Harrison - The Fall of Man and the Foundations of Science

Peter Harrison

  • Cambridge University Press
  • 316 pages
  • 978-0-521-11729-6 | Paperback | 2009


Peter Harrison provides an account of the religious foundations of scientific knowledge. He shows how the approaches to the study of nature that emerged in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were directly informed by theological discussions about the Fall of Man and the extent to which the mind and the senses had been damaged by that primeval event. Scientific methods, he suggests, were originally devised as techniques for ameliorating the cognitive damage wrought by human sin. At its inception, modern science was conceptualized as a means of recapturing the knowledge of nature that Adam had once possessed. Contrary to a widespread view that sees science emerging in conflict with religion, Harrison argues that theological considerations were of vital importance in the framing of the scientific method.


"'Peter Harrison assembles mountains of evidence in support of his thesis that early modern debates about the acquisition of knowledge were dominated by the Augustinian belief that the 'fall' of Adam in the Garden of Eden not only deprived Adam's mind and senses of their original perfection, but also led to the loss of intellectual capacity in all of humanity. The promotion and practice of experimental science, he argues, were meant to counter these epistemological effects of original sin. This is a brilliantly written and persuasively argued book, which will be required reading for anybody interested in the influence of religion on early modern scientific method and epistemology." – David C. Lindberg, University of Wisconsin

“'Among those who have shown the relevance in methods of biblical interpretation to the investigation of nature, Peter Harrison writes with particular distinction. Here he examines questions of great moment to students of nature in seventeenth-century England. How great was the knowledge lost by Adam at the Fall? To what extent, and by what means, could it be regained? His arresting thesis is that competing accounts of scientific method can be correlated with different assessments of the Fall and its consequences. The outcome is a serious challenge to those who persist in the view that seventeenth-century science marked the triumph of secular reason over religious sensibility.” – John Hedley Brooke, University of Oxford

“'The real strength of the book lies in its demonstration of just how persistent the idea of the restoration of Adamic knowledge was. If the thesis is overstated and not as general as the author makes out, what he has provided us with is nevertheless a highly enlightening discussion.” – British Journal for the History of Science

Additional Information

Authors Peter Harrison
Year 2009

Harrison - The Fall of Man and the Foundations of Science