Burgess Laughlin

Stark's *Victory of Reason*

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VORSISG begins on Monday, March 20. The members of VORSISG are: Burgess Laughlin, Elizabeth, Kitty Hawk, Nathanial Hale 1775, Rick Wilmes, and jedymastyr. Only they may participate in VORSISG during its 9-week course. (After VORSISG ends, I will open the topic to Forums members who have read Prof. Stark’s Victory of Reason.)

Each week, on Monday, I will post first, as a metronome. After my Monday post appears, please post your weekly assignment any time during that week (Monday-Sunday).

If I fail to post on Monday, continue without me.

In SISGs, inadvertent duplication is acceptable and sometimes inevitable. You never need to revise your own post simply because another SISG member has covered the same subject in an earlier post. As Rick Wilmes aptly noted, an SISG is a pot-luck event. Posts will vary in length, depth, and subject matter.

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WEEK 1: “Introduction”

The assignment this week is to write about Prof. Stark’s “Introduction.” Optionally, you might introduce yourself as well.

PERSONAL INTRODUCTION

I have been a student of history, especially success stories in history, for at least 50 years. I love reading stories about how we got where we are today -- in the good ways, I mean. I have a BA in general cultural history (40 years ago) and about five years in recent post-baccalaureate work, mostly medieval history and in basic language studies.

I have long been intrigued by the fact that the stream of Western Civilization that has flowed from Classical Greek culture to our own time passed through central and late medieval culture. It then welled-up into the Renaissance -- but in the Latin-Christian culture of Italy rather than in the Arabic-Islamic culture of Mesopotamia or in the Greek-Christian culture around the Aegean. In an intriguing mix of accurate and inaccurate views, Prof. Stark, the author of our topic book, has presented a case that purports to explain that passage through Latin-Christian culture. I say "intriguing" because I love untangling the objective and nonobjective strands of a text, using both historical and philosophical detection.

VORSISG will give me a chance to start analyzing Stark's arguments, and thus it will further help me test and sort out my own views on the historical course of Western Civilization as it flowed from Classical Greek culture to our own day – an awesome 2400-year journey. I have no expertise in any area covered by Professor Stark. However, I have read a few of the works he cites, and I think I can point to the possibility of significant errors that stand alongside his valid observations. Some questions are questions of fact; others will require philosophical detection.

I hope this 9-week study group will be a profitable adventure for all of us. My contribution will consist of notes, in two forms: each Monday, one post summarizing key points in the reading for each week, and a later post listing cautions about weak points in Prof. Starks text.

STARK'S "INTRODUCTION: REASON AND PROGRESS"

When West Europeans began exploring the wider world, they found that their own culture was artistically, technologically, scientifically, and military superior to any culture they encountered. Why was west European culture so far ahead? That is the theme question for The Victory of Reason.

In a preview of the remainder of the book, Stark's introduction traces modern effects -- such as Western technological domination -- back through a chain of causes, both historical and philosophical, to a primary cause.

The theme of the book, Stark tells readers on pp. x-xiii, is the answer to the theme question. West Europeans rose to their superior position because of "faith in reason." What brought that “faith in reason” to West Europeans? Prof. Stark says Christianity, with its special form of monotheism, a form in which God gives reason to man as "the supreme gift." Love of God, influenced by Greek philosophy, led the men emerging from the bloody ruins of the Roman Empire to respect reason as "the primary guide to religious truth." And, Prof. Stark says, because religious truths are the foundation of all other truths, Christians struggled to apply reason to all major aspects of life in the following thousand years. Because reason brings advances, Western culture advanced -- for example, by developing capitalism, which in turn developed wealth and technology. (p. x)

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Introduction: Reason and Progress

My first question on reading the introduction to Stark's Victory of Reason was: what is his purpose in claiming that Christianity is the source of the victory of reason in the West? Does he simply want credit to be given where he believes credit is due? Or will he conclude that reason and capitalism cannot survive today or in the future without Christianity? The last two sentences of the introduction hint at the answer to that question: "The conclusion briefly considers whether this is still true. Can globalization create fully modern societies that are not Christian, not capitalist, and not even free?" (p. xvi)

He seems to believe that Christianity is not only the source of capitalism's rise, but is also necessary for its continued existence anywhere.

Ayn Rand wrote that religion is "a primitive form of philosophy--an attempt to offer a comprehensive view of reality . . . " ("Philosophy and Sense of Life," Romantic Manifesto, p. 31). But what, specifically, is Christianity? It is a belief in a supernatural being who created the world out of nothing. Ethically, it is the religion of altruism, of turning the other cheek. Judge not, lest ye be judged. And epistemologically, it condemned man for eating of the tree of knowledge. It commands man to have faith in God. These are not tenets that would lead one to believe that Christianity is pro-reason and pro-capitalism.

Yet Stark claims that Christianity fostered "faith in reason," and that Christianity alone "embraced reason and logic as the primary guide to religious truth," among world religions. (p. x) This led to what he calls Christianity's "rational theology." I have not studied rational theology, nor does Stark give much explanation of its nature in the introduction. My assumption is that it is closer to rationalization than reason.

Perhaps rational theology refers to Scholasticism, since he does refer to the Scholastics in the introduction. According to Peter Angeles in Dictionary of Philosophy, Scholasticism refers to medieval Christian philosophy between 1000-1300 A. D.. During that time, "there was a resurgence of interest in logical and rational inuqiry, stemming from new translations of Greek texts, especially those of Plato and Aristotle, that were being introduced through Arabic sources." And further:

"Scholasticism was characterized by (a) an intense interest in logical and linguistic analysis, in order to ( b ) create a systematic presentation and defense of Christian belief based on ( c ) the Bible as the revealed word of God . . . Some of the principal trends in Scholasticism were (1) to reconstruct Greek thought so that it was consistent with, and supported, Christian faith; (2) to subordinate philosophy to faith (and faith to revelation as seen and interpreted by the Church) . . . " [bolding added.]

Clearly, according to this definition of Scholasticism, reason and logic were not used by the Church to discover truth about reality, but simply to defend the revealed word of God--even if that meant reconstructing and subordinating Greek thought and philosophy to faith. In other words, the Church hoped to rationalize its faith. It wanted a veneer of respectability for its faith, and it saw reason as the respectable tool to accomplish that end.

It looks to me as though the Church took notice of a rising interest in the Greeks, reason, and philosophy in Europe, and then tried to redirect that re-birth of reason into a safe area--defending the Faith.

Stark himself says: " . . . church fathers taught that reason . . . [was] the means to progressively increase their understanding of scripture and revelation." (p. x) [bolding added.] Not studying reality and looking for truth there, but studying the "revealed word of God," and arguing about its meaning.

If some medieval scholars broke away from that purpose, and actually began looking for truth, does the church deserve any credit for that? I don't see that it does. Under the entry for Medieval University on Wikipedia, I found this about Peter Abelard: "Dissatisfied with tensions between burghers and students and the censorship of leading intellectuals by the Church, Abelard and others formed the Universitas, modeled on the medieval guild, a large-scale, self-regulating, permanent institution of higher education." [bolding added.]

An analogy that comes to mind is the Soviet Union under Gorbachev, who instituted glasnost and perestroika in an attempt to resuscitate that totalitarian regime. Instead, it ended up undermining the regime---just as setting up institutions to use reason to understand the Bible ended up undermining the Church.

But Stark thinks the Church does deserve the credit: "Encouraged by the Scholastics and embodied in the great medieval universities founded by the church, faith in the power reason infused Western culture, stimulating the pursuit of science and the evolution of democratic theory and practice."

As already noted, the Scholastics' purpose was simply to defend the "revealed word of God." Europeans inherited the use of reason as the preeminent method for dealing with reality from the Greeks, through the Romans. The Greeks deserve the credit, along with whatever men used their rational faculty to discover truth, in spite of the Church.

Then Stark makes this incredible, and completely unsupported assertion:

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. (p. xi) [bolding added.]

At best, Stark has given a few examples of the Church aiding in the rise of the West. To jump to the conclusion that the rise of the West rested entirely on religious foundations is beyond absurd. As to those Europeans who developed capitalism and science in Europe, they had little choice but to be Christians. To be otherwise risked being burned at the stake as a heretic. That they were Christians does not mean that Christianity had anything to do with their development of science or capitalism.

Just prior to that claim, Stark dismissed what is in fact a more accurate description of the rise of the West: " . . . the West is said to have surged ahead precisely as it overcame religious barriers to progress, especially those impeding science." (p. xi) Barriers such as the Inquisition, as Stark might have noted, but did not.

I looked in the Index of the book, and there is no entry for the Inquisition, oddly enough. A book attributing the victory of reason to Christianity ought to address one of the most obvious pieces of evidence against that premise--the Inquisition--in which the Church suppressed dissent, and therefore, reason, on a massive scale. I call it dishonest that Stark evaded that task. And the best single example of that Christian suppression of reason, Galileo, is mentioned twice--neither time having anything to do with his being coerced by the Church to toe the Christian line.

On the development of capitalism, Stark writes:

But none of these societies [China, Islam, India, Byzantium, Greece, Rome] broke through and developed capitalism, as none evolved ethical visions compatible with this dynamic economic system. (p. xii)

That much is true. So why did it develop in some parts of Europe and not others, since all were Christian? Because, writes Stark, some of them had freedom, or at least enough freedom to allow capitalism to arise. This freedom he credits to Christian theologians who "had long been theorizing about the nature of equality and individual rights . . . " (p. xiii)

I do not know enough about the rise of freedom in Europe to know whether that claim holds any water. He gave little evidence to back it up, so my judgment on it will wait until he develops that argument, if he does so at all.

