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How Christians—Not the “Enlightenment”—Launched the Age of Reason

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Filed under History

As we all know, and as many of our well established textbooks have argued for decades, the Dark Ages were a stunting of intellectual progress to be redeemed only by the secular spirit of the Enlightenment. The Inquisition was one of the most frightening and bloody chapters in Western history; the religious Crusades were an early example of religious thirst for riches and power; and Pope Pius XII was anti-Semitic and rightfully called “Hitler’s Pope.”

But what if these long held beliefs were all wrong?

That's what Dr. Rodney Stark argues in his latest and much-discussed book, Bearing False Witness: Debunking Centuries of Anti-Catholic History (Templeton Press, 2016). The book is not a Catholic attempt to rewrite history in the Church's favor. In fact notably, Stark isn't even Catholic himself. The accomplished sociologist and past president of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion has long identified as an agnostic, though today calls himself an "independent Christian." That makes his book less a work of religious apologetics and more historical remediation. He wants to correct myths and get at the truth.

Specifically, his new book addresses ten prevalent anti-Catholic myths. These include:

  • Instead of the Spanish Inquisition being an anomaly of torture and murder of innocent people persecuted for “imaginary” crimes such as witchcraft and blasphemy, Stark argues that not only did the Spanish Inquisition spill very little blood, but it was a major force in support of moderation and justice.
  • Instead of Pope Pius XII being apathetic or even helpful to the Nazi movement, such as to merit the title, “Hitler’s Pope,” Stark shows that the campaign to link Pope Pius XII to Hitler was initiated by the Soviet Union, presumably in hopes of neutralizing the Vatican in post-World War II affairs. Pope Pius XII was widely praised for his vigorous and devoted efforts to saving Jewish lives during the war.
  • Instead of the Dark Ages being understood as a millennium of ignorance and backwardness inspired by the Catholic Church’s power, Stark argues that the whole notion of the “Dark Ages” was an act of pride perpetuated by anti-religious intellectuals who were determined to claim that theirs was the era of “Enlightenment.”

Today at Strange Notions, we feature an excerpt from the book dealing with that last myth. Enjoy the excerpt, and be sure to pick up your copy of the book today!

 


 

The single most remarkable and ironic thing about the “Enlightenment,” is that those who proclaimed it made little or no contribution to the accomplishments they hailed as a revolution in human knowledge, while those responsible for these advances stressed the continuity with the past. That is, Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot, Hume, Gibbon and the rest were literary men, while the primary revolution they hailed as the “Enlightenment” was scientific. Equally misleading is the fact that although the literary men who proclaimed the “Enlightenment” were irreligious, the central figures in the scientific achievements of the era were deeply religious, and as many of them were Catholics as were Protestants.1 So much then for the idea that suddenly in the sixteenth century, enlightened secular forces burst the chains of Catholic thought and set the foundation for modern times. What the proponents of “Enlightenment” actually initiated was the tradition of angry secular attacks on religion in the name of science − attacks like those of their modern counterparts such as Carl Sagan, Daniel Dennett, and Richard Dawkins. Presented as the latest word in sophistication, rationalism, and reason, these assaults are remarkably naïve and simplistic − both then and now.2 In truth, the rise of science was inseparable from Christian theology, for the latter gave direction and confidence to the former (Chapter 7).

Theology, Reason, and Progress

Claims concerning the revolutionary character of the “Renaissance” and the “Enlightenment” were plausible because remarkable progress was made in these eras. But rather than being a revolutionary break with the past, these achievements were simply an extension of the accelerating curve of progress that began soon after the fall of Rome. Thus, the historian’s task is not to explain why so much progress has been made since the fifteenth century−that focus is much too late. The fundamental question about the rise of the West is: What enabled Europeans to begin and maintain the extraordinary and enduring period of rapid progress that enabled them, by the end of the “Dark Ages,” to have far surpassed the rest of the world? Why was it that, although many civilizations have pursued alchemy, it led to chemistry only in Europe? Or, while many societies have made excellent observations of the heavens and have created sophisticated systems of astrology, why was this transformed into scientific astronomy only in Europe?

Several recent authors have discovered the secret to Western success in geography. But, that same geography long sustained European cultures that were well behind those of Asia. Others have traced the rise of the West to steel, or to guns and sailing ships, and still others have credited a more productive agriculture. The trouble is that these answers are part of what needs to be explained: Why did Europeans excel at metallurgy, ship-building, or farming?. I have devoted a book to my answer: that the truly fundamental basis for the rise of the West was an extraordinary faith in reason and progress, and this faith originated in Christianity.3

It has been conventional to date the “Age of Reason” as having begun in the seventeenth century. In truth, it really began late in the second century, launched by early Christian theologians. Sometimes described as “the science of faith,”4 theology consists of formal reasoning about God. The emphasis is on discovering God’s nature, intentions, and demands, and on understanding how these define the relationship between human beings and God. And Christian thinkers have done this, not through meditation, not through new revelations, not through inspiration, but through reason.

Indeed, it was not unusual for Christian theologians to reason their way to a new doctrine; from earliest days Christian thinkers celebrated reason as the means to gain greater insight into divine intentions. As Quintus Tertullian (155-239) instructed in the second century: "reason is a thing of God, inasmuch as there is nothing which God the Maker of all has not provided, disposed, ordained by reason—nothing which He has not willed should be handled and understood by reason."5 In the same spirit, Clement of Alexandria (150-215) warned: “Do not think that we say that these things are only to be received by faith, but also that they are to be asserted by reason. For indeed it is not safe to commit these things to bare faith without reason, since assuredly truth cannot be without reason.”6

Hence, Augustine (354-430) merely expressed the prevailing wisdom when he held that reason was indispensable to faith: "Heaven forbid that God should hate in us that by which he made us superior to the animals! Heaven forbid that we should believe in such a way as not to accept or seek reasons, since we could not even believe if we did not possess rational souls." Augustine acknowledged that "faith must precede reason and purify the heart and make it fit to receive and endure the great light of reason." Then he added that although it is necessary "for faith to precede reason in certain matters of great moment that cannot yet be grasped, surely the very small portion of reason that persuades us of this must precede faith."7 Christian theologians always have placed far greater faith in reason than most secular philosophers are willing to do today.8

In addition, from very early days, Catholic theologians have assumed that the application of reason can yield an increasingly more accurate understanding of God's will. Augustine noted that although there were "certain matters pertaining to the doctrine of salvation that we cannot yet grasp...one day we shall be able to do so."9 This universal faith in progress among Catholic theologians had immense impact on secular society as well. Thus, Augustine celebrated not only theological progress, but earthly, material progress as well. Writing early in the fifth century, he exclaimed: "has not the genius of man invented and applied countless astonishing arts, partly the result of necessity, partly the result of exuberant invention, so that this vigour of mind...betokens an inexhaustible wealth in the nature which can invent, learn, or employ such arts. What wonderful—one might say stupefying—advances has human industry made in the arts of weaving and building, of agriculture and navigation!" He went on to admire the "skill [that] has been attained in measures and numbers! With what sagacity have the movements and connections of the stars been discovered!" and all of this was due to the "unspeakable boon" that God conferred upon his creation, a "rational nature."10

Augustine's optimism was typical among medieval intellectuals; progress beckoned. As Gilbert de Tournai wrote in the thirteenth century, "Never will we find truth if we content ourselves with what is already known...Those things that have been written before us are not laws but guides. The truth is open to all, for it is not yet totally possessed."11 Especially typical were the words preached by Fra Giordano in Florence in 1306, "Not all the arts have been found; we shall never see and end to finding them. Every day one could discover a new art."12 Compare this with the prevailing view in China at this same time, well-expressed by Li Yen-chang, "If scholars are made to concentrate their attention solely on the classics and are prevented from slipping into study of the vulgar practices of later generations, then the empire will be fortunate indeed!"13

It is a widely believed, even by very secular scholars, that the ‘idea of progress’ was crucial to the rise of Western Civilization.14 Because Europeans believed progress was possible, desirable, and to some extent inevitable, they eagerly pursued new methods, ideas, and technologies. As it turned out, these efforts were self-confirming: faith in progress prompted efforts that repeatedly produced progress. The basis for the unique European belief in progress was not a triumph of secularity, but of religion. As John Macmurray put it, “That we think of progress at all shows the extent of the influence of Christianity upon us.”15

So much, then, for nonsense about the “triumph of barbarism and religion.” So too for silly claims that the “Age of Reason” dawned in about 1600. Perhaps the most utterly revealing aspect of this nonsense is the claim that it was René Descartes who led the way into, and epitomized the “Age of Reason.” In fact, Descartes very explicitly modeled himself on his Scholastic predecessors as he attempted to reason his way from the most basic of axioms (“I think, therefore I am”) to the essentials of Christian faith. Various philosophers have subsequently attacked the validity of steps in his deductive chains, but what is important is that Descartes was not revolting against an “Age of Faith,” but was entirely comfortable extending the long tradition of Christian commitment to reason.
 
 

 
(Image credit: Catholic World Report)

Notes:

  1. Stark, 2003: Ch.2.
  2. Stark, 2007: Ch.1.
  3. Stark, 2014.
  4. Rahner, 1975: 1687.
  5. On Repentance 1.
  6. Recognitions of Clement, II: LXIX.
  7. In Lindberg and Numbers, 1986: 27-28.
  8. Southern, 1970a: 49.
  9. in Lindberg, 1986:27.
  10. The City of God, XXII:24.
  11. in Gimpel, 1961: 165.
  12. in Gimpel, 1976: 149.
  13. in Hartwell, 1971: 691.
  14. Baillie, 1951; Nisbet, 1980
  15. Macmurray, 1938: 113.
Brandon Vogt

Written by

Brandon Vogt is a bestselling author, blogger, and speaker. He's also the founder of StrangeNotions.com. Brandon has been featured by several media outlets including NPR, CBS, FoxNews, SiriusXM, and EWTN. He converted to Catholicism in 2008, and since then has released several books, including The Church and New Media (Our Sunday Visitor, 2011), Saints and Social Justice (Our Sunday Visitor, 2014), and RETURN (Numinous Books, 2015). He works as the Content Director for Bishop Robert Barron's Word on Fire Catholic Ministries. Brandon lives with his wife, Kathleen, and their five children in Central Florida. Follow him at BrandonVogt.com or connect through Twitter at @BrandonVogt.

Note: Our goal is to cultivate serious and respectful dialogue. While it's OK to disagree—even encouraged!—any snarky, offensive, or off-topic comments will be deleted. Before commenting please read the Commenting Rules and Tips. If you're having trouble commenting, read the Commenting Instructions.

  • Harley Quin

    A great read, worthy of Starks other offerings which do justice to the achievements of Christian Civilisation.

  • Equally misleading is the fact that although the literary men who proclaimed the “Enlightenment” were irreligious, the central figures in the scientific achievements of the era were deeply religious, and as many of them were Catholics as were Protestants.[1]

    Let's briefly examine Isaac Newton:

    Isaac Newton (4 January 1643 – 31 March 1727)[1] was, as considered by others within his own lifetime, an insightful and erudite theologian.[2][3][4] He wrote many works that would now be classified as occult studies and religious tracts dealing with the literal interpretation of the Bible.[5]

    Newton's conception of the physical world provided a stable model of the natural world that would reinforce stability and harmony in the civic world. Newton saw a monotheistic God as the masterful creator whose existence could not be denied in the face of the grandeur of all creation.[6][7] Although born into an Anglican family, by his thirties Newton held a Christian faith that, had it been made public, would not have been considered orthodox by mainstream Christianity;[8] in recent times he has been described as a heretic.[9] (WP: Religious views of Isaac Newton)

    Now, Rodney Stark would surely call some of that article slanted and I don't wish to debate that point. What I do wish to question is whether we should call Newton "deeply religious", given his Arianism. Would he not have been burned at the stake, or at least his ability to do science been greatly limited, had this Arianism been made widely known?

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      What tension do you see between being a heretic and being "deeply religious"? If anything, I would assume that someone who goes to the trouble of being a heretic must be motivated by deeply held religious views. Otherwise, why not just stick to more bourgeois pursuits that don't get you into trouble?

      • Because it wasn't sufficient to be "deeply religious" in that time; you had to be the right "deeply religious"—or at least not a wrong "deeply religious".

        • Jim (hillclimber)

          OK, I thought you were questioning whether we (now) should consider Newton to have been deeply religious, not whether his contemporaries (then) would have considered him to have the right kind of religiosity.

          So anyway, I suppose what you are driving at is that Newton's achievements can't easily be counted as the fruits of a Christian culture, and his worldview can't be so easily contrasted with that of the anti-Catholic Enlightenment thinkers. If we were to force him onto some one-dimensional scale of orthodoxy, with Roman Catholic teaching at one end and Voltaire at the other, Newton would land somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, not clearly any closer to one than to the other? If that is your point, that seems reasonable to me: Newton is a pretty ambiguous data point in the context of Stark's argument, as I understand it.

          Shifting to a more general but related point, I like what Ross Douthat (hardly at the vanguard of heterodoxy himself) had to say about the relationship between heterodoxy and orthodoxy in maintaining a healthy Christian ecosystem:

          [Favorably quotes Chesterton's praise of orthodoxy ...] But perhaps this vision does not give heresy enough credit ... Christianity's two thousand years of dynamism, its persistent and often unexpected vitality, owes something to the tight grip that the faith's leaders have kept on the reins of doctrine. But it owes a great deal to bold experimentation as well -- to scholars who flirt with heterodoxy in the pursuit of a deeper understanding of the faith, to saints who rebel against the limits imposed by ecclesiastical authorities, to artists and poets who boldly go where popes and theologians fear to tread.

