Christian Economics and the Caravel
When historians say that European dominance was caused by Europe’s superior technology, they are right. But this doesn’t tell the whole story. For behind that superior technology, there was a superior faith with a superior worldview, which made both the science, and the technology, and the economic infrastructure possible. Without this understanding, we can’t understand history.
Book of the Week:
– Medieval Technology and Social Change by Lynn White, Jr.
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Welcome to Episode 12 of Axe to the Root Podcast, part of the War Room Productions, I am Bo Marinov, and for the next 30 minutes we will be talking about a unique contribution the Christian worldview gave to the world of economics, warfare, and exploration: the caravel. Well, not just the caravel, but all the ship designs that followed from it: the carrack, the galleon, and the later ship designs that became the mainstay for the Age of Sail. That whole era between the 15th and the 19th centuries, the era of discovery, evangelism, conquest, slave trade, abolition of the slave trade, commerce, colonization, mass migration, and technological and scientific development, that era literally passed under the flapping of the sails. So important the sailing ship was that in the late 18th and the early 19th centuries, every single able-bodied male in the British Isles was expected to have spent at least a month of his life under the sails of a ship, whether as a sailor, a soldier, a merchant, an explorer, or simply as a traveler. To a certain extent it can be compared to our age where everyone has been on a plane at least once, except that at the time, even simple travelers were expected to know the basic duties of sailors and join the crew in times of emergency. And this era, which looks so romantic to us today, started with a simple, low-cost, and yet ingenious, sturdy, defensible, and economically efficient design, the caravel. The caravel can easily be numbered among the true miracles of Christendom, a technological development that is way too ingenious to be the product of natural development; to those of us who know the history of navigation and naval warfare, there is nothing natural nor evolutionary in its development. Its uniqueness is such as to demand a spiritual, covenantal explanation of its origin. And indeed, we will see in the next 30 minutes, it was really a product of a unique worldview and a unique civilization based on that worldview: Christendom. The caravel couldn’t just develop in any other civilization, for it required a very specific faith, and a very specific concept of man, the world, economics, and the moral value of the individual, in order to develop.
I know, most of you never thought about it, and most of you never thought that there were covenantal lessons to learn from the caravel. But that’s only because we have all been under the influence of rationalistic and naturalistic worldviews; worldviews that self-consciously avoid noticing the supernatural causes in history, even where every single clue points to a cause that is above nature, and above rationalistic interpretations. If you try to learn about the history of the caravel in Wikipedia or any other non-Christian book on history, you will served with explanations of how the caravel developed in some evolutionary way, just naturally from previous ship designs and from a natural technological development. (Which is, by the way, the Marxist view of historical causation: technology – or the evolution of the means of production – as an independent factor, and from it, the historical changes in economic relationships, and then the change in law, religion, philosophy, etc.) But these explanations do not explain why the same design didn’t develop in China, or in India. The several individual technological developments combined in the caravel – and we will look at each one them in detail – have existed for many centuries in China, India, the Muslim world; some were even known to the pre-Roman Celts, as we will see. But the caravel didn’t develop with those cultures, even though they had all the material factors for its development. Something in those cultures prevented them from taking the next step and creating the caravel, even though they had had the technologies for centuries. And there was something in the Western culture that made Europeans immediately make the connection and create the single most important design that became the technological prerequisite for the global dominance of Christendom. And it is very clear, from the historical data, that that something was not a material nor a social factor. It was something else.
