Stephen Strehle is a leading scholar of church/state issues. In this volume, he focuses his rigorous historical analysis and philosophical acumen upon a topic of great interest today and source of cultural wars around the globe—the process of secularization. The book starts with a discussion of early capitalism and how it saw the real world functioning well-enough on its own principles of individual struggle and self-interest, without needing religious or moral principles to meddle in its affairs and eventually dispelling the need for any intelligent design or providential orchestration of life through the work of Darwin. The book then discusses the growth of the secular point of view: how historians dismissed the impact of religion in developing modern culture, how scientists conceived of the universe running on self-sufficient or mechanistic principles, and how people no longer looked to the providential hand of God to explain their suffering. The book ends with a discussion of how the Deist concept of human autonomy became a political policy in America through Jefferson’s concept of a wall of separation between church and state and how the US Supreme Court proceeded to dismiss the importance of religion in shaping or justifying the values of the nation and its laws. The book is accessible to most upper-level and graduate students in a wide-variety of disciplines, keeping technical and foreign words to a minimum and leaving scholarly details or debates to its extensive notes.
Chapter Four: The Mechanistic Universe
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The Mechanistic Universe
Modern science no longer looks out in nature to ask ultimate questions about the existence of God and the overall meaning of life. This modern view has a number of reasons, but some of its deepest historical roots developed within the early Puritans and their rejection of the scholastic attempt to probe the mysteries of God within nature outside the direct revelation of Scripture. The Puritans thought it was better to search for the meaning of life in Scripture and spurned the innate capacity of autonomous human beings to seek out the hidden things of God through their reason. The philosophy of nature should recognize its limits and “reflect upon the mundane questions of secondary causality or practical concern, which it could resolve with some certainty or at least make some progress through testing answers.”1 And so, the Puritans ended up advancing the new experimental method of the seventeenth century and encouraging a practical and utilitarian view of education, rather than waste time in idle metaphysical speculation about matters of empirical concern.2 This new approach was inspired by heartfelt religious convictions, but it also helped facilitate modern science and its move toward a more secular view of life. The modern scientific community simply followed the Puritans’ understanding of human limitations by ignoring any quest for higher or deeper significance within the object of its study and preferred to treat “Being” as an instrumental means...
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