Did Arabs come up with Darwinism before Darwin?

Several people sent me the link to a VICE article (below) arguing that Arab scholars—it’s not clear that all of them were Muslims—essentially hit on the essentials of Darwin’s theory centuries before Darwin, and that their contributions have been neglected.

I have neither the time nor will to give this piece a proper critique, but let me say that yes, people don’t often know about the precursors to Darwin, and there were many who broached some of his ideas.

Evolution in particular was one of them; it would be odd if nobody before Darwin thought that organisms had transformed by one process or another over time. (The key reference here is Rebecca Stott’s book, Darwin’s Ghosts.) One such precursor was Erasmus Darwin, Charles’s grandfather, who wrote several times about the possibility of evoltuion. But, like the Arab scholars below, Erasmus lacked the key novel feature of Darwin’s theory: a mechanism for evolutionary change. And that was natural selection.

As I always say, the essence of Darwin’s theory was fivefold: evolution;  evolution being gradual rather than instantaneous, involving the change of proportion of heritable forms in a population due to differential reproduction; a branching process whereby one original species could produce the millions today, speciation; the concomitant realization that any pair of species had a common ancestor; and, what Darwin saw as his most original contribution, the process of natural selection, which resulted in the appearance of adaptation. (This fivefold contribution was first limned by Ernst Mayr.)

The reason Darwin is given almost full credit for the theory of evolution (which of course has changed a bit since 1859), is that he not only suggested these five ideas in one great work, On the Origin of Species, but also provided evidence for them. Darwin’s “theory” was more than just speculation, for he provided enough evidence to convince most educated Westerners within a decade that evolution was true. (It took another 70 or so years until natural selection was generally accepted.)

Others had thought of evolution before, and a few, most notably the Scot Patrick Matthew, had even come close to the idea of natural selection (as, of course, had Alfred Russel Wallace). But nobody put together all the pieces in as comprehensive and convincing a way as did Darwin. That’s why his theory is more or less sui generis, and owes little to those who mused about evolution before him. (It did owe a lot to geologists and natural historians.)

Yet this VICE article suggests that many people anticipated Darwin, including Arab scholars writing in the eighth century. And the article is misleading in several ways. First, yes, some Arab scholars did broach ideas that organisms transformed themselves over time. But none suggested anything close to natural selection as the mechanism for adaptive change, and a lot of the “transformation” was Lamarckian—not due to changes in the frequency of heritable variants, but to the effects of the environment. Second, none of the scholars, despite the claims of their advocates, had any influence on Darwin’s own ideas. Third, the article below appears to be more than just a corrective in the history of science, but also as a way to empower people of color by showing them that Arabs (apparently considered people of color), had come up with something pretty close to Darwin’s theories a millennium before him. And if the latter is wrong, which it is, then how much empowerment can result? Further, as I argue below, getting people resistant to evolution to come around to it doesn’t depend on scientific “identity politics”, but on overcoming religious objections, for most people oppose evolution on religious grounds.

Click below to read the VICE piece.

Shayla Love’s piece cites a number of Arabs who supposedly anticipated Darwin, but her article is woefully short on quotations that show how accurate that anticipation was. Let’s take one of the scholars she cites:  Al-Jahiz, who, suggests Love, came up with the idea of natural selection before Darwin.  I found one 1983 paper on Al-Jahiz by another scholar, who gives direct quotes, and it shows that Al-Jahiz never even came close to Darwin (the paper is from Bayrakdar, Mehmet Islamic Quarterly; Jan 1, 1983; 27, 3; Periodicals Archive Online pg. 149). One must be careful in taking the words of scholars who characterize the work of early Arabs; it’s always best to check the original quotes. The paper below is free online, so you can read Al-Jahiz’s quotes for yourself.

And here are some quotes that Mehmet Bayrakdar (the author), say show Al-Jahiz’s own theory of Darwinian natural selection. (The quotes are in quotation marks.)

