The society believes that the earth is orderly and subject to rational investigation

If a society believes that the earth is controlled by invisible spirits or that events are subject to unpredictable and uncontrollable fate, it will have little incentive for investigation of the earth and development of new products from its resources.

But if a society believes that the earth is orderly and predictable, and therefore subject to rational investigation, this will provide a positive incentive for some people to work at large-scale inventions and for millions of others to “tinker” with small improvements in the way products are made and processed. Such a culture of inventiveness will lead to increasing economic development as a country moves from poverty to prosperity.[1]

This is consistent with a Christian worldview, which is illustrated in Psalm 111:2: “Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them.” This verse (which was inscribed in Latin over the archway to the main scientific laboratory at Cambridge University in England for many years) indicates a belief that God is pleased when human beings study and investigate the earth’s resources, learn from them, and therefore develop them in ways that are useful for mankind.

Landes says that the Industrial Revolution began first in Britain and then spread to much of Northern Europe because of a widespread agreement on how intellectual knowledge would progress: (1) intellectual inquiry would be “autonomous” (free from both superstition and church dogma); (2) it would take shape in a recognized “adversarial method” by which discoveries could be proved and understood; and (3) people would support the “routinization” of methods of research and the spread of knowledge.[2]

Landes notes, by contrast, that in the Islamic world, medical knowledge, for example, fell farther and farther behind what was happening in Northern Europe. This was because scientists in Muslim countries were unwilling to read and learn from European scientific research, but continued reading the same Muslim scientific books over and over again.[3]

The society believes that the earth is a place of opportunity

If a society believes that developing the earth’s resources is morally right and in fact is approved by God (as evidenced by Gen. 1:28; Ps. 8:6-9; 24:1), then people will think of the world as a place of opportunity, where hard work and inventiveness will lead to further discoveries of beneficial uses of the earth’s resources.

By contrast, in some primitive societies, the world is viewed primarily as a place of danger. People are unwilling to take risks because something bad might happen. In these places, economic development is viewed with fear and even moral condemnation, because change is more likely to bring harmful results than helpful ones.

  • [1] Miller and Guthrie, Discipling Nations, 95-119, have a very helpful discussion of the Christian viewthat God is rational and therefore he wants us to investigate the world with the use of our rationalminds. Miller and Guthrie contrast this idea with non-Christian views that do not lead to a similaremphasis on developing and creating useful products from the earth.
  • [2] See Landes, Wealth and Poverty, 201-6.
  • [3] See ibid., 203, 550n10.
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