Archive for the ‘The Christian Church’ Category

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New book available: Living On The Edge

October 22, 2013

Living On The Edge: a book for doubting Christians

Today Christians in the Western world are typically living in a post-Christian society. Christian beliefs are met with skepticism, and people see little reason to believe. Christians are confronted with daily challenges to their faith, and often struggle to understand the relevance of Christianity to modern life. Professional surveys indicate the following reasons why young Christians lose their faith.

  • Overprotective churches
  • Shallow church experience
  • Antagonism towards science
  • Simplistic teaching on morality
  • Christianity seems exclusive
  • Not treating doubters kindly

This 600 page book (written in English), addresses those concerns, providing evidence upholding and defending Christian beliefs and values, and proving they are relevant to the modern world. It is aimed at Christians struggling with faith and re-assessing their beliefs, as well as Christians who are interested in building a stronger faith. It is also useful for Christians who want a book to show their non-Christian friends that the Christian faith is reasonable.

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Who was Hypatia?

May 5, 2011

The Myths

Hypatia has been depicted as a revolutionary woman scientist,[1] the last of the ancient pagan scientists,[2] a representative of feminist values,[3] and the designer of the astrolabe and hydrometer.[4] [5] Her death has been considered exemplary of the intolerance of religion,[6] and the death of Greek science.[7] [8]

The Facts

Hypatia was a neo-Platonist lecturer and scholar in 4th century Alexandria (Egypt), who taught mathematics and astronomy to members of the privileged elite[9] as part of the mysteries of Neoplatonism.[10]

She was not the first woman ‘scientist’[11] or mathematician.[12] [13] [14] Her position as a teacher of men did not threaten the existing social or religious order.[15] She did not invent the astrolabe,[16] [17] and there is no evidence she invented the hydrometer.[18]

Her brutal murder by a Christian mob was due to political power play, not conflict between Christianity and paganism or science.[19] [20] [21] [22] [23] [24]

Her earliest historian (a Christian), praised her and condemned her murderers.[25] She is quoted as having expressed many rationalist ideals,[26] [27] [28] [29]  [30] but these are all fictional. [31] [32] [33] [34] [35]


[1] ‘Hypatia of Alexandria (ca. 370–415) Egyptian astronomer, philosopher, teacher, and mathematician regarded as the first woman scientist, and the first woman to contribute to the study of mathematics.’. Todd, ‘The Facts on File Algebra Handbook’, p. 66 (2003).

[2] ‘Alic, Margaret. Hypatia’s Heritage: A History of women in Science from Antiquity Through the Nineteenth Century. Boston: Beacon and London: Women’s Press, 1986. Examines biographical and scientific evidence to reveal the lives and accomplishments of women in natural and physical sciences and mathematics. The material dealing with Hypatia claims for her the roles of the last important pagan scientist in the western world, and the representative of end [sic] of ancient science.’, Magill, Moose, & Aves (eds.), ‘Dictionary of World Biography: The ancient world’, p. 583 (1998).

[3] ‘Little known for centuries, Hypatia emerged in the nineteenth century as a symbol for feminists of the historical suppression of women’s accomplishments.’, McIntyre, ‘Hypatia’, in Traver (ed.), ‘From polis to empire, the ancient world, c. 800 B.C.-A.D. 500: A Biographical Dictionary’, The Great Cultural Eras of the Western World, p. 205 (2001).

[4] ‘Synesius refers to two mechanical devices, a hydrometer and a silver astrolabe, that he and Hypatia invented‘. Rosser, ‘Women, Science, and Myth: Gender beliefs from antiquity to the present’, p. 13 (2008).

[5] ‘Synesius of Cyrene (North Africa) a student of Hypatia, credited her with the invention of apparatus for distilling water and measuring the level of liquids.’, Lumpkin, ‘Hypatia and Women’s Rights in Ancient Egypt’, in Van Sertima (ed.), ‘Black Women in Antiquity’, p. 155 (1984).

[6] ‘Usually interpreted as an illustration of barbaric religious fanaticism and intolerance for humanistic inquiry,’, Naylor, ‘North Africa: a history from antiquity to the present’, p. 51 (2009).

[7] ‘Her death presents the perfect symbol of the end of the classical world, the end for a long time of the possibility of disinterested scientific inquiry.’, Whaley, ‘Women’s history as scientists: a guide to the debates’, p. 19 (2003).

[8] ‘Van der Waerden reiterates the theme that Alexandrian science ceased with her death:’, Dzielska, ‘Hypatia of Alexandría’, p. 25 (1995).

[9]They were from wealthy and influential families; in time they attained posts of state and ecclesiastical eminence. Around their teacher these students formed a community based on the Platonic system of thought and interpersonal ties. They called the knowledge passed on to them by their ‘divine guide’ mysteries. They held it secret, refusing to share it with people of lower social rank, whom they regarded as incapable of comprehending divine and cosmic matters.’, ibid., p. 105.

[10] To her disciples Hypatia was a medium of divinely revealed truths.

[11] In Hypatia’s day there was actually no such thing as a ‘scientist’ in the modern sense of the term, only the ‘natural philosopher’, who studied the natural world and typically combined observations with religious and philosophical commentary.

[12] ‘She [Dzielska] also unearths a number of references to women in the late Greek philosophical world, which show Hypatia’s example to be not so unusual as had been thought.’, Hodgkin, ‘A history of mathematics: from Mesopotamia to modernity’, p. 72 (2005).

[13] ‘(Incidentally, Hypatia is not the earliest known woman mathematician; Pappus had directed a polemic against a female teacher of mathematics named Pandrosion, and a certain Ptolemais is quoted in Porphyry’s commentary on Ptolemy’s Harmonics.)’, Jones, ‘Later Greek and Byzantime mathematics’, in Grattan-Guinness (ed.), ‘Companion Encyclopedia of the History and Philosophy of the Mathematicla Sciences’, volume 1, p. 65 (2003).

[14]Hypatia, after all, wasn’t the first woman philosopher. The Project on the History of Women in Philosophy amply documented that there were many women philosophers before Hypatia; she didn’t come along unti lafter the fourth century A.D. Among those who preceded her were numbers of Pythagorean women philosophers from the sixth to the third or second century B.C. and others -‘, McAlister, ‘Hypatia’s Daughters: fifteen hundred years of women philosophers’, p. x (1996).

[15] ‘The highly public nature of Hypatia’s career was consistent with the African tradition of Egyptian women,’, Lumpkin, ‘Hypatia and Women’s Rights in Ancient Egypt’, in Van Sertima (ed.), ‘Black Women in Antiquity’, pp. 155-156 (1984).