It is the same mistake Murray Rothbard made more than two decades ago in his criticism of Gary North: he disagreed with Gary North that there was no neutrality in any area of life, and asked the misplaced question: “Is there a Christian way to fly a plane?” For all his amazing insight and understanding and contributions in other areas of thought an action, Rothbard’s professed agnosticism betrayed him in the crucially important area of epistemology; he failed to ask the question that is obvious to Christians who understand presuppositionalism: “How did we get to have planes in the first place?” Several years ago, I responded to Rothbard’s question in an article for AmericanVision.org: “Is There a Non-Christian Way to Fly a Plane?” And I showed that the assumption that flying a plane is a religiously and morally neutral issue is missing some clearly obvious connections: That the very existence of planes is predicated on certain faith and its specific presuppositions. Without that faith and without those presuppositions, modern science wouldn’t develop, modern technology wouldn’t develop, and the modern systems of financing, production, and economic infrastructure wouldn’t develop. People have to believe certain thing in order to develop planes and make them economical and useful. It takes a belief system even to trust the scientists and the engineers to even pay money for a ticket and get on that plane, let alone to operate it. And the fact that people of different religions are now operating and planes and using the services of airline companies only show that that specific faith that made planes possible has now become dominant around the world, in changing and shaping the fundamental presuppositions even of those who formally do not subscribe to it. Not only is there a Christian way to fly a plane, there is no other way than a Christian way to fly a plane, and even non-Christians have to adopt it in order to fly planes. (On a side note, just as there is only a Christian way to defend liberty, and Rothbard himself had to borrow presuppositions and fundamental principles from Christianity to write his books. And he stood faithful to liberty only to the extent he borrowed them.)
Returning to the caravel, the best way to show its revolutionary superiority over all the other floating craft at the time is to tell the story of an early voyage. No, it’s not the voyage of Christopher Columbus in 1492 which remains the most popular and well-known voyage done on caravels ever; and the Santa Maria, which was rather a carrack, and upgraded version of a caravel, is one of the most well-known ships of that era. In Columbus’s voyage, the caravel only exhibited two of its superior qualities – sea-worthiness and constant speed. We will now look at another voyage, 5 years later, in which three carracks (upgraded versions of the caravel) and one caravel were placed in the worst possible conditions, and were strained to the maximum to show their superior qualities. And they passed the test with flying colors, laying the foundation for the expansion of Christendom around the world.
On July 8, 1497, the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama and a crew of 170 of Portugal’s finest seamen left Lisbon with the Sao Gabriel and the Sao Raphael, two carracks of the same type, 178 tons each, the Berrio, a caravel of 90 tons, and the Sao Miguel, a carrack of 200 tons tonnage, used as a supply ship. The objective of the expedition was to sail around Africa and reached India. The first two carracks, The Sao Gabriel and the Sao Raphael, were very special; their construction was based on recommendations – and also overseen – by Bartolomeu Dias, another captain who 10 ears earlier had reached the southern tip of Africa and had confirmed that Africa could be circumnavigated. Dias joined da Gama’s expedition until the Cabo Verde islands. He probably wanted to see how his babies were going to behave on high seas. As the expedition proved eventually, they held admirably against overwhelming odds.
(It would be interesting to mention that Dias was 37-years old when he made his voyage in 1488. At the start of his voyage, Vasco da Gama was in his early 30s. Keep that in mind.)
The first feat of the four ships came as they were still in the Atlantic. Da Gama chose to not follow the coast of Africa on his way south but to continue deep into the Atlantic Ocean as far south as he could until he reached the latitude of the southern tip of Africa, and then turn east. The reason for taking this risk was that he knew from Dias that the prevailing winds and currents along the coast of Africa were from the south, so his ships would have to struggle with both wind and current to reach their destination. Da Gama reasoned that the area in the ocean west of Africa should be like a giant pool where air and water move in a circular, counter-clockwise pattern, so he took the route that would move him along the direction of the movement in the circle.
Now, while such move today seems rather logical and safe, it wasn’t so at the time. Waves and storms on the high seas are much more brutal than those close to the shore. In addition, from a navigational perspective, being out of sight of land deprives the ships of the opportunity to determine their position; it was an age of imperfect star tables, no chronometers, and, the southern hemisphere’s navigational stars were not yet charted and tabled. So, from the perspective of safety, the ships had to be sea-worthy, that is, sturdy enough and with the right shape in order to stand ocean waves. On the other hand, for the purposes of navigation, they had to be able to make consistent speeds in all kinds of weather, at minimal drift. From the perspective of ship-building, these requirements are self-contradicting. Sea-worthiness requires that the ship has a lower length-to-beam ratio, that is, shorter from bow to stern and wider from side to side. On the other hand, consistent speed in all kinds of weather requires exactly the opposite: a higher length-to-beam ratio, that is, a ship that is longer and narrower. In addition to it, there two more conflicting demands on the design: the caravel and the carrack had to be able to explore shallow waters and sail up rivers (which required shallower keel) and yet withstand ocean storms (which required deeper keel). Right there we have the first seemingly unresolvable problem which previous ship-builders had given up on. Europe either had long shallow keel oar galleys in the Mediterranean or deep keel but unwieldy ocean-going sailing ships in the North Sea, called cogs. The first test of the design had come.
The four ships passed it with flying colors. Vasco da Gama led the expedition into the open space of the South Atlantic, and that in the winter and spring in the south hemisphere. It took him over three months to reach South Africa, the longest recorded journey out of sight of land so far. (Columbus’s first voyage, by comparison, was only a little over a month from shore to shore.) When the ships finally reached the coast of Africa at the St. Helena Bay, they were only 90 nautical miles north of the Cape of Good Hope where Dias had reached 10 years earlier. From a navigational perspective, da Gama had tried a ricochet shot at a target a thousand yards away which he couldn’t directly see, entirely on mathematical calculations, with the first shot ever with a brand new rifle. And he almost hit the bull’s eye. And the ships arrived in a perfect condition, after three months sailing the high seas.
Having reached the southern tip of Africa, the expedition stopped and broke up the supply ship, the Sao Miguel, and distributed the supplies to the other three ships. No, there was nothing wrong with the ship; the move seems to have been planned from the very beginning with a view of crossing the Atlantic. This was another example of the uniqueness of the caravel: the design that was so effective in both crossing oceans and maintaining constant speed in adverse conditions, was at the same time so low cost that an expedition or a trade convoy could afford to lose a ship or two and still make profit. Within the next year and a half Vasco da Gama would lose one ship – he would have to scuttle the Sao Rafael – and yet the net economic revenue from the expedition would amount to 60 times its total cost. There are not many examples in history where a trading enterprise could afford to lose half of its fleet and yet turn out such immense profit. The caravel was both efficient and low-cost, even for its time.
But the real challenges were still ahead.
On March 2, 1498 the expedition reached Mozambique and enter the harbor of the capital of Mozambique, an Arab-controlled Muslim sultanate which was a major strategic point for the Arab trade in the Indian Ocean. For the next one year, the three ships would be sailing, fighting, and trading in waters entirely controlled by Muslim Arabs, and completely unknown to and unexplored by European navigators. And that at a time when back home, the Mediterranean was boiling with the battles between Christendom and the Muslim world. Fifty years earlier, the Ottoman Turks had defeated the last European crusade of Ladislaw, the King of Poland, and then had taken Constantinople. Six years earlier, the Spanish joint monarchy of Ferdinand and Isabella had taken over the last Muslim stronghold in Western Europe, Granada; and the Spanish forces were taking the fight over to the coast of Africa. The Knights of St. John were still holding the island of Rhodes and harassing the coast of Asia Minor. The wars with Islam would continue for another 4 centuries. In fact, forty years later, the two sons of Vasco da Gama himself would use fleets of caravels and carracks to assault the Ottoman Empire in the Red Sea as far north as Suez; and his younger son, Cristovao, would die a heroic death defending the Christian Queen of Ethiopia against Muslim invaders. In a period of history when Islam was immeasurably more powerful than Christendom in terms of economic resources and population, and in time of a merciless conflict between the two, Vasco da Gama sailed right in the very backyard of the Muslim world with only three ships, and not only lived to tell the tale, but also returned fabulously rich, with enough resources to do it over again.
