Thursday, November 20, 2008

Archive, on the Enlightenment

…so what would you accept as true about the intellectual, artistic, and political movements of the 17th through 19th centuries…

I would accept many things as true but you tend to weave a mythology of Progress around things which are true that actually isn’t true. That’s the main issue.

For example you seem to imagine it likely that polytheism gave rise to theism which ultimately turns into deism and perhaps that turns into atheism at the end of this scenario of imaginary Progress.

That seems to be what you’re imagining here:….from ancient Greek polytheism to modern Christian theism/Enlightenment deism…

But the Darwinian tendency to project Progress onto everything by imagining things has been widely undermined by historical and anthropological evidence, so the views of someone like Edward Tylor carry about the same weight as the hypothetical goo typical to Darwinism in general.

It’s far more likely that polytheism is a corruption or falling away from monotheism than that theism arose out of polytheism. The most ancient traditional knowledge of many cultures is monotheistic.* In fact if one were to draw a line of progression based on the evidence it would more likely go from theism to polytheism to secularism and nihilism.

*E.g. Hananim (Korean, the Great One), Shang Ti (Chinese, the Lord of Heaven), Koro (Bantu, the Creator) Magano (Ethopian, the ultimate Creator again, as contrasted to the malevolent Sheit’an), the Great Spirit (American Indian), Deos (Greek, perhaps corrupted to Zeus and drawn down into a corrupted anthropromorphic focus, later reformed back by the philosophers under the new name Theos) and so on and on.

You said of the Enlightenment: Our commitment to scientific methods (doctrines being, quite frankly, irrelevant) and to the Constitution are both aspects of the Enlightenment legacy.

But the development of science as we know it had little to do with the Enlightenment and the mythology that tends to surround it. Take the work of Newton as an example to compare the imagery and mythology typical to “enlightenment” with the historical reality of what Newton himself actually wrote:

One of the first actions of those who proclaimed the ‘Enlightenment’ was the ‘deification of Newton.’ Voltaire set the example by calling him the greatest man who ever lived. Thus began an unexcelled outpouring of worshipful prose and extravagant poetry. David Hume wrote that Newton was ‘the greatest and rarest genius that ever rose for the ornament and instruction of the species.’ As Gay noted, ‘the adjectives ‘divine’ and ‘immortal’ became practically compulsory.’ [...] In 1802 the French philosophe Claude-Henri de Sain-Simon (1760-1825) founded a Godless religion to be led by scientist-priests and called it the Religion of Newton (his pupil Auguste Comte renamed it ’sociology’).
However, as the ‘Enlightenment’ became more outspokenly atheistic and more determined to establish the incompatibility of science and religion, a pressing matter arose: what was to be done about Newton’s religion? Trouble was that Newton’s religious views were not a matter of hearsay or repute. He had, after all, in 1713 added a concluding section to the second editions of his monumental Principia, the ‘General Scholium’ (or proposition), which was devoted entirely to his ideas about God. In it, Newton undertook to demonstrate the existence of God, concluding that:
‘…the true God is a living, intelligent, powerful Being….’
‘…he governs all things, and knows all things that are done or can be done.’
‘….He endures forever, and is everywhere present.’
‘…As a blind man has no ideas of colors, so have we no idea of the manner by which the all-wise God perceives and understands all things.’
Worse yet, Newton had written four letters during 1692-1693 explaining his theology to Richard Bentley. In the ‘Bentley Letters’ Newton ridiculed the idea that the world could be explained in impersonal, mechanical terms. Above all, having discovered the elegant lawfulness of things, Newton believed that he had, once and for all, demonstrated the certainty that behind all existence there is an intelligent, aware, omnipotent God. Any other assumption is ‘inconsistent with my system.’
(For the Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch Hunts and the End of Slavery by Rodney Stark :167-168)

Monotheism is associated with science as we know it as well as Progress traditionally understood as Providence but it leads to a different attitude about knowledge/scientia. This caused Newton to comment:

I don’t know what I may seem to the world, but as to myself, I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea shore, and diverting myself in now and then in finding a smoother pebble or prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me. cf. (Newton’s Gift: How Sir Isaac Newton Unlocked the System of the World by David Berlinksi :167)

If you are arguing that the Constitution and the founding of the American Republic is an aspect of the Enlightenment legacy then what explains the vast difference between the French Revolution and the American Revolution? I’m not sure what may be imagined about history but here is some of what the Founders said about the French Revolution:

And what was their Phylosophy? Atheism; pure unadulterated Atheism . . . . The Univer[s]e was Matter only and eternal; Spirit was a Word Without a meaning; Liberty was a Word Without a Meaning. There was no Liberty in the Universe; Liberty was a Word void of Sense. Every thought Word Passion Sentiment Feeling, all Motion and Action was necessary. All Beings and Attributes were of eternal Necessity. Conscience, Morality, were all nothing but Fate. (Letter from John Adams to Thomas Jefferson (Mar. 2, 1816), in The Adams-Jefferson Letters)
Original comment

No comments: