The Scientific Revolution: God Learns Analytic Geometry and Calculus

After much study and analysis then, it was clear to Charlie that there was no notion of this hard distinction/separation of subject and object in the ancient cosmological and philosophical systems of thought that developed in the ancient civilizations in and around the Mediterranean and the Near East, the cradle of civilization as it were.  There was clearly a notion of an exploration into the concept of being as put forth by Aristotle, and then certainly some sense of a concept of a divine creator, or demiurge, as put forth by Plato and subsequent Platonic interpreters and philosophers, both traditions and concepts which became integrated into the theological and metaphysical systems of the Abrahamic religions quite clearly, but nowhere in these systems of belief or subsequent monotheistic traditions was there a clear distinction between the creator – the final cause of Aristotle, demiurge of Plato, Yahweh of the Jews, God of the Christian or Allah of the Muslims – and that which was created.  This mechanistic world view which required an objective view of reality and an explanation of the forces within which these objects interacted was a much later development, even if some of the terms that were used and principles which it leveraged did in fact have some roots in these ancient philosophical systems (like the term natural philosophy itself for example).

The Peripatetic school founded by Aristotle, arguably the other most predominantly anthropomorphically absent Hellenistic philosophy which you’d think you’d be able to find some roots of subject-object metaphysics, spoke of “being” as the core construct from within which first philosophy was to be explored; the qualities of which, or “being qua being”, represented the sum total of all reality, the boundaries of epistemology or that which could be known.  Aristotle’s world view rested on the assumption that there was a cause for the existence of anything, that reality in fact was determined by causation because existence depending upon causation.  His classification of substance, which covered the animate as well as the inanimate, also concluded that there existed some sort of final cause behind the existence of anything, albeit stopping short of any theological description of this final cause.  Aristotle diverged from Plato’s theological premise of a divine, intelligent creator as laid out in the Timaeus on the basis that Plato’s metaphysical foundations were weak and not fleshed out, not that the metaphysics was misguided per se.  But Plato’s worldview as encapsulated in his Theory of Forms also had no notion of separation between subject and object, simply a grand overarching nous or intellect, from which these abstract Forms and Ideas emerged.

In some sense, Charlie mused, language itself could be viewed as the beginning of this separation, the beginning of the bifurcation that characterized our collective, individually mutual exclusive and yet at the same time fundamentally interdependent (according to the Eastern philosophical systems at least), universal reality that defined the world in which we all lived and breathed.  The development of language itself, the bedrock of civilization as it were, required the notion of separation, required the concept of objectivity; objectivism to some degree was in fact a necessary precondition for the development of language.  For every word, which is some combination of strewn together syllables that has meaning in one language or another, can only be understood relative to some other idea or concept – the metaphor or analogy being used – or conversely could be understood in contrast to some idea or concept which represents the opposite of the meaning of the word in question, that which something is not.  For it is the world of opposites in which we live, which the great Indian sages tell us that the infinite lives beyond, and yet at the same time the greater the abstraction of a word or concept, the closer we come to truly understanding, and identifying with this unified existence.

Take the term Satchitananda from the Indian philosophical tradition for example; the word used to describe the essential nature of the non-dual ultimate experience of Brahman from which all things emanate that is described at great length in the Vedas, the Upanishads in particular.  Satchitananda is a composition of three Sanskrit words: the present participle of the Sanskrit verb “to be” or sat, combined with the nouns cit, meaning “consciousness” and ānanda meaning “bliss” or “absolute bliss” in this context.  Satchitananda is a word meant to convey the concept of or idea of “the existence of a pure essence that is present and active, and consists of pure consciousness and absolute bliss”, an analogy in the Platonic school to the penultimate Idea or Form in Plato’s world of Forms and Ideas which emerges from the divine creator described in the Timaeus, and the core Aristotelian teleological (causal) principle from which all that we consider exists, or being qua being, emanates.

But here’s the catch, and Charlie almost smiled wryly when his mind went down this road, that the word itself, Satchitananda in this case, a word ironically intended to describe a state of being that was beyond words and the world of name and form, it’s manifestation – spoken or thought – implied that there is a thing, something that exists, and something whose essential nature is the essence of bliss and consciousness, even if it was in its purest and most essential form, and of course some perceiver or subject who experiences this state.  Duality, or at least the existence of a perceiver and that which is perceived, was implicit in the term Satchitananda, and to take it one step further to its Neo-Platonic form, there must exist a meta or supra Platonic Form or Idea that rests behind or above the notion of Satchitananda that lends its understanding.

