During the early 17th c while Galileo (1564-1642) was forging a new science in Italy, Francis Bacon (1561-1626) in England proclaimed the birth of a new era in which natural science would bring humankind material redemption to accompany its spiritual progress towards the Christian millennium. For Bacon it was the discovery of the new world that led him to the idea that we need also discover a new mental (psychological) world, one in which old patterns of thinking, prejudices, subjective distortions, verbal confusions, and general intellectual blindness would be overcome by way of a new method of knowing. This method was fundamentally empirical: through the careful observation of nature and the skillful devising of experiments (cooperatively with others) the human mind would gradually come to understand nature and so control it thereby bringing benefits to humankind which were lost with the fall into sin.
Whereas Socrates had equated knowledge with virtue, Bacon equated knowledge with power – its practical usefulness (technology) was the very measure of its truth. For Bacon science was utilitarian, utopian, the material counterpart to God’s plan for spiritual salvation. Man was created by God to have dominion over creation/nature. If the fall (into sin) prevented this dominion, it could be achieved through painstaking work in which the mind purified itself of age-old prejudices and so achieve his divine right. Through science, we could truly attain superiority over nature and the ancients. History was not cyclical (as the ancients supposed) but progressive for man now stood at the beginning of a new scientific civilization.
Skeptical of received doctrine and impatient with the syllogistic reasoning of the Aristotelian Scholastics (which he saw as nothing but standing in the way of useful knowledge), Bacon insisted that progress in science required an entirely new reformulation of its foundations. The true basis of knowledge was the natural world and the information it provided to the senses. There are no final causes (Aristotle) or intelligible divine essences (Plato), there is only direct experimental contact and inductive reasoning from particulars. Bacon rejects beginning with abstract definitions/concepts and then reason deductively forging phenomena into a pre-arranged order. Instead one begins with unbiased analysis of concrete data, reason inductively to the abstract and general empirically supported conclusions.
Bacon criticized deductive reasoning because it must begin with subjective concoctions in the philosopher’s mind. Unbiased observations demands that the mind be cleansed of subjective distortions and then directed to direct attention to observed orderings. No necessary or ultimate truth must be pre-supposed – the mind/reason must be humbled – and the mind must be directed to nature only (hence, not to God or celestial truths). One must begin by recognizing that the Divine and Nature are distinct – in the spirit of Ockham and the Reformation. “Natural theology”, as in classical Scholasticism, is a contradiction in terms confusing matters of faith with matters of nature. Theology is about faith, science deals with the realm of nature. Kept distinct theology and science could better flourish and man could better serve his Creator through understanding the earthly kingdom’s natural causes thereby gaining power over nature as God had commanded.
Because all previous knowledge was corrupted by reason or the imagination, these psychological functions are like theatrical productions of no relevance to the world. Traditional knowledge was corrupted by wish-fulfillment, emotion, imagination, and reason thereby anthropomorphizing nature. The true philosopher does not try to fit the world into his mind, rather philosophy must through direct observation by way of the senses and the astute use of experiment approach nature such that nature can impress itself on his mind as nature is in itself. In this marriage of mind and nature, Bacon foresaw a long line of great inventions to relieve human misery – and in science was the potential restoration of learning and human greatness itself.
With Bacon we see a turning tide in philosophy. The nominalism and empiricism of the later Scholastics, and their growing criticism of Aristotle and speculative theology, now finds its boldest and most influential expression. For all his threwdness Bacon drastically underestimated the power of mathematics for the development of the new natural science, he failed to grasp the role of theoretical conjecture prior to empirical observation, and he altogether failed the significance of the new heliocentric theory. Yet his forceful advocacy of experience as the only legitimate source of true knowledge directly affected the European mind towards the empirical world, towards the methodological examination of physical phenomena, and towards the rejection of traditional assumptions whether theological or metaphysical in the pursuit of learning. Bacon was neither a systematic philosopher nor a rigorously practicing scientist. He was a potent intermediary whose rhetorical power and visionary ideal persuaded future generations to fulfill his revolutionary program: the scientific conquest of nature for the welfare of humankind and the glory of God.