[16] ‘The invention of the astrolabe is usually attributed to Hipparchus of the second century BC. But there is no firm evidence to support this view. It is however certain that the instrument was well known to the Greeks before the beginning of the Christian era.’, Sarma, ‘The Archaic and the Exotic: studies in the history of Indian astronomical instruments’, p. 241 (2008).

[17] ‘It is generally accepted that Greek astrologers, in either the 1st or 2nd centuries BCE, invented the astrolabe‘, Krebs, ‘Groundbreaking Scientific Experiments, Inventions, and Discoveries of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance’, p. 196 (2004).

[18] *In fact her student Synesius wrote her a letter telling her how to make one for him, and explaining how to use it; ‘I am in such evil fortune that I need a hydroscope. See that one is cast in brass for me and put together. The instrument in question is a cylindrical tube, which has the shape of a flute and is about the same size. It has notches in a perpendicular line, by means of which we are able to test the weight of the waters. A cone forms a lid at one of the extremities, closely fitted to the tube. The cone and the tube have one base only. This is called the baryllium. Whenever you place the tube in water, it remains erect. You can then count the notches at your ease, and in this way ascertain the weight of the water.’ Fitzgerald, ‘The Letters of Synesius of Cyrene’, p. 99 (1926).

[19] ‘As the Czech historian Maria Dzielska documents in a recent biography, Hypatia got caught up in a political struggle between Cyril, an ambitious and ruthless churchman eager to extend his authority, and Hypatia’s friend Orestes, the imperial prefect who represented the Roman Empire.’, Lindberg, ‘Myth 1: That the Rise of Christianity Was Responsible For the Demise of Ancient Science’, in Numbers (ed.), ‘Galileo Goes to Jail: and other myths about science and religion’, p. 9 (2009).

[20]her death had everything to do with local politics and virtually nothing to do with science. Cyril’s crusade against pagans came later. Alexandrian science and mathematics prospered for decades to come.’, ibid., p. 9.

[21] ‘That Synesius, a Christian, maintained such close ties with the Greek intellectual traditions and with his teacher Hypatia, suggests that a hybrid amalgam existed between the intellectual pagan and intellectual Christian traditions.’, Wessel, ‘Cyril of Alexandria and the Nestorian controversy: the making of a’, p. 54 (2004).

[22] ‘Among Christian intellectual elites, this Neoplatonic variety of paganism posed no real threat to their theological views. Such easy coexistence between certain pagan and Christian intellectuals suggests that Hypatia’s paganism per se may not have angered Cyril as much as John of Nikiu claimed.’, ibid., p. 54.

[23] ‘Hypatia was a pagan, but she had a lot of students who were Christians and maybe even a few Jewish students.’, Moore & Bruder, ‘Philosophy: the power of ideas’, p. 85 (2001).

[24]Pagan religiosity did not expire with Hypatia, and neither did mathematics and Greek philosophy. (Dzielska 1995, p. 105).’, Hodgkin, ‘A history of mathematics: from Mesopotamia to modernity’, p. 72 (2005).

[25] Socrates Scholasticus, ‘Historia Ecclesiastica’ (c. 439).

[26]Hypatia was unimpressed with what she called religious superstition. She once described how she felt “truth” was different from religious beliefs: “Men will fight for superstition as quickly as for the living truth – even more so, since superstition is intangible, you can’t get at it to refute it, but truth is a point of view, and so is changeable.”‘, Donovan, ‘Hypatia: Mathematician, Inventor, and Philosopher’, p. 43 (2008).

[27] ‘Making matters even worse, Hypatia made public statements against organized religion: All formal… religions are delusive [able to easily mislead people] and must never be accepted by self-respecting persons as final.’, p. 48.

[28] ‘As Hypatia explained, “Reserve your right to think, for even to think wrongly is better than not to think at all.”‘, p. 43.

[29]She also warned about the dangers of teaching children myths and fairy tales: Fables should be taught as fables, myths as myths, and miracles as poetic fancies. To teach superstitions as truth is a most terrible thing. The mind of a child accepts them, and only through great pain, perhaps even tragedy, can the child be relieved of them.’, ibid., p. 42; this is sometimes understood as advice against teaching religion to children.

[30] This has derived support from Lynn Osen’s ‘Women in Mathematics’ (1975), which ironically does not attribute these statements to her at all, but to her father Theon; ‘”All formal dogmatic religions are fallacious and must never be accepted by self-respecting persons as final,” he told her. “Reserve your right to think, for even to think wrongly is better than not to think at all” (Hubbard 1908, p. 82).’, Osen, ‘Women in Mathematics’, p. 24 (1975).

[31] ‘The most creative is the exciting account of Hypatia’s educational training and life composed by Elbert  Hubbard in 1908, who made up most of it to compensate for the lack of historical evidence. He even invented quotations that he attributed to Hypatia, and had a suitably ‘ancient’-looking picture of her in profile drawn to illustrate the piece.’, Cohen, ‘Philosophical Tales: being an alternative history revealing the characters, the plots, and the hidden scenes that make up the True Story of Philosophy’, p. 47 (2008); all quotations attributed to Hypatia or her father are the invention of Hubbard, who had no historical training.

[32] ‘”All formal dogmatic religions are fallacious and must never be accepted by self-respecting persons as final,” said Theon to Hypatia. “Reserve your right to think, for even to think wrongly is better than not to think at all.”‘, Hubbard, ‘Little journeys to the Homes of Great Teachers: Hypatia’, pp. 82-83 (1908).

[33]Said Hypatia, “Fables should be taught as fables, myths as myths, and miracles as poetic fancies. To teach superstitions as truths is a most terrible thing. The child-mind accepts and believes them, and only through great pain and perhaps tragedy can he be in after-years relieved of them. In fact, men will fight for a superstition quite as quickly as for a living truth – often more so, since a superstition is so intangible you can not get at it to refute it, but truth is a point of view, and so is changeable.”’, ibid., pp. 84-85.

[34] ‘In his ability to see the good in all things Hypatia placed Plotinus ahead of Plato, but then she says, “Had there been no Plato there would have been no Plotinus, and although Plotinus surpassed Plato, yet it is plain that Plato, the inspirer of Plotinus and so many more, is the one man whom philosophy cannot spare. Hail Plato!!”‘, ibid., p. 93

[35] ‘”To rule by fettering the mind through fear of punishment in another world, is just as base as to use force,” said Hypatia in one of her lectures.’, ibid., p. 99.

