by David F. Noble ‧ RELEASE DATE: Sept. 9, 1997
Noble (History of Science/York Univ., Canada) argues that the apparent dichotomy between science and religion, between the physical and the spiritual, is an artifact of recent history. He examines nearly 2,000 years of Western history to support his thesis. Noble (A World Without Woman, 1992) cites two early impulses behind the urge to advance in science and technology: the conviction that apocalypse is imminent, and the belief that increasing human knowledge helps recover knowledge lost in Eden. For example, Columbus's writings show that he believed the Orinoco to be one of the rivers of Paradise and expected the End Times to come within a century or so. Indeed, the metaphor of a return to Eden runs through the writings of advocates of science, exploration, and technology from the earliest days. Isaac Newton's religious studies, which seem such a puzzle to moderns, grew out of his belief that, by understanding the divine creation, man fulfills God's plan in preparing for the millennium by perfecting himself. Priestley, Faraday, Clerk-Maxwell, and other giants of Anglo-American science shared his millenarianism. Evolution, which decoupled science from religion, led to a restatement of the millenarian vision as a secular quest for perfection, one that underlies scientific enterprise from NASA to the Human Genome Project. But, says Noble, without the religious underpinnings from which it arose, the quest for perfection leads to technical progress for its own sake--and to Hiroshima, Chernobyl, and other horrors yet to be unveiled. Only by demystifying science and by depriving its practitioners of their quasi-priestly status can we rehumanize it and turn it again to real human needs. Densely argued and supported, but well within the grasp of the nontechnical reader, Noble's thesis is fascinating and in many ways convincing. An important document--and inevitably a controversial one--in the current debates on the role of science in society.
Pub Date: Sept. 9, 1997
Page Count: 304
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1997
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