Showing posts with label Demokritos. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Demokritos. Show all posts

Monday, November 5, 2018

Qur'an al Kerim is a truthfinders' supreme linguistic challenge; Greek Philosophy Of Nature is a philosophical theory

The idea of a realistic and systematic plan and purpose for creation was familiar to the ancient Greeks; much of their philosophical effort to find logical explanation behind the regular forces of nature are inspired by the need to understand a universal cause behind it all. They found that much of their effort stranded on its unreachable quality. In their days, the modern tools for scientific research lacked. Yet, it didn't stop the Greeks from developing a mathematical language and methodology, and systematic philosophy, some of which are still in use today. They made educated guesses based on philosophical thinking, but, also based on their everyday life and social and religious environment. That led to theories that sometimes make us smile, today, and sometimes compel us to deep respect for their forwardness.

Earlier, we saw, Anaximander assume the Earth was a flat barrel floating in space, with people living on its top. Anaximander must have seen enough wine barrels in his days to make his thought plausibel and natural, but we know now, that it isn't true. It also led to efforts to gain correct knowledge of nature. But, today, we still use Thales' theorems of triangles and diameters. Another example, Demokritos' Atomism, can be seen as an early precursor to chemistry.

Diogenes of Apollonia, Anaximenes, Anaxagoras, were among those who had formed theories about matter, particles, and the elements (water, air, earth, and fire were seen as the most prominent ones), but also here, disagreement was an issue.

Not to forget, Pythagoras and other mathematicians.

We won't find mathematical methodology in Qur'an al Kerim. Qur'an al Kerim has a different, more verbal approach to mathemetical phenomenons. Qur'anic verses below show the importance of knowledge in general and how knowledge may lead to thinking and eventually to faith; they are incentives to gather knowledge, even to personal growth in science and arts, rather than scientific treatises. Verses 55:17 and 70:40 can be seen as references to goniometry, but they lack the terminology and abbreviations. Yet, the thought behind them, is mathematically correct. Indeed we can conclude, the Earth has two permanent rotations: one around its own axis, and other as a larger circle in space. Also can we conclude, that East and West are infinite -- which very well may refer to the Earth being a ball. Qur'an is very consistent about this topic, too -- contrarily to Greek philosophers of nature, who disagreed. This, and the fact, that not very much of the oldest Greek philosophy of nature has been preserved in texts, makes it unlikely, that Qur'an al Kerim is just a blind copy of Greek philosophy.

The Greeks had noticed, that some things are naturally and logically impossible and Qur’an appears to support this idea. Optimization of proportion, goals, time plan, is essential in creation. Not without reason, Qur’an says: ‘but most of them do not know’; ‘no want of proportion in creation, seest thou any flaw?’; 'Not without authority shall ye be able to pass'; 'We created [...] them but for just ends, and for a term appointed'. The idea of duality in creation is mentioned in Qur’an in several verses, sometimes referring to gender; sometimes, like in verse 36:36, also to other opposing or complementing forces. Humans may certainly go search for knowledge, but there's no guarantee they will receive it.

As I've said earlier, many efforts have been made to prove, that Qur'an al Kerim is a book of scientific correctness. I'm familiar with Maurice Bucaille's book 'The Bible The Koran and Science'; I'll give an example that, in my opinion, shows, how careful we should be, looking at Qur'an al Kerim as such. Dr Bucaille says, in his comment to Qur'anic verse 16:66, page 130 and 131 at a pdf by, and I think he's right, that many translators are inclined to give too specific translations of Arabic homonyms, such as the words batn and baini. Batn means both 'belly' and 'center'; baini means 'in the middle of', and 'within'. Some translators said: 'We give you to drink of that is within their bellies, from betwixt the refuse and the blood'; Bucaille said 'We give you to drink of what is inside their bodies, coming from a conjunction between the contents of the intestine and the blood' This is no doubt utterly true -- but, would it have been understood by Rasulullah and the sahabah? Not likely. And, they might have dismissed it -- if I may assume like that.

