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      Scientistic Anti-Islamism: The Exploitation of Science and Cognates in Anti-Islamic Narratives



            This is a historical-philosophical exploration of “scientistic anti-Islamism,” which denotes the justification and expression of anti-Islamic contents through the exploitation of the concept of science. I first discuss, dissect, and disprove the underlying premise that Islam would be incompatible with science and cognates. Qur'anic anchoring of reason, the harmony of faith and knowledge in Islam, the civilizational-scientific influence of Islam to the West are the three major domains of my objections. Then, I contextualize some related core concepts that are knowledge, rationality, science and scientism to elucidate the issue. After a critical reading of Renan as a probable archetype of scientistic anti-Islamists, I introduce the promotors of scientistic anti-Islamism in the three distinct areas of methodology, worldview and politics. It emerges that scientistic anti-Islamism's main patrons are erroneous induction, rivalry of orthodoxies and political hegemony. Finally, I arrive at a definition of the basic characteristics of “scientistic anti-Islamism.”


            Author and article information

            Islamophobia Studies Journal
            Pluto Journals
            1 October 2019
            : 5
            : 1 ( doiID: 10.13169/islastudj.5.issue-1 )
            : 45-60
            Ruprecht-Karls Heidelberg Universität
            © Islamophobia Research and Documentation Project, Center for Race and Gender, University of California, Berkeley

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            Social & Behavioral Sciences
            scientism,anti-Islamism,Islamophobia,scientistic anti-Islamism,Ernest Renan,knowledge and power


            1. Franz Rosenthal, Knowledge Triumphant: The Concept of Knowledge in Medieval Islam (Leiden: Brill, 2007), 19-20.

            2. cf. Fuat Sezgin, Wissenschaft und Technik im Islam (Frankfurt am Main: Institut für Geschichte der Arabisch-Islamischen Wissenschaften an der Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität, 2003); Alparslan Açıkgenç, İslam Medeniyeti'nde Bilgi ve Bilim (İstanbul: İSAM, 2006), 58-119; Mark Graham, How Islam Created the Modern World (Maryland: Amana Publications, 2006), 193-196.

            3. The University of Qayrawan (founded in 859) is accepted by most as the first university of the world. Another time-honoured establishment is the University of al-Azhar in Cairo (969) (Y.G-M. Lulat, A History of African Higher Education from Antiquity to the Present: A Critical Synthesis (London: Greenwood, 2005), 69. Ca. 800 is the foundation date of a teaching hospital in Baghdad; Muzaffar Iqbal, The Making of Islamic Science (Kuala Lumpur: Islamic Book Trust, 2009), xvii-xxv.

            4. The influence of Islam upon the West goes much deeper than that but because of spatial reasons it is not possible to include them all in this article. See Graham, How Islam Created; Richard Olson, Science Deified & Science Defied: The Historical Significance of Science in Western Culture (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1982), 191; Montgomery Watt, The Influence of Islam on Medieval Europe (Edinburgh: University Press, 1987); Sezgin, Wissenschaft und Technik, vol. 1, 85-167. Bekir Karlığa, İslam Düşüncesi'nin Bati Düşüncesi'ne Etkileri (İstanbul: Litera, 2004) and East to West - A Civilization Documentary (İstanbul: Medam, 2012); Bernard Lewis, What Went Wrong (London: Orion Books, 2004), 6-7. Açıkgenç, İslam Medeniyeti'nde Bilgi, 114-118; George Saliba, Islamic Science and the Making of the European Renaissance (Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2007). Sigrid Hunke, Allahs Sonne über dem Abendland: Unser arabisches Erbe (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer Verlag, 2009). John Freely, Light from the East: How the Science of Medieval Islam Helped to Shape the Western World (London: I. B. Tauris, 2011).

            5. Ramón Grosfoguel, “The Structure of Knowledge in Westernized Universities. Epistemic Racism/Sexism and the Four Genocides/Epistemicides of the Long 16th Century,” Human Architecture 11, no. 1 (2013): 73-90.

