Renaissance

Plato, Epicurus, and the New Testament

What is the importance of Philosophy for the Average Bible Student?

Ancient Greek Philosophy of Plato, Epicurus, the Stoics and rhetoric of Cicero have massive implications for the world of the first century church, the writings of Paul and the rest of the apostles and in particular the Gospel of John.

Greek Philosophy that started maybe even before Judah went into exile to Babylon had been developing and built upon until the time of Christ and his disciples.
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We know well that today the western world has been massively influenced by greek philosophy. Early church leaders such as Philo and Origen were massively influenced by Plato. Some with later Bishop of Hippo Augustine and the 6th century philosopher Boethius who’s work along with Augustus and early church leaders was influential throughout the Middle Ages in Europe until further greek learning continued with the enlightenment and renaissance period.
The explosion of philosophy that was built most heavily upon Greek and Roman learning. Plato, Aristotle, and Epicurus among the many to be rediscovered by so many. It was in the 15-16th centuries that western history turned back to the ‘wisdom’ of the Greeks. Perhaps the reason it was so popular was that very nature of Plato and Epicurus’ dualism. Under Platonism the soul or spirit world was always superior. Epicurus set out to disprove the stoics on their eschatology. He foresaw nothing after death as opposed to world destroyed by fire and born anew like the phoenix. Death was nothing to him as expressed in his famous line, Non fui, fui, non sum, non curo (I was not; I was; I am not; I do not care).

His view of anthropological dualism was to exalt the physical over the human soul. Giving credence to philosophy and ethics of characterized by an absence of divine principle. The Epicureans believed in the existence of the gods, but believed that the gods were made of atoms just like everything else. It was thought that the gods were too far away from the earth to have any interest in what man was doing; so it did not do any good to pray or to sacrifice to them. The gods, they believed, did not create the universe, nor did they inflict punishment or bestow blessings on anyone, but they were supremely happy; this was the goal to strive for during one’s own human life.
Epicurus
Epicurean belief is now characterized in the “enlightened” philosophies of modern deism/atheism or humanism. The Platonic belief are now characterized in a large portion of evangelical christianity. The answer is not a stoic attitude of balance. Nor do either of these positions get it right then or now. It is important to realize the nature of these dualisms of man, dualisms or cosmology in order to rightly grasp the NT’s gospel. It is the philosophy of modern evangelicalism and modern humanism that our western students are likely most influenced by in their thinking.

Essentially the essence of Plato and Epicurus lingers on heavily in Christian thinking and throughout any culture that might call itself modern. It has crept along not only through the western world by through the principles of materialism. It has crept up from its Platonic origins into full fledged gnosticism that threatened to permanently distort Christian orthodoxy. Gnosticism was snuffed out and rears its head but Platonic dualism of man and cosmology subtly continues on in christian theology. It was Plato who taught us that the soul or spirit is superior to the body or mind. It was Plato who taught us that the physical world is only a dismal shadow the bright heavenly afterlife. And we believed Epicurus’ eschatology about the destruction of the world by fire. It helps to be able to distinguish Plato and Epicurus from Paul and John. To accept the hebrew view of cosmology, anthropology, and eschatology as something touched, breathed, and created by a personal infinite God who redeemed and recreates things visible and invisible.

At risk of over simplification Plato and Epicurus and their philosophies were prevalent in the time of the original audiences of the books of the New Testament. Their dichotomy of man and cosmos and elevation of either spiritual or material realities does damage to the way we live out our lives in this world. The teachings of Epicurus are prevalent in modern philosophy of materialism and humanism. Plato’s influence is equally prevalent in and around the world of Christian worldview, particular areas of eschatology, anthropology, and cosmology.

If we are aware of these things the gospel would seek to break down then we can find a way to live today without these dualistic views of ourself, of all of reality, and of the future.

Christian Philosophy begins with a good God creating a good world. The good dichotomy is that God is God and creation is creation. But both are good and one is not merely spiritual and the other material. The material is good, it is touched, breathed, or spoken into existence by a good God. Christian philosophy ends with recreation. After man has fallen, though he to was made good, in Gods image, his sin has effected all of nature. The incarnation, inauguration, resurrection, and ascension of Christ reflects his ongoing work of recreation. His new covenant is a new creation the mirrors the first one. Its important then to see that the bible gives answers for the most profound philosophical questions of origin, ultimate meaning, reality, morality, and destiny. Things started somewhere and are going somewhere. And in between we are somewhere and not nowhere. Man made in Gods image has a job. He gets to make, and nurture life. This meaning or purpose given in the beginning is again picked up on in the new covenant. Go and make disciples of all nations. Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all of creation.

 

 

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Categories: Anthropology, Bible, Context, Cosmology, Culture, Enlightenment, Eschatology, Ethics, Genesis, History, Modern, Modernism, New Testament, Old Testament, Origins, Philosophy, Post-Modern, Renaissance, Society/Culture, sociology, Spiritual, Supernatural, Theology, Worldview | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Biblical Worldview and the Whole Commission

A common buzz word around Christian circles is the “Great Commission”. Many people know of this commission from the words of Jesus in the final chapter of the Gospel of Matthew.

There is perhaps two important elements of this commission that I think people miss. So I want to be direct in talking about it cause if your reading I know how easy it is to lose interest in something you might be reading on an obscure blog.

1. Original Context of the Commission

2. The Commission in today’s context.

The Commission in today’s evangelical western context is 200+ years in the making. Something wonderful has happened according to most evangelicals. That is the evangelical missions movement. The Christianity of the 1800’s until this day have been one of extraordinary growth in the way of numbers, and nations reached with the message of salvation and the establishment of a local church. For many the great commission is a call to continue this great work of church planting and spreading the message of salvation with the nations. Is this Jesus’ Great commission? Great Commission

When put into its original context and the passage observed carefully, Jesus’ commission has much more to say about the task of the church.