Struggle for Existence: al-Jahiz placed the greatest weight on evolution by. the struggle for existence, or, in a larger sense, by natural selection. It operates in conjunction with the innate desire for conservation and permanence of the ego. According to al-Jahiz, between every individual existence, there is a natural war for life. The existence are in struggle with each other. Al-Jahiz’s theory of struggle for existence may accordingly be defined as a differential death rate between two variant class of existence, the lesser death rate characterizing the better, adapted and stronger class. And for al-Jahiz, the struggle for existence is a divine law; God makes food for some bodies out of some other bodies’ death. He says, “The rat goes out for collecting his food, and it searches and seizes them. it eats some other inferior animals, like small animals and small birds. . .  it hides its babies in disguised underground tunnels for protecting them and himself against the attack of the snakes and of the birds. Snakes like eating rats very much. As for the snakes, they defend themselves from the danger of the beavers and hyenas; which are more powerful than themselves. The hyena can frighten the fox, and the latter frightens all the animals which are inferior to it. . . This is the law that some existences are the food for others. . . All small animals eat smaller ones; and all big animals cannot eat bigger ones. Men with each other are like animals. .. God makes cause of some bodies life from some bodies’ death and vice versa. . . ”

And according to al-Jahiz, the struggle does not exist only between the members of different species, but also between the members of the same species.

From what al-Jahiz has said, we can make an assertion that God has created Nature in a prodigal reproductive character and He has also established a law, which is the biological struggle for existence in order to keep it within a limited ratio. Otherwise, the disorder could appear in Nature and it could lose some of its riches and species. We can see the germs of Darwin’s and Neo-Darwinian’s theory of Natural Selection in this remarkable passage which we have mentioned above.

The whole of natural selection is contained in the second paragraph, a single sentence that fails to quote al-Jahiz. Instead, author Bayrakdar refers back to the “remarkable passage” above which shows interspecies interactions and says nothing about natural selection operating among individuals of a species, with differential reproduction causing that species to transform over time. If al-Jahiz was close to Darwin in discerning natural selection from “a struggle between members of the same species”, why didn’t Bayrakdar quote him?

Further, Bayrakdar asserts that “Indeed, Darwin and his precursors took up the theory of al-Jahiz as the base for the essentiality of their evolutionary theories, and they formulated it in a more scientific way in the context of eighteenth and nineteenth centuries development of science.”  Everything in that assessment is wrong. Darwin was not influenced in the slightest by al-Jahiz.

In the VICE piece, Love quotes several other Arab scholars who had ideas about evolutionary change, but none of them come anywhere close to Darwin. (By the way, Love calls Darwin’s book “On the Origins of Species,” getting the title wrong.)

In the end, some of the motivations of Love’s piece becomes clear with her finale:

Including more diverse sources of evolution scholarship could make the study of evolution more accessible in places where it is currently a taboo subject, which can include Muslim countries. It might help for students to see these are ideas that people from their own cultures have been thinking about for thousands of years too.

. . .But for those who think evolution is synonymous with the “West” or atheism, then there might be a level of hesitance that is unnecessary. “If you think that these ideas are only coming from a Victorian era of noblemen, actually that is not the case,” Hameed said. [Salman Hameed is “the director of the Centre for the Study of Science in Muslim Societies at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts”].

It can have a lot of impact as well for young people of color to see themselves represented in the dialogue of scientific ideas throughout history, said Qidwai.

And even for those not of Arab descent, the inclusion fosters a view of science that is iterative and collaborative, rather than individual. “Multiple people are involved,” Qidwai said. “Different players are contributing in certain ways. It really shows that it’s much more interconnected than, you know, a brilliant person had this idea.”

Now I don’t want to be too hard on this aspiration. It may indeed help Muslims embrace evolution to see that some of their ancestors were toying with the idea centuries ago. And it is interesting to see how the idea of evolution popped up now and again through human history—and not just among Arabs.  Further, we do owe Arabs a tremendous debt of intellectual gratitude—for their work on astronomy and mathematics, for their preservation of Greek thought, which would have been lost had it not been appreciated by Arabs, and for other advances that I don’t have the expertise to describe.

But I don’t really think that recounting this history will move Muslims or people of color towards an acceptance of evolution, for the rejection of evolution is based largely on religion, not on whether science was advanced by people sharing your racial background.