          All of which is to say that Christian faith needs heresy, or at least the possibility of heresy, lest it become something rote and brittle, a compendium of doctrinal technicalities with no purchase on the human soul. Indeed, like flying buttresses around a great cathedral, the pull-and-push of competing heresies may be precisely the thing that keeps the edifice of Christian faith upright.

          From: Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics

          • If we were to force him onto some one-dimensional scale of orthodoxy, with Roman Catholic teaching at one end and Voltaire at the other, Newton would land somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, not clearly any closer to one than to the other?

            Yep, that's about right. BTW, secularists/​atheists who claim Newton for their side have zero evidence I know of that his deeply religious aspects did not aid his scientific work. They do have a big dogmatic system which screams that, though.

            … Indeed, like flying buttresses around a great cathedral, the pull-and-push of competing heresies may be precisely the thing that keeps the edifice of Christian faith upright. (Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics)

            That's the first time I've seen someone quote Douthat. It's a pretty analogy, but I don't think truth needs falsehood as buttresses. If truth cannot stand up on its own, maybe it isn't truth. Although, "stand up" takes on a new meaning with the whole resurrection from the dead ability. Anyhow, if heretics are able to help the church, I suspect that is because the church has gone to seed. Otherwise, the church would be actively learning more about Creator and creation and the falsehood of heresy would be a distraction.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I don't think truth needs falsehood as buttresses

            Well, sure, the truth can stand on its own. But the point would be that human conceptions of truth will always miss the mark a bit, and so can only effectively seek their target in the tension of dialogue. If the truth is alive (as Christians profess), then no codified system of orthodoxy will ever be completely sufficient to describe it. Orthodoxy can't really be orthodoxy unless it is on the move, so to speak, continually seeking truth. And if it sometimes takes the prodding of heretics to keep orthodoxy on the move, that seems to me to be a good thing.

            ETA: Wait, did we do a brain swap? I thought I was the Catholic and you were the one from the reformed tradition!

          • There's something I still don't like about that formulation. Maybe it's the idea that ordinarily, whichever group of humans has the authority to decide/​discover orthodoxy gets it right, but sometimes it needs input from outside of itself (and its direct line to God). My Protestant is showing, perhaps. I prefer to suspect that each person has been given a unique perspective on God as well as unique talents, such that [s]he is an irreplaceable stone in that living temple being built Paul describes at the end of Ephesians 2. Now, said uniqueness can be misused and left undeveloped—I like Calvin's "seed of religion" on this—but it connotes a very different notion of "health". The spiritual consequences of "I have need of you [and how you differ from me]" become eternal, at least until true repentance.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            whichever group of humans has the authority to decide/​discover orthodoxy gets it right, but sometimes it needs input from outside of itself

            Exactly. That why we need the prophets and the reformers, or, as we Catholics would say, the heretics.

          • Having grown up a social outcast, that phrasing grates. It smacks of arrogance, and God despises arrogance. The person who disagrees with me and my social group does not default to being wrong.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Oh sorry, I missed that you were expressing reservations about an ordinary state of affairs in which only select authorities get to decide things. (Perhaps I missed something else as well?)

            Well, in principle, as I'm sure you are aware, the Roman Catholic Magisterium, defines only what the "whole church" already believes. Of course, it's questionable whether that is what has always happened in practice (depends on lot on one's eccelesiology: who is included in "the whole church"?), but that is the stated ideal. And so in theory all in the church do function as living stones in that temple, and all of our theological reflections should be feeding in some way into that river of orthodoxy. Again, en principe.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            The person who disagrees with me and my social group does not default to being wrong.

            That's precisely my point: sometimes the heretics are right!

            I've probably created confusion by using the word heretic a little too loosely. What I mean is more like, "those who are (incorrectly) perceived by their orthodox contemporaries to be heretics".

            For example, many considered Teilhard de Chardin to be a heretic at the time he was publishing. But now in retrospect, we have this from WP:

            In July 2009, Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi said, "By now, no one would dream of saying that [Teilhard] is a heterodox author who shouldn’t be studied."

          • From what I recall, Newton couldn't figure out how the physics of the solar system worked precisely, so decided that God must periodically tweak the orbits. A religious view which is not very helpful to science. Perhaps that is the issue?

          • Yes, he thought that comets were sometimes needed to keep orbits stable. But no, the problem is not that his particular religious views harmed the march of science—if indeed the total impact of his religious views was actually to harm the march of science. Go back to this comment.

          • Well, we definitely agree on that.

    • Arianism was a religion too.

      • Yes; see my response to Jim:

        LB: Because it wasn't sufficient to be "deeply religious" in that time; you had to be the right "deeply religious"—or at least not a wrong "deeply religious".

        • Indeed. My point was only that it's still deeply religious, even if the wrong sort.

      • dudester4

        I agree. I don't see LB's objection here. It seems there's a forced false dichotomy, or feigned continuum between either "Voltaire and the RC Church." Arianism is still a (heretical) form of Christianity- as opposed to Buddhism or atheism, for instance- and I'm not quite sure how Newton's heresy refutes the article at hand. Newton also searched for the Philosopher's Stone, and it is well known he studied occult sciences. Overall, his interest was, as best he could muster in the 17th century, purely scientific.

        • I agree. He wrote widely on religion too however. I'm not sure that was considered scientific even then.

          • dudester4

            But underlying assumptions regarding the Unmoved Mover were, as I understand it, were considered "scientific" by his great mind, and others. We might call it a "God of the Gaps" fallacy today, but unexplained order, especially in the fields of astronomy or cosmology was a foundational assumption that presumed an answer, albeit incomplete, could eventually be found.

          • Yes, that does seem to be the case. However they relied on Aristotle too much. In his own time there were many other theories (some of them better). Many were just acceptable though since they couldn't be fit into Christian thought (even doing that with Aristotle is difficult).

          • dudester4

            I agree that Aristotle was held in too much esteem; eventually the innovators of the Enlightenment left him behind. I appreciate your understanding of history; let me ask you (to me) a related question. I posit that history states that many of the so-called "innovations" of the High Middle Ages actually had their foundation in the the ponderous and sometimes incremental discoveries and extensions of the early Middle Ages, many in the early universities formed in Europe. When does one "claim" that an invention was "developed", for example, the telescope, patented in Holland in 1608, when clearly the precursor development of optics, with lenses available to the Assyrians in the 700's, etc. led to it's final form? The Greeks made mention of the atom- do they deserve credit for the atomic bomb? When is a precursor invention no longer a precursor? Just a thought.

          • That seems true. A lot of inventions have precursors. They follow along on centuries of slow development.

  • It has been conventional to date the “Age of Reason” as having begun in the seventeenth century.

    If Amos Funkenstein is right, that would be exceedingly ridiculous, for the Scholastics almost certain provided a necessary foundation for science:

        Medieval theologians engaged in a new and unique genre of hypothetical reasoning. In order to expand the logical horizon of God's omnipotence as far as could be, they distinguished between that which is possible or impossible de potentia Dei absoluta as against that which is so de potentia Dei ordinata. This distinction was fleshed out with an incessant search for orders of nature different from ours which are nonetheless logically possible. Leibniz's contraposition of the nécessité logique (founded on the law of noncontradiction) and the nécessité physique (founded on the principle of sufficient reason) has its roots in these Scholastic discussions, and with it the questions about the status of laws of nature in modern philosophies of science. But medieval hypothetical reasoning did not serve future metatheoretical discussions alone. The considerations of counterfactual orders of nature in the Middle Ages actually paved the way for the formulation of laws of nature since Galileo in the following sense: seventeenth-century science articulated some basic laws of nature as counterfactual conditionals that do not describe any natural state but function as heuristic limiting cases to a series of phenomena, for example, the principle of inertia. Medieval schoolmen never did so; their counterfactual yet possible orders of nature were conceived as incommensurable with the actual structure of the universe, incommensurable either in principle or because none of their entities can be given a concrete measure. But in considering them vigorously, the theological imagination prepared for the scientific. This is the theme of my third chapter. (Theology and the Scientific Imagination, 10–11)

    Anyone interested in how scientific creativity works will be interested in such things. Those who prefer to worship at the altar of science but not understand how it works are welcome to hold such things in contempt. For the second group, I suggest mocking the Scholastics for talking about how many angels could dance on the head of a pin—facts be damned.

    • Anyone interested in how scientific creativity works will be interested in such things.

      Maybe I'm interested and maybe I'm not, but in either case, why should I think it works differently from how any other kind of creativity works?

      • Given how little we know about creativity, I'm not sure there's enough definitive material for one to take a strong stance either way. Just recently I finished Alasdair MacIntyre's newest book and he argues that in ethics, it is important to be able to consider counterfactual orders of nature society. Perhaps that is important in art, as well.

        • he argues that in ethics, it is important to be able to consider counterfactual orders of nature society.

          I'm one of the least creative people I know, but one thing that seems apparent to me is that creativity in any field, natural or social, involves the ability to think of interesting situations and other things that don't actually exist. My inability to do that is why I've never been able to write marketable fiction.

          • Hmmm; "don't actually exist" and "don't exist yet" are two very different categories. Francis Bacon, for example, was able to imagine a kind of collective individual endeavor which didn't really exist at his time. Indeed, it took about 200 years to really "come true". Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I had a dream" was also in this category; hopefully it doesn't take 200 years to come fully true. One might place passages such as Hebrews 11:13–16 in the same category. But then again, this would make religion out to be something more than just fiction; I know that is rather uncool in some circles.

          • Hmmm; "don't actually exist" and "don't exist yet" are two very different categories.

            Sure, and in some contexts it is a relevant difference. But in any context, it takes creativity to think about either.

          • But then again, this would make religion out to be something more than just fiction; I know that is rather uncool in some circles.

            People who say that religion is nothing more than fiction are being either terminologically sloppy or just plain stupid.

  • Ignatius Reilly

    As we all know, and as many of our well established textbooks have argued for decades, the Dark Ages were a stunting of intellectual progress to be redeemed only by the secular spirit of the Enlightenment.

    Outside of youtube comments and facebook meme pages, who actually argues this anymore. The period from 250ish-1000 CE is called the early middle ages. Academics don't use the term Dark Ages, so I'm not sure what well established textbooks are being referenced.

    The Inquisition was one of the most frightening and bloody chapters in Western history

    Superlatives are great for setting up strawmen. The edict of expulsion and the inquisition were very unfortunate events.

    the religious Crusades were an early example of religious thirst for riches and power

    Who argues this?

    Just because some popular atheists historical and modern have embellished the crimes of western religion does not meant that the actual historical crimes were not grave. I may write more later, but this excerpt does not seem particularly nuanced. Maybe Stark is outside of his expertise here. The thought of Descartes, Newton, and Pascal was markedly different from Aquinas. To talk of Descartes as another Scholastic really misses the point.

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      Outside of youtube comments and facebook meme pages

      What else is there?

      But seriously, youtube comments and facebook memes seem to be the closest thing we have to cultural dialogue in America, sad as that may be. Isn't it important to address popular misconceptions?

      • Ignatius Reilly

        There are books and pleasant conversations. I think most people that want to have serious conversation on anything will avoid arguing on YouTube or Facebook. I follow a couple of atheist pages on Facebook and the vast majority of the time they are posting an outrageous caricature of history or something triumphalistic. The religious pages are just as bad.

        The phrasing "established textbooks" suggests that the beliefs that Stark is arguing against are part of established academic thought. These are the things we learn in college and in academic literature. That's simply untrue. Dark Ages has been out of the vocabulary for decades. The forced conversion and persecution of the Jews in Spain is crime enough without having to embellish the facts. (The Jews developed a beautiful mystic school of thought afterwards. Christian thought has been very much impoverished by the desire for homogeneity.)

        It's important to correct popular misconceptions, but to replace those with different misconceptions is unhelpful. I don't find Stark's excerpt to be particularly nuanced. I found Vogt's introduction frustrating.

      • But seriously, youtube comments and facebook memes seem to be the closest thing we have to cultural dialogue in America, sad as that may be. Isn't it important to address popular misconceptions?

        Are you suggesting that we deign to interact with the hoi polloi? I mean, Jesus did that—but he was God. I'm just a mere mortal.

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      To talk of Descartes as another Scholastic really misses the point.

      I don't see where Stark did this. To quote the text above, his argument is that in attempting, "to reason his way from the most basic of axioms", Descartes "explicitly modeled himself on his Scholastic predecessors".
      That is a long way from implying that Descartes was fundamentally scholastic in his thinking.

      • Ignatius Reilly

        I'm not an expert, but it seems that while a scholastic may reason from basic axioms, the scholastic doesn't see this reasoning as necessary to faith. The scholastic doesn't doubt like Descartes doubts. Descartes focuses entirely on reason alone to understand God. A scholastic uses a mixed methodology.

        I read that in the Islamic tradition, the God of philosophy was seen as another way (among many) of understanding the Divine. It wasn't meant to be proof of God's existence (atheism wasn't really culturally possible till the 17th century or so), but another way of understanding the Divine. I think the scholastics are in a similar vein, but I could be wrong.

        I think atheists and theists really miss the point when it comes to science and belief. Science birthed atheism and the enlightenment more than the other way around. As a believer, I remember my first strong doubts about religion/God was when I came across a really strong presentation of the PoE and when I studied modern physics. Science can change how we perceive our intuitions.

        I think you wrote somewhere once that mathematics was important to you in your path to Catholicism. For me, mathematics lead me away from religion, because I realized what certainty actually looked like and it was nothing like the certainty I was told existed in religion. It is interesting how the same thing affects people in different ways. (Although, I will admit the mystical God the mathematician is the best of all Gods).

        • Jim (hillclimber)

          Although, I will admit the mystical God the mathematician is the best of all Gods.

          I have always felt this way as well, but the way I conceive of this mathematician has changed since my pre-Catholic deist-ish days. To me, it is no longer (just) God the mathematical designer / engineer, a la deism. It is more like God the mathematical performance poet, or something like that. Mathematics describes the exquisite structure of the poetry, but the poetry is live, still being composed.