First of all the Book of Matthew was written primarily to a Jewish audience. Other Gospels had Jewish characteristics but not a strictly Jewish audience in mind. Jesus was addressing the commission to his disciplers and followers and the book of Matthew was addressed to a later audience of Jews.

What does that mean? What does it have to do with how we understand the commission?

Well, In order to put it into the right context we need to know what the task of the Jewish people was. How was Jesus expanding their concept of the task given to them in the Old Testament?

Simply put, the people of Israel had a task of living according to the law of God. This is not to be understood as simply a very rigorous moral code. The Law includes their history of the origins of all of humanity and Israel’s place in the family of human kind. Then they learn their own origin as a nation. They learn of the origin of their specific task as a people with the life of Abraham. Their task is to be a blessing to nations. They learn that they will be able to be a blessing because God speaks to them and reveals the way. Nations around them learn to fear God when they see what great laws the people live by and by what wisdom they have had revealed to them. But in the end they fail to maintain that blessing to the nations. Then God in the Incarnation and following his Resurrection gives his commission anew. His commission for his disciples to bless nations by discipling them is really not to different from before, there is simply a new dynamic because Christ has removed the barrier and initiated the kingdom.

In many respects the “Evangelical Modern Commission” falls very short because we see nations becoming more Christian by ratio, and by number of churches, but we see something private, something that has brought little fruit. Rwanda was devastated after the 1900’s brought the percentage of Christians from 0% to 80% in about 80 years only to see 1 million people exterminated and calamities ensue. Christians fought Christians and little changed on the level of Rwanda’s culture.

There are many stories where the “Evangelical Movement” has boasted of its great accomplishments to plant churches and save souls. Little has been accomplished in the last 200 year by the evangelical missions movement that would seem to have touched on the original context of the great commission.

The great commission is really an extension of all of Gods commissions given to Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses & Israel, and David. These covenant commissions remind us that Gods goal is not redemption of souls alone but whole people, whole cultures, and the whole of creation.

What we need to know is the whole picture of Gods redemptive plan. It involved discipling nations and bringing the kingdom as well as the king into whatever communities we touch, baptizing them in the name of the father, son, and holy spirit. Our brokenness in the Christian worldview is due to the last 200 years of our Evangelical Christian theology.

It is a theology that has rejected secular studies, or humanities, for fear of being humanistic, or secular, or a social gospel adherent. There is a real lack of knowledge with regard to creating and nurturing culture. The abandonment of the studies of humanities has created a really big problem for the defense of the Christian worldview. Because for the past 200 years there is little evidence to defend it. There is a reason to defend it and reason to live it. There are enough examples of this, there are also wonderful examples of this before this whole western strand of evangelicalism began to plague the church. In fact it is dominantly an American Evangelical disaster. America as a nation made strong efforts to break with its European past. This was seen in the movement of the church as well. What the American Christian needs is a better starting point then American Missions movement. We obviously need the whole picture of scripture, the early church, the middles ages, the reformations, the Renaissance, the enlightenment, and the birth of the modern era which has all become the foundation for the modern day, evangelical, missions movement.

We need a better worldview, our belief systems as Christians have been infected throughout a long history of influence. Gnosticism and Platonism of the early church gave us our dualistic Greek thinking. The “enlightenment” encouraged us to keep looking to Greek dualism and add to it all the ‘isms’ of Modernity; humanism, scientism, materialism, rationalism, empiricism, Marxism, existentialism Darwinism, est. These worldviews have corrupted and contributed to the Christianity that we have inherited today. Truly, the only way to cure this begins with seeking God and his truth through commitment to study of the scriptures, and through steady increase in the knowledge of history and worldviews. Then one day you might be able to hold up on one hand a christian worldview that is unparalleled to that of all other worldviews because it is not something man made but God given.

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“Enlightenment” Myth

enlightenersOne of the most fascinating areas of the ‘enlightenment’ myth is that while the primary figures of the enlightenment, Rousseau, Voltaire, Diderot, Gibbon, and Hume -all being literary men and not scientists felt they could use scientific revolution as proof that there had been a great enlightenment, once the church had lost most of its influence.

The odd reality is that the primary figures of the scientific revolution were actually religious men, both protestant and catholic; Kepler, Galileo, Copernicus, Descartes, Newton, and Pascal.

Both the scientific figures as well as the enlightenment literary men of philosophy mentioned about have had a massive influence on the way that all western people think. There are in effect three groups of men who had a massive impact on the western modern man. 1) The group of men associated with the scientific revolution, 2) those associated with the enlightenment, 3) and finally those who sought to reform the church.

Scientific_Revolution_-_ThinkersIf you want to understand the modern-western world you need to start with Reformation, Scientific Revolution, and Enlightenment. Reformations and those men who fought continue to remind us today that the church had some problems and needed to address them. The Scientific Revolution represents the climax of medieval scholasticism and is a symbol of the outgrowth of Christian Doctrine, Evidence that the Medieval Period was not “Dark”. Enlightenment therefore represents to some extant the secularization of western civilization. Reformations did not initially seek to separate church from state. The Scientific Revolutions as well was not something detached from Christian scholarly vocations. It was the hard work of many to see not just the church separated from state but God separated from reality.

Here it is in an even more simple form.

