Theology and the Scientific Imagination from the Middle Ages to the Seventeenth Centuryby Amos Funkenstein

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  • Theology and the Scientific Imagination from the Middle Ages to the Seventeenth Centuryby Amos FunkensteinReview by: Francis OakleyIsis, Vol. 78, No. 4 (Dec., 1987), pp. 664-665Published by: The University of Chicago Press on behalf of The History of Science SocietyStable URL: .Accessed: 09/05/2014 13:42

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  • 664 BOOK REVIEWS-ISIS, 78: 4: 294 (1987)

    rightly linking questions of "is" to those of "ought. "

    Continuing the use of analogies to con- struct an understanding connecting science to theology, Arthur Peacocke asks the question, "What is it to be a Christian theist in a post-Darwinian world?" (p. 121) and answers it by exploring the tension be- tween transcendence and immanence in a theology of creation. The image Peacocke uses is that of Beethoven as the creator of the Seventh Symphony. The need to gener- ate fresh images to accommodate a Dar- winian world is central to efforts to keep theology from becoming the "mere inner musings of a religious ghetto" (p. 127).

    The final three essays explore the so- ciological and anthropological dimensions of scientific and religious belief. Vernon Reynolds and Ralph Tanner, in "The Ef- fects of Religion on Human Biology," use sociobiological theory to investigate the question of how membership in a religious group or belief in a religious faith affects individual survival and reproductive suc- cess. The world religions, with their dis- tinct beliefs about marriage, reproduction, and child-rearing, evolved in particular eco- logical settings, and their teachings are sen- sitive to economic and social forces.

    While Reynolds and Tanner explore the biological basis for religion, Mary Midgley studies the ways in which belief in biologi- cal evolution may function as a religious belief. Stating that evolution is the creation myth of our age, Midgley's view that science may be one of the "varieties of reli- gious experience" may give some comfort to the view that scientific, particularly evolutionary, thought is a religious system essentially the same as that taught in churches or other theological communities. Midgley's essay is most helpful in noting the equivalence of scientific and religious arrogance in claiming exclusive access to rationality or truth. The tendency to vener- ate technological and scientific achieve- ments is a flaw in our social structure seri- ous enough to demand the attention of careful, philosophical whistle-blowers like Midgley.

    The last chapter, not surprisingly in a book on Darwinism and divinity, is devoted to the rise of scientific creationism in the twentieth century. Eileen Barker's account of British creationist groups gives her es- say a nuance that will interest American readers who may have grown tired of read-

    ing about the Scopes trial and the Institute for Creation Research, but who might be interested in the Evolution Protest Move- ment and the Biblical Creation Society. She concludes that there is a strong tendency in dogmatic belief systems to resolve ques- tions with a simple dichotomy (e.g., true or false, creation or evolution). The volume as a whole serves as a collective warning against the simple substitution of scientific dogmatic dichotomies for religious ones.

    The metaphor of a kaleidoscope being shaken and reshaken to form and renew patterns is an apt one. No final, definitive statement can be offered on the relation- ship between modern science and religious belief. The consciousness of the essayists in Darwinism and Divinity that they are just beginning to formulate an outline of the history and contemporary interactions of evolutionary biology and religious belief creates a climate in which the reader is aware that many people will have their turns shaking the kaleidoscope.


    Amos Funkenstein. Theology and the Scien- tific Imagination from the Middle Ages to the Seventeenth Century. xii + 421 pp., bibl., index. Princeton: Princeton Univer- sity Press, 1986. $49.50.

    In this remarkable book, the fruit of a lifetime's reading and reflection, Amos Funkenstein returns to an issue that has long preoccupied him: the identification of the precise point of transition from modes of reasoning characteristically medieval to those characteristic of the early modern era. But he does so this time in synthetic fashion, linking together disparate fields of knowledge-scientific, theological, philo- sophical, historical-he previously treated independently of one another, and pivoting the whole ambitious enterprise upon a uni- fying thesis. It is his central claim that in the thinking of many seventeenth-century intellectuals the "theocentric theologies" prevalent in the Middle Ages gave way to "cosmocentric theologies," that during the Scientific Revolution, indeed, science and theology blended in wholly novel fashion into a single intellectual "idiom" or mode of discourse, "in which theological con- cerns were expressed in terms of secular knowledge, and scientific concerns were expressed in theological terms" (p. 346). As

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  • BOOK REVIEWS-ISIS, 78: 4: 294 (1987) 665

    a result, theology and the other sciences, he further argues, were unified in wholly unprecedented degree, producing a theol- ogy that was nothing less than secular- secular both because it was directed toward the world and because it was the work of laymen such as Galileo, Descartes, Boyle, Leibniz, Newton, Hobbes, and Vico.