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Early Christian resistance to witch hunts

February 4, 2011

Between 40,000 and 60,000 people died in the witch hunts of the Early Modern period[1]. Three developments in Christian doctrine contributed: 1) a return to belief in witches, 2) changes in the doctrine of Satan, 3) the identification of witchcraft as heresy.

Belief in witches was widespread in medieval Europe,[2] and the secular legal codes of Europe punished witchcraft as a crime.[3] The Church’s influence reversed this, [4] [5] ending witch hunts.[6]

Mainstream medieval Christian teaching denied the existence of witches and witchcraft, as mere pagan superstition. [7] [8] Examples include an Irish synod in 800, [9] Agobard of Lyons, [10] Hrabanus Maurus,[11] the Canon Episcopi edited by Regino of Prüm,[12] the Council of Anse, Buchard of Worms, John of Salisbury,[13] Pope Gregory VII, [14] and Serapion of Vladimire. [15] The traditional charges and punishments were likewise condemned.[16] [17]

Christian influence failed to eradicate traditional beliefs,[18] and later developments in the doctrine of Satan proved influential in reversing the previous dismissal of witches and witchcraft as superstition. These beliefs became included in a comprehensive doctrine of Satan,[19] [20] [21] but it was not until maleficium was identified with heresy that religious trials for witchcraft could start.[22]

Doctrinal change was completed in the fifteenth century, [23] and new trials started.[24] [25] [26] Their promotion by Henricus Institoris met resistance in some areas,[27] and his ‘Malleus Maleficarum’ was less influential than previous scholars once believed.[28] [29]


[1] Fifteenth to eighteenth century.

[2] ‘One of the most persistent features of European world views, as we shall see, was the presence of humans who used magic to help or hurt their neighbours.’, Thurston, ‘Witch, Wicce, Mother Goose: The Rise and Fall of the Witch Hunts in Europe and North America’, p. 15 (2001).

[3]The earliest law codes issued by the northern invaders of the Roman Empire specify penalties for women who were believed to go abroad at night and destroy men by magic.’, Hutton, ‘The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles’, p. 257 (1993).

[4]Then these clauses were revoked, often explicitly at the insistence of churchmen. The Lombard code of 643 may serve as an example: ‘Let nobody presume to kill a foreign serving maid or female slave as a witch, for it [destruction by magic] is not possible, nor ought to be believed by Christian minds. In 789 Charlemagne imposed Christianity upon the people of Saxony, and proclaimed to them: ‘If anyone, deceived by the Devil, shall believe, as is customary among pagans, that any man or woman is a night-witch, and eats men, and on that account burn that person to death . . . he shall be executed.’12 Thus it might be argued that the spread of Christianity initially resulted in an improvement in the treatment of both religious dissenters and alleged witches.”, ibid., p. 257.

[5] ‘Likewise, the Lombard King Rothari (c. 606-52) decreed in 643 that Christians must not believe that women devour a human being from inside (ut mulier hominem vivum instrinsecus possit comedere), and therefore supposed witches (strigae) must not be killed, particularly not convicted in court.’, Behringer, ‘Witches and Witch-hunts: a Global History’, p. 30 (2004).

[6] ‘Indeed, in those parts of western Europe which were the home of, or taken over by, Germanic tribes, it seems that the Church ended a tradition of hunting and killing witches.’, Hutton, ‘The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles”, p. 257 (1993).

[7]Certainly the early Church cannot be held responsible for the mass burnings of heretics which commenced seven centuries after its installation in power, or the great witch hunt which began eleven centuries later. During that long interval, Christendom itself changed.’, ibid., p. 257.

[8]Clearly, there was an increase in sceptical voices during the Carolingian period, even if we take into account an increase in surviving sources.’, Behringer, ‘Witches and Witch-hunts: a Global History’, p. 31 (2004).

[9]Likewise, an Irish synod at around 800 condemned the belief in witches, and in particular those who slandered people for being lamias (que interpretatur striga).’, ibid., pp. 30-31.

[10]A Crown witness of ‘Carolingian scepticism’, Archbishop Agobard of Lyon (769-840), reports witch panics during the reign of Charlemagne. In his sermon on hailstorms he reports frequent lynchings of supposed weather magicians (tempestarii), as well as of sorcerers, who were made responsible for a terrible livestock mortality in 810. According to Agobard, the common people in their fury over crop failure had developed the extravagant idea that foreigners were secretly coming with airships to strip their fields of crops, and transmit it to Magonia. These anxieties resulted in severe aggression, and on one occasion around 816, Agobard could hardly prevent a crowd from killing three foreign men and women, perceived as Magonian people. As their supposed homeland’s name suggests, the crop failure was associated with magic. The bishop emphasized that thunderstorms were caused exclusively by natural or divine agencies.’, ibid., pp. 54-55.

[11] ‘Hrabanus Maurus, Abbot of Fulda, wrote several attacks, including ‘On the magical arts’, much of which was derived from Isidore of Seville, on those who believed that magicians and sorcerers could accomplish anything that depended on their power alone.’, Jolly, Raudverre, & Peters, ‘Witchcraft and Magic in Europe: the Middle Ages’, p. 201 (2002).

[12] ‘One of the most important ecclesiastical documents of the Middle Ages was the Canon Episcopi, ca. 900, which defined witchcraft as Devil-worship, but declared it to be nothing more than a foolish idea.’, Guiley, ‘The Encyclopedia of Witches, Witchcraft, and Wicca’, p. 50 (2008).

[13] ‘Witchcraft beliefs however were not always endorsed by the upper levels of society. They were condemned as superstitious by the Council of Anse in 990 and by Buchard of Worms a few years after, as when John of Salisbury dismissed them as the imaginings of ‘a few poor men and ignorant women, with no real faith in God.’, Moore, ‘The Formation of a Persecuting Society: Authority and Deviance in Western Europe 950-1250 ‘, p. 133 (2007).

[14] ‘In 1080 Harold of Denmark (r. 1076-80) was admonished not to hold old women and Christian priests responsible for storms and diseases, or to slaughter them in the cruellest manner. Like Agobard before him, Pope Gregory VII (r. 1073-85) declared in his letter to the Danish king that these catastrophes were caused by God alone, that they were God’s punishment for human sins, and that the killing of the innocent would only increase His fury.”, ibid., p. 55.

