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Does science depend on Christianity?


From Jack Kerwick at Townhall:

Though it will doubtless come as an enormous shock to such Christophobic atheists as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and their ilk, it is nonetheless true that one especially significant contribution that Christianity made to the world is that of science.

No one has better established this than Rodney Stark, a sociologist of religion who makes his home at Baylor University, the school from which I received a master’s degree in philosophy. Stark’s The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success, though published 12 years ago, is worth revisiting, particularly at this time when, not unlike at Christmas, journalists and others in the media presume to address the topic of Jesus.

In his introduction, Stark cuts to the quick in identifying why all too few Westerners are aware of the richness of their religious inheritance. “During the past century, Western intellectuals have been more than willing to trace European imperialism to Christian origins, but they have been entirely unwilling to recognize that Christianity made any contribution (other than intolerance) to the Western capacity to dominate.” Instead, “the West is said to have surged ahead precisely as it overcame religious barriers to progress, especially those impeding science.” More.

Of course, that would not have been possible if Christianity had not succeeded in melding the Jewish and Greek traditions of thought.

And what happens in their decline? Tellingly, there is not a whole lot of daylight, in practice, between Stone Age religion and modern metaphysical naturalism.

Stone Age religion:

No necessary distinction existed between gods, ghosts, rulers, magicians, plain folks, animals, plants, and inanimate objects. Gods could die like anyone else. A sense of a transcendent God who created and sympathizes with man and nature — but is not a creature like them — came later, perhaps much later. Meanwhile, men could be gods and gods could be men, the hierarchy sometimes inverted. Either men or god could become any animate or inanimate entity as well. Though, strictly speaking, there were no inanimate entities; anything might have a soul.

These ancient magical systems or religions were not systematically interwoven with ethics. In many cultures, sacredness and uncleanness were equivalent. Both were sources of power, to be handled, like fire, with care. Thus, ritual prostitution of women considered respectable was normal, and sometimes even required.


Metaphysical naturalism: Evolution bred a sense of reality out of us NPR’s Adam Frank: “I find the logic in Hoffman’s ideas both exciting and potentially appealing because of other philosophical biases I carry around in my head.” He suspects the theory is ultimately wrong. However, the current attacks on basic science values, for example, falsifiability, make clear that it is only a matter of time before most will think Hoffman right.

In short, either reality exists but does not make sense (Stone Age) or we can’t perceive reality anyway (metaphysical naturalism). If Christianity and other ethical monotheistic or karmic religions died out, we would have the Stone Age point of view with far more sophisticated technology.

See also: Imagine a world of religions that naturalism might indeed be able to explain

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Evolution bred a sense of reality out of us...
However, the current attacks on basic science values, for example, falsifiability, make clear that it is only a matter of time before most will think Hoffman right.
Those are provocative suggestions - and probably intended as such - but they are not yet, as far as I can tell, consensus views in the relevant fields so it would misleading to suggest otherwise. We do not have the sensory capacity to directly perceive the whole of reality but we have enough to enable us to navigate the external world in reasonable safety. We can perceive the truth but not the whole truth - so help us evolution. Seversky

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