Last night, the Royal Society's annual Prize for Science Books was awarded to Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution by Nick Lane, which came in ahead of the five other shortlisted titles.
One of those titles was God's Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations for Modern Science by James Hannam, a history book which earned its nomination for a major science prize due to the revisionist light it claims to throw on the development of science in the medieval period. But did it deserve it? Not according to historian Charles Freeman, author of The Closing of the Western Mind, who has written a point-by-point analysis of its many flaws, exclusively for New Humanist.
Freeman charges that this survey of medieval science and philosophy is skewed in favour of Hannam's Catholicism and that his scholarship "comes nowhere near the high academic quality that we should expect from a major institution such as the Royal Society." Freeman's list of charges is long - Hannam ignores important areas of study, characterises Renaissance humanists as "reactionaries" and offers a distorted picture of the 16th century and paints a rosy and wholly inaccurate picture of the Catholic Church as the cradle of scientific innovation and intellectual freedom.
Interestingly, Freeman suggests that God's Philosophers is representative of a wider trend for Christian apologetics in history, with several historians, including Hannam, making the argument that "Christianity brought civilisation". Others include David Bentley Hart, author of Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies. and Rodney Stark, whose book The Victory of Reason has been criticised by Freeman elsewhere. Given that contemporary culture wars are often fought over conflicting interpretations of history, this is clearly a trend that's worth watching.
You can read Freeman's full analysis of God's Philosophers here (be warned it is long and comprehensive), and feel free to add your comments at the end of the article.