If it was Bacon in England who helped inspire the distinctive character of the new science, it was Descartes in France who established its philosophical foundations and, in doing so, articulated the epochal defining statement of the modern self.
In an age with a crumbling worldview, with unexpected discoveries of every sort, with the collapse of fundamental institutions and cultural traditions, a skeptical relativism concerning the very possibility of knowledge was spreading among European intellectuals. External authority was no longer trusted, yet there existed no absolute criterion of truth to replace the old. Epistemological uncertainty, already exacerbated by the plethora of competing ancient philosophies bestowed by the Renaissance humanists, received yet an addition influx from the Greeks – the recovery of Sextus Empiricus’ classical defense of Skepticism. For example, Montaigne was especially sensitive to this new mood and gave voice to ancient doubts. If human knowledge was determined by cultural custom, if the senses could be deceptive, if the structure of nature did not match the processes in the mind, if reason’s relativity and fallibility precluded knowledge of God or absolute standards, then nothing was certain.
The skeptical basis of French philosophy emerged just at a time when Jesuit rationalism educated Descartes. Pressed by his education, the many philosophical perspectives of the day, and the lessening relevance of religion for understanding the world, Descartes set out to discover an irrefutable basis for knowledge.
To begin by doubting everything was a necessary first step in the sense that he wanted to wash away all previous assumption of tradition that presently infected human knowledge, and then to isolate only those truths he could himself directly experience as indubitable. Unlike Bacon, Descartes was a considerable mathematician and it was the rigorous methodology characteristic of geometry and arithmetic that seemed to promise the kind of certainty Descartes sought for philosophy. Mathematics began with a statement of self-evident first principles, foundational axioms from which further more complex truths could be deduced according to strict rational methods. By applying such precise and painstaking reasoning to all questions of philosophy, and by accepting true only those ideas that presented themselves to reason as clear and distinct and free from internal contradiction, Descartes established the means for attaining certitude. Disciplined critical rationality would overcome the untrustworthiness of the world of the senses or imagination. In this manner Descartes became the second Aristotle, and found a new science that would usher in a new era of practical knowledge, wisdom and well-being.
Hence, here we have skepticism and mathematics combining to produce a Cartesian revolution in philosophy (and reflecting the “new science”). What skepticism and mathematics have in common was the certainty of individual self-awareness. It was this individual self-awareness which was the motive behind and the outcome of all skepticism and mathematical-like reason, and the bedrock of all knowledge. For the process of methodologically doubting everything (even the natural perceived world and one’s own body), Descartes concluded that there was one thing that survived this doubt and that was the fact that he doubted. At least, the “I” who is conscious of doubt, the thinking subject (ego cogito), exists even as all else can be doubted/questioned. Cogito, ergo sum (I think, therefore I am). For while everything can be doubted, the “doubting I” cannot be doubted. This is certitude: the clearly and distinctly perceived “I who doubts”.
Thus, the cogito was the first principle and the paradigm of all other knowledge: it became the basis for all subsequent deductions and the model for all other self-evident rational intuitions. From the indubitable existence of the doubting I, which was ipso facto an awareness of imperfection and limitation, Descartes deduced the necessary existence of a perfect and infinite being, God. Thus, something cannot proceed from nothing, nor can an effect be without a cause. The thought of God was of such magnitude and perfection that it self-evidently must have derived from a reality beyond the finite and contingent thinker; hence, the certitude of an omnipotent God. Only through this presupposition could the reliability of the natural light of reason, or of the phenomenal world, be assured. For if God is God (a perfect being) then he could not deceive man and his reason in its attainment of self-evident truths (notably the truths o the “new science”) .