Ancient Theo-Philosophical Development in the West

Ancient Theo-Philosophical Development in the West

Although not so clear how we modern intellectuals latched so religiously on this mechanistic world view, it was clear however that as these ancient peoples evolved and progressed, a cultural melting pot emerged that facilitated the exchange of ideas, both of a religious and intellectual nature, as well as technology advancements that led to increased urbanization which further reinforced an environment conducive to the more rapid exchange of thought and ideas.  Individuals transitioned into more specialized and “civilized” roles in their respective societies and civilizations, allowing for the progression of metaphysical and theological development beyond the prevailing mythologies and pantheistic traditions that had reigned supreme for thousands of years prior to the advent of civilization in the Mediterranean and in the East.  This specialization and evolution of thought ran parallel to the expansion of trade and cultural exchange that developed as civilization emerged in the Mediterranean and Near East, marked most notably by the advent of successive empires and cultures in this region:  notably

  • the Persian Empire in the first half of the first millennium BCE in the Near East,
  • the period of Hellenic influence marked most notably with Alexander the Great’s conquest of the Eastern Mediterranean into the Near East, marking the rise of Greek influence(and philosophy) in the Mediterranean,
  • the period of Roman and Latin (and predominantly Christian) influence in the West starting at the end of the first century BCE that carried into the second millennium CE; the rise and fall of the Roman Empire and then the persistence of the Byzantine Empire in the Near East which carried forth a Greek intellectual and philosophical bent albeit Christian in faith, and lastly
  • a period of Islamic influence in the Near East beginning in the latter part of the first millennium CE and extending into the second millennium CE driven by the teachings and empire of Mohammed.

This melting pot and theo-cultural exchange continued well into the Middle Ages until the advent of what historians today call the Renaissance (14th and 15th centuries CE), the Scientific Revolution (16th and 17th centuries CE) and the Age of Enlightenment (17th and 18th centuries CE) from which eventually emerged what we would today call science which reinforced a more literal and materialistic form of atomism and mechanism not necessarily professed by its Greek founders (Leucippus and Democritus) who are credited with the formulation of the concept of atomism and the void which it depends on.  It was in this time period of accelerated civilization growth in the West when the influence of all these competing cultures and theo-philosophies that had been developing for centuries, for millennia really, were analyzed again within a socio-political context (as in Plato’s Republic), rather than a religious or theological context as they had been with Christianity and Islam.

Even with the axe to grind from all the different competing religious systems that developed during this extended period of civilization development and evolution in the West, each of these religious systems assimilated and incorporated the Hellenistic philosophical principles in order to rationalize and justify their creeds, for even into the period of Christian and Islamic influence in the West, the Hellenic philosophers were considered to be the torch bearers of reason and were still looked upon as pillars of philosophical and theological thought.  The prominence of Hellenistic metaphysical and philosophical thought extended even well into the Middle Ages and through the period of the Age of Enlightenment, speaking to the power of the traditions and disciplines that were created by the Ancient Greeks.  These ancient Greek philosophical systems from the Hellenistic era were integrated into these subsequent theological systems (mostly Abrahamic) and in each of them there existed a belief in a single Creator of the universe, a universe which in the Platonic sense emanated from an anthropomorphic God the Yahweh of the Jews, the God of the Christians, and the Allah of the MuslimsEach of these Abrahamic religions which dominate even today’s religious landscape, views the universe’s existence as the result of the will of a benign and omniscient creator (Genesis), upon whose existence the universe depends.  Once integrated into their respective religious traditions, the Hellenic theo-philosophical traditions provided for the rational foundation for ethics and moral conduct in these religious traditions, stemming from the extensive metaphysical foundations created by the Greeks and subsequent interpreters of their traditions and then incorporated into the mythology of the Old Testament and then used as rational underpinnings to establish and reinforce the credibility of each school’s founder – Mohammad of the Muslims, Moses of the Jews and Jesus to the Christians.

Charlie without a doubt believed that religion, particularly after the fall of the Roman Empire straight through the Christian Crusades of the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries, accounted for more death, suffering and destruction than any other source in the history of mankind, and even no doubt accounts for much of the conflict that we see in the world today with fundamentalist Islamic factions taking moral and ethical stands against the materialism and sensualism which is so prevalent in the Western world today and the Jewish community still desperately trying to defend what they consider to be their homeland and birthright that took them millennia to (re)establish from outside interlopers and invaders since the dawn of Western civilization, but Charlie thought that all of these religions of the West contained inherent in them a fundamental notion of wholeness and unity, stemming from their faith in a creative and anthropomorphic God that was intrinsic to each of their respective traditions, albeit in allegorical form, even if this faith in a unified creative whole was exclusive and intolerant of alternative points of view which yielded so much conflict in ancient times and through the Middle Ages.  This anthropomorphic principle so prevalent in the development of Western civilization has come under fire in the 20th and 21st centuries as science has advanced to the point where the creation of the universe itself could be explained in a rational and deterministic framework, as reflected in Big Bang theory which sits atop widely accepted astronomical and physical empirical data and evidence, providing the cornerstone for atheistic belief systems which have attacked the foundations of organized religion, and it was this abandonment of religion as a concept and its uses that disturbed Charlie to a great extent because something was lost there.  The soul had been cast aside as a tool of the priests to control their believers, and it’s essential link and connection to being, along with the value of the narrative of the soul, i.e. mythology, has been lost altogether.

