Wednesday 28 August 2013

Scientific geniuses enabled the destruction of Christianity via economics


There is a neglected sense in which science and technology enabled the destruction of Christianity.

Most people argue that the antagonism was in the realm of explanations and beliefs, but an indirect and perhaps more powerful mechanism was via economics.

The argument involves several assumptions I have defended elsewhere, but it is quite simple.


The main social and historical effect of science has been at the level of 'breakthroughs' or revolutionary science - especially those breakthroughs which lead to technological improvements in functional effectiveness and (especially) efficiency - improved efficiency equals the same function for less resources or more functionality for the same input.

Only breakthroughs really matter, because only breakthroughs can overcome the adverse societal factors which are present, and indeed tend to accumulate - thus the model of economic growth is something like Schumpeter's creative destruction: periodic revolutions, rather than incremental improvements.


Breakthroughs are a product of creative genius: that is specific individual people characterized by a combination of high intelligence and high creativity (plus some other factors, including luck) - this it was the high concentration of creative geniuses in North Western Europe which underpinned the Agrarian then Industrial Revolution.

The Agrarian/Industrial revolution continued for a couple of centuries approximately, as breakthrough followed breakthrough - overwhelming the economically parasitic counter forces - which include Leftism, bureaucracy, and the mass media - and the consequent decadence and moral corruption which used to be regarded as an outcome of 'luxury'.

Genius enabled breakthroughs caused efficiency enabled growth of parasites.


The state of permanent social revolution triggered by the Agrarian/ Industrial revolution was certainly a stress for Christianity in the West, but it was the long term and massive growth of economically parasitic counter forces which have brought Christianity to its present desperate state.


But the whole process of breakthroughs-revolutions-parasitism depends on the breakthroughs of a small proportion of individual geniuses - and breakthroughs have dried up as the supply of geniuses has dried up.

(The reasons for the supply of geniuses drying up are multiple - and the topic of another blog: and a book 


We are now seeing the process in reverse. Geniuses are now too rare, breakthroughs too few and infrequent, therefore economic efficiency is necessarily declining; but at present the economically parasitic counter forces still remain in-power - and of course they hasten these trends both by deliberate destructive policy and by their continued efficiency-sapping parasitic growth.


So, the conditions which led to the destruction of Christianity have reversed, and religion will return to the West.

'Religion' will return, but not necessarily nor even probably Christianity - because, of course, Christianity must be chosen, and there are rivals.



Maximo Macaroni said...

Oh, I think there is as much genius around as ever. It is just being used for evil ends today.

Nicholas Fulford said...

Any religion is threatened by improvements in science, technology, and communications. It is well nigh impossible to retain isolation from the wider world of differing cultures, philosophies, and scientific discoveries, (that undermine many of the narratives, and especially if they are taken as historical fact.)

In a wide open world where the net enables instant access to a vast amount of information, (of varying quality), it is unreasonable to expect that people will not become engaged in questions that many would never have contemplated when the boundaries of their world were much tighter, and their community more homogeneous.

Add the advent of time saving mechanisms that grant more leisure time, effective birth control and longer lifespans; and this is what you get.

On the plus side, it easy to form virtual communities across vast geographic regions, and the writing of many deep thinkers both from within and outside of a religious tradition are available for reading, discussion and contemplation.

On the level of the individual, it is really a matter of using what this age gives to create and share what is meaningful with others. That is a pretty amazing development. Want to find the writing of Thomas Merton or Teilhard de Chardin, or read "The Cloud of Unknowing", just do a search. The technology shapes the space but does not control how we use it.

Bruce Charlton said...

@MM - Name one living and uncontroversial genius of science philosophy, English literature, Classical Music, Art. There aren't any. A century ago there were loads.

@NF - Well, okay, but that was not my point. You are talking about the factors that shape 'history of ideas'.

Sylvie D. Rousseau said...

Religion has never left the West, even among materialists and nihilists. It has only been replaced by various idolatries: of the self, of false science (scientism), of technological and scientific progress, of pleasure and diversion, of forms of art and artists (not necessarily the sort producing beautiful things), and of false religions, philosophies, ideologies or their leaders.

All this was caused by the deformation or abandonment of the Catholic Faith (heresies, Eastern and Western Schisms), combined with the abandonment of right Reason (nominalism, subjectivism, cartesianism, romanticism…) and led to the decline of intelligence that necessarily accompany religious and moral decline.

However, there is hope in the fact that moderately intelligent people, if they have a truly Christian faith, may accomplish, or rather let accomplish by the Holy Spirit through them, great things, even if there is only a handful of them left at the end of the apocalypse.

Adam G. said...

More blessed are they who have not seen, and believe, says Jesus to Thomas.

The prophet Alma in the Book of Mormons says, similarly, more blessed are they who weren't forced to believe by suffering and trials:

And now, because ye are compelled to be humble blessed are ye; for a man sometimes, if he is compelled to be humble, seeketh arepentance; and now surely, whosoever repenteth shall find mercy; and he that findeth mercy and bendureth to the end the same shall be saved.

And now, as I said unto you, that because ye were compelled to be ahumble ye were blessed, do ye not suppose that they are more blessed who truly humble themselves because of the word?
Yea, he that truly humbleth himself, and repenteth of his sins, and endureth to the end, the same shall be blessed—yea, much more blessed than they who are compelled to be humble because of their exceeding poverty.

God has His own metrics. We see Christendom as weak. But He probably doesn't see Christendom at all. He sees Saints. So its quite possible that for Him the most productive times of the Church were the ages of the martyrs and the ages like now where those who seek Him have to fight through swathes of comfort and distraction to reach Him.

To take one instance :where was the virtue in large families back when large families were the norm, helped economically, and could only be avoided through sexual deprivation? Now they're jewels in the coffers of the Lord and a triumphant taunt to Satan.

Related thought: it is possible that one source of the (relative) success of Mormonism is that it creates trials for its adherents. Artificially, so to speak, reversing some of the prosperity that science and economics have brought us. Rigorous attention to tithing, encouragement to have children, and focus on the mother not having a career makes you relatively less prosperous. Going on a two-year proselyting mission and then trying to form a marriage worthy of being called eternal creates challenges that no amount of money or technology can do much to alleviate.

Bruce Charlton said...

@AG - I hope so - but that isn't how it looks in the UK. Here it just looks like there is very little Christianity (and a lot of anti-Christianity), and what little Christianity there is is weaker than it was.

@SDR - Therefore, I don't think it is a matter of Christianity being replaced by other religions, because other religions are very weak, and have little influence on people.

@AG - " Mormonism is that it creates trials for its adherents" - that is pretty much Rodney Stark's view. There is certainly something in it, but I think there must be strong positive aspects as well for a religion to thrive under modern conditions, when it is relatively easy to leave.

As a comparison, the puritanical Scottish Calvinistic sects are very strict in their demands, but people leave them - I think because they are so unrewarding.