1. Reformation heavily influences Church and culture

2. The Christian Middle Ages launched the Scientific Revolution

3. The Enlightenment primarily sought to remove God, Church, and Religion from the realm of state, science, and education.

reformers-wall-close-upOvertime the work of enlightenment figures has been effective. The reformed church has gone on to see many more reforms, and many more schisms. Science has gone on as well and continues grow. But along side science and the work of Darwin some have sought to deify the science. Thus today we have, science, and Scientisim. The belief that science and technology can find and hold answers for all people. Nothing else is needed. Though Science continue to thrive as a wonderful service to our humanity.

This should be alarming not only for Christians but for all westerners. The inherited civilization need not be completely secularized. The trouble is we believe a completely different story about the middle ages, and the negative effect of religion. This story, or narrative has been compounded by the literary figures of the enlightenment. They created influential narratives about the previous era that we have all believed. I have off hand mentioned the figure David Hume who was one of the first to reject the existence of miracles. For many the non existence of miracles is common sense. It is common sense because these enlightenment figures had a massive impact. And many were not even scientists. They were philosophers who commented on science and religion.

So am I saying then that our modern era is due to Christian beliefs alone that the modern era blessings have all begun with reformations, and middle age integration of faith? I will take some more time to unwrap my answer to that.

guns-germs-and-steele-diamondLet us consider the influential work of Jared M. Diamond, “Guns, Germs, and Steel”. Just the other day my good friends were referring to this important work. I believe that this is only part of the answer. Many have set out to explain the rise of the west to simply materialistic origins. That is in essence a large part of the work of Jared Diamond, and William McNeil. These theories including other agricultural theories for the rise of western civilization are only a product of the secularization of culture. They are part of the truth. Social Scientist Rodney Stark, in his book devoted to the reason for western success, narrows it down to four categories.

1. Faith in the progress of Christian Theology

2. How Faith in progress translated to technical, and organizational innovations, many fostered by monastic estates.

3. Thanks to Christian Theology, Reason informed both political philosophy and practice to the extant that responsive states, sustaining a substantial degree of personal freedom, appeared in medieval Europe.

4. The Application of Reason in commerce, resulting in the development of capitalism within the safe havens provided by responsive states.

So Rational theology leading to technical and organizational innovations. Rational theology informing the state affairs bringing a greater level of personal freedom culminating in the rise of capitalism. 400000000000000078274_s4

The views of represented by Stark then add another dimension to the understanding of the Triumph of the West is that not merely having access to steal, ships, and good soil. But we should be asking, “Why did westerners excel in shipbuilding, steal work, and farming?” These are in fact the many areas were faith in rational theology lead to faith in innovative progress.

The climax of the middle ages is not only symbolized by the scientific revolution but also by the triumph of reason, rationality, and an integrated faith culminating in the rise of metallurgy, technology, better agricultural practice, and capitalism.

Shocking that medieval Europe believed in reason, rational thought, faith, theology, bringing about innovation, science, technology, new systems of commerce, agriculture, and a political system that provided commoners with greater levels of personal freedom. It becomes very obvious that without many of the enlightenment figures who sought to secularize the state, culture, and education – we would still have all of the many freedoms and innovations we enjoy in our modern era. We do not owe our modern experience solely to those enlightened men of France but also to medieval Europe and the Reformers.

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Reńe Descartes: Foundations for Modern Science

Physicists, mechanic, mathematician, and metaphysical philosopher Reńe Descartes (1596-1650), lived in a period of great changes.

René_Descartes

Descartes wanted to have a reliable bases for the foundation of science. That is why he wanted to engage in metaphysics. His foundation for science was found on God. He lived in a period and a place where doubt, regarding God, authority, and the church was strong. We are taking about the French Enlightenment.

He reaches his thesis for God as the foundation in a strange way. His method was to use doubt. He was not a skeptic but he decided to construct a method of doubt. Doubt everything, even the five senses. That is the method.

Having reached the extreme of doubting, Descartes realizes that in his ‘Discourse on the method’ that “I am thinking, therefore I exists”, even doubting everything’s existence leads him to this reality, that thinking is evidence for existence.

This view and quote is well known, but it is limited to himself, his thinking, his own achieved philosophy. It is a subjective starting point. How he gets out from himself to everyone and everything else is, God.

He developed a mathematical physics. His medieval physics was the common one of the time, in which God was the center of everything. His secure foundation for philosophy, knowledge, and science, is, “I exist therefore God exists”. My own existence is a reminder of my own weakness, and finiteness. Which makes me aware of a sense of something beyond himself, something infinite, and yet something quit like himself.

Descartes realizes that he is not alone and he can see himself forward into a reliable system of knowledge. He understood first the principle that man can not trust his senses, because the bible says that man is in a fallen state. He then goes with the idea that because God in fact created the mind, making it capable of careful reasoning, that he has a way to go about his philosophy, and mathematics. Mathematics become his step by step, rational approach to gaining knowledge. Mathematics if used carefully, following the rules, is his key to truthfully and accurately pursuing knowledge.

His development of physics, in terms of accurate particles; size, shape, motions. Descartes stressing of the finiteness of mans mind and his limits was what kept his science in check.

His unified organic system of knowledge excluded the consciousness. He believed it could not be measured in the way that everything else was measured and observed. This lead to his own version of dualism. Two radically different ideas of reality; extension and conscious thought. So things that can be measured and things that can not be measured.

Descartes ideas about conscience thought are often confused with someone interjecting religious ideas into philosophy. However, Descartes had it seems, reached a point in his philosophy that he felt that thought, and ideas was not simply a mechanical feature of the human mind.

He knew that life and thought was inseparable from the body. He did not see humanity as angelic. He understood that conscious was not simply thought but, pain, hunger, thirst. It is the signature of our humanity. Not simply an spirit in a human body. Mind and body make up a special unity, the material, and the metaphysical nature.