The cogito also revealed an essential hierarchy and division in the world. Rational man knows his own awareness to be certain, and entirely distinct from the external world of material substance which is epistemologically less certain and perceptible only as object. Thus, the res cogitans (subjective experience, thinking substance, spirit, consciousness which man perceives within) is fundamentally different and separate from res extensa (the objective world of matter/substance/physical body and everything outside the mind). Only in man did the two realities of res cogitans and res extensa come together as mind and body and both have their origin in God.
Hence there is in Descartes a metaphysical dualism. On the one side there is soul as mind and awareness as distinctively belonging to the thinker (since the senses the imagination, and the emotions belong to the body), and on the other side the external (mechanical) world without purpose or spirit. While God (as supreme intelligence constructed/created the universe, as a giant automaton (like 17th c machines, clocks, fountains, mills, etc.) it then moved on its own. Thus, the universe was not a giant organism (as Aristotle and the Scholastics assumed) endowed by form and purpose. Once we set aside such prejudices, then the universe is to self-evident reason nothing but non-vital, atomistic matter (scientific materialism). Such matter is best understood in mechanical terms, reductively analyzed into component parts and understood exactly as those parts were arranged and moved. Hence, there was no immanent purpose in nature (a claim that reflects man’s metaphysical impiety that wished to equate itself to God’s mind), and this natural, mechanistic order of matter being objective and solid was inherently measurable. Hence, the central role of mathematics as it is available to the natural light of human reason.
To support this metaphysics and epistemology, Descartes relies on Galileo’s distinction between primary (objective and measurable) and secondary subjective and experiential) properties. Scientific inquiry is then the pursuit of those primary properties, clearly and distinctly perceived and analyzed in quantitative terms (extension, shape, number, duration, specific gravity, relative position – i.e., primary properties/qualities). On this basis and using experiment and hypothesis, science can proceed to ascertain certain knowledge. Mechanics then was for Descartes a species of mathematics by which the universe could be manipulated to serve humankind (Francis Bacon). With quantitative mechanics ruling the universe, the absolute faith in reason is justified. This was the basis for practical philosophy (in contrast the speculative philosophy of the Scholastics) wherein man could directly understand nature and so turn it to his own purpose.
Thus, reason first of all establishes its own existence (out of existential necessity), then the existence of God (out of logical necessity), and then the God-guaranteed reality of the objective world and its rational (mathematical) order.
Thus, human reason is the supreme authority in the domain of human knowledge, capable of distinguishing certain metaphysical truths and of achieving scientific understanding of the material world.
Infallibility once ascribed to Holy Scripture or the supreme pontiff has now been transferred to the reason itself. In effect, Descartes unintentionally began a theological Copernican revolution – for his mode of reasoning was from human reason to divine existence (not vice versa). For although the self-evident certainty of God’s existence was guaranteed by God’s benevolent veracity in creating a reliable human reason, that conclusion is affirmed only on the basis of Descartes’ criterion of “clear and distinct ideas” which belonged to the individual human intellect. Thus, with respect to the ultimate religious question, it is not divine revelation but the natural light of human reason (innate) that has the final say. This is modernity (by the natural light of human reason)!
Until Descartes, revealed truth had been held as objective outside of human judgment, but with Descartes all truth is depended for its validity on human reason. The metaphysical independence that Luther demanded within the parameters of religion, Descartes now extended universally. Whereas for Luther certitude resided in his faith in God’s saving grace as revealed in Scripture, Descartes certitude resided in his faith in the procedural clarities of mathematical reason applied to the indubitability of the thinking self (ego cogito).
In this assertion of metaphysical and epistemological dualism Descartes emancipated the material world from its long-standing association with religious belief, freeing science to develop uncontaminated by spiritual or human qualities and theological dogma. Both the human mind and the natural world stood autonomously, separated from God and from each other.
