Reader AH sent along an article by Rodney Stark that explores "How Christianity (and Capitalism) Led to Science".
When Europeans first began to explore the globe, their greatest surprise was not the existence of the Western Hemisphere, but the extent of their own technological superiority over the rest of the world. Not only were the proud Maya, Aztec, and Inca nations helpless in the face of European intruders, so were the fabled civilizations of the East: China, India, and Islamic nations were "backward" by comparison with 15th-century Europe. How had that happened? Why was it that, although many civilizations had pursued alchemy, the study led to chemistry only in Europe? Why was it that, for centuries, Europeans were the only ones possessed of eyeglasses, chimneys, reliable clocks, heavy cavalry, or a system of music notation? How had the nations that had arisen from the rubble of Rome so greatly surpassed the rest of the world?
He goes on to discuss how Christianity, as a lived-out religion with far more practical impact on daily life than the other religions of the world, led to greater respect for man, greater freedom, capitalism, and the rationality required for scientific research.
Christian faith in reason and in progress was the foundation on which Western success was achieved. As the distinguished philosopher Alfred North Whitehead put it during one of his Lowell Lectures at Harvard in 1925, science arose only in Europe because only there did people think that science could be done and should be done, a faith "derivative from medieval theology."
Moreover the medieval Christian faith in reason and progress was constantly reinforced by actual progress, by technical and organizational innovations, many of them fostered by Christianity. For the past several centuries, far too many of us have been misled by the incredible fiction that, from the fall of Rome until about the 15th century, Europe was submerged in the Dark Ages — centuries of ignorance, superstition, and misery — from which it was suddenly, almost miraculously, rescued; first by the Ren-aissance and then by the Enlightenment. But, as even dictionaries and encyclopedias recently have begun to acknowledge, it was all a lie!
It was during the so-called Dark Ages that European technology and science overtook and surpassed the rest of the world. Some of that involved original inventions and discoveries; some of it came from Asia. But what was so remarkable was the way that the full capacities of new technologies were recognized and widely adopted. By the 10th century Europe already was far ahead in terms of farm-ing equipment and techniques, had unmatched capacities in the use of water and wind power, and possessed superior military equipment and tactics. Not to be overlooked in all that medieval progress was the invention of a whole new way to organize and operate commerce and industry: capitalism.
He continues with a fascinating account of how the Church's monastic orders began lending money at interest and selling products at market-clearing prices.