[15] ‘Witches were executed at Novgorod in 1227, and after a severe famine in the years 1271-4 Bishop Serapion of Vladimire asked in a sermon: ‘you believe in witchcraft and burn innocent people and bring down murder upon earth and the city… Out of what books or writings do you learn that famine in earth is brought about by witchcraft?‘, ibid., p. 56.

[16] ‘A capitulary of Charlemagne (747-814) for the Saxons in 787 imposed the death penalty on those who, like pagans, believed that a man or woman could be a striga, one who devours humans, and burned them.”, ibid., p. 30.

[17] ‘A decree of King Coloman of Hungary (c. 1074-116, r. 1095-1116) against the belief in the existence of strigae (De strigis vero que non sunt, ne ulla questio fiat) suggests that they were thought to be human beings with demonic affiliation: witches.’, ibid., p 32.

[18] Study after study has shown how, all over Europe, ordinary people regularly appealed not to their own consciences, or to the conscience of the Church, but to local practitioners skilled in healing, divination, and astrology for help with their everyday problems. They did this frequently in cases of suspected maleficium, but any kind of misfortune, anticipated or experienced, could justify a visit to the ‘cunning’ man or woman.’, Clark, ‘Thinking With Demons: the Idea of Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe’, p. 457 (1999).

[19]Early Christian theologians attributed to the Devil responsibility for persecution, heresy, witchcraft, sin, natural disasters, human calamities, and whatever else went wrong. One tragic consequence of this was a tendency to demonize people accused of wrongs. At the instance of ecclesiastical leaders, the state burned heretics and witches, burning symbolizing the fate deserved by the demonic.’, Hinson, ‘Historical and Theological Perspectives on Satan’, Review and Expositor (89.4.475), (Fall 1992).

[20] ‘Trevor-Roper has said that it was necessary for belief in the Kingdom of Satan to die before the witch theory could be discredited.’, Larner, ‘Crime of Witchcraft In Early Modern Europe’, in Oldridge, ‘The Witchcraft Reader’, p. 211 (2002).

[21]Christian theology underwent a major shift of attitude only during the thirteenth century. In his Summa contra Gentiles, Thomas Aquinas (1255-74) not only confirmed Augustine’s semiotic theory, according to which spells, amulets or magical rituals indicated a secret pact with demons, but gave the impression that sorcerers, through the support of the devil, could physically commit their crimes.’, Behringer, ‘Witches and Witch-hunts: a Global History’, pp. 35-36 (2004).

[22] ‘Sorcery was, however, still subject to secular law and secular courts, since the main indictment was maleficium. Subsequent inquisitors like Nicolas Eymeric (c. 1320-99), inquisitor of Aragon, in his Directorium Inquisitorum of 1376 equated sorcerers with heretics because both were supposed to adore the devil. Sorcery, or witchcraft, was thus redefined as a spiritual crime, subject primarily to ecclesiastical courts, and the Inquisition in particular.’, ibid., p. 36.

[23] ‘We are reasonably confident today that the ‘classical’ doctrine of witchcraft crystallized during the middle third of the fifteenth century’, ibid., pp. 18-19.

[24]By the end of the fifteenth century, scattered trials for witchcraft by both secular and ecclesiastical courts occurred in many places from the Pyrenees, where the Spanish Inquisition had become involved, to the North Sea.’, ibid., p. 19.

[25] ‘In Switzerland, the rustic ‘forest cantons’ of the original Confederation apparently remained unaffected by witch trials until after 1560.’, Behringer, ‘Witches and Witch-hunts: a Global History’, p. 19 (2004).

[26] ‘the first known witch-hunt in the kingdom of France began in the northern Pyrenees in the spring of 1562’, ibid., p. 21.

[27] ‘Germany was emphatically not the centre of this activity; Institoris encountered enormous hostility in the Austrian Alps, and absolutely no evidence exists that the publication of his Malleus started any chain of trials anywhere in the Empire.’, ibid., p. 19.

[28]In its own day it was never accorded the unquestioned authority that modern scholars have sometimes given it. Theologians and jurists respected it as one among many informative books; its particular savage misogyny and its obsession with impotence were never fully accepted.’, Monter, ‘The Sociology of Jura Witchcraft’, in ‘The Witchcraft Reader’, p. 116 (2002)

[29] ‘The effect that the book had on witch-hunting is difficult to determine. It did not open the door ‘to almost indiscriminate prosecutions’ 50 or even bring about an immediate increase in the number of trials. In fact its publication in Italy was followed by a noticeable reduction in witchcraft cases.’, Levack, ‘The Witch-Hunt In Early Modern Europe’, p. 55 (2nd edition 1995).

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Is Christianity responsible for the ecological crisis?

January 30, 2011

The claim that Christianity was responsible for the ecological crisis [1] has been contested,[2] [3] [4] but is still asserted strongly.[5] [6]

key text has been Genesis 1:26,[7] a common interpretation of which is known as dominium terrare.[8] Such an interpretation is absent from the first 1,000 years of Christianity,[9] and many scholars reject this as the original meaning of the passage.[10] [11] [12]

In 1603 Francis Bacon proposed a dominion oriented interpretation claiming the purpose of science and technology (the ‘natural sciences’), was to recover paradise by dominating nature.[13] [14]

Early Christians expressed both eco-centric exposition and Hellenistic views unfavourable to the environment.[15] The later Christian tradition contains many advocates of ecological care.[16] [17] [18]

Against an unbalanced view resulting from looking at only a few texts,[19] the value of Biblical environmental instructions has been widely acknowledged. [20] [21] [22] [23]

Stewardship[24] is a recognized Biblical teaching[25] and Christian tradition,[26] against the claim that Christianity is inherently destructive.[27] Many environmentalists have identified the value of religion to ecological concerns. [28] [29] [30]


[1] ‘…the American historian and Presbyterian layman Lynn White argued that the Christian tradition itself bears a huge burden of guilt for the worldview of modernity and the economic system that has led to the present ecological crisis. White’s article placed the blame for the ecological crisis squarely upon Western Christianity. His thesis is a variation of Weber’s famous analysis of the relationship between Christianity and capitalism, namely that Protestantism has encouraged capitalism which, in turn, exploited nature.’, Conradie, ‘Christianity and Ecological Theology’, p. 61 (2006).

[2] ‘In an influential argument, John Passmore suggests that the exploitative attitudes in the West originate from Greek dualism more than from biblical sources. Peter Harrison argues that White is correct to suggest that particular biblical texts have served as important ideological sources for Western exploitation of natural resources. However, he denies that this has played a significant role in the history of the West prior to the emergence of modern science in the seventeenth century. ‘, ibid., p. 62.

