One of the most fascinating areas of the ‘enlightenment’ myth is that while the primary figures of the enlightenment, Rousseau, Voltaire, Diderot, Gibbon, and Hume -all being literary men and not scientists felt they could use scientific revolution as proof that there had been a great enlightenment, once the church had lost most of its influence.
The odd reality is that the primary figures of the scientific revolution were actually religious men, both protestant and catholic; Kepler, Galileo, Copernicus, Descartes, Newton, and Pascal.
Both the scientific figures as well as the enlightenment literary men of philosophy mentioned about have had a massive influence on the way that all western people think. There are in effect three groups of men who had a massive impact on the western modern man. 1) The group of men associated with the scientific revolution, 2) those associated with the enlightenment, 3) and finally those who sought to reform the church.
If you want to understand the modern-western world you need to start with Reformation, Scientific Revolution, and Enlightenment. Reformations and those men who fought continue to remind us today that the church had some problems and needed to address them. The Scientific Revolution represents the climax of medieval scholasticism and is a symbol of the outgrowth of Christian Doctrine, Evidence that the Medieval Period was not “Dark”. Enlightenment therefore represents to some extant the secularization of western civilization. Reformations did not initially seek to separate church from state. The Scientific Revolutions as well was not something detached from Christian scholarly vocations. It was the hard work of many to see not just the church separated from state but God separated from reality.
Here it is in an even more simple form.
1. Reformation heavily influences Church and culture
2. The Christian Middle Ages launched the Scientific Revolution
3. The Enlightenment primarily sought to remove God, Church, and Religion from the realm of state, science, and education.
Overtime the work of enlightenment figures has been effective. The reformed church has gone on to see many more reforms, and many more schisms. Science has gone on as well and continues grow. But along side science and the work of Darwin some have sought to deify the science. Thus today we have, science, and Scientisim. The belief that science and technology can find and hold answers for all people. Nothing else is needed. Though Science continue to thrive as a wonderful service to our humanity.
This should be alarming not only for Christians but for all westerners. The inherited civilization need not be completely secularized. The trouble is we believe a completely different story about the middle ages, and the negative effect of religion. This story, or narrative has been compounded by the literary figures of the enlightenment. They created influential narratives about the previous era that we have all believed. I have off hand mentioned the figure David Hume who was one of the first to reject the existence of miracles. For many the non existence of miracles is common sense. It is common sense because these enlightenment figures had a massive impact. And many were not even scientists. They were philosophers who commented on science and religion.
So am I saying then that our modern era is due to Christian beliefs alone that the modern era blessings have all begun with reformations, and middle age integration of faith? I will take some more time to unwrap my answer to that.
Let us consider the influential work of Jared M. Diamond, “Guns, Germs, and Steel”. Just the other day my good friends were referring to this important work. I believe that this is only part of the answer. Many have set out to explain the rise of the west to simply materialistic origins. That is in essence a large part of the work of Jared Diamond, and William McNeil. These theories including other agricultural theories for the rise of western civilization are only a product of the secularization of culture. They are part of the truth. Social Scientist Rodney Stark, in his book devoted to the reason for western success, narrows it down to four categories.
1. Faith in the progress of Christian Theology
2. How Faith in progress translated to technical, and organizational innovations, many fostered by monastic estates.
3. Thanks to Christian Theology, Reason informed both political philosophy and practice to the extant that responsive states, sustaining a substantial degree of personal freedom, appeared in medieval Europe.
4. The Application of Reason in commerce, resulting in the development of capitalism within the safe havens provided by responsive states.
So Rational theology leading to technical and organizational innovations. Rational theology informing the state affairs bringing a greater level of personal freedom culminating in the rise of capitalism.
The views of represented by Stark then add another dimension to the understanding of the Triumph of the West is that not merely having access to steal, ships, and good soil. But we should be asking, “Why did westerners excel in shipbuilding, steal work, and farming?” These are in fact the many areas were faith in rational theology lead to faith in innovative progress.
The climax of the middle ages is not only symbolized by the scientific revolution but also by the triumph of reason, rationality, and an integrated faith culminating in the rise of metallurgy, technology, better agricultural practice, and capitalism.
Shocking that medieval Europe believed in reason, rational thought, faith, theology, bringing about innovation, science, technology, new systems of commerce, agriculture, and a political system that provided commoners with greater levels of personal freedom. It becomes very obvious that without many of the enlightenment figures who sought to secularize the state, culture, and education – we would still have all of the many freedoms and innovations we enjoy in our modern era. We do not owe our modern experience solely to those enlightened men of France but also to medieval Europe and the Reformers.