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This review is from: God's Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science (Paperback)
God's Philosophers. How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science. Very often the title of a book tells you very little about it and the sub-title is a better guide to what the book is about. In this case, perhaps I should have paid more attention to the main title if I wanted to understand where the author was coming from. I quite fancied reading a brief book that summarised the achievements of medieval science and the individuals involved. Up to a point this book does this very well but increasingly it was becoming clearer that James Hannam is on something of a mission in this book; to assert the dubious proposition that modern science owes its chief debt of gratitude to the medieval world and the frankly ludicrous proposition that we have the church to thank for this.
On the former. Few would dispute the notion that the true foundations of modern science were laid in the 17th century by Kepler, Galileo and Newton. Hannam's book throughout attempts to build the case that these giants were influenced and guided by the work of various of their medieval predecessors. That alone should be a statement of the obvious. But in fact, despite his attempts to suggest otherwise, it is strikingly obvious just how few individuals of any note there were through this period of some 500 years or more and how little any of them achieved or added to the science of the ancient world. Spectacles, mechanical clocks and improvements in agricultural techniques were medieval European achievements but these things were the products not of medieval scientists but of medieval craftsmen. The sparse advances in mathematics and mechanics that Hannam makes so much of were pitifully few for such a span of history, largely trumpeted because they contradicted Aristotle whereas in fact The Philosopher was challenged over such things by his own contemporaries. The mathematics used by Kepler to explain the laws of planetary motion and the conceptual models of the universe with which he wrestled all existed in the ancient world and owe nothing to his medieval predecessors.
On the latter. The more I read this book the more I became increasing became uncomfortable that some sub-plot was going on. Not simply a whitewashing of the church's reprehensible role in the suppression of scientific enquiry but the audacious suggestion that we somehow have the church to thank for the, already overblown, achievements of medieval science. This, it would seem, because despite all the condemnations, inquisitions, banned books and topics, etc., the church didn't interfere too much in the study of mathematics and mechanics, or to burn people for stating scientific truths without first giving them the opportunity to recant. Well, thank you church. A little web searching soon suggested that the author appears to be some sort of `believer' that has previously upheld creationist notions and the existence of miracles. Surprise, surprise. No wonder the first gushing review on the back of the book is from The Catholic Herald.
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Showing 1-5 of 5 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 15 Jan 2012 06:08:41 GMT
J. Patterson says:
This commentator will one day hopefully reach the understanding that "science" (specifically natural science) is not coterminous with "knowledge", still less "truth". What he understands as science is basically "rules of thumb, to get stuff done" as the rhyme has it. All extremely useful, we can all agree. I'm particularly grateful for the WC and the discovery of the scientific principles underlying it. Imagine life without it! But when it comes to most things that human beings have to encounter and cope with in their lives, what really matters to them and indeed "mattering" as such, what this commentator understands by science is basically Scunthorpe United.
In reply to an earlier post on 15 Jan 2012 12:19:34 GMT
Mr. Lee Simpson says:
I don't know if anybody else can make any sense of this comment, but I can't.
In reply to an earlier post on 17 Jan 2012 21:03:12 GMT
Medieval Lady says:
Few people also realise how the Medieval obsession with all things Aristotelian was as much responsible for the stifling of scientific progress as anything the church did, and many of those who realise don't readily admit it.
In reply to an earlier post on 6 May 2014 21:35:47 BDT
Super Chief Yoshi says:
It means, roughly, faith matters more than science. Faith is truth, science is a means to an end.
Typical religious argument. One that, incidentally, has no bearing on the well reasoned, historically accurate, review that Mr. Lee Simpson has written.
In reply to an earlier post on 4 Aug 2014 21:23:56 BDT
D. S. Sample says:
I think that the reviewer maybe right, science was often stifled by religious doctrine, education was allowed to flourish since the English translation of the Bible [King James] , the "Plough boy" was eventually allowed to be educated .
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