But as Charlie parsed through and studied the great philosophers and theologians that crafted and evolved these sophisticated and complex theological systems that sat behind this faith in a single, unified and anthropomorphic God over the last three millennia, this notion of unity and interconnectedness which came from the philosophy espoused by Plato and Aristotle was not lost, it was integrated into these religious systems.  And to understand how science emerged from this age of imperialism and religious dogma that marked the two millennia after Socrates was executed for questioning authority, for espousing reason over faith, you had to look at how these theological systems evolved, who affected their evolution, and from what basis the rational and metaphysical platforms from which Descartes, Newton and the other prolific scientists that followed in their footsteps firmly established us in this current age of Science and Reason – a world where Science is the prevailing Religion, and Faith in the fundamental reality of the objective world, a world defined by that which can be measured and perceived by our senses and the instruments we have designed as an extension thereof, predominates intellectual thought.  For in modern times, faith in science (for good reason one might argue) has far eclipsed and overshadowed our faith and belief in religion, or God; a transformation driven by the intellectuals, scientists and learned scholars of the last few centuries which has relegated religion to the corners of the ignorant, uninformed and uneducated, and almost completely absent from academic study altogether.

There were centuries of thought and philosophical and theological inquiry that took place between the time of Plato and Aristotle’s original writings in Classical Greece, writings which broke from the reigning traditions of belief in the prevailing theos and mythos of their time, and the ensuing interpretations of their work which evolved and were assimilated into different cultural and religious systems not only throughout the Hellenistic and Roman eras which lasted well until the 5th century CE and beyond, but well up until the Renaissance which was marked by revolutionary thinkers such as Galileo, Descartes and Newton who challenged the reigning Christian belief systems which had had a choke hold on the Western civilization throughout much of the Middle Ages.  Running parallel to this development in the West was the evolution of Eastern theological and metaphysical systems which had their roots in Vedanta which reached as far back into antiquity as the first half of the second millennium BC[1] and continued to evolve and affect Eastern religious and philosophical development through the second millennium CE, marked most notably by the advent of Buddhism as professed by Siddhartha Gautama in the 5th and 4th centuries BC, and the exposition of Vedanta philosophy by Shankara in the 8th and 9th centuries CE.

Alongside the Hellenistic philosophical traditions which were thriving at the time of Christ, there existed all of the religious and theological traditions that were brought into India by conquering nations and immigrants over the first and second millennium CE, most notable of which were Islam and Christianity, both of which flourished and were accepted side by side with the native Hindu and Buddhist cultures that had at their core the acceptance of the Many, alongside the One, both being perceived as various reflections of the same unified Brahman, or in the case of Buddhism the belief in no godhead but simply the way.  [Ironically, it was most probably the polytheism that was inherent to the Hindu tradition, the belief in the joy and beauty of the celebration of the many different aspects of the divine, that allowed the Indian society to be so tolerant of other theological and religious systems over the centuries, or at least so it appeared to Charlie from where he stood in the beginning of the third millennia AD.  But this polytheism that was such a core tenet of the Hindu religion was married to a core, fundamental belief of the direct perception of non-dual realty that was the goal of all religious and spiritual traditions, the Satchitananda of the Vedas (a concept which Charlie looked at as a de-anthropomorphized Yahweh of the Jews, God of the Christians, and Allah of the Muslims) that created the foundation of tolerance from which all these religious systems could thrive and flourish side by side].

Religious belief systems as espoused by Islam and Christianity, as seen in juxtaposition to the teleological, epistemological, and non-anthropomorphic theological pursuits that characterized the Greek philosophical tradition, clouded some of these philosophical and metaphysical developments surely, but even in these religious systems there existed an undercurrent of philosophical inquiry that provided for the foundation of further pursuit of natural philosophy that took hold in the middle of the second millennium CE, culminating in what historians call the Age of Enlightenment a thousand or so years after which of course marks the end of what present day historians call the Dark Ages.

