Christianity & Science

In an article on “Why the Arabic World Turned Away from Science,” Hillel Ofek describes and helps account for the great contributions of early Islamic scientists and mathematicians, but he then chronicles how ever-more-absolutist brands of Islam came to shut them down.  Ofek says that civilizations often abandon scientific inquiry–citing China and India–and that the West is the notable exception.  For this he gives Christianity lots of credit:

As a way of articulating questions that lie deeper than the Ash’arism-Mu’tazilism debate, it is helpful to briefly compare Islam with Christianity. Christianity acknowledges a private-public distinction and (theoretically, at least) allows adherents the liberty to decide much about their social and political lives. Islam, on the other hand, denies any private-public distinction and includes laws regulating the most minute details of private life. Put another way, Islam does not acknowledge any difference between religious and political ends: it is a religion that specifies political rules for the community.

Such differences between the two faiths can be traced to the differences between their prophets. While Christ was an outsider of the state who ruled no one, and while Christianity did not become a state religion until centuries after Christ’s birth, Mohammed was not only a prophet but also a chief magistrate, a political leader who conquered and governed a religious community he founded. Because Islam was born outside of the Roman Empire, it was never subordinate to politics. As Bernard Lewis puts it, Mohammed was his own Constantine. This means that, for Islam, religion and politics were interdependent from the beginning; Islam needs a state to enforce its laws, and the state needs a basis in Islam to be legitimate. To what extent, then, do Islam’s political proclivities make free inquiry — which is inherently subversive to established rules and customs — possible at a deep and enduring institutional level?

Some clues can be found by comparing institutions in the medieval period. Far from accepting anything close to the occasionalism and legal positivism of the Sunnis, European scholars argued explicitly that when the Bible contradicts the natural world, the holy book should not be taken literally. Influential philosophers like Augustine held that knowledge and reason precede Christianity; he approached the subject of scientific inquiry with cautious encouragement, exhorting Christians to use the classical sciences as a handmaiden of Christian thought. Galileo’s house arrest notwithstanding, his famous remark that “the intention of the Holy Ghost is to teach us how one goes to heaven, not how heaven goes” underscores the durability of the scientific spirit among pious Western societies. Indeed, as David C. Lindberg argues in an essay collected in Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths about Science and Religion (2009), “No institution or cultural force of the patristic period offered more encouragement for the investigation of nature than did the Christian church.” And, as Baylor University sociologist Rodney Stark notes in his book For the Glory of God (2003), many of the greatest scientists of the scientific revolution were also Christian priests or ministers.

The Church’s acceptance and even encouragement of philosophy and science was evident from the High Middle Ages to modern times. As the late Ernest L. Fortin of Boston College noted in an essay collected in Classical Christianity and the Political Order (1996), unlike al-Farabi and his successors, “Aquinas was rarely forced to contend with an anti-philosophic bias on the part of the ecclesiastical authorities. As a Christian, he could simply assume philosophy without becoming publicly involved in any argument for or against it.” And when someone like Galileo got in trouble, his work moved forward and his inquiry was carried on by others; in other words, institutional dedication to scientific inquiry was too entrenched in Europe for any authority to control. After about the middle of the thirteenth century in the Latin West, we know of no instance of persecution of anyone who advocated philosophy as an aid in interpreting revelation. In this period, “attacks on reason would have been regarded as bizarre and unacceptable,” explains historian Edward Grant in Science and Religion, 400 b.c. to a.d. 1550.

via The New Atlantis » Why the Arabic World Turned Away from Science.

Augustine indeed, on the basis of the classical science of his day, said there was no need to take the creation account in Genesis literally in every detail, while still affirming the truth of what it means.  Arguably, the worldviews of Christianity and those early scientists were in harmony–indeed, the former made possible the latter–whereas  they started to clash after the Enlightenment and 19th century materialism.  Still. . . .

