A Student’s Guide To Natural Science, by Stephen M. Barr
Admittedly, this book did not do a very good job at appealing to me when it comes to natural science. Even so, the fact that the author spends a lot of time talking about the history and philosophy of science makes this a better book than it could have been otherwise. Admittedly, as someone with very strong views on science , it would be hard for a book to please me completely, and this book does talk about science and a good view when it comes to paradigmatic shifts in views of science, even if it was not exactly what I was looking for. If someone is reading this book as a student, it is likely that they will come to it and be pleased to see the difference between proper restraint when it comes to the study of science and the sort of hype and myth that gets attached to successful scientific theories (like the theory of relativity), even when the science is sound. As science wars are something that people need to pay attention to, this book certainly does good service, even if it is far less pointed than I would prefer.
After a short introduction the author talks about the birth of science in the ancient world (like many people he focuses on Greece and does not give enough attention to the existence of science and mathematics in the Middle East that the Greeks drew from). He then talks about the second birth of science in the high middle ages thanks to the recovery of a great deal of ancient knowledge. After that there is a discussion of the relationship between science, religion, and philosophy, a relationship that on all sides has been fraught with considerable difficulty. After this comes a look at the scientific revolution, with particular focus on the scientific method, the period from Copernicus to Newton, and the new role of mathematics in the developing scientific mindset. After this comes a discussion of Newtonian physics as well as insights into forces and fields in the 19th century. After this there is a discussion of the revolutions in relativity and quantum mechanics in twentieth century physics, along with a discussion of the role of symmetry and the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in understanding our physical world, after which there are some notes and plenty of suggestions for future reading.
So, what would I have preferred to read? I would have preferred that the author discuss the origins of science without focusing on Greece, as this bias matches the efforts of the series as a whole in giving undue praise to Athens and minimizing other perspectives that demonstrate Greece was an effective copier of the insights of others but was not as creative as is often thought, nor as fundamental to a proper view of the world. In addition to this, it is a bit disappointing that the author did not take so much contemporary thought with regards to biology and other historical sciences behind the woodshed for their exaggerations and misunderstandings with regards to evidence and the proper role of science vis-a-vis philosophy and theology, which it appears to have often neglected in the last 150 years. That said, one does not review a book on what one would prefer to have read but rather on the book that is, and this book does offer some worthwhile suggestions in reading that help to overcome its own lacunae, which makes this book worthwhile at least for students looking on suggestions on what to read next.
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