Descartes was very aware that the nature of the relationship between body and mind was not something needing to be philosophically arranged but it was to be experienced. Everyone experiences the relationship with mind and body.

Conclusion:

Descartes learned that there were things that could not be measured mechanically. But that does not mean they can not be experienced. He never set out to prove Gods existence. But according to his own philosophy, and experience we believed God was a reality much like the conscience. God is something we know exists, and experience regularly, but can not be measured with mathematics, physics, and science.

Obviously today many attempt and achieve good science without God as long as rules are followed, truth is pursued, and care is exercised. But what is clear from the example of Descartes is that God is not a delusion that hinders the concept of science, philosophy, mathematics, physics, est.

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Christian Faith and World Class Science | The BioLogos Forum

scientists“The argument that belief in God interferes with doing good science is wrongheaded in so many ways.

For starters, there is the historical argument. Galileo, Kepler, Newton, Faraday, and Compton were all religious believers and giants in the history of science. Their faith hardly prevented them from doing great science but, more than that, their faith in God actually contributed to original ways of thinking that spurred their scientific creativity.” –Karl Giberson

A personal favorite online team of bridge builder between Science and God. BioLogos is repairing a bridge that was knocked down (so to speak) by Enlightenment figures, and modern atheists.  The rest of the article related to World Class Christian Scientists by the BioLogos author Karl Giberson is below.

Christian Faith and World Class Science | The BioLogos Forum.

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C.S. Lewis: On a Flat Earth Theory

This comes in addition to my recent post on “Myths” associated with the Middle Ages. An era of ignorance and superstition imposed upon Europe by the influence of Christianity.

flat_earthThe commonly held myth is that Medieval Christendom believed in a flat earth. The origin of these myths can be traced back to intentional slants against Christianity. It was the effort of ‘Enlightened” men to make a break with the past. To discredit useful information intentionally in order to over turn the foundations of the Medieval world and create new foundations for the coming modern age.

Along with intentional historical error are many misconceptions about the Medieval period. It takes the work of experts really to determine that the literature of the ancient world, though it is filled with seemingly barbaric beliefs, they are anything but barbaric. C. S. Lewis had a lot to say about this in his lectures on Medieval Literature. Thankfully this work has been preserved in literary form as well.

“Lewis, perhaps the least familiar to most of his admirers and critics: the distinguished Oxford don and literary critic who packed lecture theatres with his unscripted reflections on English literature, and who went on to become the first occupant of the Chair of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at the University of Cambridge.”
Excerpt From: Alister McGrath. “C. S. Lewis; A Life.”

Lewis, therefore, became a foremost scholar, speaking, and writing on the interpretation of literature of the middle ages; its romance, history, poetry, theology, and its science.

On the point of a flat earth. Were Medieval people ignorant as to the spherical nature of the earth?

“Physically considered, the Earth is a globe; all the authors of the high Middle Ages are agreed on this. In the earlier ‘Dark’ Ages, as indeed in the nineteenth century,we can find Flat-earthers [as well as 21st century for that matter]…

The implications of a spherical Earth were fully grasped. What we call gravitation-for the medievals ‘ kindly enclyning ‘-was a matter of common knowledge. Vincent of Beauvais expounds it by asking what would happen if there were a hole bored through the globe of Earth so that there was a free passage from the one sky to the other, and someone dropped a stone down it. He answers that it would come to rest at the centre.Tempera­ture and momentum, I understand, would lead to a different result in fact, but Vincent is clearly right in principle. Mandeville in his Voiage and Travaile teaches the same truth more ingenuously : ‘ from what part of the earth that men dwell, either above or beneath, it seemeth always to them that dwell that they go more right than any other folk. And right as it seemeth to us that they be under us, right so it seemeth to them that we be under them’ (xx). The most vivid presentation is by Dante, in a passage which shows that intense realising power which in the medieval imagination oddly co-exists with its feebleness covercslewis_sm_6386in matters of scale. In jerno, xxxrv, the two travellers find the shaggy and gigantic Lucifer at the absolute centre of the Earth, embedded up to his waist in ‘ Speculum Naturale, VII, vii. ice. The only way they can continue their journey is by climbing down his sides-there is plenty of hair to hold on by-and squeezing through the hole in the ice and so coming to his feet. But they found that though it is down to his waist, it is up to his feet. As Virgil tells Dante, they have passed the point towards which all heavy objects move (7o-ur). It is the first ‘science-fiction effect’ in literature.

The erroneous notion that the medievals were Flat­ earthers was common enough till recently. It might have two sources. One is that medieval maps, such as the great thirteenth-century mappemounde in Hereford cathe­dral, represent the Earth as a circle, which is what men would do if they believed it to be a disc. But what would men do if, knowing it was a globe and wishing to represent it in two dimensions, they had not yet mastered the late and difficult art of projection? Fortunately we need not answer this question. There is no reason to suppose that the mappemounde represents the whole sur­face of the Earth. The theory of the Four Zones taught that the equatorial region was too hot for life. The other hemisphere of the Earth was to us wholly inaccessible. You could write science-fiction about it, but not geography. There could be no question of including it in a map. The mappemounde depicts the hemisphere we live in.

The second reason for the error might be that we find in medieval literature references to the world’s end. Often these are as vague as similar references in our own time. But they may be more precise, as when, in a geographical passage, Gower says

Fro that into the worldes end
Estward, Asie it is.

But the same explanation might cover both this and the Hereford map. The ‘world’ of man, the only world that can ever concern us, may end where our hemisphere ends.”

* Excerpt from C.S. Lewis, Discarded Images: An introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature

In conclusion.