Good translators know their place. Modesty, honesty and precision, is their role; anything else, is interpretation. And not translation. They must stick to the most original, indisputable, and obvious solution, without filling in what they 'think' is 'meant' with a word. If the Arabic homonym has no same homonym in another language, then why not stick to a brief, ambiguous description, that leaves the homonym intact? In other words, a description that is multi-interpretable. If they don't know the true meaning, then why do they fill in their own, too specific assumption, no matter how well-educated and honest it may be? It is, as it is. Don't make more of it, than that is actually said. In this case, I, personally, would give this translation:

'We give you to drink from what is inside their bodies, from what's among their bowels and their blood' (16:66)

'Among' is a word that may catch precisely this ambiguous, both abstract and very literal, situational meaning, that we also may find in the word 'baini'.

Another, much simpler example: Qur'anic verse 13:4 mentions the palmtree. Some translations talk about palmtrees, sec; others about date-palmtrees. Dear translators, why are coconut palms not included in your words? Are you sure, here? We can spot many differences between translations, alas, that shouldn't be there.

Main issue, perhaps, is not even translation; it's honest, clean, undecorated, and uncoloured interpretation. That really is enough to appreciate the scientific correctness, or at least non-incorrectness, of the content. I mention translation, because, like Greek philosophy, most people must appreciate Qur'an al Kerim, in its full meanings, from a translation.

Personally, I say, that Qur'an al Kerim touches the meaning of life here: That it's meant to be experienced, foremost. Life as a classroom, test field, and finally launch market, is part of this experience. It triggers those who find happiness in gaining knowledge. And nearly all of us enjoy gaining knowledge; it is part of human nature to inquire. And, it's made one of humanity's assignments during lifetime.

Some Qur'anic verses:
16:8; 16:66; 22:5; 30:30; 32:5-9; 36:36; 44:38; 46:3; 55:17; 55:33; 67:3; 70:40

'And (He has created) horses, mules and donkeys for you to ride and as an adornment; and He has created things of which ye have no knowledge.' (16:8)

'And lo! in the cattle there is a lesson for you. We give you to drink of that which is in their bellies, from betwixt the refuse and the blood, pure milk palatable to the drinkers.' (16:66)

'O mankind! if ye are in doubt concerning the Resurrection, then lo! We have created you from dust, then from a drop of seed, then from a clot, then from a little lump of flesh shapely and shapeless, that We may make (it) clear for you. And We cause what We will to remain in the wombs for an appointed time, and afterward We bring you forth as infants, then (give you growth) that ye attain your full strength. And among you there is he who dieth (young), and among you there is he who is brought back to the most abject time of life, so that, after knowledge, he knoweth naught. And thou (Muhammad) seest the earth barren, but when We send down water thereon, it doth thrill and swell and put forth every lovely kind (of growth).' (22:5)

'So set thou thy face truly to the religion being upright, the nature in which Allah has made mankind: no change in the work by Allah: that is the true Religion. But most among mankind know not.' (30:30)

'He directeth the ordinance from the heaven unto the earth; then it ascendeth unto Him in a Day, whereof the measure is a thousand years of that ye reckon. (5) Such is the Knower of the Invisible and the Visible, the Mighty, the Merciful, (6) Who made all things good which He created, and He began the creation of man from clay; (7) Then He made his seed from a draught of despised fluid; (8) Then He fashioned him and breathed into him of His Spirit; and appointed for you hearing and sight and hearts. Small thanks give ye! (9)' (32:5-9)

'Glory to Allah, Who created in pairs all things that the earth produces, as well as their own kind and things of which they have no knowledge.' (36:36)

'We created not the heavens, the earth, and all between them merely in sport. We created them not except for just ends, but most of them do not know.' (44:38)

'We created not the heavens and the earth and all between them but for just ends, and for a term appointed. But those who reject Faith turn away from that whereof they are warned.' (46:3)