And yet what Charlie was searching for, was where this fundamental and immovable faith in the reality of the world of the senses, the world that exists only if it can be empirically measured or perceived by the senses or some extension of the senses, which stood in contrast (at least in its most modern interpretation) to the belief in a divine creator, found its unquestionable foothold.  But he couldn’t find it, at least not in the theo-philosophical traditions of the Ancient Mediterranean and certainly not in the Abrahamic monotheistic faiths that emerged thereafter in the West.  He found great philosophers and profound and extensive theological systems, he found great religious figures who professed illumination and direct communion with the divine from which the great Islamic and Christian religions sprung forth, and even great theologians and religious figures through the Middle Ages who attempted to integrate the profound metaphysics of the Ancients with their own religious creeds and belief systems like St Augustine (354-430 CE), Averroes (1126-1198 CE), and Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274 CE) among others, but none of them professed the supremacy of the material world over the spiritual, and none of them certainly dismissed the idea of a principle of a divine or otherwise omniscient creator.  This was clearly a much, much later development.

The schools of thought originated in Ancient Greece by Plato, Aristotle, Euclid and others were also very influential in the Muslim world as its influence spread as well as with its Christian brethren to the West.  During the first few centuries after Mohammad’s death in 632 CE and the subsequent proliferation of Islam in the Mediterranean and Near East via the Muslim conquests, many of the Greek philosopher works were translated into Arabic, providing for a metaphysical and theological underpinning of the Islamic faith as the Judeo-Christian tradition did to provide legitimacy to its school of thought.  The Arabs used the word falsafa as their translation for the Greek philosopher (“lover” philo of “wisdom” or sophy), and as these traditional Greek works were translated into Arabic and incorporated into the Muslim theological traditions via commentaries and teachings, you saw an assimilation of the ancient Greek philosophies into their religious tradition as had occurred to the Jewish and then the Christian theologies as well.

There were three main periods of translation and commentaries of the Greek philosophical works into Arabic that took place roughly between 500 CE to 1100 CE, and although not true in all cases for the most part the work was undertaken to justify the words of the Qur’an and the Islamic notion of the tawhid (or the belief in the one true God), just as the Christian community and the Jewish community had done before them.  These translations and commentaries however did provide for a rich metaphysical foundation for the Islamic faith however, primarily falling under the category of wisdom, or hikma, rather than divinely inspired truth as the Qur’an was considered; a slight but important distinction.

Al-Kindi (801-873 CE) was first of the Muslim Peripatetic (Aristotelian) philosophers, and is also sometimes referred to as the father of Islamic philosophy.  He wrote in Arabic on topics as broad as physics, philosophy, medicine, astronomy, and mathematics as well as theology and metaphysics.  Although much of his work is lost, much of the Arabic semantic framework for metaphysics, theology and philosophy as described by the Greeks is very much attributed to him and the team of translators which he presumably led.  Some of the most lasting treatises translated under the name Al-Kindi are Aristotle’s Metaphysics, The Enneads (IV-VI) of Plotinus, Elements of Theology by Proclus, Timaeus of Plato as well as many other assorted works by Aristotle and other less well known Greek philosophers, making mainstream Greek philosophy available to the Arabic world for the first time.

Further translation and interpretations of Greek theo-philosophical works were done by Al-Farabi (c 872-951 CE) who was known as the “second teacher”, Aristotle being the “first teacher” speaking to the prestige within which Aristotle was looked upon even in the Arabic community some 1500 years after his death.  Al-Farabi created a program for philosophical education which included at its core Aristotle’s notion of being (being qua being) which included the phenomenon of the natural world, the theoretical sciences which included mathematics and logic, and the third which included the study of the immaterial which led to the study of the One, or the First, which lined up with the Muslim concept of Allah, further entrenching Islamic thought into a modified form of Hellenic philosophy and metaphysics.

Avicenna (c 980 – 1037 CE) followed Al-Farabi by a century or so and published many works on topics ranging from philosophy, astronomy, mathematics, logic, theology and medicine that were influential in the development of Islamic thought and science in general, not only philosophy and theology, particular in the field of medicine.

All of these Islamic philosophers, philosophers in the ancient sense of the term where their topics ranged much broader than pure philosophy as it is thought of today, significantly influenced not only Islamic thought down through the Middle Ages, but also the development of philosophy and theology in the West as a whole, but most importantly providing for the availability of the Greek philosophical texts to the Muslim world which had broad influence throughout the Mediterranean and Near and Far East in the 7th through 12th centuries CE and even down through modern times.

