Drawing on the work of the mid-20th-century Christian theologian Claude Tresmontant, Samuel Gregg explains how the ideas of the Hebrew Bible made possible the achievements of European civilization:
The Jews . . . believed that the material world was not evil or beset by demonic contests. [The] universe is presented in the Hebrew Scriptures as ultimately permeated with order—not chaos and incomprehensibility. Much of this universe was thus understandable by the human beings made by God in His image and similarly suffused with His order.
This belief in a good and ordered world challenged the supposition of the surrounding religions that the material world itself is malevolent—a view that was not clearly rebutted by Greek philosophers such as Plato. The Hebrews insisted that this material world was made for man and that its goodness would unfold under his cultivation. This Jewish emphasis on the order built into a created world of which man is the apex had two critical consequences. First, Judaism’s audacious confrontation of idolatry and pagan mythology was a powerful affirmation of man’s rationality. . . . The Jews’ liberation of human reason from mythology and nature-worship amounted to one of humanity’s most powerful “enlightenments.”
The second important consequence of Judaism’s understanding of the created universe was its accent on human freedom. In the Hebrew Scriptures, human mistakes and errors are not caused by capricious Greek and Roman deities manipulating men. Nor did Judaism see human events as determined by fate, which characterized the pagan religions.