          (Just sharing a personal reflection here, not trying to make an argument.)

          • Ignatius Reilly

            My conception was/is the same. Mathematics is art. I was probably projecting my love of mathematics (and art) onto the divine though. I think all believers do this. I'm pretty comfortable with mystical and universalistic interpretations of the divine. I'm deeply troubled by interpretations that are sectarian and triumphalist. Interpretations that claim to have the whole truth instead of a lesser truth that the other religious sects posses.

            If I was a believer, I would consider these types of interpretations to be a form of idolatry. I don't care for rigid people, so I suppose I don't care for a rigid God.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Good thoughts. Lots I'd like to follow up on in there. Working on a deadline today but would like to come back to this. Thanks for the exchange.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            OK, Friday night, deadline postponed (by weeks! yessss), wife and children all happy and not in need of anything, beer in hand, shadow-play of leaves in the breeze dancing with light of the evening sun ... what better time to seek out a contentious argument on the most fundamental questions of reality ...

            So, what is Ignatius Reilly reading these days? Some stuff on comparative religion? Any books to recommend? Are you taking a particular liking to any of those religions you are comparing?

            Pretty light reading for me these days. Right now I'm on Einsten's Greatest Mistake. Well-written and interesting pop-sci / pop-history. Just finished a pretty obscure memoir called Twenty Years A-Growing, by a guy named Maurice O'Sullivan who grew up on the Great Blasket off of Ireland. Total gem of a book if you want to be transported to rural Ireland in the early 20th century.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Hi Jim! Hope you are having a nice weekend.

            I just finished Karen Armstrong's A History of God, which I think you would like. I just started a book on Ancient Egypt. I've been listening to these lectures on the early middle ages. One of the books that is part of the course The Inheritance of Rome looks really interesting.

            Sufi Islam. There are some traditions in Judaism that I like. I prefer more mystical and more tolerant religious expressions.

            Edit: apparently the youtube video goes in the bottom of the comment even if I hyperlink it. Is there a way to change that?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I don't know too much about Sufism in general, but it's hard not to like some of Rumi's poetry. I remember hearing Brian Swimme once use the phrase "the all-nourishing abyss", which I believe he attributed to some Sufi poet or other (let me know if you figure out to whom that should be attributed). That is probably my all-time favorite expression for referring to what I call God. You might like some of Brian Swimme's ideas, by the way.

            I naturally incline toward mysticism myself, in case you couldn't guess. In a way I think it is the most secure way to ground one's worldview, because one can pretty easily doubt the testimony of others, and one can pretty easily doubt one's own ability to reason, but it seems somehow safer to trust one's own experience of the transcendent. (Of course one can doubt one's fundamental experiences of reality as well, but if that is not secure than nothing is secure, and then one heads down the path of radical skepticism, which, at best, seems ... unfruitful.)

            My main concern with mysticism, and this is not really a concern with mysticism per se, is that I see in myself an unhealthy inclination to detach from the messiness of history, and I see overly mystical religiosity as potentially enabling me in that way. Although it is discomforting that Christianity stakes out a very particular position on history, I am also sure that any religion that didn't draw me into the very contingent twists and turns of history, any religion that didn't provide an interpretive framework for thinking about the specific things that happen in history, would somehow fail to meet my needs. I wonder what your perspective is on this, especially in relation to what you are learning about mystical strains of Islam and Judaism.

          • but it seems somehow safer to trust one's own experience of the transcendent. (Of course one can doubt one's fundamental experiences of reality as well, but if that is not secure than nothing is secure, and then one heads down the path of radical skepticism,

            I have never doubted the experiences I had when I was religious. I did come, though, to doubt the presuppositions on which I based my conviction that those experiences were of transcendental origin.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            That's fine. I've never worried too much, or thought too much, about the origin of mystical experiences, whether that origin was transcendent, whether is was "merely" the electrochemistry of my brain, or anything like that. Those are interesting questions, but they are also a bit secondary. As you indicate, what is known inferentially is epistemically less secure than what is known experientially.

            What I do know, as securely as anything else, is the experience itself. It is an experience of connectedness, belonging, coherence. And so it seems correct to me to root my epistemology in that: that I know that at root, everything is connected, everything coheres, and I belong. And so all of my knowledge of God, and all of my knowledge of everything else, is built on that foundation.

          • What I do know, as securely as anything else, is the experience itself. It is an experience of connectedness, belonging, coherence. And so it seems correct to me to root my epistemology in that: that I know that at root, everything is connected, everything coheres, and I belong. And so all of my knowledge of God, and all of my knowledge of everything else, is built on that foundation.

            Very interesting. I could say almost the same thing. Here is my version (amendment in italics):

            What I do know, as securely as anything else, is the experience itself. It is an experience of connectedness, belonging, coherence. And so it seems correct to me to root my epistemology in that: that I know that at root, everything is connected, everything coheres, and I belong. And so all of my knowledge of the naturalistic universe, and all of my knowledge of everything else, is built on that foundation.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Sounds good. It's surely worth something to recognize that our epistemologies are rooted in the same way, even if they branch off quickly in different directions.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I am curious:

            The language that I used, and that you (mostly) adopted, implicitly distinguishes between, on the one hand, what is true at root and, on the other hand, what appears to be true on the surface. So, for example: in our day to day lives we experience things that seem incoherent, but you (from what I gather) and I assume that at some deeper level, beneath that surface incoherence, there is some fundamental coherence (a coherence that we may eventually be able to understand, but that remains opaque to us for now). We assume that if we were able to dive deep enough beneath the turbulence of the wave we would eventually find peaceful water, so to speak. Does it then make sense to you to speak of some levels of reality as though they are (metaphorically) "deeper" than others? If so, then I think I have some follow up questions.

          • Does it then make sense to you to speak of some levels of reality as though they are (metaphorically) "deeper" than others? If so, then I think I have some follow up questions.

            I’m not exactly sure what you’re asking, but I’ll try this response:

            I’m an unapologetic reductionist. (Daniel Dennett distinguishes between “greedy reductionism” and “good reductionism,” and naturally, I think mine is the good kind.) I believe we are explicable in terms of our biology, and biology is explicable in terms of chemistry, and chemistry is explicable in terms of physics, and physics is explicable in terms of subatomic particles, etc. etc.

            But explicability is not a symmetrical relationship. To say that chemistry can explain everything we know about biology is not to say that, if we had a perfect knowledge of chemistry, we could from that knowledge alone figure our how our immune system works. There is a point up to which any level of reality must be studied independently of any other level. If we want to know why cats purr, we have to learn more about the contingencies of feline evolution. There is no way we will find the complete answer if we never leave the biochemistry lab.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            physics is explicable in terms of subatomic particles, etc. etc.

            I'd like to understand better how you conceive of the "etc. etc." Do you think there more fundamental levels, after we get past physics (including subatomic physics) altogether? Is there a level of explanation that is more fundamental than the physical sciences?

          • I'd like to understand better how you conceive of the "etc. etc." Do you think there more fundamental levels, after we get past physics (including subatomic physics) altogether? Is there a level of explanation that is more fundamental than the physical sciences?

            The only candidate I’m aware of for the next level of our understanding is string theory. And, as far as I’ve been able to find out, Neil deGrasse Tyson’s comments here are mostly spot on: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5BAQBrUDl-0. I say “mostly” because I think he’s a bit too dismissive of “It’s a hard problem.” Some problems are harder than others. It took the mathematical community over 300 years to prove Fermat’s Last Theorem. The problems that string theory is intended to explain could be at least that difficult, for all we now know, and the real solution could be some other hypothesis that has not yet even occurred to anyone.

            The very existence of those problems suggests to me that yes, there is a level of explanation more fundamental than the level we are currently at. Whether that deeper level will just be a continuation of physics or something else entirely will depend on what we find whenever we find it. I believe it will just be more physics, but I know of no reason to preemptively rule out any alternative.

            I think it would be a suspicious coincidence if we happened to be living at the one moment in history when science had reached the end of its epistemological rope. At the same time, we have to think it possible that that rope does have an end, and that we will reach it someday. We have no reason to think our brains are capable of answering every question about the universe that we can think of. Natural selection designed our brains to solve certain kinds of problems, and those problems all had to do with directly observable phenomena. That doesn’t mean we have no good reason to believe in certain unobservable things, or that we cannot talk rationally about abstractions that (some of us believe) strictly speaking don’t even exist. Our brains had to become capable of dealing with concepts of that sort in order to most effectively solve problems involving only directly observable phenomena. But it does not follow that the universe, at its most fundamental level, must be sufficiently similar to observable phenomena as to be intelligible to our brains.

            Even quantum phenomena, at least according to people such as Richard Feynmann, are not actually intelligible. Scientists can do quantum science because the mathematical equations describing quantum physics are intelligible, but the phenomena modeled by those equations are so counterintuitive as to be incomprehensible.

            All things considered, in view of our biological origins, it’s kind of amazing that we’ve gotten as far as we have in our understanding of reality. Amazing — but not, in my judgment, implausible. Whether we have reached the limit of our understanding, or have gotten close to that limit, I think it’s way too soon to say.

  • Ignatius Reilly

    I have devoted a book to my answer: that the truly fundamental basis for the rise of the West was an extraordinary faith in reason and progress, and this faith originated in Christianity

    This belief in progress doesn't happen till the reformation.

    The emphasis is on discovering God’s nature, intentions, and demands, and on understanding how these define the relationship between human beings and God. And Christian thinkers have done this, not through meditation, not through new revelations, not through inspiration, but through reason.

    There is rather extensive mystic tradition in Catholicism. Augustine's Confessions are filled with mysticism, there is a tradition of monasticism, Loyola's Spiritual Exercises, and mystics like Avila and Sienna. Aquinas considered his Summa to be like straw compared to his mystical experience of the Divine. His Summa uses revelation and inspiration to fill out the picture of his philosophy. He needs revelation.

    Islam had a more advanced civilization in the middle ages, while being much wiser religiously than the Christian west. They were more tolerant and more accepting of different attempts to understand the Divine. Why is this? If Christianity is so key to developing science, why did the Christian West lag behind Islam and the Byzantine Empire?

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      Islam had a more advanced civilization in the middle ages, while being
      much wiser religiously than the Christian west. They were more tolerant
      and more accepting of different attempts to understand the Divine. Why
      is this?

      Why? Until the 10th century, the muslim rulers were vastly outnumbered by their Christian subjects. The mass conversions to Islam began with the Turkish invasions, and they (and the Berbers) like all new converts began suppressing the native Christians and Jews, demolishing churches, and so on. The original Arab conquerors had come into possession of a land with a stratum of Hellenism a thousand years thick with a generous layer of about half a millennium of Christian icing atop it. It would have been amazing if they had not been able to do well with the accumulated wealth and technology.

      The Western Roman Empire, otoh, had been poor and rural, paying its taxes in kind rather than in gold, dependent on roads rather than on the sea (hence, goods increased in costs dramatically the farther they traveled.) There were relatively few cities and knowledge of Greek relatively less. Then, while the German invaders were no more rude than the Arabs and Slavs in the East, the imperial structure was more fragile and less resilient and was hammered even afterward by blue meanies: Saracens, Vikings, and Magyars who pillaged far and wide until about AD 1000.

      If Christianity is so key to developing science, why did the
      Christian West lag behind Islam and the Byzantine Empire?

      See above. But do not suppose that the Byzantine Empire lacked for Christians or that a substantial number of people in the Caliphate were not Christians or crypto-Christians down to the 10th century. Thirdly, do not confuse the use of technology with the development of science. The former requires only tinkering and rules of thumb, not the development of physical theories.

      • Ignatius Reilly

        Until the 10th century, the muslim rulers were vastly outnumbered by their Christian subjects. The mass conversions to Islam began with the Turkish invasions, and they (and the Berbers) like all new converts began suppressing the native Christians and Jews, demolishing churches, and so on.

        This is not accurate. The Islamic Golden Age (approximately 8th-14th centuries) is a time period in which Islamic scholars explored philosophy, religious traditions, art, medicine, and laid the foundation for modern science. They were tolerant of different interpretation of Islam and they were tolerant of Jews and Christians in their empire. At this point in time, Muslims saw Christianity and Judaism as alternate revelation from the Abrahamic God. Islam was the special revelation to the Arabs. During this time period Jews were also developing traditions and ways of thinking about God.

        You do not find this kind of tolerance in the Christian West. The Christian West has looked suspiciously upon alternate interpretations of God that Islam had no problem with in this time period. There was a Schism over Trinitarian disagreements.

        It is true that in the 12th century (not the 10th) the Almohad Caliphate practiced religious persecution of Jews and Christian. The persecution varied depending on the Caliph. It should also be noted that this is not the whole of the Islamic world. The Spanish Muslims and Jews were developing a beautiful culture until they were driven out by Christian monarchs.

        The original Arab conquerors had come into possession of a land with a stratum of Hellenism a thousand years thick with a generous layer of about half a millennium of Christian icing atop it. It would have been amazing if they had not been able to do well with the accumulated wealth and technology.

        Yes, they did inherit cultural traditions. They also expanded upon this tradition in new and wondrous ways. There are many reasons why a civilization succeeds. Culture is one of them. Religion is part of culture. It is silly thought to attribute Islamic success or European success in intellectual endeavors, just as it is silly to attribute the fall of Rome to the rise of Christianity.

        The Western Roman Empire, otoh, had been poor and rural, paying its taxes in kind rather than in gold, dependent on roads rather than on the sea (hence, goods increased in costs dramatically the farther they traveled.) There were relatively few cities and knowledge of Greek relatively less.

        Exactly. A civilization is much more than the religion they practice.

        But do not suppose that the Byzantine Empire lacked for Christians or that a substantial number of people in the Caliphate were not Christians or crypto-Christians down to the 10th century. Thirdly, do not confuse the use of technology with the development of science.

        Christians were not persecuted till the 12th century. It is entirely inaccurate to suggest that Islamic scholars were scholarly because of Christians in the Caliphate.

        Ibn al-Haythum is the founder of the modern scientific method. He was a Muslim.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          The medicine of the early Caliphate was largely in the hands of Greek, Armenian, and Jewish doctors, few of whom were devout muslims. (There were also ex-Zoroastrians in Persia.)

          The famous Arab natural philosophers, like al-Kindi, al-Haythum, ibn-Rushd, ibn Sinna, and the rest were either ignored or persecuted, depending on the caliph or emir of the moment. Every faylasuf ran afoul of the authorities at one time or another. Al-Kindi's personal library was burned and he was publicaly caned;
          ibn Sinna was thrown in prison; ibn Rushd was stripped of all offices
          and forced to flee al-Andalus. Their works became forgotten in the House
          of Submission and found larger and more interested audiences in the House of
          War.

          Natural philosophy, though never forbidden outright in the House of Submission, was also never taught publicly and hence never "embedded" in the culture. It was always a hobby pursued by interested individuals, whose names and accomplishments, preserved by the West, glow against a rather more gray background. Astronomy, a branch of mathematics rather than of science, was the only technical subject ever taught in a chartered school: a single madrassa in Persia, which lasted for eighty years iirc before a mob sacked it. (The fiqh of the ashari aqida was that the announcement of ramadan, prayer times, et al. was to be based on human observation, not on mathematical calculations. All astronomy was subject to the authority of the timekeeper of the mosque.)

          Grosseteste, who is also the founder of the "scientitic method" took his cue from Aristotle, not al-Haytham -- who also took his cue from the Old Stagirite. It is a combination of the Posterior Analytics and the Prior Analytics and was called compositio et resolutio. Perhaps Grosseteste's most important contribution was his insistence that the quia used in the resolution to confirm the propter quid had to be independent of the quia used in the composition to devise the propter quidin the first place. That is, you cannot verify a theory with the same facts you used to develop the theory. Now, in actual fact, no one is ever "the father of" anything in science, which is always a corporate and developmental activity involving many people over time. Aristotle could make a fair claim, however.

          In what "new and wondrous ways" did islamic thinkers (as opposed to arabic thinkers) expand upon the helleno-Christian heritage they conquered? (Don't worry. I know of several examples;. I just wondered if you were repeating boilerplate or not. I always get itchy at vague generalities and pine for specific, illustrative examples.)

          You wrote: The Spanish Muslims and Jews were developing a beautiful culture until they were driven out by Christian monarchs.

          This is certainly the mythos these days, so long as the dhimmi knew their place. (Let them blaspheme the Prophet (pbuh) and see how tolerant the rulers were. Or let them pick the wrong side in a quarrel as the Jews did in Cordoba in 1013.) In fact, the storied tolerance of al-Andalus depended on who was the Caliph at any given time. Certainly, it had disintegrated long before the Spanish kings had begun the reconquest of the territories from which they had been driven by muslim monarchs previously. (Or doesn't that count?) The old Umayyad Caliphate of Cordoba had collapsed into warring taifas that tended to make life unpleasant for everyone well before the Spanish had emerged from their mountain fortresses. Not only Abbasid v. Umayyad, or Berber v. Arab, but the al-murabitim versus everyone: The Moors regarded the previous Arab and Berber muslims as slackers.

          Christians were not persecuted till the 12th century.

          Except for the church demolitions and the martyrs.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Where are you getting your information from? Whenever we talk about history, I always get the idea that we are getting our facts from different books.

            I'm tired, so I'm only going to touch on one of your points for now:

            In what "new and wondrous ways" did islamic thinkers (as opposed to arabic thinkers) expand upon the helleno-Christian heritage they conquered?

            There was saying in Sufi Islam that "There is no God but Allah and Jesus is his messenger." The Divine is ineffable. To think that a particular religious strain of thought has all the answers is hubris.

            Al-Ghazali. I like how he realizes that he can't escape skepticism with philosophy and instead uses it as theology. I am not a fan of occasionalism.

            It was always a hobby pursued by interested individuals, whose names and accomplishments, preserved by the West, glow against a rather more gray background.

            Do you have a source for this? I've been reading more comparative religion than history, but this strikes me as incorrect.

            Anyway that is it for me for now. I need to get some rest. Thanks for the detailed response!

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Al-Ghazali probably did more than anyone to tip the balance from Christianity to Islam among the common people in the Middle East. He also did more than anyone to strangle natural philosophy in its cradle by demolishing the idea that natural bodies could act directly on other natural bodies. He was the original "God did it!" guy.

            "...our opponent claims that the agent of the burning is the fire exclusively;’ this is a natural, not a voluntary agent, and cannot abstain from what is in its nature when it is brought into contact with a receptive substratum. This we deny, saying: The agent of the burning is God, through His creating the black in the cotton and the disconnexion of its parts, and it is God who made the cotton burn and made it ashes either through the intermediation of angels or without intermediation. For fire is a dead body which has no action, and what is the proof that it is the agent? Indeed, the philosophers have no other proof than the observation of the occurrence of the burning, when there is contact with fire, but observation proves only a simultaneity, not a causation, and, in reality, there is no other cause but God."
            -- al-Ghazali, The Incoherence of Philosophy

            Christian philosophy adopted the notion that natural bodies were capable of acting directly upon other natural bodies through their own natures, thus clearing the way for "natural laws" and suchlike things:

            Nature is nothing but the plan of some art, namely a divine one, put into things themselves, by which those things move towards a concrete end: as if the man who builds up a ship could give to the pieces of wood that they could move by themselves to produce the form of the ship.
            -- Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Physics II.8, lecture 14, no. 268

            This built upon and expanded Greek ideas of causation while al-Ghazali put a sock in it. Ibn Rushd indeed argued against al-Ghazali in The Incoherence of the Incoherence but, as I said, he wound up stripped of his offices and forced to flee.

            A good overview that compares not only Europe and Islam but also China is Toby Huff's The Rise of Early Modern Science: China, Islam, and the West, but Grant's book God and Reason in the Middle Ages and The Foundations of Science in the Middle Ages are also good overviews. All three discuss the "embedding" of science into Western culture.

        • dudester4

          Total BS, even if you just consider the Umayyad conquest of Spain alone, not to mention the Balkan, Sicilian, and extremely barbaric Mughal invasions and repression of native Christian and other cultures during your so-called "Golden Age." Indian populations were reduced by 75%, the greatest genocide in human history. Christians not persecuted till the 12th century? Do you consider us totally ignorant of history? This is an idiotic representation of militaristic and typically brutal invasion of other lands by Muslim conquerors, unalloyed by "tradition in new and 'wondrous' ways." Screw you.

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      This belief in progress doesn't happen till the reformation.

      Maybe ... but the quotes in the OP from Augustine, Gilbert de Tournai, and Fra Giordano suggest otherwise, at least at first pass. Don't you need to at least partially address those quotes in order to support your position?

  • Raymond

    I don't think the Augustine quotes mean what the author thinks they mean.

    Then he added that although it is necessary "for faith to precede reason in certain matters of great moment that cannot yet be grasped, surely the very small portion of reason that persuades us of this must precede faith."

    Sounds like straining the gnat but swallowing the camel to me. .

  • I think we get into trouble when we try to generalize like this. In fact, I think we've now gotten to the point that the myth isn't that there was a dark age in Europe. The myth now is that historians and others push this narrative.

    Certainly the fall of the Western Roman Empire was a big event and ushered in a period of economic stagnation and fervent religiousity.

    But certainly there was literacy and discovery. I think we cannot really say that between the fall of Rome and say 900, we saw great cities, works of art, or the kind of empires we saw in the previous thousand years in the Mediterranean and continued to see in the east throughout this period.

    Nor is it fair to say that Christians were comparatively big champions of reason and philosophy particularly in any sphere much outside of theology.

    It isn't as if the Persians or the Egyptians lacked reason.

    But you simply cannot dismiss the pagan Greeks, and Romans which were widely read and expressly referenced by renaissance and enlightenment thinkers.

    Certainly the work of Christians and some Christian theology was instrumental. But we also need to recall that these early Christians themselves were coming out of a Greco-Roman tradition that was itself very influential.

    In any event, what we learned from the enlightenment and age of reason is the it is things like reason, empiricism, following reasonable inferences from that evidence that matters if you want to make discoveries. Your theology is irrelevant. Indeed these same axioms of logic and reason that allowed science to advance were the same as those employed by Aristotle, Euclid and Plato.

  • As we all know, and as many of our well established textbooks have argued for decades, the Dark Ages were a stunting of intellectual progress to be redeemed only by the secular spirit of the Enlightenment.

    Brandon, can you identify at least one of those textbooks and tell us your criteria for calling it “well established”?

    The accomplished sociologist and past president of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion has long identified as an agnostic, though today calls himself an "independent Christian." That makes his book less a work of religious apologetics and more historical remediation. He wants to correct myths and get at the truth.

    I get it that the correction of misinformation about a religion is not necessarily an apologetic for that religion. It is something I’ve done myself on occasion. I’m also aware that for many non-Catholic Christians, any defense of the Catholic Church is a defense of Christianity as long as the discussion does not involve any doctrines that are unique to Roman Catholicism.

    • BCE

      We often overlook a more behavioral approach, like ethology.
      Those that try to blame the church for the Dark Age and conversely praise the Enlightened reformation, deism and agnosticism instead of theism, may be just following their own bias.
      We guess that ancient(ie 15,000 years ago) humans who gathered round a fire were more likely to share their primitive technology, tell stories while cooking, which made food more digestible, killed bacteria, provided warmth, thus freeing up time to contemplate and share ideas.
      However there is always a balance, is there pressure to rely on older
      established methods or a willingness to experiment and try new ideas?
      A climate change, famine, disease, the size of a community and
      social hierarchy can all effect whether a group can meet their survival needs and feels safe to explore new ideas. There might be a threshold where some stress is good for progress, too much and there is stagnation.
      Kingdoms, communities depending on a centralized social system,
      with church, commerce, protection, might seem like a natural place for ideas and innovation, but can also be places with extreme conflict, competition, disease. Where there is stress, struggles for food, etc, the community might be less inclined to support education, literacy, and the seemingly waste of manpower spent by idealistic dreamer.
      One would think a Medieval town could provided enough intellectual opportunity, but hadn't yet mastered infrastructure, so these urban environments primary concern centered on meeting the basics, those of labor, governance, food supply,storage, housing, water.
      The more those basic needs were resolved, a greater number could explore ideas with the support of the community.
      One could look at current schools. In communities with higher poverty, crime rates, conflict, distrust, you don't see a flourishing of higher math and science.
      Enlightenment might be more like roasting marshmallows by the camp fire,
      don't credit secular society, it's having enough wood for the fire.

      • Those that try to blame the church for the Dark Age and conversely praise the Enlightened reformation, deism and agnosticism instead of theism, may be just following their own bias.

        We all have biases, but we can compensate for them if we try hard enough and in good faith. It doesn’t help the conversation if all we do is accuse each other of being biased.

        However there is always a balance, is there pressure to rely on older established methods or a willingness to experiment and try new ideas?

        The pressure has always been to stick with the known and distrust the unknown. The unknown always presents a risk, and we’re hard-wired with a general tendency to avoid risk, but the emphasis must be on “general.” Most people also get it that risk is sometimes necessary and that it is also sometimes, if not quite necessary, of such potential benefit as to justify the risk.

        One would think a Medieval town could provided enough intellectual opportunity, but hadn't yet mastered infrastructure, so these urban environments primary concern centered on meeting the basics, those of labor, governance, food supply,storage, housing, water.

        The Romans had mastered infrastructure pretty well. The people running Europe during Medieval times seem to have considered it not worth maintaining.

        Enlightenment might be more like roasting marshmallows by the camp fire, don't credit secular society, it's having enough wood for the fire.

        I’m not trying to credit secularism as such for the Enlightenment. I’m expressing my skepticism toward the notion that Christianity ought to get most if not all of the credit.

        • BCE

          I have not read Stark's book.
          However I agree Roman and Greek culture already embraced logic.
          But, Stark is (book title) giving a Catholic perspective.
          What I say does not infer that you are not already aware, it's just a response and not a disagreement.
          The Greeks and Romans were deist. There wasn't a modern idea of separation of religion and secular.
          Also I'm not saying Eastern thought makes science impossible, and surely the Orientals were advanced in many things.
          However there's a difference in orientation : seeking enlightenment as if it dwells internally vs, it lay in the hands of God(s) who can make it known to us. A dialogue with oneself, as if that's where truth dwells vs a dialogue with a deity(s) where it holds all wisdom and truth.
          From a Catholic perspective, they don't credit themselves with invented the later, but that it was no accident that Jesus was born into a society that already believed truth dwelt objectively with God.
          It was divine and purposeful that existing Roman and Greek(plus Alexandrian, and Palestine ) culture would help make the idea of rituals, priesthood, trinity, dogma easier to understand.
          So even if dismissed, or considered an annoyance or threat, there was much that was already familiar.
          So Catholics don't credit Catholicism apart from a divine plan, that it should germinate where it could quickly grow, it happened to be named catholic, and that truth exists apart from man.
          Of course this is special pleading, but history could have had us
          each thinking truth lies inside our experience, which makes consensus
          science more difficult.

          • But, Stark is (book title) giving a Catholic perspective.

            I know. I'm giving my reasons for thinking that the Catholic perspective is mistaken.

            The Greeks and Romans were deist.

            I suppose a few of them probably were.

            However there's a difference in orientation : seeking enlightenment as if it dwells internally vs, it lay in the hands of God(s) who can make it known to us. A dialogue with oneself, as if that's where truth dwells vs a dialogue with a deity(s) where it holds all wisdom and truth.

            Those are two possible orientations, yes, but they are not the only two. Secular science is not about finding truth, wisdom, or enlightenment within oneself.

            It was divine and purposeful that existing Roman and Greek(plus Alexandrian, and Palestine ) culture would help make the idea of rituals, priesthood, trinity, dogma easier to understand.

            So even if dismissed, or considered an annoyance or threat, there was much that was already familiar.

            Some of us have been saying for a long time that Christianity wasn’t really offering the world anything new. It was not a new religion, but a repackaging and rebranding of some old religions.

            but history could have had us each thinking truth lies inside our experience, which makes consensus science more difficult.

            Indeed, which is why modern science rejects the notion that truth lies inside our experience. But it also rejects the notion that truth must be sanctioned by divine revelation. It believes that we need no approval from any religious authority either to seek the truth or to be justified in thinking we have found it.

  • So much then for the idea that suddenly in the sixteenth century, enlightened secular forces burst the chains of Catholic thought and set the foundation for modern times.

    Yeah, that’s a pretty gross oversimplification. So is just about every other popular idea about history. Most Americans' understanding of the American Revolution, the Civil War, and the settlement of the West are likewise grossly oversimplified.

    In truth, the rise of science was inseparable from Christian theology, for the latter gave direction and confidence to the former (Chapter 7).

    Not having read Chapter 7, there isn’t much I can say in response, except to note that I’ve seen Christian apologists make this claim before (in this forum, among other places) without having a cogent argument to back it up with.

    What enabled Europeans to begin and maintain the extraordinary and enduring period of rapid progress that enabled them, by the end of the “Dark Ages,” to have far surpassed the rest of the world?

    Good question. Based on everything I think I understand about every other major historical event, the answer almost certainly is: A great many things, only one of which might, arguably, have been the region’s dominant religion.

    It has been conventional to date the “Age of Reason” as having begun in the seventeenth century. In truth, it really began late in the second century, launched by early Christian theologians.

    The idea that there was no pre-Christian age of reason is laughable.

    Indeed, it was not unusual for Christian theologians to reason their way to a new doctrine; from earliest days Christian thinkers celebrated reason as the means to gain greater insight into divine intentions.

    And where did they get the idea that they should do this? Religion is probably as old as humanity, as is the exercise of reason. Efforts to apply the latter to the former certainly predated Christianity.

    Christian theologians always have placed far greater faith in reason than most secular philosophers are willing to do today.

    That probably depends on one’s definition of “faith.”

    It is a widely believed, even by very secular scholars, that the ‘idea of progress’ was crucial to the rise of Western Civilization.

    Being widely believed doesn’t make it true. Isn’t that one of the points this book tries to make?

    [Europeans] eagerly pursued new methods, ideas, and technologies. As it turned out, these efforts were self-confirming: faith in progress prompted efforts that repeatedly produced progress.

    Whenever any activity yields satisfactory results, people tend to continue those activities for as long as they keep getting satisfactory results. That process is as old as humanity, and we usually call it “progress.” For most of human history, it happened slowly and with occasional setbacks. A few hundred years ago, in Europe, the process accelerated in an unprecedented way. Historians are still arguing about why the acceleration happened then and there.

    The basis for the unique European belief in progress was not a triumph of secularity, but of religion.

    I see no reason to think it was a uniquely European belief.

    but what is important is that Descartes was not revolting against an “Age of Faith,” but was entirely comfortable extending the long tradition of Christian commitment to reason.

    And what does Christianity have to say about people whose commitment to reason leads them to conclude that Christian teachings are unjustified?

  • From the perspective of a historian, it should be obvious that boiling down the enlightenment to "religion bad, enlightenment good" would be overly simplistic. But so would an attempt to credit the accomplishments of scientific revolution to Christianity specifically. What's good about Christianity often wasn't unique, and what's unique to Christianity wasn't necessarily good. You can't just attribute the scientific revolution to Christianity because a couple of first-millennium theologians made references to reason and rational thought.

    Also, this article doesn't address the most common secular explanation for "why Europe had a scientific revolution before the rest of the world", which is basically that European civilization had the good fortune of discovering the New World. To briefly summarize, the argument is that the challenges associated with conquering two whole continents and ordering all of the unfamiliar flora and fauna the explorers found there created a huge demand for scientific and technological innovation, which meant that the European heads of state were interested in bankrolling organizations like the Royal Society. Before Europe discovers the new world, it's hard to argue that its civilization was obviously better, technologically or scientifically, than their contemporaries.

  • David Nickol

    God exists.
    God may or may not exist.
    There is no God.

    The debate on Strange Notions rages on!

    • Alexandra

      What is your best argument that God does not exist?

      (P.S. Im working on a response for you to the comments you made to me about doubt. Sorry for the long delay- I'm finding it a complex subject.)

      • What is your best argument that God does not exist?

        If God existed, there would be no athiests. Atheists exist. Therefore, there is no God.

        • Alexandra

          If God existed, there would be no athiests. Atheists exist. Therefore, there is no God.

          Thank you Doug, very interesting.

          1. If God existed, there would be no athiests.
          2. Atheists exists.

          Conclusion-
          3. Therefore, there is no God.

          Would you mind explaining # 1.? Why or how is that true?

          • Would you mind explaining # 1.? Why or how is that true?

            I was assuming that the question was in reference to the Christian God. I infer, from everything Christians tell me about their God, that he wants everyone to know he is real. I also infer that, because he is said to be omnipotent, he could have created the universe in such a way as to make his existence obvious to any creature with cognitive faculties like ours, in the same way that the existence of a world external to our own minds is obvious. Therefore, if a god exists, he either does not want all people to know it, or else he is not omnipotent. In either case, he is not the Christian God.

          • Alexandra

            Thank you Doug.
            I do think I am following your argument.
            Is this a fair summary? :
            1. We have a group of people that do not observe God.
            A. This is consistent with God not existing.
            2. If he does exist, he is either a) purposefully or b) unintentionally (powerlessly) hidden to this group of people;
            B. either of which contradicts the "Christian" description of God.
            Conclusion:
            3. So he either does not exist and/or the Christian God is wrong.

            I do think if your descriptions hold, I don't see any logical contradiction in the argument. (This doesn't surprise me, logic is one of your strengths :) ).

            First, I'm expecting you'll agree, this isn't an argument against the existence of God(s), per se. That He exists is independent of whether he is observed or whether he reveals himself. It seems you are addressing a possible faulty description of God.

            We both agree on #1. There is a group of people who sincerely state the have had no experience or recognition of God.

            Q 1.
            How do you determine whether the lack of experience of God is permanent for this group of people?
            That the group does not observe God, doesn't necessarily mean they will never observe God, if he exists.

            Q 2.
            That God reveals himself is distinct from that he is observed. If God does reveal himself to everyone, but a group does not recognize him, does it contradict your Christian description? Or do you think Christianity states that God must make himself unambiguously known to all?

            For example:

            And it happened that while they were conversing and debating, Jesus himself drew near and walked with them, but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him.

            (Luke 24:15-16)

          • Is this a fair summary?

            It is not an accurate summary.

            We have a group of people that do not observe God.

            Most of us believe in lots of things that we do not observe, such as atoms or their constituent particles. We also believe in history, though we do not observe it, either. (We remember a tiny part of it, but memory is not observation.) My point was that we unbelievers observe no compelling evidence for God’s existence. The question is whether this is a case in which we have good reason to believe X exists even though we do not observe X itself. I am claiming that what we actually have good reason to believe is that X does not exist.

            A. This is consistent with God not existing.

            One’s reason for believing a hypothesis must be consistent with that hypothesis. That makes it a necessary condition, but not a sufficient condition. To be sufficient, one’s reason must be inconsistent with the hypothesis’s contrary, i.e. its negation. The contrary of “God does not exist” is “God exists.” I am claiming that what I observe in the real world, i.e. lack of evidence, is inconsistent with God’s existence, and that I thus have sufficient reason to doubt his existence.

            First, I'm expecting you'll agree, this isn't an argument against the existence of God(s), per se.

            If your summary had been accurate, I would have agreed.

            How do you determine whether the lack of experience of God is permanent for this group of people?

            I don’t need to, because my argument makes no reference to permanence and does not depend on it. What I experience tomorrow should influence what I believe tomorrow, but knowing that I possibly could experience it should have nothing to do with what I believe today.

            That God reveals himself is distinct from that he is observed.

            Any reference to revelation is a circular argument, because it presupposes a revealer. My argument goes to absence of evidence. In this context, evidence for God would be some incontrovertible fact that is, to a high degree of probability, inconsistent with God’s nonexistence. (That is a considerable oversimplification. I can elaborate later if I must, but I’ll have to bring Bayes’s Theorem into the discussion if I do.)

            Or do you think Christianity states that God must make himself unambiguously known to all?

            What Christianity states regarding that particular issue is irrelevant. What is relevant is that God has not, as a matter of fact, made himself unambiguously known to all. My argument is that this fact is inconsistent with certain other statements that Christians do make about their God.

          • Alexandra

            I'm agreeing with everything most of what you're saying.

            Does this fix it?

            1. Atheists exist.
            2. If God does exist, he is either a) purposefully or b) unintentionally (powerlessly) hidden to this group of people;
            A. either of which contradicts the "Christian" description of God.
            Conclusion:
            3. The Christian God is wrong.

            If it doesn't, would you mind restating your argument using only a sentence or two.

          • If it doesn't, would you mind restating your argument using only a sentence or two.

            I can restate it, but not that briefly if clarification is the purpose of restating it.

            Premise 1: The Christian God is both capable and desirous of making his existence unambiguously known to all people.

            Premise 2: Atheists exist, and by definition, they do not believe that any god exists.

            Premise 3: By the definition of knowledge, whatever is not believed is not known.

            Corollary to Premise 1: If the Christian God existed, he would have made his existence unambiguously known to all people.

            Corollary to Premise 2: No god has made his existence unambiguously known to all people. And, since no god has done so, the Christian God in particular has not done so.

            Conclusion: The Christian God does not exist.

          • VicqRuiz

            I suspect that John Calvin might question your premise 1.

          • There seems to be nothing anyone can say about the Christian God that some sect of Christianity won't disagree with.

            Obviously, my argument collapses if Premise 1 actually is false. But if it is false, then Christianity reduces to incoherence, in my judgment.

          • VicqRuiz
          • :-)

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Obviously, my argument collapses if Premise 1 actually is false. But if it is false, then Christianity reduces to incoherence, in my judgment.

            I suspect many mainline Christians would need for your premise 1 to be modified slightly before they would agree with it, as follows:

            The Christian God is both capable and desirous of making his existence unambiguously known to all people ... eventually.

            The Christian God does not simply reveal everything in an instantaneous bolus, but rather lets things unfold in time, dramatically, one might say. That's arguably one of the distinctive features of biblical literature: it proposes that history itself is the ongoing process of God's self-revelation. Without time there cannot be novelty and surprise, and this God seems to like that sort of stuff.

            Once you throw some time delays into your premises, it seems to me that your argument carries a lot less force.

          • I suspect many mainline Christians would need for your premise 1 to be modified slightly before they would agree with it, as follows:

            The Christian God is both capable and desirous of making his existence unambiguously known to all people ... eventually.

            So, he wants me to know he exists, but not just yet?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I don't think I can productively speculate on what God wants for you specifically. But, generally speaking, in the Biblical tradition as I read it, God brings about goodness in time, and not all at once. Or, to say it another way, God doesn't merely want a good state of being for us, but a good act of becoming for us. Being is static; becoming is dynamic. This is a dynamic God. And revelation doesn't have any dynamism if everything is known all at once.

            If I give you a wrapped gift, it's not because I don't [ever] want you to know what the gift is. It's because I want you to experience the joy of revelation, not just the joy of knowing what the gift is, but the joy of coming to know what the gift is. And so I do think it is at least plausible that God wants you "to know he exists, but not just yet". Of course this is just one vein of speculation.

            A completely different vein of speculation would be that you already do know God, but you do not identify him as such.

          • I don't think I can productively speculate on what God wants for you specifically.

            It's not a matter of speculation. It's a matter of logic. If God is omnipotent, he could have made his existence known to the entire world at any time of his choosing, so if he hasn't done it yet, then he has not wanted to yet.

            A completely different vein of speculation would be that you already do know God, but you do not identify him as such.

            If I'm under the impression that Donald Trump is Hillary Clinton, then I don't know Donald Trump.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            It's not a matter of speculation

            I was not addressing your main argument, but rather your specific tangential question: "So, he wants me to know he exists, but not just yet?"
            You want me to address that question without speculation?

            so if he hasn't done it yet, then he has not wanted to yet.

            I accept that, at least for the sake of this argument. And my point is that, having introduced the temporal aspect ("yet") into your first premise, you no longer have a sound argument. The fact that some people are atheists now does not contradict the notion that there is an omnipotent God wants all people to know him eventually.

            If I'm under the impression that Donald Trump is Hillary Clinton, then I don't know Donald Trump.

            If you know a person, and that person is actually Donald Trump, but you think that person is Hillary Clinton, then you know Donald Trump, even while you have failed to identify that person as Donald Trump.

          • BCE

            Jim, Doug makes the same mistake many atheists do. Atheist scientists also make this mistake, I have to conclude they know better but don't care: Maybe in the moment they are being harassed, with a God question, they just come back with a flawed axiom, to blow off what they think is nonsense.

            They(Doug) use an axiom modal that was expanded on by Boole
            The use of an algebraic formula, replacing xyz for concepts.
            However Boole recognized the problem as did Russell(Russells paradox)
            Note: if x+y=z then z-y must=x
            The axiom is true, but once you define/assign value to any one of the components, you can't change it(unless starting a whole new set)
            2=x+3=y =5=z 5-3=2 23 .
            So x must remain a 2. A value, can only be changed if you start a whole new set.
            So now if x=5 and y=3 then 5 + 3 = 8.

            If God is good, powerful,knowing, and man can be evil and unknowing, then.........
            the conclusion is not, then god must not be good or powerful
            but that, then man is not god.
            People are mislead because the use of qualifiers(if true, when, etc. ) and a formula give the impression their axiom must be correct.
            Clever, but wrong

          • The gift metaphor seems a little off-the-mark. God's presence is described as essential and life giving, comparable to food or water. We don't eat merely for the joy of eating. We eat because not eating saps our energy and kills us slowly. We don't typically gift-wrap food to extend the joy of having our hunger sated.

            Let's shift this argument to a historical perspective. Entire civilizations risen and fallen without any substantial contact with the God of the Hebrews--at least in a form that is readily identified as such. If such contact is as essential to life as Christians claim, then god's preference for delaying revelation has caused entire civilizations to starve to death (spiritually).

            Either god wanted this to happen (which would make it challenging for me to consider him "good") or knowing him is not nearly as important as Christians claim.

            I'm also not sure I follow your discussion about "knowing people". Say I had a drinking buddy who I met regularly for a few years, but later learned that during this time he'd been a Venezuelan assassin staking out a hit on a US businessman, and was actually a woman in disguise. It seems correct to say that I didn't really "know" this person if I was mistaken about their name, gender, nationality, political affiliation, occupation, and family life.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            God's presence is described as essential and life giving, comparable to food or water.

            Yeah, if God is the source of all being, as we claim, then that is certainly the case. But I was comparing the wrapped gift to the benefit of knowledge / identification of God, not to just the benefit of his presence. If God is what we say he is, then all people surely have the gift of God's life-giving presence, otherwise how would they continue to exist?

            If such contact is as essential to life as Christians claim, then god's preference for delaying revelation has caused entire civilizations to starve to death (spiritually).

            But, per the qualification that you correctly made in the preceding sentence, it is not necessarily the case (it cannot be the case, I would say) that God has withheld contact from those civilizations. It is only that he has withheld some measure of knowledge of who he is.

            Look at what Paul says to the Athenians, in Acts:

            What therefore you unknowingly worship, I proclaim to you.

            I think that's a fascinating line: he is going to proclaim to them what they are already doing? As I read it, he means something like: "You already have a correct (prayerful) orientation toward God-as-unrevealed (or, as we might say, toward the mystery of the universe, or toward the numinous, if you like). And now, on top of that abundance, I am going to layer some superabundance, by proclaiming / identifying the connection between that mystery of the universe and something that has actually happened here in this messy concrete contingent world."

            (In case there is any doubt that he thinks the Athenians are, at least inchoately, on the right track, note that a couple lines later he favorably quotes their poets: "as even some of your poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’")

          • Do you derive, from Paul's passage, that the Athenians were saved? If so, this strikes me as unorthodox, and calls into question what salvation actually entails. If not, I believe that my point about "allowing civilizations to starve to death" still stands.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            In that particular passage it doesn't seem to me that Paul is saying anything directly about salvation. I think it's more of just an intro setting, along the lines of, "Let me start by saying that I see the good in what you guys are already doing ... and boy have I got some news for you ... "

            More generally, I don't have an especially informed opinion on Paul's soteriology, but if you want to pick out some other things he said or wrote, I'd be happy to reflect and converse on it.

            As to Catholic orthodoxy with respect to salvation, you might be surprised, e.g.:

            http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/cti_documents/rc_cti_1997_cristianesimo-religioni_en.html

            Or, less formally and less officially:

            http://www.beliefnet.com/faiths/catholic/2007/01/are-non-christians-saved.aspx

          • Thanks, these are very interesting!

          • And my point is that, having introduced the temporal aspect ("yet") into your first premise, you no longer have a sound argument. The fact that some people are atheists now does not contradict the notion that there is an omnipotent God wants all people to know him eventually.

            OK. But as I noted earlier, if that premise is false, then Christianity is incoherent.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I don't think I have suggested that your first premise if false. I am saying that your first premise -- as amended, for clarity, by adding the word "eventually" at the end -- is true. I am saying that once that clarifying amendment is made, the premises no longer imply the conclusion.

          • I am saying that your first premise -- as amended, for clarity, by adding the word "eventually" at the end -- is true.

            I don't see how the amendment clarifies anything, but I'll try to work with you. "Eventually" can mean anything other than "never." Do you think Christianity has anything more specific to say about the timeframe within which God wants all of humanity to know of his existence?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Not that I'm aware of, no. I'm not aware of much in the Bible that speaks to specific predictive timeframes for anything. And, I don't think Christian theology has grappled much with issues related to people who "don't know of God's existence", because for most of Christian history, everyone (whether Christian or not) was assumed to "know of God's existence".

          • Then lemme approach this from a different angle. Do Christians believe that Jesus died and was raised from the dead in order to save all people from having to suffer the consequences of sin? And do they believe that he did so in response to God's will?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            That's a technically correct phrasing, yes. I prefer phrasing that doesn't convey the connotations of penal substitution and the grotesque theologies that often accompany that line of thinking, but that's a tangent that is probably not needed for this discussion. So, simple answer: yeah, Christians believe that.

          • I prefer phrasing that doesn't convey the connotations of penal substitution and the grotesque theologies that often accompany that line of thinking, but that's a tangent that is probably not needed for this discussion.

            I tried hard to word it so as to avoid any soteriological presuppositions.

            So, simple answer: yeah, Christians believe that.

            Do they not also believe that all who wish to avail themselves of this opportunity to avoid the consequences of sin must believe that, as Paul put it to the Corinthians, Jesus "died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures"?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            No that's not the case. Catholic teaching is pretty clear that the salvific effect of Christ is not limited to those who have explicit belief in Christ.

          • No that's not the case. Catholic teaching is pretty clear that the salvific effect of Christ is not limited to those who have explicit belief in Christ.

            Interesting. So, my current unbelief is not, or at least not necessarily, contrary to God's desire?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            That's a good and challenging question. I'll do my best ...

            I'm afraid I have to speak out of two sides of my mouth to some extent, because you are asking about "God's desire" with respect to your current state (a perfectly sensible thing to ask), but desire, in my understanding, is always pointing at least partly toward the future.

            So, on the one hand, I believe that God desires all people to move toward the truth, and to come to know the truth eventually. And so, in that sense, any current unbelief or falsity of belief is "not desired".

            At the same time, there is this central theme to the Christian narrative that we have to become estranged from our home in order to eventually come back and "arrive where we started and know the place for the first time". Felix culpa, and all that. In that vein, I think it is "not necessarily contrary to God's desire" that you (or anyone else) do not currently have Christian faith. To be clear, I mean this is in the same sense that I would mean if I were to say: "It is not contrary to my desire that my kids move far away from me and develop their independence ... because my ultimate desire is for them to come home and be with me in an entirely new way."

          • Alexandra

            ...I believe that God desires all people to move toward the truth, and to come to know the truth eventually.

            Well said.
            "[God ] who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth." 1Tim 2:4

            Edit: Corrected reference.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            typo, I think: 1 Tim 2:4.

            Anyway, thanks!

          • Christians have been praying "thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven" more or less continually for most of the past 2000 years. If God exists, I'm sure his response to that prayer has been affirmative.

            You have given me much to think about, and I might have to revise my argument from unbelief to accommodate your observations. Whether it even survives those revisions, we shall see.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            If God exists, I'm sure his response to that prayer has been affirmative.

            Well, whether God exists or not, we surely don't have heaven on earth right now. At best, the infiltration of heaven into earth remains very incomplete. So, if God's response is affirmative, that response must be ongoing, still in process. On Christian chronology, one wouldn't necessarily expect a complete response within a mere two thousand years:

            "with the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day"

          • Well, whether God exists or not, we surely don't have heaven on earth right now.

            If he exists, then what he wills for earth seems to differ from what he wills for heaven.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            If he exists, then what he wills for earth seems to differ from what he wills for heaven.

            On my understanding of heaven and earth, that is not even a coherent thought. It's not like heaven and earth are two different places and God wants one thing in one place and a different thing in another. "Heaven" refers to that-which-should-be, and "earth" (in this context) refers to that-which-is. By definition that-which-is should meet up with that-which-should-be, as part of some cosmic consummation, e.g. as per Revelation 21. Or to say it slightly differently, God wills for that meeting to occur.

            But again, you keep speaking as if time does not exist, or perhaps as if it should not exist. God, per the Biblical tradition, does not want to obliterate time. He is not rushing ahead to the end of time to achieve what he wants for earth. He is instead letting his desire unfold in time. It is not just the achievement of a good state which is desired. It is the journey toward the good, and our participation in that journey, over time, that is desired. The finish line would be completely meaningless without the running of the race. We have to run the race.

          • On my understanding of heaven and earth, that is not even a coherent thought.

            Maybe my Protestant background is showing.

          • Alexandra

            By definition that-which-is should meet up with that-which-should-be, as part of some cosmic consummation, e.g. as per Revelation 21. Or to say it slightly differently, God wills for that meeting to occur.

            Is it not said a meeting of the two is Mass? As per Scott Hahn: "Mass we celebrate on earth is a participation in the liturgy of heaven."

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I hadn't heard quite that idea expressed in that way, with the focus on the liturgy per se, but this calls to mind the way that the Vatican II docs spoke of both continuity and discontinuity between the "Pilgrim Church" and the "Church in Heaven". From Lumen Gentium:

            Already the final age of the world has come upon us (242) and the renovation of the world is irrevocably decreed and is already anticipated in some kind of a real way; for the Church already on this earth is signed with a sanctity which is real although imperfect. However, until there shall be new heavens and a new earth in which justice dwells,(243) the pilgrim Church in her sacraments and institutions, which pertain to this present time, has the appearance of this world which is passing and she herself dwells among creatures who groan and travail in pain until now and await the revelation of the sons of God.(244)

            So similarly, I think one could say that the liturgy of the Mass, as celebrated here on earth, has "a sanctity which is real although imperfect". Dr. Hahn's word choice: "participation [in the heavenly order]", seems to find the right balance.

          • BCE

            No

          • Do Christians believe that Jesus died and was raised from the dead in order to save all people from having to suffer the consequences of sin?

            No

            Which part don't they believe?

          • Jim,

            Here is John Polkinghorne on the cosmic reach of death as opposed to the cosmic reach of Christ:

            ….I do not think that the knowledge of the universe’s death on a time scale of tens of billions of years raises any greater theological difficulties than does the even more certain knowledge of our own deaths on timescales of tens of years. The fundamental question posed for us is whether we live in a world that is a cosmos or a chaos. Does the universe make total sense, both now and always, or is its history ultimately “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing?” A naturalistic metaphysics will tend to agree with Steven Weinberg when he said that, in the light of eventual cosmic futility, the more he understood the universe, the more it seemed pointless to him. Naturalism faces these facts with a kind of heroic defiance. There is a certain nobility in that bleak point of view, but I do not believe that we are driven to embrace it.

            Death, cosmic or human, is real, but for the theist it is not the ultimate reality. The last word lies with God and it is to the everlasting faithfulness of the Creator that creatures look for the hope of a destiny beyond their deaths. If there is hope either for the universe or for us, it can only lie in the eternal faithfulness of God—a point that Jesus made clearly in his discussion of these matters with the Sadducees (Mark 12, 18–27). Of great importance here are the various New Testament passages that speak in an astonishing way of the cosmic significance of Christ (John 1, Romans 8, Colossians 1). Also important, I believe, is the witness of the empty tomb, for the fact that the Lord’s risen and glorified body is the transmuted form of his dead body speaks to me of the hope that in Christ there is a destiny not only for humanity but also for matter, and so for creation as a whole. It is in meeting the metaphysical challenge presented by this present world of fruitfulness and transience that the thickness of trinitarian belief, and credibility of the eschatological hope that it can sustain, is of the highest importance….

            See http://disq.us/p/1jmd5xh

          • Great discussion with you and JH. Just to add one "layer" to Jim's "eventually" for clarification: your premise assumes too much with respect to the you and the physical body (...we are talking of the Christian metaphysic...). Entire swaths of ancient folks have their sins "overlooked" we are told as "now" all men are spoken to in and by the Son/Christ. Now, whatever form that takes, it clearly outdistances their life in their physical bodies. But that is just one such vector of many of that sort discussed in Scripture dealing with the reach of God with respect to frail and mutable contingencies such as Time and Circumstance. Jim's "eventually" reinforces the frailty of those contingencies. If God intends to in fact reach all – and we are told He wills all – then those various vectors in Scripture alluded to earlier fit/comport with God not just willing to reach all but in fact doing so. And, of course, when it comes to the Cross, well that just is the intersection of such vectors in and through the syntax of Incarnation whereby He reaches into and saturates all things Adamic – all things of both Time and Physicality – to their bitter ends. See also http://disq.us/p/1frpymz

          • Alexandra

            Thank you Doug, this answers my question. It is clear and helpful.
            Would you like me to go into a counterargument? Although I think Jim H has already done a better job than I could. It would be along the lines of what he has already said.

          • Counterarguments are what forums like this are for, but mere repetition is seldom helpful. You'll have to judge whether you have anything to add to what Jim or anyone else has already said.

        • neil_pogi

          if God never existed, then why there are still theists, therefore God exists

          • if God never existed, then why there are still theists, therefore God exists

            I have explained in a subsequent post why the existence of atheists seems to be inconsistent with God's existence. You have not shown why the existence of theists is inconsistent with God's nonexistence.

          • neil_pogi

            theists exist because they see proof of God's existence. life, beauty of nature and existence of morality

          • theists exist because they see proof of God's existence.

            They see what they call proof. They have not demonstrated that life, beauty, and morality could not exist if God did not exist.

          • neil_pogi

            provide proof that atheists can prove that life's just a natural process?

          • provide proof that atheists can prove that life's just a natural process?

            Why do I need to prove something that I have never said?

          • neil_pogi

            since you are an ardent atheist, and since atheists believe that, then it's on you to provide a proof of it. if life is not created by a god/God, then it simply would be that life is created by natural processes. are you thinking differently?

          • are you thinking differently?

            I could be thinking about my first date with my second wife, for all the difference it makes. If I haven't said it, I don't need to prove it.

          • neil_pogi

            why prove that in the first place when it's not really provable!

          • why prove that in the first place

            You tell me. I never said it, but you asked me to prove it.

          • neil_pogi

            all i said is something like this: 'if atheism is true then provide any proofs that the state of nothingness can produce a somethingness. if every thing kust 'pop'out of nothing then prove it. we have sciences to inquire about.

          • neil_pogi

            because you are an ardent atheist who believes it, then you have to prove it!

          • because you are an ardent atheist who believes it, then you have to prove it!

            Wrong. I don't have to prove what I don't say.

          • neil_pogi

            i didn't say that you said this: ''provide proof that atheists can prove that life's just a natural process?''. this statement atheists believe. or you are again makes a fool out of me?

          • Michael Murray

            or you are again makes a fool out of me

            No I'm happy to leave that to you.

          • neil_pogi

            why not provide answer if life really is the result of chance and unguided process?

          • i didn't say that you said this:

            I know what you did say, and I responded to it.

          • neil_pogi

            you are well aware that evolutionists are just proven liars. http://webpages.charter.net/jeffstueber/foolsus.HTM

          • you are well aware that evolutionists are just proven liars.

            You have no idea what I'm aware of.

          • neil_pogi

            you are so well aware of every thing, i know that! so another fool is upvoting you!

          • neil_pogi

            no, you didn't.

          • You asked me to prove a statement I never made. I told you I didn't have to prove anything that I never said. That was my response.

          • neil_pogi

            i never say that you made that statement!

          • But you asked me to prove it.

          • neil_pogi

            you see, atheists like you, seems not to use their logic and common sense!

          • You're being evasive again.

          • neil_pogi

            ''provide proof that atheists can prove that life's just a natural process?'' - this is the general belief of atheists. i never say you made this statement. because you never use your own common sense and logic, that's an atheist experience

          • this is the general belief of atheists.

            How do you know that? What is the source of your knowledge about what atheists generally believe? Can you name one atheist whose writings you have studied?

          • neil_pogi

            how well you don't know that? so can you tell me what are the beliefs of atheists regarding the origin of life??

          • so can you tell me what are the beliefs of atheists regarding the origin of life??

            You have asked me that question many times, and I have answered it as many times. You are proving not only the depths but the incorrigibility of your ignorance. You will not learn anything from anybody except yourself, and you believe yourself to be incapable of error.

          • neil_pogi

            or maybe you are making a fool of me again and again! so im asking you, tell me what's the origin of life? so that i can correct my self that this statement: ''that's the origin of life is just a natural process'' is not correct! now you replied but no explanation is given. all you do is blah blah blah!

          • or maybe you are making a fool of me again and again!

            I can't make you a fool. That's something you have to do for yourself.

          • neil_pogi

            why not just tell me how life originated/created or evolved according to senseless atheist views?

          • why not just tell me how life originated/created or evolved according to senseless atheist views?

            Because I don't know of any senseless atheist views.

          • neil_pogi

            why not just tell me how life originated/created or evolved according to senseless atheist views?

          • neil_pogi

            but where are your answers?

          • but where are your answers?

            Your having to ask proves my point. You pay no attention to anything here except your own words.

          • neil_pogi

            atheists always say that God doesn't exist because evil exist. even though evil exists, atheists can not simply say that atheism is true because in atheism all is possible, in fairy tales, atheists believe impossible things happen. even the claim that the state of nothingness produce somethingness that science says, uh that's impossible!

          • atheists always say that God doesn't exist because evil exist.

            No, they do not always say that.

          • neil_pogi

            the existence of evil is one of the fiercest argument used by your ilk against the existence of God? so evil exists, so? are you going to prove that atheism is true? then give me your best argument? prove that the big bang is true, what's the origin of that infinitely small dot? prove that nonliving matter became living? prove that the state of nothingness can create or produce a something? prove also how atheists are not using their own common sense and logic!

          • When you can quote, using my exact words, something I have said, I will attempt to prove it. I have no obligation to prove anything that is only your interpretation of something I have said.

          • neil_pogi

            i didn't say that! just prove them: prove that the big bang is true, what's the origin of that infinitely small dot? prove that nonliving matter became living? prove that the state of nothingness can create or produce a something?

          • Michael Murray

            If Brahma never existed, then why are there still Hindus, therefore Brahma exists. Replace Brahma with any of the other 329,999,999 Hindu Gods as you like. Heaven must be getting crowded.

          • neil_pogi

            why there are still hindus? because they live in India. and why there are still atheists? because they are produced spontaneously in magical small ponds

      • David Nickol

        What is your best argument that God does not exist?

        As you may have realized, my comment above was not intended to state a position on the existence of God. It was just a small attempt at humor about the almost total lack of activity on this site. There is no raging debate here!

        I am not sure I have any good "arguments" for or against the existence of God. Having been brought up Catholic and attended Catholic school through high school, I am still very much under the influence Catholic "indoctrination." I think if I had been brought up in another religion (or no religion), I would not believe Catholicism or Christianity to be true. I think I would probably be an atheist. But like a lot of people (I presume) who had a religious education, it is difficult to shake the feeling that what I was taught may be true even though I don't believe in it any more.

        I think my religious education has left me uncertain of my own mind. I think, in many ways, the Catholic upbringing I had was one in which we were taught not to ask questions and not to entertain doubts. I do find it interesting how many former Catholics seem to be able to dismiss what they were taught, and I sometimes wonder if my problem is that I took what I was taught more seriously than many of the people around me. I also find that although I am not myself a practicing Catholic, I have a difficult time understanding practicing Catholics who are not "conservative"—that is, who decide issues (e.g., contraception) for themselves instead of adhering to Church teaching.

        I am fond of the following quote from Vladimir Lenin: "Give me four years to teach the children and the seed I have sown will never be uprooted." I believe that in my case, the Catholic Church had about 18 years to plant seeds, and so it should be no surprise there is much that will never be entirely uprooted, no matter how convinced I am intellectually that I do not believe it.

        Of course, I could be completely wrong! :-)

        • Jim (hillclimber)

          I have a difficult time understanding practicing Catholics who are not "conservative"—that is, who decide issues (e.g., contraception) for themselves instead of adhering to Church teaching.

          I appreciate that you are not criticizing such Catholics, but I am still curious what you mean by this. What part is hard to understand?

          • David Nickol

            I should have distinguished between two different kinds of "dissenting" Catholics (especially when it comes to an issue like contraception). I understand those who give an issue a great deal of thought and study and come to a conclusion that diverges from the "official" Catholic line. They are taking seriously the authority the Church claims for itself. But then there are those who just claim a right of conscience to do whatever they want, ignoring (or remaining largely ignorant of) the reasons behind Church teaching.

            The Catholic Church claims great authority to decide moral questions for its members. The following information is not as good as I would like, but it does give an idea of what I am talking about:

            A Pew Research Center survey released Sept. 2 backs this up. It asked 1,016 self-identified U.S. adult Catholics about what is “essential” to their personal sense of “being Catholic.”

            The answers reveal that for most Americans, Catholic identity is rooted more in how they live and believe than in whether they check off the boxes for official Catholic measures:

            68 percent cited “having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ” as essential.

            67 percent: Belief in Jesus’ actual resurrection from the dead.

            62 percent: Working to help the poor and needy.

            54 percent: Devotion to Mary as the virgin Mother of God.

            54 percent: Receiving the sacraments.

            42 percent: Being part of a Catholic parish.

            41 percent: Being open to having children.

            34 percent: Celebrating feast days or festivals that are part of your national or ethnic heritage.

            33 percent: Opposing abortion.

            29 percent: Working to address climate change.

            It is absolutely bizarre (in my opinion) that only 54 percent named receiving the sacraments as essential to being Catholic. What could be more essential than attending mass and receiving the sacraments?

          • Rob Abney

            What could be more essential than attending mass and receiving the sacraments?

            Amen!, we are in full agreement.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Interesting survey!

            I'm of two minds on this "Who is a Catholic?" question.

            On the one hand, yes, the meaning of "Catholic" gets stretched beyond all recognition when it is taken to refer to people who don't believe in the resurrection, don't belong to a Catholic parish, don't participate in the sacramental life of the Church, and so forth. And I think there's usually cause for concern when words that have served us well for a long time are no longer able to pull their semantic wagon.

            On the other hand, I generally sympathize with the "bizarre" respondents. How should I expect someone to self-identify, when he or she has apostatized in significant ways and yet still finds that his or her basic worldview is still primarily shaped by a Catholic heritage, when his or her fundamental religious lexicon and conceptual categories have been primarily shaped by that heritage? One-word labels are always going to be poor approximations of reality anyway, especially when we are talking about something as complex as self-identification. And yet we need those short-hand approximations in order to have anything resembling normal, fluid conversations. What's a poor apostate to do?

        • Alexandra

          I did detect a hint of sarcasm in your first comment. :)

          Brandon is on vacation. I know this because he did an absolutely darling podcast with his children. It's one of the most adorable interviews I have ever heard. I think the actual discussion is probably more of interest to Catholics than Athiests. But it is really cute. (It's about 10 minutes long).
          http://wordonfireshow.com/kidsinterview/

          So hang in there, I'm sure we will get a new OP at some point. You're a bit of an elder statesman here. (I'm not calling you old ;) ). I'm sure if you wanted to lead a discussion here in the comments (Catholic or Atheist related of course), you'd get responses. David's thought question of the day would be nice.

          As to your comment.
          There was a young scientist I knew, who's work I admired. He was a science rock star. Whenever he gave a lecture on his work, it was the most popular talk on campus. Everyone was sure he would win the Nobel prize one day.
          It was then discovered that he had falsified data in a number of his published scientific works. It destroyed his career.
          It was the first time for me experiencing what it is like to question what I thought I knew. As you have phrased it, I did not know my own mind- what I could trust about him, and the circumstances, had to be reevaluated. It was sad for me. But it has been my only real experience of doubt.

          So I can't even begin to understand what it is like to have to, like you, evaluate and have uncertainty about, my own belief system, my own upbringing, my own childhood lessons, my own mind. I can't imagine what it must be like for you, and the others, who find they must shift their belief system. Ultimately, it should end in good, because it's a search for the truth. But I don't envy, nor relate to the process. I'm someone who (blessedly) has not had to struggle with doubts about my beliefs, but I am very sympathetic to those that do.

          From Pope Benedict XVI in his Introduction to Christianity:

          Just as the believer is choked by the salt water of doubt constantly washed into his mouth by the ocean of uncertainty, so the non-believer is troubled by doubts about his unbelief, about the real totality of the world which he has made up his mind to explain as a self-contained whole.
          He can never be absolutely certain of the autonomy of what he has seen and interpreted as a whole; he remains threatened by the question whether belief is not after all the reality which it claims to be.
          Just as the believer knows himself to be constantly threatened by unbelief, which he must experience as a continual temptation, so for the unbeliever faith remains a temptation and a threat to his apparently permanently closed world.
          In short, there is no escape from the dilemma of being a man.

          David, did you ever believe in God?
          When you left the Church, did you lose your faith in God at the same time?

          • VicqRuiz

            "He can never be absolutely certain" - Benedict XVI as quoted by you.

            This is to me the essential condition of the skeptic. Those of us who are content to be uncertain are most likely to remain happy skeptics all their lives.

            Those who are compelled to seek certainty are almost (sorry) certain to wind up as theists of one sort or another.

          • Alexandra

            Hi Vicq,

            If I'm understanding you correctly, you are content to be uncertain as to whether God exists or not. In your view, is seeking certainty a good thing?

        • neil_pogi

          that's the proof that free will is true despite the fact that you were índoctrinated by the Catholic church, attended catholic schools, etc. you are still in your freedom to choose any thing you like. you don't like christianity and better like atheism or agnosticism.

          recently, i didn't go to church for 15 years now, and yet i am still a believer of God because i see evidence of His existence!

        • I am fond of the following quote from Vladimir Lenin: "Give me four years to teach the children and the seed I have sown will never be uprooted."

          I believed something like that back in my days as a young leftist.

    • neil_pogi

      and yet you're still rage on that debate!

      i wonder why atheists are so hateful of God and yet they never believe Him at all!

      • i wonder why atheists are so hateful of God and yet they never believe Him at all!

        You are wondering about something that does not happen because it cannot happen. No one can hate what he does not think is real.

        • neil_pogi

          you hate God therefore you believe He exists!

          • "If A then B" is always true when A is false.

          • neil_pogi

            just explain why atheists are hating God when He doesn't exist? again, no common sense and logic

          • just explain why atheists are hating God when He doesn't exist?

            If you had ever paid attention to someone besides yourself, you'd have had your explanation a long time ago.

  • Didn't the scientific revolution only occur in the 1600s, and involve ditching the views of Aristotle that were held for so long (and turned out to be false)? I'm not saying there was no Christian contribution, obviously-most people at the time were still Christians. However, much of these ideas date back much later than Christianity.

    I mentioned Aristotle, whose philosophy (though the specifics were wrong in regards to much of biology and physics) did support something like the scientific method, and there were also others in ancient Greece who held such ideas, like Epicurus.

    Now, exactly why the scientific revolution happened then I don't know. However, the fact it took so long makes me dubious that Christianity alone caused it. Sure, those that claimed Christianity was solely a force of regression aren't right. This opposite view however doesn't appear correct either. As in many cases, it seems far more complicated than either of them.