In Mozambique, he pretended to be a Muslim merchant. He was soon unmasked, but he managed to leave the harbor unharmed with all three ships. The harbor fortress couldn’t stop him, for his ships fired their heavy canon at it, creating enough chaos to slip away without problems. He would have to repeat the same feat of leaving a hostile harbor unharmed at least three more times in Muslim ports, and one time in an Indian port. This is an important testimony to the value of the caravel, and we will see why shortly. While sailing in waters heavily infested with Muslim ships, he resorted to looting and piracy; in those days of constant warfare, this was considered a legitimate activity as long as it targeted the enemy; and where da Gama was, there were no friends within thousands of miles, only enemies. In all his encounters, his ships were victorious; he didn’t suffer any defeat, and he was able to load his ships with a lot of precious cargo.
It was this part of the voyage that exhibited some other amazing advantages of the caravel design, unparalleled by anything the rest of the world had at the time.
First of all, not only was the caravel sea-worthy, it was also extremely maneuverable in shallow waters and small spaces. Navigators and pilots know very well the extreme challenges of maneuvering a ship within a harbor or a port – and we are talking about sailing ships here, not the modern motor vessels. Most harbors then, and all harbors today, did not allow ships to maneuver on their own power; they were, and are today, supposed to use tug boats, and specially trained harbor pilots. (Keep in mind that a ship is not like a truck. A ship can’t just press on the brakes if it can’t take a curve; there is no solid surface against which it can brake. Maneuvering a ship – let alone a sailing ship – in narrow waters is a complex science.) Leaving a hostile port with three ships unharmed would have meant not using tug boats, and also being able to maneuver in such a way as to avoid being exposed to coastal artillery – or, always being in a position to suppress any fire from the shore. The caravels proved up to the task of maneuvering, because they not only had a unique hull structure but also a unique rigging – a combination of square and triangular sails on two or three masts which allowed them to both beat upwind and quickly pick up speed downwind.
But they also had the firepower to suppress opposition. This was another unique characteristic of the caravel. While it was built for exploration and commerce, it could also carry heavy cannon turning it into a true fortress on water. This took an engineering miracle unheard of in other parts of the world. On one hand, there was the problem of having enough space for cargo and for the heavy cannon and the cannonballs and the gunpowder. But there was a greater issue to resolve: For a ship to remain stable on the water, its center of gravity has to be as low as possible. But for the cannon to be effective in battle, it has to be mounted as high above the water line as possible. And heavy cannon is, well, heavy, which means placing it higher would move up the center of gravity of the ship, making the ship unstable. When the recoil from a broadside is added to the equation, the problem seems unresolvable, for no ship at the time could mount ten heavy guns on its deck, fire a broadside against an enemy, and not capsize under the combined effect of their weight and of their recoil.
And yet, the caravel did it. And it did it because the engineers and ship-builders of Christendom had discovered and applied in practice the engineering concept of metacentric height, that is, the distance between the center of mass of the ship and the geometric center of its submerged volume. I will leave you, folks, to read up on this interesting engineering concept, but in short, it is an application of the Archimedes’s Principle, integrated to take in account the geometry of the floating body. It is not a concept that can come just naturally and intuitively to the human mind; it takes serious scientific effort to formulate it and apply it in practice. That mechanical balance could be created by counterposing geometry to mass seemed like black magic at the time. The Chinese did understand the principle and used it to build tumbling mandarin dolls (or the okiagari-koboshi dolls in Japan, or the modern roly-poly toys and the Russian nevalyashka dolls). We don’t know if their engineers applied it to ship-building. If they did, they never used it to mount heavy cannon on their junk boats. It was European engineers who first thought of ships as roly-poly systems, and used it to build their ships into floating fortresses. Eighty years after da Gama’s voyage, this engineering concept won the battle at Lepanto: the six gigantic galleases built by the Arsenal in Venice, with several decks above the water level, with mounted heavy canon, won the battle for Christendom. The Turkish captains believed that these large ships couldn’t be anything else but merchant ships, and happily surrounded them with their galleys, ready to board and loot them. By the time they realized that all these decks above their heads were bristling with cannon, it was too late. Six galleases, built on the same principle of mechanical balance and gun mounting as the caravels, sank a third of the Turkish fleet even before the battle started in earnest.