[3] ‘The Bible, apart from which Western civilization is inexplicable, has powerful ecological teachings that support an ecological worldview and oppose a utilitarian worldview. This is not to say that these teachings have been widely put into practice in our time – by and large they have not. However, continuing degradation of ecological systems by humanity requires re-examination of these teachings by ecologists and the church.’, DeWitt, ‘Ecology and ethics: relation of religious belief to ecological practice in the Biblical tradition’, Biodiversity and Conservation 4, p. 847 (1995).

[4] ‘To be sure, certain strands of Christian thinking have indeed fostered a dualistic anti-material tendency that has provided the impetus for indifference toward nature. But the wholesale implication of Christian theology, let alone Scripture itself, in fostering such indifference is an overstatement at best.’, Moo, ‘Nature in the New Creation: New Testament Eschatology and the Environment’, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (49.3.451), (2006).

[5]‘Many secular environmentalists insist that the Christian and Jewish religions are inimical to the environment and have been so for thousands of years.’, Conradie, ‘Christianity and Ecological Theology’, p. 62 (2006).

[6] ‘As James Nash argues, the ecological complaint against Christianity is, on the one hand, essentially valid. Throughout Christian history, the dominant theological and ethical strains have been oblivious or even antagonistic to nature. On the other hand, the ecological complaint is an over-generalization since it overlooks the significance of dissenting opinions in Christian history and underestimates the tradition’s capacity for ecological reformation.’, ibid., p. 64.

[7] Genesis 1:26 Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, after our likeness, so they may rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move on the earth.”

[8] An interpretation that this verse means God intended humans to dominate, suppress, and exploit the earth.

[9]But in general it can be said that in the first ten centuries there was not really so very much interest in this question. There was rather a static view of the cultivation of nature and the earth which did not always have a connection to the dominium terrare.’, Halkes, ‘New Creation: Christian feminism and the renewal of the earth’, p. 76 (1991).

[10] ‘The dominium terrae is no carte blanche for the exploitation of the world. If one has (unfortunately) (mis)understood this in this way, this is not intended in the text itself.’, Preuss & Perdue, ‘Old Testament Theology’, p. 116  (1996).

[11] ‘Hibert (2000:150-151) concludes that, “By describing the archetypcal human task as cultivating or ‘serving,’ the soil, the Yahwist subordinates human behaviour to the larger ecosystem upon which human survival depends. According to the Yahwist, the human vocation is not to manage the ecosystems of which humans are a part, but rather to align its activity to meet the demands and observe the limits imposed by this system upon all of its members.”‘, Conradie, ‘Christianity and Ecological Theology’, pp. 76-77 (2006).

[12] ‘In response, Christian exegetes have shown that the respective imperative of Gen. 1.28 is to be understood in the sense of the commission of man to care for the earth. On several occasions Gen. 2.15 has been recognized as an adequate help towards its interpretation.’, Reventlow & Hoffman, ‘Creation in Jewish and Christian tradition’, p. 165 (2006).

[13] ‘In Bacon’s opinion, the natural sciences will return to humankind its dominance over nature.’, ibid., p. 76.

[14] The view that a fallen earth could be redeemed by science and technology ironically led directly to ecological destruction; ‘Such a way of thinking lies at the root of the aggressive trait of all further attempts at dominating the world. ‘, ibid., p. 76.

[15]Santmire, ‘The Travail of Nature: the ambiguous ecological promise of Christian theology’ (1985), Boersema, ‘The Torah and the Stoics on Humankind and Nature: A Contribution to the Debate on Sustainability and Quality’, pp. 222-227 (2001.

[16] ‘For Mennonites (one of the historic peace churches) the theme of “peace with the creation” had powerful resonance (see Redekop 2000).’, Haluza-DeLay, ‘Churches Engaging the Environment: An Autoethnography of Obstacles and Opportunities’, Human Ecology Review (15.1.75), 2008.

[17] ‘Many authors (including Lynn White) have pointed to St. Francis of Assisi as an example for ecologically sensitive practice. Dubos (1974) and others have highlighted the Benedictine monks, characterizing them as conservationists to the Franciscan preservationists (stewardship compared to partnership in Rasmussen’s (1991) terms). There are numerous additional exemplars (Attfield 1983; Oelschlaeger 1994).’, ibid., p. 78.

[18] Including Jonathan Swift, James Eliot, William Bartram, John Ruskin, and George Perkins Marsh; Marsh’s work ‘Man and nature: or, Physical geography as modified by human action’ makes specific reference to deforestation as ‘war upon the garden of God‘, p. 279 (1865).

[19]‘The selection of some favourite texts may unintentionally reinforce the perception that ecology is indeed a marginal concern in the Bible. The focus may be far too narrow. It only relates to an aspect of creation theology or, more specifically, to the relationship (of stewardship?), between human beings and nature.’, Conradie, ‘Christianity and Ecological Theology’, p. 69 (2006).

[20] ‘The Bible, without which Western civilization is inexplicable, has powerful ecological teachings that support an ecological worldview.’, DeWitt, ‘Ecology and ethics: relation of religious belief to ecological practice in the Biblical tradition’, Biodiversity and Conservation 4, p. 838 (1995).

[21] ‘The Bible’s portrayal of the dominion issue is actually more detailed and complex than most studies have indicated. The Bible indicates a variety of ways in which nature is subservient to man, but also ways in which man is subservient to nature.’, Kay, ‘Concepts of Nature in the Hebrew Bible’, in Yaffe, ‘Judaism and Environmental Ethics: A Reader’, p. 90 (2001).

[22] ‘Boastful destruction of resources apparently was common testimonial to the might of kings in the ancient Middle East. The biblical condemnation of deforestation for self-aggrandizement may be contrasted with the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh (third millennium B.C.E.), in which the heroic king destroys a cedar forest “to establish his name”.’, Kay, ibid., p. 95.

[23]In the Bible, humans indirectly bring about environmental destruction as the outcome of sin, or do so directly through foolish arrogance. These analyses scarcely support the theory that the roots of the modern environmental crisis rest in perspectives intrinsic to the Bible.’, Kay, ibid., pp. 95-96.

[24] Of God giving humans the responsibility to care for the environment, rather than exploit it.

