If there's one thing you've heard over and over, it's that mean old religion has always been the enemy of science.  

It isn't true, of course, but at least in America, with its Protestant heritage, anything that slammed Catholics got traction and, among atheists, anything that slammed religion was believed without skepticism.

A new book by James Hannam called "God's Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science" seeks to gain some respect for medieval scientists and, if religion gets sucked along in the jet wash, that's okay too.

The intellectual history of the Middle Ages will always be somewhat subjective.   If you want to write a book, you pick a point of view and the data you want to include.   Hannam seeks to show how the scientists of fourteenth-century Paris and Oxford discussed the rotation of the earth, the properties of a vacuum, uniform acceleration and relative motion.

He makes it topical in 2009 by drawing a line from them to Galileo’s most important work and show that he was beholden to earlier thinkers to whom he never gave credit.   

Well, if we do work on semiconductors today, do we list Maxwell as a reference?   No, Galileo was a learned man and was writing for other learned men.  Reference standards were not the same 400 years ago as they are now.

Hannam also lays out how the medieval Church actively encouraged science and that the stories about how progress was held back by Christians are Victorian myths - the Victorians went after everyone but both the Church and King Arthur still survived despite the condescension.  At least they dressed well.

Hannam shows that the Church did not ban zero or human dissection, nor did it claim that the earth was flat or burn anyone at the stake for scientific views. Instead, he says, the Church made the study of science and mathematics compulsory at all Christian universities.

If you'd like to read another take on science history, and are willing to spend $30, check it out.