A while back a poster on this site, Judge asked a number of questions about points I was making, which later culminated in a lengthy post on his own blog. I have wanted to respond to a number of points in part because they are interesting questions, and also because I enjoy dialoguing with Judge.
I personally don’t consider this a ‘debate’ because I don’t think that is his intention to merely contect my points. The response has been somewhat delayed because I have been busier than usual lately, and it is spring in Minnesota when a young man’s fancy turns to cleaning his garage and fertilizing his lawn. 🙂
This is the first of what will be a two, possibly 3 part post.
Jack says: I wasn’t referencing Harris, but if this is his point, then he is plainly wrong – science as a methodology is largely the result of Christian thinkers (like Newton, Pascal, and Bacon) who readily intertwined their scientific thought, philosophy and theology. But science and Christianity are different in their effects on the acquisition of knowledge in this respect – Christianity forms the basis of societies, cultures, and institutions in which human thought can operate in such a way as to allow human flourishing. Science has no creative power in this regard. While science is the product of such societies and can be used as a tool within such societies for much good it is not itself useful as a foundation for human culture; and the outcomes of trying to use it that way can be horrendous.
A few things to say here. Firstly, I find the statement on the origins of science a bit too convenient, as it wittingly forgets to mention fathers of the scientific method who were famously at odds with Christian institutions or their predominant doctrines (Copernico, Galileo, even Leonardo, all of whom precede your thinkers, incidentally). Far more importantly, though, you try to sketch a difference between Christianity and science without bothering to substantiate your points. Yes, if scientific discourse is selectively adopted as the spine of an ethical system, the results can be disastrous (but bear in mind that Nazism wasn’t exclusively the product of eugenetics, perhaps not even primarily – its roots were cultural and historical as well, harkening back to Germanic mythology, romanticised knight-hood militarism, Nietzschean philosophy, among others. The swastika, an ancient mythological symbol, should be an illuminating example, and remember that Hitler was an artist).
A few thoughts; I don’t know that one would rightly put Copernicus, Galileo and Leonardo ‘at odds’ with Christianity per se. Copernicus and Galileo certainly challenged the notion of geocentricism, a stance adopted by the Roman Catholic church via the Scholasticism of the medieval period that brought Aristotelian paradigms into Church tradition. None of the three men ever rejected Catholicism, indeed Copernicus was a Catholic cleric, and some of Leonardo’s most notable works were religious in nature. Galileo had issues with the Church, but he can’t in the least be described as an atheist. And Galileo was a contemporary with Bacon, not a predecessor. Interestingly Galileo suffered from the Counter-Reformation, while Bacon seems to have benefited from the Reformation. None of this seems to contradict the notion that modern science came to fruition as the result of Christian thinkers.
And my point about the difference between Christianity and science was in terms of the ability (and a history) of each in producing cultures. There is no doubt that the Roman Catholic traditions, or the Reformation based European societies, or the Puritan foundations of America were broad and culturally creative in any number of areas – art, music, literature, philosophy,political theory, economics, and the substance of human communities. There is no such correspondence with mere scientific thought. I will touch on eugenics after your next point.
I just to bring even more clarity, I don’t think the scientific method was a direct and immediate emanation of Christian thought, nor do I think no scientific discoveries could be made apart from Christianity – obviously there were many. What I contend is that the methodology upon which modern science is based is the product of Christian minds acting in a Christian culture according to Christian pre-suppositions.
What you fail to mention is that Christianity too has led to some horrendous results in societies were it was adopted as the basis. The Inquisition produced a holocaust comparable for scope and atrocities to the Nazi persecution of the Jews. And you know as well as I do that there are many more examples. Yes, you can argue that these societies were based on distortions or misinterpretations of Christianity. But your own sentence on Darwinism applies just as well to Christianity: And it’s not a matter of whether evolution leads to eugenics – evolution did lead to eugenics – this is undisputable history, not conjecture. Whether it should have is another question. If you don’t know this, then you are either ignorant of history or intentionally being deceptive.
Try swapping the words evolution/eugenics with Christianity/Inquisition, and tell me that the paragraph doesn’t hold up just as well.
Well the difference between the cases is historically apparent. Eugenics was a movement that started within the life of Darwin. It was developed by his cousin Galton who considered it a natural derivative of evolutionary thinking. The first International Eugenics Conference was chaired by Darwin’s son. Eugenics was considered by a worldwide consensus of scientists as the “self-direction of human evolution” and policies implementing it were adopted not only by the Nazi’s but by governments throughout Europe, Canada, the US and Australia. Nazism may have had many influences (including insanity itself) but eugenics gave their policies the sheen of scientific acceptability which resulted in the deaths of millions.
By contrast, the Spanish Inquisition was fundamentally contradictory to the central teachings of Christ (love your neighbor, forgive one another, etc.). It happened a thousand years after the founding of the Church, and resulted in deaths numbering at the most in the thousands, nothing like the millions in Nazi Germany. I don’t hold Christianity innocent in regards to the existence of the Inquisition or the deaths it produced, but the cases are quite different. In addition Christianity has a means of correcting itself morally; the Reformation, which represented a return to a personal familiarity with Christian principles, had a tremendous effect on alleviating the ills perpetuated during medieval times by Church institutions. Eugenics on the other hand was only rejected when the cost in human lives was so overwhelmingly horrible that it couldn’t be sustained.
This isn’t to say ‘science’ is necessarily responsible for eugenics, but I do think it highlights the dangers of scientism, and the belief that science alone can provide a foundation for human societies.
Okay, time to discuss one more point:
I like your interpretation of the social role of Christianity (though it has, ironically, a faintly Marxist backtaste). But it seems to me that you need to address your bias. Christianity too, like science, is liable to misinterpretations and to our “natural tendency to live immorally.” It too can (and has been) readily exploited in the context of power-struggles. In this sense, my question to you is this: why is Christianity exempt from the corrupting influence of power and immorality which plagues all other systems and cultures? Why does Christianity have this ‘special status,’ when it led to just as much suffering and injustice as, say, Marxism or the French Revolution?
Well, Christians certainly are not exempt from the corrupting influence of power and immorality. Neither are Christian institutions. Much of the history of Christianity is in fact a history of stops and starts, moving forward three steps and back two. I believe it is a progressive belief system in that while there are many faults along the way in terms of its perfect implementation (which were anticipated by Christ from the start, by the way) the set of principles we have had from the start lead us constantly forward greater human flourishing. I don’t think it is any accident that the greatest health, freedom prosperity, human education and charity lie mainly in the West; it is where Christianity has its deepest and longest roots.
And I would disagree that there has been ‘just as much’ suffering and injustice as Marxism or the French Revolution. The French Revolution led to the immediate deaths of tens of thousands of people, chaos, and the eventual installment of a dictator who brought even more pain to the whole of Europe.
Marxism, at least in terms of its manifestation in Russia, Eastern Europe, China, Vietnam and various African nations led to the deaths of tens of millions of person, not to mention untold poverty, starvation, and severe limitations on freedom. The suffering it brought in the 20th century was unrivaled in human history.
That’s it for now – I will try to touch on other points at a later time.