Friday, March 27, 2009

Catholicism: Causing the "Dark Ages"?

Snippet from a First Things review of David Hart’s new book, Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies (Yale Press).

(By the way, you should substitute "Catholic" for "Christian" in the below excerpt.)

One of the casual truisms we often hear goes back to the Renaissance and achieved canonical form in Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. As Hart puts the prejudice: “that Christianity rejected classical civilization, even sought to destroy it root and branch, and thus inaugurated the Dark Ages.”

In a brilliant chapter on the history of science, Hart paints a very different picture, one that argues (quite convincingly) that pagan religious and metaphysical assumptions (which are invariably intertwined) made it impossible for the ancient world to develop the mode of inquiry we associate with modern science. The utter lack of motion and change were, for religious and metaphysical reasons, thought to be the highest (and thus natural) state of reality. As a result, it was not possible to formulate the law of the conservation of energy.

As Hart shows with wonderful detail and concision, the radical transformation of metaphysics required by Christian convictions about God and creation led to the possibility for the Copernican revolution in astronomy, a revolution thrown into powerful theoretical form by Isaac Newton.

Thus, if we return to the usual Western Civ lecture hall cliché—ancient science was somehow stymied by dogmatic Christians, only to be recovered and given new life by Renaissance free thinkers—then we can see that it is a hopelessly inaccurate cartoon. As Hart points out, “The birth of modern physics and cosmology was achieved by Galileo, Kepler, and Newton breaking free not from the close confining prison of faith (all three were believing Christians, of one sort or another) but from the enormous burden of the millennial authority of Aristotelian science. The scientific revolution of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was not a revival of Hellenistic science but its final defeat.”

Yah, well, "what is history to the Left," as Roeser would put it.

1 comment:

Billiam said...

Well, as we've seen with some of the text books they use, the teaching methods, as well as WHAT is taught, truth/history, is what they say it is.