Friday, December 30, 2005

Stark Raving Sanity

I'm reading the latest book by Rodney Stark, this one entitled The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success. It pursues some of the same themes as his last book, For the Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-Hunts, and the End of Slavery.

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.



Gagdad Bob said...


Would you mind terribly posting your cogitations elsewhere? I am not a member of your target audience, nor you mine.

Thank you

The Management

Anonymous said...

ah yes, free speech in action

1. take down a challenging comment
2. ask an opposing view to stop posting because he is not part of the "target audience" i.e. he disagrees
3. You and your "target audience" are welcome to post as much as they want on My target market is people interested in reading my ideas and challenging them. Happy New Year of non intellectually free dialogue. Kinda like the church and galileo and Darwin. Or the church with the Jews until that secularist Napoleon tore down the walls of the ghettoes. No Jewish scientists before then -- the church banished them from the universities they ran.

Gagdad Bob said...

Larry, this is not a free speech issue. You are free to voice your hostility anywhere you please, but we are not obligated to listen to it. Most of my readers know that it is much more difficult to wrestle with a weak mind than a strong one, which is why they generally ignore your bait. You do not wish to learn what you do not know, but wish to bloviate what you think you do. Which you are free to do. But at least do it among those who enjoy your brand of hostiliy, as on dailykos. There you won't be a misfit.

severeblock said...

I don't think people like lalarry realize they are being offensive. In their world, name calling and rhetorical nonsense is called rational debate.

Anonymous said...

But Bob, how am I to reconcile the magnam opus of Andrew D. White's The Warfare of Science with Theology in Christiandom (1896) with Stark's books?
White writes on a micro level, but the book does document how Christianity and science were combattants throughout history.

OBloodyHell said...

> Real science arose in only one place and at one time in human history--in the Christian West

Nope, not truly accurate. Science's roots were clearly founded in Greece, pre-christianity. It was the battle, ca. 300BC over the notion of Absolute, Objective Truth which was essential to science.

You can encounter a good description of this philosophical battle as a subcomponent of the latter part of R.M. Persig's escellent (i.e., must read) Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Nonetheless, The Christian West certainly nurtured that seed and took full advantage of what it had to offer, which is more than any other cultures managed (China being the most obvious example, having invented almost everything Western culture used and "created" -- to particularly great effect -- prior to the Reformation).

In other words, your historical argument is weak but the principle - that Xtianity is not antithetical to science, for the most part still accurate (although I would soften that to "need not be", as fanatical Xtians are just as anti-reason as fanatical Muslims).

I think a large part of this is within the entirely accurate portrayal of Xtianity's battle with the T of E. You can certainly argue that He had a hand in this process... but that is not, and cannot be, part of the Science, but of the underlying philosophy.

ID is not, and cannot be, science, and has no place being taught as a part of a science class. To do so is to destroy (via ignorance and disrespect) the basic principles of science itself.

From this comes the perspective that the two are at odds. In truth, if you understand both, they don't even overlap. What is Science is not, and cannot be, a matter of Faith, and what is Faith is inherently not science. There is no place for contention. All the contention comes because people inaccurately want to conflate the two at juncture points where it's not blatantly clear which a question is: A Faith question or a Science question.

Gagdad Bob said...

Boys, boys, boys--

Stark deals handily with all of your objections. He has a specific definition of science in mind, and by that criteria, Greece most definitely did not develop science. They had speculation and they had empiricism, but no systematic way to tie the two together.

As for the 1896 book, one of the purposes of Stark's research is to show how biased some of those past scholars were.

And I don't understand the staement that scienc and religion don't overlap. For example, many of the greatest physicists of the 20th century were convinced of a spiritual view based on the implications of modern physics. If reality is One--which it is--then nothing is entirely separate from anything else, let alone the creator from his creation.

Oh, and religion (at least my brand) is not based on faith any more than science is. It has testable hypotheses, methods of research, reproducible findings, etc. It's just operating on a higher and more anmbiguous plane than mere matter, that's all.