    Abandoning without redundant argument the notion of an inevitable "warfare be- tween theology and science," which shaped the interpretations of the first historians of science and has continued to cast an inex- plicably long shadow across more recent discussions of early modern science, Fun- kenstein also dismisses as "neither demon- strable nor plausible" (p. 362) arguments to the effect that in the absence of medieval theology the early modern science could not have emerged. But upon the multiple interconnections between the two he is in- sistent, and about their crucial significance, entirely convincing. And most of all in the three chapters that make up the heart of the book. Those chapters focus on changes in the meaning and usage during the la- ter Middle Ages and early modern era of the three divine attributes-omnipresence, omnipotence, providence-that he sees as having posed particular difficulties for seventeenth-century thinkers but, in so doing, as having also opened up for scien- tists, especially, important new avenues of thought.

    It is, he argues, the attributes of omni- presence and omnipotence that pertained most directly to the development of scien- tific thinking. Thus, in a context dominated by the twin postulates of the homogeneity of nature and the need for an unequivocal language of science, the older medieval un- derstanding of God's presence in his cre- ation as symbolic or metaphysical gave way to a more concrete physical under- standing. And that understanding led some seventeenth-century scientific thinkers ei- ther to attribute extension to God or to conceive of space as the divine sensorium, almost as an organ of God. Again, Leib- niz's distinction between "logical neces- sity," which he saw as grounded in the principle of noncontradiction, and "physi- cal necessity," which he grounded in the principle of sufficient reason, had its roots in medieval discussions concerning the om- nipotence of God, linking with the scholas- tic distinction between God's absolute and ordained power and the incessant explora-

    tion of counterfactual orders of nature that accompanied that distinction and helped shape early modern formulations of the no- tion of laws of nature.

    Specialists will doubtless find reasons to contest one or other of Funkenstein' s claims. He leaves unexplored, for example, the crucial links between omnipotence, contingency, and empirical reasoning, and it is necessary to insist that (unlike Leibniz) such seventeenth-century thinkers as Boyle and Walter Charleton continued the medi- eval emphasis on divine omnipotence as the source of the world's contingency. But such quibbles aside, it is Funkenstein's great achievement, buttressed by a magis- terial command of the pertinent scholarly literature, to have given added weight to a theme that the philosophers Alfred North Whitehead, R. C. Collingwood, and Mi- chael Foster sounded a half century and more ago. That theme underlined the pro- fundity of the connections linking the early modern science with the medieval scho- lastic theology, but it has yet to find a se- curely accepted place in the repertoire of historians of science. To the exploration of that theme Funkenstein has made a deci- sive contribution. No historian of early modern science can afford to ignore it.


    * Technology in Society

    Joseph Agassi. Technology: Philosophical and Social Aspects. 288 pp. Dordrecht/ Boston/Lancaster: D. Reidel, 1985. $19.95 (paper).

    This is a theoretical explanation of some of the social, political, philosophical, and ethical aspects of technology. From the be- ginning, however, Joseph Agassi empha- sizes the political. Contemporary society, he says, urgently requires more technology to deal with the problems created by pre- vious technologies. But the development of new technologies entails choice, and that requires a decision-making process, that is, politics. These political decisions define the character of any technological develop- ment. Thus Agassi proposes a democratic approach to technological action: "The po- litical bias of the present book is frankly democratic: it opts for democratic control [of technology] and, moreover, for a broad

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    Article Contentsp. 664p. 665