And we shouldn’t imply, as the VICE article does, that although Arabs occasionally broached the idea of evolution, they are important founders of a modern scientific theory.  Darwin’s theory is, like Einstein’s, amazing because of its sui generis character—because it didn’t involve much standing on the shoulders of giants who came before. And that is why we celebrate Darwin (and, to a lesser extent, Wallace), and don’t hail Arabic scholars as unrecognized harbingers of evolutionary theory.

 

h/t: Andrew Berry

64 Comments

  1. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted October 7, 2020 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    Hasty comment:

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anaxagoras

    ^^^had some nebulous idea of the origin of life

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anaximander
    “Anaximander put forward the idea that humans had to spend part of this transition inside the mouths of big fish to protect themselves from the Earth’s climate until they could come out in open air and lose their scales.[60]”

    I recall someone asking Dawkins about this – but failing to make a strong point.

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted October 7, 2020 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

      See the section “Origin of humankind”.

  2. Posted October 7, 2020 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    Whoever wrote the opening header for the article committed one of my favourite fallacies, the “what scientists are beginning to see” fallacy.

    “Professors are starting to orient Charles Darwin within a rich history…”

    This move is especially common among those who believe that the “new paradigm” is “beginning to emerge” and will soon lay waste to the “Newtonian materialist tradition”.

    • Posted October 7, 2020 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

      Well said.

    • Mike
      Posted October 7, 2020 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

      Ha yes it’s closely related to the “Many people are saying…” gambit.

  3. Peter
    Posted October 7, 2020 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    RE: “for the rejection of evolution is based largely on religion, not on whether science was advanced by people sharing your racial background”.

    So Muslims are a race? Just wondering. (I have no expertise in biology).

    • EdwardM
      Posted October 7, 2020 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

      Come now, surely it has not been lost on you that the reason that piece was even written is because among the Woke, Muslims are seen as “People of Color”. With the Woke there is nothing else except race and all things are seen through the prism of racism.

      • Peter
        Posted October 7, 2020 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

        I’m waiting for the article enlightening us that the real originator of Darwin’s idea was a black male-to-female transgender woman.

        • EdwardM
          Posted October 7, 2020 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

          Well, they are among the holiest, after all.

    • Posted October 7, 2020 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

      I should have said “ethnic background” and was referring to Arabs, who can be seen as an ethnic group.

    • Posted October 7, 2020 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

      The two things being compared in the quote are clearly separate ideas; the quote does not remotely imply that any religion is a race. That seems quite clear given PCC(E)’s construction, but perhaps separating the point into two sentences would make it even more obvious than it already is: “The rejection of evolution is based largely on religion. It is not based on whether science was advanced by people sharing your racial background.”

      • W.Benson
        Posted October 7, 2020 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

        I understand that Iran, in contrast to Saudi Arabia and Iraq, has permitted the teaching of evolution by natural selection in public schools, but excludes the possibility of humans having been evolved. Read about it here:
        View at Medium.com

  4. rickflick
    Posted October 7, 2020 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    The appeal to recognizing diversity in science is a good one, but I think sticking to the facts is important too. Would there be too much of a loss of prestige to admit that early speculation left much to desire?
    Another aspect of Arab musings is that the Islamist’s use that to bolster their theological advocacy. If an Arab thinker, a thousand years ago could just dream up evolution without evidence, then Alla must have inspired it, “don’t yuh know.”

  5. Posted October 7, 2020 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

    Although Darwin used the term, I do not think “the struggle for life or existence” really captures Darwinian theory. Everything struggles. Rather, it sounds more like Al-Jahiz conceived the discredited theory of social Darwinism.

    In my understanding, it is the mechanical process of selection—the differential survival and reproduction of those with attributes that make them more adept within their environment—that is Darwin’s greatest insight. Unless Al-Jahiz wrote that somewhere, he did not anticipate Darwin. His “struggle” story could be construed as anticipating Lamarckism or social Darwinism, for example. That seems clear from his predator-prey emphasis.

