Sunday, April 27, 2014

Rodney Stark's Debunkathon: How the West Won: The Neglected Story of the Triumph of Modernity

Around here, we all love a good debunking of the acceptive narratives, and Rodney Stark takes a whack at the whole megillah.  From Marvin Olasky's review over at WORLD mag:


Baylor professor Rodney Stark’s The Triumph of Christianity was WORLD’s 2012 book of the year. His latest, How the West Won: The Neglected Story of the Triumph of Modernity (ISI, 2014), is equally worth reading for all the myths Stark busts. He consistently shows how decentralization and competition, rather than government domination, form the base for progress. 
Stark was a journalist before entering the academic world, and his clear writing shows it. He skewers classicists who mourn ancient Rome’s downfall, and calls the fall of Rome “the most beneficial event in the rise of Western civilization, precisely because it unleashed so many substantial and progressive changes…Disunity enabled extensive, small-scale social experimentation and unleashed creative competition among hundreds of independent political units.”
In a chapter entitled “The blessings of disunity,” Stark goes on to show that the Dark Ages weren’t dark, the Vikings and the Crusades have gotten a bad rap, the medieval church fought slavery, the Middle Ages witnessed global warming and then global cooling, and the Black Death contributed to the end of serfdom.
And more debunking: Native Americans did not have a reverence for the earth, the European settlement of the Americas was not a brutal act of genocide, Spain following the Age of Exploration never declined because it never truly rose, Islam never had a golden age and was not tolerant, Christianity was not hostile to science, and European nations did not profit from colonialism...

Sounds like fun.  Read on, MacDuff.

23 comments:

Naum said...

Rodney Stark delivers a cavalcade of errors.

Enjoyed some of Stark's early academic work (*Rise of Christianity* is good as well as another that escapes me now, that he co-authored on denominations in America), on church growth, both early origins and study of denominations in early America.

But that was decades ago.

Now he's caught in sorry groove where he sees everything in a prism light, and it's embarrassing.

Also, he hasn't been a journalist since 1961.

Here are some more accounts of sloppiness and error.

jimmiraybob said...

TVD,

Are you and/or American Creation endorsing this work and why?

Tom Van Dyke said...

Mr. Naum, the link to your first amateur website misspelled "execrable." I didn't read on. You only get one shot at wasting my time, and you did.

Mr, "jimmiraybob," I wrote that the book "sounds like fun." I'm not in the mood for the personal attack [in this case on Rodney stark] nonsense today so if you want to rant, you'll have to assume some burden of substantive fact and proof.

Here is the NYT review, for our gentler readers. It's not fully approving, but neither is it a broadside attack.

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/30/books/30book.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

jimmiraybob said...

Well, it is good to see that you aren't endorsing this as serious history.

In the spirit of fun though, I previewed the book via Google and Amazon, and offer the following positive review:

“If you have only one book to read before the imminent rapture and you’re a devout conservative Christianist wanting to believe and embrace the exceptional nature of the Christian invention and establishment of everything good in the western world, then you definitely need to read this book! If, on the other hand you’d prefer something historical, not so much.”

10 out of 10 stars as an inspiring Christian apologist polemic.




Tom Van Dyke said...

The use of "Christianist" is of course offensive but it's something I've grown to expect from certain quarters.

For our gentler readers, here's an essay by Rodney Stark wherein he limns his argument:

http://www.intercollegiatereview.com/index.php/2014/02/10/how-the-west-won-but-western-civ-lost/


It is widely claimed that to offer a course in “Western Civilization” is to become an apologist “for Western hegemony and oppression” (as the classicist Bruce Thornton aptly put it). Thus, Stanford dropped its widely admired “West­ern Civilization” course just months after the Reverend Jesse Jackson came on campus and led members of the Black Student Union in chants of “Hey-hey, ho-ho, Western Civ has got to go.” More recently, faculty at the University of Texas condemned “Western Civilization” courses as inherently right wing, and Yale even returned a $20 million contribution rather than reinstate the course.

To the extent that this policy pre­vails, Americans will become increas­ingly ignorant of how the modern world came to be. Worse yet, they are in danger of being badly misled by a flood of absurd, politically correct fabrications, all of them popular on college campuses: That the Greeks copied their whole culture from black Egyptians. That European science originated in Islam. That Western affluence was stolen from non-West­ern societies. That Western modernity was really produced in China, and not so very long ago. The truth is that, although the West wisely adopted bits and pieces of technology from Asia, modernity is entirely the product of West­ern civilization.

...

