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Conclusion Religion at the End of the Modern Age For a final assessment of the impact of modern culture upon religion we return to the very beginning, the point where the medieval synthesis of nature and grace fell apart. This, as I mentioned in the second chapter, occurred in the nominalist theology of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries when the term supernatural came to refer to a separate reality and the teleology of nature became detached from that of the supernatural order. This separation led to a naturalism that contributed to the later rise of atheism. Paradoxically, it was the new awareness of the unity of the celestial and the sublunar realms which activated the naturalism that had resulted from the theological separation of nature and grace. When Galileo showed that the same physical laws rule the entire universe, the celestial as well as the terrestrial, was the notion of the “supernatural ,” then, more than a leftover of the old “celestial order”? The assumption that it was not became one of the unarticulated principles of that secularism which has so profoundly affected the spiritual climate of our time. There were other factors. We have analyzed some  111 dupre.indb 111 dupre.indb 111 1/9/08 7:49:25 AM 1/9/08 7:49:25 AM 112 Religion and the Rise of Modern Culture in the chapter on atheism. The creative confidence of the individual, awakened in the early Renaissance, led to the unqualified assertion of human freedom of the nineteenth century. Yet I doubt that any factor surpassed the negative religious impact of ideologies that sprang up in the wake of the scientific revolution . Earlier I mentioned the dominance of the theory of efficient causality, which distorted the modern understanding of creation. Jews and Christians had always conceived of creation as effected by divine causality. But after an initial period in which they represented the Creator as the “maker of the world,” they had understood that creation was not the exclusive effect of an efficient cause. A crisis developed when the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century eclipsed the formal and the final forms of causality steadfastly supported by Aristotle and the Scholastics. The rule that teleological considerations ought to be banned from any kind of scientific investigation had proven to be useful in ridding the physical sciences from the early confusion of systematic observation with theological speculation . Extending the ban to the life sciences had been shown to be untenable even before the end of the eighteenth century. Among the leading philosophers of the Enlightenment, Leibniz alone kept arguing that divine causality is more formal than efficient. In the moral area the concept of creation as an act of efficient causality had even more disastrous consequences. It collided head-on with the modern idea of freedom, since freedom cannot be “caused” in any efficient sense. In the meantime the rule had become a secular dogma, which led to scientism, the principal one among the secular ideologies of the modern age. It presumed that any belief not justified by scientific methods may be discarded as probably false. Religious believers reacted against this scientism, but frequently without clearly knowing what they ought to attack. The recent advocacy of intelligent design merely revives the old confusion between science and theological speculation. Presented as a scientific “alternative,” it illegitimately interferes both with the method and the purpose of the scientific investigation of the evolution of life, proposing as an indispensable appendix what such an investigation neither needs nor can accept. On the other side, some biologists have unqualifiedly ruled out any interpretation of intelligent life other than the biological one. dupre.indb 112 dupre.indb 112 1/9/08 7:49:25 AM 1/9/08 7:49:25 AM Conclusion 113 That the evolution toward such life is a mere accident may, from a biological point of view, be a legitimate conclusion. But how far does such a conclusion extend? It proves that evolution develops through mutations which are adequately explained through chemical or biological factors. The fact that those mutations occur randomly, an essential part of the theory, appears incompatible with the idea of a preselection of the order of succession. Hence no argument for the existence of a divine orderer can be made on the basis of biological conclusions. But the scientist transgresses the limits of his field if he denies the believing...


Subject Headings

  • Church history -- Modern period, 1500-.
  • Christianity and culture -- Germany -- History.
  • Germany -- Intellectual life.
  • Christianity and culture -- Europe -- History.
  • Europe -- Intellectual life.
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