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The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism and Western Success by Rodney Stark, Random House, 2005, 235 pp.

Religious historian Rodney Stark presents a powerful argument that Christianity, Catholicism, and related institutions were directly responsible for the most significant intellectual, scientific, political and economic breakthroughs of the last millennium. Stark persuasively refutes the politically correct version of history that the fall of the Roman Empire was followed by hundreds of years of Dark Ages stagnation, after which civilization broke out of religious darkness and emerged with the Renaissance.

Stark provides a mountain of evidence that the so-called Dark Ages were really a time of great technological advance. Industrious Dutch engineers built thousands of windmills to reclaim land from the sea — so many, in fact, that lawsuits alleging stealing of one's wind were common! Other innovations included the effective shoeing and harnessing of horses for agriculture (something the Romans never accomplished), fish farming in man-made ponds on a continental scale, and the invention of eyeglasses and accurate timepieces.

Many other authors have stated that capitalism is what drove the West's progress. But, Stark asks, what made capitalism possible? He makes a compelling case that Catholic theology provided the framework and template for the great superstructure of Western science. And it is science that led to the supremacy of the West.

Stark explains how Christian theology is so very different from the religious thinking of non-Western cultures. The Greeks and Romans filled their heavens with quarreling gods, and that was not the sort of worldview to encourage a systematic study of nature's secrets. Islam believed God was a free actor, and any attempt to divine His ways was considered blasphemy. The Chinese had a mystical view of God as an amorphous presence, so they sought enlightenment, not explanations.

Historians often point to China and the Greeks as great innovators, but the Chinese turned inward and stagnated for centuries; their religion did not celebrate innovation and discovery. While the Greeks were famous in logic and mathematics, they were not oriented toward experiment and observation. It was the outward, heavenly focus of Christianity, as well as its belief in the importance of the individual, that propelled the West toward invention. The reader can learn much from this exuberant work.

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