James Hannam: Historian of Science and Religion





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Articles on the History of Science and of Christianity

A collection of articles based on my research into some of the contentious topics in the histories of science and Christianity.

The Mythical Conflict between Science and Religion: The conflict hypothesis began as part of the reaction against religion in the nineteenth century with the work of John William Draper and Andrew Dickson White. Despite the fact that it is utterly rejected by all practising historians of science, it lives on in the popular imagination and is incredibly hard to kill off. This article examines some common misconceptions and exposes White's errors and omissions.
Emperor Justinian's Closure of the School of Athens: Ever since Edward Gibbon, we've been told that Greek philosophy died when the Christian Emperor Justinian closed down the pagan school of Plato in Athens. The truth turns out to be rather more complicated. For a start, it wasn't the school of Plato at all and the philosophers who had taught at Athens continued their writing, if not teaching, careers unmolested.
Christianity and Pagan Literature: You still hear that early Christians ran around burning any books they didn't like the look of, which is why so little classical literature has survived. Yes, Christians have destroyed heretical works but so did all other groups. Nonetheless, deliberate destruction is only a minor element of why most ancient books are no longer extant.
A Historical Introduction to the Christ Myth: This article first compares the idea that Jesus never existed to the theory that Shakespeare did not write his own plays. It then examines the various authors who, over the last century and a half, have tried to sell the idea that Jesus never lived.
The Decline and End of Witch Trials in Europe: Until recently, it was widely believed that witch trials and fear of witches declined as part of a general increase in rationality during the Enlightenment. In fact, as this article shows, legal reform and strong government were the main reasons that trials ended, rather than an end to belief in witchcraft itself.
Frequently Asked Questions about the Inquisition: There can be little doubt that the Inquisition is one of the most notorious institutions in history. While some of that ill fame is warranted, a great number of myths and legends have sprung up about its workings. This FAQ, with a bibliography and references, gives the historical facts about the Inquisition in its various guises.
The Mysterious Fate of the Great Library of Alexandria: An awful lot of ink has been splashed around about the destruction of the Great Library. You can blame Christians, Moslems or Julius Caesar depending on your taste. But the only way to find the truth is a careful examination of the original sources. This essay goes over them with a fine-toothed comb and finds that while Christians and Moslems were almost certainly innocent, the Romans just might have a lot to answer for. I have also written a more detailed and heavily annotated study of the Great Library of Alexandria which you can read here.
Science and the Church in the Middle Ages: Progress in science is often assumed to have ground to a halt during the Middle Ages under a blanket of clerical disapproval. This essay is an overview of the intellectual and social state of science at the time, the Church's generally positive attitude and now science interacted with religion during this period. It provides a preview of some of the themes explored in my book God's Philosophers. This article was published in Akadeemia 2013:4 604, an Estonian academic journal.
Medieval science in medieval fiction: Based on my introduction to the book Medieval Science Fiction (KCLMS, 2016), this article mines some of the most significant medieval literature for nuggets of scientific wisdom. It helps us to appreciate the how ordinary medieval people viewed the cosmos by looking at popular culture rather than the works of theologians and philosophers.
Deconstructing Copernicus: The great work of Copernicus, his De revolutionibus, is one of the most misunderstood books in history, largely because hardly anyone has actually read it. This essay examines the arguments Copernicus uses and his stated motivations so as to discover exactly what he did achieve and just how important his religious beliefs were in inspiring the conceptual breakthrough of heliocentricism.
A Brief History of Popular Science: Explaining the World through the Ages: Based on my chapter from the book Successful Science Communication (Cambridge, 2011), this article provides a short history of the way that scientists have tried to publicise what they do and deal with both a suspicious and supportive public.

© James Hannam 2023