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The Dialogue of Civilizations in The Birth of Modern Science.

THE DIALOGUE OF CIVILIZATIONS IN THE BIRTH OF MODERN SCIENCE by Arun Bala. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006. 230 pages. Hardcover; $69.95. ISBN: 1403974686.

Arun Bala provides a history of science that stresses essential contributions from India. Over the course of twenty years, Bala's teaching in the history and philosophy of science at the National University of Singapore led him to revise his conception of the importance of science developed in India. He further refined his ideas through interactions with international Asian studies institutes and finally completed the book while at the University of Toronto as a visiting professor.

Disclaiming the centrality of European science in the development of modern science requires significant mental gymnastics. Bala's approach is to first argue that prior scholarship arbitrarily dismisses earlier scientific contributions from non-European cultures. Citing historian Colin Ronan, Bala claims, "His whole exercise of arbitrary dismissal without presenting any counter evidence to claims by dependable Greek writers seems solely designed to support his opinion" (p. 18). Although an amateur reader of science and religion, this reviewer believes that Bala overemphasizes other writers' glosses to unfairly support his opinion. Why, for example, does Bala not cite any of the writings of Stanley Jaki who was a major proponent of science having to emerge from a Christian, western cultural milieu?

In one of the more interesting chapters, chapter 5, Bala examines what evidence would adequately validate a transfer of intellectual ideas from India to Europe. He argues that a corridor of communication is established by Jesuit priests who arrive in India to spread the gospel and develop schools. Bala then shows a correlation between the opening of communication channels and the transmission of new ideas within Europe.

The remaining chapters sequentially show how European astronomy, optics, atomic structure, and cosmology required key ideas from intellectual Indian communities. "[W]e cannot ignore the possibility that the Kerala School of Indian mathematics influenced the Scientific Revolution in modern Europe" (p. 70). While this may well be true, Bala severely overstates his case. "Hence, far from what Kuhn presumes, optics did not achieve paradigmatic status with Newton but with Alhazen" (p. 89).

The Dialogue of Civilizations in the Birth of Modern Science is a scholarly book with a small target audience. Those specializing in Asian studies will find the thesis interesting, although with the caution that Bala's enthusiasm leads to overstatements that need to be appropriately tempered.

Reviewed by Fraser F. Fleming, Professor of Chemistry, Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, PA 15282.
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Author:Fleming, Fraser F.
Publication:Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 1, 2008
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