Abstract - Ibn Sina's Discovery of Geologic Time and its Impact on Development of Geology in Europe
Dr. Munim Al-Rawi
The purpose of this presentation is to highlight the importance of Ibn Sina's discovery of Long Geologic Time in the later development of Earth Sciences in Europe. The birth and development of the modern Earth science or Geology in Europe was far from being an easy one. Geology, as a natural science, was faced with many misconceptions, both in the minds of ordinary people and in the existing religious beliefs. Field observation of the structure and physical phenomena of the Earth's surface was limited to the observation of the curious philosopher and scientist. In fact, the earliest recorded use of the term geologia was in 1661, and was widely used from 1709.
In the medieval Muslim period, however, Earth sciences had a completely different kind of development. In Geology, Muslim scientists and philosophers had an overall conception of the Earth and the Universe based on the strong belief that "Almighty Allah" is the "Creator" of the Universe, a concept entirely different from that used in the West by the thinkers of medieval and modern times.
Muslim scientists thought and wondered about the origin of minerals, rocks, mountains, earthquakes and water, etc. Ibn Sina (Avicenna, 980-1037), in his famous encyclopedia of philosophy and science AI-Shifa (the Book of Cure, Healing or Remedy from Ignorance) presented fundamental geological principles in terms of Earth processes, events and long time. Ibn Sina observed in the field (an area presently located in Central and Southwest Asia) the processes of weathering, erosion, transportation and deposition. He recognized the arrangement of strata, and appreciated the meaning of fossils (remnants of plants and animals) as evidence of the past.
Ibn Sina had established the fact that for the formation of mountains, we have to understand the process by which stones are formed, then the manner in which rock sequences are formed, and finally the process by which mountains are formed after uplift and erosion. Ibn Sina's conclusion that all the above processes and events can only happen during the course of many ages (Long Time) to shape mountains, represented an achievement of great scientific importance for the Muslim scientific period.
AI-Shifa was known in the European Renaissance and was an inspiring source of thought to the founders of geological thought in Europe, such as Leonardo Da Vinci (1452-1519), Steno (1638-1687), and most probably to James Hutton (1726-1797). Those principles were later known in the Renaissance as the Law of Superposition of Strata, and the doctrine of Uniformitarianism, which were embodied in the Theory of the Earth by James Hutton in the late 18th century.
Subsequently, Geology progressed and advanced during the 19th century when the Relative Geological Time was classified in a Chronological Time Scale, and the Earth surface was mapped and applications in exploration for minerals, coal and petroleum started the Industrial Revolution in the world. The year 1907 was the first absolute dating of the Earth to be one billion years old. Subsequently, further radioactive dating during the 20th century indicated that the Earth is 4.5 billion years old.
It is correct what Toulumin and Goodfield (1965) in their book Discovery of Time, have commented on Ibn Sina's contribution in the field of geologic time: "Around A.D. 1000, Avicenna was already suggesting a hypothesis about the origin of mountain ranges, which in the Christian world, would still have been considered quite radical eight hundred years later". Therefore, it is certain that Ibn Sina's discovery of Geologic Time is one of the greatest contributions to the progress of natural sciences.
by: Dr. Munim Al-Rawi, Sat 19 June, 2010