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  • The Persistence of the Sacred in Modern Thought ed. by Chris L. Firestone and Nathan A. Jacobs
  • Mihaela L. Florescu
The Persistence of the Sacred in Modern Thought, ed. Chris L. Firestone and Nathan A. Jacobs (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press 2012) 412 pp.

In their book, The Persistence of the Sacred in Modern Thought, Charles L. Firestone and Nathan A. Jacobs have compiled fifteen essays that focus on discrediting the idea that religion was absent in the thinking of modern philosophers. The purpose of the essays is to reverse the secularizing trend evident over the last two hundred years. Although modern philosophers were by no means orthodox theists, their ideas always returned to the sacred. The age of reason did not herald the death of God but the arrangement of faith and reason on an equal platform. Firestone and Jacobs cite Mircea Eliade for the notion that “secular” does not necessarily mean the opposite of “sacred.”

The editors denote eight major factors which construct the thesis of desecularization explored by the essays in this volume: none of the thinkers discussed were atheists, the modern rift between philosophy and theology distorts accurate analysis, the present academic trend of specialization did not exist, philosophers maintained their personal faith, labels distort original intent, terms change with new movements and the potential for misrepresentation increases, revisionist readings change the original meaning according to followers’ distinct agendas, textual analysis is necessary so myopic past views may be remedied.

The first essay in this compilation is John Cottingham’s “The Desecularization of Descartes.” While Descartes is studied mainly for his ideas on knowledge, science, and the workings of the mind, his references to spirituality are often overlooked in spite of the fact that he generated proofs for the existence of God. Descartes is considered a great rationalist, approaching the study of his surroundings by putting stock in his senses of observation and in the scientific method, yet his rationalism is based on the belief that the ultimate author of truth and reason is a supreme being, the very being which endowed mankind with its powers of observation to begin with.

A. P. Martinich offers an analysis of Hobbes’s reconciliation of traditional religion with the new science in his essay “Law and Self-Preservation in Leviathan: On Misunderstanding Hobbes’s Philosophy, 1650–1700.” Martinich explains that Hobbes’s philosophy was misunderstood by philosophers of the second half of the seventeenth century and singles out three beliefs falsely attributed to Hobbes: that there was a time when the state of nature was universal, that self-preservation is the fundamental law of nature, and that the most important obligation human beings have is to preserve themselves. Martinich’s refutation of these charges brings to light Hobbes’s Christian nature.

Philip Clayton discusses the debate between the metaphysics of immanence and the metaphysics of transcendence in relation to Spinoza’s reflections on God in his essay entitled “The Religious Spinoza.” Clayton paints Spinoza as “an atheist for whom God was indispensable” showing how Spinoza’s [End Page 313] pantheism led to a new philosophical pantheism. Richard A. Muller explores Boyle’s views on final causality in “God and Design in the Thought of Robert Boyle.” Arguing against the notion that all causality comes from atoms, Boyle maintained that final causality must be understood to come from providence. Boyle did not believe in the notion of double truth, that something can be true in philosophy but false in theology. He believed in science and theology reinforcing each other’s similarities while maintaining separate methodologies.

Nicholas Wolterstorff contributes “God in Locke’s Philosophy” interpreting Locke’s writings from an esoteric viewpoint and a more traditional one, coming to the conclusion that the esoteric line of interpretation has little merit notwithstanding contradictions on religion in Locke’s writings which had originally given rise to the esoteric line of interpretation. Stephen D. Snobelen declares Newton’s myth of the clockwork universe to be one of the most pervasive myths in the history of science and sets out to dispel it in his essay, “The Myth of the Clockwork Universe: Newton, Newtonianism, and the Enlightenment.” The idea of the...


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