    • Posted October 7, 2020 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

      I did not intend to diminish the Islamic golden age. Their development of science and math during a time when Europeans were making little advancements at all was remarkable. It also shows how the evolution of a religion can retrograde the advancement of science.

      • EdwardM
        Posted October 7, 2020 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

        I also shows the utter ruination religion brings to a vibrant culture. Just think of how advanced they’d (we’d all) be if the old pedophile (alayhi as-salam) didn’t pull the rug out from under them

        • EdwardM
          Posted October 7, 2020 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

          *sigh* “It also shows…”

        • Posted October 7, 2020 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

          For a second there I thought you were talking about Europe in the Middle Ages. But the point works for the Middle East from around that time, too.

      • TJR
        Posted October 8, 2020 at 7:53 am | Permalink

        Its a bit misleading to call it an “islamic” golden age.

        The Arab/islamic conquest/invasion had only recently occurred, and the fertile crescent had *always* been the most advanced, developed and civilised place on earth, for thousands of years, through Sumerians, Egyptians, Babylonians, Persians, Macedonians and Greeks/Romans.

        Its far from clear that the continuation of this tradition should be termed “islamic”, implying giving credit to the religion of the invaders, just because the latest invading ruling class happened to be islamic.

  6. dom
    Posted October 7, 2020 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al-Ma%27arri
    A bit like the poet Al-Ma’arri anticipating anti-religious views!

    You’ve had your way a long, long time,
    You kings and tyrants,
    And still you work injustice hour by hour.
    What ails you that do not tread a path of glory?
    A man may take the field, although he love the bower.

    But some hope a divine leader with prophetic voice
    Will rise amid the gazing silent ranks.
    An idle thought! There’s none to lead but reason,
    To point the morning and the evening ways

  7. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted October 7, 2020 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    It is not clear in this case, but there is a certain problem with science, which is crystal clear in journalism : getting scooped.

    Then there’s another problem, made clear in the case of Alexander Fleming and company vis á vis Ernest Duchesne in the history of penicillin. It’s just too bad that the recognition goes to Fleming and Duchesne – despite critical observation and publication – is all but forgotten. But, as in this story, Fleming and coworkers did *work* to *show* with *precision* that penicillin is going to save lives. And none of those scientists had large racial or religious discrepancies.
    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_penicillin

    It is simply an accident of history that these things happen, although getting scooped can be due to cutthroat tactics. There’s no “justice” to be served to anyone.

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted October 7, 2020 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

      Oops : “Fleming and NOT Duchesne”.

  8. Posted October 7, 2020 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    I actually finished reading Darwin’s Ghosts just two or three weeks ago. It’s still sitting on my desk to remind me to write a short review about it. But I quickly glanced at Jahiz’s chapter and saw where Stott described his ideas and they don’t really seem that much like evolution. As I recall, most of the people covered in the book (until a generation or two before Darwin) only had the briefest fleeting contact with Darwin’s conception of evolution.

    Also it’s funny how the author talks about evolution being synonymous with atheism. One of the major takeaways of Darwin’s Ghosts, for me, was just how much religion hampered scientific thought. So many of the people who were discussed had to write anonymously or hide their ideas in code because of the threat from religion.

    • Posted October 7, 2020 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

      Yes — “atheist and Western”. As if there were and are no Arab atheists.

    • W.Benson
      Posted October 7, 2020 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

      I have seen an 1840s book review of the anonymously authored evolution book “Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation” (written by Scottish publisher Robert Chambers), asking for readers expose the author’s identity so he could be financially ruined.

      • JP415
        Posted October 7, 2020 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

        “. . . asking for readers expose the author’s identity so he could be financially ruined.”

        The primordial ancestor of Cancel Culture, eons before the rise of Twitter.

    • A C Harper
      Posted October 8, 2020 at 2:35 am | Permalink

      It is possible that Epicurus proposed evolution in his now lost (suppressed) writings, although Lucretius’ poem De Natura Rerum refers to these ideas. Perhaps he was one of the first Philosophers to be ‘cancelled’?

