The scientific method: Ibn Al Haitham to Karl Popper

1. Ibn Al Haitham created the scientific method. Prior to the Islamic Enlightenment there was no science; it had not been invented.

2. The scientific method is an instrument of logic that is used to test a hypothesis. It is not (as its disciples believe) a explanation of the world.

3. One does not need to attack or undermine science to affirm Tawheed (an Islamic understanding of God). i.e. Harun Yayhaism is an unnecessary bidah. Not only is it intellectually bankrupt, it is fundamentally dishonest and an affront to our own contribution to civilization.

4. Most disciples of scientism, believe it to be an all encompassing explanation for everything without understanding the limitations of the scientific method.

Prior to the great Islamic universities of the 8th and 9th centuries, science did not exist. Aristotle, for all his brilliance, only managed to derive knowledge based upon empiricism (constructing theories about reality based on one’s experience). This clearly has some limitations. It is true that he also developed the beginnings of deductive reasoning (syllogism), but this is little more than empiricism and intuition. Inductive reasoning is not science, it is observation and inference based on intuition.

Without science, Greeks made surprising errors in observation and reasoning. Example, Plato, Ptolemy and Euclid all believed in the emission theory of light (that light is emitted from one’s eyes). It took Ibn Al Haitham to create hypothesis testing and demonstrate that

1. light travels in straight lines
2. light is received by the eye.
3. that white light can be separated into constituent colors
4. Created the Camera Obscura.
5. Postulated correctly that light is a stream of constituent particles of energy.
6. discovered “Newton’s” first law of motion

Ibn Al Haitham also created the scientific method, which remains fundamentally unchanged today:

2.Statement of problem
3.Formulation of hypothesis
4.Testing of hypothesis using experimentation
5.Analysis of experimental results
6.Interpretation of data and formulation of conclusion
7.Publication of findings to which the Islamic world added
8.Peer review

But it is point 4 which was most profound. Testing a hypothesis through experimentation is the essence of science. For a phenomena to be scientifically validated, it must be testable.  If not, then science is an inadequate instrument to describe it.

It has taken a further ten centuries for the scientific method to be further refined by Karl Popper. Popper popularized the concept that for a hypothesis to be scientifically valid then it must be falsifiable (capable of disproof).  In other words, the principle of modus tolens or proof by contradiction.

Popper correctly shows that we cannot prove a hypothesis to be true, we can show a hypothesis to be false, or we can at least test its falsifiability. He also limits the scope of science to those hypotheses that are so testable. Science cannot be observation, or observation based empiricism, two principles that the followers of scientism often mistake as science.

When I read Richard Dawkins’ critique of religion, it is dressed up in the robes of science, but it fails the test of science itself. That is, for Dawkins to state that Allah does not exist, he must create a suitable hypothesis and then test it. It is not up to Muslims to demonstrate that Allah exists, it is upto the devotees of science to use the instruments of science to show that God simply cannot exists, something science is clearly incapable of.

Example; a modus tolens hypothesis

If God exists then “x” must occur

“x” never occurs

Therefore God cannot exist.

Dawkins is therefore not attacking Tawhid through science, but rather using his scientific qualification as a validation of an entirely irrational atheist polemic against God, devoid of an scientific merit. That is actually a generous reading of his work, which often sinks further, to attack God through the behavior of people who have religious affiliation (a reworking of the child’s contention “if God exists why do bad things happen).