As the distinguished economist and historian Deirdre McCloskey observed, “Material, economic forces . . . were not the original and sustaining causes of the modern rise.” Or, as she put it in the subtitle of her fine book: “Why economics can’t explain the modern world.” Quietly mocking Karl Marx, McCloskey asserted that Europe achieved moder­nity because of “ideology.”

If Marx was sincere when he dismissed the possibility of ideas being causative agents as “ideo­logical humbug,” one must wonder why he labored so long to communicate his socialist ideas rather than just relaxing and letting “economic determinism” run its “inevitable” course. In fact, Marx’s beloved material causes exist mainly as humans perceive them—as people pursue goals guided by their ideas about what is desirable and possible. Indeed, to explain why working-class people so often did not embrace the socialist revolution, Marx and Friedrich Engels had to invent the concept of “false conscious­ness”—an entirely ideological cause.

Similarly, it is ideas that explain why science arose only in the West. Only Westerners thought that sci­ence was possible, that the universe functioned according to rational rules that could be discovered. We owe this belief partly to the ancient Greeks and partly to the unique Judeo-Christian conception of God as a rational cre­ator. Clearly, then, the French histo­rian Daniel Mornet had it right when he said that the French Revolution would not have occurred had there not been widespread poverty, but nei­ther would it have occurred without revolutionary philosophies, for it was “ideas that set men in motion.”

Once we recognize the primacy of ideas, we realize the irrelevance of long-running scholarly debates about whether certain inventions were developed independently in Europe or imported from the East. Inven­tions not only must be made; they also must be sufficiently valued to be used...

jimmiraybob said...

I use "Christianist" in the sense of those that inflate Christianity and its contributions to western civilization beyond what's warranted by the facts for a decided religious and political agenda. Otherwise, you don't see this quarter disrespecting Christianity. Go ahead, check. We'll wait.

Nice try though, as usual, to add poison to the well.

jimmiraybob said...

And, I assume that you have not read the book or have any substantive arguments to make.

jimmiraybob said...

And, to further clarify, "Christianist" might well apply to those that enlist the authority of Christianity or the Christian God strictly to validate their opinion. I have known people that have had no prior or discernable current religious convictions migrate toward this position.

Tom Van Dyke said...

"Christianist" is a pejorative, intentionally offensive. Please stop.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Stark interviewed by Ben Shapiro here

http://kiroradio.com/listen/9970828/

Punchline: It's not as though church attendance is now declining--mostly, people seldom ever went to church!

jimmiraybob said...

TVD - "'Christianist' is a pejorative, intentionally offensive."

Kinda like your constant use of "secularists"?

Tom Van Dyke said...

No. "Secularist" is not a pejorative. Neither is "strict separationist."

wsforten said...

From the Western Civ essay, it's easy to see why no one knows anything about Adams' Defense of the Constitutions of the US anymore.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Did anyone read them, even back then?

wsforten said...

Yes. Adams' Defense was widely read at the time. There is some dispute over how influential it may have been, but it was very well received by many in both America and Europe. The University of Wisconsin has a brief article on Adams' book with several attached pdfs of original source statements about it including this bit of praise from Benjamin Rush:

I have to thank you for many short letters during your Absence from America, but I owe more than I can express to you for your excellent Volumes upon Goverment. They shall be the Alcoran of my boys upon the great Subject of political happiness.—You have laid the world & posterity under great obligations by your researches. I am not more satisfied of the truth of the first axiom any one proposition in Euclid than I am of the truth of your leading propositions in Goverment.—Go on my dear friend in removing the rubbish of ignorance & prejudice from the Minds of your fellow Citizens. We live in an important Æra, and in a new Country. Much good may be done by individuals, & that too in a short time.

They also included an appraisal from James Madison:

Mr. Adams' Book which has been in your hands of course, has excited a good deal of attention. An edition has come out here and another is in the press at N. York. It will probably be much read, particularly in the Eastern States, and contribute with other circumstances to revive the predilections of this Country for the British Constitution. Men of learning find nothing new in it. Men of taste many things to criticize. And men without either not a few things, which they will not understand. It will nevertheless be read, and praised, and become a powerful engine in forming the public opinion. The name & character of the Author, with the critical situation of our affairs, naturally account for such an effect. The book also has merit, and I wish many of the remarks in it, which are unfriendly to republicanism, may not receive fresh weight from the operations of our Governments.

You can read the rest at: http://history.wisc.edu/csac/documentary_resources/john_adams.htm

JMS said...

TVD - I thought AC "didn't do dueling historians," but only took primary sources seriously?

