George Michalopulos, occasional contributer (well, a bit more than occasional) to the AOI blog wrote a review of David Bentley Hart’s new book “Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies” that is posted on the OrthodoxyToday.org site. Hart takes a close look at the new atheist’s arguments and dismantles them one by one, especially the old shibboleths like the Inquisition, the burning of the Alexandrian library, Galileo, and more. Michalopulos writes:
Hart dispatches the secularist critiques of (among other things) the Inquisition, the trial of Galileo, and the Christian burning of the famous Library at Alexandria. In the interest of brevity, I will only say that the Inquisition was set up by the Roman Catholic Church to stop the promiscuous torture and execution of people condemned of heresy and witchcraft by the state. In this respect, the Church largely succeeded. As for Galileo, Hart plumbs the historical record and proves that he was a prickly character who needlessly and with malice often provoked his many academic enemies. More to the point, his own astrophysical theories were not in themselves correct as his inquest pointed out…Indeed, it is Kepler’s system of celestial mechanics which we use today.
As to the famous burning of the Alexandrian Library by supposedly superstitious and bigoted Christian mobs in A.D. 390, Hart destroys this myth with an alacrity that enlightens as well as educates us about the intricacies of the early Christian age. It is little known that the Library had in fact been burned down many centuries earlier, most probably – and inadvertently—by Julius Caesar’s legions, during the dictator’s war against Pompey in the year 48 B.C. This is a stunning revelation, as Caesar died in 44 B.C., a good forty years or so before Christ had even been born (and almost a good century before the creation of the Church). So how did this myth take hold? The answer lies in the internecine conflicts that took place between Greeks and Jews, and later between pagans and Christians in Alexandria, quite possibly the most cosmopolitan and most violent city in the Roman Empire.
Michalopulos offers a good summary of the debt science owes to the Christian world view (a point well known among historians of science):
It is because of Hart’s great historical knowledge that this book is well worth a leisurely read. His historical episodes are written in a lively manner, entertaining and often with a hint of sarcasm. However, the real jewel of this book lies in its middle section, when Hart beautifully describes the rite of Christian initiation, contrasting it with the benighted, and hopeless paganism that permeated the entire non-Christian world. The remorselessness that Hart catalogues –from the pagans’ own sources at that—describe nothing less than a severe existential crisis for Hellenistic civilization. Even the vaunted erudition and science of Greek philosophy had long degenerated into superstition and magic by the time the Galilean “had cast the world gray with His breath.” The Renaissance myth, that Greek learning was snuffed bout by an intolerant Church takes a well-deserved beating in these pages. Indeed, it was Christianity, with its insistence that Reason (logos) had permeated the world –indeed created it—which gave rise to the scientific method. True science did not begin with Aristotle, who disdained the laboratory as the denizen of slaves, but with the Franciscans of the High Middle Ages, who had no compunction about getting their hands dirty. The operating principle of modern science –reductionism—was the revealed to the world by William of Ockham, a Franciscan monk.
Read the entire review on the OrthodoxyToday.org website.