De Herschepping Van De Wereld

Why did modern science originate in Europe, and why was there no Chinese Newton or Arab Galileo? Thinking about the natural world reached great heights in the civilizations of ancient Greece, China, and medieval Islam, but eventually decline set in. Floris Cohen argues that historians should try to explain why stagnation did not occur in seventeenthcentury Europe rather than asking why it did in the earlier civilization

Original title
De Herschepping Van De Wereld
Floris Cohen

In Cohen’s view knowledge of nature flourished whenever it was transplanted to a different culture. The ideas of ancient Greece were built upon by the Islamic world before coming to Europe via Andalusia and later after the fall of Constantinople. All modes of thought eventually run up against their own limitations, at which point new stimuli are required if they are to develop further. In Europe two approaches derived from ancient Greece, natural philosophy and abstract mathematical science, were joined by a third, an empirical, experimental approach.

There were major difficulties along the way. In this erudite, accessible book, Cohen shows how Europe ‘crept through the eye of the needle’ between 1645 and 1660, only narrowly avoiding the decline seen so often in the past and elsewhere, as church censorship and self-censorship came close to blocking revolutionary advance.

Cohen disagrees with historians of science who claim that the process was in fact quite gradual and that the term ‘revolution’ is therefore inappropriate. Yet he does not revert to older, outdated notions. His comparative approach and his investigation of the dynamics of scientific advance are particularly innovative.

As a result of the Scientific Revolution, ways of looking at nature were fundamentally different in 1700 than in 1600. The insights gained in the seventeenth century helped to transform the old world into the modern one in which we live, a place utterly unimaginable without science and its many applications.

  • Illuminating comparisons made between Greece, China, Islamic civilization and Europe

  • Delicate handling of the ‘science and religion’ debate and Galileo’s role in it

The Recreation of the World is a painstakingly written, stimulating work that both broadens our outlook and contains great intellectual riches.

NRC Handelsblad

Places scientific developments in a cultural and comparative perspective that commands respect.

De Volkskrant
Floris Cohen
Floris Cohen (b. 1946) is a professor of the comparative history of the natural sciences at Utrecht University.
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