Monday, May 26, 2014

Adjust Your Calendar, or Ten Takeaways from How the West Was Won

This is a Bonus Post, considering the fact that it's a holiday and all. And I suppose the subject matter isn't inappropriate, since the West wasn't won by a bunch of guilt-ridden tenured pussies who think we prevailed only because everyone else was so peaceful, tolerant, and enlightened.

Rather, we won because of a combination of correct religion and metaphysics, freedom to pursue knowledge and truth, and superior technology in the application of righteous violence, in that order. (Not to mention little things like private property, monogamy, and decentralized power, but these can be seen as entailments of more fundamental truths.)

Just as most people maintain a rough calendar of future activities and commitments, we should be equally concerned about past activities and commitments, not necessarily ours per se, but mankind's.

After all, you can't know where you're going if you don't know where you've been, and this applies both individually and collectively. Stark's How the West Was Won helps us revise our cosmic calendars, for some people more dramatically than others.

To cite the most obvious example, if you fail to understand and appreciate how Christianity was absolutely central to the rise of science, then your old calendar is hopelessly corrupt. In fact, Stark makes a compelling case for the thesis that there was no scientific revolution, and certainly no sudden rejection of religion at its origin. Rather, the idea of a revolution was a retrospective invention of self-glorifying enlightenment literary figures who were not scientists and played no part in its development, e.g., Voltaire.

Interestingly, Stark demonstrates this not just with logic and history, but with empirical evidence. Specifically, he examines the lives of the most important scientists of the so-called revolution, relying on independent sources to come up with the list, and essentially dividing them between the intensely religious, the conventionally religious, and the skeptical.

As to how one can determine whether a person is intensely religious, it isn't all that difficult, really. For example, Isaac Newton would qualify, since he "wrote far more on theology than he did on physics," as would Kepler, who "was deeply interested in mysticism and in biblical questions," devoting "great effort to working out the date of the Creation..."

Long story short, among 52 scientific luminaries, 31 are judged to be devout, 20 conventional, and only one a rank skeptic. That latter would be Edmond Halley, who was "rejected for a professorship at Oxford on grounds of 'atheism.'"

Of course, it is difficult to know what was really in the hearts of the "conventional," since they may have simply been going with the program to avoid attention and controversy. Even so, a solid majority were nevertheless intensely devout, so it is unlikely that the rest would be at the other extreme end of the continuum.

And in any event, this highlights the obvious fact that there is and can be no conflict between science and Christianity, because science came to be in only one time and in one place: in the Christian west.

Frankly, this should not come as a shock or surprise to anyone. Nevertheless, it is something the academic left will never acknowledge, which is itself an intriguing scientific question. That is, how and why does this perverse ideology begin and end in the rejection of reality? More on this later.

Suffice it to say that honorary Raccoon emeritus Alfred North Whitehead made this point almost a century ago, that science developed in the west because of the implicit "faith in the possibility of science" (emphasis mine). It was transparently derived "from medieval theology," which revolved around "insistence on the rationality of God," so that "the search into nature could only result in the vindication of faith in rationality" (quoted in Stark).

Conversely, just as "Christian theology was essential for the rise of science," "non-Christian theologies had stifled the scientific enterprise everywhere else."

We are excluding Judaism only because it had no major impact on the scientific enterprise until the 19th century liberation of the Jews in Europe, at which point they raced to the top. That too is a fascinating historical nugget, because it means that a whole people with the correct view of reality had been actively suppressed from exploring its implications to the benefit of all!

Nor is it any coincidence that so many anti-scientific progressive campus groups lead the charge of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions on Israel. Hey, if you hate reality, might as well go straight to the source.

Well, this is not a day of slack for me, since I have grubby remunerative work to do. We'll pick up this thread at a later date, since I guess we have ten more aways to take from the book.

10 Comments:

Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

To cite the most obvious example, if you fail to understand and appreciate how Christianity was absolutely central to the rise of science, then your old calendar is hopelessly corrupt."

