Negotiating A Christian Philosophy Of
In this paper I will, first, summarize the key values of the Enlightenment, as found in the Portable Enlightenment Reader. Second, I will explain why and on what basis the German romantic Johann Georg Hamann loathed modern science and the bold claims of the Enlightenment. In closing, I will attempt explain how Richard Wright’s Christian perspective, found in Biology Through the Eyes of Faith, relates to the above readings, and what a Christian Philosophy of Science is.
The message of Enlightenment intellectuals was not one of relying on faith or traditions of the past, but rather, solely in human reason. “ ‘Have courage to use your own reason – that is the motto of Enlightenment,’ Kant wrote in 1784” (XI). These intellectuals taught that science and technology were the means to Understanding, and that the world was run by scientific laws, not by God, an unexplainable, unattainable force. The emphasis was on the individual and his right to attain happiness. They felt that humans innately sought after pleasure, and things that would bring comfort to society as a whole.
There was an attack on religion, and it’s reliance on faith in a supernatural God, by the scientific community. God was seen more as the “clockmaker” who set everything in motion, but allowed it to work on it’s own. Enlightenment intellectuals sought to provide, in a sense, eternal life through progress of science and technology. Benjamin Franklin wrote, “All diseases may by sure means be prevented or cured, not excepting even that of old age, and our lives lengthened at pleasure even beyond the antediluvian standard” (XIII). This progress in science, which Franklin spoke of, required people to discount past superstitions and accept reason as the way of the future.
Individualism was also highly emphasized during the Enlightenment. Descartes’ eternal words “I think, therefore I am” clearly illustrates a key ingredient in Enlightenment ways. The individual was the creator of his own reality. This resulted in radical changes politically. No longer did people buy into the idea of ruling by divine right, but rather, that government was a voluntary act, in which individuals gave up some freedoms in order protect society and keep order. Government did not dictate moral or spiritual truths as it had in the past.
Life, then, became, as Adam Smith described it, “a race for wealth and honors and preferments” (XVII). If the government established a society were every individual had an “equal opportunity to win”, then the race would be fair. Emphasis was placed on becoming a self-made person; one who used their talents and virtues in order to better their economic status. Equality became defined as “all having an equal opportunity to have more” (XVIII).
As a true Romantic and a Christian extremist, Johann Georg Hamann’s values were in opposition with those of the Enlightenment. Romantics held fast that emotions, feelings, and experiencing nature were much more important that rationalization. Hamann was himself quite suspicious of the Enlightenment thinkers because of their insensitivity to human suffering. He felt that Enlightenment ideals reduced people and all of nature to nothing more then mere numbers and data. Their abstractions, according to Hamann, tended to de-humanize people.
In his Christian philosophy of science, Hamann made clear that Christians needed to avoid positivism, which taught that scientific knowledge was the only “true” knowledge. Naturalism and materialism were two Enlightenment ideals that Hamann would not buy into. Hamann, unlike the relativists of the Enlightenment, believed in a single Truth, which came from God.
In Richard Wright’s Biology Through the Eyes of Faith, we see another perspective on how science and technology relates to our Christian faith. As an enthusiastic evangelical Christian he believes that God created nature, and that God interacts with His creation on a second by second basis. Wright makes it clear from the outset of his book that worldviews are extremely important when people try to understand science and it’s balance with God. A worldview, he says, help us to “determine values, held up to interpret the world around us, and in general function as a guide to life” (9). He frowns upon both the settlers of America and their equivalents today, us, by saying that both groups look at nature as a potential income source. A healthy worldview would protect nature from self-interested people, he feels.
Wright clearly understands the beauty and majesty of God’s creation, although he is not a Romantic like Hamann. He believes in the collection of data and the formation of hypotheses and theories as important and valid work. Unlike most secular scientist however, Wright sees the significance in discovering the metaphysical components of scientific work. Wright never claims, as many Enlightenment intellects did, that science would lead to an absolute Truth. He recognizes that science helps us to better understand our world, which helps us to better understand God, which I fully agree with him on. To me, Wright seems to have managed a good balance between the ideals of progress and technological advancement of the Enlightenment with the sensitivity and belief in the all-powerful God of the Romantic Christians. The intellects of the Enlightenment wanted to achieve a type of heaven here on Earth through bettering their conditions. I feel that God wants the same for us; He doesn’t want us to struggle and suffer through life. God has given us brains to use and creativity with which to invent. However, as Christians, we realize that nature could change at anytime, and that regardless of what we create or how far our technology advances, God is always in control, and we will never fully understand Him.
The Enlightenment ideals of reason and individualism are a stark contrast to those truths of emotionalism and humanism of the Romantics. There can be a balance between these two, however, and modern-day scientist Richard Wright is a prime example.
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