Stark loves to invoke everything he is allegedly debunking as biased because it stems from any/all of the following:
1) Counter-culture(Marxist/atheist/secular);
2) liberal Protestantism; or
3) PC/politically correctness.

Are there Western Civ books out there that reflect these biases – yes. Does anyone still read, assign or use them – no.

If you read any major academic publisher of a university/college level of West Civ textbook in the past decade, you would find that all of the alleged myths that Stark debunks have already been debunked by historical, archaeological or DNA evidence rather than polemical assertion.

By invoking a lot of causal fallacies, Stark is merely tilting at straw men that have already crumbled and blown away into the dustbin of history.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Anonymous JMS said...
TVD - I thought AC "didn't do dueling historians," but only took primary sources seriously?

Stark loves to invoke everything he is allegedly debunking as biased because it stems from any/all of the following:
1) Counter-culture(Marxist/atheist/secular);
2) liberal Protestantism; or
3) PC/politically correctness.

Are there Western Civ books out there that reflect these biases – yes. Does anyone still read, assign or use them – no.

If you read any major academic publisher of a university/college level of West Civ textbook in the past decade, you would find that all of the alleged myths that Stark debunks have already been debunked by historical, archaeological or DNA evidence rather than polemical assertion.

By invoking a lot of causal fallacies, Stark is merely tilting at straw men that have already crumbled and blown away into the dustbin of history.


This reads more like an ad hom, JMS. Pls be specific.

As for re-litigating the "dueling historians" riff, now you're going ad hom on me too. I presented the Stark book as a conversation starter, not ender. To attack the Stark book with only a link to a dissenter is what I mean by playing "dueling historians," and a pox on that.

I yield the floor to any specific and principled disagreement.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Blogger wsforten said...
Yes. Adams' Defense was widely read at the time. There is some dispute over how influential it may have been, but it was very well received by many in both America and Europe. The University of Wisconsin has a brief article on Adams' book with several attached pdfs of original source statements about it including this bit of praise from Benjamin Rush:

I have to thank you for many short letters during your Absence from America, but I owe more than I can express to you for your excellent Volumes upon Goverment. They shall be the Alcoran of my boys upon the great Subject of political happiness.—You have laid the world & posterity under great obligations by your researches. I am not more satisfied of the truth of the first axiom any one proposition in Euclid than I am of the truth of your leading propositions in Goverment.—Go on my dear friend in removing the rubbish of ignorance & prejudice from the Minds of your fellow Citizens. We live in an important Æra, and in a new Country. Much good may be done by individuals, & that too in a short time.

They also included an appraisal from James Madison:

Mr. Adams' Book which has been in your hands of course, has excited a good deal of attention. An edition has come out here and another is in the press at N. York. It will probably be much read, particularly in the Eastern States, and contribute with other circumstances to revive the predilections of this Country for the British Constitution. Men of learning find nothing new in it. Men of taste many things to criticize. And men without either not a few things, which they will not understand. It will nevertheless be read, and praised, and become a powerful engine in forming the public opinion. The name & character of the Author, with the critical situation of our affairs, naturally account for such an effect. The book also has merit, and I wish many of the remarks in it, which are unfriendly to republicanism, may not receive fresh weight from the operations of our Governments.

You can read the rest at: http://history.wisc.edu/csac/documentary_resources/john_adams.htm


Thx, Mr. Fortenbergstein. i've been wondering about this for some time now, since I've not run across people from the Founding era ever quoting, JAdams' monstrous 3-volume tome. Or quoting John Adams on anything really.

But I did run across some mentions of it being read in Europe as perhaps the first explanation from the Americans themselves of the grand "constitutional" experiment they were up to.

Anything you have on any greater swath of Americans beyond a Madison or Jefferson giving a squat about this work, or any of Adams's works, remains of great interest to me. I continue to think of him as pseudo-intellectual ninny, esp in the eyes of his countrymen.

jimmiraybob said...

wsforten,

Thanks for the reference with respect to Adam's Defence.

najma love said...

The Besy Hyip program in Forex Business and Make Money Online with Just Invest some Money into your Business and Make Perfect Life time Earnings with this Business.
Join Now for Make Perfect Business and Earn Money online from home.
HotFxEarnings.com

Faheem Zia said...

For All Latest Hot Current Affairs
www.hotcurrentaffairs.com

Anwar Fazil said...

Top Expensive Cars, top speedy cars, top most popular cars in the world
TopAmazingCars.BlogSpot.Com

Emo Zubair said...

Best Business Plan from home, invest as low as $1 and get 10% Daily Profit
www.ansearnings.com