With his three ships thus armed, Vasco da Gama could face no serious opposition on the sea lanes between Africa and India. The technological superiority of the caravel made him almost invulnerable, and the numerical superiority of his enemies meant nothing. Eventually, he found a pilot who took him across the Indian Ocean to Calicut in India. Calicut brought some disappointment to da Gama, in the fact that the local merchants showed little interest in the European goods; the European economy wasn’t developed enough to be able to offer anything of significant value to the Indian market. Still, even the meager trade he was able to do produced results that back in Europe would amount to enormous profit. Eventually, the relation between da Gama and the King of Calicut deteriorated, which prompted da Gama to flee the port in the same way he fled the Muslim ports, forcing his way out, using the superior maneuverability and firepower of his ships. (This time he even took hostages from the personal guard of the King.)
Immediately after that, da Gama made his only serious tactical mistake: he ignored the local knowledge of the monsoon seasons and tried to sail back to Africa before the winter monsoon pattern had set in. This meant that while the trip from Africa took him only 23 days, the trip back took more than four months – longer than his trip through the South Atlantic. We don’t know why he made that decision; he may have been afraid of remaining near the coast of India after his quarrel with the king of Calicut. But even on that journey, the caravels proved their superiority: they were still able to beat the unfavorable winds – a feat that few ships at the time could do. Again, the unique rigging of the caravels was responsible for this.
On the coast of Africa he scuttled the Sao Rafael and continued back the same way around the southern tip. In the Atlantic, the two remaining ships lost sight of each other during a storm. The Berrio reached Portugal earlier. Vasco da Gama stopped at the Azores to tend for his brother who had fallen terminally ill. After the death of his brother, he returned to Portugal, with a treasure that was 60 times the total cost of the expedition – even after counting the cost of the two scuttled ships and the pensions of the those of the crew who died on the voyage. He had proven his worth as a captain.
And the caravel had proven its unique worth as a ship. It could safely sail the high seas, and yet maneuver in narrow straits and shallow waters. It could maintain steady speed for long distances, and it could beat the wind. It could carry enough cargo to make it economically profitable, and yet mount heavy guns on its deck to make it an unassailable fortress. And it did all this at the lowest possible cost – for it was cheap to build, cheap to maintain, and it could do all these tasks with the minimum number of crew. Improving on the caravel, Christendom now had the means to conquer the world. Within a century, the oceans of the world would become a province of Europe.
The question now is, why was this unique ship design developed in Europe, and not in China, or the Arab world, or in Indochina, or in Japan, or in the Mezoamerican civilization? The different technological elements combined in the caravel were not all discovered in Europe. Europe wasn’t even so well developed economically in the 15th century; remember, among the trade goods Vasco da Gama brought with him, there wasn’t much the Indian merchants would be interested in. Sea-worthy ships were made by the Chinese as early as the second century AD, and they had several masts and also had triangular, fully battened sails, capable of withstanding serious storms. From Julius Caesar’s The Gallic Wars we know that the Veneti tribe and the other Celtic tribes along the Atlantic made sturdy, ocean-going sailing ships. (In his book, America B.C., Barry Fell shows that Celts and Phoenicians and Hebrews traded with North and South America long before Julius Caesar.) China and India had heavy artillery long before Europe had it; they also made use of rockets and missiles as early as AD 11th century; but they never made it a habit to mount them on their ships. The Chinese also had some knowledge of the concept of metacentric height and the use of geometry to balance mass but used it only for toys. The Arabs knew and applied Archimedes’s Principle to building large merchant ships.