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MIDDLE AGES: A NOVICE'S BIBLIOGRAPHY

Following are some of the medieval history books I have in my library. I don’t endorse or vouch for everything they say, but if you are looking for places to start in reading about the Middle Ages, you might start with these. I have listed them in chronological order, by the first dates they cover. A few of the first books cover not only the earliest years of the Middle Ages, but the whole Middle Ages as well.*

Some of the books on the list are very broad geographically and culturally, attempting to cover all of Europe in a single volume; other books "cross-section" medieval history, for example, by looking at the history of a particular city (Venice, for instance) or a particular aspect of medieval culture, such as certain forms of technology.

* By Middle Ages I mean the period of West European history from c. 400 to c. 1400. I believe this period should be called the “Latin-Christian Period,” a name which identifies two of the essential characteristics of the period: the enormous influence of both (1) Roman culture (drawing partly on earlier Greek culture) and (2) Christian culture (drawing partly on earlier Judaic culture). By Dark Ages, I mean the period of imperial disintegration and local reintegration, roughly 400 to 800 CE. Various historians use these terms in other ways, if they use them at all. (I have never understood why these periods – Middle Ages and Dark Ages – have plural names, but I usually follow the conventional spelling.)

David Nicholas, The Growth of the Medieval City: From Late Antiquity to the Early Fourteenth Century. In a mere 300 pages or so, Nicholas presents a lot of intriguing detail about towns and cities through a 1200-year period, from southern Italy to the Netherlands and from Ireland to Eastern Europe. The four parts of the book are arranged chronologically, beginning c. 100 CE, in the early Roman Empire, and ending c. 1325. The book contains an excellent glossary, and it is thoroughly documented with footnotes, a list of suggested readings (by chapter), and a long general bibliography. This book is “urban history,” but that means social, cultural, and economic, as well as political history.

H. R. Loyn, Anglo-Saxon England and the Norman Conquest. This 400-page book, which covers the period 200-1100, is dense in content, but not in style. The chapters are topical – for example, Ch. 3, “Internal Trade: the Coinage and the Towns” – within an overall historical progression, ending with the Norman (Viking-French) conquest of Anglo-Saxon England in the late 1000s. Thoroughly documented, the book includes detailed maps and weaves historical information with the equally important archaeological information. (The archaeological data sometimes paints a picture that differs from the picture that emerges from the surviving texts written mostly by other-worldly Churchmen.)

John Marenbon, Early Medieval Philosophy (480-1150): An Introduction. This book, in its revised edition, covers the major topics a student of philosophy needs as an overview of medieval philosophy up until the founding of the universities, late in the 1100s. The book has three parts: (I) The antique heritage; (II) the beginnings of medieval philosophy; and (III) a short period of rapid philosophical growth, 1100-1150. Marenbon’s writing is clear and flowing. The book contains no footnotes, but does have an extensive chapter-by-chapter bibliography with discussion of sources. The sequel, John Marenbon, Later Medieval Philosophy: 1150-1350, takes the same approach.

For further independent study, in parallel to the Marenbon books, consider reading W. T. Jones, The Medieval Mind, second edition, Vol. II in the History of Western Philosophy series. It includes substantial passages from many of the philosophers Jones examines, beginning with the time of Jesus and ending with the Averroists, the medieval philosophers influenced by Ibn Rushd (“Averroes,” 1126-1198), a persecuted Muslim champion of Aristotle. Jones provides lots of historical background; you can see why certain philosophical problems arose at different times – and, to some extent, what the consequences were of the particular solutions chosen.

Frederic C. Lane, Venice: A Maritime Republic. This clearly written history of the republic of Venice covers a thousand-year period. It begins during the final disintegration of the Roman Empire, when hardy, pioneering refugees fled to coastal islands in the Adriatic Sea. It ends when Napoleon conquered the effete Venetian state in 1797, the first time foreign troops had ever occupied the city of Venice. Thus, roughly half the book covers the Middle Ages. In part, Lane’s history of Venice is a story of growth, daring, and ingenuity. The city fathers built the city of Venice on water and began assembling a vast network of trade that brought prosperity to many of the residents. Chapter 11, “The Commercial Revolution of the Resident Merchants,” focuses on the dynamic period c. 1300. This was a time when Venice’s richest man, Federico Corner, gave his name to a marketing ploy – “to corner the market” by controlling all supplies of a commodity in order to drive up its price. This point in the Middle Ages was also the time of the appearance of double-entry bookkeeping, one of the great distinguishing inventions of Western Civilization: calculation of profit or loss, here in this life, in this world. Overall, Lane’s book is economic, social, and political history in a thoroughly readable and illustrated form. The book has no footnotes, but the bibliography for each chapter is detailed.

Carl Stephenson, Medieval Feudalism. This very short book (100 pp.) is a clear, essentialized introduction to feudalism. Stephenson’s approach is “organic,” that is, historical. He looks first at the “original feudalism” (a positive response to the anarchy that followed the disintegration of the corrupt Roman Empire). Then he shows how feudalism evolved through the central Middle Ages and decayed in the Late (“High”) Middle Ages. He defines all key terms such as “primogeniture.” This is the kind of little book that medieval-history graduate students read but never cite in their bibliographies. It is too short, too clear – and therefore too embarrassing to mention.

Frances & Joseph Gies, Cathedral, Forge, and Waterwheel: Technology and Invention in the Middle Ages. This book, written for a broad audience, has a lively style, but is also documented. The sequence of chapters is historical, ranging from “The Triumphs and Failures of Ancient Technology” to “The Technology of the Commercial Revolution: 900-1200” and “Leonardo and Columbus: The End of the Middle Ages”

Lynn White, Medieval Technology and Social Change. This 45-year old little book was one of the heralds of historians’ changing views of the Middle Ages. White’s conclusions on particular issues remain controversial, but he helped pioneer a revisionist look at medieval culture. In particular he pointed out advances in technology and their possible effects. He considers: the stirrup, the agricultural revolution of the early Middle Ages (the Dark Ages), and advances in power technology.

Robert Bartlett, The Making of Europe: Conquest, Colonization, and Cultural Change 950-1350. This book is about the astounding Norman diaspora. The Normans were descendents of the Vikings who had conquered Normandy, in northwest France, quickly absorbed Latin-Christian culture, and then spread it throughout W. Europe, from Ireland to Sicily. Bartlett relies on archaeological and epigraphical evidence as well as traditional textual evidence. This is social history at its best.

John W. Baldwin, The Scholastic Culture of the Middle Ages: 1000-1300. This is “a small book on a big subject.” Baldwin explains terms many historians of the Middle Ages use while assuming readers understand them but usually don’t. He provides historical context for his focus on scholasticism, and he shows the way in which scholasticism was an integral part of medieval culture. His six chapters cover scholasticism in relation to: politics; the nature of cities; the rise of universities; secular studies (liberal arts, medicine, and law); theology; and so-called “Gothic” art. The organization of the book is topical, but Baldwin pays a lot of attention to the history of the subject, that is, the sequence of events that marked the current of scholasticism flowing through the history of central and late (“high”) medieval culture.

Collin Morris, The Discovery of the Individual, 1050-1200, says in his "Conclusion," pp. 158-159: "The discovery of the individual was one of the most important cultural developments in the years between 1050 and 1200. It was not confined to any group of thinkers. ... 'Know yourself' was one of the most frequently quoted injunctions.' ... The continuous history of several art-forms and fields of study, which are particularly concerned with the individual, began at this time: autobiography, psychology, the personal portrait, and satire were among them. ... The discovery of the individual was ... heavily indebted to the classical and [classical-influenced ancient] Christian past. ... Even when men [of this period] stayed closest to the classics and the Fathers [of the ancient Church], we are aware of a sense, not of imitation, but of rediscovery." Note that Morris is not saying that individualism dominated medieval culture at this time, but that it "began at this time." Given that perspective, I find this book a stimulating "challenge-text," one that breaks ground and, even where possibly in error, opens up possibilities for further study of the roots of the Renaissance.

Constance Brittain Bouchard, Holy Entrepreneurs: Cistercians, Knights, and Economic Exchange in Twelfth-Century Burgundy. This book looks at the detailed “stuff” of history. It is an examination, partly statistical (based on many surviving records), at the economic activities of one order of monks (the Cistercians, the first new major monastic order since the fall of Rome), in one area (Burgundy), in one period (the 1100s). One of Bouchard’s conclusions is that these Cistercians were very active economically – buying, selling, and using land and other elements of production. They were energetic “in the world” and interactive with their neighbors in a wide variety of economic forms.

