restricted access How Christianity (and Capitalism) Led to Science
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Historically Speaking March/April 2006 The Victory of Reason: A Forum* INA RECENTADDRESS AT THE UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA, W. ROBERT CONNOR asked "where have all the Big Questions gone? " Connor must not have been aware ofsociologist Rodney Stark's work. In his widely discussed new book, The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success (Random House, 2005), Stark announced that Christianity, especially medieval Catholicism, led to the rise ofcapitalism, freedom , science, and the Western miracle. His boldclaims run against the grain ofalmost everything coming out ofthe world history communityfor the last couple ofdecades. Rodney Stark is one ofthe mostprominent and controversial sociologists ofour time. University ofChicago sociologist, Roman Catholic priest, and novelist Andrew Greeley has gone sofar as to compare Stark to the giants ofsociology, Weber andDurkheim. His substantial work in sociology ofreligion has certainly shaken things up. Will his historical work do the same? We begin ourforum with Stark's essay drawnfrom The Victory of Reason. A panel ofscholars (Ricardo Duchesne, Jack Goldstone, Joel Mokyr, andJames Muldoon) respondto Stark, who concludes theforum with a rejoinder. Historically Speaking co-editor DonaldA. Yerxas briefinterview ofRodney Stark (conducted on February 7, 2006)follows. How Christianity (and Capitalism) Led to Science* Rodney Stark When Europeans first began to explore the globe, their greatest surprise was not the existence of the Western Hemisphere, but the extent of their own technological superiority over the rest of the world. Not only were the proud Maya, Aztec, and Inca nations helpless in the face ofEuropean intruders, so were the fabled civilizations of the East: China, India, and Islamic nations were "backward" by comparison with 15th-century Europe. How had that happened? Why was it that, although many civilizations had pursued alchemy, the study led to chemistry only in Europe? Why was it +This forum is supported by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation. * From Rodney Stark's The Victory ofReason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success. © 2005 by Rodney Stark. Published by arrangement with Random House, an imprint of Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc. that, for centuries, Europeans were the only ones possessed of eyeglasses, chimneys, reliable clocks, heavy cavalry, or a system of music notation? How had the nations that had arisen from the rubble ofRome so greatly surpassed the rest ofthe world? Several recent authors have discovered the secret to Western success in geography. But that same geography also long sustained European cultures that were well behind those of Asia. Other commentators have traced the rise ofthe West to steel, or to guns and sailing ships, and still others have credited a more productive agriculture. The trouble is that those answers are part of what needs to be explained: Why did Europeans excel at metallurgy , shipbuilding, or farming? The most convincing answer to those questions attributes Western dominance to the rise of capitalism, which took place only in Europe. Even the most militant enemies of capitalism credit it with creating previously undreamed of productivity and progress. In March/April 2006 · Historically Speaking The Communist Manifesto Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels proposed that before the rise of capitalism, humans engaged "in the most slothful indolence"; the capitalist system was "the first to show what man's activity can bring about." Capitalism achieved that miracle through regular reinvestment to increase productivity, either to create greater capacity or improve technology, and by motivating both management and labor through ever-rising payoffs. Supposing that capitalism did produce Europe's own "great leap forward," it remains to be explained why capitalism developed only in Europe. Some writers have found the roots of capitalism in the Protestant Reformation; others have traced it back to various political circumstances. But, if one digs deeper, it becomes clear that the truly fundamental basis not only for capitalism , but also for the rise ofthe West, was an extraordinary faith in reason. A series of developments, in which reason won the day, gave unique shape to Western culture and institutions. And the most important of those victories occurred within Christianity. While the other world religions emphasized mystery and intuition, Christianity alone embraced reason and logic as the primary guides to religious truth...


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