I’m interacting with Rodney Stark’s book in a roundabout way in this post. In 2 previous posts, I interacted with a book about God and philosophy. In this philosophy book, different religious philosophers wrote essays on the reconciliation of faith and reason. (Faith and reason are often viewed as in contradiction with each other.) I’ll review material from the philosophy book, and tie it in with content in Rodney Stark’s book. Both books cover some of the same material but with a different approach – the first from a philosophical viewpoint and Stark’s from a historical one. The content blends together well on several subjects. Let’s jump into it…
Having to reconcile faith and reason is actually unique to our modern time period. Once upon a time, faith and reason were friends. The Enlightenment has tainted our view of things. Even the names given to the period between 500 and 1500 AD are biased…For example it was the “age of faith” in contrast to the “age of reason” that followed. That terminology gives no doubt which age was better. Reason knows. While faith just believes and is unreasonable. Or the earlier Middle Ages are referred to as the “Dark Ages” – a very negative term – until things broke free in the Renaissance. Stark goes into historical detail on how these ages were misconstrued and mislabeled by Enlightenment figures such as Edward Gibbon, Voltaire, and the like.
Did you know that there was tremendous progress in the so-called Dark Ages? Stark has an entire section highlighting invention and progress in engineering, technology, agriculture, economics, as well as in music, art, and literature during this time period. I was really surprised by it all. Stark quotes a distinguished medievalist Warren Hollister who stated that:
…to my mind, anyone who believes that the era that witnessed the building of the Chartres Cathedral and the invention of parliament and the university was ‘dark’ must be mentally retarded – or at best, deeply, deeply, ignorant.
Some secular historians claim that Christianity stifled ancient science and created the Dark Ages. But is this the only way to see it? The ancient Greeks did take first steps down the path of science, but the path faltered, and very little else was discovered after about the time of the birth of Christ. But if Christianity is solely to blame that sure was fast work, especially considering that Christianity took some time to get established.
Furthermore, the modern growth of science did not begin “suddenly” in the 16th century (as secular sources like to claim) but was continuous with the natural philosophy of the High Middle Ages. It can be argued that the Christian world view produced a mental climate that made the birth of science possible. Those who were actually responsible for the birth of science, such as Galileo and Newton, were indeed Christian. While the philosophy book mentions these things, Stark goes into much more historical detail. There is an entire chapter on the relationship of faith and the scientific “revolution.” He traces the development of the university, Scholasticism, and the commitment to empiricism that laid the foundation for science. It wasn’t a “revolution” but “evolution” as science slowly came forth out of a Christian environment.
Van Inwagen (one of the essayists in the philosophy book) made a fascinating point. As stated, the development of real, modern science happened in a civilization built upon the church. Why didn’t it develop in China or India? One might think that “rational” Confucian China, an ancient civilization with a long history of scholarship and mechanical invention, would have been most likely to have developed science. Right? Yet, they did not. Some (falsely) blame Christianity for squashing science, but what can you blame it on in the case of China (or India)? This question seems to have been ignored by secularists.
In a similar fashion, Stark notes that many societies pursued alchemy but only in Christian Europe did it lead to chemistry – or many societies developed astrology but only in Christian Europe did it develop into scientific astronomy. Again, why? Stark offers historical analysis and delves into the Christian worldview (vs Asian, Islamic, etc). Christian beliefs in the image of God, his creation, the rationality of God, and the power of reason given to humanity by God – created a climate that made science possible and desirable.
I need to wrap this up. Stark, by the way, does have a section on Galileo and some of the problems with the church, but again he gives new perspective. Perhaps this summary is a good ending:
The original warfare between religion and science never happened. Christianity not only did not impede the rise of science; it was essential to its having taken place. As for the contemporary conflict between religion and science, it is a battle limited to extremists….It is a debate that can best be described by quoting Shakespeare, as full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
*FYI: I am far from an expert on these issues, but was quite fascinated by the perspectives presented in these 2 books.