Stages of Thought: The Co-Evolution of Religious Thought and Science

Stages of Thought: The Co-Evolution of Religious Thought and Science

Stages of Thought: The Co-Evolution of Religious Thought and Science

Stages of Thought: The Co-Evolution of Religious Thought and Science

Synopsis

In Stages of Thought, Michael Barnes examines a pattern of cognitive development that has evolved over thousands of years--a pattern manifest in both science and religion. He describes how the major world cultures built upon our natural human language skills to add literacy, logic, and, now, a highly critical self-awareness. In tracing the histories of both scientific and religious thought, Barnes shows why we think the way that we do today. Although religious and scientific modes of thought are often portrayed as contradictory-one is highly rational while the other appeals to tradition and faith-Barnes argues that they evolved together and are actually complementary. Using the developmental thought of Piaget, he argues that cultures develop like individuals in that both learn easier cognitive skills first and master the harder ones later. This is especially true, says Barnes, because the harder ones often require first the creation of cognitive technology like writing or formal logic as well as the creation of social institutions that teach and sustain those skills. Barnes goes on to delineate the successive stages of the co-evolution of religious and scientific thought in the West, from the preliterate cultures of antiquity up to the present time. Along the way, he covers topics such as the impact of literacy on human modes of thought; the development of formalized logic and philosophical reflections; the emergence of an explicitly rational science; the birth of formal theologies; and, more recently, the growth of modern empirical science. This groundbreaking book offers a thorough and persuasive argument in favor of the development of modes of thought across cultures. It will serve as an invaluable resource for historians of religion, philosophers and historians of science, and anyone interested in the relationship between religion and science.

Excerpt

More than 20 years ago, when I first began to explore the ideas described here about long-term cultural cognitive development, half of the sources listed in the bibliography had not yet been written. So the research for this book was partly a process of reviewing older materials, but it was equally an ongoing process of keeping up with new materials. For a while, as postmodern relativism gained popularity, the scholarly currents were flowing against any attempts to identify large-scale cross-cultural similarities. "Thick descriptions" of individual cultures, one at a time, was the ideal. Nonetheless, even in these studies of individual cultures, it seemed to me that I could find similarities in the cognitive styles among otherwise quite different cultures. Fortunately for my peace of mind, books identifying cross-cultural patterns have been on the increase. I have drawn upon many of them in both the Introduction and Chapter 1.

Nonetheless, these years of research have given me a consciousness of my limitations for the task of this book, which is to describe human cognitive behavior across cultures and through human history. That is a lot for one person to cover. It is possible only by relying on numerous secondary sources, which in turn creates the risk of unwittingly accepting biased or distorted interpretations. I have tried to compensate for that risk by sampling many relevant primary sources, reading Mohist texts, the principal Upanishads, Bernard Silvester's cosmology, Newton's Scholia, and so on. But this is only sampling, and most in translation, another potential source of error. So I suspect that many a scholar will find it easy to point out errors and omissions in that scholar's area of expertise.

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