Holland Digs Up the Root of Modern Western Values as Others Attempt to Dig It Out

The exposure and expose of a wildly popular myth

I have written about Tom Holland before and the book he published called Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind. The story about the book has intrigued me since I heard him talk about it. I am taking my time reading through it.

We all have a perspective, right? We come to whatever we read or hear with certain assumptions that have developed in our thinking. Affirmations of those assumptions sit well, but challenges to those assumptions do not rest easy. You know what I am talking about.

Holland challenges assumptions from all sides, including his own. For that reason, it’s a challenging read, but all lasting growth of any kind comes through conflict and tension.

Holland is a historian with a particular focus on ancient, classical history. He chose dinosaurs over the Bible as a young child. He was more taken y Pontius Pilate than Jesus Christ as a teenager. The ancient, classical world and likes of Julius Caesar captured his imagination. His passion became both avocation and vocation.

When Holland wrote a book, In the Shadow of the Sword: The Birth of Islam and the Rise of the Global Arab Empire, that painted Islam in a candid and critical light, Holland was criticized and challenged to do a similar history of the assumptions that underlie his worldview. The criticism was fair, so he set out to do it.

His worldview? Holland is an atheist and modern humanist. His worldview is undergirded with ideas like human rights that are equal and unalienable, separation of church and state, the value of scientific endeavor and the social necessity of charity and good will.

When he set out to write a book tracing these values back to their sources, he was not predisposed to assume where he would find them, though he certainly had assumptions and presuppositions. Like the paleontologist sifting through layers of a dig site, though, Holland did his work.

Beginning with Darius and the great Persian Empire, he sought to uncover the roots of modern western thought from one empire to the next. Holland was looking for the roots of ideas that inform the modern western mind.

He did not focus on the usual events that historians often catalogue. He focused on thoughts as they developed and the people who championed them and events as they influenced those thoughts and ideas.

In the ancient world, as one might expect, many of those ideas were garbed in metaphysical dress. Holland’s focus, though, is always on the those thoughts and ideas that continue in our modern values today. The ones that died off, like the dinosaurs, are only interesting side notes to that history.

Much of the book explores the world of gods and beliefs, which seems like an odd thing coming from an atheist, but all the more intriguing. Those were the ideas that animated the ancient world. The beliefs of the ancients are the evolutionary precursors to our modern thought. In those layers of metaphysical sediment lie the traces of our modern values.

In sifting through the soils of history, Holland identifies the roots and beginnings of the ethics and values that ground his worldview as a humanist in the sedimentary layers in which they arose. As often is the case in such endeavors, Holland makes some startling discoveries.

What Holland carefully and methodically uncovers is one seismic development that sets and defines the course of the history of the western mind – a metaphysical Cambrian Explosion” our western thinking is founded on, permeated with and inextricably intertwined in Christian ideas.

Thus, when Holland gets into the Enlightenment Era, he exposes a disconnect that arises out of that soil – an incongruity that bears some candid analysis for its deviation from the origin and trajectory of historical developments to that stage. That the very essence of Enlightenment thinking is sourced from the root it seeks to dig out is both ironic and dangerous, like the man sawing the branch that supports him.

Continue reading “Holland Digs Up the Root of Modern Western Values as Others Attempt to Dig It Out”

An Intriguing Interview with Dr. Hugh Ross

When we try to rely on science, alone, to answer the big questions, we can’t do it without sneaking philosophy into the equation.


In this age in which fake news seems to dominate the public domain, how do we know what is really true? How can we trust any news? That is a legitimate question today, one that people in my generation didn’t ask as often as we have to ask now.

Skepticism that was once the esoteric tool of elite, fringe intellectuals is now, perhaps, as a hammer in the intellectual toolkit of the common person. What years of intellectualism was not able to accomplish has been achieved in less than a generation by the constant barrage of biased and untrustworthy “news outlets” in the Internet age.

Such an atmosphere of skepticism might cause despair of ever knowing, or being able to know, what is really true. Perhaps, the only thing we can trust is skepticism itself.

Many people have retreated to science and what can be known about the world that we observe with our five senses. It’s kind of a last bastion of truth in a world that can’t be trusted without concrete evidence.

Some people even hold to a position that science is the only way we can know the world: the five senses are the only way to know truth. These people discount philosophy, theology, psychology, sociology and “soft” sciences.

The people who take the position that science is the only way of knowing truth are actually proposing a philosophical position – one that can’t be proven by science – in making that statement. Not even science, then, is the safe harbor we wish it was.

Frankly, mathematics might be the only certain way of knowing things, if the truth be told, but mathematics doesn’t tell us anything about the most important questions that people ask. Why are we here? Where does life come from? Whether life is good? How to treat our fellow humankind, animals and the planet?

We try to rely on science, alone, to answer these big questions, but we can’t do that without sneaking philosophy, or theology or other “soft” sciences into the equation. What we observe with our five senses can’t answer those questions without help.

That leaves us with the more difficult talk of synthesizing and harmonizing all the ways we analyze truth and reality, including science, philosophy, theology, psychology, sociology, etc. It would be more convenient, and may seem like an easier task, to eliminate one of more of those disciplines from the mix, but we would be missing nuances of truth and reality in the process.