Aye, without the fertile ground of Christianity/Judaism there is no way for freedom to take root and actually grow.

5/26/2014 11:51:00 AM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

As our Founding Fathers (and history) repeatedly pointed out, Divine Providence is on the side of those who embrace truth, justice and yes, even righteous violence if need be.

One of the reasons I despise Ghandi is because he didn't value life and liberty. Not to the point of fighting for it or to protect it.
And worse, Ghandi encouraged others to let evil have it's way.

Liberty is a gift from God but it must be fought for.
We know what the alternatives are and they are all really bad.

5/26/2014 12:04:00 PM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

"...Hey, if you hate reality, might as well go straight to the source..."

Yep, not real surprising how the two make such a historical point of traveling along hand in hand.

5/26/2014 03:25:00 PM  
Blogger Jack said...

Rather, we won because of a combination of correct religion and metaphysics, freedom to pursue knowledge and truth, and superior technology in the application of righteous violence, in that order. (Not to mention little things like private property, monogamy, and decentralized power, but these can be seen as entailments of more fundamental truths.)

Motivated by this post I busted out my copy of "The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism and Western Science" by Stark. Which I hadn't read until now. Only on page 50 or so.

If he is correct this is a very, very different picture of the development of Western Civilization. Downplaying, as it does, the contributions of Athens and Rome, and making the case for a strong, pivotal, and even indispensable contribution of Christianity.

I have to admit, whether he is 100% correct or not, it is clear that I have unconsciously absorbed a good deal of the standard narrative. Ι keep instantaneously rejecting what he is saying, though I quickly realize that I have no good reason to do so.

If what he is saying is true, then the implications are somewhat startling.

According to the standard view it wouldn't make sense for some (supposedly) superstitious nonsense about a skygod becoming a man to inspire the most successful, technologically advanced and benevolent civilization yet existent. There must be some other reason *wink wink* for our ascendency.

Really, there must be some kind of mistake!

Or: As you say, our cosmic calendar may have been way off all this time. Time to redraw the genealogical family tree of Western Civ?






5/26/2014 04:44:00 PM  
Blogger Jack said...

Or rather: rePLANT the genealogical tree...

5/26/2014 04:47:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I know exactly what you mean about unconsciously recoiling as a result of having absorbed the Standard Narrative. Makes his writing seem too much like cheerleading or oversimplifying. Still, when he includes the type of empirical research mentioned in today's post, it's pretty hard to reject out of hand.

5/26/2014 05:19:00 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

Money-quote, right here:

"insistence on the rationality of God"

5/27/2014 08:58:00 AM  
Blogger Gandalin said...

Hi Bob,

I am not sure that science came to be only in one time and in one place, although I would have to be more familiar with Joseph Needham than I am, fully to discuss that.

It would also be interesting to look at the development trajectories of non-Western peoples/nations from the point at which they began to accept the Western ethos.

And I think more discussion on what exactly it is about Christianity that enabled science would help.

Thanks,

G.

5/27/2014 09:02:00 AM  
Blogger Gyan said...

"a whole people with the correct view of reality had been actively suppressed from exploring its implications to the benefit of all!"

There was no separate Jewish science or "a correct view of reality". The Jewish scientists individually entered and participated in the existing and flourishing European scientific enterprise.

Same as Indian and Asian scientists in 20C.

5/28/2014 10:24:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, but Indians and Asians had to piggyback onto a worldview that was not indigenous to them. As for Jews, they had the correct metaphysic-- i.e., one consonant with the development of science -- but were consigned to certain occupations at the margins of society. Which is why, the moment the barriers were removed, they jumped right in.

I haven't had time to respond to Gandalin's comment, but the entire book is essentially a response to it. First, you have to accept Stark's definition of science, which involves using empirical observation to develop logico-deductive theoretical models that facilitate new empirical observations and can make accurate predictions. This has to be a collective endeavor with open communication between scientists. For a whole host of reasons, this never developed outside the west.

5/29/2014 07:08:00 AM  

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