Are Western Values Judeo-Christian in origin?

This is a common idea, made by many people, notably Jordan Peterson. I have held this view i the past on the forum.

This video supposedly ‘debunks’ the notion:

I am not knowledgeable enough to respond (my field of expertise is in the Ancient Near East), however I will say that there is a competent case to be made that Western ‘Science’ is grounded in Christian values, as James Hannam and others have shown, and I think that RationalityRules ignores this. I am also aware that notable classical historian Tom Holland believes that Western Civilisation owes more to Christianity than to Ancient Greece.

What do you think?

I’m pretty sure that real historians frown on the simplistic assertions of youtube pronouncers (falling off one side of the horse) and the debunkers that “correct” the original pronouncers by falling off the other side of the horse – both will draw on a few grains of truth which are then used to usher in unwarranted sweeping claims. Not that they are both necessarily equally wrong, mind you.

I don’t have time right now to wade into everything, but one of the fallacious claims in this video (3 to 4 minutes in) is that (using my recollection here) “…the notion that morality could precede the Old Testament laws does not fit the Judeo-Christian narrative…”
The speaker here apparently doesn’t know the bible well (or at all?) … since “morality” is already an issue from the beginning with Adam and Cain and Abel. It is exactly within the biblical narrative.

This isn’t to say the speaker above gets everything wrong. But mostly it seems like an equally (if not more) faulty anti-religious polemic against excessively sweeping claims of Christian polemicists.

As I’ve heard real historians observe: history is messy.


That’s my conclusion as well. I think it is impossible to boil down the history of Western civilization to just one cause. The Jared Diamond book “Guns, Germs, and Steel” makes a great case for resources and climate being a strong determining factor for how successful a civilization is. We can also see how views on morality and government in Western cultures changed over the last 2,000 years, bouncing between autocratic systems based on divine rule, fuedal systems, and democratic systems.

I would be interested in seeing how the empirical sciences were viewed through the lens of christian theology in the 17th through 19th centuries. The infamous motto of the Royal Society (the first modern scientific society) is “Nullius in verba” which means “take nobody’s word for it”. How did that fly with the clergy, or with historic views on christian theology in general?

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I found the video persuasive. I still think we in the west are vastly influenced by Christianity culturally. But I agree that in terms of moral progress, institutional Christianity has more often been on the wrong side of that improvement.

That was one of my favorite intellectually formative books … in a addition to a another work of his: “Collapse”. That, too, is an eye-opening read too, full of anchoring insights.

[…for not being an anthropologist himself, he sure is an anthropological “rock star” for lay readers like me. My son, who has an undergraduate degree in anthropology said that Diamond would get some (usually) favorable mentions.]

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I have only seen TV documentaries based on Diamond’s work, but even then it makes a lot of sense. In order to have a clergy, scientists, philosophers, inventors, and artists you have to have an overabundance of food and infrastructure which is only possible if you have the right cultivars and domesticated animals. Otherwise, you need everyone gathering and hunting in order to survive. If you spend time with people from across the world it is obvious that it isn’t a matter of one culture being smarter than another. It is just a happy coincidence of chance discoveries and resources that happen to stick around and build on themselves.

That’s not to discount the role of Christianity in Western culture, but I suspect we both see many influences that led to where we are now.


There is no question that we can not say that one culture is smarter than another, however we need to ask, Why there are differences?

I primary concern today is the conflict between Israel and the Arabs, which destabilizes the Middle East and the world. Israel is much smaller than her neighbors. The Palestinians plead poverty, but the Arabs seem to have more than enough oil money.

Why is there such a broad divide here between two kindred nations and two kindred faiths? Why the failure of the Arabs and Israel to work out a modus vivendi?

That seems to be a thread that runs through all of human history. There were massive wars between Protestants and Catholics on and off for centuries, and I think it could be argued that Protestants and Catholics have a lot more in common than Jews and Muslims. Why do any two groups of nations fight each other? How do nations form, and how do they develop their own identity?

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And as a related question, are be biologically driven to do so? It seems rabid sports fans, racial and cultural conflict, etc. are perhaps rooted in some sort of tribal drive.

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… or even means to overcome or supercede other tribal drives! As so-well shown in this particular superbowl commercial.

The fact that we feel compelled to ask the question says a lot, IMHO. I don’t think it would be fruitful to repeat discussions on neurobiology, mind-body dualism, and the like . . . but the biological origins of these behaviors is at least a very compelling possibility. It would seem that a biological origin could be neatly rolled up within Evolutionary Creationism, so its not necessarily a dividing line between us evil atheists and Christians.

@T_aquaticus points to the ideas of Diamond who says nations are different as the result of geographic causes. Then he wants to say that Israel and their Arab neighbors are rivals because of biological causes. Neither views are convincing do I do not think that is the way to break down “the dividing line between us evil atheists and Christians.”

I am saying that modern human culture is a product of many, many causes. I think it is wrong to boil down any culture to just one thing.

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