CHAPTER 12: The Religious Origins of Science


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Thus Christianity…in order to uphold divine and human freedom and authority.

Cf. Leslie Dewart The Foundations of Belief Herder & Herder, NY, 1969, p66, ftn 11. The self-existence of natural things “was the very metaphysical kingpin which had to be removed by Christian philosophy before the direct influence upon Christianity of the Greek idea of Fate could begin to wane. It was St. Thomas who loosened it… but did not manage to pull it out… It thus fell to atheism to declare in modern times that man is in no way subject to Fate…” Christianity had inherited from the Greeks the terms in which the issue was framed.


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In contrast to nature, God alone is necessary and real by virtue of himself.

From a modern point of view, the so-called Ontological Argument for God’s existence is so illogical that it makes one wonder how medieval people conceived logic itself. It amounts to saying that, in the case of the Absolute, simply to be able to conceive it means it must actually exist. Obviously, this is not true of relative things. The ability to conceive things that do not exist is the very hallmark of subjective imagination. Yet, the ontological argument asserts that the Absolute has the unique property that it if it can be conceived then it must exist. On the other hand, this raises the question of what precisely it means to “conceive” of something so transcendent as “the Absolute.”


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Mechanizing matter served to separate it more clearly from the spiritual realm.

But this worked both ways. Mersenne, for example, sought to mechanize the natural in order to free it from the occult and thereby preserve the miraculous as an article of faith.


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…having been transferred to the divine will operating from outside nature.

Moreover, Aristotle had held that the mixture of natures constituting a complex thing is not simply the sum of its parts, but a distinct nature characterizing the unified whole. This seems most obvious in the case of living organisms. [Lindberg op cit, p52] However, the reductive philosophy rejected this teaching, which is only recently being recovered in the notion of emergence.


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To assume…was repugnant to a rationalist sensibility.

Doubts about the meaning of transubstantiation, for example, were first recorded in the 11th century. Though formulated in the spiritual terms of the period (before mind had become a subjectified personal attribute or a modern abstraction), this was a first expression of what would eventually become the Mind-Body Problem. The question was how the spiritual presence of Christ could become the material bread and wine. More broadly: how is God present in the material world, and what is the relationship between the spiritual and material realms?


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What we now call public opinion had relevance for the first time and was needed to endorse the political order.

Questioning religious authority also meant questioning political authority, especially when it was desired that church and state be one. The “affair of the placard” in 1534 involved a political suppression of reformist thought in France, following publication of an heretical tract on transubstantiation. This led to a ritual cleansing of all the places the “placard” had been circulated, and included a procession in which Francis I personally took part. Significantly, this imitated an ordinary “Corpus Christi” procession, but with the king taking the place normally reserved for the Eucharist Host; it was no less than a political assertion of the king’s identity with the divine. For, “if there is no real presence of Christ in the sacrament, then there can be no real presence of Christ in his anointed ruler.” [Torrance Kirby, interviewed on “The Origins of the Modern Public CBC Ideas series, 2010] To cast doubt on the mystical identification of the bread and wine with the flesh and blood of Jesus was to cast doubt on the mystical identification of the king with God and, hence, the divine right of monarchs.

Perhaps in part because it was politically safe, in the late medieval period, theological problems were often framed in hypothetical terms: how many angels could dance on the head of a pin? [Edward Grant “Science and Theology in the Middle Ages” in God and Nature: historical essays on the encounter between Christianity and science, David. C. Lindberg & Ronald L. Numbers, eds, U of California Press, 1986, p62] This method coincided with the Greek tradition of rhetorical debate and hypothetical-deductive method, breaking ground for the role of hypothesis and deduction within scientific method.


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One needed not only to know but also to know how one knows.