Anonymous said...

why did you take down the direct quotes from textbooks used in chrisitan schools across california ?

was that "hostility" How was I free to post it anywhere I please when you took it down ?

will you put it back up ?

is it difficult to "wrestle with a weak mind" that simply asks you if you would like your child to attend a school that uses such texts ?


"religion (at least my brand) is not based on faith any more than science is. It has testable hypotheses, methods of research, reproducible findings, etc. It's just operating on a higher and more anmbiguous plane than mere matter, that's all"

say what ?????

what does that have to do with Christianity ?

what is the "testable hypothesis and reproducible finding" that supports immaculate conception, Jesus as the messiah, the second coming of Christ, papal inviolability, divine revelation etc etc

"your religion" might fit the criteria but the christianity that "spawned" science hardly fits that bill. Name one Christian (or Jewish) theologian that asserts their religion does.

I am a traditional Jew and I hardly think my religious beliefs or my religious tradition has "testable hypothesis and reproducible findings"

Sounds like your religion IS science.

Think that when Einstein wrote that he could conceive of a higher power he thought he could "prove" that hypothesis through a lab experiment or mathematical proof ?

In what journal are the articles published detailling "testable hypotheses, methods of research, reproducible findings," of religious doctrines/beliefs/canon.

Apparently you are in the medical field.

Ever read an article in which scientific method was used to verify the existence of a soul ?

read the writings of Einstein and other scientists that do not discount the existence of god or acknowledge science cannot answer certain "ultimate questions" (existence of evil, why does man exist) that hardly means they think any religious doctrine is testable like one of their scientific theories.

Gagdad Bob said...

Larry, you haven't the foggiest idea what I'm talking about, nor do I have time to explain it to you. Nor would you understand it if I tried. Would you please go someplace where the people are dense enough to understand you?

Anonymous said...



"religion (at least my brand) is not based on faith any more than science is. It has testable hypotheses, methods of research, reproducible findings, etc. It's just operating on a higher and more anmbiguous plane than mere matter, that's all"

for your target audience

fell free to post ANYTHING you wish as OFTEN as you like at Same for your target audience.

don't worry I'm gone.
Congrats on learning how to deal with opposing opinions from Bill Oreilly.

btw i see you didn't have the intellectual honesty to put back up the VERBATIM quotes from textbooks used at 800+ christian schools. Or to print them and refute them.


the only comments i take down from my blog are those that use obscenities.

Anonymous said...

I thought the initial point of the post was that science developed in the Christian (I would say Judaeo-Christian) West. Umm- Last I looked, it did. I mean- we don't import our technology from the islamic world, Africa or China. We develop it here.
But more to the point- You seem to like to argue for the sake of arguing. Why aren't you registered at LGF? I'm sure you'd find someone over there more than willing to accommodate you. Or have you already been kicked out?
Just wondering.


who, me? said...

LA-la... wrote: "why did you take down the direct quotes from textbooks used in chrisitan schools across california ?"

I reply, not speaking for The GagDad:

Your [LAlarry's] citations are cheap and artless, as irrelevant as a transcript of a class from a miserable public school. Unsophisticated [if grammatical and not without merit] semi-whacko superficial piety from Bob Jones U. doth not an argument make [ducking while the straw flies].

Could we agree you should review the depth of the bibliography in One Cosmos (The Book) before laying this kind of tripe down at Gagdad's door? You're embarrassing -- or should be -- your cheering section.

No kidding. Read the book. Pre-fab ad hoc potshots miss the point and, speaking for myself, dispirit the audience, target or otherwise.