      Epicurus was a materialist and thought gods were material beings who were not concerned by our own behaviours – and so we should not be concerned about them.

      • rickflick
        Posted October 8, 2020 at 9:05 am | Permalink

        Good point. Lucretius’ epic work was lost, the rediscovered in 1417 by Poggio Bracciolini, an Italian free thinker. That makes a nice story: The swerve : how the world became modern
        by Greenblatt, Stephen,

        The universe described in the poem operates according to these physical principles, guided by fortuna (“chance”), and not the divine intervention of the traditional Roman deities.

  9. JP415
    Posted October 7, 2020 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    As I recall, the Scottish philosopher David Hume (1711-1776) hit upon the general idea of evolution in his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion. He didn’t work out the details, but he came up with the basic concept during a discussion of the theological Argument from Design:

    It is in vain, therefore, to insist upon the uses of the parts in animals or vegetables, and their curious adjustment to each other. I would fain know, how an animal could subsist, unless its parts were so adjusted? Do we not find, that it immediately perishes whenever this adjustment ceases, and that its matter corrupting tries some new form?

  10. Posted October 7, 2020 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    I wrote a paper recently, half of which focused on the eighteenth century radical atheist French philosopher La Mettrie. He was quite a character who died from overeating.

    Anyway, I didn’t really discuss his evolutionary leanings in said paper, but he did posit somewhere some evolutionary ideas to account materialistically for organisms etc. I just thought this might be of interest here. But the point remains: even if there were inklings towards Darwin’s great idea, nobody thought of it, systematised it, and fleshed it out as he did. Nobody. So the ‘AHA! Darwin was beaten to the finishing line!’ trope is quite annoying.

    Here’s a quote from an online encyclopedia about La Mettrie’s evolutionary musings:

    ‘Among La Mettrie’s minor works, perhaps the most curious is the Système d’Epicure. Its concern with ontogenesis and the origin of species represented a broadening of La Mettrie’s materialism into an area of biological speculation which, at the time, was just beginning to excite interest. But his description of the “evolutionary” process, in which monstrous and unviable productions are supposed to have been eliminated in favor of the well-constituted types now extant, did little more than revive Lucretian memories.’

    https://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/la-mettrie-julien-offray-de-1709-1751

    • Posted October 7, 2020 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

      Here are a few relevant/interesting La Mettrie quotes from the work mentioned above:

      ‘The first generations must have been very imperfect. One must have lacked an
      oesophagus, another a stomach, vulva or intestines, and so on. It is obvious that the
      only animals which were able to live, survive and propagate their species were those
      which happened to be provided with all the elements necessary for reproduction
      and which, in a word, lacked no essential part. Likewise, those which were deprived
      of some absolutely necessary part died, either shortly after their birth, or at least
      without reproducing themselves. Perfection was no more achieved in a day in
      nature than in art.’

      ‘Through what an infinite number of combinations must matter have passed before
      reaching the only combination which could result in a perfect animal, and through
      how many others before reproduction reached the degree of perfection it enjoys
      today!’

      ‘The natural consequence is that only those to whom lucky combinations finally
      gave eyes and ears, formed and placed exactly like ours, had the faculty of seeing,
      hearing and so on.’

      And from another of his works, called Machine Man:

      ‘…all past and
      present Epicureans might well be right when they claim that the eye sees only
      because it happens to be organised and placed as it is; and that, given the same
      rules of movement followed by nature in the generation and development of bodies,
      it was not possible for that wonderful organ to be organised and placed otherwise.’

      He was very cheeky about theology and theologians and something of a determinist who thought an atheistic, deterministic view of the universe and morality would make the world much better and more just. As I said, an interesting guy! (Sorry for the long post, but I thought this stuff was interesting enough to merit it!)

      • rickflick
        Posted October 8, 2020 at 9:12 am | Permalink

        I had not heard of him. Thanks for the introduction.

