You can lead a Grayling to blogging

And you can make him rant.

Yes, kids, he’s at it again; this time in A history lesson.

Oh, Green…
That’s Mr Bamboo to you.
Sorry, Mr Bamboo. You’re such an A.C. Grayling fanboy.
Does seem like that, doesn’t it?
What are you doing? Offering to have his babies?
Of course not. Salma Hayek wouldn’t be a happy bunny.

As I said the last time, I’d probably agree with most of A.C.’s views about religion. I think the problem I have with him is that he’s a Juvenalian and I’m a Horatian.

Grayling’s latest post is in response to one by Madeleine Bunting (These US-style culture wars seeping into Britain are an absurd distraction) who’s attacking Grayling’s slightly iffy grasp of history from his previous entry. She adds

It wilfully omits how Christianity (and, incidentally, Islam) has fostered learning and science (even arches and domes) in Europe for hundreds of years – as well as providing the foundations for human rights and secularism itself.

To which Grayling replies

I challenge her to name one – even one small – contribution to science made by Christianity in its two thousand years; just one…

That sounds like something to which I should be able to give a ready answer because it seems unlikely that Christianity, no matter how unwilling, never made some contribution to science. I could, for example, take issue with the term “science” or question how directly Christianity has to be involved in the contribution. For example, Isaac Newton was a Christian. In fact, this is what Encarta says about his religious inclinations:

Newton also wrote on Judaeo-Christian prophecy, whose decipherment was essential, he thought, to the understanding of God. His book on the subject, which was reprinted well into the Victorian Age, represented lifelong study. Its message was that Christianity went astray in the 4th century ad, when the first Council of Nicaea propounded erroneous doctrines of the nature of Christ. The full extent of Newton’s unorthodoxy was recognized only in the present century: but although a critic of accepted Trinitarian dogmas and the Council of Nicaea, he possessed a deep religious sense, venerated the Bible and accepted its account of creation. In late editions of his scientific works he expressed a strong sense of God’s providential role in nature.
© 1993-2003 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

The question is who exactly has to make a scientific discovery for it to be a “contribution made by Christianity”. The Pope? Some parish priest? Newton seems to fit the bill even if his views were, apparently, a little unorthodox. Alexander Pope wrote

Nature and Nature’s laws lay hid in night
God said, Let Newton be! and all was light.

In other words, Newton would seem to be as good an answer as any, as would many other scientists. What about Gregor Mendel, who was a monk? Once again, from Encarta we have

In 1843 he entered the Augustinian monastery at Brünn (now Brno, Czech Republic), which was known as a centre of learning and scientific endeavour. He studied science as well as theology
© 1993-2003 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

To paraphrase a favourite couplet of mine from Pope’s Essay on Criticism:

A Fool might once himself alone expose,
Now One who blogs makes many more in Prose.

Yes, I’m a fool, but not as big a fool as Bunting.

Increasingly, the stridency with which the non-religious attack the religious belies their own profound insecurity – that the progress they like to attribute to western or enlightenment values is a much-compromised property. It is challenged by almost everything we see around us: climate change, rising levels of mental ill-health, growing economic inequality fuelled by debt and hyper-consumerism. As Oliver James’s new book, Affluenza, makes clear, the nostrums of the west’s “good life” – success, fame, wealth – mask an extraordinary vacuity of purpose, a desperate, restless discontent.

I thought long ago that if religion had been invented in this day and age, it would’ve been a species of escapism, a diversion, a crutch (in some cases). This sounds like the old line that the Jehovah’s Witnesses trot out when they come calling. “Isn’t the world today so terrible?” The implication is that I’m missing some spiritual dimension or that religion is, somehow, going to fix all these problems. If only everyone prayed their little hearts out. Oh hang on. They did that in the Middle Ages and look what happened on a regular basis – plague, pestilence, war, and famine.

My point is that humans made these messes and humans are going to have to clean them up. There isn’t going to be and never has been any chance of divine intervention. I’m sure my ancestors must’ve been confused silly by the Black Death. They lived miserable lives; they toiled in the fields; they went to church every Sunday. Suddenly, they’re being told that God is chastising them for their sins. How many wondered how it was that God had decided there was excessive sinfulness in the mid 14th century when no one had been any more or any less sinful than usual?

The National Secular Society even raised the cry of English kings down the centuries last week: “Who runs Britain – the government or the Vatican?”

It’s a little hyperbolic, but the point is obvious.


And the winner is…

Shilpa Shetty. £200K to appear and, having won, now likely to see the revival of a career which had been languishing. [29.09.13. I assume this has something to do with the series of Big Brother in which Jade Goody took umbrage at Shetty for being nice. Another entry which really belonged on Facebook.]

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2 thoughts on “You can lead a Grayling to blogging”

  1. I think Grayling’s point was in the question he asked: "I challenge her to name one – even one small – contribution to science made by Christianity in its two thousand years; just one…" rather than the question you’ve answered, which was "name a contribution to science made by <em>a christian</em>". Newton famously gave up when he couldn’t get any further with his theory of gravity – sadly deferring to the ‘god of the gaps’. Since then, using his notions of gravitational mechanics as a grounding, we’ve had much success in advancing and expanding on his ideas and removing at least that particular bastion of ignorance.

    I think we can both agree that many christians, of varying degrees of adherence or dogmatism, have given valuable insight and input into scientific progress. However, I would agree with Grayling in that christianity itself, from it’s pagan origins through literalism, via the various schisms has had negligible, if any, impact on scientific advancement. Christians have influenced science: christianity itself hasn’t.

    Re: your last point of Bunting’s polemic that the NSS "raised the cry of English kings down the centuries last week: ‘Who runs Britain – the government or the Vatican?’", one only has to look at the stance she’s defending (which is using bronze age superstition as an excuse) to see this as nothing but hollow projection.

  2. You’re right about the actual question: Christianity rather than a Christian. As I’ve said in my latest post (made before I saw your comment), which is about Mark Vernon adding his tuppence worth, the challenge is, I feel, ill-defined, especially because I don’t know what criteria will satisfy it. In other words, the answer is that Christianity has contributed (next to) nothing, as you say. Besides, it’s in the business of faith, not science, in spite of whatever contributions its practitioners might’ve made.

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