In England, the Reformation created the possibility of a less “credentialized” society. People could think, read, write, and associate more freely. Henry dissolved the monasteries and with them the parish guilds, which had been traditional vehicles to dispense charity. The abolition of purgatory relieved people of the duty to pray for the dead and the expectation of reward (time off from purgatory) for good behavior in this life. In the short term, this led to a perceived crisis in moral order and civility. But in the longer term it led to a new sense of civic duty, based on the objective well being of society rather than personal salvation. [Robert Tittler, interviewed on “The Origins of the Modern Public CBC Ideas series, 2010]


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The conflict between natural causality and miracles…produced a spectrum of compromise solutions.

These struggles reflected deep differences between Aristotelian and Christian teachings. For one thing, Aristotle held the cosmos to be eternal, manifesting its ongoing immanent natures. By holding nature to have a relatively independent reality, and by precluding miracles, this directly contradicted the biblical Creation and impinged on divine freedom. His concept of the soul, as the organizing principle of the body, was not compatible with the Christian idea of the immortal spiritual soul distinct from the body. [Lindberg op cit, p220] Aristotle and Christianity were also opposed in their teachings on causality. Miracles—as exceptional occurrences—are ironically just the sort of thing that calls for explanation in Aristotle’s framework, whereas the normal course of things was taken for granted. In the new Christian science, in contrast, miracles were off limits as the divine preserve; it was rather the normal course of things that was to be explained.


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…governed matter…in much the way that human laws govern the affairs of men.

According to Ronald N. Giere [Science Without Laws U of Chicago Press 1999, p87-9], the question of whether the laws of nature expressed divine will was debated within Britain even into the third quarter of the 19th century. Only in the wake of Darwin’s influence were the laws of nature clearly separated from divine will.


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…God as first cause…initiates a chain of efficient causes in a domino effect.

This notion and its consequences developed in more or less logical steps. John Philoponus (6th century AD) had criticized Aristotle’s ideas and proposed that all motion—whether “natural” or forced by an external cause—is the result of an “incorporeal motive force.” Buridan (14th century) picked up on this idea and named it impetus, which could be quantified as proportional to both velocity and the amount of substance. [David C. Lindberg The Beginnings of Western Science: the European scientific tradition in philosophical, religious, and institutional context, 600 B.C. to 1450 A.D. Univ. of Chicago Press 1992, p302-3] But impetus remained tied to the old problem of the origin of motion and change generally. Buridan explained the motions of celestial bodies in terms of an impetus imparted by God originally, which then continued by its own nature in the absence of any resistance. (Aristotle, of course, had taught that such “forced” motion is contrary to nature and that space is not empty but a plenum. Other medieval thinkers speculated that the medium of space itself was responsible for continued motion—an idea that re-surfaces in contemporary theories of the origin of inertia in, for example, the Higgs field). Impetus was viewed as the continual cause of motion, whereas in the modern view it is the cause of a change of motion.

The significance of Buridan’s idea is that momentum or energy became recognized as something substantial, which reflected an amalgamation of the ideas of forced and natural change. Once impetus was imparted, it was the “nature” of the motion to continue. The difference with Aristotle is that such a change of state did not have to reside in the object itself, nor be intentionally caused, but could be transferred from other natural objects.

Kepler had postulated a force, inspired by magnetism, that emanated from the sun and swept the planets along in their orbits with the sun’s rotation. Though following an inverse square law, it operated only in the plane of the orbits. [cf. Allen G. Debus Man and Nature in the Renaissance Cambridge UP 1978, p94] This seems to be a transitional idea from a spiritual to a material agent. Kepler still requires a force of ambiguous nature to keep motion going, which Newton declared a natural property of matter.


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…nature as a whole was…set in motion by the provident beneficence of the Lord.

See also Angus J. L. Menuge “Interpreting the Book of Nature” Perspectives on Christian Faith: vol 55, number 2, June 2003 p94: “While organisms need constant support and attention, an automaton devised by a perfect engineer might… require no further intervention.” Note that domesticated animals and crops require “support and attention,” not wild nature. The referent for the early scientists’ concept of nature was pastoral—the domesticated English and European countryside, which would become increasingly dominated by urban landscapes and industrial installations. Nor would a modern person agree with this assessment of technology as trouble-free; on the other hand, many modern people continue to view natural systems as requiring supervision, especially to counteract the human impact.


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…a perishable soul, and inherent properties of matter independent of divine intent.

The soul, for Aristotle, was the essence of something and its potential for development—in the case of living things, something like DNA. Aristotle certainly did not conceive even the rational soul as immortal or even spiritual—an idea coming rather from Plato. Cf. Jacques Roger “The Mechanistic Conception of Life”, in Lindberg & Numbers God and Nature, p277: “Although vegetable and animal souls were transmitted from parent to offspring through the process of generation, the human [rational] soul, said Aristotle, ‘came from outside’, a formula Christian theologians easily transformed into the statement that it ‘was specially created by God’.”


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Yet, some theologians denounced the entire classical heritage as pagan.

Certainly, because of his essentialism, Aristotle was more suspect than Plato. Aristotle ran afoul of the Church throughout the 13th century, as a pagan or pantheist influence, though he was eventually accepted as a foundation of the university curriculum.


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the role of the Prime Mover was reduced to supplying initial conditions.

As acknowledged by Newton in the concluding part of Principia, the heavenly bodies constituting the “system of the world” could continue their orbital motions indefinitely in frictionless empty space, according to universal laws. While the laws could not account for how these motions began—what we now call initial conditions—this was no problem for Newton, who hastened to conclude: “this most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being.” Convinced by his bucket experiment of the substantial existence of space, he identifies this with the “sensorium of God” and draws an analogy between the human ability to will the parts of our own bodies into motion and the divine ability to “form and reform the Parts of the Universe.” The notion of a unified, omnipresent, homogenous space was consonant with the monotheistic idea of divine omnipresence. [Max Jammer Concepts of Space, p28].

Whether the earth or the heavenly vault rotated was a question of relative motion that would not be fundamentally resolved even by Newton. Concerning Joshua’s command for the sun to halt in its path, the medieval religious argument was that far less disruption would be involved by stopping the earth’s rotation than that of the celestial spheres. Clarke defends Newton’s “sensorium” idea with his own metaphorical clarification: “as in the Mind of Man, by its immediate Presence to the Pictures of Things form’d in the Brain by means of the Organ of Sensation, [one] sees the Pictures as if they were the Things themselves; so God sees all Things, by his immediate Presence to them: he being actually present to the Things themselves…” [quoted in Max Jammer Concepts of Space Harvard UP, 1969, p114-15] Newton’s view of gravitation also reflected his belief in God’s omnipresence. See, e.g., Deason, in Lindberg & Numbers God and Nature, p185: “Thus between 1687 and 1704, as he wrestled with the explanation of gravity, Newton came to see not only gravity but also other animating forces of nature as a manifestation of the immediate presence of God in the world. Even though he never committed himself publicly to an explanation of the cause of gravity, for much of his career he held privately to the view that God caused gravitational attraction by his omnipresent activity according to ‘laws of motion’.”

It is interesting to compare the views of Einstein, as Newton’s heir: “I cannot imagine a unified and reasonable theory… whereby a qualitatively different lawfulness of the world would have resulted…” [quoted in John D. Barrow Theories of Everything: the quest for ultimate explanation Fawcett/Balantine 1991, p127] This is precisely the opposite of the Enlightenment insistence on divine free choice!


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Thus, Laplace had no need for “that hypothesis.”

The optical resolution of some “nebulae” into stars was taken up hopefully by some religionists as evidence against the “nebular hypothesis” of Laplace and Kant. That is: as evidence for direct and instantaneous divine creation, as opposed to evolutionary concepts based on a pre-existing gaseous medium. [Andrew D. White A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom George Braziller, 1895/1955, p17]


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…chain of causes…initiated ultimately by a masculine Power residing outside it.