    • Jenny Haniver
      Posted October 7, 2020 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

      I take it you’re Scottish. What about James Burnett Lord Monboddo? Love the name Monboddo. I’d say he qualifies as one of Darwin’s precursors. A really interesting guy, too. https://www.britannica.com/biography/James-Burnett-Lord-Monboddo

  11. EdwardM
    Posted October 7, 2020 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    I think it is certain that throughout history farmers developing crops and livestock noticed the effects selection had – they must have as they employed it to get what they wanted! So it must be true that there are predecessors to Darwin even in this regard, but they will be forever silent.

    Darwin (and Wallace*) rightly gets the credit for the founding of the Theory of Evolution.

    *there is always a parenthetical “Wallace” here

    • Posted October 7, 2020 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

      The first chapter of The Origin of Species is all about the effects of artificial selection. It is called “Variation under domestication”. Darwin had a lot of communication with breeders, particular of pigeons. He chose the word “selection” to emphasize the analogy between the selection that breeders were practicing and the mechanism that he was proposing.

      • EdwardM
        Posted October 7, 2020 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

        Indeed. I am certain that at least a few breeders over the years looked from their flocks to the wild birds in the sky and thought…”hmmmmmm, I wonder…”.

      • Posted October 7, 2020 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

        Darwin was very happy with the first German translation which rendered it in the German equivalent of ‘natural selective breeding’ (natürliche Zuchtwahl).

  12. JP415
    Posted October 7, 2020 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

    I found this quote odd:

    And even for those not of Arab descent, the inclusion fosters a view of science that is iterative and collaborative, rather than individual.

    Western science is pretty much iterative and collaborative rather than individual, isn’t it? No scientific discovery takes place in a vacuum, and every discovery provokes critiques, confirmations, and new discoveries. The author is trying to draw a meaningless distinction between Western and non-Western science.

    • Posted October 7, 2020 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

      Good point — one of the things that distinguishes science from religion is that it is a collaborative effort. It suggests the author thinks Darwin is revered by biologists in the same way that Marxists revere Marx — a common error among those who don’t like evolution and don’t really know what it is.

      • W.Benson
        Posted October 7, 2020 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

        Discoveries, especially conceptual discoveries, are pretty much individual accomplishments. My thesis adviser used to say, “A committee never discovered anything.”

  13. Jon Gallant
    Posted October 7, 2020 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    That Arab thinkers anticipated Darwin and Wallace is nothing compared to even bigger news in the New Arab website, quoted in an Independent story a few years ago. To wit:

    “An Iraqi minister has claimed that the ancient Sumerians travelled to Pluto in spaceships thousands of years ago.

    Kazem Finjan, Iraq’s Transport Minister, told reporters in Dhi Qar, south Iraq, that the world’s first airport was built there in around 5,000 BC.

    He said the ancient civilisation of Sumer, one of the oldest known societies, used the airport for space exploration and even discovered Pluto, according to news website The New Arab.”

    https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/iraq-spaceships-transport-minister-kazem-finjan-iraqi-sumerians-space-travel-7000-years-ago-a7340966.html

    • Jenny Haniver
      Posted October 7, 2020 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

      Kazem Finjan must have been listening to “Coast to Coast, AM” where that’s old news.

    • JP415
      Posted October 7, 2020 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

      This might be part of a global trend. Here’s one example from Science magazine: Hindu nationalists claim that ancient Indians had airplanes, stem cell technology, and the internet

      https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2019/02/hindu-nationalists-claim-ancient-indians-had-airplanes-stem-cell-technology-and

      Many of the claims seem to be based on passages—loosely interpreted—from the Mahabharata and other Hindu epics. Prime Minister Narendra Modi even claimed in 2014 that the elephant head of the god Ganesha was “a great achievement of Indian surgery millennia ago.”

      In any case, nationalism and science don’t go well together.

    • A C Harper
      Posted October 8, 2020 at 2:40 am | Permalink

      Strange (not really) how lots of these ancestors had marvellous technology comparable to our own but no more advanced technology beyond ours. Its almost as if myths were being generated to conform with our current understanding.

      • Posted October 9, 2020 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

        Like Nostradamus! Prophecies sre always interpreted as applying up to the time of interpretation, no one ever explains what they mean for the future!