Guibert of Nogent, A Monk’s Confession: The Memoirs of Guibert of Nogent, translator and editor Paul J. Archambault, University Park, Pennsylvania State University Press, 1996. Guibert lived around 1055-1125. Guibert's autobiography, the first in Latin since Augustine’s Confessions, 700 years earlier, shows the worst elements of the medieval period: guilt (about sex and even about valuing poetry more than Scripture), belief in devils, aggression (local lords seizing people for ransom), corruption (Churchmen selling Church positions to laymen), and lack of justice (such as unpunished breaking of even written contracts). Guibert is oblivious to the technological and commercial advances of his time. However, an objective reader, sometimes reading between the lines, will see progress too. An example is the seemingly inexorable rise of towns, as they gradually freed themselves from feudal bonds. One third of Guibert’s book describes the bloody and tragic 1112 revolt of the emerging commune in the town of Laon, near the abbey of which Guibert was the abbot. Other towns, however, were more successful. Progress was coming. Unfortunately, no dynamic, life-loving merchant-burgher of the time has left his memoirs for us to set beside Guibert’s dark work. Churchmen had a near monopoly on personal writings and -- equally important for historians -- the preservation of such writings. That fact, though sometimes distorting our view of the Middle Ages, is itself revealing about an essential characteristic of the medieval period: Christianity was the dominant intellectual force, though it had to wage a constant (and ultimately losing) battle against worldly influences arising not only from ancient Latin and Greek writings but from independent, contemporary inductions by some of the men and women of the Middle Ages.

Carlo M. Cipolla, Clocks and Culture: 1300-1700. This highly readable, but documented book, has only two chapters: I. “The European Masters” (of time and clocks); and II. “Chinese Mandarins and the self-ringing bell.” Cipolla shows the striking difference between past Asian attitudes toward time and machines versus the inspiring W. European attitude that emerged in the Late (“High”) Middle Ages. This is a book about values as much as technology. For example, it explains why Europeans began exporting machinery to Asia (in the Late Middle Ages) and not vice versa.

Jean Gimpel, The Medieval Machine: The Industrial Revolution of the Middle Ages. The value of this book is not in its author’s interpretations, which are leftist, but in its wide range of information about advances in technology, production, agriculture, engineering, and other areas of culture. Gimpel’s biases show up most in his chapter on environmental pollution and in his epilogue. In effect, Gimpel damns the Middle Ages for being the root of modern, Western “capitalist” society. Why? Because of medieval society’s ceaseless expansion of arable land (at the expense of primeval forests), growth of towns, mechanization of production, and a relentless drive to acquire material goods. Another value of the book, for me, is Gimpel’s brief examination of what some historians call the “mini-Dark Age,” the period roughly 1275-1375, a period of economic depression, famine, plague, and war. Perhaps when men of the early Renaissance (c. 1400) looked back on the period between themselves and the Roman Empire (as they imagined the latter), what they saw first was this dark period, not the striking advances made in the period 900-1275.

Happy reading!

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The Introduction to The Victory of Reason by Rodney Stark has raised many questions for me.

He explains that the West was much more advanced due to its “faith in Reason”. Christianity was influenced by Greek philosophers. The Christian religion was also open to modification and productive theological discussion among scholars. High regard for Reason and free-will also encouraged capitalism.

Through capitalism, western civilization progressed beyond other cultures around the world, particularly in the sciences. Other historians believe the greatest human progress was made after the Protestant Reformation. However, Stark will demonstrate great achievements in Europe prior to the Reformation by at least 1000 years.

While the introduction is captivating, it is not completely objective. I hope to read more precise examples by Rodney Stark as St. Thomas Aquinas (born 1225) influenced the Roman Catholic Church by writing Summa Theologica (particularly Prima Secundae Partis – free-will). Or St. Augustine (born 354), who was greatly inspired by Plato and also advocated the concept of free-will.

When did church doctrine actually teach the concept of free-will to the common people? How much influence did the church have in England during the creation of the Magna Carta? Why did feudalism thrive for centuries in spite of Reason and Christianity?

I will also find the lessons about the traditional differences practiced by Christians in Europe informative, as Rodney Stark will go in to more detail about the Spanish and French traditions versus the Italian and other Europeans. This will help explain how they (Italians and others) were much more creative and innovative than the former due to the incorporation of capitalism within their regions.

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Muddying the Road to Capitalism

In the Introduction: Reason and Progress, Stark makes the following claim “...Christian theologians had long been theorizing about the nature of equality and individual rights– indeed, the later work of such “secular” eighteenth-century political theorists as John Locke explicitly rested on egalitarian axioms derived by church scholars.” (p. xiii) I am troubled with Stark’s attempt to base individual rights on egalitarian axioms. I mention this quotation because I believe it is important to my discussion for next weeks topic. Drawing attention to Locke and his works creates a problem for Stark that I think he attempts to solve in Chapter 1: Blessings of Rational Theology.

The other important thing about the introduction is that Stark makes the claim: “the rise of the West was based on four primary victories of reason.” (p. xiii) They were

1. Faith in progress within Christian theology.

2. How faith in progress translated into technical and organizational innovations.

3. Through Christian theology, reason was able to create responsive states that allowed a substantial degree of personal freedom.

4. Applying reason to commerce resulted in the development of capitalism in safe havens that were provided by responsive states.

By making these claims, he has subordinated reason to faith. His four reasons focus more on the primacy of faith not the victory of reason. Such terms as ‘faith in progress’ and giving Christian theology the credit for reason are attempts to argue that knowledge is acquired through faith not reason. It will be interesting to see how the rest of his book attempts to support his four claims.

Instead of a personal introduction, I want to mention a personal observation. This is the third SISG that I have participated in. The two before were on Aristotle and the subject matter difficult. I did not have any problem staying motivated and working through the material. However, this time around, I found myself putting the book down and walking away for several days. If I had been reading the book on my own, I never would have gone back to it. I want to thank Burgess for this SISG because I have found some value in staying focused on the task at hand. I am looking forward to the next eight weeks and finally getting to comment and ask questions on a book that I found very troubling.

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CAUTIONS for Wk. 1, “Introduction”

1. TERMINOLOGY. Note Prof. Stark's use of terms and the ideas they name. Following are some that are most questionable in the "Introduction."

European and Western (or "West"). What does each mean? Are they synonyms? Further, what does Western Civilization mean when it appears later in the book?

Reason and faith. Many theologians and philosophers have extolled or castigated reason. But what does that term mean to them and particularly to Stark? And what is faith, especially in a phrase such as "faith in reason"?

Christianity. My question here is: Whose Christianity? The Christianity of Thomas Aquinas, in the 1200s, with his respect for a strong (though limited) role for reason here on earth? Or the Christianity of his contemporary, Bonaventure, who saw "reason" (actually, rationalism) as merely one step in a mystical ladder of ascent to an intrinsicist communion with God? More broadly, what is the referent of the term/idea "Christianity"? Is it a hierarchical set of ideas, from the broadest (God, the cause of all), to the narrowest ("Don't eat meat on Fridays")? Is it a social movement consisting of individuals who disagree about some ideas and practices, but agree on others? Or is it both these elements and others (such as social organizations, mythology, and rituals)?

Capitalism. Later in the book, Prof. Stark makes a sustained effort to define his idea of "capitalism." It will be mostly a social, economic, and historical definition, rather than the ethics-based political (thus philosophical) definition Objectivists use. Comparing the two definitions could be illuminating. Perhaps someone in this study group will do that.

2. A MISSING HISTORICAL PERIOD? Notice on p. x Prof. Stark jumps from speaking of the Church Fathers (a term which usually refers to theologians living in the first five hundred years after Christ) to the Scholastics (about 1000-1300). This jump raises a question: What happened in-between? Throughout the book, watch for a peculiar shifting of times and terminology about the period in history usually called the "The Dark Ages." More broadly, be on the lookout for the use of "Dark Ages" and "Middle Ages." Does Prof. Stark distinguish them clearly, consider them synonyms, or use them confusingly?

3. VAGUENESS ABOUT BEGINNINGS? An objective reader should also be on the lookout for Prof. Stark's position on the origins of Western Civilization: When did it begin? Did it begin with Christian adoption of Greek philosophy (p. x); or earlier with the advent of Christ himself; or still earlier with the Classical Greeks (to whom Prof. Stark makes no reference at all).

Why is determining the beginning of Western Civilization important? Because determining beginnings is part of the process of examining a thing before defining it. To know a thing's beginnings is to identify causes, and to know causes is to know not only what a thing is, but why it is what it is.

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Introduction: Reason and Progress

Outline of the Post

A Brief Summary

The Good

The Bad

—Proof by Polemic

—The "I Don't Want To Talk About Galileo" Principle

—Citing Oneself as a Reference

Looking Forward

A Brief Summary

Western civilization is—and since at least the Age of Discovery has been—the most advanced civilization in the world. This cultural superiority is a direct result of two distinctly Western principles: reason and capitalism. Both of these principles were promoted by Christian scholars; Christianity, the only world religion open to these ideas, is entirely responsible for Western success.

The Good

While the other world religions emphasized mystery and intuition, Christianity alone embraced reason and logic as the primary guide to religious truth. Christian faith in reason was influenced by Greek philosophy.

Stark explains throughout the Introduction that out of all the world religions, Christianity was the one religion most likely to permit such advancements as capitalism, property rights, and science. He makes the assumption that only religion could make these advancements. However, given that there was very little freedom and the clergy were the most educated members of society back then, even if it's not perfect it at least sheds some insight into historically how the West had some tools at its disposal to lead toward the advanced civilization it became.

In addition, he notes that reason—which he considers the most important trait of Christianity—comes from Greece. While he dismisses Greece's ability to discover modern science and technology as a result of their mystical religion, he at least concedes that major point.

