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The Fall of Man and the Foundations of Science
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Book description

Peter Harrison provides an account of the religious foundations of scientific knowledge. He shows how the approaches to the study of nature that emerged in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were directly informed by theological discussions about the Fall of Man and the extent to which the mind and the senses had been damaged by that primeval event. Scientific methods, he suggests, were originally devised as techniques for ameliorating the cognitive damage wrought by human sin. At its inception, modern science was conceptualized as a means of recapturing the knowledge of nature that Adam had once possessed. Contrary to a widespread view that sees science emerging in conflict with religion, Harrison argues that theological considerations were of vital importance in the framing of the scientific method.


'Peter Harrison assembles mountains of evidence in support of his thesis that early modern debates about the acquisition of knowledge were dominated by the Augustinian belief that the 'fall' of Adam in the Garden of Eden not only deprived Adam’s mind and senses of their original perfection, but also led to the loss of intellectual capacity in all of humanity. The promotion and practice of experimental science, he argues, were meant to counter these epistemological effects of original sin. This is a brilliantly written and persuasively argued book, which will be required reading for anybody interested in the influence of religion on early modern scientific method and epistemology.'

David C. Lindberg - University of Wisconsin

'Among those who have shown the relevance in methods of biblical interpretation to the investigation of nature, Peter Harrison writes with particular distinction. Here he examines questions of great moment to students of nature in seventeenth-century England. How great was the knowledge lost by Adam at the Fall? To what extent, and by what means, could it be regained? His arresting thesis is that competing accounts of scientific method can be correlated with different assessments of the Fall and its consequences. The outcome is a serious challenge to those who persist in the view that seventeenth-century science marked the triumph of secular reason over religious sensibility.'

John Brooke - University of Oxford

‘I have learned much and have been stimulated to learn more about an area that the author has succeeded, with immense learning and beautiful prose, in opening up to the nonscientist or historian of science.’

Mark Elliott Source: Review of Biblical Literature

‘In this extraordinary book, Peter Harrison seeks to show how the biblical account of the Fall of Adam affected the status and pursuit of knowledge in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. … Harrison has produced a brilliant and important scholarly work. He has taken a theme to which few have paid much attention, and shows its significance in striking detail.'

Edward Grant Source: Metascience

'Anyone having read Peter Harrison's 'Religion' and the Religions in the English Enlightenment (1990, 2002) and The Bible, Protestantism and the Rise of Natural Science (1998, 2001), would expect his latest book to offer another outstanding study in the history of the relationship between science and religion, and they will not be disappointed.'

Source: Science and Christian Belief

'The real strength of the book lies in its demonstration of just how persistent the idea of the restoration of Adamic knowledge was. If the thesis is overstated and not as general as the author makes out, what he has provided us with is nevertheless a highly enlightening discussion.'

Source: British Journal for the History of Science

'I am sure that this book will reframe the reader's understanding of the epistemological development of modern science indicated in the title itself.… The substance of the book moves through the major philosophical, theological and scientific thinkers of the period. the result is a revisioning of the dynamics of the relationship between science, the Enlightenment and modernity. The advance of reason was not an inexorable one, but rather the initial focus was on its deficiencies and the misery of the human condition. Only gradually does a more familiar picture emerge. We are perhaps now more sensitive to our human limitations in the face of huge technological advances, so in this sense humility is appropriate. Readers of this remarkable book will arrive at a more complex and nuanced understanding of the origins of modern science.'

Source: Network Review

'… one of the most insightful, carefully researched, tightly argued and helpful contributions on the relationship between the development of scientific knowledge and the influence of religion on that development that I have read.'

Source: Studia Historiae Ecclesiasticae

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