The Huffington Post’s Connor Wood recently penned an article defending faith as a counterpoint to science. Science looks forward to invention, progress, and the future, while faith dwells deeply on local differences, conflict, and the past. This oversimplification is dangerous, as it misunderstands history and ignores the dangers redistributive liberalism itself poses to true progress.
Wood has an uncommon appreciation for faith, which is refreshing, but he doesn’t seem to understand exactly what it is. His version of the progressive scientific approach to humanity — globalization, interconnectedness, a thriving cross-national economy — and the more rooted, backward-looking belief in the importance of history is over-simplistic. More importantly, it overlooks the fact that science only developed in the Christian west, by clergymen no less!
In his book The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution, James Hannam explains that the developments leading up to the much-heralded heliocentric theory — that the earth actually revolves around the sun — took centuries. Christian scholars in medieval universities began to question old theories and test new ones. They took the massive step of applying theoretical mathematics to natural experiments, and modern science was born.
The progressive view which Wood calls “science” is actually a different kind of ideology, a different kind of faith. It grew from a particular kind of Christianity, and has only rejected Christianity for lack of understanding it.
Science only works if you believe that there are natural laws which work throughout all time and all space, and that our minds can discover them. Odd as it may seem, this understanding did not prevail in most cultures and places throughout history.
People believed that nature was inscrutable — even if there were natural laws, our minds could not grasp them. Others believed that a God or gods ruled everything like a tyrant, and did not let nature run its own course, so it was useless to try to understand it. Christianity uniquely presented a God who created the world and let it run, and a view of mankind made in His image and thus able to understand the way He made the world.
The ideas of science, free markets, property rights, and natural and international law developed slowly throughout Western history. Each owes a tremendous debt to medieval universities, where these ideas were debated and developed. Scholars of the so-called “Enlightenment” then took those ideas and claimed that everyone before them was dark and “unenlightened.”
These ideas were not just developed by clergymen and in Christian medieval universities, but they often flow from Christianity itself. As Rodney Stark argues in The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success, the Christian faith provided a unique environment for the ideas which birthed globalism, international law, free trade, and the scientific pursuit of new technology.
To say that faith and science are at odds on such things is to deny history. But there is a faith that emphasizes former glories at the expense of global unity, and ideologies that do the same.
Next Page: How the faith of liberalism holds us back.
A militant radical Islam seeks the restoration of the grand Muslim empire. A recalcitrant conservative opposition to political correctness also arguably strays from the free markets and individual liberty which lead to prosperity.
Finally — and perhaps most importantly — a radical liberalism focused on redistribution of wealth and privilege holds back the tide of progress by insisting that race, class, and gender matter more than the traditional values of personal responsibility and striving for success.
Ironically, this ideology brings back the tribal divisions of race and class which made it impossible for individuals to rise above their station. While black people, women, and LGBT people have struggled in the past, the rush to promote them only on those grounds will end up creating a new kind of class society. It may equalize the scales, but it will also make it less possible for people to rise above their station based on the “content of their character” alone, as Martin Luther King Jr. so inspiringly declared. We don’t need reverse racism, we need more freedom.
The identity politics of people like Donald Trump may be surprising and scary to many, but it is a response to this push by radical liberalism to enforce a new world of status over the world of freedom slowly rising in the West which America gave as near a full birth as could be possible. Trump may be a force against progress, but if he is, that is only because he is a response to an even worse attack against freedom.
As Wood notes, “economist Robert Reich has warned that a ‘new tribalism’ is undoing centuries of progress toward a more united world.” He cites “the reignited Sunni-Shia conflicts in the Middle East to rising right-wing nativism in the West.” These trends may hold back progress, but it is also important to note that the redistribution of liberals like Bernie Sanders will do likewise.
The modern world is a complicated mix of faiths, some leading to scientific and technological progress and others leading toward further division and rejection of global trade. These differing ideologies can be found on both right and left, secular and religious, lines. It is important to define our terms in ways that do not overlook history and in ways that do justice to the many different types of faith in our world today.
Many faiths do conflict with science, free markets, globalization, and progress — and radical liberalism is high among them. Many forms of Christianity do the opposite, however, and lumping them in with Islam and the populism of Donald Trump is unfair, not just to the right but to the left as well.