Science, capitalism, and democracy are all enormously complicated areas of human activity, but sociologist Rodney Stark claims there is a simple explanation for them: Christianity. "The Christian image of God is that of a rational being who believes in human progress," writes Stark in his latest book, "The Victory of Reason" (Random House), an unapologetic brief for Christianity's positive influence in history.
Christians, Stark asserts, have learned about the world by inquiring about the nature of this God. Painting with a broad historical brush, he argues that this habit of inquiry made possible the development of the free-market economy, scientific research, and individual rights.
"The Victory of Reason" does not dwell on Western troubles such as religious persecution or the wars between Catholics and Protestants that beset Europe in the early modern era. "Unfortunately, even profound cultural inventions are fragile," Stark writes, acknowledging that many forces, not just the power of ideas, shape history.
"I have a habit of starting books that take on lives of their own, and this was certainly one," says Stark, who has written or edited over two dozen in his career, including "The Rise of Christianity" (1996) and "One True God: Historical Consequences of Monotheism" (2001). Originally, he says, "The Victory of Reason" began as an argument against Max Weber's famous thesis that the distinctively Protestant values taking hold in the 16th and 17th centuries helped create a new "spirit of capitalism." Stark argues instead that capitalism already existed in Italian city-states during the late Middle Ages-a time, he came to realize, not of religious backwardness but of significant progress, aided by Christianity, that set the contemporary world in motion.
After four decades in academia, Stark teaches at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, but lives in New Mexico, where Ideas contacted him to talk about his new book.
IDEAS: What is your definition of reason?
STARK: Logical thought. You don't just jump to conclusions. You say, "A is to B is to C is to D." I suppose in philosophy courses they trace it back to Aristotelian logic. And certainly the early church fathers were very clear about being in that tradition. Who was more committed to that than Augustine or Aquinas?
IDEAS: How does Christianity encourage this mode of thinking?
STARK: Christianity is different from the other great faiths in that Greek philosophy did influence the early Christian theologians. It didn't influence Greek religion. That was all about mystery, and if things were logically inconsistent, that was even better proof they were of divine origin. Whereas Christians had this strange notion of progress from the very beginning-that God can only reveal himself to us consistent with our capacity to understand. We can thereby increase our capacity to understand, and thus over time we will understand God better. Aquinas said things like, "There are things about the doctrine of salvation that we don't yet understand, but one day we shall."
IDEAS: But there are many competing ideas and traditions within Christianity. So which are Christian, and which are not?
STARK: I'm arguing in a subsequent book that there's a lot of nonsense around about how many Christianities were around in the early days. Most of this Gnostic stuff was one guy who had a pen and no followers. I think a lot of this early Christianity stuff is exactly that. Now obviously there have been many sects, but there is so much more in common than there are distinctions or differences.
IDEAS: You write that the Greeks, the Romans, and the Islamic world did not practice "real science." How do you define that?
STARK: There's a difference between technology, on the one hand, and understanding, on the other. Science consists of theories which are abstract statements or equations saying how something important in reality works, whether it's gravity or how light travels. Which is not the same thing as building a better bow or building a rifle. The Greeks didn't formulate those kinds of theories, and if they did, they never tested them. Real science is subject to being falsified. You say, "Whoops, they're wrong." Aristotle said a big rock fell faster than a small rock. Well, it doesn't, and all he had to do was go to a cliff and drop a couple.
IDEAS: But how did the Christian church help Western science develop?
STARK: Through a mode of thought, reason, where you think things can be explained. The reason people like Newton could search for the laws of the universe and laws of science is because they believed they were there. In most of the world, theologians taught they weren't there, that the universe was an inexplicable mystery, or that life was one great circularity, and we have the same cycles again and again. But if you believe we have a rational God, then presumably there are immutable laws to be looked for.
IDEAS: Yet Christianity existed in a state of tension with science, did it not? Copernicus was a church administrator whose work was later banned by the church. Galileo sought the support of the Pope, but ...
STARK: Yes. But now we're talking about the Counter-Reformation, and yes, there was some conflict, but this was really late, and things are out of the bag by now. The Reformation had happened, and the church was feeling a lot of heat. But even so, Spain was the most mobilized Catholic society of the Counter-Reformation, and yet Galileo's books were always on sale in Spain. It was a very mixed thing. In this period, the church increasingly got into conflict with science, and it was too bad, but it has nothing to do with what went on centuries before.
IDEAS: Haven't the ideas of capitalism, science, or progress become secularized?
STARK: To originate something is not the same thing as copying something, and now everybody ought to know science is possible, and we probably don't need the long Christian tradition to think we can go out there and discover physical laws, since we've discovered so many of them....I don't think you have to be Christian to be democratic, and you don't have to be Christian to be scientific, and you don't have to be Christian to be capitalistic. But it sure doesn't hurt.
IDEAS: You argue against Max Weber's thesis that Protestantism helped create capitalism, and say Christianity encouraged it earlier. How?
STARK: People talk about the presence of Puritanism in Holland at the time Holland was booming [the 17th century]. But when I was asked to read Weber as a young student, one of the problems was that these Puritans seem to be against capitalism. They think it's a great sin to be covetous. I don't see how all that fits together....When monasteries had cash surpluses because they had gotten too efficient, in the 9th, 10th centuries, people like Albertus Magnus re-thought the whole thing, asking: Is asceticism the only way to go? Is it really a terrible thing to be in commerce? And they answered: No.
mercoledì 23 giugno 2010
Mercoledi 23 Giugno, 2010 Dimensioni testo: www.storialibera.it > attualita > occidente > rodney_stark > Aggiungi ai preferiti Aggiungi Storia Libera ai preferiti Segnala questa pagina Segnala questa pagina Versione stampabile Versione stampabile Torna al documento integrale Stampa Peter DIZIKES Faith and reason. Was Christianity the engine of Western progress? tratto da: from The Boston Globe, December 25, 2005.
Pubblicato da Riccardo