According to J.D. Barrow [Theories of Everything, p98], Newton perceived that science could not advance so long as the laws of nature were not separated conceptually from the matter they governed. However, Newton already presumes a separate lawgiver on religious grounds, and hence autonomous universal laws. The desirability of “universal laws” was also a matter of local political mood: the Restoration was a time in which intellectuals like Newton sought a stable central authority in the monarchy. The alternative in either case was thought to be chaos: to allow the rubble of matter to regulate itself suggested the ability of the rabble to regulate itself. While Newton recognized that the concept of a force residing in matter is hardly an improvement over Aristotle’s “natural motion,” his solution was perceived by some as a step backward in terms of ontology, since it relied ultimately on divine intervention.


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First, the idea of laws of nature required an external lawgiver, which the Judaic tradition provided.

In Judaism and Christianity, the creator and the creation are separate entities—expressing the dualism of mind and matter. In the non-dualist Vedantic tradition, in contrast, the apparent reality of the external world and of the true self are ultimately the same. Science could only arise in a dualistic culture since it is a confrontation of subject and object; it would be meaningless in a system that negates the external world.

A key influence of Semitic religion may turn on the issue of fatalism (as distinguished from determinism). In an impersonal system such as the mechanistic universe, determinism is inescapable, automatic, and completely impersonal. In contrast, the God of the Old Testament and the Koran is a personal, if invisible god—a father figure. Everything may be pre-destined by God’s will, but this is a matter of his inscrutable whim—completely the opposite of the “determinism” of an axiomatic system such as the Greeks proposed, which is rationally foreseeable. The new scientific view involved an uneasy synthesis of Greek rationality and Semitic fatalism, so that the laws of nature constituted a deductive system while the details (initial conditions) were left to divine whim. This personal aspect of the divine may also point to the psychoanalytical significance of the ascendancy of patriarchal over matriarchal religions: the father figure is more personal, because he comes into the child’s awareness at a later stage of development, whereas the mother remains (even as the Great Goddess) a less personal force, as she would be perceived by the infant.


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…in favor of a Christianity unified under a politically motivated orthodoxy.

The rise of subjectivism and individualism in the Greco-Roman world had allowed for independent thought within a common framework of discourse, which had emerged both because of and in spite of the political turmoil and debates that prevailed in the Greek city states. This individualism was acceptable in the ancient world; but when applied to religion, it produced competing doctrines and interpretations of scripture that could not be tolerated in the political vacuum that followed the collapse of Rome. Hence, Constantine imposed an orthodoxy at the Council of Nicea, more for political than religious reasons. Use of languages other than Latin was seen as a threat to the unique meaning of scripture and the central authority of the Church. [Robert S. Westfall “The Copernicans and the Churches” in Lindberg & Numbers God and Nature, p87] Similarly, the scientific revolution may have been motivated in part by the religious and political turmoil of the English civil war and the Reformation in general; it could progress in England in the stability of the Restoration.


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…isolating causes… could reveal mathematically expressible relationships.

While Galileo promoted the role of mathematics as central to science, mathematics had been widely associated with logic, Aristotle, and scholasticism. Some Renaissance thinkers looked askance at it for this reason, as obstructing a truly empirical (and Christianized) science.[Allen G. Debus Man and Nature in the Renaissance Cambridge UP 1978, p127] Many Protestants rejected Aristotle for doctrinal reasons, as a pagan influence associated with Catholic scholasticism and hierarchy. They sought to replace Aristotle’s philosophy with a Christianized natural philosophy tailored after Plato, whose teachings seemed more compatible with scripture. Newton rejected the scholastic account for insinuating that natural bodies have the fully self-subsisting reality that should properly be ascribed to God. [Hylarie Kochiras “By Ye Divine Arm: God and substance in De gravitatione” [Author’s manuscript: Article published in Religious Studies (2012) doi:10.1017/S0034412512000303]


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unverifiable theses seemed to have little bearing on ordinary life.

While modern science has displaced religion in several important functions, the attentive reader will note that has also assumed some of the characteristics of religion to which the first scientists objected. The scientific establishment has become a closed elite, sometimes indulging byzantine metaphysical fancies and mathematical doctrines with little bearing on ordinary life. Even experiment is no longer necessarily repeatable when it involves extremely complicated and expensive equipment, yielding massive data that must be interpreted by whole teams of specialists and computers.