  14. Glenda Palmer
    Posted October 7, 2020 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

    sub

  15. Posted October 7, 2020 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    There are various thinkers who came up with forms of natural selection and of evolution, going way back (Empedocles, for example). There is a good Wikipedia page on “History of evolutionary thought”. Did the medieval Islamic thinkers influence Darwin? I suspect not. Someone needs to show that they did. Lamarck certainly did have an influence, though he had use-and-disuse instead of the mechanism of natural selection.

    And as someone with a formal connection to the University of Edinburgh, I can only say “ough!” to Jerry’s identification of Patrick Mathhew, the owner of Gourdiehill in the Carse of Gowrie, between Perth and Dundee, as having been English.

  16. jezgrove
    Posted October 7, 2020 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

    Seems a bit like crediting Lucretius with discovering the atom…

    • Posted October 7, 2020 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

      Here’s an interesting translation that re-creates the rhyming that (I suppose) was also in the original:

      Your attention to the motes that drift and tumble in the light:
      Such turmoil means that there are secret motions, out of sight,
      That lie concealed in matter. For you’ll see the motes careen
      Off course, and then bounce back again, by means of blows unseen,
      Drifting now in this direction, now that, on every side.
      You may be sure this starts with atoms; they are what provide
      The base of this unrest. For atoms are moving on their own,
      Then small formations of them, nearest them in scale, are thrown

      source

  17. Ken Kukec
    Posted October 7, 2020 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

    Kudos, boss. You may have achieved the ne plus ultra exemplar of Betteridge’s law of headlines with this one.

  18. J Cook
    Posted October 7, 2020 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

    James Lindsay has a piece on Western Hegemony in New Discourses posted online today.
    It is pointed and very humorous.
    Titled ” The Woke Creation Myth”

  19. Jon Gallant
    Posted October 7, 2020 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

    I had forgotten about the ancient Indian airplanes, and the brilliant surgery that enabled the elephant head of Ganesha, my favorite god. Actually, it is perfectly plausible that Arab scholars had partial insights that were later solidified, not in the Islamic world, but in the West. This is where the Islamic golden age went.

    The classic example is magnification by the convex lens. It was apparently studied by al-Haytham in the early 11th century and reported in his “Book of Optics”. Nothing much came of it in the Islamic world. Some of al-Haytham’s writings were translated into Latin about 170 years after his death by Robert Grosseteste, and the latter’s disciple Fr. Roger Bacon suggested the use of lenses to aid vision in 1270. In no time at all, spectacles were invented in Italy and became common by the 1400s. And then lenses made possible the first triumphs of the Western
    scientific revolution, reported by Galileo in “The Starry Messenger” (1610). All the while, the Islamic world didn’t have lenses, but did enjoy all the benefits of intense religious piety.

    • Mike
      Posted October 7, 2020 at 9:54 pm | Permalink

      There must be a book in there somewhere about why the conceptual insights of the Arab world did not lead to technological advances. Sort of “Guns, Germs & Steel” meets “Lawrence of Arabia”. What economic and technological features of 15th century Italy allowed them to produce lenses that 11th century Arabia could conceive but not create?

  20. dd
    Posted October 7, 2020 at 9:22 pm | Permalink

    This is late for this thread, but you may want to read this essay…quotation:

    “In its place arose the anti-rationalist Ash’ari school whose increasing dominance is linked to the decline of Arabic science. With the rise of the Ash’arites, the ethos in the Islamic world was increasingly opposed to original scholarship and any scientific inquiry that did not directly aid in religious regulation of private and public life. While the Mu’tazilites had contended that the Koran was created and so God’s purpose for man must be interpreted through reason, the Ash’arites believed the Koran to be coeval with God — and therefore unchallengeable”

    https://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/why-the-arabic-world-turned-away-from-science

  21. phoffman56
    Posted October 7, 2020 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

    Here’s a question combining the sort of thing here, though nothing re Islam, with the Nobel stuff.

    By some strange compression of time, Darwin and Wallace are still alive, and the gradual realization, about how almost totally correct Darwin was, has happened. Clearly Darwin deserves a Nobel Prize.

