The Enlightenment and rational design of the universe
|December 15, 2013||Posted by News under Philosophy, Intelligent Design, News|
Further to “Being alone in the universe does not necessarily imply theism. Or even deism,” a friend sends this excerpt from Pulitzer Prize-winning author Daniel Walker Howe’s What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1844, p. 464:
As this chapter is written in the early twenty-first century, the hypothesis that the universe reflect intelligent design has provoked a bitter debate in the United States. How very different was the intellectual world of the early nineteenth century! Then, virtually everyone believed in intelligent design. Faith in the rational design of the universe underlay the world-view of the Enlightenment, shared by Isaac Newton, John Locke, and the American Founding Fathers. Even the outspoke critics of Christianity embraced not atheism but deism, that is, belief in an impersonal, remote deity who had created the universe and designed it so perfectly that it ran along of its own accord, following natural laws without need for further divine intervention. The common used expression “the book of nature” referred to the universal practice of viewing nature as a revelation of God’s power and wisdom. Christians were fond of saying that they accepted two divine revelations: the Bible and the book of nature. For desists like Thomas Paine, the book of nature alone sufficed, rendering what he called the “fables” of the Bible superfluous. The desire to demonstrate the glory of God, whether deist or – more commonly – Christian, constituted one of the principal motivations for scientific activity in the early republic, along with national pride, the hope for useful applications, and, of course, the joy of science itself.
Theism and deism are not the only perspectives from which one can approach nature, but they were their perspectives, and their science was highly productive.
And what of the methodological naturalism that has replaced it—the view that nature is all there is? And our brains are shaped for fitness, not for truth? What has that produced?
For all the rest, we are living on the capital of that former approach. This is not progress.
Note: “What hath God wrought” was the text of the first telegraph message, sent in 1844.