Saturday, November 23, 2013

Industrialisation and Christianity

Smoke Stack World.

I added the following comment to an article on Network Norwich and Norflok to an article by James Knight  about capitalism, science and Christianity. For the article see here.

I think you are on an important tack here James. Yes, we really do need to get a perspective on the fact that industrialization started about 1750 years after the birth of Christ. There were probably some significant precursors prior to 1750 like the breakup of the feudal system and the renaissance, possibly both related to the Back Death. Also, in the 1600s England, (the mother of commercialization and industrialization) started to experience a shift in its zeitgeist in favour of the rational. Not only that, it was a century when the money making middle classes clashed with the medieval rearguard in the form of the Stuart dynasty.  These money makers went on to innovate and subsidize mechanization. Yes, commercialism, (that is sheer profiteering) is implicated as one of the motivators of a life enhancing bread and butter technology and research base (although often very cutting edge science is done for its imaginative rewards without an eye on profit).  But having said that, it is clear many devout Protestants were in the thick of the social and technological innovations during industrialization, with their faith very much modulating their behavior.

It may well be that the scientific epistemic whereby theory is tested against experience was in part released by the Reformation with its emphasis on testing theology against one’s personal reading of Biblical texts. This is ironic because today’s Biblical literalists have a pathological view of science, a distortion that depends on an arbitrary demarcation between historical and “observational” (sic) science.. Since everything, including Biblical information, arrives at our “observational” doorstep via signalling it follows that in the final analysis, all science is bound up to a greater or lesser extent with history. The upshot is that the Biblical literalists of the 1960s “YEC reformation” are forced to compromise on the rational readability of our world, a compromise which ultimately undermines God’s creative integrity. (Caveat: None of this is to say that I’m necessarily committed to the mechanisms of evolutionary change as they are currently understood)

By and large contemporary evangelical Young Earthism only goes as far back as the 1960s “YEC reformation”, as in fact fundamentalist theme park manager Ken Ham will admit*. Moreover, he also admits that in spite of this “reformation” Young Earthism is very much a minority amongst high achieving academic Christians and Christian colleges – even in America. That I think is good news.
*Footnote: There are exceptions such as Adventist George McCready Price whose work was referenced by the 1960s Biblical literalists. It is an intriguing fact that nearly one hundred years before the "YEC reformation" an Adventist was at the bottom of the JW excursion into literal eschatology and date fixing.

In England industrialisation followed the necessary precursor of commercialisation. Commercialisation may be connected with the social mobility of the Anglo Saxon social ethos. But we mustn't forget the suffering and injustice caused by big social shifts:

Pre nineteenth century Norwich was a big producer of textiles, but it lost out to the cities that used power spinning and weaving such as we see in factories like this. Fanciful perhaps, but the spinning bank above reminds me of Turing's Bombe:

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