The Myth of middle age Christian imposition of ignorance concerning a flat earth has been compounded intentionally, and unintentionally. The stories are simply not historically accurate. In fact there is a massive contrast in that there is neither any such ignorance at all regarding the relation of the planets, or to earth and its motion.

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What is History?

WHAT IS HISTORY?

  1. Shaped by human choice, but influence by God towards a final goal
  2. Events reflect evolutionary or naturalistic process
  3. Heaven’s mandate manifested in a harmonious society
  4. Shaped by God who expects absolute submission to His will
  5. Humans, possessing divinity, make history in an evolving world
  6. Shaped by heroic persons with power
  7. Human choice shapes history
  8. On-going struggle with the spirit world
  9. Endless cycle of birth, suffering, and death
  10. We all have our stories, but there is no larger master story
  11. History is about the meaning of events [1]

The answer may reflect; Confucianism, Islam, Buddhism, New Age, Hinduism, Naturalism, Nihilism, Post-Modernism, Animism, Existentialism, or Judeo-Christianity. The most common worldview frameworks worldwide.

So what is your view of what history is? Francois Marie Arouet ( Voltaire )

According to the great Enlightenment figure, Voltaire, “History, is the lie that everyone agrees on”. This is ironic, and probably not true. But this was his view. He of course is famous for his own works of historiography, along with his counterpart Edward Gibbon and their slander of the church. They are responsible for a number of Myths in regard to history. Just as they are responsible for some very decent history. Good history is informative as to what events took place, and maybe why.

Ancient historiography is about how deity shaped the human and cosmological events of the past.

Modern historiography is typically about how human choices and natural processes shaped the events of the past.

But the question remains, what if any is the level of Gods involvement in the process?

[1] 2013 Bob Osburn (based upon an earlier survey by David Montoya)

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Two Historical Myths – Two Historical Revisions: Part 2

498px-Christopher_ColumbusAndrew Dickson (1832-1918) is responsible for one of the most influential books every written on “the conflict between science and theology”. His summary that has been copied in almost all common textbooks is as follows;

“The warfare of Columbus [with religion] the world knows well: how the Bishop of Ceuta worsted him in Portugal; how sundry wise men of Spain confronted him with the usual quotation from Psalms, from St. Paul, and from St. Augustine; how, even after he was triumphant, and after his voyage had greatly strengthened the theory of the earth’s sphericity… the church by its highest authority solemnly stumbled and persisted in going astray… the theological barriers to this geographical truth yielded but slowly.”

I remember hearing this from a young age. Even as most of my curriculum was christian because of my home schooling. The problem is that most accounts such as these are almost completely false.

It is obvious that today there is a common belief that science and theology or religion are at odds, and can not be reconciled. That is part of the myth is wish to help bring light on.

In fact all educated men of the medieval period knew the earth was round. As for Augustine, anyone who looks into his work will determine that he lacked enough information to make a case for a round earth. But one might actual interpret his work as a man who believed in a flat earth. He was engaged in a battle against belief in a flat earth in which their were people on the other side. Many believe he is fighting against a spherical earth theory. When he is simply engaged in argument over a disc shaped earth that had people upside down on the other side. Strange story really, but he was not opposed to reason.

Boethius (480-524) wrote some of the most influential and widely known works throughout the middle ages. He used the Microbian model of a spherical earth repeatedly in his work. the-copernican-revolution

Bishop Isidore of Seville (560-636) also wrote of a wheel shaped earth, in which many believe he was able to grasp the five zones with adjacent arctic zones.

The Venerable monk Bede (673-735) taught that the world was round as did Bishop Virgilius of Slazburg (720-784), Hildegard of Bengin (1098-1179), and Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274), and all four became saints.

“Sphere” is the title of a popular medieval text book of astronomy written by Scholastic John Sacrobosco (1200-1256). And if that was too late, then there is ‘Ptolemy’s Almagest’ which was the most common textbook on astronomy used all throughout the middle ages, (It discusses the earths spherity, watch the video at the bottom of this page). It is obvious then that any well trained monk or Bishop would have known these things.

And just to be sure, in the very century of Columbus’ journey, Cardinal Pierre d’Ailly (1350-1420) noted, “although there are mountains and valley’s on the earth, for which it is not perfectly round, is approximates very nearly roundness.”

“as for the “sundry wise men of Spain” who challenged Columbus and advised against funding him, they not only knew the earth was round; they also knew that it was far larger then Columbus thought it was. They opposed his plan only on the grounds that he had badly underestimated the circumference of the earth and was counting on a much to short a voyage… in modern measures, Columbus claimed it was about 2,800 miles from the Canary Islands to Japan, when it is actually about 14,000 miles. Had the Western Hemisphere not existed, and Columbus had no knowledge that it did, he and his crew would have died at sea.” -Sociologist Rodney Stark

Historian Jeffery Burton Russel knew that it was not religious fanatics who clung to a scriptural claim that the earth was flat. Rather that,

“nearly unanimous scholarly opinion pronounced the earth spherical, and by the fifteenth century, all doubt had disappeared.”

Edward Grant, who received a “lifetime scholarly achievement” as a historian of science noted, that there is not mention of flat earth among medieval scholars, except for refuting perceptions of flatness, as did Cardinal Pierre d’Ailly.

None of Columbus’ contemporaries, including himself, his son, or Magellan, make any mention of a flat earth. Everyone knew.

The reason many still get this wrong is has a lot to do with Enlightenment and Renaissance figures like Voltaire, Gibbon, and Diderot, themselves not scientists. There writing, history, and encyclopedias became so popularly that anything else became buried under the amount of histories re-written using Enlightenment sources.

