My original forum post
Practical astronomy came to be so highly cultivated in the Arab world because unlike the Chinese that was limited to or not allowed the individual study of science during this time, the Islamic world encouraged anyone who wished to study science to do so, often even funded by the rulers. The study and knowledge of science and astronomy became an important part of religious duty to meet religious needs. Therefore, astronomy was used to make observations of the universe to measure distance and direction on Earth for it was important to have the ability to determine precisely the correct time and direction of Mecca for prayer, since they were required to face Mecca during times of prayer.
In Baghdad, the capital and a stronghold for scientific activity, a library and research center called the House of Wisdom was built to replicate the Library of Alexandria. The Arab world was known to accept and incorporate knowledge of science from other cultures such as the Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, and Mesopotamians and built upon that accumulated knowledge as well as their own knowledge, often times improving various tools and techniques. They were able to develop better measurements of the length of a year and the continuous change in Earth’s axis orientation that causes seasons. They also brought attention to the fact that if Earth was the so-called the (center of the universe), that there should be a mathematical formula that would define the movements of celestial objects around Earth.
It was believed that God created everything and the universe could be understood by divine truth as well as through reason and that one who believes should observe, study and learn about nature.
Bowles, Mark, and Barbara Kaplan. “Eastern, Medieval, and Renaissance Science.” Science and Culture throughout History. Kendall Hunt Publishing Company, 2012.
Instructor’s response and questions
An important thing to note about the geocentric model of the universe is that there was a mathematical formula developed to explain and predict the positions of celestial objects. Ptolemy had come up with just such a formula in the second century AD, and it was accepted by both Christian and Muslim scholars for a very good reason–it was clumsy and cumbersome, but it worked, and using it one could predict where any given celestial object would be at some future date. (The clumsiness of it arose from the retrograde motion of planets which required Ptolemy to invent the concept of “epicycles”–smaller orbits that the planets underwent in the course of their larger, main orbit around the earth; the math was difficult, but it was also functional.) With regard to the Christian world I would note that it was the site of considerable intellectual activity by the second half of the Middle Ages, around the same time as the Abbasid civilization peaked. Much of that activity, meanwhile, was directed toward understanding astronomy, and it would be the Catholic Church, in the sixteenth century, that oversaw the reform of the Julian calendar to produce the Gregorian one (named for the sitting pope) that we still use today.
How does Freely’s depiction of science in the medieval Islamic world compare with Lloyd’s depiction of science in ancient China?
PS Please note that responses to follow-up questions should be the same in terms of length (at least 250 words) and format (sources cited) as initial posts.
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