Hobart, “The Great Rift”

9780674983632-lgThe future belongs to people who can do math–which suggests a rather grim future for most of us law professors, who are, let’s just say, more comfortable with words. A new book from Harvard University Press, The Great Rift: Literacy, Numeracy, and the Religion-Science Divide, argues that the divide between the numerate and the literate goes back to the Renaissance, which saw the birth of a new, abstract mathematics, as distinguished from an older arithmetic. The author, Michael E. Hobart (Bryant University) argues that the development of the new math opened a divide between science and religion in the West. Looks very interesting. Here’s the publisher’s description:

In their search for truth, contemporary religious believers and modern scientific investigators hold many values in common. But in their approaches, they express two fundamentally different conceptions of how to understand and represent the world. Michael E. Hobart looks for the origin of this difference in the work of Renaissance thinkers who invented a revolutionary mathematical system—relational numeracy. By creating meaning through numbers and abstract symbols rather than words, relational numeracy allowed inquisitive minds to vault beyond the constraints of language and explore the natural world with a fresh interpretive vision.

The Great Rift is the first book to examine the religion-science divide through the history of information technology. Hobart follows numeracy as it emerged from the practical counting systems of merchants, the abstract notations of musicians, the linear perspective of artists, and the calendars and clocks of astronomers. As the technology of the alphabet and of mere counting gave way to abstract symbols, the earlier “thing-mathematics” metamorphosed into the relational mathematics of modern scientific investigation. Using these new information symbols, Galileo and his contemporaries mathematized motion and matter, separating the demonstrations of science from the linguistic logic of religious narration.

Hobart locates the great rift between science and religion not in ideological disagreement but in advances in mathematics and symbolic representation that opened new windows onto nature. In so doing, he connects the cognitive breakthroughs of the past with intellectual debates ongoing in the twenty-first century.