While I'm posting things some readers will find of interest, here is another one: the sociologist Rodney Stark's How Christianity (and Capitalism) Led to Science from (of all places) The Chronicle of Higher Education. He lists several achievements of Western civilization, noting that other civilizations, some at one time more advanced than the West, never managed them.
The reason this "Western dominance" occurred "only in Europe," he says, is "the rise of capitalism." But
Supposing that capitalism did produce Europe's own "great leap forward," it remains to be explained why capitalism developed only in Europe.
The reason is one not often articulated, at least by academic historians and economists:
. . . A series of developments, in which reason won the day, gave unique shape to Western culture and institutions. And the most important of those victories occurred within Christianity. While the other world religions emphasized mystery and intuition, Christianity alone embraced reason and logic as the primary guides to religious truth. Christian faith in reason was influenced by Greek philosophy.
But the more important fact is that Greek philosophy had little impact on Greek religions. Those remained typical mystery cults, in which ambiguity and logical contradictions were taken as hallmarks of sacred origins. Similar assumptions concerning the fundamental inexplicability of the gods and the intellectual superiority of introspection dominated all of the other major world religions.
But, from early days, the church fathers taught that reason was the supreme gift from God and the means to progressively increase understanding of Scripture and revelation. Consequently Christianity was oriented to the future, while the other major religions asserted the superiority of the past. At least in principle, if not always in fact, Christian doctrines could always be modified in the name of progress, as demonstrated by reason.
Encouraged by the scholastics and embodied in the great medieval universities founded by the church, faith in the power of reason infused Western culture, stimulating the pursuit of science and the evolution of democratic theory and practice. The rise of capitalism also was a victory for church-inspired reason, since capitalism is, in essence, the systematic and sustained application of reason to commerce — something that first took place within the great monastic estates.
He goes on to develop this argument in some detail, along the way dismissing Weber's Protestant Ethic.
Stark is, as far as I know, not a Christian. Readers interested in his understanding of early Christianity will want to read A Double Take on Early Christianity, an interview conducted by Mike Aquilina that appeared in Touchstone a few years ago.