            6. In fact, even secular thinking can be regarded as a transfer from Islamic philosophers such as Avicenna and Averroes to Europe, which caused huge troubles for the Church. Averroes is celebrated as the father of secular thought by some. Alejandro Arturo Vallega Arredondo, “Out of Latin American Thought—From Radical Exteriority: Philosophy After the Age of Pernicious Knowledge,” in The Gift of Logos: Essays in Continental Philosophy, ed. David Jones et al. (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2010), 158. This particularity owes to the more moderate exchange of Islam with the secular. Shabbir Akhtar, The Quran and the Secular Mind: A Philosophy of Islam (London: Routledge, 2007), 36.

            7. Ramón Grosfoguel, “Epistemic Islamophobia and Colonial Social Sciences,” Human Architecture 8, no. 2 (2010): 29-38.

            8. John M. Hobson, The Eastern Origins of Western Civilisation (Cambridge: University Press, 2004), 47.

            9. Albert Dietrich, Islam und Abendland: Vortragsreihe der Niedersächsischen Landesregierung zur Förderung der wissenschaftlichen Forschung in Niedersachsen, Heft 29 (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck&Ruprecht, 1964), 13.

            10. Ali Bulaç, “İslamafobia'nın Zihni Arkaplanı: Avrupa'nın Hıristiyan Kimliği ve İslam,” İslamofobi: Kolektif bir Korkunun Anatomisi, Sempozyum Tebliğleri (2012): 165.

            11. Koku von Stuckrad, Western Esotericism: A Brief History of Secret Knowledge (London: Equinox, 2005), 89.

            12. Graham, How Islam Created, 182.

            13. Saliba, Islamic Science and the Making of the European Renaissance, 144, 155.

            14. Graham, How Islam Created, 180.

            15. G. D. Wassermann, “Social Aspects of Rationality,” Method and Science 17 (1984): 97 as cited in Halil Rahman Açar, Is Scientific Knowledge Rational? (İstanbul: İSAM, 2008), 33.

            16. Açar, Is Scientific Knowledge Rational?, 12-14.

            17. James Blaut, The Colonizer's Model of the World (New York, London: The Guilford Press, 1993), 94-107.

            18. J.J. Clarke, Oriental Enlightenment. The Encounter between Asian and Western Thought (London, New York: Routledge, 1997), 199.

            19. Ian Almond, “‘The Madness of Islam’: Foucault's Occident and the Revolution in Iran,” Radical Philosophy 128 (2004): 12-22.

            20. Emran Qureshi and Michael A. Sells, The New Crusades: Constructing the Muslim Enemy, 2003), 5.

            21. Karl Marx, Marx: Later Political Writings (Cambridge: University Press, 2003), ed. Terrell Carver, 117.

            22. Susan Haack, “Six Signs of Scientism,” Logos & Episteme 3, no. 1 (2012): 85.

            23. Ibid., 89.

            24. Mary Midgley, Evolution as a Religion: Strange Hopes and Stranger Fears (London and New York: Methuen, 2002), 17.

            25. Richard N. Williams, “Introduction,” in Scientism: The New Orthodoxy, ed. Richard N. Williams and Daniel N. Robinson (London: Bloomsbury, 2014), 3.

            26. Edwin Arthur Burtt, The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Science (New York: Dover, 1932), 15-35.

            27. Pigliucci goes as far as claiming that scientism is used as an “insult”; Massimo Pigliucci, Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bulk (Chicago, IL: University Press, 2010), 235 as cited in Moti Mizrahi, “What's So Bad about Scientism?” Social Epistemology 31, no. 4 (2017): 351. However, it is noted that some adherents of scientism also use it as a “badge of honor.” Austin L. Hughes, “The Folly of Scientism,” The New Atlantis (Fall 2012): 32.