This is then the proclamation of essential modernity, or the modern self, as a self-defining entity for whom its own rational self-awareness was absolutely primary (doubting everything except itself, setting itself in opposition not only to traditional authority, but also to the world (as subject against object) as a thinking, observing, measuring, manipulating being, fully distinct from God and nature. The fruit of this dualism between rational subject and material world was the “NEW SCIENCE”. That is, science’s capacity of rendering certain knowledge and so making man the possessor and master of nature. In Descartes’ vision, science, progress, reason, epistemological certainty, and human identity were all intricately related and connected with a conception of an objective, mechanistic (mathematical) universe which together is paradigmatic of the Modern Mind.
Thus, Bacon and Descartes as prophets of scientific civilization, rebels against the ignorant past and zealous students of nature, proclaimed twin epistemological bases of the modern mind. In their respective manifestos of empiricism and rationalism, the long growing significance of the natural world and of human reason (initiated by the Greeks and recovered by the Scholastics) achieved characteristic modern expression. Upon this dual foundation, philosophy proceeded and science triumphed. Thus, Newton’s accomplishments employed the practical synthesis of Bacon’s inductive empiricism and Descartes’ deductive mathematical rationalism and so Newton brought to fruition the scientific method first forged by Galileo.
After Newton, science reigned as the supreme definer of the universe, and philosophy defined itself in relation to science (supportive, critical, provocative, and sometimes independent but never in a position to question the cosmological discoveries of science that rules the Western world).
Newton’s achievement in effect established our modern understanding of the physical universe (mechanistic, mathematical, concrete material and not especially Christian) as well as the modern understanding of man (whose reason comprehended the natural order and who was therefore a noble being in virtue, not of a divine plan, but because of his reason in grasping nature’s logic thereby achieving control over its forces.
The new philosophy did not just mirror the new sense of human empowerment, but especially in its scientific and, later, technological corroboration. Human destiny finally appeared assured as a result of human beings’ powers of reason. Human fulfillment was now a question of scientific explanation and control of nature – physical but also social, political, religious, scientific and metaphysical. The proper education of the human mind in well-designed environments would bring forth rational persons capable of understanding the world, themselves, and to fashion both to the good of the whole. Cleared to all traditional prejudices, individual men would be able to grasp the truth, establish themselves a rational world order in which all could flourish. The dream of human freedom and fulfillment in this world could now be realized – humankind had finally become enlightened. Hence, the 17th c. is called the century of Enlightenment!
Foundations of the modern worldview
Between the 15th and 17th c the West saw the emergence of a newly self-conscious and autonomous human being – curious about the world, confident in its own judgments, skeptical of all orthodoxies, rebellious against authority, responsible for its own beliefs and actions, enamored of the classical past but even more committed to a greater future, proud of its humanity, conscious of its distinctiveness from nature, aware of its artistic powers as individual creators, assured of its intellectual capacity to comprehend and control nature, and altogether less dependent on an omnipotent God. Thus the emergence of the modern mind rooted in but rebelling against the medieval church and the ancient authorities, yet dependent on and developing from both matrices, took the three dialectically related but distinct forms of the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Scientific Revolution. Collectively these ended the hegemony of the RC church in Europe, and established an individualistically, skeptical, and secular spirit of the modern age. Out of this profound cultural transformation, science emerged as the West’s New Faith/”new science”.
After the giants battles among religions failed to be resolved what took their place was science – the empirical-rational appeal to commonsense and concrete reality that every individual could evaluate for him/herself. Facts and theories were discussed among equals and these replaced dogmatic revelation imposed by the institutional church. The search for truth was now conducted internationally, with disciplined curiosity, and eagerness to transcend the limits of previous knowledge. Epistemological certitude and objective agreement, experiment and prediction, technical invention and control of nature became the saving grace of humankind. Scientific inquiry ennobled the mind directly apprehending the rational order of nature first declared by the Greeks but far in advance of the what both the ancients and the Scholastics were able to achieve.
