EVANSTON, Ill., Dec. 4, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- Do the two greatest advances of the modern West -- science and democracy -- have a common origin in Christianity? Many people today simply assume the answer to this question is no. After all, common wisdom suggests that science, democracy, and Christianity have nothing to do with one another. But Harvard lawyer James Behan, co-author of the new book "The Secret Gospel of Ireland," has uncovered surprising new evidence to the contrary.
The new findings involve a branch of philosophy called esthetics, which deals with how we think about the world we see. Behan points out that we don't often consider just how differently we see the world as compared with our ancient ancestors.
Ancient thinkers like Plato and Aristotle saw the world in a way that seems strange to the modern observer. They sought to discover the meaning of life by examining how man and nature were connected to their idea of God. So their philosophies were like cosmic org charts designed to explain the natural order, from God all the way down. Consequently, they thought that by studying the natural order, they could know about God.
But according to new evidence uncovered by Behan, all of that started to change after the thirteenth century in the wake of an esthetic shift. Suddenly, Western thinkers began to conceptualize objects as individual things apart from any supposed natural order or hierarchy. This was when the focus of intellectual inquiry in Europe shifted from doing natural theology (studying objects to learn about God) to doing natural philosophy (studying objects to learn about nature). And as luck would have it, natural philosophy was the key not only to science, but to modern democracy as well.
Having rejected the philosophies of their forbears, men like Leonardo da Vinci and Galileo would study objects to investigate nature. And eventually, men like Thomas Hobbes would use this same reasoning to show the world that government is a social contract instituted among men instead of a divine office ordained by God.
Yet the cause of this shift is perhaps the most intriguing part of the story. As Behan shows in his book "The Secret Gospel of Ireland," this titanic shift in Western thought can be traced to a profound change to Christianity that happened centuries earlier in ancient Ireland.
The Irish were the only people ever to receive Christianity directly from the ancient Romans without first being conquered and occupied by Rome. Thus in Ireland, Christianity would be left to mix with Ireland's own unique culture, which was very different from that of Rome. But while the Romans intended for Christianity to change the Irish, they gave little thought to how the Irish might change Christianity and, in time, all of Western civilization.
"Those Irish eyes weren't just smiling," Behan says. "They were changing the very way we see our world."
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SOURCE James and Leo Behan