Philosophers of science from the modern period as well as our own contemporaries, such as; A.D. White, Thomas Hobbes, Carl Sagan, and Richard Dawkins, continue making false claims, stirring the pot of religion versus science.  A historical myth has created become a culture war where it is completely unnecessary.

Just as the myth of the “dark ages” was propounded by Enlightenment figures seeking to validate their own era as one of intellectual freedom, ans superiority. There was a self-congratulatory claim to science.

Rodeny Stark outlines a list of the 52 scientific stars of the 14-15th Century.

Out of 52 scientific hero’s in physics, astronomy, mathematics, biology/physiology, 61% were considered devout, 34% conventionally religious, and 3% skeptic. Again, this was the 14th-15th century. A time when intellectual freedom was allowed, yet many remained devout, or nominal, whether Catholic or Protestant. Justus_Sustermans_-_Portrait_of_Galileo_Galilei,_1636

One such hero, Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) much like Columbus has been a story in which many have set out to prove the constant battle with religion and science. In most histories Galileo is persecuted for his science by the Catholic church. Maybe an other time I could expound upon the weak historical outlook on the life of Galileo. In short he is a hero of faith, and reason, -theology, and science. He was also arrogant, and antagonistic towards a friend who happened to be the Pope Urban III. He was imprisoned, but his work was eventually recognized and reconciled with faith and scripture.

There was no battle between faith and science in the middle ages. It was loving union, in which there is bound to be a bit of tension. But it was out of the Christian faith that me were inspired to look to the heavens and begin to grasp Gods Handiwork.

Where most scientist got in trouble was when they overstepped their bounds, and challenged fundamental Christian doctrine not in connection with any new evidence. Sir Isaac Newton got in trouble for trying to rearrange the trinity. But he was a brilliant physicist who believed he had proved that behind all things in existence is an intelligent, aware, Omnipotent God.

Not only did medieval scholars and clergy believe in a spherical earth, science was not at odds with religion. In fact Christianity had an essential theological climate that gave rise to the sciences. Science was birthed out of monasteries and christian universities, and at times held in check with theology but science has aided theology as well.

Science developed in Europe because of widespread “faith in the possibility of science… derivative from medieval theology.” Alfred North Whitehead a philosopher and mathematician spoke this in 1925 to Harvard intellectuals, they were shocked, so were the many who read his papers on the subject. World famous author (Whitehead), who Johannes Kepler Kopie eines verlorengegangenen Originals von 1610co-authored with Bertrand Russel are not somehow missing the point.

“The chief aim of all investigation of the external world should be to discover the rational order, and harmony imposed on it by God and which he revealed to us in the language of mathematics.” – Johannes Kepler

Robert Boyle likewise, in writing to the Royal Society of London, wish success in “their laudable attempts to discover the Nature and Works of God”.

In conclusion it is at times said, that Greek and Roman culture is responsible for the rise of science, or that China started it, or that it was the Muslims who translated the works of Greek thinkers. In reality Greeks did astrology, and philosophy, and some of it was quite good. Thought it did not amount to science. So then to say, simply translating the works of Greek thinkers brought about science is false as well. (Also Latin speaking Europe translated the work of Ptolemy, Euclid, Aristotle, and Plato as well). Muslim scholars have often held that efforts to formulate natural laws are blasphemy in that they would seem to deny Allah’s freedom to act. Though the Chinese had many inventions, potential for science was always cut short of it in the same way it was cut short in the Roman world. There was an inevitable lack of belief in the possibility science. Christianity does not need all the credit, and I have not sought to give all credit for science to Christianity. But it is the only culture in which astrology lead to astronomy, or alchemy lead to chemistry.

The Christian Middle Ages of Europe is the place where Science became Science, very few believed in a flat earth, and scientist were not persecuted for their work. Rather than ignorance, faith and reason prevailed, and Europe made progressive strides separating itself intellectually from the rest of the pack.

C.S. Lewis was one of the most well read of all of his colleagues at Oxford on medieval times. Here is a nicely put together video with voice over from one of his papers on the subject. Enjoy.

Categories: Church, Enlightenment, Faith, History, Philosophy, Renaissance, Science, Society/Culture, Worldview | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

Two Historical Myths – Two Historical Revisions: Part 1

Myth Number OneImage

For centuries it has been commonly held that after the fall of Rome came the “Dark Ages” -many centuries of ignorance and superstition imposed across Europe by Christianity.

“a dark, dismal patch, a sort of dull and dirty chunk of some ten centuries, wedged between the shinning days of the golden Greeks… and the brilliant galaxy of light given out jointly by those twin luminaries, the Renaissance and the Reformation.” -Anne Fremantle

Voltaire (1694-1778) described the long era as when “barbarism, superstition, and ignorance covered the face of the world”. These same sentiments were carried on by Edward Gibbon, and Rousseau. Likewise popular historian Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) agreed that “it is not inappropriate to call these centuries dark, especially if they are set against what came before and what came after.”

The terms Renaissance and Enlightenment often appear simultaneously, at times along with the word, ‘Reformation”. This is because, of course, they all took place within a single century, and stretching into two or perhaps three. The Renaissance is the french word for “rebirth”. According to standard historical accounts, the Renaissance occurred because of the decline in church control over major norther Italian cities such as Florence.

Western history in summary;

  1. Classical Antiquity, to the fall of Rome
  2. Dark Ages, when the church dominated
  3. Renaissance-Enlightenment, which birthed…
  4. Modern Times

This has been the prominent theme in most standard historical textbooks despite the many historians who have known for some time that this is a complete historical myth. Looked upon by defeated historians as “an indestructible fossil of self-congratulatory Renaissance humanism.” (J. H. W. Liebeschuetz)

It is not appropriate to stop using the terms Enlightenment or Renaissance completely. Rather it is better to understand these eras in light of a more accurate portrayal of the so called “Dark Ages”.