Science then seemed to bring the Western mind to independent maturity outside the medieval church, beyond the classical glories of Greeks and Romans. From the Renaissance onward, modern culture left behind the ancient and medieval worldviews as primitive, superstitious, childish, unscientific, and oppressive. By the end of the scientific revolution the Western mind discovered a new way of acquiring knowledge and a new cosmology. Because of man’s intellectual and physical efforts, the world itself expanded, immensely and unprecedented: the earth moves. The straightforward evidence of the naïve senses, the theological and scientific certitude of naïve centuries (that the sun rises and sets and that the earth beneath one’s feet is utterly stationary at the center of the universe, was overcome through reason, mathematics, and technological observation). Not only the earth but man himself moved (out of the finite, static, hierarchical Aristotelian-Christian universe into a new unknown territory). The nature of reality fundamentally shifted and the cosmos took on entirely new proportions, structure, and existential meaning.
This opened the way for a new for of society based on self-evident principles of individual liberty and rationality. For what the scientific revolution showed was that the search for the truth of nature could be extended to the realm of society/history/art/ politics, etc. Just as the Ptolemaic system was cumbersome and had been replaced by a new Newtonian universe, so too could the structures of society (absolute monarchy, aristocratic privilege, clerical censorship, oppressive and arbitrary laws, inefficient economies) be replaced by new forms of government based not on divine sanction and inherited traditional assumptions but on rationally ascertainable individual rights and mutually beneficial social contracts. The application of systematic critical reason to society of course suggested social reform and encouraged the application of scientific methods to social-political life. Thus, John Locke in England and the French philosophes of the Enlightenment in France take on Newton’s lessons and extend them to the human realm.
What then are some of the major tenets of the modern worldview?
Of course, the modern worldview, like its predecessors of the classical Greek and medieval Christian worldviews, was not a stable entity but continually evolving way of experiencing the world. The views of Galileo, Bacon, Descartes, and Newton were essentially a Renaissance synthesis of modern and medieval (i.e., medieval Christian Creator God and modern mechanistic cosmos, or the human mind as a spiritual principle and the world as objective material reality). During the two centuries following the Cartesian-Newtonian formulation of science, the modern mind continued to disengage itself from the medieval matrix. The writers and scholars the Enlightenment (Locke, Leibnitz, Spinoza, Bayle, Voltaire, Montesquieu, Diderot, d’Alembert, Holbach, La Mettrie, Pope, Berkeley, Hume, Gibbon, Smith, Wolff, and Kant) all philosophical elaborated, broadly disseminated and culturally established the new worldview. At the end, the autonomy of human reason had fully displaced the traditional sources of knowledge about the universe, and had in turn defined its own limits as those constituted by the boundaries and methods of empirical-rational science.
The industrial and democratic revolutions and the rise of Western global hegemony brought forth concrete technological, economic,, social, and political changes which further defined and established the cultural sovereignty of the Western worldview. In modern science’s culminating triumph over traditional religion, it was Darwin’s theory of evolution (in the 19th c.) that brought “humankind” within the compass of modern science. Science’s capacity of comprehend the world had achieved such enormous dimension that it omitted nothing in the universe from its domain – it had matured!
So when we try to summarize the Western modern worldview, we include the Cartesian-Newtonian formulations but also later 18th and 19th c formulations. Hence, it is remarkable that in characterizing this period from the 15th to 19th c we find a wide spectrum of belief/practice, ranging from naïve childlike religious faith to tough-minded secular skepticism.
In contrast to the medieval Christian cosmos which was not only created but continuously and directly governed by a personal and actively omnipotent God, the modern universe was an impersonal phenomenon, governed by natural law and understandable exclusively in mathematical and physical terms. Hence, God was removed from the universe, as Creator and architect to be sure, but no longer the God of love, miracle, redemption, or historical intervention. God became the First Cause and then withdrew with the consequence that the world took on greater ontological reality (nothing divine either transcendently or immanently). The order of the universe which was initially at least ascribed to God was eventually understood merely as a “happening”, mechanical and innate without any higher purpose or origin. While the medieval worldview could not understand the universe except through revelation, the modern worldview understood that world through reason of an order that was entirely “natural”.