But none of these civilizations, despite their superiority in numbers, scientific knowledge and technological discoveries, and economic resources, made the effort to put all these advantages together and produce the miracle of the caravel. They didn’t even bother to copy it and perfect it after they saw its clear superiority – the way Europeans copied and applied in practice artillery, the paper, missile technology, the Arabic numbers, and many others. Throughout the 16th century these civilizations still had the economic and technological opportunity to catch up with Christendom and beat Europe in her own game. But they never did. To the contrary, in the face of a growing threat, they stagnated further, until in the 17th century it was too late. Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, English, Swedish, French explorers, merchants, adventurers were roaming the seas in ships even better than the caravel, and there was no force capable of stopping their advance. Why did European engineers and ship-builders invested the money and effort to find all the solution to problems that would face future explorers, merchants, and conquerors? People don’t just naturally take the risk to invest in the future, in discovering and production of new things that may not even prove beneficial; they need to have something to create the impetus for taking the risk of going beyond the zone of comfort and habit. What was it that Europe had that the rest of the world didn’t?
It was her worldview founded on and nourished by her Christian faith. A worldview that the non-Christian nations didn’t have. A worldview that made her ignore the comfortable complacency of the present and the known, and dive into the world of the unknown future, despite her disadvantages in terms of population and economic resources.
First, it was the drive to expansion characteristic to her worldview, which was lacking in any other civilization. Modern historians and sociologists give different reasons for that drive to expansion. Atheist – and especially Marxist – historians blame it on either demographic pressure or greed for gold. But such interpretation is ludicrous. First, Europe was not nearly as densely populated as, for example, India or China, or the valleys of the Nile or Mesopotamia, which had a monstrous density of their populations at the time compared to Europe. Even in Mexico, the Aztec Empire had 3 to 4 million population squeezed in a few cities around a lake, and their military exploits had nothing to do with colonizing more lands or trade but just looting and capturing material for the human sacrifices. And to propose that only Europeans were so greedy as to want expansion, while everyone else was free of greed shows a serious lack of understanding of the human nature. Of course, trade and the desire for riches can be said to have been a major motivation for many people, but still, the same desire for riches didn’t make Japan or China have a mind focused on expansion. Christian historians – like John Eidsmoe, in his Columbus and Cortez: Conquerors for Christ – explains the expansion drive with evangelism. This is a more probable cause, given that evangelism is unique to the Christian faith. (There is a sort of evangelistic drive in Islam, but much weaker, for it is combined with a fatalistic worldview.) I have my own version for the motives for the expansion drive, but that version needs to be developed in a bit more detail. It is that the drive to expansion was eschatological; specifically, finding the empire of Prester John. I think this motive is much more universal, given that not all explorers expressed desire to evangelize or convert the pagans, but for two centuries all of them were officially supplied by their governments with accreditation letters to Prester John. We will talk about it in another podcast.
But all of these – demographic pressure, trade impetus, evangelism, eschatology – were based on a Christian worldview. Yes, even the trade impetus and the demographic pressure. It was the Christian worldview that informed them that the meek shall inherit the earth and therefore the righteous were supposed to leave their comfortable lives and go out and conquer the earth. The expansion mindset was possible only in a Christian context.
But the expansion motive was not solely responsible; there was more than that. Namely, that Europe expected that expansion to happen through individuals, families, and private economic entities. Pagan Rome also had a drive to expansion for a time, as did China, as did some of the ancient empires. But that expansion was an expansion of the state’s borders, not an expansion of a civilization or faith. The expansion of Christendom was to be expansion of wealth and dominion of individuals; Christianity, even in its darkest days, viewed the individual as the basic unit of government, and therefore the individual as the basic unit of civilization. It trusted the individual, it taught the individual to be self-governing and responsible, to be a moral entity of his own, before God. And consequently, the technology and the economy of Christendom took it as their mandatory task to produce the best tools of dominion at the lowest cots possible so that as many individuals as possible could take advantage of then and expand their personal and individual borders – in wealth, land, commerce, industry, etc. The Chinese had magnificent ships and knowledge of ship-building and engineering but they never applied that knowledge to reduce the cost of building their ships; large-scale ship-building was affordable only for the state and its rulers. The lower classes couldn’t afford more than simple boats for fishing or personal transportation. In Europe, even though kings and princes invested in the development of new and better ship designs, the knowledge and the opportunity were open to everyone with heart and desire to take it to the seas.
