Monday, July 22, 2013

George Erickson's "Time Traveling"

a belated review by Edd Doerr

In a writing career of over 60-plus years I have published well over a thousand book reviews in a variety of venues and the review copies from publishers continue to clog my mailbox. One book that came in long ago stood in a bookshelf unread for a decade, until a few days ago. I  owe my friend George Erickson a profound apology for not seeing it sooner. But better late than ever, especially for a book that is really timeless. So ----

Time Traveling with Science and the Saints, by George A. Erickson (Prometheus Books, 2003, 177 pp)

Science began and flourished in the ancient Greek world but went into a 16 century eclipse with the fall of the Roman Empire and rapid spread of Christianity throughout Europe. Slowly during the vague period called the Renaissance science was reborn, fitfully swimming against the powerful currents of stiff-necked conservative religious leaders not averse to the most brutal bullying imaginable, from burning books to burning science pioneers at the stake. Science began to come into its own with the Enlightenment and flowered during the 19th century but even today faces reactionary resistance from creationists and assorted religious fundamentalists.

Erickson tells this  story in a sweeping, wonderfully readable book, suitable for all ages and levels of education, that summarizes the lives, careers and accomplishments of  the great innovators who bequeathed us their invaluable heritage in every field of science. He concludes that clericalism's and conservative religion's giving way to reason and science is what has made our world today as good as it is and points us in the right direction.

This is a book that belongs in everyone's library, complete with its excellent bibliography.

Among the book's useful quotes is this one from the Roman Seneca: "Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers [politicians?] as useful."

Erickson's citation of Descartes reminded me of a limerick I wrote years ago ---

There was an old man from Potsdam,
Whose odor was like rotten spam.
To my query theoretical
He replied philosophical,
"I stink, therefore I am."

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