[25] ”We have said that our “dominion” over animals is granted to us on the condition that we exercise it responsibly. Another way of putting that may be taken from a comment on the Psalm verse, “The heavnes are the heavns of the Eternal One, but the earth God has given to humankind” (115:16). On this Abraham ibn Ezra remarks, ‘Sheha-adam k’mo p’kid elohim ba-aretze al kol mah sheyesh bah – that humanity is like God’s steward on earth in charge of all that it contains” (ad loc.).This concept of p’kidut – of stewardship – is central to our subject, and, as we have already seen, what it primarily entails is conservation. But equally obviously, it has implications for the way we treat animals, especially domestic ones, since by domesticating them we assume responsibility for them. That this requires considerate behaviour on our part is a major theme of Jewish literature, expressed in exhortations, stories and regulations.’, Rayner, ‘Judaism and Animal Welfare: Overview and Some Questions’, in Jacob & Zemer, ‘The Environment in Jewish Law: Essays and Responsa’, p. 60 (2003).

[26] ‘One group might be termed the despotism school because it views Gen. 1:26-28 and subsequent Christian writers as mandating tyrannical human control over nature. The competing stewardship tradition interprets the identical verses and other early Christian writings as assigning humans a caretaker role.’, Kay, ‘Concepts of Nature in the Hebrew Bible’, in Yaffe, ‘Judaism and Environmental Ethics: A Reader’, p. 87 (2001).

[27] ‘First, the assumption that the entity to blame for the modern environmental crisis is in fact “Judeo-Christian” has been challenged. Passmore has argued that the tradition in question was not Judeo-Christian, but rather Greco-Christian. He sees little evidence that the Hebrew Bible was anti-environment, and additional evidence that the Bible constrained human use of nature. Ehrenfeld and Bentley has well as Helfand have pointed out that Judaism and Christianity are two separate religions, and have examined Jewish beliefs in support of a stewardship position.’, Kay, ibid., p. 87.

[28] ‘We have found that the academy is not the source or repository of practical environmental ethics. However, religious institutions are such, although the modern scientist and citizen may have failed to acknowledge this.’, DeWitt, ‘Ecology and ethics: relation of religious belief to ecological practice in the Biblical tradition’, Biodiversity and Conservation 4, p. 840 (1995).

[29]The church may be, in fact, our last, best chance. My conjecture is this: There are no solutions for the systemic causes of ecocrisis, at least in democratic societies, apart from religious narrative.’, Oelschlaeger, ‘Caring for Creation’ (1994), cited in ibid., p. 841.

[30]‘A significant number of contemporary environmentalists are convinced that some form of religion is needed to provide motivational power for the transformation of human attitudes toward the natural world.’, Moo, ‘Nature in the New Creation: New Testament Eschatology and the Environment’, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (49.3.450), 2006.

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Errors at Religious Tolerance: Christianity and the environment

January 27, 2011

The website ‘Religious Tolerance‘ makes the following claims.

No matter how you describe yourself, you should find your beliefs and practices accurately represented in this website. Almost all other religious websites explain only the beliefs of the webmaster or sponsoring faith group. We are different: we try to explain accurately the full diversity of religious beliefs, worldviews, and systems of morality, ethics, and values. We hope that you will find our essays helpful and of interest.

They explain that ‘None of us has any formal education in theology‘, and ‘We know only a tiny bit about a wide range of religions and religious topics‘. Accordingly, they provide this disclaimer.

We will attempt to overcome our biases on each topic that we describe, by explaining each point of view carefully, respectfully and objectively. To this end, we have many of our essays reviewed by persons familiar with the issues who represent all sides of each topic. We encourage readers to Email us about any errors that they find. We do not regard any essay as fixed or complete.

The following email was sent to ‘Religious Tolerance’ on 22 September, 2010, in response to their articles on Christianity and the environment, which start here. To date no reply has been received and the articles have not been corrected.

Familiar with your site as I am, I was not surprised to read the articles on religion and the environment confined almost exclusively to the late twentieth century, omitting around 3,000 years of discussion of environmental ethics among Jewish, Christian, and Muslim sources. Passing references to White and Passmore (where is the reference to the twenty years of comprehensive criticism of White in the relevant literature?), and repeated quotes from a very slender selection of sources (three main works?), constituted virtually the entire discussion of the impact of the Judeo-Christian religious tradition on the environment and the formation of environmental ethics.

In your bibliography I found none of the standard current works on environmental ethics and praxis in the Judeo-Christian tradition. This article instead opens with a completely unsubstantiated claim dismissing the whole of the Hebrew Scriptures, without a single original source quotation and without a single scholarly reference. This is unfortunate, given that the oldest stratum of the Pentateuch (the ‘Yahwist’, c. 950 BCE), is recognized as containing an explicit environmental ethic restricting anthropological interference with the ecology,[1] and later developments of the ethic in the Primary History, Wisdom Literature, and the Major and Minor Prophets sought to balance anthropocentric and ecocentric concerns.[2] The article demonstrates no knowledge of the relevant primary or secondary literature.

Not only are these passages recognized in the relevant scholarly literature as having explicit ecological motivation,[3] but they were already recognized as such in Jewish commentary of the Second Temple Era. The later Tannaic commentary in the Mishnah (compiled during the third century CE), as well as the rabbinical commentary in Talmud Jerusalem and Talmud Babylon (complied between the third and fifth centuries CE), not only contain detailed ecological exegesis of the environmental ethic in the Torah, but also proscribe additional laws aimed at environmental protection, and articulate the tension between anthropocentric and ecocentric concerns.[4]

The Early Church Fathers are not to be dismissed either, containing some clearly ecocentric Biblical exposition, though occasionally combined with classical Hellenistic views less favourable to nature.[5] Extensive medieval rabbinical commentary on environmental ethics (which is treated very sparsely in the article to which I linked), is found in Rashi (1040-1105),[6] Maimonides (1135-1204),[7] Ibn Ezra (1089-1164),[8] Nachmanides (1194-1270),[9] and Abravanel (1437-1508),[10] among others. Again we find a balance of anthropocentric and ecocentric views, with an emphasis on balancing the two principles for the optimal benefit of both humans and their environment.

Within the later Christian tradition we find such historical examples as Francis of Assisi, the historic Peace Churches advocating harmonious partnership with the environment,[11] and ecological concern models expressed through various monastic orders and individuals,[12] such as Jonathan Swift, James Eliot, William Bartram, John Ruskin, and George Perkins Marsh (whose ‘Man and nature: or, Physical geography as modified by human action’ makes specific reference to deforestation as ‘war upon the garden of God’, 1865:279). The treatment of twentieth century Christian responses to environmental concerns is of course desperately inadequate, suffering from a lack of familiarity with the relevant scholarly literature and from crude quote mining of a tiny selection of works. Entire paragraphs appear without any substantiating references to the relevant scholarly literature at all, and the article is written in a tone, style, and depth of argumentation which does not even reach undergraduate level.