In this section of the Introduction, he makes two very important points:

1) Christianity got reason from Greek philosophy

2) Christianity encouraged reason which led to the advanced societies of today

The exercise of reason, coming from or "influenced by" Greece, is given as the essential behind Western success. The author's purpose in writing the book, though, is not primarily to prove this but to demonstrate that it is Christianity that was responsible for this success.

This is not stated clearly and openly, but I was pleased to find that there is at least the semblance of a reasonable context to explore later in the book how Christianity may have been responsible for or at least helped Western progress.

The Bad

Proof by Polemic

…the West is said to have surged ahead precisely as it overcame religious barriers to progress, especially those impeding science. Nonsense. 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.

This is a rather bold statement, and the reasoning behind it would be interesting to analyze from an Objectivist perspective since at face value it seems extremely questionable at best. Stark goes on to explain this at length. Unfortunately, he does not do this in any direct manner. He brings up Weber’s argument that Protestantism was responsible for capitalism in a polemic that focuses more on negative attacks than on the advance of any positive argument for his claim. Since this is only the Introduction, and since his purpose in this book is to show how Christianity was responsible for bringing about Western success, I have no reason to completely dismiss his claim at this point. However, I am initially bothered by his lack of positive reasoning given how much time he spent on the subject and I hope to read more on this later.

---

The "I Don't Want To Talk About Galileo" Principle

...rather than being a period of ignorance and backwardness, the era from the fall of Rome through the Middle Ages was a time of spectacular technological and intellectual progress that erupted when innovation was freed from the grip of Roman despotism.  Christian commitment to progress played an important role not only by prompting the search for new technology but by encouraging its rapid and widespread adoption. Moreover, the response of church leaders and scholars to all the progress going on around them resulted in some remarkable theological revisions.

In reading this passage, I couldn't help but think about Galileo, old and in ill health, being drug across the continent and forced to renounce his convictions before the Inquisition under the threat of torture and death:

I, Galileo Galilei, son of the late Vincenzo Galilei, Florentine, aged seventy years, arraigned personally before this tribunal, and kneeling before you, most Eminent and Reverend Lord Cardinals, Inquisitors general against heretical depravity throughout the whole Christian Republic, having before my eyes and touching with my hands, the holy Gospels--swear that I have always believed, do now believe, and by God's help will for the future believe, all that is held, preached, and taught by the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Roman Church.

Where were the church's "theological revisions" then? Is this a commitment to progress? Is this a freeing of intellectual progress from despotism? I understand this was not during the Middle Ages and thus is not technically within Stark's claim, but coming after in a more advanced time (particularly with a religion dedicated to progress, as Stark claims), one would expect the same or better to apply.

I then recalled what Stark wrote several pages earlier:

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.

My initial reaction was to wonder ironically whether Stark took Galileo's words at face value as evidence that all of the scientific prime movers were "devout Christians." But Stark does offer a qualification of these opinions, though it appears before them:

At least in principle, if not always in fact, Christian doctrines could always be modified in the name of progress as demonstrated by reason.

I concluded, after looking through the two references to Galileo in the index and finding nothing of his ordeal with the church, that this is the way Stark dismisses such questions. Given that Galileo's case is so well known and used by those who claim religion hindered human progress, I hoped to find a more thorough treatment of this issue. However, it is important to remember that one particular concrete like this does not necessarily invalidate Stark's claim that generalizes over almost a thousand years.

Since I'm not very well versed in Middle Ages history and have been unable to locate a good source on the subject of how the church treated rational opposition, I plan on asking a follow-up question soon on whether Galileo is an exception or archetypical example of how the church acted.

---

Citing Oneself as a Reference

When I started reading I was impressed by the number of references (endnotes?) that Stark has to confirm historical facts. The way I understand them, references like this have a specific purpose. When an author does not have personal knowledge of a specific topic, he yields to an expert in the field who has a much better grasp of the material. This tends to lend credibility to one's facts and provides a way for the reader to check up on the author and make sure he is telling the truth. Though I found several of his statements questionable, the first time I really felt the need to examine a reference was upon reading:

By the tenth century slavery had disappeared in most of the West, lingering only at the frontiers (12).  That centuries later slavery was reinstituted in Europe's New World colonies is a separate matter, although here too it was Christianity that produced and sustained the abolition movements (13).

Then, examining those footnotes:

12. Stark 2003a.

13. Ibid.

And looking this up in the Bibliography:

Stark, Rodney. 2003a. For the Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-Hunts, and the End of Slavery. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

I found it questionable that he referenced himself for factual, historical information. I could understand it if he was referencing himself for a particular argument he advanced, but I found this to be questionable. I did not purchase his prior work nor investigate the issue further; I'm not attempting to invalidate his claims as I don't have knowledge on the subject either way. While I find them interesting and may pursue it later, my main point in writing this was just to warn others in the group who may not have noticed to be careful in accepting endnotes as credibility-givers.

Looking Forward

As this week's assignment was the Introduction, which sets the context for the rest of the book, I consider it appropriate to mention what the Introduction raised that I will be particularly looking for as I progress through the book.

There are a couple topics I have already mentioned that I'm looking to read more on later in the book:

● How is Christianity responsible for the success of Western civilization?

● What is Stark's reasoning behind the claim that, contrary to many current explanations, the West didn't become successful by overcoming religion but rather because the progress-bringers were religious?

In addition, there is one more group of claims Stark makes (mostly around page xv) that I want to read more about. He claims that Christianity is responsible for the following important values present in modern society:

● private property rights

● separation of church and state

● spectacular technological and intellectual progress

● capitalism

In addition, I'm curious to read more about how Christianity was a better conduit of reason than Greece, since Stark claims that Greece is one of the societies that Christian culture was superior to in terms of promulgating reason and advancing to the society of today.

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Reading the Introduction brought up several questions in my mind that I was unable to answer. I have no problem looking up specific facts about the Middle Ages. However, when he generalizes about the entire period it is difficult to look up the facts in history books which are usually filled with concretes. If anyone who knows more than me about the Middle Ages would like to answer either of the two questions I have, I would find it helpful.

The first question:

Stark writes that "[t]he success of the West, including the rise of science, rested entirely on religious foundations, and the people who brought it about were devout Christians." Galileo seems to be an obvious counterexample where religion did not support the rise of science. Stark also writes that Christian doctrine could be modified to support new advances in the sciences. Galileo also seems to be a countereample of this. So I wonder: was Galileo an accident, outside of the norm for how Christians treat scientists advancing new rational ideas that contradict scripture? Is he an exception, the norm, or somewhere in between? In general, did Christianity really support science?

The second:

Stark claims that "the era from the fall of Rome through the Middle Ages was a time of spectacular technological and intellectual progress that erupted when innovation was freed from the grip of Roman despotism." Since this runs contrary to everything I've heard of the Middle Ages (and particularly the Dark Ages), I won't ask simply whether or not it's true. Rather, I'm curious if anyone knows what at all Stark is referring to in this claim. If anyone has examples in mind or knows this claim to be false, I would enjoy hearing it.

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Stark writes that "[t]he success of the West, including the rise of science, rested entirely on religious foundations, and the people who brought it about were devout Christians."  Galileo seems to be an obvious counterexample where religion did not support the rise of science.  Stark also writes that Christian doctrine could be modified to support new advances in the sciences.  Galileo also seems to be a countereample of this.  So I wonder: was Galileo an accident, outside of the norm for how Christians treat scientists advancing new rational ideas that contradict scripture?  Is he an exception, the norm, or somewhere in between?  In general, did Christianity really support science?

Galileo was certainly not an exception. The writings of Copernicus were condemned by the Church, as another well known example. I would venture that Darwin was lucky not to have been subject to the Inquisition. There is a lengthy book, titled A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, by Andrew D. White, which details the Church's running battles with science through the ages. It is available online, here: History of the Warfare I have only read the first chapter of this book so far, but it contains a wealth of examples.

Stark claims that "the era from the fall of Rome through the Middle Ages was a time of spectacular technological and intellectual progress that erupted when innovation was freed from the grip of Roman despotism."  Since this runs contrary to everything I've heard of the Middle Ages (and particularly the Dark Ages), I won't ask simply whether or not it's true.  Rather, I'm curious if anyone knows what at all Stark is referring to in this claim.  If anyone has examples in mind or knows this claim to be false, I would enjoy hearing it.

Stark gives a few dozen examples of the inventions from the Middle Ages in Chapter Two, such as: the water mill; wind mill; horse collar and horse shoe, saddle and stirrups; improved plow, the three field system of agriculture, mechanized cloth making, etc. And many of those were indeed important. But what has to be remembered is while he says he is dealing with the Dark Ages, he in fact speaks of inventions and innovations as far forward as the Battle of Lepanto, in 1571. That is eleven centuries. A couple of dozen inventions and innovations in eleven centuries is hardly what I would call "spectacular progress." What was the result of all this spectacular progress? As noted on page 70 of Andrew Bernstein's Capitalist Manifesto, " . . . it is estimated that per capita income did not grow at all in the thousand years from 500 to 1500 . . . "

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The first question:

Stark writes that "[t]he success of the West, including the rise of science, rested entirely on religious foundations, and the people who brought it about were devout Christians."  Galileo seems to be an obvious counterexample where religion did not support the rise of science.  Stark also writes that Christian doctrine could be modified to support new advances in the sciences.  Galileo also seems to be a countereample of this.  So I wonder: was Galileo an accident, outside of the norm for how Christians treat scientists advancing new rational ideas that contradict scripture?  Is he an exception, the norm, or somewhere in between?  In general, did Christianity really support science?

