans”. He also asserts that Muslims destroyed “90%” of the “intellectual treasure” they found. He suggests the remainder came to Europe when Constantinople fell, implying that this was during this period.
Warner suggests that the only areas in which Muslim “did well” was in geography, star maps, and mathematics. He says that the reason that there are few Muslims winning Nobel prizes is that “the” philosophy that “came out of the golden age” did not allow for cause and effect or “natural laws”.
Bill Warner is the pen name for Bill French, who the Southern Poverty Law Center has characterized as one of ten Americans in the “Anti-Muslim Inner Circle” in 2011. Warner received a PhD in physics and mathematics from North Carolina State University in 1968. He has no advanced training in the history, philosophy or sciences of the Middle East or other Muslim-majority areas. He is the director of Center for the Study of Political Islam, a for profit organization that self-publishes his books about Islam based in Nashville, Tennessee.
Islam: It is quite clear that Warner/French does not know Islam well. Islam, as a religious system, cannot enact anything; Muslims do, and do so in a wide variety of ways. It does not have only a single philosophy or a single legal system. The vast majority of Muslims do not call non-Muslims “kafir”. A suggested reading on this topic would be Shahab Ahmed’s What is Islam (2015).
Science: Although Warner claims scientific knowledge for himself, there is no discussion here of physical sciences. To the extent that philosophical representations of cause and effect qualify as science, his presentation that Muslims somehow cannot do it because of religious doctrine is false. Muslim philosophers, scientists and theologians generally did subscribe to the view that there was a concept of “nature” (ṭabīʿa) that could act in the absence of God. There are numerous examples of premodern Muslim scientists working in Muslim-majority areas. Look within the Portal for videos from George Saliba or Asad Ahmed for more complete discussions.
History: The history presented by Warner/French is wrong. His map does not make sense and seems to be skewed toward creating conflict rather than understanding. He says they are “battles”, but between whom is unsaid. As noted above, the ʿAbbāsid Caliphate, which was centered in Baghdad during most of this time, was only one of several Muslim political entities in the area that Warner depicts on the map. Capturing slaves from battle was one method of enslavement during this period; it is unknown how many people were enslaved across the Muslim world. It is also unclear who one might call a “European” during this period. What percentage of material culture from the ancient Greeks and Romans was preserved or destroyed is impossible to know. The “House of Wisdom”, which the Caliph Harun al-Rashid (r. 786-809) founded and al-Maʿmūn (r. 813-833) supported, translated what they had, and later sought out additional works. To suggest they destroyed works would be incorrect. Not only Muslims, but scholars of other faith systems worked as translators as well.
Warner’s mention of the fall of Constantinople implies that it occurred under the ʿAbbāsid Caliphate, but it occurred in 1453, nearly two hundred years after the Mongols overran Baghdad in 1258. Most historians call the Mongol conquest the end of the ʿAbbāsid Caliphate. By the fall of Constantinople, the European Renaissance was already underway, so linking the two is questionable.
The common reference to the lack of Nobel prizes (one presumes in science here) that Warner references has received multiple criticisms, some based on economic challenges, others on the colonialism that affected education of Muslims in many Muslim-majority areas. As these structural impediments are resolved, more Muslims are obtaining this elite rank of European recognition.
Warner provides no references throughout the video. Please see the “Further Reading” on the Portal for appropriate sources.