    Issue Table of ContentsIsis, Vol. 78, No. 4 (Dec., 1987), pp. 507-690Volume Information [pp. 673-685]Front Matter [pp. 507-513]Editorial: Isis at Seventy-Five [pp. 514-517]Science as Handmaiden: Roger Bacon and the Patristic Tradition [pp. 518-536]Darwin's Malthusian Metaphor and Russian Evolutionary Thought, 1859-1917 [pp. 537-551]HSS LectureApplied History of Science [pp. 552-563]

    Documents & TranslationsNewton's Clavis as Starkey's Key [pp. 564-574]

    News of the ProfessionThe Historian of Science's Guide to France [p. 575]

    Essay Reviews: Two ReappraisalsReview: Government Science [pp. 576-589]Review: Big Science [pp. 589-591]

    Book ReviewsHistory of ScienceReview: untitled [pp. 592-593]

    Sources of InformationReview: untitled [pp. 593-594]Review: untitled [pp. 594-595]Review: untitled [pp. 595-596]

    Historical MethodsReview: untitled [pp. 596-597]

    Philosophy of ScienceReview: untitled [p. 597]Review: untitled [pp. 597-598]

    Scientific InstitutionsReview: untitled [pp. 598-600]Review: untitled [pp. 600-602]

    MathematicsReview: untitled [p. 602]Review: untitled [p. 603]

    Physical SciencesReview: untitled [pp. 603-604]Review: untitled [pp. 604-605]Review: untitled [p. 605]Review: untitled [pp. 605-606]Review: untitled [pp. 606-607]

    Earth SciencesReview: untitled [pp. 607-608]Review: untitled [pp. 608-609]Review: untitled [pp. 609-611]Review: untitled [pp. 611-612]

    Biological SciencesReview: untitled [p. 612]Review: untitled [pp. 612-613]Review: untitled [pp. 613-614]Review: untitled [pp. 614-615]

    MedicineReview: untitled [pp. 615-616]Review: untitled [pp. 617-618]Review: untitled [pp. 618-619]Review: untitled [pp. 619-620]Review: untitled [pp. 620-621]Review: untitled [pp. 621-622]

    TechnologyReview: untitled [pp. 622-623]Review: untitled [pp. 623-624]Review: untitled [pp. 624-625]Review: untitled [pp. 625-626]Review: untitled [p. 626]Review: untitled [pp. 627-628]

    Middle AgesReview: untitled [pp. 628-629]Review: untitled [pp. 629-630]Review: untitled [pp. 630-631]

    RenaissanceReview: untitled [pp. 631-632]

    Seventeenth CenturyReview: untitled [pp. 632-634]Review: untitled [p. 634]Review: untitled [pp. 634-635]

    Eighteenth CenturyReview: untitled [pp. 635-636]Review: untitled [pp. 636-637]Review: untitled [pp. 637-638]

    Nineteenth CenturyReview: untitled [pp. 638-639]Review: untitled [pp. 639-640]Review: untitled [pp. 640-641]Review: untitled [pp. 641-642]Review: untitled [pp. 642-643]

    Twentieth CenturyReview: untitled [pp. 643-644]Review: untitled [pp. 644-645]Review: untitled [pp. 645-646]Review: untitled [pp. 646-647]

    A Special Section on Social and Humanistic Relations of Science, Medicine, and TechnologyActivismReview: untitled [pp. 647-648]

    DisseminationReview: untitled [pp. 648-649]Review: untitled [pp. 649-650]Review: untitled [pp. 650-652]

    GenderReview: untitled [pp. 652-653]Review: untitled [p. 653]Review: untitled [p. 654]Review: untitled [pp. 654-656]

    Health in the WorkplaceReview: untitled [pp. 656-657]

    LiteratureReview: untitled [pp. 657-658]Review: untitled [pp. 658-659]Review: untitled [pp. 659-660]Review: untitled [pp. 660-661]Review: untitled [pp. 661-662]

    ReligionReview: untitled [pp. 662-663]Review: untitled [pp. 663-664]Review: untitled [pp. 664-665]

    Technology in SocietyReview: untitled [pp. 665-666]Review: untitled [pp. 666-667]

    Back Matter [pp. 668-690]


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