HT:  Joe Carter

The King James Bible at 400

My long-time friend Leland Ryken has an excellent piece in the Wall Street Journal on the King James translation of the Bible, which marks its 400th anniversary this year.  After telling about how the new king of England granted only one of the Puritans’ requests–to make a new English translation of the Bible–and how 47 scholars completed the project in only 6 years, Lee discusses its impact:

The King James Version was not an original translation. It was a revision—technically of the Bishops’ Bible of 1568, but actually of an entire century of English Bible translations starting with William Tyndale. This history lies behind a famous statement in the preface to the King James Version: “Truly (good Christian reader) we never thought from the beginning, that we should need to make a new translation, nor yet to make of a bad one a good one, . . . but to make a good one better, or out of many good ones, one principal good one.”

The King James Bible is familiarly called the Authorized Version, but the king who lent his name to the translation never officially authorized it, even though he hoped that the new translation would help to unify a politically and religiously divided kingdom (a kingdom that would erupt into civil war not long after his death in 1625). Nor did church officials authorize the new translation. The King James Version in reality was authorized by the people, who chose it over others. For three and a half centuries, when English-speaking people spoke of “the Bible,” they meant the King James Version.

The King James translators believed their task was to take readers as close as possible to what the original text says, and in doing so they created a great work of literature. Its style is part of its magic. Yet that style is hard to define.

Modern readers are too quick to conclude that with its now-archaic language and grammar, the Bible’s style is embellished and formal. But thee and thou pronouns and verb endings like walkest and sayeth were a feature of everyday speech in the early 17th century.

However imitated or parodied, the language is dignified, beautiful, sonorous and elegant. “Godliness with contentment is great gain”—six words and unforgettable. “Give us this day our daily bread.” “The Lord is my light and my salvation.” The King James style is a paradox: It is usually simple in vocabulary while majestic and elevating in effect. . . .

For more than three centuries, the King James Bible provided the central frame of reference for the English-speaking world. Former Yale University Prof. George Lindbeck well claims that until recently “Christendom dwelt imaginatively in the biblical world.” During the years of its dominance, the King James Bible was the omnipresent force in any cultural sphere that we can name—education (especially childhood education), religion, family and home, the courtroom, political discourse, language and literacy, choral music and hymns, art and literature. For more than two centuries children in England and America learned to read by way of the Bible. . . .

The influence of the King James Bible is perhaps most profound in the realm of literature. From Milton’s “Paradise Lost” to Toni Morrison’s “Paradise,” it is a presence quite apart from the author’s religious stance. In his book “The Bible as Literature,” British literary scholar T. R. Henn said it best: “The Authorized Version of 1611 . . . achieves as we read a strange authority and power as a work of literature. It becomes one with the Western tradition, because it is its single greatest source.”

Rumors of its demise have been greatly exaggerated. It is consistently, year after year, either second or third on the list of current Bible sales in the United States. Furthermore, the King James Version lives on in two modern translations that perpetuate the translation philosophy and style of the King James Version while updating its scholarship and language. They are the New King James Version and the English Standard Version.

via Leland Ryken: How We Got the King James Bible – WSJ.com.

Mass murder, while remaining “decent”

Guy Walters discusses the Norwegian mass-murderer Anders Brevik and argues that he is not necessarily insane at all, that certain convictions can make it quite logical to commit evil actions.  In doing so, he quotes from a speech by Heinrich Himmler, who makes the case that one can exterminate Jews, lining up a thousand corpses, while still being a “decent person.”  He links to the entire speech, which is also available as an audio file as well as a transcript in the original German.  It’s short, so I’ll just quote the whole thing.   Himmler was speaking to a group of SS officers on October 4, 1943, in the city of Posen.  It’s just a chilling combination of evil and self-righteousness:

 [0:00] What we accomplish in our armaments factories … even though it will only be at the end of the war when we can first assess it — prove it … will be a remarkable and noteworthy accomplishment. [pause]

[0:20]I want to also mention a very difficult subject … before you, with complete candor. It should be discussed amongst us, yet nevertheless, we will never speak about it in public. Just as we did not hesitate on June 30 to carry out our duty as ordered, and stand comrades who had failed against the wall and shoot them — about which we have never spoken, and never will speak. That was, thank God, a kind of tact natural to us, a foregone conclusion of that tact, that we have never conversed about it amongst ourselves, never spoken about it, everyone … shuddered, and everyone was clear that the next time, he would do the same thing again, if it were commanded and necessary.

