"I want you to consider and observe those lost links that relate our past to our future. One such link is the inductive method which has been applied to modern sciences. It is a blessing bestowed on the world by the Holy Quran. The results and fruits of the inductive method are quite apparent today. If God grants me strength and courage, I shall one day write a comprehensive history to point out how the modern world has reached its present stage by developing the ideals of life set forth in the holy Book."
- Dr Muhammad Iqbal (Lecture delivered at Aligarh Muslim University, 1929)
Here is a very significant observation made by Dr Iqbal that the Inductive Method is a gift of the Quran to the world. What is the Inductive Method? Lets just say, you CANNOT have science and technology without the Inductive method. It's what makes our civilization, scientifically advanced.
All pre-modern cultures like the Greeks, the Indians and Chinese had some amount of science. But because of the lack of emphasis and proliferation of the Inductive method, they could never transform their culture into a truly scientifically and technologically advanced civilization. It was the development of the Inductive method that gave the necessary thrust to the Islamic civilization to bring about the world's first scientific revolution and a technologically advanced international culture. In short, the Inductive method was the key to modern science and technology, that has shaped our world today.
Allama Iqbal's remarkable insight and recognition informs us about the Quranic roots of this global scientific revolution. So what is the Inductive method? You make a number of observations, discern a pattern and you make a general conclusion. So going from the specific to the general and in many cases from the known to the unknown is the main feature of Inductive reasoning.
Let's understand this via an example: In a control group consisting of smokers and non smokers, if 75% of smokers suffered lung problems and 88% of non smokers had well functioning lungs, over a long period of time, the conclusion drawn would be that smoking adversely affects the lungs. We can see that this method of reasoning has pitfalls. This has been discussed by various philosophers and scientists throughout history. But what is indisputable is its indispensability when it comes to scientific research and gaining rational knowledge about the world.
We can see that the Inductive method is closely linked with observation and repeated experimentation, both of which were emphasized by Muslim philosophers and scientists in the practice of science. Both inductive reasoning and observation are repeatedly emphasized in the Quran. Allah calls humanity to reflect on the world around and then draw the most reasonable conclusions.
The often repeated example is the revival of the dead earth after a cold winter. Allah Most High repeatedly exhorts human beings to reflect how a cold winter that is extremely inhospitable to any plant life, within no time changes into a life-giving spring making everthing green and bringing life to every plant that was dead just some months back. Can the One who has the power to do this, not bring the dead back to life? It was precisely because of this Quranic emphasis on reasoning that Muslims began the development of physical and religious sciences. Many people don't know that the first sciences that employed Inductive reasoning were religious sciences like Fiqh. Only after the success of Inductive reasoning in religious sciences was it applied to the physical sciences (physics, biology, chemistry etc).
Now one thing that needs to be emphasized is that this Muslim obsession with Inductive sciences was in sharp contrast with earlier scientific cultures like that of the Greeks. Aristotle, the famous Greek philosopher disliked the Inductive method, prefering instead its counterpart- the Deductive Method. In contrast, the Islamic world, Muslims reached great heights with the development of science and technology as they reaped the benefits of this method, given to them by the Holy Quran.
Unfortunately western academia gives little to no credit for this significant contribution of the Muslim world to the making of Modern Science. When you read books and articles on the history of science they start from the Greek period and jump 2000 years ahead to the time of the European Enlightenment, mentioning names like Roger Bacon and Francis Bacon who introduced Europe to the Inductive method and the importance of experimentation. They do this all the while admitting that both these features were missing or less developed in Greek science. So where did Roger Bacon and Francis Bacon borrow these ideas from? One doesn't have to look farther than their own writings to see that they were heavily inspired and influenced by Muslim scientists like Ibn al Haytham and Ibn Sina when it came to laying down the foundations of Modern Science in Europe.
Safiyyah Sabreen studied Mechanical Engineering and is currently pursuing her Master's in Philosophy. She is the Content Director for KNOW. Being interested in the field of Islam and Science and Islamic Eschatology, she produced a documentary on the Golden Age of Islam and directs the Second Golden Age series.