In the end, the best we can do is strive for honesty, integrity, objectivity, knowledge, understanding and humility in our efforts to understand the nature of reality and truth. Humility is important because it recognizes and factors into the equation the fact that we are finite creates with limited perspective and capacity.

With that introduction, I am providing a link to an interview with Dr. Hugh Ross who has spent his life trying to synthesize and harmonize what he knows about science, which is a lot, with philosophy and theology. I like him because of his humility and commitment to science, logic and understanding.

Continue reading “An Intriguing Interview with Dr. Hugh Ross”

A Cosmic Wrench in Our Power Grid

Thoughts on scientific, technological and moral advancement and religion.


The podcast, Unbelievable, with host, Justin Brierley, is becoming a favorite food for thought. I just listened to Steven Pinker vs Nick Spencer: Have science, reason & humanism replaced faith? Pinker is an atheist professor of Psychology from Harvard, and Spencer is billed as a member of “the Christian think tank, Theos”. The subject was “Pinker’s recent book ‘Enlightenment Now’, addressing his claim that science, reason and humanism are the drivers of progress in the world, not religion”.

As with most of the episodes I have listened to, this one was a very civil and respectful “debate”, really more of a dialogue, on the respective points of view. This civility and respect sets Unbelievable apart from more reactive “discussions” of controversial topics.

In this particular discussion, the focus was on Pinker’s optimistic view of humanism bolstered by science and technology echoing the familiar theme that we are progressing as a species as we free ourselves from religion with the aid of science and technology carrying us forward. Pinker minimizes the influence of religion on the enlightenment and the sudden advancement of science that accompanied it, while Spencer argued that the influence of religion is what fundamentally motivated and shaped those movements.

Spencer agreed with much that Pinker says about the progress of modern man, though he disagrees that science has shaped the moral advances we have experienced. He says that the value of the individual and sanctity of human rights is at heart a religious concept. He even points out that Pinker has to resort to the religious term, sacred, to describe these concepts as some evidence of the religious influence.

I have long toyed with the notion that we are not as advanced, morally, as we think ourselves. The 20th Century was the bloodiest of all centuries. Characteristic of the 20th Century was the genocidal bloodshed and cruelty of the atheist regimes under Stalin, Mao Tse Tung, Pol Pot and others. Some would add Hitler to the hit list of atheist genocidal despots, but that point is often argued, with religionists foisting Hitler on the atheists, and the atheists pushing him back on the religionists.

Hitler is somewhat of an enigma, generating an almost religious following marked by a personality that modeled a religion-like fervor. Pinker and Spencer debated whether Hitler was influenced by Darwinism, with Pinker countering that Hitler despised Darwin.

Though the truth of Hitler’s motivations my remain a mystery, and despite the unprecedented genocides perpetuated in the 20th Century, Spencer agreed with Pinker that we have progressed morally into the 21st Century. We generally exhibit a higher morality, however you slice it, (at least in the western world) in modern times than ever before, and this higher morality tracks scientific and technological progress.

As the two men carried on the conversation about the relative influences of religion and scientific and technological advancement on that progress, some thoughts occurred to me that I hadn’t considered before. I would agree with Spencer that religion (principally Judeo-Christian principles in the west) has largely carried us to this place where, ironically, we are finding no more need of God.

This perspective, also, flows from those same Judeo-Christian roots that holds out human pride as the principal problem (sin) of humankind. Having achieved a degree of independence and comfort through the advancement of technology, we believe “can do this” on our own (to paraphrase the testosterone influenced enthusiasm of my former teenage boys).

Continue reading “A Cosmic Wrench in Our Power Grid”

Inspiration or Artifice? Faith and Reason

From a presentation by Francis Collins at the Veritas Forum at the California Institute of Technology

Take a close look at the two images. What do they represent? We might say that one image represents science and the other represents religion (or faith). But which is which?

The images are similar, but one of them is manmade, and the other is something we find in nature. Do you know which is which? Is the manmade image the scientific one or the spiritual one?

I will answer these questions; at least I will answer them as they were described in a presentation given by Francis Collins, the manager of the Human Genome Project, at a Veritas Forum at Caltech University in 2009. In the process, we will explore the chief question examined by this eminent scientist: whether science and faith are compatible.

Continue reading “Inspiration or Artifice? Faith and Reason”

What of Rupert Sheldrake?

Brooke Elkstrom Lake Sunset 2


This piece is a bit afield for me. I am embedding a “banned TED Talk” given by Rupert Sheldrake, a Cambridge, Harvard educated, scientist and bane of the scientific community. What of Rupert Sheldrake?

He is not a Christian, though he reportedly says the Our Father every day. Dr. Sheldrake “evolved” from a biochemist and cell biologist to a plant physiologist and eventually to a researcher in the field of parapsychology.[5] He is known for his “morphic resonance” concept.[6] He is the darling of New Age adherents, not Christians. He is also labeled a “heretic” by his scientific fellows.

So why would I include a piece on Rupert Sheldrake in a Christian-orientated blog site? Continue reading “What of Rupert Sheldrake?”