In Making all things new, David asks, "What would Britain look like if Christianity had never taken root here?" Among his answers, '"no science" may have surprised some, but not Christopher Dawson, the British historian who concluded his career at Harvard. I am reading Dawson's remarkable Religion and the Rise of Western Culture, and would recommend it to Christopher Hitchens, who famously writes that religion is poison. In his book, Dawson mentions Pierre Duhem's history of science.
A French physicist and mathematician, Duhem wrote a ten-volume history of science, and showed that Christianity had helped foster Western science in one of its most fruitful periods, the much abused and misunderstood Middle Ages. Inspiration for Duhem's opus, which begins with Plato, came from his research into the origins of statics, where he encountered the sophisticated writing of medieval mathematicians and philosophers such as John Buridan, Nicole Oresme, and Roger Bacon. Duhem came to regard them as the founders of modern science.
Dawson notes that the study of religion and Western culture is so enormous and so specialized a field that many scholars are trapped on small islands of knowledge. A commentator such as Hitchens wanders through this huge, rich field in self-imposed darkness, refusing to switch on his flashlight.
In the introduction to his book, Dawson asks -
Why is it that Europe alone among the civilizations of the world has been continually shaken and transformed by an energy of spiritual unrest that refuses to be content with the unchanging law of social tradition. . .? It is because its religious ideal has not been the worship of timeless and changeless perfection but a spirit that strives to incorporate itself in humanity and to change the world. In the West the spiritual power has not been immobilized in a sacred social order like the Confucian state in China and the Indian caste system. It has acquired social freedom and autonomy and consequently its activity has not been confined to the religious sphere but has had far-reaching effects on every aspect of social and intellectual life.
These secondary results are not necessarily of religious or moral value from the Christian point of view - but the fact remains that they are secondary to and dependent on the existence of a spiritual force without which they either would not have been or would have been utterly different.
. . .European history is the history of a series of renaissances - of spiritual and intellectual revivals which arose independently, usually under religious influences, and were transmitted by a spontaneous process of free communication.
Dawson devastates the modern view that European culture has succeeded simply because it has been imperialistic.
The Saturday Review of Literature called Christopher Dawson (1889-1970) "unequaled as an historian of culture."