The Reactionary Renaissance (Part C)

The Reactionary Renaissance (Part C) July 26, 2018


Inner Harbour with Parliament
The British Columbia Parliament Buildings can be seen in the distance (with a green dome) in this view of the Inner Harbor Causeway in Victoria BC. Our lodgings are roughly a fifteen-minute walk to the right of Parliament, out of this Wikimedia CC public domain photograph.


James Hannam earned a bachelor’s degree in physics at Oxford University and followed that up with a Ph.D. in the history of science from the University of Cambridge.  In his book The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution (Washington DC: Henry Regnery, 2011), Dr. Hannam contends that the European Middle Ages, contrary to the views of many and the anti-Christian agendas of some, were not intellectually or scientifically barren and that the Renaissance was not as intellectually progressive as many of us were led to believe.


Here’s another passage from The Genesis of Science:


In combination with printing, humanism had one other damaging effect.  As printed books replaced manuscripts, the old tomes became waste paper.  Combined with the changes in taste and the lack of interest in medieval writing, this meant that entire libaries could disappear.  Sometime between 1535 and 1558, Oxford University contrived to lose every single manuscript in its collection and even sold off the bookcases.  Merton College, home of the Calculators [dcp: the “Merton Calculators” were pioneering medieval mathematicians], threw out three quarters of its ancient library, as many as 900 manuscripts, in the same period.  These were not burned because they were made of valuable vellum.  Instead, the college handed them over to bookbinders who cut them up and used them to make covers for newly purchased printed books.  Today, it is still commonplace to find the beautiful calligraphy of a medieval manuscript glued into the covers of a sixteenth-century printed book.

In traditional histories, the rise of [Renaissance] humanism is usually portrayed as “a good thing,” but the truth is that the humanists almost managed to destroy 300 years of progress in natural philosophy.  By discarding the advances made by medieval scholars together with so many of the manuscripts that contained them, they could have set back the advance of science by centuries.  Einstein might have had to do the work of Newton.  The reason that progress in science was not so held back (although it arguably didn’t move forward as quickly as it might have done) was that the invention of printing had guaranteed that, if nothing else, the old books were preserved.  Most people forgot about them, but a few, like Galileo, used the knowledge found within.  (218)


Posted from Victoria, British Columbia



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