James Hannam is the author of “The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution,” set to be officially released Monday.
Hannam earned his undergraduate degree in physics from St. Anne’s College at Oxford University and a PhD in the History and Philosophy of Science from Cambridge University. He has been published in numerous scholarly and non-scholarly publications and is also the author of “God’s Philosophers.”
Hannam recently agreed to answer 10 questions from The Daily Caller about his new book and other topics of interest:
1. Why did you decide to write the book?
As someone with a physics degree who is also a Christian, I was puzzled about why science and religion were supposed to be in conflict. They certainly weren’t for me. So, I dug deeper and found that throughout history, the reality has been very different. I also discovered a host of fascinating but forgotten Christian thinkers in the Middle Ages who deserved to be brought back to light. In short, there was a fantastic story that no one knew and which was waiting to be told.
2. You contend that contrary to popular belief, there was great scientific advancement during the Middle Ages because of the Church. How did the Church help spur this scientific discovery and why do most people believe the Church was a hindrance to science?
The Church made math and science a compulsory part of the syllabus at medieval universities for anyone who wanted to study theology. That meant loads of students got grounding in these subjects, and professors could hold down jobs teaching it.
The myth that the Church held back science dates from the “enlightenment” when Voltaire and other French philosophes invented it to attack the Catholics of their own day as impediments to political progress.
3. What are the most important and lasting scientific advancements to come out of the Middle Ages?
Fourteenth-century natural philosophers developed the arguments on relative motion used by Copernicus to explain why we cannot tell the Earth is moving; the mathematical formula that Galileo used to describe how objects fall under gravity; the concept of inertia and human dissection. All these achievements were used by later scientists without acknowledgement. And medieval inventors gave us eyeglasses, the mechanical clock, the horse harness, the printed book, and reliable handguns.
4. You write that it is a myth that people in the Middle Ages believed the world was flat. How did this supposedly erroneous notion about the Middle Ages become part of our conventional wisdom?
The earliest record I’ve found of this myth is from a book by Sir Francis Bacon written in the sixteenth century. Sir Francis was a Protestant who claimed believing the Earth is flat was evidence for medieval Catholic stupidity. So the myth started off as Protestant propaganda but was soon used to denigrate the Middle Ages in general.
5. What are some of the other great myths of the Middle Ages that we haven’t touched upon so far but our readers would find intriguing?
There are loads! For example, witch trials didn’t get going until the Renaissance and reached their peak in the seventeenth century, so they are not really medieval at all. Even medieval torture devices like the iron maiden turn out never to have existed until 1800 when they were invented as gruesome hoaxes. My favorite myths, because they are so ridiculous, is that a pope excommunicated Halley ’s Comet and that medieval theologians liked to ask how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.