Rome

Since it has been said, that it is appropriate to refer to the “dark ages” as ‘dark’ in comparison with the lights of Rome and the continued Greek learning of the Renaissance, lets take a look then at just how great Rome and Greek culture really was. After all it was the Enlightenment and Renaissance era that brought about such a deep Romanticism for the ancient civilization. What if all such reminiscing of the past was exactly that. Romantic ideas about a time long past, a time thought to have been the ideal civilization worth patterning the future after.

What is often forgotten about Rome even in an era when the French fought for revolution and a republic, is that the Roman Empire was, well, an empire. Where constant power struggles took place among the ruling elite, and that beyond border wars that brought wealth to the empire, and some impressive public work projects, very little happened. Change, whether technological or cultural, went on very slowly.

“Inventions have long since reached their limit, and I see no hope for future developments.” – Roman engineer Sextus Julius Frontinus (40-103)

“Of course half the population of the empire consisted of slaves… Most free Romans lived at a bare substantial level, not because they lacked the potential to achieve a much higher standard of living, but because a predatory ruling elite extracted every ounce of surplus production. If all production above the bare minimum needed for survival is seized by the elite, there is no motivation for anyone to produce more. Consequently, despite the fabulous wealth of the elite, Rome was very poor.” -Sociologist Rodney Stark

“emperors amassed vast wealth but received incomes that were nevertheless small relative to Imagethe immensity of the territories and populations governed” – Economic Historian, E. L. Jones

“When the collapse of the Roman Empire released the tax-paying millions… from a paralyzing oppression, many new technologies began to appear and were rapidly and widely adopted with the result that ordinary people were able to live far better, and, after centuries of decline under Rome, the population began to grow again. No longer were the productive classes bled to sustain the astonishing excess of the Roman elite, or to erect massive monuments to imperial egos, or to support vast armies to hold Romes many colonies in thrall.” (Stark)

What many historians have been content, along with Enlightenment and Renaissance writers, is to simply write off slavery, and become transfixed by the ruin’s of Rome and its ancient monuments. We make the mistake of mourning at the fall of an empire that bled the productive classes when we should be morning the immense sacrifice of the ordinary. There is of course something we could learn from a correct understanding of such an empire as Rome was.

Hence, there was no fall from the glorious Roman empire into the “Dark Ages” of Christian ignorance and superstition. No glorious empire existed, only for the elite ruling class, and only in the minds of intellectual giants of the Renaissance who’s history had been severely flawed by their Romanticism.

So what good happened in the “Dark Ages”?

As I have already mentioned. The elaborate hoax was created primarily by two famous “Enlightenment” intellectuals, Voltaire, and Gibbon. One of the down falls was that most intellectuals had little interest in anything but literary matters. The medieval period was not an era well known for eloquent Latin. At least not as good of Latin as the best from any Roman era. There was limited though not a complete lack of attention paid to the works of Plato and Aristotle, this was taken as ignorance.

I believe it will be sufficient to simply list the achievements made in this era then to expound on the areas where myths have become legends.

Technology.

As has been said, much of the great Roman empires work force came, not from great technologies, but off the backs of slaves. As soon as the ninth century one-third of the estates along the Seine River, near Paris, had water mills, most of which were church-owned properties. Several centuries later there were mills every seventy feet along the river. (Walter Burkert, Franz Cumont)

By 1086 there were already 5,624 water-powered mills operating in England. “This mechanized the production of woolen cloth and allowed England to dominate the European market.” (Liebeschuetz)

Dams were also constructed and Europeans excelled in bridge building. A five hundred foot bridge was built in Ireland as early as 803. Europeans learned to harness the wind and not only used the power for the same purposes as water mills but used in order to pump water. The Netherlands, and Belgium used wind mills to pump out the sea and restore large portions of their flooded land.

Europeans developed a three-field agricultural system in which one-third of the land was left unplanted each year while still being cultivated and fertilized. This increased production tremendously. The invention of heavy plows brought better cultivation of wetter, more dense soil. Similarly the introduction of horse-collar supplanted the need for slow oxen teams. In monasteries the introduction of plant breeding produced more hardy crops. All together, these “Dark Age” inventions brought far more production with far less effort and time spent.

Chimneys also were invented, so no more holes in roofs letting rain and not allowing smoke to leave houses.

Eyeglasses were invented improving many peoples quality of life.

We all know the middle ages as an era of mounted knights. Well, before the “Dark Ages” there were no heavy cavalry. Stirrups, proper saddles, and lance where an innovation of the middle ages. (Stirrups, and a saddle with a high back brace would allow for knights to charge headlong into battle without falling off horses).

While the Chinese get credit for the creation of ‘gun powder’, Europeans are credited with the most functional cannons used eventually in naval and land battles.

What is so glaringly obvious is the great technological advancement of this era in comparison to that of the Roman times.

Along with great technological advancements came the well documented rise of capitalism. I realize that capitalism alone according is not the great cure all for a culture. Nor is democracy. But, even the infamous Karl Marx regarded the rise of capitalism as creating a “more massive and more colossal productive force than all preceding generations.” In short by the thirteenth century there were 173 banks in Italy having hundreds more branches across Europe. The grassroots of capitalism rose out of an unexpected source; The monasteries. Much more could be said about this. (Check out my Library for recommendations).

A great bit more could be said of moral progress throughout the medieval period. For example, by comparison, Roman philosophers were all slave owners, who viewed women in the same regard. Even an uneducated glance into their work would be offensive to any modern or post-modern person.