            28. Peter Schöttler, “Szientismus: Zur Geschichte eines schwierigen Begriffs,” N.T.M. 20, no. 4 (2012): 245-69.

            29. John F. Haught, “Science and Scientism: The Importance of a Distinction,” Zygon 40, no. 2 (2005): 363-68.

            30. Voegelin locates the core of the problem (‘the issue of science of phenomena versus science of substance‘) in Bruno's following lines: “The truth starts from the senses, but only as from a weak and very small starting point; it is not in the senses… In the object of the senses it is as in a mirror, in reason it is in the form of argument and discourse, in the intellect in the form of principle and conclusion, and in the spirit it is in its proper and living form.” (Giordano Bruno, De la Causa, Principio et Uno (Göttingen: Opere Italiane, 1888), vol. 1, 285, 282 as cited in Eric Voegelin, “The Origins of Scientism,” Social Research 15, no. 4 (1948): 463.

            31. “The scientistic belief in a science, which does not only complement the personal self-understanding through an objectivizing self-description one day, but replaces it, is not science, but bad philosophy.” Jürgen Habermas, Glauben und Wissen, Dankrede zum Friedenspreis des deutschen Buchhandels, Frankfurt, 14.10.2001, 12; see also Mark Flynn, “A Critique of Scientism Not Science,” Interchange 31, no. 1 (2000): 83-86.

            32. Mikael Stenmark, “What is Scientism,” Religious Studies 33, no. 1 (1997): 15-32.

            33. Mizrahi, “What's So Bad about Scientism?” 366.

            34. Michael Shermer, “The Shamans of Scientism,” Scientific American 6, no. 35 (2002).

            35. Hughes, “The Folly of Scientism,” 33.

            36. Tom Sorell, Scientism: Philosophy and the Infatuation with Science (New York: Routledge, 1991), 1. Another definition follows “the absurdly reductionist belief that all truth can be learned and all reality described through science (never defined) and only through science.” Rustum Roy, “Scientism and Technology as Religions,” Zygon 40, no. 4 (2005): 836.

            37. Voegelin, “The Origins of Scientism,” 462.

            38. Matthew Burch, “Religion and Scientism: A Shared Cognitive Conundrum,” International Journal of Philosophy and Religion 80 (2016): 225-41.

            39. Ian Kidd, “Doing Away with Scientism,” Philosophy Now 102, no. 30-31 (2014).

            40. Philip Kitcher, “The Trouble with Scientism: Why History and the Humanities Are Also a Form of Knowledge,” New Republic, May 4, 2012.

            41. Stefan Korte et al. “Entwicklung und erste Validierung eines Fragebogens zur Erfassung von Szientismus,” Diagnostica 63, no. 1 (2017): 42-54.

            42. Ernest Renan, L'Islamisme et la Science (Paris: Galmann Lévy, 1883).

            43. Avner Falk, Anti-Semitism: A History and Psychoanalysis of Contemporary Hatred (London: Praeger, 2008), 21.

            44. Roger Garaudy, Les Promesses d'Islam (Paris: Le Seuil, 1981), 17-45.

            45. Thorsten G. Schneiders, Wegbereiter der modernen Islamfeindlichkeit: Eine Analyse der Argumentationen so genannter Islamkritiker (Wiesbaden: Springer, 2015.

            46. Grosfoguel, “Epistemic Islamophobia,” 32-36.

            47. Muqtedar Khan, “New Atheists and Same Old Islamophobia,” The Islamic Monthly (2014): 29-31.

            48. According to Lawrence Principe, “Scientism and the Religion of Science,” in Scientism: The New Orthodoxy, ed. Richard N. Williams and Daniel N. Robinson (London: Bloomsburg, 2014), 41-62, this narrative is a distortion of history. However, there is sufficient evidence to show that there has been a problem between Christendom and the Modern Science emerging from secular freethinking.

            49. Ramón Grosfoguel and Eric Mielants, “The Long-Durée Entanglement Between Islamophobia and Racism in the Modern/Colonial Capitalist/Patriarchal World-System: An Introduction,” Human Architecture 5, no. 1 (2006): 1-12.