The medieval Christian dualism which stressed the supremacy of the spiritual and transcendent over the material and concrete was now inverted, with the material and concrete becoming the dominant focus. The material world was embraced as the world of “life” and as a stage for “human drama” replacing the traditional religious dismissal of mundane existence as an unfortunate and temporary trial in preparation for eternal life. Not the Christian dualism between spirit and matter, and God and world, but a secular dualism between mind and matter, man and nature, and subjective consciousness versus objective impersonal nature.
Science replaced religion as the pre-eminent authority, as the definer, judge, and guardian of the modern cultural worldview. Reason and empirical observation replaced theological doctrine, Scriptural revelation, and institutional grace as the means of comprehending the universe. The domains of religion and metaphysics gradually became compartmentalized: regarded as personal, subjective, speculative and fundamentally distinct from public objective knowledge of the empirical world. Faith and reason were permanently severed. Transcendental reality was beyond human knowledge, perhaps useful palliatives for man’s emotional nature, or aesthetically satisfying as imaginative creations, or potentially valuable as heuristic ideas, perhaps necessary for moral and social cohesion, or as political and economic propaganda, as psychological projections, as life-impoverishing illusions, as superstitions irrelevant and meaningless. In place of religious or metaphysical worldviews, rationalism and empiricism became the two towers of epistemology which of course eventually produced its own metaphysics. Thus, rationalism eventually affirmed its belief in man as the highest and ultimate intelligence (“secular humanism”), while empiricism did the same for the material world as the essentially only reality (“scientific materialism”).
In comparison to the classical Greeks outlook which saw world order emanating from a cosmic intelligence in which the human mind directly participated, the modern mind sees world order as empirically derived by way of the individual’s senses and reason from a material pattern that is inherent in nature. Thus, while the classical Greek mind saw human beings as essential part of a cosmic order, the modern mind distinguished between the subjective and the objective world which operated on different principles. To the modern mind, the human mind was conceived of as separate and superior to the rest of nature: the mind either directly reflects nature’s innate regularities (empiricism) or else, after Kant, constitutes the order of nature in accord with its own categories (critical realism). Nature is material and so possesses no purpose; the human mind has the power of reason and purpose and so is capable to extracting from nature its order and in doing so is able to use that order to manipulate nature/world.
In contrast to the classical Greeks who integrated all human modes of experience/knowledge, the modern worldview focused exclusively on our rational and empirical faculties and declared all other faculties (emotional, aesthetic, ethical, volitional, relational, imaginative, and epiphanic) as irrelevant or distortional of knowledge. Instead of spiritual liberation or fulfillment (as in the Platonic or Pythagorean traditions), the modern worldview focuses in intellectual mastery and material improvement.
While the cosmology of the classical era was geocentric, finite, and hierarchical (with the heavens consisting of archetypal forces – gods/goddesses – influencing human life) and the medieval cosmos reinterpreting this classical cosmic structure in accord with Christian symbolism, the modern worldview of cosmology sees the earth as a planet in a neutral infinite space thereby eliminating any distinction between celestial and terrestrial. With the heavens obeying the same principles of mechanics as the earth, astronomy (science) finally distinguished itself from astrology. The heavens no longer possessed any numinous or symbolic significance (as it did in the ancient and medieval world) that would give meaning to human life. The universe had no relationship either to the Divine or the meaning of human life (these were merely anthropomorphic projections). The universe has no meaning; it just is (orderly).
Especially with the theory of evolution in the middle of the 19th c, human (organic) life itself was subsumed under the material, mechanistic universe. What Newton accomplished for the physical nature, Darwin building on geology and biology (joined with Mendel’s genetics) accomplished for the organic nature. [Alfred Russel Wallace independently formulated a theory of evolution in 1858 which impelled Darwin to make his own work public after not doing so for 20 years. Important predecessors to both Wallace and Darwin were Buffon, Lamarck Erasmus Darwin and Lyell. Diderot, La Mettrie, Kant, Goethe, and Hegel were all moving towards an evolutionary world conception.] While Newton established a new structure for the universe’ spatial dimension, Darwin established a new structure of nature’s temporal dimension. While Newton’s planetary was sustained by inertia and defined by gravity; organic evolution was sustained by random variation and defined by natural selection. As Newton removed the earth from the center of the universe (merely another planet), so Darwin removed man from the center of creation (merely another animal).
