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History Of Secularity: Midterm Paper Essay, Research Paper

Religion Mid-term Paper

Since the beginning of time, God has been an integral part of human life. Whether a culture views God as the ultimate authority from which everything stems or as if God is nonexistent, the very concept of God shapes their society. It seems that through the years, as our society has gained knowledge of how the world works, we have started to let go of the idea that there must be a creator.

Long before the existence of technology or science of any sort, people were extremely dependent on nature. Because of this dependence they had, they saw nature as a divine source of life. They were a culture of mythology, and viewed the earth as a spiritual, living organism. Their daily life and every activity they participated in reflected their spiritual beliefs. In the mythological way of thinking, people always had questions of “who” had created such a divine world and looked to the gods as the most supreme of beings, the rulers and rule-makers of the universe.

Following the mythological belief of the world as a living organism, around 400 – 300 B.C., a belief of Greek cosmology began. Cosmology, like mythology, held that the world was divine. But cosmology dealt more with the spherical movement of the earth in terms of the stars, moon, and planets. Plato was one of the leading cosmological thinkers and was the creator of the idea of “world soul”. The belief of world soul insinuates that all moving objects (people, animals, planets, stars, etc.) were able to move by themselves because they had a soul. The existence of a soul within these things did not give them total dependence. God was still seen as the builder and creator of all of these beings.

A young student of Plato, Aristotle also had his philosophy of how the world worked. Aristotle, though, did not believe that the world had a divine creator. Although he shared the belief that stars and planets were divine, and those things farther away from earth were more divine, he did not see them as being created by a divine source. Instead, taking a more scientific approach, Aristotle’s ideas held that matter and form were eternal.

Another form of cosmology that came about after was the Medieval Cosmology. While sticking with the Christian view of the world, Greek mythology was accepted and reconciled with biblical teachings. God was still seen as the ultimate, perfect being who created all. God’s angels were the movers of the planets, while the humans were the controllers of the earth. They believed in a hierarchy of quality in which angels and humans stemmed from God, the most perfect.

Continuing with this hierarchical pattern were the ideas of Church and State. In the political world, the state was the controller of all people. Christianity soon became a state religion of the Roman Empire, giving the Roman Empire and the church an authoritative power over all things spiritual. Although still under God, the state had the right to control the laws and impose them onto the people.

The unity of church and state did not last forever. In the early 1500’s, Martin Luther called for reformation of the church. A Protestant, Luther disagreed with many of the churches doctrines, and with the help and protection of a prince, the Protestant population grew. The disagreements which continued for years, led to political life being based merely on a pragmatic basis. Religion no longer played a part in the governing of society.

The Protestant Reformation was one cause of rationalism, but it was not the only cause. In an attempt to revise Plato’s cosmologist view of the planets, Copernicus discovered that the earth was not stationary. Although he still believed in the existence of angels, and divine spheres of the cosmos, he altered the hierarchical pattern of the universe. Another scientist and astrologist, Galileo, soon made observations of the stars and planets that differed a great deal from the observations that Aristotle had made. Though not attempting to change any spiritual ideas, these scientists allowed for an area of doubt in the spiritual dimension.

Scientists began to describe the world using reductionism, breaking down every component part to explain it. Using this form of thinking, Hobbs asserted that only matter was real. Descartes shared this belief with Hobbs, but believed that humans must have a soul. He believed God must exist as the creator of matter, as the factor that makes the universe a reality. Challenging Descartes, another philosopher, Isaac Newton, asserted that God was the answer to the beginning of “real” motion, but all things involved relativity in time and space.

Newton’s ideas did act as evidence to God’s existence in movement in some areas of the world, but because they gave power to matter they were used to construct an atheistic view of reality. Following Newton and Descartes, an extreme scientist by the name of Denis Diderot, through out the idea of God entirely; stating that it was not at all important to have a belief or disbelief in God. Another Atheistic thinker, d’Holbach, believed in matter as God. He believed that God was just an idea that was made up from nature’s laws personified.

After all of the religious wars, and following thinkers such as Descartes, Hobbs and Diderot, people began to think more and more rationally. Pragmatism, not religion, was now the unifying force, in politics. The people were unified by the politics of the state. A belief in God is still apparent at this time, as it moves into the enlightenment period. Enlightenment thinkers did not reject belief in God, but they did believe that moral truths could exist apart from God. Basically, the individuals in the enlightenment period could have access to God through church but also could depend on rational evidence.

This idea, that evidence could be accepted as a form of truth, led to a wave of Evidentialist thinkers. Descartes began this idea believing that we should only believe what is certain, and provable; the foundations of authority or tradition were not proof enough. John Locke also believed that an idea should not be accepted unless there was evidence to support the idea.

Evidentialists definitely had an impact on the secular view of modern society. With science and technology available to us to explain how nature works, how the earth moves, when the sun rises and how the trees grow, where does the existence of God lay? The existence of God cannot be proved in scientific, rational terms, and God does not seem like a necessary asset to our everyday lives. This gives us reason to live as if God does not play a role in our lives.

Bibliography

Bellarmine. The Power of the Pope (ch.5)

Saint Augustine. The City of God

Gay, Craig. The Way of the (modern) World. Vancouver, B.C.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1998

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