Stark Raving Sanity
The purpose of both books is to demonstrate how Christianity, far from being antithetical or hostile to science, was instrumental in there being science at all. From the earliest days, church fathers "taught that reason was the supreme gift from God and the means to progressively increase their understanding of scripture and revelation... The success of the West, including the rise of science, rested entirely on religious foundations, and the people who brought it about were devout Christians."
Real science arose in only one place and at one time in human history--in the Christian West--and for very clear and understandable reasons. Stark marshals the most recent scholarship disproving the cliché that Christianity was at odds with science, and shows instead that it was essential for the rise of science. Put it this way: the scientific revolution occurred just once, in only one civilization--something like 99.98 percent of all scientific inventions and discoveries have occurred in Western Christendom. Everywhere else, science either never appeared, or it died out after some initial advances--for example, in China and the Islamic world. And the reasons why science could not be sustained in these civilizations have specifically to do with religious metaphysics.
Judeo-Christian metaphysics facilitated science in several unique ways. Remember, the practice of science is based on a number of a priori assumptions about the world that cannot be proven by science. Rather, they must be taken on faith--indeed, it would not be going too far to say that science is based on a foundation of revelation. In short, Christianity depicts God as the absolute epitome of reason, who created the universe in a rational, predictable, and lawful way that is subject to human comprehension. In other words, science is based on the faith that the world is intelligible, that human beings may unlock its secrets, and that doing so actually brings one closer to God.
Secondly, "with the exception of Judaism, the other great faiths have conceived of history as either an endlessly repeated cycle or inevitable decline.... In contrast, Judaism and Christianity have sustained a directional conception of history.... That we think of progress at all shows the extent of the influence of Christianity upon us." Christians developed science "because they believed it could be done, and should be done." Stark quotes one of my own favorite philosophers, Alfred North Whitehead, who wrote that "faith in the possibility of science" was "derivative from medieval theology," specifically, "the inexpugnable belief that there is a secret, a secret which can be unveiled," derived from the "insistence on the rationality of God."
Images of God in non Judeo-Christian religions are either too irrational or impersonal to sustain a scientific world view. Rather, they posit either an eternal universe without ultimate purpose or meaning, or an endlessly recurring one that either goes nowhere or is subject to decay. Although there is profound wisdom in Hindu and Buddhist metaphysics, neither could sustain science, because both regarded the world as unreal--as maya--and taught that the best way to deal with this was liberation or escape into samadhi or nirvana. This dismissive attitude toward the world delayed material progress for hundreds of years.
Stark clearly demonstrates that the ancient Greeks were not only not responsible for the rise of science, but shows how most of their ideas actually interfered with its development and had to be abandoned or ignored. While the Greeks had a lot of speculative theories, they never developed any way to empirically test them. In fact, Plato thought that it would be foolish to try, as the material world was subject to constant change, and truth could only be found by ascending to a timeless realm where the eternal forms abided.
And where the Greeks had empirical understanding--technology, crafts, even some engineering--their empiricism was quite atheoretical. Real science must involve both theory and research: "scientific theories are abstract statements about why and how some portion of nature fits together and works... Abstract statements are scientific only if it is possible to deduce from them some definite predictions and prohibitions about what will be observed."
Likewise, Islam cannot really be regarded as part of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Although science began to develop at the outskirts of Islam, it was eventually stymied because the attempt to formulate natural law and general principles denied Allah's absolute freedom to act in an arbitrary manner on a moment by moment basis. This has led to the stultifying fatalism that pervades the Islamic world, since Allah does what he pleases, and it is blasphemous to try to comprehend his weird ways.
And if science flourished in an atheistic paradigm, one would think that China would have developed it much earlier than the Christian West. But Stark shows that there were many philosophical obstacles that short-circuited Chinese science. For example, they never developed "the conception of a celestial lawgiver imposing ordinances on non-human Nature.'' Taoists "would have scorned such an idea as being too naive for the subtlety and complexity of the universe as they intuited it."
Stark's book also gets into of of my own personal passions, that is, the historical discovery of the individual self (which I wrote about in my own book). Here again, it is a mistake to think that this occurred on a widespread scale in any other time or place than the Christian West. For 99% of human history we were primarily a group animal, with our primary identity coming from merger with the collective. Christianity emphasized free will, personal responsibility, and individual sin, which helped launch the evolution of the inward horizon that has only been going on for a few hundred years, but which we in the West take for granted.
In point of fact, the interior self is a quite modern innovation, which, I believe, is one of the reasons it is subject to so many "bugs"--defense mechanisms, fixations, complexes, and other "mind parasites." We're still trying to work out the inevitable problems attendant to being a self-conscious being. And this is also why there are no "neurotics" in primitive groups. Instead, they're all crazy (such as the modern far-left). In these groups, the price of sanity is fervent belief in all of the insanites of your group. (One more reason why I loathe multi-culturalism--it's literally a psychological atavism, a devolution to an earlier mode of human existence and an abandonment of the hard work of individuation.)
The book also got me to thinking about the intelligent design debate. Personally, although I am quite certain that the universe manifests intelligent design, I do not believe it should be taught in science class, but in philosophy (or philosophy of science) class. Then again, it doesn't really matter if it were to be taught in science class, since most of the greatest scientists throughout history simply took it for granted (as I do). Secular fundamentalists are desperately worried that if we were to breathe a word of this to children, we would immediately fall behind other nations in science and technology.
Nonsense. Here's a little experiment for liberals. Let us have vouchers. I'll send my kid to a religious school, you keep yours in a secular public one. Let's see who ends up with the better science education.