Materialism at some level did have its roots in the Hellenic philosophical landscape however, albeit one that did not dominate ancient thought as the Platonic, Peripatetic (Aristotle) and Stoic schools did, but one that had a place nonetheless and one that established if nothing else some of the semantics and language upon which modern science developed.  Namely in the Epicurean school founded Epicurus toward the end of the fourth century BC in Ancient Greece who expanded and expounded on the philosophical work of his predecessors Leucippus from the first half of fifth century BC and his student Democritus (c 460 – 370 BC) who postulated that all things of the world were made up of atoms which is an English word derived from the Greek atomos signifying “uncuttable” or “indivisible”.  In this school of thought, the atom represented the fundamental, indivisible building blocks of everything in the known universe, animate as well as inanimate, and originated out of the great void or ether.

This system of belief as passed down by Epicurus and his followers represents the first real materialistic philosophical school, materialistic in the sense that they did not believe in any teleological, or first principle, foundation of the universe or belief in any sort of creative or divine principle as put forth by Plato or his followers.  The Epicurean school sat in contrast to the Platonic and Peripatetic philosophical systems that still held that there was some core principle, or first cause, upon which the physical (and spiritual) universe sprung forth.  From the Epicurean standpoint, the world was made of objects, indivisible entities that interacted with each other than in their composite form made up the known universe and no further teleological explanation was necessary, rendering the idea of free will a mere human construct with no basis in reality.

But it was important to not confuse the Epicurean philosophy of atomism, what we might call today a form of materialism, alongside mechanism, or the belief that the known universe is simply a compilation of substances and corporeal objects that interact with each other and are governed by laws of science or mathematics.  This mechanistic philosophical development came much later, stemming primarily out of the work of Descartes (1596 – 1650 CE) and then followed by Newton (1642 – 1726) and then many other great philosophers, true lovers of wisdom, of the Scientific Revolution and who started to discover deeper laws of the natural order of the universe, laws based upon mathematical principles and the belief in empiricism, truth can indeed be known, as well as the discovery of laws that governed planetary motion which pointed to the earth, God’s penultimate creation itself, not being the center of the universe upon which the sun and stars revolved around, overturning and bringing into question centuries held belief that shook the very foundations of monotheism.

But Epicureanism, like its Ancient Greek theo-philosophical counterparts Platonism and Stoicism, was developed to attempt to primarily to establish a system of ethics and way of life based upon a more reasonable foundation than its mythical predecessors, a belief system which people could comprehend and understand, and a belief system that rejected the notion of any sort of divine creative principle.  It was an answer to why we’re here and what the point of it all is in a rational, reasonable framework providing for a rational foundation of ethics and morals in juxtaposition to the belief in mere god heads or straight mythology.  Plato attempted to answer the same questions, he simply presented them in their most lasting and open ended form, dialectic.  In its essential form, Epicureanism rejected the notion of the reality of gods (theos) at all, or even the existence of the soul, teaching its followers that the right and correct path was the pursuit of moderate pleasure, or the absence of pain, boiling life down to a pleasure optimization problem within which the notion of judgment upon death was absent.

In the words (translated from the Latin) of the renowned Latin Epicurean poet and philosopher Lucretius (c 99 – 55 BC), we see clearly the materialistic bent of this philosophical school:

And yet it is hard to believe that anything in nature could stand revealed as solid matter.  The lightning of heaven goes through the walls of houses, like shouts and speech; iron glows white in fire; red-hot rocks are shattered by savage steam; hard gold is softened and melted down by heat; chilly brass, defeated by heat, turns liquid; heat seeps through silver, so does piercing cold; by custom raising the cup, we feel them both as water is poured in, drop by drop, above.[2]

So in none of these ancient theo-philosophical systems, not even in the Epicurean school, could Charlie find this notion of true separateness which underlies today’s predominantly mechanistic world view, this notion that the world around us was distinct from the individual who lived and was.  Epicureanism reflected a belief in atomism for sure, that much was clear, but this atomistic philosophy underpinned a system of ethics that espoused a path of the greater good, or lesser evil, which implied a holistic view of man’s place in society and mankind’s place in the world around him.  Atoms were the indivisible component of the universe in the Epicurean view no doubt, and man and all animate creatures were made of these indivisible atomos, but this principle was subsumed in the ethical framework within which it sat rather than the primary driving force of the theo-philosophy as is the case with mechanism which predominates the thinking of modern man in today’s technologically advanced world.

Despite this ancient atomic worldview of the Epicureans, this relegation of the realm of the divine, religion as it were, as completely a figment of mankind’s imagination, this break between science and religion, was a much later development, a development whose roots could be found in the Age of Enlightenment which swept up the socio-political and intellectual establishment of Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries.  But Charlie found as he dug into the intellectual developments that occurred in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries in Western Europe, categorized by later historians as the Age of Enlightenment or Age of Reason, despite its strong anti-establishment and anti-religious roots, still did not profess true mechanism, which is a more modern term (post Newton) that implies a strong atheistic bent combined with a fundamental belief that all reality has a purely mechanical explanation.

