Victory of Reason: How Western Civilization Left the Rest of the World in the Dust
The Christian Worldview Led to the Scientific Revolution
The rise of science and the success of the West is due to its Christian foundations. The men who brought it about were devout Christians who believed that God is a conscious, rational, supernatural being of unlimited power who cares about human beings and imposes moral codes and responsibilities upon them.
Eastern religions do not have a Creator, and its path to wisdom is through meditation, not reason. In the East, the Tao is a supernatural essence and underlying mystical force but impersonal, not a conscious God, indeed not even a ‘being.’
Since the time of Christ, his followers have touted Reason as the tool to understand God's intentions. St Augustine said, “Heaven forbid that God should hate in us that by which he made us superior to the animals!”
God is the epitome of reason. He is a rational being, and we are made in His image. Therefore, His universe must be made sensibly. We must be able to progress in our understanding of His world and thereby Him.
Newton, Kepler, and Galileo saw the universe as a book to be read and understood. God created nature. Nature functions by immutable principles we can discover with our God-given powers of reason.
The scientific revolution was not produced by a bunch of secular atheists but by devout Christians in the Christian institution known as the university. The first two universities were established at Paris and Bologna about 1150; Oxford and Cambridge followed around 1200—all were deeply Christian institutions with nothing but priests as faculty.
Christian Focus on Individual Sin, Salvation, and Liberty Led to the Abolition of Slavery
Christian political thought focused on the freedom and liberty of the individual citizen. Sin is a personal, individual matter, as is salvation in the Christian Faith. The Christian stress on the individual is unique in the world, and most non-European languages do not even have a word for freedom. It was freedom—economic freedom—that led to free enterprise.
Because of the Christian Faith, Europe was the first place in the world where slavery was abolished. Slaves had souls, and so needed salvation. They should be baptized and receive the sacraments; thus, they were our brothers and sisters in Christ; therefore, our equals in Christ. Only Christianity is a religion that holds slavery to be sinful. Mohammed bought, sold, captured, and owned slaves.
The Catholic Church opposed slavery since at least the 6th century and managed to cleanse Europe of slavery by the year 1000. When Spain and Portugal began buying slaves from African chieftains and shipping them to the New World, the Pope issued three decrees against slavery in 1537 alone, including ex-communication of anyone involved with the slave trade.
Christian Ideas of Private Property and Free Enterprise Caused Incredible Prosperity
Christ's Kingdom—Christendom—was way ahead of the rest of the world in science and technology, even in the Dark Ages. During that defamed epoch, Europeans ate better than any previous people in world history. They were healthier, more energetic, and more intelligent than even the Romans had been. Europe was the only society where people knew what time it was, making it possible to schedule and coordinate activities.
Capitalism—using wealth to earn money by investing in risky business ventures—was invented by 9th-century Catholic monks who began to sell the surplus foodstuffs they produced at free markets. Productive activities required land, mines, ships, factories, warehouses, stores, shops, animals, and tools—all of which are capital goods.
Europe developed commercial credit, banks, stock markets, and systems of accounting. Christians spread the concept that work was a virtuous activity established by God. Christian monks lived by their own labor, created substantial industrial estates, and began large scale trade.
The Idea of Equality Came Only from the Bible
The New Testament is the basis for the Western idea that people are morally equal before God and, therefore, should be equal in the eyes of the law. The Bible takes property rights for granted, or it would not forbid stealing, fraud, and covetousness.
Private property serves the common good because people naturally take better care of their own things. Only when property rights are secure will people stop hoarding wealth and invest it. The right to one’s property then exists prior to the formation of governments—it exists where there is no government. Therefore a government cannot rightfully take my property without my consent—even for taxes.
Christianity Created Western Civilization
Christianity created Western Civilization. The modern world arose only in Christian societies. All the modernization that has occurred outside Christendom was imported from the West, usually brought by missionaries and colonizers. Islamic nations remain incapable of manufacturing the items they use in daily life.
When communists took over China in 1949, there were two million Christians there. Despite severe repression, that number has grown to hundreds of millions. They are among the most modern and best-educated Chinese.
As one of China's leading scholars said, "We have realized that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity. That is why the West is so powerful. The Christian moral foundation of social and cultural life was what made the emergence of capitalism possible and the successful transition to democratic politics."
(This article was adapted from The Victory of Reason by Rodney Stark)