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Essay: Influence of Islamic world on the Catholic Church and Creationism during the Middle Ages

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Research Topic: The influence of the Islamic world, its Greek studies and natural sciences on the Catholic Church and Creationism during the Middle Ages in Europe.

Propose thesis: The reception of Islamic and Greek studies led to the metaphysical dependence of the Catholic Church’s Creationism arguments during the Middle Ages. At first, the emergence of natural sciences demanded revisions of theological doctrines, but eventually, the elements of determinism and causality in Newton’s theory of gravity and many other scientific theories strengthened many ideas of the Faith.


William E. Carroll, Creation and Science in the Middle Ages, New Blackfriars, Vol. 88, No. 1018 (NOVEMBER 2007), pp. 678-689, Published by: Wiley, https://www.jstor.org/stable/43251185.Retrieved: 10-01-2019 14:01 UTC

Michael J. Dodds. Science, Causality, and God: Divine Action and Thomas Aquinas. Angelicum, Vol. 91, No. 1, Recovering Causality: Historical Sources and Systematic Challenges from a Thomistic Perspective / Il recupero della causalità: fonti storiche e sfide sistematiche in una prospettiva tomista (2014), pp. 13-36. Published by: Pontificia Studiorum Universitas a Sancto Thomas Aquinate in Urbe. https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2307/26392440. Retrieved: 10-01-2019 15:00 UTC

David C. Lindberg, Medieval Science and Its Religious Context. Osiris, Vol. 10, Constructing Knowledge in the History of Science (1995), pp. 60-79. Published by: The University of Chicago Press on behalf of The History of Science Society Stable. https://www.jstor.org/stable/301913. Retrieved: 10-01-2019 20:01 UTC.

Book: A. C. Crombie – Augustine to Galileo the history of science from 400 to 1650 AD.


The reception of Greek learning in medieval Islam, Judaism, and Christianity was the occasion for a profound analysis of the development of the doctrine of creation in the context of natural sciences and philosophy.

Al-Juwayni, a Muslim theologian of the eleventh century, remarked the rising interest in God among the people in one of his work, “The first religious obligation of every intelligent boy who comes of age, as marked by years or by the dreams of puberty, is to form the intention of reasoning as soundly as he can to an awareness that the world is original”. He thought that an awareness of the originated-ness of the world necessarily meant a rejection of any claim to its being eternal and led, consequently, to the affirmation that it was created by God.

The pioneering scholar for Greek study is Al-Farabi (870-950). Although little was known about him, his preservation of the original Greek texts of Plato and Aristotle built a foundational ground for contemporary scholars in theology. Most notable of whom is Avicenna (980- 1037), who specialized in medicine, natural philosophy, and metaphysics. He views God as the absolutely necessary being, and the created order of things as only possible, the key for an understanding of creation. Anything other than God is, in itself, only possible, and its existence, therefore, requires God’s causing it to be. His view that all of creations’ flowing from a primal source of being and intelligibility was the view that, since the source of all that is eternal, that which flows from that source must also be eternal, and an eternal world was often seen as a necessary world, a world which had to come forth from God – a world, thus, which was not the result of the free creative act of God. This was his attempt to rationalize a world in which Greek science and the revelation of the Koran are both true.

However, a brand new question now demanded an answer: Is metaphysics consistent with the God revealed in the Koran or the Bible. Al-Ghazali (1058-1111) was inspired to pursue this endeavor. In The Incoherence of the Philosophers, he critiqued Avicenna’s view of an eternal world- that cannot be both self-sufficient and God-dependant at the same time and therefore, forced Muslim thinkers to choose between science and the Koran, not both.

Averroes (1126-1197) was next in line to settle this argument. In The Incoherence of the Incoherence, he defended the Greek philosophical tradition against al-Ghazali. Averroes argued that eternal creation is not only intelligible but is “the most appropriate way to characterize the universe.” Al-Ghazali had thought that for God to be the cause of the world, that is, for God to be the agent who brings about the existence of the world, such causality required a temporal beginning. In response, Averroes draws a distinction between two different senses of an eternal. Eternal in the sense of being unlimited in duration, and eternal in the sense of being eternally self-sufficient, without a cause. Thus, an eternal world, understood in terms of duration without beginning or end, does not conflict with God’s eternity, understood in the sense of complete and total self-sufficiency.

The system of scientific thought came in a collection of translations from Greek and Arabic as a complete and for the most part coherent whole. This was a system of rational explanations in power and range quite beyond anything known earlier in the Latin West. And unlike popular belief, it was not received merely passively in the Middle Ages. The greatest minds of the time in the fields of philosophy used their knowledge in the field and technology to try resolve the contradictions that existed within the Aristotelian system itself, between Aristotle and the other authorities such as Ptolemy, Galen, Averroes, and Avicenna, and between the various authorities and observed facts. The scholars were trying to make the natural world intelligible using new knowledge as a wonderful, but not final, illumination of mind and as starting-point for further investigation.

