Muslims and science
Seeing the post below by Arif on Pervez Hoodbhoy, reminded me of this rough-and-ready attempt I made to categorise Muslim approaches to ‘science’ (below the fold).
Traditionalist: This groups views the origins of ‘modern science’ as starting with the Reformation, which led onto the Enlightenment, when nature became desacrilised and an object of mere utility to be exploited. Whilst there have been many advances, this view of nature has led to waste, greed and destruction of the environment. Traditionalists have a well-defined ontology on which their entire philosophy rests (which differentiates them from other categories), and regard other approaches as superficial or limited in their scope, lacking the holistic approach they advocate. Critics deem they promote elitism and mysticism, without offering any real solutions to alleviate problems amongst Muslims. The leading exponent of this view is Seyyed Hossein Nasr.
Transformationist: Although useful, ‘secular’ knowledges, including the physical sciences, must undergo an espitemological correction to be of any benefit to Muslims, i.e. they must be ‘Islamized’. Put simply, an ethical limit is placed on what can and can’t be researched. However, the basic division of knowledge is still similar to ‘secular’ disciplines. Traditionalists and Relativists view Islamization as superficial as well as glossing over the hard sciences. The most well-known advocate of this view was Ismail Raji al-Faruqi, although Syed Muhammad Naqui al-Attas was the first to coin the term ‘Islamization’.
Relativist: Each culture should develop a science based on their cultural values, limitations and needs (i.e. you have Islamic science, Western science, Chinese science, and so on). Science is only good insofar as it serves the community or humanity, so research should be conducted on pressing problems (e.g. research into agricultural techniques). They are the smallest of the major groupings, because their critiques (not criticisms) of ‘modern science’ rely on the social sciences, something largely ignored or marginalised by many Muslims. Anyone familiar with the Science wars would recognise them as being advocates who view science as ‘social knowledge’, and driven by other concerns like profit and empire. One of the most well-known (English-language) proponents is Ziauddin Sardar (though I think he is, or has become, a ‘softer’ advocate of this approach).
Assimilationist: There is no such thing as ‘Western’ or ‘Islamic’ science. Only good and bad science. People who promote Islamic science and Bucaillism are doing their fellow believers a big disservice by inhibiting the true aims of science: unfettered inquiry into the truth. Some suggest science should be promoted to enable societies to alleviate suffering. Other advocates of this assimilationist approach suggest that mere pragmatism is not good enough; the culture of science must be absorbed by Muslims too. In general, they have a linear view of the history of science. Pervez Hoodbhoy is one of the leading voices from this category.
Bucaillian: Following Dr. Maurice Baucille, this group tries to marry-up scientific findings with verses from the Qur’an or Prophetic narratives. In doing so, they hope science will prove their religious beliefs. Bucaillism is popular amongst Muslims with a ‘secular’ education and forms one of the major strains of contemporary Muslim apologetics.