I just finished listening to three books by Rodney Stark, Bearing False Witness, Triumph of Faith, and How the West Won. Here is just a brief review of the first book.
In Bearing False Witness, he describes how he believes the Catholic Church has received unwarranted attacks over the centuries. As a History buff of medieval Europe and the middle east I have come to draw similar conclusions on a variety of topics. But this book has that as the central thesis, therefore he marshals the facts for more coherent case.
Stark puts it all together with his central thesis in mind and does so in an informative way. He covers different issues with a broad brush. These include the Church’s interaction concerning Nazism, the Crusades, the bible’s formation, treatment of other religions including Judaism, the inquisition, slavery, science, and tyrannical governments. Since he covers the issues in a relatively broad brush the book is an easy read/listen.
The topics included some information that I already learned from other sources as well as new information. I found that when he covered a topic I already had background information on, he was fair in his treatment. That’s not to say he took pains to present every possible counter example, but on the whole he was fair.
He opens with a question the question why bother trying to defend the church and dredge through all this history? It’s a question I asked myself in a prior blog. But whereas I could not formulate a decent answer, he did by quoting Garrett Mattingly “Nor does it matter at all to the dead whether they receive justice at the hands of succeeding generations. But to the living, to do justice, however belatedly, should matter.”
I really enjoyed the chapter concerning science. The basic construct of scientific method had already been put together by various monks and religious people in the middle ages. Later scientists who are often credited as being the fathers of science were putting those principles into use on a very large and impressive scale. I was quite impressed with the quotations from the scholastics which formed the bedrock of scientific method.
One interesting theory he suggested, was that science did not so much need to fight religion as much as it did the Platonic view that empirical information was not as valid as a-priori ideas.
In the end if you think you will learn the Church always acted just like we do now with our modern sensibilities, you will be disappointed. However, if you would be satisfied with a strong case that the Church has been a huge force of progress, in science, education and morality then I think this book is for you.