restricted access Christianity and the Rise of the West: Rodney Stark and the Defeat of Reason
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12 Historically Speaking March/April 2006 James Muldoon is emeritus professor of history at Rutgers University and an invited research scholar at the John Carter Brown Library. He is the author q/Tdentity on the Medieval Irish Frontier: Degenerate Englishmen, Wild Irishmen, Middle Nations (University Press ofFlorida, 2003). 1 Hilaire Belloc, Europe and the Faith (Constable, 1920); James J. Walsh, The Thirteenth, Greatest ofCenturies, 2nd ed. (Catholic Summer School Press, 1909). More recently, a French scholar wrote in the same vein: see Régine Pernoud, Pour enfinir avec le Moyen Age (Editions du Seuil, 1977); Those Terrible Middle Ages: Debunking the Myths, trans. Anne Englund Nash (Ignatius Press, 2000). Harold J. Berman made a similar argument, one restricted to legal development, in his Law and Revolution: The Formation ofthe Western Legal Tradition (Harvard University Press, 1983), esp. 175. 2 Belloc, Europe and the Faith, 331. 3 Rodney Stark, The Victory ofReason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success (Random House, 2005), 235. 4 Bernard's criticism ofAbelard's rationalism is conveniently available in Brian Tierney, ed., The Middle Ages, vol. I, Sources ofMedieval History (McGraw-Hill, 1992), 181-82. 5 On the Cistercians, see Louis Baeck, The Mediterranean Tradition in Economic Thought (Routledge, 1994), 125-136; Constance Berman, The Cistercian Evolution: The Invention ofa Religious Order in Twelfth-Century Europe (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000). 6 Etienne Gilson, History ofChristian Philosophy in the Middle Ages (Random House, 1955) and his The Spirit ofMediaeval Philosophy, trans. A. H. C. Downs (Scribner's Sons, 1936). 7 A. C. Crombie, Medieval and Early Modern Science, 2 vols., rev. ed. (Doubleday, 1959); Crombie, Robert Grosseteste and the Origins of Experimental Science, 1100-1700 (Clarendon Press, 1962); John F. McGovern, "The Rise of New Economic Attitudes—Economic Humanism, Economic Nationalism—During the Later Middle Ages and the Renaissance, A. D. 1200-1550," Traditio 26 (1970): 218-253; McGovern, "The Rise of New Economic Attitudes in Canon and Civil Law, A. D. 1200-1550," The Jurist 32 (1972): 39-50; and McGovern, "Private Property and the Jurists, A. D. 1200-1500," in Steven B. Bowman and Blanche E. Cody, eds., In lure Veritas: Studies in Canon Law in Memory of Schafer Williams (University of Cincinnati College of Law, 1991), 131-158. 8 Lynn White, Medieval Technology and Social Change (Oxford University Press, 1965). 9 For Luther's attack on theological rationalism, see Hans J. Hillerbrand, ed., The Reformation in Its Own Words (SCM Press, 1964), 53-54; Richard Marius, Martin Luther: The Christian Between God andDeath (Harvard University Press, 1999), 125, 152, 154. For Luther and book burning, see Roland H. Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life ofMartin Luther (Abinton-Cokesbury Press, 1950), 165-66. 10Francis Fukuyama, The End ofHistory and the Last Man (Free Press, 1992), 216. Christianity and the Rise of the West: Rodney Stark and the Defeat of Reason Joel Mokyr ^ odney Stark argues that Christianity ^ created Reason and Reason created the Rise of the West. If Reason means anything, it must mean that hypotheses need to be confronted by facts and rejected if the facts prove inconsistent. It also means that we take Einstein's famous dictum that "everything should be made as simple as possible but not simpler" seriously . By those tests, Stark's essay seems as good evidence against his own hypothesis as can be found, since whatever else one can find in it, Reason is not it. Stark is a noted expert on the sociology of religion. But when it comes to economic history, he seems to be somewhat elastic in his reliance on the facts. Slavery (to say nothing of other forms of unfree labor such as serfdom) did not disappear in the Christian West in the 11th century; windpower was not introduced in Europe "by the 10th century"—but at the earliest by the middle of the 12th century and in all likelihood copied from Islamic societies; and surely by 1450 or so Europe was still inferior to China with The causal logic of Victory of Reason employs a highly simplistic "correlation is causation" methodology. regard to shipbuilding, metallurgy, and (possibly ) farming.1 The proud "Maya" (sic) and other indigenous American empires were not "helpless...