Anonymous said...

here's what i don't get

blogger writes his kid would get a superior science education at a christian school

i post verbatim quotes from a text used at 800 schools

instead of disowning, contesting or calling the texts ridiculous the blogger takes them down

"who me" calls this "irrelevant" what could be more relevant that the textbooks used in 800 christian schools to the assertion that science education is superior there ?

what does the book have to do with it ?

why is it so threatening when someone challenges you , since the blogger accuse the left of being in a self reinforcing coccoon,.

Why do you tell a critic to get out of your coccoon ?

talk about thought police ! Look in the mirror, not at daily kos. Post there your comments will not be removed i assure you

Anonymous said...

You are doing what every liberal I have ever debated done. You take a shotgun and start firing accusations. As soon as Bob or anyone on this blog refute any of them, you will simply reload your shotgun and fire again, with great emotion. There is no possiblilty of getting you to see another view, no matter what anyone on this blog says. That comes through loud and clear in the way you post. Take your cannon of rage and fire it in another direction, please.

R. Sherman said...

Please allow a mundane observation from the provinces. My daughter attends a Lutheran grade school and is in the eighth grade. Her science and math scores on standardized tests place above 12th grade level. As her teacher explained, science points to God. Investigation into the truth should not be feared. Truth always points to God.

Great post.


OBloodyHell said...

> And I don't understand the staement that scienc and religion don't overlap.

Science and religion don't overlap because they don't attack the same questions (people misusing the wrong tool appropriate for the question is not proof of overlap, but ignorance and cluelessness).

Now, this does not mean something in one venue can't shift with new understanding of the universe. Certainly there are things that were once religion which are now science, and at the base of science are questions it is not designed to answer. These questions must be taken on faith, which puts them into the realm of religion. Science develops from there, and is thus subject to radical change at some point if the underlying suppositions change.

This confusion is part of the problem of "the question of ID"

Science is not technology -- it's not the gimmicks or the rules we've found that make them work.

It's not the rules themselves, regardless of their applicability (i.e., "unapplied theoretical knowledge", such as, say, the makeup of stars, is not SCIENCE -- those are the discoveries of science).

Science is a collection of techniques for deriving reliable information from observed phenomena. It allows us to assign relative values to different ideas (or "analogies") in terms of how well they reflect the real world.

For something to be Science, it must be testable. It must either make predictions which can be repeatedly shown to be accurate or it must have suppositions which can be tested by experimental effort.

Science can thus only tackle things which are themselves provable. An unprovable assertion is not subject to the rules of science (how do you derive -- demonstrate -- the "reliability" of God?). If God wants us to operate on Faith, then you can't -- because to prove Him is to prove He exists, and Faith is no longer required.

ID's central tenet is that God (or some other hyperpowerful being - "a rose by any other name...") created the Universe. When you come up with a test for that, then ID will have shifted from Religion to Science.

Until then it is an inherently unprovable (in an objective, real world sense) hypothesis.

That isn't a value judgement, it's expressing that Science has its place, as does Religion, and people make a grave error when they conflate the two and try to use the resulting miscegenation as The Answer to All Questions.

Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.
- Albert Einstein -

> It has testable hypotheses, methods of research, reproducible findings, etc.

Uh, Bob, lemme know when you've proven God, ok? 'cause I think that's gonna be a sign of the Second Coming, because, if I read the Rules right, He doesn't want to be "proven" until then.

Arraying religious beliefs in scientific trappings is still going to be Religion. It may be one founded better in the Real World than many are. This may well be a Good Thing. Rational religion strikes me as a good idea, as Fanats are dangerous -- but even rationalism can be overdone. It's still not gonna be Science, and the two should not be conflated.

Anonymous said...


Then, would you agree that the theory of evolution also is not science and belongs in a philosophy class.

I am referred to the larger theory about life from non-life, and higher forms of life from lower, simpler forms. Not micro-evolution.

Anonymous said...

