A formidable and fascinating tour de force--tracing the role of science, and anti-science, from Sumerian, Mesopotamian, and...

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SCIENCE DEIFIED AND SCIENCE DEFIED: The Historical Significance of Science in Western Culture

A formidable and fascinating tour de force--tracing the role of science, and anti-science, from Sumerian, Mesopotamian, and Babylonian societies, through Greek thought, the early Church fathers, and Islam, to the late medieval period and the Renaissance. Olsen (History/Humanities, Harvey Mudd College) defines science--very broadly--as a ""set of activities and habit of mind aimed at contributing to an organized and universally valid and testable body of knowledge about phenomena."" Yet that approach, he demonstrates rime and again, enables us to clearly distinguish among schools of thought in Western history. Thus, the reasoned logic and ordering principles of Plato, Origen, or medieval schoolmen make them scientific in principle--in sharp contrast to the Gnostic or Orphic cults and other movements that sought to escape from an evil or irrational world to a more perfect, transcendent realm. (Aristophanes' The Clouds, satirizing Socrates and the sophists, is another of Olsen's intriguing examples of anti-intellectualism.) The book concludes in the middle of the 17th century with the publication of two works that enthusiastically proclaimed the new scientism--Francis Bacon's New Atlantis and Johann Andreae's Christianopolis--but which also, in their emphasis on use, lay the groundwork for present-day ambivalence or even hostility toward science. A projected volume two will carry the story forward. Readers accustomed to traditional histories of science, à la George Sarton, will find Olsen refreshing and challenging; anyone still thinking in terms of the old C. P. Show science-vs.-humanities dichotomy will find him a revelation.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 1982

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Univ. of California Press

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 1982