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The “world soul” was denied in favor of… an eternal God outside nature.

Plato’s idea of a ‘world soul’, which moved the parts of the cosmos like the human soul moved the parts of the body, suggested a living cosmos but also the dualism of mind and body. While rejecting the idea of the Creation as an autonomous organism, Christianity embraced this dualism and found in it support for the idea of an immortal spiritual soul. This was altogether different from Aristotle’s “soul,” which was no more than the inherent nature of something, which would disappear upon its destruction. [David C. Lindberg The Beginnings of Western Science: the European scientific tradition in philosophical, religious, and institutional context, 600 B.C. to 1450 A.D. Univ. of Chicago Press 1992, p65]


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Good works were also pursued as an outward sign of inner grace.

This may have helped to alleviate Calvinist anxiety over spiritual status in the eyes of a God who predestined salvation for some and not others. [Robert K. Merton “Science, Technology and Society in Seventeenth Century England” Osiris vol 4 (1938), p451-455]. The Reformation had shifted the burden of salvation from the Church to the individual, who was all the more anxious for religious justification. Some groups held strongly fatalistic views. The early scientists were determinists in science because they first were in religion—or at least because they saw no incompatibility between scientific determinism and religious fatalism. This is understandable, since the true meaning of causal determinism can only be logical entailment. Randomness or chance has no place in deductive systems, such as religious belief systems are in effect.


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Adam’s original state… could now be recovered through science and technology.

Renaissance thinkers like Bacon particularly blamed Aristotle for obstructing the Christian project to recover the “Adamic” knowledge supposedly possessed by their predecessors. [Allen G. Debus Man and Nature in the Renaissance Cambridge UP 1978, p103] The notion of biblical restoration was parodied in the historical period given the same name a few decades after Bacon’s death. The era of the Restoration of the monarchy in England saw the founding of the Royal Society and the French Academy.


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Thus knowledge and power…became the new basis for human salvation.

Cf. Margaret C. Jacob The Newtonians and the English Revolution, 1689-1720 Cornell UP 1976, p17-18: “The ordered, providentially guided, mathematically regulated universe of Newton gave a model for a stable and prosperous polity, ruled by the self-interest of man… it allowed them to imagine that nature was on their side; they could have laws of motion and keep God; spiritual forces could work in the universe; matter could be controlled and dominated by God and by men.”


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…religion became more of an intellectual exercise than a living experience of faith.

For example, Newton’s Principia intellectualizes faith and presents an argument for God’s existence based on the inverse-square law of attraction. Newton’s faith in science remained grounded in religion and biblical studies: “When we compare Newton’s conception of nature with Descartes’, he appears to have retreated somewhat from Descartes’ forthright assertion that everything in the physical universe has been shaped by the necessary operation of impersonal laws. Indeed, one of the turning points of his career had been his conclusion that Cartesian natural philosophy with its autonomous material realm was a recipe for atheism. He had rejected it to pursue a philosophy that embodied the dominance of spirit.” [Westfall, in Lindberg and Numbers God and Nature, p233] Newton and some of his contemporaries made little distinction between scriptural exegesis and science—so that, for example, lectures on the interpretation of Daniel could be acclaimed on the same footing as the Copernican revolution or the discovery of the circulatory system. Unsealing the books of prophecy and deciphering nature were believed to be two aspects of the divinely sanctioned project to restore the world. Newton’s belief in divine prescience applied to history as well as nature, hence his long interest in biblical prophecy. [Charles Webster From Paracelsus to Newton: magic and the making of modern science Cambridge UP 1982, p36.] The dream of a new philosophy had inspired alchemists, such as Paracelsus and Fludd, as well as rationalists like Bacon, Descartes, and Galileo. Mysticism and natural magic remained as important as mathematics, a fact reflected in Newton’s multiple interests. [Robert K. Merton “Science, Technology and Society in Seventeenth Century England” Osiris vol 4 (1938), p591].

