Major Book Reviews -- Renaissance and Reformation and the Rise of Science by Harold P. Nebelsick

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Renaissance and Reformation and the Rise of Science, by Harold P. Nebelsick. T & T Clark, Edinburgh, 1992. 237 pp. $29.95. ISBN 0-567-09604-1.

NEBELSICK'S TWO DECADES as professor of doctrinal theology at Louisville Theological Seminary and his two previous volumes (Theology and Science in Mutual Modification [New York: Oxford University Press, 1981]; Circles of God: Theology and Science from the Greeks to Copernicus [Edinburgh: Scottish Academic, 1985]) made him a well-known name, particularly in science and theology circles.

Unfortunately, due to Nebelsick's untimely death in 1989, the present volume may be the last of his works to appear in print. It is based on unfinished manuscripts, edited by members of his family. The three chapters cover the Middle Ages (the medieval criticism of Aristotle), the Renaissance (the revival of Neoplatonism), and the Reformation. They appear originally to have been written as independent essays, but they fit rather nicely into a logical sequence. A careful reader will notice that a number of sentences and paragraphs seem to have been inserted or displaced from their original contexts (e.g., pp. 8-9 on Neoplatonic Hermeticism).

In some ways, the treatment here parallels that in Circles of God. Circles treated Greek natural philosophy in some depth and touched on medieval scholasticism as background for Copernicus. The present volume covers the Arabs, medieval critics of Aristotle, the early Neoplatonists, Renaissance Neoplatonism, and the Reformation culminating in the work of Francis Bacon. As noted in the Preface by Paul Matheny and Mary Nebelsick, separate essays on Giordano Bruno and Johannes Kepler still remain unfinished and unpublished.

Like Circles of Cod, the present volume is concerned with the etiology of modern science. Given the fact that science today has achieved so much, why were the contributions of the ancient Greeks and the medieval Arabs so meager by comparison? What was different about early modern (Western) Europe that made the rise of modern science possible? According to Alfred North Whitehead, it was the belief in the rationality of nature and the development of logic in the Middle Ages (Science and the Modem. World [Cambridge: University Press, 1932]). Nebelsick argues instead that medieval Aristotelian logic was a type of rationalism and was a dead end as far as science is concerned. It could help to cultivate an interest in ancient science and an appreciation for the power of logic, but it could not develop into modern science as we know it today (pp. xxii, 17-18, 29, 52, 64-65, 82-84). What was needed was the combination of Aristotelian logic with Neoplatonic imagination and a Christian critique of both, based on the doctrine of creation (pp. …