Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Whig Narrative of History: Secular Creationism (Part II)

(This is the continuation of an earlier post. See here.)

This thousand year period of church darkness came to an end in the fifteenth century with the dawn of the Renaissance. In truth, even to use the word "Renaissance" bespeaks of a Whig bias. The word Renaissance means rebirth. In particular, this is supposed to refer to the rebirth of classical culture, which had lain dormant for a thousand years. The person most responsible for the popular understanding of the Renaissance was the nineteenth-century Swiss historian, Jacob Burckhardt. According to Burckhardt:

In the Middle Ages both sides of human consciousness – that which was turned within as that which was turned without – lay dreaming or half awake beneath a common veil. The veil was woven of faith, illusion and childish prepossession, through which the world and history were seen clad in strange hues. Man was conscious of himself only as a member of a race, people, party, family or corporation – only through some general category. In Italy this veil first melted into air; an objective treatment and consideration of the state and of all the things of this world became possible. (The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy. Part II chapter 1.)

For Burckhardt the Renaissance meant a rediscovery of the individual. Man became conscious of himself, and by extension the state, as works of art; which could be fashioned to suit the will of the individual. At a cultural level this led to the rise of Renaissance art with its increased emphasis on the human form, but it also, at a scholarly level, led to the rise of Humanism. Humanist scholars recovered many classical texts, which were unknown in the western world, hence widening the canon of texts. More importantly, Humanism, in defiance of the medieval Church, placed man at the center of the world.

The Church came under attack as new horizons, both literal and figurative, were opened. The invention of the printing press brought literacy to the masses. This opened up new horizons as people came to be able to read, and think for themselves. No longer were people enslaved to the Church and its interpretation of the Bible; now they could interpret the Bible for themselves. This led to the Reformation, in which Martin Luther broke away from the Catholic Church. Luther believed in the rights of the common man to read the Bible for himself. For that purpose he translated the Bible into German, overthrowing the Latin Vulgate.

Christopher Columbus literally opened up a new horizon with his discovery of the New World in 1492. The voyages of Columbus and those who followed in his wake demonstrated that the world was round and not flat as most Europeans had believed. Thus people’s eyes were opened to the fact that the Church and Aristotle were not infallible and that courageous individuals, unshackled by medieval dogma, could accomplish things that would have been unthinkable to earlier generations.

The Renaissance’s emphasis on man as an individual and its willingness to challenge Church dogma bore its ultimate fruit with the Scientific Revolution. Copernicus, Kepler and Galileo overturned the Ptolemaic view of the solar system, which placed the earth at the center of the universe, with the heliocentric view. Overturning Ptolemy meant a lot more than just a change in man’s view of the solar system; it also was the overthrow of Aristotelian thought and of the Church which had supported it. No longer would man live at the center of his tiny solar system, in which angels and even God lived right above the earth just out of reach. No longer could man view himself as the central character of a divine drama. Mankind now awakened to the fact that the Earth was just a tiny, and not particularly important, part of a much larger cosmos. Christianity’s man-centered narrative must now give way to the forces of science.

While the Church tried to hold back this tide of new knowledge by persecuting scientists such as Galileo and putting books they disagreed with on the Index and forbidding people to read them, ultimately they failed. With the coming age of the Enlightenment, the Church found itself more and more under attack as philosophes such as Voltaire not only challenged specific doctrines of Christianity but also came to openly reject it. This overthrow of Christianity also brought with it the overthrow of the medieval aristocracy. With the Church no longer powerful enough to protect it, the whole edifice of the medieval hierarchy came tumbling down in the wake of democratic revolutions, first in America and in France then across Europe. These democratic revolutions overthrew both the Church and the aristocracy and in its place established freedom of religion and the equality of all mankind.

(To be continued …)

No comments: