Friday, July 17, 2009

First Review of God’s Philosophers

The book is not out for a few weeks yet, but the July/August edition of The New Humanist includes the first published review of God's Philosophers. And the surprise is that even though The New Humanist is published by the Rationalist Association, they don't hate it. Instead, philosophy lecturer Nina Power from Roehampton University gives it a middling two out of five stars. Her main positive comment:

The course of science never did run smooth, and serious speculation about mathematics went hand-in hand with astrology, alchemy and other discredited forms of pseudo-science (often because more money was to be made in telling fortunes for the rich than by solving equations). Hannam is good on these sorts of details, and as a general introduction to the intricacies of the thought and religious politics of this period, it is a useful guide: the difficulties of reconciling Aristotle's thought with Christian doctrine are particularly well detailed.

And her main negative one (which is as you would expect from The New Humanist):

However, Hannam's deeper motivation, namely to exonerate the Catholic Church from some of the worst excesses of which they stand accused (the persecution of Galileo, the holding back of scientific developments in astronomy, anatomy and physics), leads him to make some extremely convoluted and, at times, very unconvincing arguments. Just because persecution wasn't as bad as it could have been, and just because some thinkers weren't always the nicest of people doesn't mean that interfering in their work and banning their ideas was justifiable then or is justifiable now.

On past form, the review will be available on-line when the next issue of the magazine is out in a couple of months.


Karl said...

Well, at least Mrs. Power is more fair and balanced in her review than some people are. Although I wonder what would happen if someone pointed out discredited forms of pseudo-science that some of the materialist/atheist scientists have peddled over the last century or two? Or the mainstream scientific community holding back certain scientific developments in various fields?

Knowing Thomas said...

I'm surprised Grayling wasn't the first to review God's Philosophers.

Turoldus said...

I hope next review will be made by a trained historian. Despite the "Philosophers" in its title, James' book is basically about history of science.

Matthew said...

you mean when the scientific community didn't want to accept the discovery for which Marshall and Warren received the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 2005, namely peptic ulcer are caused by the bacteria helicobacter pylori (it was believed that bacteria can't survive in digestive acid)?
The story is interesting because Marshall or Warren infected himself with those bacteria, instantly got ill and then healed his own disease, which proved them right.

Karl said...


That is one of the more recent examples, but there are many others. One story I like is that of Ignatz Semmelweis, who began using antisepsis two full decades before Pasteur published his germ theory.

Unfortunately, Semmelweis's emphasis on cleanliness and that there was only one underlying cause for hospital infection went down like a lead balloon among his peers who attributed infection to many different and unrelated causes.

So they labeled him a charlatan, had him fired from his job at the maternity clinic in the Vienna General Hospital and then drove him out of Vienna. Eventually they even had him committed. What wonderful, rational people scientists can be sometimes.