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That Might Explain a Few Things

Over the holidays I tried to listen to the audio of The Clockwork Universe: Isaac Newton, the Royal Society, and the Birth of the Modern World, by Edward Dolnick. I appreciate the general topic, but after a few chapters I stopped. The condescending caricature of Christianity presented in the book was too much. To tell well the story of a group of people, one must at least appreciate at some level where they are coming from and why. Dolnick simply sneers at the backwardness of people who were so silly as to think that God controlled the world, that hell exists, that sin is serious, etc.

His contrast between the 17th century and today is telling, though. For example he writes:

“Today damn and hell are the mildest oaths, suitable responses to a stubbed toe or a spilled drink. For our forebears, the prospect of being damned to hell was vivid and horrifying.”

Dolnick seems to think this change of perspective is progress. The modern man Dolnick happily describes sounds rather like the wicked described in Psalm 36:1: “there is no fear of God before his eyes.”  The fact that fear of facing God’s judgment is rare in our society, that words like damn and hell mean so little, explains a lot about behavior and belief today.

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