The “Dark Ages” saw many attempts and a handful of successful emancipation projects. Not only as a direct result of technological innovation, but as a result of theologians; popes, and monks alike. Slavery did not die easily as we well know. It re-surged in various part of Europe, at a number of times throughout the middle ages. Image

A seventh century King of the Franks Clovis II married his British slave, Bathilda who later reigned when Clovis died.

Charlemagne apposed slavery in the eighth century along with the Pope and other influential clerical voices.

Ninth Century Bishop of Agobard voiced: “All men are brothers, all invoke one same father, God: the slave and the master, the poor and the rich man, the ignorant and the learned, the weak and the strong… there is no slave or free.”

In the eleventh century, St. Wulfstan and St. Anselem successfully campaigned to remove the last vestiges of slavery in Christendom.

I have written previously on “High Culture” in the “Dark Ages”. You can check out a more lengthy explanation at the link. But again, in summary, the middle ages saw great advances in music and the development of polyphony. Wonderful art is littered throughout the period in the great Gothic architecture, stained glass, and “Romanesque” painting.

Literature was regarded as a lost art by Gibbon, Voltaire, Cervantes, Machiavelli, and Da Vinci. The Irony however, is that “each of their native languages had been given their literary form by medieval giants such as Dante, Chaucer, the nameless authors of the chansons de geste, and the monks who, beginning in the ninth century, devoted themselves to writing lives of saints…thus the vernacular prose was formulated and popularized” (Stark)

The next two great developments are left off here until later. The rise of universities, and higher education -specifically science will be be discussed in my next blog. And a second common myth exposed.

Conclusions:

Common Myth: The “Dark Ages” existed from 500-1500 AD. Christianity imposed an era of ignorance and superstition all across Europe. A period preceded and followed by the glorious lights of Greek and Roman antiquities, and the Enlightenment-Renaissance.

Common Revision: The Period from the fall of Rome until the Enlightenment across Europe was not ‘dark’ rather, the fall of Rome initiated a great and accelerating learning curve of innovation and progress that was only beginning to reach maturity as is neared the time of the “Enlightenment-Renaissance” era.

Click HERE for PART 2 of this Post – Myth #2

Categories: Bible, Church, Enlightenment, Faith, History, Modern, Philosophy, Renaissance, Science, Society/Culture, Uncategorized, Worldview | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments

God – Man – Nature

Genesis 1-2 outlines Gods design for the relationship between 1)man and nature, 2)man and God, 3)nature and God.

God created the cosmos for which he then created a human caretaker. Dominion was given to man. Though it is quickly seen in chapter 3 when man ‘sins’ it is not just a sacred thing between him and God. His ‘sin’ had a negative impact on nature around him.

God is owner, and founder of the Universe.

His relationship with nature is primarily by way of the managers he set in place. Men and Women created in his own image.

Mans relationship to God is then briefly outlined; You have a unique father like relationship with your boss who made you like himself. Mans relationship with nature is outlined as well, the system God created is open. It is effected by mans choices, there is great potential in nature both for good and for harm.

Modern man (1600-1900’s) began to see man and nature anonymous of Gods direct influence. Their first mistake was the deist theology. That God though he is there has no involvement in the universe or in the affairs of man. Their first mistake lead quickly to man becoming the complete measure of all things. That God no longer seemed rational therefore man and nature is all that there is. Terms such has humanism, modernism, and then enlightenment refer generally to this theological and philosophical activity.

The effect on theology was that those who continued to engage with scripture did so without any commitment to the bible as something reliable. There priory effort was to untangle the bible and its message from all reality. They were very effective in their work. The church reacted. Their reaction was not to guard the message of scripture by way of critical literary studies, or contextualism, rather they gave in to the new onslaught of scholarly activity an retreat inward. Since closer analysis seemed to contradict scripture as reliable the evangelical world put their emphasis on experimental faith experiences. People kept getting ‘saved’ and the church still grew steady. The missions movement thrusted forward with men like John Wesley with a passion to see the lost reached with the gospel of Christ. Certainly we are reminded that in a generation when such attacks on scripture were so effective, Christ is not bound. Though to end there would be to disregard that the church had failed to see the importance for future generations of the battles lost of the historicity and literary, and cultural legitimacy of scripture.

Just as culture and philosophy moved away from a more unified worldview, where God/Man/Nature where a tangled messy relationship. So the church rejected the modern notion of natures biblical significance. Since modern man sought to remove God, modern evangelicalism sought to remove the man/God relationship from nature, history, fact, science, critical studies.

The great commission of Christ is not merely a save souls plan. It is a disciple nations plan. It surely includes the evangelical biblical concept of salvation of the soul, but it includes the mind, and the body.

Mans relationship with nature is not everything.

Mans relationship with God is not everything ( though when man is in ‘right’ relationship with God it would mean that his relationship with his whole self, and with nature is coming in line as well)

Gods relationship with Nature: He created it and it was Good. We screwed it up. But his plan was to use humanity to make it even better. God is in the process of redeeming all things. Not just souls, but the whole man. Not just man but the whole of creation.

The Great Commission is better understood when Gods whole narrative is in our grasp. The from the beginning Gods Commission for man was to care for nature, to nurture and bring life forever. The Great Commission in Matthew 28 is God using the church of Christ to fulfill his Genesis 1 Commission.

Categories: Bible, Church, Context, Doctrine, Enlightenment, Faith, Genesis, History, Mission, Modern, New Testament, Old Testament, Origins, Orthodox, Philosophy, Renaissance, Salvation, Science, Society/Culture, Spiritual, Theology, Worldview | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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