There had been a social and economic aspect to religion even in the Middle Ages. The right of primogeniture excluded many men from property, livelihood, and marriage, who were therefore consigned to monasteries. The situation was similar for women who could not be married off. In medieval and Renaissance times, appointments within the Church hierarchy (beginning with popes) were political maneuvers with major financial advantages. In 17th century and later, positions in the clergy were still important economic and social stations, quite independent of religious sincerity.


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the second law…testified to the transience of the Creation.

See: Hans Christian von Baeyer Warmth Disperses and Time Passes: the history of heat Modern Library, 1999. Thermodynamics had social and moral implications: “the principle of dissipation of energy conformed not only with religious beliefs, but with the Victorian social order as well. The population [in Britain] was sharply divided between the hereditary upper class called ‘quality’ and a vast throng of lower creatures… While the fall from up high through depravity and dissipation was a common theme in literature, the opposing journey, from low to high, was exceedingly rare… Thomson viewed energy as stratified as the same way as the society in which he lived.” [p119] “Mayer formulated his nascent concept of energy as a weapon against materialism. Here was something beyond matter, something immaterial yet real, an imponderable new essence. Pursuing the analogy with mass, and realizing that energy too is indestructible yet transformable, he welcomed it as a stepping-stone from gross matter to the spiritual world, from body to soul.” [p25]


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…increase their personal status, as well as the general well being of society.

See also Robert Merton “Science, Technology and Society in Seventeenth Century England” Osiris vol 4 (1938), p443: “The Protestant ethic had pervaded the realm of science and had left its indelible stamp upon the attitude of scientists toward their work… the scientist found motive, sanction, and authority alike in the Puritan teachings.” Puritans rejected mere “contemplation” as a sign of idleness, and embraced experimentation as a fruitful expenditure of energy. [p452] “Nobles and wealthy commoners turned to science, not as a means of livelihood, but as an object of devoted interest… Science afforded an opportunity of devoting their energies to a highly honored task; an imperative duty as the comforts of unrelieved idleness vanished from the new scale of values.” [p455]


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…endorse the conditions necessary for the burgeoning industrial economy.

Margaret C. Jacob “Christianity and the Newtonian Worldview”, in Lindberg and Numbers, God and Nature, p240-44: “We should hardly be surprised to find the young Isaac Newton incorporating into his natural philosophy… definitions of matter, space, and time that were deeply indebted to the liberal Anglicanism of Restoration Cambridge. The Newtonian synthesis entered the eighteenth century as an intellectual construction born in response to the English Revolution… Science and natural philosophy, as interpreted by Newton and his followers, offered a model of the stable, ordered, providentially guided universe within which could occur that competition so basic to the operations of the restrained, yet relatively free, market society… In short, Newtonianism became an ideology that justified commercial capitalism, empire, scientific progress, and a new religiosity geared more to the vicissitudes of this world than the rewards of the next.”


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…a pretext to exploit cheap labor for the benefit of entrepreneurs.

We see the same Dickensian machinations at work today in the “free trade zones” around the world, organized to provide cheap luxury imports to the developed world instead of affordable necessities for a local market—a global trend ironically engulfing the developed countries as well. Cf. Michel Chossudovsky The Globalisation of Poverty: impacts of IMF and World Bank reforms Zed Books 1997 p84: “Whereas the range of consumer goods available in support of upper-income lifestyles has expanded almost beyond limit, there has been (since the debt crisis of the early 1980s) a corresponding contraction in the levels of consumption of the large majority of the world’s population. In contrast to the large diversity of goods available to a social minority, basic consumption (for some 85 per cent of the world’s population) is confined to a small number of food staples and essential commodities.”


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The resurgence of religious fundamentalism…should be understood against a background of historical continuity…

Though medieval and Enlightenment worldviews were radically different, a measure of continuity is reflected in the very fact that the Christian view of nature gave birth historically to the scientific movement. In many cases, medieval thought, steeped in religion, anticipated and laid the groundwork for the discoveries of the Scientific Revolution. Like religion, science seeks an abiding truth behind immediate appearances. Both attempt to reduce experience to formula and to wrest from the material world its powers over us and within us. Like religion, science seeks transcendence; through technology, it aims to overcome physical limitation, even mortality, and through theory it aspires to omniscience. Like religion, modern physics deals with things that can neither be seen nor touched, drawing speculative maps of invisible territories. Quarks, strings, black holes, gravity waves, and dark energy are theoretical entities that cannot be perceived even with the aid of current technology. Yet they are modern candidates for the fundamental realities.