Of course, one will never "prove" God exists to those who really don't want him to, will we? Just like those who continue to believe that quasi-marxist ideas will bring prosperity, dedicated secularists will continue to believe there is not a God.
If any of you follow the developments in string theory, you can see the insistence on a Godless, no design universe taken to great lengths. Current string theory posits 10^500 possible arrangements of nature's laws, only a handful of which would yield a universe where life is possible. To overcome this, they summon the "anthromorphic" priciple, simply asserting that there must be 10^500 universes, almost all lifeless, and we are just lucky enough to be in the one that allows for life. What secularists want, and will never achive, is a set of theories that is self contained, with no unexpained "outside". Why they want this so badly has to be due to their own internal value system, not something their "science" is giving them.

Anonymous said...

r sherman:

amd your student is a bright girl with conscientious parents who would probably flourish in any well run school religious or secular

and she is hardly a statistical sample of anything just an interesting anecdote

Anonymous said...


nick b was quite correct

Please review your knowledge of scientific empiricism. The example of the marxist and the believer are not comparable.

Even though economics is a soft (social) science. The "hypothesis" that a marxist ("workers owning the means of production/centrally planned economy) produces greater prosperity than a capitalism one can be tested and the evidence presented to counter the "believers" faith. The hypothesis has been tested and disproven in the real (soviet, eastern europe) world. The "marxist" believer know holds his "faith" that flies in the face of empirical evidence.

As Nick B said you cannot "prove" (or dispove) with scientific methodolgy god exists (or doesn't). The fact that a scientist "can't "explain" what existed before the big bang or why it occurs shows the limit of his science at this point as a scientist would readily acknowledge. He may have "faith" that human knowledge will bring forth an answer, you may have faith that the answer is unknowable because it is the fingerprint of god.

You are both at this point (as the scientist would readily admit) outside the realm of science.

You can't say a negative ("natural science can't explain everything") proves god exists. Although a believer may use that terminology he is really saying that the limits of science reinforce his FAITH in a higher being. And that believer may (and is) often a scientist. Some scientists believe in God some don't. Few feel that science "explains everything" in the physical universe. That is only a proof of god to the believer. There is no "evidence" to support the hypothesis. A null (you can't disprove the existence of god )hypothesis is not a proof.

read some ontology going back to St Anselm; there is no "proof" for the existence of god without faith.

Anonymous said...

My point is not that science can or cannot "prove" that God exists, merely that those who reject the very idea of God are not really open to any possible proof regardless. They don't WANT God to exist, and think that those of us who belive in God are mentally defective, or don't understand scientific method. It might be more productive to use a "preponderence of evidence" standard, rather than proof. For you sceptics- what would you consider in nature to be evidence of God or a designer of our universe? My contention is that no matter what clues the universe gives about God (I see them all around me) the ontological sceptic will simply reject them out of hand.

Anonymous said...

Novum Organum by Francis Bacon was the first real treatise of the scientific method. And BDBob is correct (though incomplete)in his analysis. Science began, but never flourished even under the tutalidge of Aristotle. Only in the reformation west did it become the accepted methodology for understanding nature.

Anonymous said...

"Only in the reformation west did it become the accepted methodology for understanding nature. "

would that be coterminous with the end of the church controlling universities and much of the education system throughout europe ?

something that came far later to asia and has never fully arisen in the muslim world

the rise of secularism and the limitation of the church's role in dominating society (as in after the french revolution and the revolutions of 1848 ) spurred the rise of scientific thought.

Hence the rise of science in western europe and little of the same in russia and eastern europe where the church still dominated.

Anonymous said...

it just occurred to me;

the significant jewish contribution to science began in the 19 th century after napoleon (and then the rest of western europe) tore down the walls of the ghettos and opened the education system to Jews.

Till then their intellectual elites were primarily talmudic scholars. Same held for eastern europe till a century later except for those who ventured west or were murdered.

in the moslem world the jewish intellectual elite contributed next to nothing to modern science.

is this a product of some "judeo christian' mode of thinking or the political regimes that broke the shackles of the church and encouraged the free exchange of ideas in neutral environments ?