Whilst I appreciate your articles were very likely limited in scope and detail by the limitations on your personal resources, I believe they would benefit from a more balanced historical perspective if they used some of the sources I have referred to here.
_________________________________

[1] ‘the Yahwist subordinates human behavior to the larger ecosystem upon which human survival depends.’, Hibert (2000:150-151), cited by Conradie, ‘Christianity and Ecological Theology’, 2006:78.

[2] Fields to be left unfarmed one year of every seven (Exodus 23:10-11, Leviticus 25:3-7), young birds may be taken from their mother, but their mother must be left alone (Deuteronomy 22:6-7), an ox or sheep not to be slaughtered on the same day as their young (Leviticus 22:8), food bearing trees not to be harmed in war time, even if their destruction would be useful to the war effort (Deuteronomy 20:19), animals used commercially are not to be overburdened or exploited (Exodus 23:5, Deuteronomy 25:4), a righteous man takes care of his animals (Proverbs 12:10), et al.

[3] Sarna, ‘Exodus’, 1991:143; Tigay, ‘Deuteronomy’, 1996:201; Isaacs, ‘Exploring Jewish Ethics and Values’, 1999; Yaff, ‘Judaism and environmental ethics: a reader’, 2001; Hutterman, ‘Ecology in Ancient Judaism’, in Neusner, ‘Encyclopedia of Judaism’, 2000; Katz, ‘Judaism and Deep Ecology’, in Deep ecology and world religions: new essays on sacred grounds’, 2001; et al.

[4] Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:13; Mishna Bava Bathra 2:9, 24b; Jerusalem Talmud, Kiddushin 12:12; Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 17b, et al.

[5] Santmire, ‘The travail of nature: the ambiguous ecological promise of Christian theology’, 1985; Boersema, ‘The Torah and the stoics on humankind and nature:’, 2001:222-227.

[6] Vogel, ‘How Green Is Judaism?’, in O’Brien & Paeth, ‘Religious Perspectives on Business Ethics: An Anthology’, 2006:261.

[7] Katz, ‘Judaism and Deep Ecology’, in Deep ecology and world religions: new essays on sacred grounds’, 2001; Rayner, ‘Judaism and Animal Welfare: Overview and Some Questions’, in Jacob & Zemer, ‘The environment in Jewish law: essays and responsa’, 2003:62-63l Bentley, ‘Urban Planning in Jewish Environmentalism’, in ibid., 45-55.

[8] Rayner, ‘Judaism and Animal Welfare: Overview and Some Questions’, in Jacob & Zemer, ‘The environment in Jewish law: essays and responsa’, 2003:60, 62; Vogel, ‘How Green Is Judaism?’, in O’Brien & Paeth, ‘Religious Perspectives on Business Ethics: An Anthology’, 2006:261.

[9] Vogel, ‘How Green Is Judaism?’, in O’Brien & Paeth, ‘Religious Perspectives on Business Ethics: An Anthology’, 2006:263-4.

[10] Vogel, ‘How Green Is Judaism?’, in O’Brien & Paeth, ‘Religious Perspectives on Business Ethics: An Anthology’, 2006:263.

[11] ‘For Mennonites (one of the historic peace churches) the theme of “peace with the creation” had powerful resonance (see Redekop 2000).’, Haluza-DeLay, ‘Churches Engaging the Environment: An Autoethnography of Obstacles and Opportunities’, Human Ecology Review (15.1.75), 2008.

[12] ‘Many authors (including Lynn White) have pointed to St. Francis of Assisi as an example for ecologically sensitive practice. Dubos (1974) and others have highlighted the Benedictine monks, characterizing them as conservationists to the Franciscan preservationists (stewardship compared to partnership in Rasmussen’s (1991) terms). There are numerous additional exemplars (Attfield 1983; Oelschlaeger 1994).’, ibid., 78.

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Errors at Religious Tolerance: Gnosticism

January 25, 2011

The website ‘Religious Tolerance‘ makes the following claims.

No matter how you describe yourself, you should find your beliefs and practices accurately represented in this website. Almost all other religious websites explain only the beliefs of the webmaster or sponsoring faith group. We are different: we try to explain accurately the full diversity of religious beliefs, worldviews, and systems of morality, ethics, and values. We hope that you will find our essays helpful and of interest.

They explain that ‘None of us has any formal education in theology‘, and ‘We know only a tiny bit about a wide range of religions and religious topics‘. Accordingly, they provide this disclaimer.

We will attempt to overcome our biases on each topic that we describe, by explaining each point of view carefully, respectfully and objectively. To this end, we have many of our essays reviewed by persons familiar with the issues who represent all sides of each topic. We encourage readers to Email us about any errors that they find. We do not regard any essay as fixed or complete.

This article examines a number of their claims concerning Gnosticism.

“Gnosticism consisted of many syncretistic belief systems which combined elements taken from Asian, Babylonian, Egyptian, Greek and Syrian pagan religions, from astrology, and from Judaism and Christianity. They constituted one of the three main branches of early Christianity:” (source)

False. Gnosticism was not ‘one of the three main branches of early Christianity’.[1] It certainly did not pre-date Christianity.[2] [3] [4] It did even not exist as a religious movement in the 1st century.[5]

Simon Magus: He was one of the earliest Gnostics He was skilled in the arts of magic. He interpreted the Garden of Eden, exodus from Egypt and the crossing of the Red Sea as allegories.” (source)

False. There is no evidence at all that Simon ‘was one of the earliest Gnostics’. The earliest texts associating Simon with Gnosticism do not appear until the mid-2nd century, and are considered unreliable for the purpose of establishing what Simon really believed.[6] [7] There is certainly no evidence as to how Simon interpreted the garden of Eden, the Exodus, or the crossing of the Red Sea.[8]

“Some Gnostic beliefs and leaders may have infiltrated Pauline Christianity and influenced the authors of the Christian Scriptures (New Testament)” (source)

False. Christianity in the 1st century was neither influenced nor infiltrated by Gnostic beliefs and leaders.[9] [10] [11] [12]

This article was emailed to ‘Religious Tolerance’ on 5 June, 2010. Expressing thanks for the information, they advised that technical difficulties prevented them from editing the pages promptly. To date the pages have not been corrected.