And not only the ship designs, but the weapons too. The caravel and the subsequent ship designs wouldn’t be of much value for private individuals if the heavy cannon needed to make it a fortress on water weren’t also available for purchase by private individuals. Between China, India, and the Arab world, Europe was the last to place heavy guns on the battle field. But pretty soon European arms manufacturers were producing them in large quantities and at prices low enough for small ship owners to be able to afford dozens of them. A private businessman shopped for guns in the same way we today shop for tools: He’d just order them and have them delivered to his ship. That was Christendom, folks, and that was liberty. We argue and fight today for open carry for little handguns. Our Christian forefathers could open carry mortars and 42-pounders. Keep that in mind. This concept of the private individual as a responsible, self-governing moral agent, worthy of trust and delegated to expand Christendom on his own private initiative, through commerce and conquest, was unique to Christianity. Without understanding this unique concept, we can’t understand neither the development of the caravel, nor that whole period of the history of the world between the 15th and the 19th centuries.
And of course, their optimistic view of the future, characteristic only to the Christian faith. European engineers wouldn’t apply their talent and skill to creating the miracle of the caravel if it wasn’t for expectations of the future that told them that it will be better and more developed than the past. People do not normally get out of their comfort zone, or out of their habits, to risk, innovate, explore, invest effort, unless they are moved by a faith that not only tells them that success is possible but also, that it is mandatory. The concept that there is always a solution to every legitimate problem before man is not a natural concept; it must be nurtured by a supernatural faith. Why would anyone invest time and effort to solve a seemingly unsolvable problem – like the conflict between stability and defensibility of a ship – unless he has the faith that there is a solution to every problem? Why would anyone believe there is a solution to every problem unless there is an underlying faith that both problems and solutions are created by the same Creator, who has created mankind with the purpose of taking dominion, that is, solving problems? This explains why non-Christian civilizations, even when they had superior scientific and technological knowledge, didn’t bother to apply it in practice. It also explains why Europeans, immediately after making a discovery, rushed to apply it to practice and mass production and make it available to everyone at the lowest price possible. Without Christianity, no one would bother to design such a unique ship as the caravel.
Thus, when historians say that European dominance was caused by Europe’s superior technology, they are right. But this doesn’t tell the whole story. For behind that superior technology, there was a superior faith with a superior worldview, which made both the science, and the technology, and the economic infrastructure possible. Without this understanding, we can’t understand history.
We tend to take technology for granted these days, but we shouldn’t. There is no natural evolutionary origin of technology, and there was no such natural origin of the caravel. The caravel was not simply another ship design. By the standards of the age, it was a monster. It combined several technologies that were previously thought incompatible within the same design. It solved problems related to navigation, safety, exploration, commerce, and defense, that were previously thought unsolvable. And it did it at a cost so low that any middle-class private entrepreneur could afford to buy and dispose of the ship when needed, and still make a profit. Its development was so unique that to the world outside of Christendom it was nothing less than magic. Magic it wasn’t, but its engineering wasn’t natural either; it was the supernatural product of a supernatural worldview that laid the foundation for expansion, profit, and success, and that not only for the powerful of the day but for individual men and private businesses as well. The caravel was the start of the global dominance of Christendom, and the origin of the caravel was in the Christian worldview of Europe.
The book I will assign for reading this week is a very short but informative book: Medieval Technology and Social Change by Lynn White, Jr. The book is not about the caravel, it is about three earlier technological developments. The value in the book is not so much in its worldview – for it is not explicitly Christian – as it is in showing that what we take for granted today was in fact history changing. We need to stop taking things for granted and see God’s direct involvement in history, through His Gospel and through the worldview created by His Gospel. And for this, we need to learn to see the important details where we haven’t seen them before.
And I will return you again to my work in Bulgaria. We just recently published in Bulgarian R.J. Rushdoony’s The Foundations of Social Order: the book that I consider the most unique book ever written in Christendom. And that book is exactly about that: how the worldview of Christianity changed history. I need your help to publish more books. Visit Bulgarian Reformation.com and help me create the intellectual foundation for the future Christian civilization in Bulgaria.
God bless you all.