What If Christianity Had Defeated Reason?

What if the Christian organised religion had successfully blocked all scientific progress and philosophical development of reason for the past 2000 years?

  • We would probably still think the earth was located at the centre of the solar system (this school of thought is known as geocentrism, as opposed to heliocentrism), despite what brilliant astronomers like Copernicus and Galileo have argued.
  • We would still think that the sun revolved around the earth. (Having said that, in 2012, 18% of Americans still believed the sun revolves around the earth.)
  • Mankind would probably not have tolerated any kind of modern democracy, since theocratic politics do not tolerate opposing views, let alone critical or secular ones. After all, there is a strong argument to be made that organised religion does not tolerate dissent.
  • Secularists, radical and experimental scientists, thinkers and philosophers – dissenters of any kind for that matter – would still be silenced. That is, regularly burned at the stake.
  • Homosexuals, bisexuals and people with multiple casual sexual partners would probably be in the same amount of danger as people of a similar nature are nowadays in central Africa – perhaps even more danger.
  • Women would still be banned from most of public life; in the same way history has shown us for the past centuries.
  • We would still think human beings are a special divinely created exception in biology. Facts about evolution and genetics would be unknown.
  • And since mankind would be considered to be above nature, animals would probably be exploited even more than today.
  • Since evidence based sciences would have a tough time, evidence based medicine would probably not exist in the form we know today, we would still use quacks, faith healers and prayer to combat diseases instead of vaccinations and other medications.
  • Nations that would identify themselves as devoutly Christian would probably still be fighting religious wars against the other faithful.
  • Many of the works of noteworthy intellectual figures would never have been published (perhaps because they were placed on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum or similar black list). Notable thinkers on this list include: Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Voltaire, Denis Diderot, Victor Hugo, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, André Gide, Emanuel Swedenborg, Immanuel Kant, David Hume, René Descartes, Francis Bacon, Thomas Browne, John Milton, John Locke, Nicolaus Copernicus, Galileo Galilei, Blaise Pascal and Hugo Grotius. (Interestingly, Charles Darwin’s works were never included.)

‘Yes. To you, Baldrick, the Renaissance was just something that happened to other people, wasn’t it? […] No that’s what I think, that’s what I think, what do you think? Try to have a thought of your own, Baldrick. Thinking is so important. What do you think?’

– Joseph M. 1998. Blackadder The Whole Damn Dynasty London, Great Britain: Penguin Books (1999) p. 137-138

Galilean Relativity

  1. A person on a moving ship drops a rock. They see it fall straight down to land at their feet.
  2. Someone on shore sees the rock continue to move horizontally as it falls, and says the trajectory is parabolic.
  3. Another observer on another ship sees it move horizontally with a different speed and sees a different parabola.
  4. They all see it land at the same time. Galileo concluded that the horizontal motion cannot influence the vertical motion, and that what takes place on the ship is independent of the ship’s motion.
  5. Galileo argued this applies to all physical and biological processes.
  6. The same principle applies to what takes place on a moving Earth.

Galileo thought about the question of a moving Earth. If the Earth moves, why do we not notice this motion, as Aristotle claimed we would. Here is the thought experiment he carried out in answer to this puzzle:

A person on a ship drops a rock. To that person its trajectory is a straight line. An observer on shore sees the trajectory as a parabola. Someone on another ship sees yet a different parabola. All of them are making valid observations. They all see it land at the same time.

Galileo concluded that the vertical motion of the rock must in principle be independent of its horizontal motion. Furthermore he concluded that everything that happens on board the ship must be independent of its motion. He argued that whatever you take with you on the ship, insects, fish, physics experiments, etc will be unable to detect the horizontal motion of the ship. He was assuming, of course, that this motion is perfectly uniform and smooth.

This is called the Galilean principle of relativity and explains immediately why we do not sense the motion of the Earth about the Sun.