7a. Darwinian evolution was both a continuation of the scientific impulse but also a break from the scientific revolution’s classical paradigm. The reason is that evolutionary theory broke with the regular, orderly, and predictable harmony of the Cartesian-Newtonian world in that it recognized that nature of a ceaseless and indeterminate struggle for change, development, and survival. So that Darwin furthered the scientific revolution in further secularizing any previous effort at compromise between the scientific revolution and the Judaic-Christian worldview. For the claim to the mutability of species contradicted outright the biblical account of a static creation in which man was placed as its sacred center. In fact, with evolution, man did not come from God but from lower primates. The human mind was not divine but merely a biological tool (technology) in service of man’s survival. This survival had no purpose and no divine guidance, rather it was an amoral, random, brutal struggle for survival in which success was not “virtue” but “fit”. For Darwin it was natural selection and chance; contra Aristotle’s teleology or the Bible’s purposeful creation. Deism, that last compromise with the Judaic-Christian tradition, now faded as all life (organic and inorganic) was merely the evolution of nature.
7b. In these circumstances the belief that the universe was purposefully designed and regulated by divine intelligence (a belief foundational to both classical Greek an Christian worldviews) became entirely questionable. The idea of Christ’s divine intervention in human history (incarnation, virgin birth, second Adam, resurrection, second coming) were implausible in the context of a straightforward survival oriented Darwinian evolution in a vast Newtonian universe. Of course, equally implausible was the idea of a timeless metaphysical realm of transcendent Platonic ideas – there was nothing in the empirical world that required appeal to transcendent reality. The modern universe was entirely a secular phenomenon and, if this phenomenon was still evolving (creating itself), it was evolution without goals, purpose, or foundation. But if nature is the sole source of evolutionary direction and man is the only rational and conscious being in nature, then the “future” was entirely in man’s hands.
Finally, in contrast to the medieval Christian worldview, modern man’s independence (autonomy) – intellectual, spiritual and psychological – was radically affirmed with increasing depreciation of religious belief and its institutional structure that would/could inhibit man’s natural right and potential for existential autonomy and individual self-expression. While the purpose of the medieval Christian was to better obey God’s will and purpose, modern ma was simply to better align nature to man’s will. Thus, the Christian doctrine of spiritual redemption as based on the historical manifestation of Christ and his future apocalyptic second coming which was first conceived as coinciding with the progressive advance of human civilization under divine providence and conquering all evil through man’s God-given reason (17th c) was gradually extinguished altogether in the belief that man’s natural reason and scientific achievements would progressively realize a secular utopian era marked by peace, plenitude, and a complete mastery over nature (19th c). Gone here is the Christian sense of original sin, fall, and collective guilt in favor of an optimistic human self-development and the conviction that reason and science would eventually triumph over human ignorance, suffering and social evil. While the classical Greek worldview had emphasized the goal of human intellectual and spiritual activity as the essential unification (reunification) of man with the cosmos (divine intelligence), and the Christian goal was to reunite man and the world with God (kingdom of God beginning on earth), the modern goal was to create the greatest possible freedom for the individual – from nature, oppressive political, economic, and social systems, from religious or metaphysical beliefs, from the church, from the Judaic-Christian God, from static and finite Aristotelian-Christian cosmos, from medieval Scholasticism, from ancient Greek authorities, and from all primitive conceptions (childish/indulgent) of the world. The autonomous power of the individual human intellect was enough to ensure domination and control of nature and so the goal of freedom, plenitude, and peace.
Of course, this summary has its limits and I will come back to these later. First I want to examine again how the modern worldview arose out of its predecessors the classical and Christian worldviews.