'Lord of the two Easts, and Lord of the two Wests!' (55:17)

'O ye assembly of Jinns and men! If it be ye can pass beyond the zones of the heavens and the earth, pass ye! Not without authority shall ye be able to pass!' (55:33)

'He Who created the seven heavens one above another, no want of proportion wilt thou see in the Creation of the Most Gracious. So turn thy vision again: seest thou any flaw?' (67:3)

'But nay! I swear by the Lord of the rising-places and the setting-places of the planets' or 'Yet no, I swear by The Lord of the Easts and the Wests' (70:40)

Quran Explorer

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Reputed Names of Greek Scientists and Philosophers Known in the Prophet’s Era


The realms of knowledge and science necessary to understand Islam, are not only traditional and historic knowledge. In my view, philosophy, law, linguistics and natural science are perhaps more important. History and tradition are the background to the rise of Islam; philosophy, law, linguistics and natural science, deal with the content of the message itself. First three aspects are more important than the latter, natural science, to everyday worhip. But, in the modern era, scientific findings on natural phenomena have been successfully used to prove the truthfulness of Islam. The message of Islam covers many fields. For a better understanding, it's helpful, to have at least some knowledge of philosophy, law, linguistics, and science.

The very first Greek philosophers

Greece was an early starter in scientific development. Thales, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle are leading names. Natural science was approached through the perspective of philosophy and its deductive methods. However, Aristotle (384 – 322 BC) introduced induction in the sense of observation of visible reality. Experimentation played no role yet; also Aristotle’s approach remained within the boundaries of philosophy. Thales (624 – 546 BC) was perhaps the first and founding Greek philosopher. He was interested in water and could predict sun eclipses by calculation. In his view, water was the most elementary principle of the universe and everything originates from water. Thales was famous for his arithmetic skills. According to Greek tradition, he had visited Egypt and re-taught the Egyptians to calculate the height of their pyramids by the size of their shadows. Other big names are Anaximandros (585 – 525 BC) who thought of the indefinite (apeiron), the one elementary substance out of which everything has come forth, without beginning, end or time and producing hot and cold, dry, humid and any other polarity or contradistinction; and Demokritos (app. 460 – 380/370 BC). Demokritos who was the first to think of a theory on atomic particles in which a fabric’s structure was determined by differences in ranking, shape and size of these atoms. His theory is named Atomism: The theory that says, that all materials are made of innumerable indivisable particles: a-tomos (‘indivisable’). Indian Buddhists have largely contributed to Atomism. They thought, that atoms flash into and out of existence; teachings that seem to be confirmed in western science (Heisenberg’s probability principle). An important axiom in atomism is metaphysical nihilism: If only atoms exist, discriminate objects don’t really exist, or they are not vital. Everything is one coherent set of particles. Therefore, objects themselves don't interact with us; we only observe their effects on us. We perceive honey as sweet, but sweetness itself, doesn't exis, and our senses aren't reliable enough to genuinely and objectively observe sweetness. Democritus said: 'By convention sweet, by convention bitter, by convention hot, by convention cold, by convention color: in reality atoms and the void.'

Atomism, has a natural and a philosophical dimension. In those days, like in the Prophet’s era, the philosophical aspect was the focus of interest. Topics that may be of interest to science were part of religious considerations. But, experiments in the realm of natural science were not yet practised. Cosmology was perhaps the most important focus of interest during the Antiquity. Trying to explain the mechanism of the cosmos was to be done through reason mainly. However, observation also played a big role to some thinkers. Observation of celestial bodies had led to outstanding knowledge on astronomy in several parts of the known world, and this knowledge had become a solid fundament to many religious practices.