[1:27] I am talking about the evacuation of the Jews, the extermination of the Jewish people[1]. It is one of those things that is easily said. [quickly] “The Jewish people is being exterminated[2],” every Party member will tell you, “perfectly clear, it’s part of our plans, we’re eliminating the Jews, exterminating[2] them, a small matter”. [less quickly] And then along they all come, all the 80 million upright Germans, and each one has his decent Jew. [mockingly] They say: all the others are swine, but here is a first-class Jew. [a few people laugh] And … [audience cough] [carefully]… none of them has seen it, has endured it. Most of you will know what it means when 100 bodies lie together, when 500 are there or when there are 1000. And … to have seen this through and — with the exception of human weakness — to have remained decent, has made us hard and is a page of glory never mentioned and never to be mentioned. Because we know how difficult things would be, if today in every city during the bomb attacks, the burdens of war and the privations, we still had Jews as secret saboteurs, agitators and instigators. We would probably be at the same stage as 16/17, if the Jews still resided in the body of the German people.

[3:23] We have taken away the riches that they had, and … I have given a strict order, which Obergruppenführer Pohl[3] has carried out, we have delivered these riches [carefully] to the Reich, to the State. We have taken nothing from them for ourselves. A few, who have offended against this, will be judged[4] in accordance with an order, [loudly] that I gave at the beginning: he who takes even one Mark of this is a dead man. [less loudly] A number of SS men have offended against this order. They are very few, and they will be dead men [yells] WITHOUT MERCY! We have the moral right, we had the duty to our people to do it, to kill[5] this people who would kill[5] us. We however do not have the right to enrich ourselves with even one fur, with one Mark, with one cigarette, with one watch, with anything. That we do not have. Because we don’t want, at the end of all this, to get sick and die from the same bacillus that we have exterminated[2]. I will never see it happen that even one … bit of putrefaction comes in contact with us, or takes root in us. On the contrary, where it might try to take root, we will burn it out together. But altogether we can say: [slowly, carefully] We have carried out this most difficult task for the love of our people. And we have suffered no defect within us, in our soul, or in our character.

via Himmler’s 10/04/43 Posen Speech, “Extermination,” English.

A big tip of the hat to D. E. Hinkle for showing this to me.

The rise and fall of the Berlin Wall

Saturday marks the 50th anniversary of the construction of the Berlin Wall, which divided the city–and by extension Germany and Europe itself–between Communism and freedom.  You have simply got to read this account by the Lutheran journalist Uwe Siemon-Netto, who not only saw the wall built and torn down, but was himself with his family personally caught up in the division between East and West.  Most notable in his account is the role Christianity and specifically Lutheranism played in the tearing down of the wall and the fall of Communism.  Alas, though, he says, the Christian revival under Communist persecution has faded, as the former East Germany, now that it is free, has become godless to the core.  But read what he has to say:  Uwe Siemon-Netto’s Blog: And the wall fell down flat.

HT:  Jordan J. Ballor

The tomb of one of the Disciples?

Archeologists may have discovered the tomb of one of Christ’s Twelve Disciples.   Tradition says that St. Philip was martyred in the Hierapolis in present day Turkey and that’s where they found what appears to be his tomb in the ruins of an ancient church. From a Turkish newspaper:

An Italian professor has announced the apparent discovery of the tomb of St. Philip, one of Jesus Christ’s apostles, at the ancient city of Hierapolis in the Aegean province of Denizli.

The discovery of the grave of the biblical saint, who was killed by the Romans 2,000 years ago, will attract immense attention around the world, said Francesco D’Andria. St. Philip, one of the 12 apostles, came to Hierapolis 2,000 years ago to spread the Christianity before being killed by the Romans, the professor said.

D’Andria has been leading archeological excavations at the ancient city for 32 years.

“Until recently, we thought the grave of St. Philip was on Martyrs’ Hill, but we discovered no traces of him in the geophysical research conducted in that area. A month ago, we discovered the remnants of an unknown church, 40 meters away from the St. Philip Church on Martyrs’ Hill. And in that church we discovered the grave of St. Philip,” said D’Andria.

D’Andria and his team have not opened the grave but are planning to do so soon.

via Tomb of St. Philip the Apostle Discovered in Turkey – FoxNews.com.

What will they find?  The remains of a man who actually walked with Jesus?  That would be mind-blowing.  Of course, it’s too early to say, and it could just be more Biblical archeology sensationalism.  But still, the mind reels.

 

St. Philip's Tomb

 

HT:  James Kushiner

A Civil War soldier’s letter to his wife

I am going to make you cry.  To mark the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Bull Run, a.k.a. The Battle of Manassas, the Washington Post wrote a story about and reprinted the letter written by Maj. Sullivan Ballou to his wife a week before he was killed in that battle.  It shows a man highly devoted to his different and sometimes conflicting vocations as husband, father, soldier, citizen, and Christian:

July the 14th, 1861

Washington D.C.

My very dear Sarah:

The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days—perhaps tomorrow. Lest I should not be able to write you again, I feel impelled to write lines that may fall under your eye when I shall be no more.

Our movement may be one of a few days duration and full of pleasure—and it may be one of severe conflict and death to me. Not my will, but thine O God, be done. If it is necessary that I should fall on the battlefield for my country, I am ready. I have no misgivings about, or lack of confidence in, the cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter. I know how strongly American Civilization now leans upon the triumph of the Government, and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and suffering of the Revolution. And I am willing—perfectly willing—to lay down all my joys in this life, to help maintain this Government, and to pay that debt.

But, my dear wife, when I know that with my own joys I lay down nearly all of yours, and replace them in this life with cares and sorrows—when, after having eaten for long years the bitter fruit of orphanage myself, I must offer it as their only sustenance to my dear little children—is it weak or dishonorable, while the banner of my purpose floats calmly and proudly in the breeze, that my unbounded love for you, my darling wife and children, should struggle in fierce, though useless, contest with my love of country.
Sarah, my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me to you with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence could break; and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me irresistibly on with all these chains to the battlefield.

The memories of the blissful moments I have spent with you come creeping over me, and I feel most gratified to God and to you that I have enjoyed them so long. And hard it is for me to give them up and burn to ashes the hopes of future years, when God willing, we might still have lived and loved together and seen our sons grow up to honorable manhood around us. I have, I know, but few and small claims upon Divine Providence, but something whispers to me—perhaps it is the wafted prayer of my little Edgar—that I shall return to my loved ones unharmed. If I do not, my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, and when my last breath escapes me on the battlefield, it will whisper your name.

Forgive my many faults, and the many pains I have caused you. How thoughtless and foolish I have often been! How gladly would I wash out with my tears every little spot upon your happiness, and struggle with all the misfortune of this world, to shield you and my children from harm. But I cannot. I must watch you from the spirit land and hover near you, while you buffet the storms with your precious little freight, and wait with sad patience till we meet to part no more.

But, O Sarah! If the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you; in the brightest day and in the darkest night—amidst your happiest scenes and gloomiest hours—always, always; and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath; or the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by.
Sarah, do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for me, for we shall meet again.

As for my little boys, they will grow as I have done, and never know a father’s love and care. Little Willie is too young to remember me long, and my blue-eyed Edgar will keep my frolics with him among the dimmest memories of his childhood. Sarah, I have unlimited confidence in your maternal care and your development of their characters. Tell my two mothers his and hers I call God’s blessing upon them. O Sarah, I wait for you there! Come to me, and lead thither my children.

Sullivan

From Wikipedia

For background details see Civil War soldier’s heartbreaking farewell letter was written before death at Bull Run – The Washington Post.


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