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The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution Hardcover – March 22, 2011

4.4 out of 5 stars 43 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From the Inside Flap


Maybe the Dark Ages Weren’t So Dark After All…

Here are some facts you probably didn’t learn in school:
People in the Middle Ages did not think the world was flat—in fact, medieval scholars could prove it wasn’t
The Inquisition never executed anyone because of their scientific ideas or discoveries (actually, the Church was the chief sponsor of scientific research and several popes were celebrated for their knowledge of the subject)
It was medieval scientific discoveries, methods, and principles that made possible Western civilization’s “Scientific Revolution”

If you were taught that the Middle Ages were a time of intellectual stagnation, superstition, and ignorance, you were taught a myth that has been utterly refuted by modern scholarship.

As a physicist and historian of science James Hannam shows in his brilliant new book, The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution, that without the scholarship of the “barbaric” Middle Ages, modern science simply would not exist.

The Middle Ages were a time of one intellectual triumph after another. As Dr. Hannam writes, “The people of medieval Europe invented spectacles, the mechanical clock, the windmill, and the blast furnace by themselves. Lenses and cameras, almost all kinds of machinery, and the industrial revolution itself all owe their origins to the forgotten inventors of the Middle Ages.”

In The Genesis of Science you will discover

Why the scientific accomplishments of the Middle Ages far surpassed those of the classical world
How medieval craftsmen and scientists not only made discoveries of their own, but seized upon Eastern inventions—printing, gunpowder, and the compass—and improved them beyond the dreams of their originators
How Galileo’s notorious trial before the Inquisition was about politics, not science
Why the theology of the Catholic Church, far from being an impediment, led directly to the development of modern science

Provocative, engaging, and a terrific read, James Hannam’s Genesis of Science will change the way you think about our past—and our future.

From the Back Cover

PRAISE FOR THE GENESIS OF SCIENCE

"With an engaging fervour, James Hannam has set about rescuing the reputation of a bunch of half-forgotten thinkers, and he shows how they paved the way for modern science." --Boris Johnson, Mail on Sunday

"This book contains much valuable material summarised with commendable no-nonsense clarity...James Hannam has done a fine job of knocking down an old caricature." --Sunday Telegraph

"Hannam, the liveliest of guides, makes enjoyable reading out of some seriously dusty history and difficult ideas." --Scotsman

"Here, in short, is a readable book, aimed at an intelligent but ignorant layman. You'll enjoy it." --Daniel Hannan MEP, Daily Telegraph

"A very useful general survey of a difficult topic, and a robust defence of an unfairly maligned age." --Spectator
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Regnery Publishing; 1st edition (March 22, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1596981555
  • ISBN-13: 978-1596981553
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 6.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #158,680 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Thomas Gilson on March 19, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I reviewed this book in its English edition in 2009, when it was released under the title _God's Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science." It concerned me that a book with "philosophers" and "medieval" in its title might elicit only blank-faced stares among potential readers. Of course I was viewing it from my own American perspective; the English are undoubtedly more sophisticated about these things than we are. If it had that effect anywhere it would be a shame, for Hannam, a Ph.D. historian of science with degrees from both Oxford and Cambridge, knows how to write readable history -- and the tale he tells is truly fascinating. The U.S. version comes with "Genesis" and "Science" situated provocatively together in the title instead. I hope that stirs up a sizable readership, for this book deserves it.

It is the latest entry in a controversy with a history of its own. Hannam tells 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 took flower 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."

Others have treated White less gently than that.
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Format: Hardcover
Few subjects may confuse or create more controversies than "science and religion". It doesn't help much that the Medieval Period more often than not still is called the Dark Ages.

The result is a silly series of myths and misunderstandings. I have on several occasions thrown my hands up in despair when people refuses to accept that no serious scientist (or natural philosopher as it was called in those days) in the Middle Ages believed that the earth was flat or was persecuted by The Church for their science. Or that anything of value really happened between the fall of the Roman Empire and the Renaissance.

The myths perpetuated in the 19th century by people like Draper and White surface also in bestsellers by Carl Sagan, Daniel Boorstin, William Manchester and Charles Freeman to name a few.

Even if historians of science like Lindberg and Numbers long have shown that Draper and White rarely get it right, and e.g. Grant has described the positive effects of the Medieval Age on western rationality, James Hannam gives it all an illuminating and sometimes amusing spin.

"The Genesis of Science" combines a thorough knowledge of the period with an engaging readability. Persons and politics are made alive, from the early middle ages to the various minor renaissances and recoverings of ancient learning, especially in the Twelfth Century.

The story is well told about how Aristotle's pagan science was christianised and why Oxford philosophers like Grosseteste, Bacon and Ockham were so influential. As well as the efforts to correct the errors of Aristotle by the so called Merton Calculators.

Hannam also gives us a pretty good idea why people came to dismiss the period.
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Format: Hardcover
Alfred North Whitehead said the reason the west developed science was Christian theology. This is what he stated: "There seems but one source...It must come from the medieval insistence on the rationality of God...Every detail was supervised and ordered; the search in to nature could only result in the vindication of the faith in rationality".

In "The Genesis of Science" Hannan argues persuasively that real science started in the west during the Middle Ages.

And the cornerstone for the development of science was "the invention of the university" (p 66. Universities were open to all. The courses centered on logic, reason, and natural philosophy, essentially giving every student a background in logic and the basics of science.

There was constant cross pollination between science and theological debates. As Hanan explains, "Many theologians also wrote important works of natural philosophy, and they considered the subject an essential part of their training" (p 347.

In addition to the thousands of inventions and the spreading knowledge of science, the Middle Ages also created the concept of rights, which stemmed directly from Christian theology.
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In The Genesis of Science, Dr. Hannam seems to have two main purposes. First, he wants to demonstrate that the so-called "Dark Ages" were not so dark; that, in fact, the groundwork for modern science was laid during this time. And, second, that the Catholic Church was not the enemy of science; that, in fact, it was the Church that supported science in its birth. Dr. Hannam is moderately successful in achieving both of these purposes.

The fact that modern science did not spring like Athena from the minds of men like Kepler and Galileo around 1600 is not really a surprise. And Dr. Hannam does a nice job discussing some of the important precursors like the rise of universities and the translations into Latin of classical texts during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. He takes us through an entire series of important men and their discoveries of the period from about 1200 - 1600, which is very well done and fascinating. But he seems to overreach a bit. Despite his claim that important things were going on from 476 - 1200, apart from a few scattered names and small achievements, the Dark Ages still seem pretty dark for about 700 years.

As for the Church, Dr. Hannam tries his best to make the medieval institution the incubator of knowledge that will bring modern science to life. In this he is less successful. That the Church often played a positive role in the development of universities and the recovery of classical knowledge is true. On the other hand, his argument that the Inquisition wasn't as bad is it is made out to be or that men like Bruno and Galileo brought many of their problems on themselves while true to a certain extent, doesn't really exonerate the Church.

Overall, however, Dr.
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