    Should it be solo, or joint with Wallace?

    Could complicate this adding in Mendel as well, and a few others too.

  22. Mark R.
    Posted October 7, 2020 at 9:37 pm | Permalink

    Upon your many recommendations, I’m finally reading Lawrence Wright’s The Looming Tower I’m at the point in the late 80’s where Bin Laden is a magical thinker, like Azzam and his “miracles”. It’s clear that this terrorism bullshit is based on religious delusion and the indoctrination makes people believe in seriously crazy shit. I had no idea of this contemporary “miracle belief” attitude. Martyrs smelling of flowers and honey and people believe in this craziness from the 80’s and onward. Whoa. A chilling and very important book and many thanks for your assiduous recommendations over the years.

  23. openidname
    Posted October 8, 2020 at 12:16 am | Permalink

    “Tear down that Darwin statue!”

  24. Bill Spence
    Posted October 8, 2020 at 8:03 am | Permalink

    Shoaib Ahmed Malik, a “scientist turned philosopher/theologian” at Zayed University in Dubai, has published a critical analysis of the claim that Islamic thinkers anticipated evolutionary theory. The full paper can be found at at https://www.academia.edu/39234303/Old_Texts_New_Masks_A_Critical_Review_of_Misreading_Evolution_Onto_Historical_Islamic_Texts. Here’s the abstract:

    “With the increasing interest in Islam and evolution, some Islamic thinkers have vehemently rejected evolution, while others have eagerly embraced it. However, those seeking to embrace evolution sometimes err in their interpretation of historical writings. Indeed, there are texts written by famous historical scholars of Islam who seem to suggest that humans have evolved from lower forms of species. These include Ibn Khaldun, Jalal ad-Dın Rumı, al-Jahiz, and The Brethren of Purity (Ikhwan al Safa). Although this may be true, such readings are a mistaken interpretation of the aforementioned authors who are actually referring to some form of the scalae naturae (the Great Chain of Being). This reference to the Great Chain of Being is unknown to some contemporary readers who mistakenly believe these writers to be discussing an evolutionary or a proto-evolutionary theory. This article demonstrates how and why these historical records do not actually represent any notion of evolution as it is currently understood, in the hope of avoiding any further erroneous claims that seem to be proliferating among modern thinkers.”

  25. peterschaeffer
    Posted October 8, 2020 at 8:44 am | Permalink

    I can’t comment knowledgably about what Arab/Muslim thinkers discovered or did not discover 1000+ years ago. So I won’t. However, Vice is another matter. Vice published an article with the title “Spotify CEO Defends Keeping Transphobic Joe Rogan Podcasts Online”. The problem is that the claim has no basis in fact. The Joe Rogan / Abigail Shrier interview is online (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CtftWcgXjdg). Anyone can watch it. Neither Joe Rogan or Abigail Shrier are even remotely transphobic.

    No one has to believe me. Just go watch the YouTube video for yourself.

    The sad truth is that Vice is not trustworthy and apparently likes it that way.

  26. peterschaeffer
    Posted October 8, 2020 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    This is a question, not a comment. I have always had the impression that Darwin got too much credit and Wallace not enough. Is that really true or just 20th century gossip?

    For the record, I have gotten essentially all the credit for things that were really done by several folks. That’s not fair or right, but appears to be human nature.

    • Posted October 8, 2020 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

      Well, that depends on whom you ask. Wallace fans will say he doesn’t get enough credit; Darwin fans the opposite. I’m a fan of them both, but I think the view of evolutionists is pretty much accurate: Darwin gets the lion’s share of the credit for his theory, and especially for natural selection (read Wallace’s 1858 paper, which is a bit muddled on the issue, even sounding like group selection), and mainly for his big book, which not only laid out the theory in detail, but gave a lot of evidence for it. Even Wallace bowed to Darwin, calling his own book on evolution “Darwinism.” However, Wallace deserves more credit than he gets for his work on biogeography (important line of evidence for evolution), which isn’t much mentioned these days.

      • peterschaeffer
        Posted October 8, 2020 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

        Thank you


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