Rather than an antagonist of religion, even today modern science competes with it in a common niche. And, like culture at large, religion and science both substitute well-defined constructs for the untidiness of the natural world. Like God, the scientist stands above nature, a creative agent outside it—the author of theories and designer of experiments, if not quite the creator of worlds.


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Even in late 19th century, many scientists took an interest in spiritualism…

For example, they “speculated that the ‘aether’ might provide not only the connection between ‘mind’ and ‘body’, but between this and the ‘unseen’ world. They also conceived of themselves as ‘gentlemen’, for whom science was an ethical pursuit, aimed at ‘understanding’ rather than material gain, and they took as much interest in the problems of integrating their physics into a world picture which supported ‘spiritual values’ as they took in the technical problems of physics itself.” [Jonathan Powers Philosophy and the New Physics Methuen 1982, p58]


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a major aspect of its approach is idealist if not outright theological.

Cf. Paul Davies 1995 Templeton Prize Lecture: “Of course, many scientists don’t recognize that in accepting the reality of an order in nature— the existence of laws ‘out there’—they are adopting a theological world view.” However, “order in nature” and “laws out there” are not the same thing. A platonic view of laws is essentially theological, but a view of laws as empirical description is not.

An anthropomorphic religion, based upon the dualism of mind and matter, does not distinguish essentially between divine and human creativity. However, this equivalence must remain tacit in order for religious faith to be taken seriously. To acknowledge it would suggest that Man created God and not the other way around. Similarly, the human creativity involved in scientific production must remain tacit in order for much of contemporary physical theory to be taken seriously. To fully acknowledge it would mean admitting the extent to which the scientific image of nature is a construction reflecting human concerns in contrast to a god’s eye view of nature itself.


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Religion reflects a deeply ingrained longing for moral perfection.

Cf. Alain de Botton, who writes with irony: “By contrast with this Christian [or Muslim] desire to generate a moral atmosphere, libertarian theorists have argued that public space should be kept neutral. There should be no reminders of kindness on the walls of our buildings or in the pages of our books. Such messages would, after all, constitute dramatic infringements on our much-prized ‘liberty’.” [Religion for Atheists: a non-believer’s guide to the uses of religion McClelland and Stewart 2012, p87] He notes also: “…it can in truth be reassuring to live as though someone else were continually watching and hoping for the best from us… [for] the mature sides of us watch in despair as the infantile aspects of us trample upon our more elevated principles and ignore what we most fervently revere. Our deepest wish may be that someone would come along and save us from ourselves.” [p78]

Botton further notes that “…the central issue for education is not so much how to counteract ignorance—as secular educators imply—as how we can combat our reluctance to act upon ideas which we have already fully understood at a theoretical level.” [p124] He complains (somewhat like Plato) that museums “should be places that use beautiful objects in order to try to make us good and wise.” This admonition overlooks deep human defenses against such inculcation, as well as reasonable suspicion concerning its motives. Just as organized religion may serve as a defense against God, so many aspects of culture and social organization actually serve to resist moral or spiritual imperatives. (The very fact that this is often with good reason lends power to the resistance.) On the other hand, not only museums, but universities and research laboratories should aim, like religion, to make us good and wise, as Plato and Bacon would have agreed.


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Its “theorems” are ideal in both senses of the word…

Similarly, philosophical idealism is the belief that all experience can be accounted for in mental terms, or that mind or “idea” is the fundamental reality. While that should be distinguished from the holding of certain high values, there is obviously a close affinity between a position that asserts what fundamentally exists and a position that asserts what should exist, especially when they are held to be one and the same.