Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

The Fall of Man and the Foundations of Science

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

The Fall of Man and the Foundations of Science

Article excerpt

The Fall of Man and the Foundations of Science. By Peter Harrison. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009. ? + 300 pp. $46.00 (paper).

This book constitutes a welcome study among the variety of histories about the emergence of modern science. Along with Steven Shapin s books, Peter Harrison shows how the emergence of science did not necessarily coincide with the triumph of reason. Rather, Harrison shows that in fact it was a mistrust of reason based on Augustinian anthropology and the constant preoccupation with the effects of the fall that lay behind the new attitude toward nature. 'The birth of modern experimental science was not attended with a new awareness of the powers and capacities of human reason, but rather the opposite - the consciousness of the manifold deficiencies of the intellect, of the misery of human condition, and of the limited scope of scientific achievement" (p. 258). Thus, he attempts to challenge the widely held view that the emergence of a scientific understanding coincided with the triumph of reason over religion. Harrison shows how theological issues like the fall and questions about the character of postiapsarian (after the fall) knowledge play a crucial role in an early modern understanding of knowledge and the way to attain it. "As will become apparent, the contrasting experimental, speculative and illurninative solutions of the early modern problem of knowledge were informed by varying conceptions of die nature and severity of the Fall" (p. 6).

The first chapter, "Adam's Encyclopedia," offers a history of the way Christian theologians understood Adam's fall as the fall from perfect, encyclopedic knowledge; Adam had known the perfect, universal language that described creation, as he was the giver of names. Augustine is the one who brings the various threads together by offering a theory of knowledge spanned between divine illumination, when the mind is turned toward God and receives the truths of the sciences from divine truth, and the depravity of the will which can pull the mind down into the chaos of material creation detached from God. The Augustinian synthesis begins to be challenged when Aristotle enters into the picture in die late twelfth century. For Thomas Aquinas, humans are endowed with a natural fight (through creation) and they are capable of knowledge of the natural realm even before the help of divine grace. So, through the fail Adam lost only his supernatural gifts.

In the second chapter, Harrison moves closer to early modernity by focusing on Luther and Calvin. …

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