These first Greek philosophers defined many of our present notions on being and motion. The Elea-School, Eleatism, developed the idea of reality as 'being in space': nothing cannot be; any substance or idea exists in feasible, tangible space. Its main representant was Parmenides (540 or 515 BC – ca 450 BC?); his main axiom was ‘For never shall this prevail, that things that are not, are’, meaning that the opposite between being and non-being is non-existent. There is no nothingness and everything exists in the spatial sphere, even ideas originate from tangible substance. Even thinking is part of being and Parmenides said ‘thinking and being are one and the same’. Another school of thought was the theory that ‘everything streams and nothing lasts’, ‘panta rhei kai ouden menei’. The Eleatists believed in a permanent static being, Heraclitus believed more or less the opposite; he believed in perpetual change and movement. ‘The world is the same for everyone, it was not created by men or gods, it is and will be an everlasting fire, flaming up or damping down. Heraclitus saw fire as the basic element, Parmenides water, Anaximenes air and Xenophanes earth and water.

A third important school of philosophy was Sophism. The sophists were the first professional philosophers; they made philosophy a paid teaching job, trying to teach others the art of argumentation and discussion. Every person has his own opinions, no one can decide which opinion is true, there are no absolute fundamentals in the universe that can be found or discovered, and the effort to do so, is basically waste of time. Knowledge comes to us through observation, and worldly success and satifaction are the best achievement human beings may reach -- not truth.

A famous fourth school of thought, inspiration to philosophers as Parmenides, Empedocles, Philolaus and Plato, was Pythagorism. Pythagoras was a mystic thinker and a mathematician, but left no writings. Pythagoras and his companions were a small and close knit community with their own way of life, which even fell victim to persecution. Their theory was, says Aristoteles, ‘that numbers constitute the true nature of things and numbers have borders, the same way as objects have. Emptiness is the border between things or numbers. Emptiness exists and pervades heaven from an indefinite breath – it breathes, as it were, into the emptiness. Emptiness differentiates the nature of things; it differentiates and distinguishes successive names and terminology in a series. This, firstly, happens for numbers, as emptiness distinguishes their nature’. Emptiness, ‘apeiron‘, is indefinite and perpetual and inspires reality: The definite and finite, ‘peiron‘, the cosmos, its nature and distinguishes it from other definites and finites, other objects, forms, ‘things’. This inspiration of apeiron into peiron, makes the world a mathematical place. Purely in a mathematical way, the continuum of numbers and the domain of reality, the cosmos, are a play of form and emptiness and its rules are, that it must happen in a harmonious fashion. This harmony-principle distinguishes Pythagorism from the older theory by Anaximandros and the Elea School. Pythagoras has also, in the same line of thinking, commented on sound and tone height. Pythagoras is famous for his calculation method of triangle line lengths, the Pythagoras axiom, which some say was derived from ancient Egyptian calculations used for the construction of their pyramids, but no proof of such do we have. Others say, he may have derive his theorem on right-angled triangles, a2+b2=c2, from the Indian mathematician Baudhayana (800 BC). One of Pythagoras’ students, Alcmaeon, a philosopher and medical thinker, said that ‘we don’t think with our blood, the air or fire -- it is our brain that enables us to think, smell and see. From there, we form our thinking and opinion, and then our knowledge. As long as the brain isn’t damaged, man has his senses and herewith, I confirm that it is our brain that makes the mind speak’.

Even the evolution theory had its predecessor in ancient Greece: Empedocles (ca 492 BC – ca 432 BC). Empedocles was, among others, a doctor, poet, teacher in philosophy, and statesman, born in Sicily. He held the strong belief, that everything has emerged from the four elements earth, air, water and fire, through the two opposing elemental powers he called love and hatred, in a random perpetual flow of mixture and seperation, like mixing colors of paint. Love is the building power and hatred the destructive power. Only the strongest combinations could survive. Empedocles also believed, like Parmenides, that the cosmos is eternal; has always been present, and that no material goes missing. Empedocles called God ‘a circle the middle of which is everywhere and its periphery nowhere’. Aristotle later adopted most of Empedocles’ theory.

Sources and further reading:
Anacharsis, Demokritos, Scepticism, Atomism