In my Translator's Introduction to Nicolaus Copernicus's On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, the following question is asked:

Why did Copernicus refrain so long from publishing De revolutionibus orbium coelestium?

Answer: Because, at least in part, he feared that at a time of ecclesiastical jitteriness, which arose out of the dissensions between Catholics and Protestants, his work might occasion sufficient scandal for him to be charged with impugning the authority of the Church on the grounds that the assertion that the earth was neither at rest nor at the centre of the world might be construed as contradicting one possible literal interpretation of certain passages in the Bible. But he does not explicitly foresee that anyone would be scandalized by construing as a loss to man's dignity the assertion that the corporeal heavens do not revolve around man's domicile. And, as a matter of fact, in scholastic theological thought man was a rather humble creature: the highest of the animals but the lowest of the created intellects, one whose original dignity had been corrupted by original sin, and whose present little dignity arose from the assumption of human nature by the Word of God in the Incarnation and not from any supposed revolution of the corporeal heavens about man's domicile. (p. 481, Volume 16, Encyclopaedia Britannica's Great Books of the Western World)

If I remember correctly, Copernicus's work was published after his death so that he avoided the persecution Galileo faced. One other difference between Galileo and Copernicus was Galileo's telescope. Not only could you read his work and be convinced that the Earth revolved around the Sun, but you could look at Jupiter with the telescope and see moons revolving around the planet. Jupiter's moons showed(seeing is believing) the power of man's reason. Using reason, Copernicus and Galileo predicted planetary motion. This demonstrated that man's intellect may not be as low as people thought.

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Stark states, “the Middle Ages was a time of spectacular technological and intellectual progress that erupted when innovation was freed from the grip of Roman despotism”. I honestly have no idea where he could have come to this conclusion. As Bryan Ward-Perkins and others have shown, the standard of living in Europe did not reach the level of the late Empire, prior to the Barbarian invasions, until the 17th Century. The entire economy of the early post-Roman world was vastly inferior to that of the Roman world. Homes were not designed as well, even the livestock was smaller then it was during the Roman world (presumably from a lack of food).

Another thing I believe will be a problem, is his definition of Capitalism, or rather his lack of a clear definition. In the introduction he has yet to explicitly define Capitalism and the few clues he leaves as to the nature of what he deems to be “Capitalism” seems to be inessentials, such as, “...regular investment to increase productivity-through either greater capacity or improved technology- and by motivating both management and labor through ever-rising payoffs.” Also his quote from Henri Pirenne that goes, “...established the fact that all the essential features of Capitalism-individual enterprise, advances in credit, commercial profits, speculation, etc.-are to be found from the twelfth century on”.

As someone mentioned before he seems to define it in economic terms rather then ethical and political terms as Objectivists would, so it is important that we do not try to apply an Objectivist definition of Capitalism to what he calls Capitalism in his book.

One last interesting item I would like to note is how he seems to imply that only through religion can this “victory of reason” be achieved. He stated that though Greek philosophy was dedicated to reason, reason was not applied to Greek Religion, which were still, in his words “mystery cults”.

I look forward to having these issues addressed and hopefully resolved during our discussions.

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Galileo was certainly not an exception. The writings of Copernicus were condemned by the Church, as another well known example. I would venture that Darwin was lucky not to have been subject to the Inquisition.

Another example of Christian intolerence towards men of Reason would be the execution of Messer Francesco da Ascoli who was burned at the stake for writting an essay by the name of "The Armillary Sphere". The agents of the Church tortured him, hoping he would renounce his own work, but he did not, so he burned for it.

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I looked in the Index of the book, and there is no entry for the Inquisition, oddly enough.  A book attributing the victory of reason to Christianity ought to address one of the most obvious pieces of evidence against that premise--the Inquisition--in which the Church suppressed dissent, and therefore, reason, on a massive scale.  I call it dishonest that Stark evaded that task.  And the best single example of that Christian suppression of reason, Galileo, is mentioned twice--neither time having anything to do with his being coerced by the Church to toe the Christian line.

In the 1990 edition of The New Encyclopaedia Britannica, I found the following under, Inquisition(p. 328)

The medieval Inquisition functioned only in a limited way in northern Europe; it was most employed in northern Italy and southern France. During the Reconquista in Spain the Catholic powers used it only occasionally; but, after the Muslims had been driven out, the Catholic monarchs of Aragon and Castile determined to enforce religious and political unity and requested a special institution to combat apostate former Jews and Muslims as well as such heretics as the Alumbrados. Thus in 1478 Pope Sixtus IV authorized the Spanish Inquisition.

The Spanish Inquisition was introduced into Sicily in 1517, but efforts to set it up in Naples and Milan failed.

Is it a coincidence that Stark talks about the success of Naples and Milan with capitalism, but the Inquisition failed in those two cities? Is it a coincidence that the Inquisition was successful in Spain where Stark argues that the failure of capitalism was not a regression but was never fully developed?

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WEEK 1'S ISSUES

USES OF ENDNOTES? Here is my view. Historians use endnotes for a variety of purposes. One is explanation of secondary issues that would slow down reading of the main text if discussed there. Another use is providing proof statements. Here the author can cite a particular primary source as a proof, or he can cite a secondary source that discusses various primary sources. Still another use of notes is simply to offer the reader a doorway to more information on the subject so the reader can make up his own mind. However, Prof. Stark's endnotes are so cryptic that I can't tell what he is doing. Presumably his ultra-concise notes are saying, "If you want to read more about why I said this, read such and such."

I don't have a problem with historians citing their own works if, in those works, they have presented a formal proof that is too long to include in the present book. Barring that exception, jedymastyr is right to say that a note offered as a proof should cite a source that either names the ultimate evidence or at least allows the reader to go further in his search for information. Whether Prof. Stark does either of those steps routinely with his notes, I don't know. I haven't examined them.

SUBSTANTIATION? As one or two VORSISG members have already noted, readers should not expect a writer to substantiate every statement he makes, particularly in the context-setting introduction to a book. If a writer tried to substantiate every one of his statements, he would then need to substantiate substantiations and so forth down to the level of sense-perception, resulting in a shelf of books not a single book.

For sure, however, the author should substantiate the essential elements of his argument. Of course, the level of substantiation depends also on the kind of book it is. If it is a book written to a mass audience, then I suppose the author is in effect saying, "You are reading this book because you want to know the conclusions I have reached as a result of my long studies." I don't buy that as an argument, but it is conventional. With modern typography, superscripted endnote numbers and the notes themselves need not obstruct reading of the main text. I believe the author should provide at least a pathway to further reading on every subject named in the text.

MEASURING STANDARD OF LIVING? How do Andrew Bernstein, Bryan Ward-Perkins, and others prove their statements about per-capita income and standards of living a thousand years ago? What sorts of evidence do they use or cite?

Another point is that per-capita income is not the only measure of prosperity. If PCI were to remain the same, but overall agricultural productivity were to increase, then population could grow because there is more food available. All other factors being equal, a bigger population is better because it increases the chances of another creative genius being born. So population growth too is a form of progress. (Of course, the ideal would be to have both PCI and total food production grow.)

COINCIDENCES? Rick's point about inquisitions being more effective in some locales than in others raises an important question: Why was there as much diversity as there was? If Galileo had stayed in Padua (which was often under the protection of the more commercially oriented city of Venice), would he have suffered the same level of persecution? (Angus Armitage, The World of Copernicus raises this point, on pp. 138-139.) Venice often rejected the "Roman" (papal) inquisition's attempts to enter the city of Venice and its nearby territories. (Venice had its own inquisition, as an institution, but generally it was less destructive, according to Paul F. Grendler, The Roman Inquisition and the Venetian Press, 1540-1605 and others I have read over the years. Lane, Venice, mentioned in my bibliography, discusses the Venetian inquisition, I recall.)

PERSECUTION -- NORM OR ANOMALY? VORSISG members have pointed out that the Catholic Church persecuted heretics and other enemies. Several questions arise. First, if persecution was the norm in Catholic Christian countries, why did men of the stature of Aquinas, Copernicus, and Galileo arise in western Christendom?

What I am getting at is this: Yes, some elements of Christendom did try to crush independence in Western Europe, at least in certain times and places, but what accounts for their failure to completely suppress it? Was it because there were other elements of western Christendom that supported innovators? And were those other, counter-balancing elements nonexistent in the other cultures -- such as eastern (Greek Orthodox) Christian culture?

Just think, all these issues raised so far in this topic-thread have arisen merely from the introduction to the book!

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MEASURING STANDARD OF LIVING? How do Andrew Bernstein, Bryan Ward-Perkins, and others prove their statements about per-capita income and standards of living a thousand years ago? What sorts of evidence do they use or cite?

Bryan Ward-Perkins uses concrete evidence, such as homes, agriculture, populations, the complexity of the pottery and art, the size of churches, the currency in use, etc. The name of the book is "The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization" for anyone interested.

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Bryan Ward-Perkins uses concrete evidence, such as homes, agriculture, populations, the complexity of the pottery and art, the size of churches, the currency in use, etc. The name of the book is "The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization" for anyone interested.

I don't understand. Did Bryan Ward-Perkins calculate a particular per-capita income for the Roman Empire at a particular time -- say, one-half ounce of gold per person (both slave and free) in the year 100 CE?

If so, how does a researcher go from "the complexity of the pottery" to a calculated value of PCI? By the way, whose pottery -- that of the recently conquered Brits, or that of the Egyptians, or that of the aristocracy in Naples?

Starting with "concrete evidence" is certainly the right first step. But there also should be a logical argument leading from that evidence to the conclusion. A specific example of his method will help. Perhaps, though, he doesn't describe his method. Instead does he simply present his conclusions? That would be understandable in a mass-audience book. But if so, where could the reader go to see the specifics? Does he provide endnotes that lead readers to technical treatises that provide the concretes and show his method in action?

Ultimately all ideas should be reducible to sense-perception -- even if it's only sense-perception of artifacts of the ancient past. That standard should apply to everyone -- Prof. Stark, Dr. Bernstein, and others. Of course, all of us must rely on others for specialized work on which we can build our own conclusions. No one has time to trace every element of our knowledge back to sense-perception. We must make judgments of the credibility of the testimony of supposed experts.

P. S. -- Nathanial Hale 1775, I am not asking you to do a lot of research. I am using your description of Bryan Ward-Perkins as an example to make a point: All claimants -- both those whose conclusions we like and those whose conclusions we don't like -- should be subject to the same standards.

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P. S. -- Nathanial Hale 1775, I am not asking you to do a lot of research. I am using your description of Bryan Ward-Perkins as an example to make a point: All claimants -- both those whose conclusions we like and those whose conclusions we don't like -- should be subject to the same standards.

I absolutely agree with this sentiment.

I don't understand. Did Bryan Ward-Perkins calculate a particular per-capita income for the Roman Empire at a particular time -- say, one-half ounce of gold per person (both slave and free) in the year 100 CE?

I am wondering if per-capita income is even an accurate measurement of a societies level of prosperity. What does it mean to have a per-capita income of one-half ounce of gold in 100 CE compared with one-half ounce of gold in 600 CE? You have to take into account the difference in the things a person owns in 100 CE as compared to 600 CE, with is qualitative. Wouldn't it be more accurate to simply look at things such as life span, amount of food available per person, amount of material goods, quality of material goods, etc... and make a judgement based upon that without coming up with a number value in Gold or Dollars?

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PERSECUTION -- NORM OR ANOMALY? VORSISG members have pointed out that the Catholic Church persecuted heretics and other enemies. Several questions arise. First, if persecution was the norm in Catholic Christian countries, why did men of the stature of Aquinas, Copernicus, and Galileo arise in western Christendom? 

What I am getting at is this: Yes, some elements of Christendom did try to crush independence in Western Europe, at least in certain times and places, but what accounts for their failure to completely suppress it? Was it because there were other elements of western Christendom that supported innovators? And were those other, counter-balancing elements nonexistent in the other cultures -- such as eastern (Greek Orthodox) Christian culture?

pg. x Introduction: Reason and Progress

While other world religions emphasized mystery and intuition, Christianity alone embraced reason and logic as the primary guide to religious truth.

My understanding is that Christianity is more of a religion of and for the individual rather than a community oriented religion as compared to the Muslim and Jewish religions.

One of the elements that perhaps would have allowed for innovation among some Christians was, as Stark points out, the fact that the Church was oftentimes open to modification.

pg. x Introduction: Reason and Progress

At least in principle, if not always in fact, Christian doctrines could always be modified in the name of progress as demonstrated by reason.

In my opinion, a religion that is open to modification and evolutionary is also open to the abuse of power.

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  However, Prof. Stark's endnotes are so cryptic that I can't tell what he is doing. Presumably his ultra-concise notes are saying, "If you want to read more about why I said this, read such and such."

Prof. Stark's use of endnotes has also come to my attention and is the subject for my post for Week 2. It is interesting that several VORSISG members have questions about Stark's use of footnotes. The value of this study group is starting to develop because it would take lots of time for one individual to decipher all of his footnotes.

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WEEK 2: Chapter 1

The assignment this week is to write about Ch. 1. My summary of key points follows.

PART I: FOUNDATIONS

CH. 1: "BLESSINGS OF RATIONAL THEOLOGY"

Prof. Stark makes many fascinating and controversial statements in this 27-page chapter. [Comments in square brackets are mine.]

UNTITLED INTRODUCTION. Professor Stark defines theology [which etymologically means "God-science"] as the "science of faith," the science that consists of "formal reasoning about God." ["Formal reasoning" here means rationalism, as Objectivists use the term; see “Rationalism vs. Empiricism,” The Ayn Rand Lexicon.] As Prof. Stark describes it, but in my words, theology is the fundamental science because God is the cause of all. If we understand God (metaphysics), using faith and reason (epistemology), we will know what to do (ethics), both in relation to God and to each other. [Thus, Ayn Rand (ARL, p. 411) is right to describe religion as an early form of philosophy -- especially, I would say, religion that includes a theology (as Prof. Stark has defined it).]

Using Augustine as an example theologian, Prof. Stark holds that the central Catholic Church view of the role of reason has been to see reason as a partner with faith -- in certain matters. Stark doesn't spell it out, but pp. 7-8 imply it: We need faith in those areas in which reason is too limited to help as a sole answer. What are those areas? Knowledge of God and his plan for us, which includes knowing what we need to do to save our souls for eternal bliss in the next world. In other words, we need faith to initially accept the idea that there is a God, that he has a certain nature, and that he has a certain plan. We can gather information about these issues from Holy Scripture -- if we have faith that they are telling us the truth and if we use our "reason" [rationalism + rationalization] to "properly" interpret the Scripture. [This formula -- (1) Holy Scripture "rationally" interpreted, (2) under the guidance of the authoritative Church, (3) working from Tradition -- was spelled out by Bishop Augustine, who lived 354-430.]

"CHRISTIAN FAITH IN PROGRESS". Prof. Stark, pp. 8-9, holds that, in Objectivist terms, the essential distinguishing characteristic of (western) Christianity is "faith in progress," which is the belief that not only will conditions change, but they will get better. Those conditions include understanding God and God's will. That last point is especially important because it arises, Prof. Stark says, from the peculiar nature of the New Testament, especially the Gospels: They are accounts written by different men at different times and did not always agree, leading Christian scholars to "reason" about the differences.

Christianity, Prof. Stark says, is primarily a religion devoted to discovering correct beliefs rather than blindly following correct practices (which Prof. Stark sees in Judaism and Islam).

Christians highly value reason, Prof. Stark says (pp. 9-10, and first full sentence on p. 12). The explanation is that (in my summary): God is rational; God made the universe and therefore it is rational in design; and God gave man a spark of His own divine reason in order to allow man to understand both the rational universe and (to a limited extent) God himself.

"THEOLOGY AND SCIENCE". Prof. Stark holds that the achievements of scientists in the 1500s and 1600s in W. Europe were made by men who were:

- Deeply religious, following a religion whose God is a certain kind of being, a rational one who made the world operate according to fixed law and who gave reason -- the ability to recognize those laws -- to man.

- Completing the scientific work begun by scholastics, particularly in the universities in the 1100s and later centuries.

As Prof. Stark defines it, science is: "a method utilized in organized efforts to formulate explanations of nature, always subject to modifications and corrections through systematic observations." Notice that Prof. Stark does tie science to observations, but explicitly only at the stage of correcting explanations derived from some source Prof. Stark does not name. [This approach is consistent with his view, elsewhere, of reason as rationalism.] Prof. Stark does not, in this definition of science, mention induction. On the other hand, he holds (rightly) that science can deal only with observable natural phenomena, but he wrongly concludes that reason is therefore "limited." Science, he says rightly, cannot speak of God. [At best, there is confusion in Prof. Stark’s understanding of reason. That confusion creates pitfalls for him and his readers.]

Other, earlier cultures -- Chinese, ancient Greek, Roman, and Islamic -- could not develop science because they were missing basic philosophical or theological prerequisites: in particular, they were missing the idea that the world is a place where change operates on fixed, discoverable laws. Further, Prof. Stark says, if there is no rational being (God) who creates a rational world and rational humans, then science will be impossible. The absence of those ideas is why science didn't arise in non-Christian cultures, Prof. Stark says.

"MORAL INNOVATIONS" Christian theology -- including its respect for man's reason as a gift from the God who designed a rational world -- provided a foundation for science, Prof. Stark says. Christian theology also provided a conception of "human nature" (“theory of man,” in Objectivist terms) as well as an ethics and a rights-based foundation for politics. Note that Prof. Stark again proceeds in hierarchical order. Also, he says that part of the foundation that Christian theology provided was the idea of individualism, by which he appears to mean recognizing each man as a separate person rather than as a unit of a tribe or other collective.

"THE RISE OF INDIVIDUALISM" Prof. Stark holds (p. 24) that "the Western sense of individualism was largely a Christian creation." Stark offers Augustine as an example of a Christian philosopher who advocated individualism, as well as the concomitant belief that each individual is responsible for being virtuous as a path to salvation of his soul for the afterlife.

Prof. Stark notes that the idea of virtue presupposes the idea of free will, another contribution of Augustine, Prof. Stark says. [He largely ignores the contradiction implicit in the view that (2) God created the world and the people in it, causing them to be what they are, but (2) individuals still have freedom of choice.] Prof. Stark does say Christians did not create the idea of free will (the pagan philosophers did), but Christians embedded it into their Christian philosophy.