    Regarding reason, there was always a tension that these quotes disregard. All of those quoted, such as Augustine, held that heretics (i.e. people who had come to different conclusions than the Church on theology, partly at least through reason) should be punished. Is that really reason-friendly?

    • I think that, when you try to ask a question like "why did Europe have a scientific revolution (before other civilizations)", you very quickly start bumping up against philosophical problems. As I outlined in a post below, the most convincing explanation was the discovery and subsequent conquest of the New World, which explains why the process was accelerated in Europe vs other places, and roughly aligns with the timelines. The Spanish discover the new world in ~1500, Jamestown is established in 1607, and Francis Bacon publishes the Novum Organum in 1620. It's also worth pointing out that Bacon, during his career in Parliament, was instrumental in establishing the British colonies.

      However, Bacon was also a christian (admittedly, a protestant) who argued that scientific and reason were gifts from God. To paraphrase:

      He would not have sent humanity out into this wilderness without some way to meet our needs. He would not have given us the desire for a better world without the means to make it so. He gave us Reason. So, from His Goodness, we know that Reason must be able to achieve all He has us desire. God gave us science, and it is an act of Christian charity, an infinite charity toward all posterity, to use it.

      So... yeah. I mean, my view is that it's silly to argue that Christianity alone is a sufficient explanation for the scientific revolution. Whether or not it's a necessary condition requires we argue about a weird historical counterfactual, a la "what if Chinese civilization had discovered and conquered the Americas first?"

      • That could be. Jared Diamond thinks it's due to Europe's geography and resources having effects as well. A combination of things, probably.

        • Of course, we can also play this game for other civilizations-- see for example an argument about "why china has managed to stay politically united for so much of its history" (compared to Europe and most of the other civilizations).

          http://scholars-stage.blogspot.com/2016/07/china-was-never-empire-of-mind.html

          • Diamond also has a hypothesis on that. I know his work is controversial though. The site you linked apparently does not agree with his claim. Regardless, the question has also long interested me.

  • Christians launched the age of reason?

    Then let's be reasonable and at least admit that there is little to no emphasis on principles of Aristotelian logic nor on science in the Bible, but the Bible does repeat the belief that God directly and personally guides the constellations in their season and moves the clouds and sends the lightnings, and thunder is His “voice,” and God personally sends plagues, famines, droughts, warring armies. Read more about Israelʼs Theological Worldview here (written by a Christian): https://books.google.com/books?id=tO0EsMfyFD0C&lpg=PP1&ots=ALTsEXvsRK&dq=Disturbing%20Divine%20Behavior%3A%20Troubling%20Old%20Testament%20Images%20of%20God&pg=PA145#v=onepage&q&f=false

    Today we have astronomers, meteorologists, agricultural scientists, water sanitizing plants, vaccines, antibiotics, and lightning rods. I guess we got all that simply by reading the Bible. Though I suspect natural human curiosity and human needs also had something to do with it. I also suspect that the development of clear glass and fine lens-grinding techniques advanced scientific curiosity immensely since it allowed us to see further into the sky and into the microscopic world via telescopes and microscopes.

  • European universities were founded and led largely by Christians... HOWEVER...

    ...where did the idea of teachers/schools of education in general came from?

    Hellenistic thinkers. Hellenistic schools were founded and led by Hellenists, until Christians closed down such schools because they werenʼt “Christian,” and because Christians at that time saw themselves at war with all forms of paganism and with rival Christian groups. It was a war between God and demons as the Christians saw things back then, and the most essential education involved how to save your soul from hell. Augustine wrote the first detailed defense of hell and eternal punishment. People were forever crossing themselves. Christian Emperors outlawed books by Arius, Porphyry. But humans are curious beings, and even Christianity could not extinguish such curiosity. Books were saved, copied. Enough for western civilization to reboot. I doubt that human curiosity can be completely extinguished. I also doubt that uniformity of thought can be maintained among human beings. Opinions, including religious beliefs, always seem to branch out like an evolutionary tree of life, though in the case of the development of science—with its slow accumulation of empirically based knowledge about the cosmos—more universal agreements come about, since scientists of all religious views or none have duplicated each othersʼ results and continue to build on our knowledge of the cosmos.

    As for the way universities naturally seem to lead to questioning authority rather than to pious thoughts one should study the culture wars of the Renaissance, from Leonardo da Vinciʼs questioning of religious and other authorities in the early Renaissance to similar episodes throughout Italy (the Galileo episode was merely part of a larger “culture war” between the Church and more secular ideas). Also check out the book, The Swerve: How The World Became Modern, about how Lucretiusʼs book, On the Nature of Things, written before Christianity was born, was almost lost forever, but a copy was rediscovered during the Renaissance which reintroduced ideas like “atoms/atomism” that helped spark the modern age.

  • Stark seems to ignore the fact that the Galileo episode was part of a far larger and wider “culture war” between the Church & more secular ideas:

    In the summer of 1591 students from the University of Padua attacked the local Jesuit college and successfully appealed to the Venetian Senate to intervene on behalf of the university. When the Jesuits were expelled from the Venetian dominion a few years later, religious censorship was virtually eliminated. The result was a remarkable era of cultural innovation that promoted free inquiry in the face of philosophical and theological orthodoxy, advocated libertine morals, critiqued the tyranny of aristocratic fathers over their daughters, and expanded the theatrical potential of grand opera.

    In Padua a faction of university faculty, including Galileo Galilei and the philosopher Cesare Cremonini, pursued an open and free inquiry into astronomy and philosophy. In Venice some of Cremoniniʼs students founded the Accademia degli Incogniti (Academy of the Unknowns), one of whose most notorious members was the brilliant polemicist Ferrante Pallavicino.

    The execution of Pallavicino for his writings attacking Pope Urban VIII silenced the more outrageous members of the Incogniti, who soon turned to writing libretti for operas. The final phase of the Venetian culture wars pitted commercial opera, with its female performers and racy plot lines, against the decorous model of Jesuit theater. The libertine inclinations of the Incogniti suffuse many of the operas written in the 1640s, especially Monteverdiʼs masterpiece, LʼIncoronazione di Poppea.

    Edward Muirʼs exploration of an earlier age of anxiety in his book, The Culture Wars of the Late Renaissance: Skeptics, Libertines, and Opera, reveals the distinguished past of todayʼs culture wars, including debates about the place of women in society, the clash between science and faith, and the power of the arts to stir emotions.

  • A comment on a blog about the idea that “Christian Europe gave birth to science”:

    Why “Christian Europe?” Why not just say “Europe?” and study the whole range of influences that truly gave rise to the scientific revolution, like the invention of fine glass grinding that produced the first lenses that made the first telescopes and microscopes? Those magnified curiosity greatly all by themselves.

    • What About the Middle Ages & Their Contribution to the Scientific Revolution?

      REPLY: What about them? Read this Reformed Christian apologistʼs admissions concerning the state of Europe during the Christian Middle Ages:

      Corruption was widespread in the church of the late Middle Ages… Many priests were uneducated, barely able to say Mass, let alone understand it… The defining moment not only for the church but also for the emergence of modern Europe was certainly connected with the Renaissance… The rise of the city was also important. The late medieval city was known as the ‘foyer of modernity’… economic improvements, empowerment of the laity [not the church], and secularity of the city, which was decreasingly under the control of the church. In the towns the individual began to have unprecedented responsibility. Social ties were less hierarchical and more horizontal… the printing press played a crucial role in disseminating… ideas… it enabled educated people and readers to discover new ideas… disputations were frequent, but mostly between various understandings of Christian problems. In the sixteenth century the major disputes were internecine. But the seventeenth century we find, alongside the development of post-Reformation orthodoxy, the rise of deism, indifference, Socianism [a type of Unitarian/non-Trinitarianism], and of course the force of the Enlightenment… Although controversial, Johan Huizingaʼs volume, The Waning of the Middle Ages (N.Y.: Doubleday/Anchor, 1954) indicates the number of ways in which spiritual and cultural trends were on the decline in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries in Europe… In theology confidence in God is diminshed.

      Source: Christian Apologetics Past and Present (Volume 2, From 1500): A Primary Source Reader, William Edgar, K. Scott Oliphint

  • The Dependency Thesis Fails

    Books by Richard H. Jones question the popular Christian apologetic that the rise of science was “dependent” on religion. Jones addresses the views of early church fathers as well as Reformation leaders, and modern day Christian apologists like VanTiil, Jaki, Stark, Plantinga and Dembski, discussing each point of the modern “Dependency thesis.” All the major advocates are given their due and then their arguments from history, sociology and philosophy are shown to be misreadings (or shoddy special pleadings) concerning the dependency of science on religion. Jones has quotable lines and makes succinct but powerful points throughout. All that in less than 150 pages in volume 1 of his 2 volume set.

    The bookʼs first AMAZON REVIEWER gave it five stars, adding:

    Jones shows conclusively that the thesis of modern science being the “stepchild” of medieval or early Reformation Christian theology is both historically and philosophically wrong. He also shows the sociological grounds for why modern science arose in the West and not in the Islamic world, India, or China. He also proposes a “control model” for the relation of science and religion in the place of the customary “war” and “harmony” models to explain the complicated interaction of Christianity and science throughout Christian history. He argues the role of Christianity in the history of science fits this new model: Christian authorities have been benign or even very supportive of science as long as the science does not impinge Christian theological doctrines, but when science steps out of line — as with Copernicus, the mechanical model of physics, and Darwin — religious authorities clamped down.

    Whenever an idea based on the study of nature seemed to churchmen to impinge on their Bible-based interpretations of nature or natural theology, they felt threatened and reacted. Itʼs called the “control” hypothesis of how science and Christianity interacted, and itʼs defended admirably in two new that are MUST READING

  • MARVELOUS QUOTATION by John Hick, the noted philosopher of religion on Christianityʼs relation to science:
    https://books.google.com/books?id=W1IHktDLk4MC&lpg=PA111&dq=%22john%20hick%22%20science&pg=PA89#v=onepage&q&f=false

  • When I think of the Age of Reason in the eighteenth century I think of how it blossomed partly out of earlier discoveries from the fifteenth century onwards, discoveries people had made with the help of telescopes and microscopes. Just read Paine's writings and other deists like Voltaire and his stories about the very large and very small things in the cosmos.

    On the topic of why science really took off during the fifteenth century, I think the development of fine lens grinding techniques, followed by the invention of the telescope and the microscope opened tremendous doors for observing the natural world and incited tremendous curiosity about the heavens and about microscopic life and matter itself. If the ancient Greeks had had such fine lenses then I wonder what the world would be like today? For instance,

    “Fifteenth-century Europe was still essentially medieval, living in a geocentric and finite cosmos, the fixed stars bounding the universe beyond the crystalline planetary spheres [and beyond the fixed stars lay the abode of God and angels, as seen on tidy maps of the entire cosmos ]. No celestial objects invisible to the naked eye were known, nor, at the other extreme, any organisms or structures smaller than the naked eye could see. In the natural world, maggots generated spontaneously from rotten meat, the heart was the seat of the emotions, and the arteries carried air. Less than two centuries on, much of this had become what C. S. Lewis (1964) aptly called ‘the discarded image.’

    “The new universe was infinite: Pascal in the seventeenth century felt himself lost ‘entre les deux abîmes de l’infini et du néant,’ terrified of ‘les espaces infinis.’ It was also heliocentric; the earth was terra INFIRMA and God was no longer literally looking down out of heaven at the lowermost unmoving piece of real estate in the cosmos. The sensory horizons were broadened in both directions: Galileo had seen the moons of Jupiter, and Leeuwenhoek had seen spermatozoa. Ah, what enormous vistas were opened to the human eye via the careful grinding of clear glass into lenses, boosting human curiosity a millionfold.”

    Source: The Cambridge History of the English Language. General editor Richard M. Hogg, volume iii 1476 to 1776 [with some edits]

  • “Modern science rests (somewhat, anyway) on early modern, renaissance, and medieval philosophies of nature, and these rested (somewhat, anyway) on Arabic natural philosophy, which rested (somewhat, anyway) on Greek, Egyptian, Indian, Persian, and Chinese texts, and these rested, in turn, on the wisdom generated by other, still earlier cultures… This has been called ‘the dialogue of civilizations in the birth of modern science’”
    —Arun Bala, The Dialogue of Civilizations in the Birth of Modern Science

    Even more broadly speaking, one might ask just how many of societyʼs “influences” can be traced back to Judaism or Christianity?

    The ancient Sumerians/Babylonians, whose civilizations preceded Israel and Judaism, taught in their Councils of Wisdom, “Do not return evil to your adversary; Requite with kindness the one who does evil to you, Maintain justice for your enemy, Be friendly to your enemy.” In The Dawn of Conscience James Henry Breasted showed how the earliest known recorded ethics and laws belonged to the ancient Egyptians, Sumerians and Babylonians, who preceded the Hebrews. There is also the critically acclaimed work, Old Testament Parallels: Laws and Stories from the Ancient Near East. And in the book, Origins: The Ancient Near Eastern Background of Some Modern Western Institutions William W. Hallo lists the debt modern civilization owes to ancient Egyptian, Sumerian and Babylonian ideas of urbanism, the formation of capital, the order of the alphabet, astronomy, mathematics, algebra, the division of the day into 24 hours, the hour into 60 minutes, the circle into 360 degrees, the coronation of kings, games, cookbooks, and much more.

  • Troy

    Typical Christian bullshit... it completely ignores Protestant anti intellectualism on the part of Calvin and Luther, as well as the obnoxious Catholic Counter Reformation, which is why atheism became much more common in the 18th century than it seems you're willing to admit. Finding an honest Christian is very difficult.

    • dudester4

      Even more an honest representation of the Reformation and Counter Reformation, untainted by the historian fallacy.