[1] ‘Egypt has yielded early written evidence of Jewish, Christian, and pagan religion. It has preserved works of Manichaean and other Gnostic sects, but these are all considerably later than the rise of Christianity.’, Unger, ‘The Role of Archaeology  in the Study Of the New Testament’, Bibliotheca Sacra (116.462.153), (1996)

[2] ‘Even if it could be proven that any of the previously discussed works or, for that matter, any of the NH tractates are non-Christian Gnostic documents, that would not in itself be evidence for pre-Christian Gnosticism.’, Combs, ‘Nag Hammadi, Gnosticism and New Testament Interpretation’, Grace Theological Journal (8.2.207-208)

[3] ‘And even if we are on solid ground in some cases in arguing the original works represented in the library are much older than extant copies, we are still unable to postulate plausibly any pre-Christian dates.’, McRae, ‘Nag Hammadi and the New Testament’, pp. 146–47, in Combs, ‘Nag Hammadi, Gnosticism and New Testament Interpretation’, Grace Theological Journal (8.2.208)

[4]‘But it is now widely agreed that the quest for a pre-Christian Gnosticism, properly so called, has proved to be a wild goose chase.’, Dunn, ‘The Cambridge Companion to St. Paul’, p. 9 (2003)

[5] ‘If in all likelihood, with the possible exception of the Simonians, there was no such thing as a rival Gnostic movement within or competing with Pauline Christianity, the question arises whether there ever was a specific Gnostic myth as an entity of its own.’, Lüdeman, ‘Primitive Christianity: A Survey of Recent Studies and Some New Proposals’, p. 151 (2003)

[6]From the 2nd–4th cent A.D. Simon came to be regarded as the father of GNOSTICISM (IrenaeusAdvhaer i.23.2, 27.1; Epiphanius Haer. xxi.7.2; xxvii.2.1). It is a matter of scholarly debate, however, whether the historical Simon was actually a Gnostic.’, Bromiley, ‘The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia’, volume 4, p. 516 (rev. ed. 2002)

[7]There is much dispute about Simon Magus’ relationship to Gnosticism and, in particular, to the 2nd-cent. sect of Simonians, to whom, rather than to Simon himself, the Apophasis is prob. to be ascribed.’, Cross & Livingstone, ‘The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church’, p. 1513 (3rd rev. ed. 2005)

[8] ‘Questions concerning the religious-historical evaluation of Simon Magus (the father of Gnosticism?) can hardly be answered with any certainty now.’, Balz & Schneider, ‘Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament’, volume 3, p. 245 (1990)

[9] ‘It is precarious, as Edwin Yamauchi and others have shown, to assume gnostic backgrounds for New Testament books. Although the phrase, “falsely called knowledge,” in 1 Timothy 6:20 contains the Greek word gnosis, this was the common word for knowledge.’, Liefeld, ‘1 Timothy 2:12 – A Classicist’s View’, in Mickelsen, ‘Women, Authority & The Bible’, p. 246 (1986)

[10] ‘The full-fledged Gnosticism of later church history did not exist in the first century A.D.21 An incipient form of Gnosticism was present, but Schmithals makes the error of reading later Gnosticism into the first century documents.’, Schreiner, ‘Interpreting the Pauline Epistles’, Southern Baptist Journal of Theology (3.3.10), (Fall 1999)

[11] ‘Some modern researchers suggest that several NT and related texts evidence contact with “Gnosticism” in various stages of its development. Texts that especially stand out are Paul’s Corinthian correspondence, Colossians, Ephesians, the Pastoral Epistles, Jude, 2 Peter, and the letters of Ignatius of Antioch (d. ca. 115) and Polycarp of Smyrna (d. ca. 165) among others. But even here the issues discussed are diverse, demonstrating a complex assortment of competing new religious movements, but no evidence of “Gnosticism.”’, Freedman (ed.), ‘Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible’, p. 509 (2000)

[12]Scholarship must in all likelihood abandon the hypothesis that a cohesive Gnostic movement204 is reflected in Paul’s letters.’, Lüdeman, ‘Primitive Christianity: A Survey of Recent Studies and Some New Proposals’, p. 150 (2003)

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Article: Is Christianity At War With Science? (17/20)

August 11, 2007

The following is a continuing list of Christians down through the centuries who, far from being constantly at war with science (commonly called ‘natural philosophy’ in previous times), took an active interest in seeking to understand how the universe worked. The first page in this list is here.

1789-1857: Augustin Louis Cauchy: A French mathematician whose extreme Catholic views made him enemies, but whose skill in mathematics produced major contributions to the field. He wrote over 700 mathematical papers, was a pioneer in mathematical analysis, developed the wave theory in optics, and contributed significantly to algebra, physics, calculus, number series theory, and geometry. His work was highly influential in the development of 19th century mathematics.

1800-1861: Lars Levi Læstadius: A strict Swedish Lutheran, Læstadius was an accomplished botanist who served on a number of expeditions. Læstadius made a number of botanical discoveries, and was recognised internationally, belonging to several botanical societies. He is also well known for his influential religious revival in Lapland, leading social reforms in the underprivileged village of Karesuando, which was plagued by alcoholism and violence. Læstadius’ successful reformation of the village has been honoured by the production of an opera, and the award ‘Man of the Millennium’ by local Laplanders.

1793-1864: Edward Hitchcock: A renowned 19th century geologist, Hitchcock was responsible for building the scientific reputation of Amherst College, where he was Professor of Natural Theology and Geology. He made significant contributions to geology and palaeontology.

During the 19th century the developing field of geology raised questions regarding the age of the earth. As geological discoveries indicated the earth was older than 17th century theologians had suggested, Hitchcock was one of a number of Christians who enthusiastically embraced the scientific evidence, and argued convincingly that an ‘old earth’ was no challenge to the Biblical account of creation in ‘The Religion Of Geology And Its Connected Sciences’ (1851).

Ironically the 19th century battle over the age of the earth was not between secular scientists attempting to convince obtuse and obstinate Christians, but almost entirely between Christian geologists and scientists being opposed by fellow Christians who could not reconcile an old earth with their interpretations of Scripture.

This conflict between Christians over the age of the earth became one of the most significant theological controversies of the 19th century, and contributed disproportionately to the later view that Christianity and science were at war. In reality this was a dispute between Christians over interpretation, not a dispute between Christianity and science. Christian geologists were fearlessly leading the way in developing geological science, and the majority of Christians saw no incompatibility between the Biblical record and an earth older than 6,000 years.

Article here.