            50. Grosfoguel, “Epistemic Islamophobia,” 37.

            51. Gianfranco Morra, “Secolarizzazione e Risveglio Religioso in Italia Oggi,” Studi di Sociologia 26, no. 3/4 (1988): 355.

            52. Grosfoguel, “The Structure of Knowledge,” 75.

            53. William T. Cavanaugh, The Myth of Religious Violence (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 57-122.

            54. Ibid., 87-99.

            55. See Iqbal, The Making of Islamic Science, viii-xi.

            56. “I believe because it is absurd.” This saying implicates that belief is independent from and even antithetical to reason.

            57. Rupert Sheldrake, Science Set Free: 10 Paths to New Discovery (New York: Deepak Chopra Books, 2012), 7-8.

            58. Finally, there is existential scientism. According to Midgley, this is “the idea of salvation through science alone,” though Stenmark defines it as the view that “science alone can explain and replace religion.”' Mary Midgley, Science as Salvation (London: Routledge, 1992), 37; and Mikael Stenmark, Scientism: Science, Ethics and Religion (New York: Routledge, 2001), 14 as cited in Robert A. Delfino, “The Cultural Dangers of Scientism and Common Sense Solutions,” Studia Gilsoniana 3 (2014): 488.

            59. Mikael Stenmark, “Science and the Limits of Knowledge,” in Clashes of Knowledge, ed. P. Meusburger et al. (Dordrecht: Springer, 2008), 111. See also pp. 113-14 for further information on scientism-religion relations. For the elaboration of Ostwald's concept of “das energetische Denken” see Caspar Hakfoort, “Science Deified: Wilhelm Ostwald's Energeticist World-View and the History of Scientism,” Annals of Science 49 (1992): 525-44.

            60. Roy, “Scientism and Technology,” 837. He also adds since “[s]cience-and-technology is the most powerful force under human control… scientific fundamentalism is the most dangerous [type that] must be destroyed” (p. 836).

            61. Haught, “Science and Scientism,” 364.

            62. Hakfoort, “Science Deified,” 390.

            63. Camil Ungureanu and Paolo Monti, “Habermas on Religion and Democracy: Critical Perspectives,” The European Legacy 22, no. 5 (2017): 522.

            64. Hoston Smith, “Scientism: The Bedrock of the Modern Worldview,” in Science and the Myth of Progress, ed. Mehrdad M. Zarandi (Bloomington, IN: World Wisdom, 2003), 233-48.

            65. Gavin Hyman, A Short History of Atheism (New York: I. B. Tauris, 2010), 101.

            66. Olli-Pekka Vainio and Aku Visala, “Varieties of Unbelief: A Taxonomy of Atheistic Positions,” Neue Zeitschrift für Systematische Theologie und Religionsphilosophie 57, no. 4 (2015): 492.

            67. Voegelin, “Origins of Scientism,” 472.

            68. David Marquand, The End of the West: The Once and Future of Europe (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2011), 99.

            69. Principe, “Scientism and the Religion of Science,” 43.

            70. Samuel Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996), 51.

            71. Voegelin, “Origins of Scientism,” 484-85.

            72. Grosfoguel, “Structure of Knowledge.”

            73. “The library of Cordoba, that had around 500.000 books at a time when the largest library of Christian Europe did not have more than 1000 books, was burned in the 13th century. Many other libraries had the same destiny during the conquest of Al-Andalus until the final burning of more than 250.000 books of the Granada library by Cardenal Cisneros in the early 16th century.” Grosfoguel, “Structure of Knowledge,” 79.

            74. One sees a “projection mechanism” operating at this point since, despite its anachronism, it had widely been believed in the West that the Library of Alexandria was burnt down by Muslims, the so-called “enemies of books and knowledge.”

            75. Frank Pfetsch, Theoretiker der Politik: Von Platon bis Habermas (Paderborn: Wilhelm Fink UTB, 2003), 84.


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