"The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution," by James Hannam.
You might read the subtitle of this book and fear or hope for a sharp polemical argument. The Genesis of Science is, in fact, an informed, pretty mellow, and easily read explanation of "how the Christian Middle Ages launched the Scientific Revolution." There is some stress on the word "Christian." But while Hannam does argue that Christianity played an important role in the birth of modern science, he recognizes that the story is complex, with many actors, and most actors playing ambivalent roles. Hannam brings this complexity to life well, while his rehabilitation of Medieval civilization lends the story continuity.
In some ways, Hannam's thesis might be defined by half a sentence in the second-to-last paragraph of the book:
"You could call any century from the twelfth to the twentieth a revolution in science . . . "
Actually, Hannam begins in earnest with the 11th Century, which he shows set the intellectual stage for what was to come. This was as soon as one could hope for: Europe had spend half a millennia fitfully recovering from a long series of invasions, and had never been the economic heart of Western civilization, anyway. Hannam mostly ends with Galileo and the first half of the 17th Century. But each century between these bookends gets a fair amount of attention, with many unknown characters, and stars, traipsing across the book's pages.
Among other things, I found Hannam's discussion of Humanism interesting. He argues that "humanism almost managed to destroy 300 years of progress in natural philosophy," by encouraging intellectuals to scoff at Medieval attainments. C. S. Lewis makes the same point about literature in his magisterial English Literature in the 16th Century: he shows that the humanists also scorned, and largely lost, the literary attainments of the Middle Ages. Many modern skeptics delude themselves into thinking the Enlightenment gave Western culture everything of value, even (I have heard them!) modern science. I appreciate those like Hannam and Lewis (Confucius is another) who help us remember and better appreciate our roots.
Another topic Hannam does not much touch on, but that came to mind when I interviewed Allan Chapman, historian of science at Oxford's Wadham College, where the Royal Society partly began, was the fact that Europe, while one civilization, was divided into many competing states. As it happens, so was ancient Greece, and the almost equally creative "Spring and Autumn / Warring States" period in Chinese history. (All of which, in addition, were theistic.) This E Pluribus Unum thing seems to work well, along with this "one civilization under God" idea
Other good sources: Please do listen to my interview of Allan Chapman at christthetao.com. He's quite a character, with a sweeping and enthusiastic knowledge of the subject. And as the interview takes place at his home, his clock collection chimes in, as well. Also interesting: Charles Thaxton and Nancy Pearson, The Soul of Science; Stephen Barr, Modern Physics and Ancient Faith; and for different perspectives, David Landes, The Wealth and Poverty of Nations; and, for an opposing explanation that is depressing but formidably argued, Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel.
Back to Book 1.
Forward to Book 5.