"THE ABOLITION OF MEDIEVAL SLAVERY". This section applies Prof. Stark’s theme – Christian theology provided a foundation for the good things that emerged in Western Civilization – to a particular example. Prof. Stark contends that Christian individualism and respect for rights – themselves products of “theological progress” (pp. 30-31) -- led to the near-abolition of slavery in the early and central medieval periods. He contrasts the rarity of slaves in the Middle Ages to the widespread use and acceptance of slavery in the ancient Greek and Roman cultures. When slavery did return to Europe in the Late Middle Ages and later, the inspiration came from the Muslims, Prof. Stark says (p. 30).

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WEEK 1'S ISSUES

MEASURING STANDARD OF LIVING? How do Andrew Bernstein, Bryan Ward-Perkins, and others prove their statements about per-capita income and standards of living a thousand years ago? What sorts of evidence do they use or cite?

Another point is that per-capita income is not the only measure of prosperity. If PCI were to remain the same, but overall agricultural productivity were to increase, then population could grow because there is more food available. All other factors being equal, a bigger population is better because it increases the chances of another creative genius being born. So population growth too is a form of progress. (Of course, the ideal would be to have both PCI and total food production grow.)

Bernstein cites several studies in different books. One of these books, The State of Humanity, edited by Julian Simon, I happen to have. It indicates some of the methods of determining standards of living in earlier centuries.

Life expectancy, height, infant mortality, death rates, and similar examples of Sen's "functionings" measure aspects of the standard of living directly.  Health, longevity, and nutrition are valuable in all societies, so we can compare different societies and cultures. Consumption statistics of individual commodities are also a useful measure, though here we must also be careful.  Whatever commodities we pick, they will not be as inherently valuable as health and longevity.  (From "The Standard of Living Through the Ages," by Joyce Burnette and Joel Mokyr, p. 135, in The State of Humanity, ed. by Simon.)

Then the study makes some generalizations about per capita income through the ages, and gives the figures that Bernstein used as cited in my earlier post. I'll quote this, in spite of its being lengthy, because it's to the point of our questions. After noting that China and Japan also experienced some good periods of growth (despite the complete lack of Christianity there, I would add), the authors turn to Europe:

Europe before the Industrial Revolution seems to have experienced some per capita growth, but there is disagreement about how much.  Growth was often reversed by cataclysmic effects such as the German Thirty Years War or the invasion of Northern Italy.  In much of Europe, living standards before 1800 were not high, even by absolute standards.  It has been suggested that Europeans worked a shorter work-week before the Industrial Revolution because they simply did not have enough nourishment to work full-time . . . Periodic famines remained a serious threat until deep into the eighteenth century and in some regions until much later.  There was growth, but it was sporadic, and certainly slower before 1700 than after . . .

If growth rates were lower than after the Industrial Revolution, how low were they?  Some scholars claim that growth was nearly nonexistent.  Maddison suggests per capita income did not grow between 500 and 1500, and that the average annual growth rate of per capita GDP was 0.1 percent between 1500 and 1700 (Maddison, 1982). Although this is probably a good approximation for much of the continent over the long run, there were important exceptions.  In a recent study comparing the Domesday Book (1086) with Gregory King's statistics (1688), Graeme Snooks finds much more growth between the eleventh and seventeenth centuries.  He calculates that real per capita income in 1688 was 5.8 times that of 1086.  This corresponds to an average annual rate of growth of 0.29 percent over this period (Snooks, 1990).  This finding, though, uses only two data points, so the result is sensitive to the representativeness of the two dates.  The estimate also will not reveal exactly when the growth occurred, and there is no reason to expect that growth was steady.  Indeed, it seems likely that most of it occurred between 1100 and 1300, and that after that growth slowed down.

Of course, if Snooks is right about the extent of growth, the standard of living in Western Europe must have been very low in 1086.  If the average person in 1086 had about one-sixth the income of the average person in 1688, he or she did not have much.  Snooks claims that English peasants in 1086 had little more than enough food to keep them alive, and sometimes not even that.  Houses were crude, temporary structures.  A peasant owned one set of clothes, best described as rags, and little else.  As late as the fifteenth century expenditures of the masses on non-food items such as clothing, heat, light, and rent were probably only 13 percent of all expenditures (Snooks, 1990, p. 18).  In comparison, a mason in Berlin in 1800 spent about 27 percent of his budget on non-food items (Braudel, 1967).  This suggests a low standard of living indeed. (Burnette and Mokyr, pp. 136-137, in Simon, The State of Humanity.) 

Another study from The State of Humanity, "Human Mortality Throughout History and Prehistory," by Samuel H. Preston, notes that:

Most of these records suggest that life expectancy from prehistoric times until 1400 or so was in the range of 20-30 years . . .

Confidence in the range of 20-30 for life expectancy in the era before 1600 is enhanced by the use of demographic models.  since the world's population was growing very slowly during this period, life expectancy at birth was, to a very close approximation, the reciprocal of the birth rate.  Given the pattern of fecundity and the apparent absence of significant anti-natal practices, the birth rate was quite unlikely to have fallen outside the range of 0.033-0.050 births per capita per year, implying life expectancies in the range of 20-30 years. (Preston, p. 30, in Simon, The State of Humanity)

So life expectancy did not experience any significant rise during the Middle Ages. Julian Simon appended a world population chart from 1600 BC to the present at the end of the Preston study. It showed the population from the beginning of the present era (1 AD) through roughly 1400, again, was basically a flatline. After 1400, it begins ascending, and then at about 1800 (roughly at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution), it goes almost straight up like a cliff, to the present day. (Editor's Note, p. 35, in Simon, The State of Humanity)

Overall, my point is not that there wasn't any growth during the Middle Ages, but simply that to characterize the growth as "spectacular," as Stark does, is flat wrong. I've seen no data to support his assertions.

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Week 2: Laying Down a Shaky Foundation

In Part 1: Foundations, Prof. Stark writes, “According to any edition of Webster’s, “scholastic” means “pedantic and dogmatic,” denoting the sterility of medieval church scholarship. John Locke, the eighteenth-century British philosopher, dismissed the Scholastics as “the great mintmasters” of useless terms meant “to cover their ignorance.” (p. 5)

According to Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, dogmatic is not mentioned in any definition of scholastic and Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Thesaurus confirms this. In the Thesaurus for dogmatic, I find: DICTATORIAL, authoritarian, authoritative, dictative, doctrinaire, magisterial. Under pedantic: too narrowly concerned with scholarly matters: academic, bookish, book-learned, booky, quodlibetic, scholastic. There is no reference to dogmatic.

Concerning John Locke’s reference to “ the great mintmasters,” I think a look at what Prof. Stark is referring to should be considered. He is referring to Concerning Human Understanding Book III. Of Words, Chapter X. Of the Abuse of Words . John Locke starts out the chapter with

1. Woeful abuse of words. Besides the imperfection that is naturally in language, and the obscurity and confusion that is so hard to be avoided in the use of words, there are several wilful faults and neglects which men are guilty of in this way of communication, whereby they render these signs less clear and distinct in their signification than naturally they need to be. (P. 291, Volume 35, The Great Books by Encyclopaedia Britannica)

The “great mintmasters” phrase is in I. Some words introduced without clear ideas annexed to them, even in their first original. ( I think the whole quote is necessary so that the context of the phrase can be considered.)

One may observe, in all languages, certain words that, if they be examined, will be found in their first original, and their appropriated use, not to stand for any clear and distinct ideas. These, for the most part, the several sects of philosophy and religion have introduced. For their authors or promoters, either affecting something singular, and out of the way of common apprehensions, or to support some strange opinions, or cover some weakness of their hypothesis, seldom fail to coin new words, and such as, when they come to be examined, may justly be called insignificant terms. For, having either had no determinate collection of ideas annexed to them when they were first invented; or at least such as, if well examined, will be bound inconsistent, it is no wonder, if, afterwards, in the vulgar use of the same party, they remain empty sounds, with little or no signification, amongst those who think it enough to have them often in their mouths, as the distinguishing characters of their Church or School, without much troubling their heads to examine what are the precise ideas they stand for. I shall not need here to heap up instances; every man’s reading and conversation will sufficiently furnish him. Or if he wants to be better stored, the great mintmasters of this kind of terms, I mean the Schoolmen and Metaphysicians(under which I think the disputing natural and moral philosophers of these latter ages may be comprehended) have wherewithal abundantly to content him. (P. 291-292, Volume 35, The Great Books by Encyclopaedia Britannica)

It appears to me that in the first paragraph of Prof. Stark’s Part 1: Foundations, he is attempting to establish a package deal. Why? On p. 7, Stark writes, “…:the point being that an accurate account of any aspect of Christian theology must be based on major, authoritative figures.” My conclusion, “The dogmatic takes precedence over the pedantic.”

Prof. Stark continues, “I will quote minor figures only when they expressed views ratified by the major theologians, keeping in mind that the authoritative church position on many matters often evolved, sometimes to the extent of reversing earlier teachings.” (p.7)

Prof. Stark concludes his introduction to Part I: Foundations with the following, “Of course, some influential churchmen opposed the primacy given to reason and argued that faith was best served by mysticism and spiritual experiences.” Ironically, the most inspiring advocate of this position expressed his views in elegantly reasoned theology. (Footnote 12)" (p.8) The(Footnote 12) is “12. Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (1090 – 1153).” (p. 240)

I was curious about why Stark does not mention Saint Bernard in the main text but has the need to reference him. I found the following facts in Encyclopaedia Brittanica about Saint Bernard.

