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God's Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science Kindle Edition
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Instead the book is purely theoretical, discusses the priests & popes, their attitudes, but no specific scientific data.
If James Hannam intended to show that science was indeed brought forward it's a feeble attempt. Not very convincing.
That's the good part, but the bad is this: instead of leaving the facts to speak for themselves, Hannam is unsubtly pushing a pro-Middle Age, and worse, pro-Catholic-Church-in-the-Middle-Ages agenda. It is of course incorrect to blindly defame and devalue this whole period of our history; but it is equally erroneous to glorify those thousand years and to claim that it was in the Middle ages that the foundations of modern science were laid, under the friendly auspices of Church institutions. His over-protestations actually undermine his own hypothesis, viz. that the Church might have offered some positive framework for empirical studies in the Middle Ages. The facts of the matter clearly speak a different message. 'Thinking' was an affair controlled from above, dominated by the organs of the Vatican, later with the vicious and deadly support of the 'Holy Inquisition'. Many people died for their views, a historical fact which is recorded by Hannam but disingenuously explained away. Galileo does not come off well: it was of course an exaggeration, Hannam seems to suggest, for the Inquisition to threaten him with burning and then sentence him to life imprisonment, but Galileo was himself not without fault, and in a sense he provoked his own fate. A classical case of the victim being made co-responsible.Lesen Sie weiter... ›
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This book is the latest entry in a controversy with a history of its own. Hannam speaks of the myth that "there was no science worth mentioning in the Middle Ages," and "the Church held back what meagre advances were made." These beliefs originated as late as the 19th century with Thomas Henry Huxley, John William Draper, and Andrew Dickson White, who tried to paint religion as the enemy of science. Their story has been told often; Hannam himself has blogged on it.
A.D. White's part is particularly unfortunate, in that he produced a highly influential, heavily footnoted, apparently scholarly tome on the historic warfare between science and religion. Hannam assesses his work this way:
"Anyone who checks his references will wonder how he could have maintained his opinions if he had read as much as he claimed to have done."
Other recent historians have treated White less gently than that.
Hannam situates these myths in historical context:
"The denigration of the Middle Ages began as long ago as the sixteenth century, when humanists, the intellectual trendsetters of the time, started to champion classical Greek and Roman literature. They cast aside medieval scholarship on the grounds that it was convoluted and written in `barbaric' Latin. So people stopped reading and studying it.... The waters were muddied further by ... Protestant writers not to give an ounce of credit to Catholics. It suited them to maintain that nothing of value had been taught at universities before the Reformation."
This is no simplistic apologetic for Christianity as the root of scientific thinking. Hannam summarizes the church's relationship with natural philosophy as one of "creative tension." Nevertheless it's impossible not to notice who led the way in medieval natural philosophy:
- A mathematician Pope at the turn of the last millennium.
- A monk in 1092 who used an astrolabe to construct the lunar calendar.
- St. Anselm and Peter Abelard, clerics who elevated the role of reason and logic in philosophy and theology.
- Cathedral school scholars who taught that "God is loving and consistent rather than capricious and arbitrary" paving the way for the study of a consistently operating world of nature.
- The universities, products of the Church.
- The church's condemnation of certain (not all) Aristotelian dogmas, which - opened the door for experimental study rather restricting natural philosophy to Aristotle's pure reasoning.
- A Polish clergyman, Copernicus, who challenged Aristotelian and Ptolemaic views of the heavens.
I could go on, but you get the point. The tension between religion and natural philosophy was a creative one that led to new technologies (improved plows, the stirrup, clocks, the compass, eyeglasses, mills, and more), new theories (impetus/momentum, theories of acceleration), new observational tools (observatories, telescopes), and new institutions of learning (cathedral schools and universities).
And as the author states in his conclusion, it also produced the metaphysical cornerstone for modern science:
"We take it for granted and we do not worry about why people began studying nature in the first place....
"To understand why science was attractive even before it could demonstrate its remarkable success in explaining the universe, it is necessary to look at things from a medieval point of view. The starting point for all natural philosophy in the Middle Ages was that nature had been created by God. This made it a legitimate area of study because through nature, man could learn about its creator. Medieval scholars thought that nature followed the rules that God had ordained for it. Because God was consistent and not capricious, these natural laws were constant and worth scrutinising. However, these scholars rejected Aristotle's contention that the laws of nature were bound by necessity. God was not constrained by what Aristotle thought. The only way to find out which laws God had decided on was by the use of experience and observation. The motivations and justification of medieval natural philosophers were carried over almost unchanged by the pioneers of modern science."
I am not an expert in medieval philosophy, but I think there is little risk in being confident in what Hannam has to say. (This is no scholarly fraud, á la A.D. White.) It's a straightforward account of the development of important ideas and inventions, in the context of a continent dominated by Christian thinking. One segment of the story does get convoluted: Galileo gets a full three chapters. Nevertheless the conclusion is clear: the roots of modern science go down deep into Christian culture, theology, and practice.
There are several reasons to recommend this book. Firstly it is a good historical drama with a rich cast of interesting characters and contexts. The author is a good narrator and takes us through the stories briskly and thoroughly. He gives enough detail to make the point, and if you need further evidence there is a useful reference list as well.
Secondly this book is good at separating the events that happened during the middle ages from the myths and pejorative labels that have been attached to the middle ages by later observers for their own purposes. This book shows that there were never many believers in a flat earth. This book shows that the Christian milieu provided a fertile growing ground for science and was not opposed to science. Conflicts between a literal reading of the bible and science were resolved sensibly and quickly.
The people living in the middle ages did not know they were in the middle of anything. They were humans with their own strengths and weaknesses trying to make sense of the world they found themselves in. They struggled with this as well as they could do and made huge intellectual and technological progress, which we in turn have built on. This book is a glorious story of people and how they used knowledge to better their understanding of the world. It is a glorious example of a historian writing to explore and understand how the world appeared to his subjects, rather than to impose his modern views on a past people.
This book increases our respect for the great medieval scholars and their work, and its role in helping us to get to where we are now. It is a great rehabilitation exercise on an often unjustly mocked period of history. I can recommend it highly to other readers.
James Hannam is a historian of science with a special interest in the medieval period. He's concerned about the quantity of myths circulating on his chosen subject. So, starting around 1000 AD, and running up to Galileo, each chapter focuses on a number of figures who made scientific advances. Each character gets a biography -- all these are very readable -- and full of interest. Many of them were known to me only as names, if that.
He talks about how each related to the medieval world, and especially to the church, which seems to have held the same sort of role it did today. Yes you could get punished for heresy; but in reality for a scholar you really had to try hard. Your chances of being prosecuted were much less than if today you utter a "racist" remark at some university, for instance.
The church was very keen on promoting learning, since it made them look good; and the new universities ensured freedom of speech by playing off the nobility against the pushier clerics. Even Galileo got away with pretty much anything until he alienated his supporters (the Jesuits) and then took the mick out of the Pope personally.
The renaissance, so very important in every other area, was something of a backward step for science. Because it focused on recovering ancient authors and ignoring the middle ages, it discarded medieval work on the limitations of Aristotle. Both Aristotle and Galen enjoyed an unjustified vogue during this period in consequence. This is the sort of information that shows how what we all know is in fact a bit of a myth. But Hannam is not a revisionist; merely an expert talking about his chosen field, which is one that most of us know little about.
The book is aimed at the general educated reader, but well footnoted. It's pretty long, the text being over 300 pages. But because it falls naturally into episodes, it might be the sort of book for bedtime, where you read a few pages and then do the same tomorrow. It's full of little gems like the invention of spectacles in Italy in the middle ages. The only problem is that you might want to keep reading!
If you are interested in the history of science and have always presumed the Middle Ages was a period of nothing, then you need this book. Galileo is indeed the founder of modern science; but without this background, much of what he did and was will remain incomprehensible to you.
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