Both Platonic philosophy and Aristotelian metaphysics both played a significant role in the development of theology and epistemology in the centuries that followed their published works, developing and maturing into what modern scholars call Neo-Platonism – “neo” in the sense that it represented an assimilation of some theological principles from both Ancient Judaic and Egyptian circles, combined with a broader interpretative and commentated tradition based off of the original work attributed to Plato or Aristotle exclusively.

Neo-Platonism, which in turn exerted a strong influence on the development of early Christian theology, as well as on Muslim and Jewish theology well into the Middle Ages, has its roots in the teachings of Plotinus (204/5-270 CE) and Porphyry (234-305 CE) in the 2nd and third centuries CE, some six or seven centuries after Plato and then Aristotle lived, taught and authored, speaking to the depth of their teachings and their fortitude.  The Neo-Platonic teachings represent the first truly deep metaphysical framework that center around monotheism, in much more direct and explicit way than in previous philosophical traditions which allude to and elaborate on a single unified creative principle, developments which ran parallel with the monotheistic developments that were occurring in the Mediterranean and Near East at the time with the spread of Christianity in the region.  [The primary reference text for Neo-Platonism is the Enneads, authored by Porphyry but essentially consisting of a compilation of Plotinus’s teachings with an introductory section on the life of Plotinus[3]In the Enneads, we find the first true monotheistic theological and metaphysical framework that rests alongside a system of ethics and morality based upon the concept of hierarchical system of virtues.]

Alongside Neo-Platonism which provided for the theological and metaphysical link between the theo-philosophical systems of the Ancient Greeks to Christian theology, it was the Peripatetic school founded by Aristotle which provided for the language and categorization of study of the pursuit of knowledge (epistêmai in Greek) in general, Greek categorization and intellectual frameworks which, translated into Latin, were used to provide an intellectual framework to students of the Middle Ages, providing for the underlying metaphysics for virtually all of the monotheistic traditions that followed.

To Aristotle, there were three main branches of knowledge, namely “theoretical” knowledge of which first philosophy (what became to know as metaphysics) and natural philosophy belong, “practical knowledge” which included the knowledge and intellectual pursuits in the ethical, moral and political spheres, and “productive knowledge” which included those disciplines that contributed toward the creation of beautiful and useful objects, of more practical consideration if you will.  And it was with Aristotle that we find the categorization of the fields of knowledge (or sciencia in Latin which is the translation for the Greek word epistêmai which is the word that Aristotle used in his writings) which carried down through the Middle Ages well into the Age of Enlightenment, providing for the semantic framework within which truth and knowledge itself was to be explored, providing the semantics in Greek which were translated into Latin and then the rest of the Romance languages that followed, English of course being the most relevant to Charlie.  Aristotle’s “epistêmai”, or “sciencia”, provides the basis for the categorization of the research that is performed branches of knowledge start to mature and evolve in the Age of Enlightenment, culminating from a natural philosophical perspective in Newton’s great work Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, or “Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy”, which marks the beginning of science as we know it today.

After the fall of the Roman Empire and into the middle and latter part of the Middle Ages in the West, mainly in the period from the 11th century CE until the end of the Renaissance and the advent of the Scientific Revolution (the beginning of which is marked most notably by the work of Copernicus (1473-1543) which upended some of the basic astronomical tenets that had survived for the prior three thousand years), the intellectual community and the preservation of the teachings of the Ancient Greek and Latin texts was primarily centered around Christian monasteries and Churches.  The establishment of true institutions of higher learning and educational reform occurred much later in the Renaissance, even though the curriculum was still very religious at its core and was propagated and sponsored by Christian Churches and monasteries and otherwise advocated and controlled by the Christian authorities.

Ptolemaic Planetary Model

Ptolemaic Planetary Model

During the Middle Ages, translations of the original Greek and Latin texts were not readily available to the public, and were most certainly not widespread, leading to the propagation of truth by the relatively few and the keepers of knowledge being representatives of various religious authorities rather than stemming from an independent intellectual community.  The standard cosmological and astronomical world view at that time was of course geo-centric of course and had its roots again in the works of the Greeks, most notable Aristotle and then Ptolemy from an astronomical perspective, which was then leveraged by Judeo-Christian theology to exemplify human kind’s special place in the universe as reflected in Genesis (which in turn Mohammad/Islam borrowed and incorporated).  Any idea that was put forth that opposed this Judeo-Christian world view where God created mankind in his own image, and where Earth was the center of the Universe, was not received well to say the least and in almost all cases led to excommunication and banishment, which of course makes the work of Copernicus all that more revolutionary given its controversial nature.

