A WORLD WITHOUT WOMEN: The Christian Clerical Culture of Western Science by David F. Noble

A WORLD WITHOUT WOMEN: The Christian Clerical Culture of Western Science

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Noble (History of Science and Technology/York Univ., Toronto; Forces of Production, 1984, etc.) challenges the commonly held assumption that modern science developed in opposition to an authoritarian Church, claiming instead that the celibate, male-dominated Catholic tradition provided both support and inspiration for the scientific tradition that would virtually supplant it--a provocative thesis backed by a painstakingly detailed history. Christianity originated as a potentially egalitarian religion, Noble says--but almost from the beginning, he explains, women were forced to struggle against political and cultural forces aimed at pushing them out of the spiritual mainstream and into the home. Though occasional early heretical movements supporting spiritual unity between the sexes--as well as the undeniable power of a wealthy, female, medieval elite--exerted some counterforce to the Church's generally anti-female development, the 12th century saw the virtual end of fully empowered female spiritual counselors and a great emphasis on male clerical celibacy. It was this male-dominated, misogynistic Church, then, that established the European colleges from which modern science sprang--colleges in which the pursuit of knowledge was considered a sacred act, scholars were treated as a kind of monk, celibacy was encouraged, and women were categorically excluded. These origins have led to today's curiously anomalous scientific priesthood in which, Noble says, women continue to be discriminated against, dismissed, and even supplanted as a species (through the development of artificial insemination, robot technology, and other forms of artificial creation)--an unnatural legacy in need of profound revision. Both Noble and Joseph Schwartz (The Creative Moment, reviewed below) describe the world of modern science as an insulated, priestly, and discriminatory culture--but their explanations of how and why it got that way (and particularly their antithetical depictions of Galileo and Newton) remain strikingly and intriguingly opposed.

Pub Date: May 16th, 1992
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Knopf