1. Under Pillar of the Church.

The mature and most active phase of Bernard’s career occurred between 1130 and 1145. In these years both Clairvaux and Rome, the centre of gravity of medieval Christendom, focussed upon Bernard....As the confidant of five popes, he considered it his role to assist in healing the church of wounds inflicted by the antipopes(those elected popes contrary to prevailing clerical procedures), to oppose the rationalistic influence of the greatest and most popular dialectician of the age Peter Abelard, and to cultivate the friendship of the greatest churchmen of the time.(Volume 2, 1990 ed. p. 145)

2. St. Bernard was declared a doctor of the church in 1830 and was extolled in 1953 as doctor mellifluus in an encyclical of Pius XII.(Volume 2, 1990 ed. p.145)

St. Bernard was more than just a minor figure. It looks like Prof. Stark is attempting to establish authoritative church figures as the source for the reason that created capitalism. Because of this, he also needs to denounce any authoritative figures who stressed faith instead of reason. He attempts to do this by claiming they are minor figures. The fact of the matter is the Catholic Church recognized Saint Bernard(1953) before they recognized their mistake concerning Galileo(1996).

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In Chapter One, The Blessings of Rational Theology, Stark defines rational theology as "formal reasoning about God," (p. 5). I take that as an admission that rational theology in nothing other than rationalization of scripture and revelation. God's existence is not open to question--only his "revealed words" may be debated.

An issue Stark hasn't addressed yet, and I expect he never will, is why we should believe anyone who claims that God spoke to him. These "revelations," after all, are merely reported to us by some human being. We are just supposed to accept that person's word for it. Another area off limits to reason, evidently.

Science, also, must accept its limits: "Clearly, then, science is limited to statements about natural and material reality--about things that are at least in principle observable. Hence, there are entire realms of discourse that science is unable to address, including such matters as the existence of God," (pp. 12-13). Very convenient indeed! God, being non-material, is inaccesible to science.

In a final attempt to prove that Christians valued reason properly, Stark quotes Augustine: "Then [Augustine] added that although it is necessary 'for faith to precede reason in certain matters of great moment that cannot yet be grasped, surely the very small portion of reason that persuades us of this must precede faith,'" (pp. 7-8). No portion of reason persuades me that faith must precede reason. That is persuaded Augustine is irrelevant.

On page 7, Stark writes that only certain Christian representatives are to be looked at with respect to the church's fostering of reason. Again, this is very convenient for his thesis. But he cannot be allowed to get away with this. He is guilty of the charge he levels against others of selectively culling theological statements that support their cause. He quotes Augustine where it suits his thesis, but nowhere does he mention that Augustine was a believer in predestination, an anti-rational determinist concept.

In keeping with this selective culling of Church thinking, St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1091-1153) is only mentioned once in Stark's book---to dismiss his views because, Stark claims, they did not ultimately prevail. According to W.T. Jones, Bernard was a mystic who became a "maker and breaker of popes . . . the driving force behind the Crusades, and a major political power in the Europe of his day," (W.T. Jones, The Medieval Mind, p. 198). Bernard said "I believe though I do not comprehend, and I hold by faith what I cannot grasp with the mind." He was one of the major Church figures who opposed Peter Abelard's (1079-1142) teaching and writing because it applied reason to the writings of the Church fathers, as for instance in Abelard's book, Sic et Non.

Whether Bernard's views won out in the long run or not, they certainly held sway while he was alive, which was during a time Stark claims the Church was fostering reason. They were prevalent enough to help destroy Abelard, one of the main defenders of reason, such as it was, in that era. However, according to Jones, " . . . for Bernard the real criminal was not so much the individual Abelard as it was reason, with its lust for proof and evidence. Since, once we enter the rational road, there seems no end save the blind alley of heresy and damnation, we ought, Bernard held, to refuse to enter it at all," (Jones, The Medieval Mind, p. 200).

Stark contrasts Islam and Judaism with Christianity with regard to how they treat their scriptures. Here, Christianity does appear the lesser of two evils. Islam and Judaism, according to Stark, for the most part are strict constructionists of their scripture, whereas Christian theologians can at least argue on God's meaning, if not on his existence or that the Bible contains his revealed word. So there is greater room for a strictly limited form of reason in Christianity, such as that practiced by Aquinas. I believe that much to be true.

Totally absent from this comparison, however, is the rational alternative---having no scripture at all, but simply a reason based philosophy. That is something Stark doesn't want the reader to consider a possibility, evidently, so he never mentions it.

Stark also cites several Christian theologians who believe in the possibility of material progress, contrasting this with Islam, which seems to believe it is all downhill after Muhammad's time; and China, whose scholars want only "classic" arts to be studied, and all new-fangled arts ignored. Not being an expert on China or Islam, I cannot say whether these assertions are accurate or not.

At this point Stark points to a Christian belief that may, actually, be one of the reasons (but certainly not the only reason) that science advanced in the West much more than anywhere else, given that all nations labored under some form of irrational religious dominance: "Moreover, because God is a rational being and the universe is his personal creation, it necessarily has a rational, lawful, stable structure, awaiting increased human comprehension. This was the key to many intellectual undertakings, among them the rise of science." I do believe some scientists, such as Newton, held this belief, and therefore were encouraged to investigate nature, that is, to practice science.

But there are several problems with this idea, also. First would be that there is no God. If, however, a person accepts that irrational idea, and presumably most people always have, he must also consider the possibility that God might take it into his mind to change the laws of nature at any moment, since he is all powerful and can do anything he takes a mind to, like flooding the earth to wipe out most of humanity when they annoy him. That is not an idea conducive to scientific study. And finally I do not see what proof there is that the mythical God figure is rational. An angry and jealous God, yes, but rational?

Stark criticizes other religions for holding that the universe is "eternal . . . without beginning or purpose" (p. 15) and has no creator. "Consequently, the universe is thought to be a supreme mystery . . . " (p. 15). So that there is no point to pursuing science, according to Stark. If ancient peoples drew that conclusion from that set of facts, they missed a great opportunity--for they had it exactly right. The universe is eternal, without beginning or purpose, and has no creator. It simply is. It is Christianity that had it all wrong, positing a creator and a universe that came to be out of nothing.

But the West, Stark reiterates, believed that "creation" could be and ought to be understood. And "to the extent that religion inspires efforts to comprehend God's handiwork, knowledge will be forthcoming, and because to comprehend something fully it is necessary to explain it, science arises as the 'handmaiden' of theology. And that's precisely how those who took part in the great achievements of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries saw themselves: as pusuing the secrets of the creation," (pp. 15-16).

Speaking of the Chinese philosophers, Stark again leaps to the incorrect conclusion that science cannot develop where it is believed that the universe "simply is and always was," (p. 16). Given an uncreated universe, Stark claims, "There is no reason to suppose that it functions according to rational laws or that it could be comprehended in physical rather than mystical terms," (p. 16). Why not? No explanation. Stark seems not to have heard of the law of identity, that entities act in accordance with their nature, and therefore do function according to rational laws.

That the Chinese and others did not develop science based on their belief in an eternal universe does not prove that science could not be developed from that premise. This is an important point, since Stark may eventually claim that even today science cannot exist without Christianity, for just this shoddy type of reason.

In a section where Stark castigates the Greeks for not developing science, he is conspicuously silent about reason---since it was the Greeks who developed reason. He mentions a Greek belief in cosmological cycles as one of the impediments to the development of science. Again, I am not an expert on the development of science in history. But I think he is selling the Greeks short in this respect.

Next Stark turns to what he calls moral innovations. He claims that Christianity was the first to develop the idea of individualism, while other cultures were focused on people collectively, or as citizens of a polis or state. If true, this would be a significant advance.

Finally, Stark credits Christianity for the virtual abolition of slavery in the West. Stark, characteristically, overstates his case by saying that slavery ended in Europe "only because the church extended its sacraments to all slaves and then managed to impose a ban on the enslavement of Christians (and of Jews)." Why Stark makes such categorical statements is beyond me. No doubt Christianity did have a lot to do with the abolition of slavery. But other factors contributed as well, such as economic considerations, in spite of his dismissal of that idea.

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WEEK 1'S ISSUES

PERSECUTION -- NORM OR ANOMALY? VORSISG members have pointed out that the Catholic Church persecuted heretics and other enemies. Several questions arise. First, if persecution was the norm in Catholic Christian countries, why did men of the stature of Aquinas, Copernicus, and Galileo arise in western Christendom? 

What I am getting at is this: Yes, some elements of Christendom did try to crush independence in Western Europe, at least in certain times and places, but what accounts for their failure to completely suppress it? Was it because there were other elements of western Christendom that supported innovators? And were those other, counter-balancing elements nonexistent in the other cultures -- such as eastern (Greek Orthodox) Christian culture?

My answer to the question of what accounts for the appearance of such figures as Aquinas and Galileo is twofold: the heritage of Greece--reason and rational philosophy--; and political freedom. In other words, they arose in spite of the Church. Eastern Christendom had the Greek heritage of reason, but lacked the political freedom.

The reason these people kept popping up in spite of Christian persecution is that man is not easily intimidated, especially not rational man. No doubt, though, many potential scientists were intimidated in the West when they saw the Galileos and Brunos silenced by being burned at the stake, or forced to recant, and we are all the worse off because of it, thanks to the Church.

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