Although hard to generalize across all of Western Europe, during the Middle Ages, the mode of teaching is most commonly referred to as scholastic, including a curriculum that although Judeo-Christian in nature, included a critical review of the ancient Greek and Roman literature, including a core mathematical and logic aspect to it, but at the same time having a strong theological focus.  Although the term scholasticism is sometimes associated with a philosophical framework, in this context the term mainly refers to the method of teaching that was employed by academics during the late Middle Ages that involved positing various truths or theorems that were thought to be well established and putting them to rigorous rational test via dialectic means by the students and teachers alike, in some sense harkening back in some respect to the teaching modus operandi of Plato with respect to utilizing the opposing viewpoints on a particular subject to elucidate truth[4].  Irrespective of the means by which intellectual thought was taught throughout this time period, which extended well into Age of Enlightenment in the 16th and 17th centuries as universities became more prevalent in the West, it was nonetheless the Greek and Latin classics that were most prevalently used as the primary means of instruction, and it was Latin which was the predominant language for written texts and published works[5].

But the pace and acceleration of thought really took hold in the West in the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries with the more broad availability of texts via the advent of primitive forms of printing and this spread of a pseudo-university system that was established throughout Europe to teach the intellectual elite.  Although this intellectual development is not something that can be pointed to specifically at a place in time per se, it corresponds roughly to what later historians have called the Renaissance, which in turn drove the Scientific Revolution from which notable scholars such as Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler and then Newton emerged.  The works of these great intellects in turn drove the Age of Enlightenment which spearheaded thought and intellectual evolution across a wide range of disciplines in Europe and beyond, disciplines that ranged from the purely philosophical (metaphysics and the existence of God), to the ethical and socio-political which attempted to reconcile the role of the state/monarchy and its relationships to its people and subjects, all of which certainly going well beyond what we today call science.

During this time, the core curriculum in these universities if you could call them that was mostly made up of Platonic, Aristotelian, Neo-Platonic, and other Greek and Roman scholarly work in the original Greek and Latin to provide the intellectual framework and semantics within which the world could be perceived beyond just a blind faith in God and its surrounding scripture, namely the Bible.  But make no mistake about it, these universities and their teachers were very much grounded in Christian faith and belief and the curriculum that was being taught had to align with these beliefs else excommunication and banishment was the norm, right up until the Age of Enlightenment came to a close, the end of which is marked by later historians in the publishing of the work by the eminent German philosopher Immanuel Kant in the treatise (in German), What is Enlightenment.

So even despite the passage of over a 1500 years after Aristotle and Plato and other Ancient Philosophers that came after them set down their teachings in Ancient Greece and then during the period of Roman/Latin influence, first with the advent of the Western Roman Empire in the first and second centuries BCE and then with the spread of Islamic and Arabic influence alongside the Byzantine/Eastern Roman Empire, and Platonic, Aristotelian and other theo-philosophical developments coalesced and evolved into Neo-Platonism, these ancient Greek and Latin texts and their associated commentaries still remained the primary objects of study for the intellectual community.  This trend continued straight on through into the Middle Ages, which saw the prevalence of the Latin texts for the most part, along with some of their Arabic translations.  These works, despite their aged heritage, formed the semantic and metaphysical structure within which intellectual development was pursued up until the Age of Enlightenment where the field of science first emerged as an independent field of study.  Even if these ancient works and writings were looked at as in contrast to or in exposition of the current way of thinking or what was to be taught, they still formed the basis of the dialogue.  Aristotle primarily set the table with respect to logic, metaphysics and the study of natural philosophy, Plato and his subsequent interpreters provided the intellectual connection between Christianity and philosophy and metaphysics in general (Neo-Platonism mostly), Ptolemy, Aristotle and Euclid provided the astronomical and geometrical foundations, and Plato’s mode of learning, namely dialectic, provided the main influence for the mode within which teaching occurred, i.e. scholasticism.

As previously noted, when Charlie started studying the time period and great thinkers from what modern day historians have termed the Age of Reason and the Scientific Revolution in the West, he wasn’t looking for an historical narrative per se but was searching for the roots of this mechanistic and altogether atheistic worldview, the roots of which he saw in the works of the notable philosophers and theologians of this period and yet still struggled to pinpoint its origins, despite the fact that it was very clear that the Ancient Greek and Roman literature provided for the academic foundation of the scholars of this period.  After much research, he saw the best way to frame the intellectual developments of this period of tremendous intellectual expansion was via the semantic and logical framework laid out by Aristotle some two thousand years prior, for this was the way the intellectuals of the period approached their studies primarily.  From Charlie’s perspective, the categories of knowledge or intellectual developments of this period were best categorized within the same intellectual context and categorization put forth by Aristotle, or epistêmai as Aristotle termed it.  And it was Aristotle’s categorization of the different fields of study, the classification of knowledge itself or epistemology, which remained the best way to classify the developments of the Age of Enlightenment and the branches of knowledge, of which science was one, which emerged from this period in our evolutionary history and has carried us through to the 21st century which is marked by deep specialization in all fields, a characteristic which was wholly absent from the intellectual pursuits of the 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th centuries in the West.

