Wednesday, December 1, 2010
God's Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science, by James Hannam (Icon)
The Taliban are frequently referred to in the press as "medieval", Hannam says in this engaging history, but while life in the Middle Ages was often short and violent, it doesn't deserve to be caricatured as backward or primitive. The denigration of the Middle Ages began in the 16th century, he explains, reaching its apotheosis in the 18th and 19th centuries, when it was generally agreed that the Church had kept everyone in the dark throughout the so-called Dark Ages, impeding scientific progress. But this narrative doesn't fit the facts, Hannam argues. Of course, theology came top of the Church's priorities, but it also promoted the study of God's creation: natural philosophy, which went on to become what we know today as science (the word "scientist" was not coined until 1833). In short, "the most significant contribution of the natural philosophers of the Middle Ages was to make modern science even conceivable". And where did natural philosophy flourish? In universities, the first of which were founded in the 12th century.