The Christian Faith is Sometimes Proven by Secular Sources!
- Grady McMurtry
- May 05, 2020
The word “apologist” essentially means “Defender of the Faith”. It may be used to describe anyone strongly defending their position on any controversial subject. CWM is an apologetic ministry committed to defending the Christian faith theologically and scientifically; to defending the inerrancy of the Bible as written in the original languages; and, the truth of a supernatural whole and complete creation occurring about 6,000 years ago as described in the Bible and supported by science.
Although rare, sometimes a secular source may end up, even if unintentionally, giving an apologetic in support of the Christian faith. Such is the case of a recent article titled “How the Church Shaped Western Ways” by Sujata Gupta published in Science News, December 7, 2019. The subtitle was “Early Catholic marriage bans may have sparked individualism”.
The article contained some incorrect Bible and Christian history, but this is not unusual for a secular article - it is even to be expected. The article starts with the assertion that in the Middle Ages, also known as the “Medieval Period” (from the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 to the fall of Constantinople in 1453), decrees from the early Roman Catholic Church triggered a massive transformation in family structure. The study claims that this shift, at least in part, explains why Western societies tend to be more individualistic, nonconformist and trusting of strangers compared with other societies.
The original study was written by the evolutionary biologist Dr. Joseph Henrich and colleagues published in the scientific journal Science on November 8, 2019. Dr. Henrich wrote that the roots of the Western mind-set went back roughly 1,500 years to when the branch of Christianity that became the Roman Catholic Church swept across Europe and beyond.
These Harvard researchers claimed that the leaders of the early Church were revolted by what they saw as incest and launched what they labeled a “marriage and family program” that banned marriages between cousins, step-relatives and in-laws. In addition, Church policies then supposedly encouraged marriages by choice instead of by arrangement.
The researchers claimed that they were using historical, anthropological and psychological data to support their “findings.” Their conclusion was that it was these early Church policies that “unraveled” the previously tight kin networks that had existed for centuries. This supposed unraveling of earlier culture was proposed as the reason for the dominance of the Western mindset that we see today.
As a typical evolutionist, Henrich wrote: “Human psychology and human brains are shaped by the institutions that we experience and the most fundamental of human institutions are our kinships [and] the organization of our families. … One particular strand of Christianity … got obsessed with this and altered the direction of European history.” This statement was meet with criticism by fellow evolutionists who urged caution in interpreting the results of this research. The critics agreed with the correlation but were not convinced about the causal ties of all the variables.
Across the continents there are many diverse societal beliefs and behaviors. In a broad general description, it is the individuals from the European countries and those of British descent that tend to be to be more individualistic, independent, less conforming and obedient. Evolutionary believing psychologists have labeled them with an acronym: WEIRD. They are Western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic.
In order to supposedly understand how the Western mind-set might have come to be, Henrich’s team of researchers mapped how Christianity spread around the world. They focused on what they considered the branch of Christianity known as the Western Church, filtering it to when the marriage program “reached” its height in the years between 550 and 1500. They divided 36 European countries into 440 regions of church administrative center (bishoprics). Then they compared them to the Eastern (Orthodox) Church which they felt did not have strong bans against incest.
Then using an established database of 1,291 populations known to exist prior to industrialization, they assessed how exposure to the church had influenced the strength of community and family-based institutions. They concentrated on elements of the family structure, such as marriages between cousins, living patterns, and the presence or absence of polygamy. They demonstrated that “kinship” - close ties with an extended clan beyond the family - decreased in the areas influenced by the Western Church.
Massaging data sets is a lot of fun! Looking only at marriages between cousins, the researchers found that for every 500 years a country was under the influence of the Western Church, marriages between cousins fell by 91%.
Finally, the team correlated the transformation in family structure with parallels in changes of beliefs and behaviors. Using 24 existing data sets based on psychological determinants, such as individualism, creativity, conformity, honesty and trust; the team found that the longer a population was influenced by the Western Church, the higher their individualism, nonconformity and trust of strangers became.
The authors said that the interplay between history, family structure and psychology have modern consequences. For example, in Italy the church’s influence was limited to the northern and central portions of the country until well into the Middle Ages. Data retrieved from the Vatican records showed that in these areas marriages between first cousins were almost nonexistent, while five percent of marriages in the south from 1910 to 1964 were between first cousins.
The authors used blood donation rates as a proxy to determine the trust of strangers. In 1995, the donation rate was 28 per 1,000 persons. However, where the marriages between first cousins doubled, the donation rate dropped to 20 per 1,000 persons, thus suggesting more distrust of strangers. In Italy the same correlation was the same in the distrust of banking institutions, with an increase in loans from family and friends with a more cash-based economy.
The conclusion of the study was that the Western Church, Christianity, had a positive affect on the culture and society. Here is a secular scientific study that proves the beneficial aspects of Christianity.
Of course, the study was flawed in that the authors were not biblically literate; or, they did not want their study to appear to support the Gospel.
The law against incest or the marriage of close relatives, first cousins, was given by God through Moses 2,000 years prior to when the researchers began their study. In Leviticus 18:6, 9-17 and 20:17, 19-21, God says that any relationship between close blood relatives was forbidden from that point forward.
Until the time of Moses, the marriage of close relatives was allowed, as in the case of Abraham and Sarah. The laws against incest and the marriage of close relatives were not given as sin laws, they were given as health laws. According to God marriage is to be one man and one woman united for a lifetime regardless of their ethnicity, language, coloration or country of origin. After all, Moses was a fair-skinned Israelite from the line of Shem (Semitic) and he married Zipporah, a dark-skinned Cushite woman [Nubian, from Northern Sudan and Western Ethiopia], a descendant of Ham (Hamitic).
The reason for these health laws was to slow or prevent the genetic diseases associated with the marriages of close relatives, such as, sickle cell anemia, hemophilia, Galactosemia and Huntington’s disease. This admonishment from God is the reason that most genetic disorders are unknown in the Jewish population with the exceptions of a few, such as Gaucher Disease, Cystic Fibrosis and Tay-Sachs Disease. The consequences of the continued marriages of close relatives may be seen today in the Amish communities where Cohen’s syndrome (which causes mental retardation) and polydactyly (which causes the development of extra fingers) are common.
While the secular research of Joseph Henrich and his colleagues found a direct beneficial correlation between Christianity and society, they failed to consider that this correlation had been going on for thousands of years. If only they had widened their study back to the time of Moses, they would have found that it is only the Christian religion that stands alone in benefiting mankind.