For the system of scientific though accepted in the medieval centuries to become fully intelligible for us, it’s necessary to understand the nature of the question it was designed to answer. The natural philosopher regarded the investigation of the physical world as part of a single philosophical activity concerned with the search for reality and truth. The purpose of his inquiry was to discover the enduring and tangible reality behind the changes undergone by the world perceived through the senses.

It was Aristotle’s conception of substance1 that dominated the ideology and methodology of the structure of science at the time. According to Aristotle, scientific investigation and explanation was a two-fold process, the first inductive and the second deductive. The investigator must begin with what was prior in the order of knowing, that is, with facts perceived through the senses, and he must proceed by induction to include his observations in a generalization which would eventually lead him to the universal form. The object of the first, inductive, process was to define these forms, for such a definition could then become the starting-point for the second process; that by which the observed effects were shown by deduction to follow from this definition and so were explained by being demonstrated from a prior and more general principle which was their cause. This definition would include everything about a thing, its color, size, shape, relations with other things, etc.

Aristotle described the process by which the form was discovered by induction as a process of abstraction from the data provided by the sense, and he held that there were three degrees of abstraction which revealed three different aspects of reality. These corresponded to the sciences of physics (or natural science), mathematics and metaphysics.

This misconception of a conservative Church would go on for another 700 years before anything was to be done. Ironically, it took the mind of a scientific genius, Pierre Maurice Marie Duhem (1861-1916), to defend Christianity. Duhem was a French theoretical physicist who worked on thermodynamics, hydrodynamics, and the theory of elasticity. Duhem was also a historian of science and had a special interest in Middle Ages Literature. In his medieval-retrospective multivolume works: Les Origines de la Statistique, Etudes sur Leonard de Vinci , and Le systeme du monde along with Charles Homer Haskins (1870-1937) in his Studies in the History of Mediaeval Science (1924) and Renaissance of the Twelfth Century (1927); and from Lynn Thorndike (1882-1965) in the first four volumes of his History of Magic and Experimental Science, he concludes that: “the mechanics and physics of which the modem world is justifiably proud to proceed, by an uninterrupted series of scarcely perceptible improvements, from doctrines professed in the heart of the medieval schools. The pretended revolutions were most often merely slow and long-prepared evolutions, the so-called renaissances merely unfair and sterile reactions. The origins of modern science, if Duhem was right, are to be found not in the repudiation of medieval scholasticism but in the cultivation of natural philosophy within the medieval schools. As for the role of the medieval church, Duhem argued that the popular “teaching that pretends to have established the irreducible antagonism between the scientific spirit and the spirit of Christianity is the most colossal and most audacious lie that has ever attempted to dupe the people. In his view, the church was no villain of the piece, inhibiting the development of a fruitful scientific tradition, but a vital participant in the emergence of modern science.”

Gradually the learning which had been amassed by the Arabs began to penetrate into Western Christendom as trading relations slowly revived between Christendom and Islam. By the 9th century, towns such as Venice, Naples, Bari, and Amalfi, later joined by Pisa and Genoa, were carrying on trade with the Arabs of Sicily and the eastern Mediterranean. This constant flow and exchange of knowledge and people led to the assimilation of Arabic culture into almost everywhere in Europe. For instance, in the 11th century, a Benedictine monk of Monte Cassino, Constantine the African, was sufficiently familiar with Arab scientific work to be able to produce a paraphrase of Galen and Hippocrates from the medical encyclopedia of the Persian doctor Haly Abbas, in the 12th century, Adelard of Bath is known to have traveled in south Italy and even in Syria, and at the beginning of the 13th century, Leonardo Fibonacci of Pisa was in North Africa on business where he acquired his knowledge of Arabic mathematics. The chief centers from which the knowledge of Arabic and ultimately of Greek science spread were Sicily and Spain.

How has some intellectuals, first European and subsequently American, used the Middle Ages as a way to establish and explain the superiority of their own cultures, and thereby undermine the medieval scientific efforts and their respective theological motivations?

Epilogue: After the Middle Ages, how has the concept of determinism and divine intervention aged with the advent of quantum mechanics?

Bell’s theorem, which in its simplest form states, “No physical theory of local hidden variables can ever reproduce all of the predictions of quantum mechanics.” In Layman’s terms, it is completely impossible to predict the behavior of subatomic particles as they are, in essence, completely random. The complete unpredictability of them is by nature, not a result of our technological limit. The fact that knowing everything about a quantum system yet we still fail to deduce anything that will happen to said system is a concerning violation of the law of causality, which, as discussed multiple times above, is essential to the argument for God. If the fundamental constituents of the universe prove to be self-sufficient, independent of its past, the question of whether the presence of an omnipotent being is necessary is brought into question once again.


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