Although there were a variety of developments in thought and scholarship during the Age of Reason and Scientific Revolution, all of them shattered the very foundations of the belief systems that had been present for the prior two thousand years, namely that the world was created by an anthropomorphic God, that mankind was created in God’s image, that the Bible was to be taken literally with respect to its historical and mythological narrative, and that the Earth was the center of the universe.  All of these tenets were at the core of monotheism and the Abrahamic faiths, faiths which provided for the very cultural and socio-political foundations of Western Europe at the time.  These intellectual attacks if you could call them that, were three pronged from an Aristotelian perspective:

  1.  theoretical epistêmai / first philosophy: developments in metaphysics or first philosophy in an attempt to establish the existence of the One, or God, via rigorous rational and logical proofs.  These developments started mostly with a Neo-platonic and Christian theological bent but later morphed into more sound metaphysical systems which questioned the existence of an anthropomorphic God at all,
  2.  theoretical epistêmai / natural philosophy: the development and evolution of natural philosophy as a separate branch of intellectual pursuit with the emergence of the foundation of analytical geometry, algebra and calculus alongside developments in astronomy which not only toppled the geocentric conception of the universe but also the notion that mankind held a special place in the universe as was put forth in the Bible, and
  3.  practical epistêmai: developments in socio-political and economic theory that questioned the role of the state and the power of the Church and attempted to establish a science of individual behavior and an optimal form of government, all of which had a profound effect on the evolution and role of government in this period and drove several major revolutions in Western Europe and what was to become known as America.
Age of Enlightenment Philosophical Development

Age of Enlightenment Philosophical Development

The scope of intellectual developments during this period were very much aligned with the theo-philosophical developments that were trademarks of Hellenistic philosophical developments except the difference now was that with the proliferation or printing and the acceleration of intellectual exchange, developments along each of these intellectual lines could be done collectively and collaboratively at a much faster pace than could be done in ancient history, certainly not to the extent that peer reviews and collaboration occurs in the modern age with the proliferation of electronic modes of communication but certainly a marked improvement over what had been possible during the Dark/Middle Ages and the centuries that preceded them.

In many respects, the Age of Enlightenment is best known for its developments in socio-political theory, developments which led directly to the evolution/revolution of the political landscape in Europe and America marked most notably by the English Revolution in 1688, the American Revolution from 1775-1783, and culminating in the French Revolution in 1789-1799 which marks the end of the Age of Enlightenment according to most modern day historians.  These socio-political advancements, corresponding roughly to Aristotle’s practical philosophy and very much in the same vain as Plato’s Republic, drove not only greater freedom of thought and religious tolerance throughout the West, but also established separation of powers in these governments, separation of Church and State, as well as socio-economic optimization and collaboration as the underlying goal of government.

These socio-political developments in practical philosophy were most influenced by great thought leaders like the English Thomas Hobbes (1588-1689), who although supported the notion of sovereign authority developed social contract theory in his seminal work Leviathan, the empiricist John Locke (1632-1704) whose theories of mind, knowledge, and social contract theory influenced Voltaire, Rousseau and Kant among other Enlightenment thinkers as well as provided for some of the founding principles of the American Revolution, the renowned and prolific author Voltaire (1694-1778), who perhaps in many respects best synthesized many if not all of these socio-political developments of this time period in his writings, and the Scot Adam Smith (1723-1790), sometimes referred to as the father of modern economics and perhaps best known for his An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations establishing the basis for modern economic theory.

All of these authors and political and social revolutionaries all came from this period of history and did much to establish the foundations of Western government with its separation and balance of powers as well as set the stage for advancements in freedom of thought and exchange that ran parallel with and supported developments along Aristotle’s first and natural philosophical lines, i.e. the advancements of what we today refer to as science which formed the core of the Scientific Revolution which ran parallel to the Age of Enlightenment.  But these authors and their works were concerned about codes of ethics and systems of governance more so than they were concerned with the nature of reality and mankind’s place in it and so in this respect they were of less interest to Charlie other than the fact that without the advancements in these areas, developments in natural philosophy would not have had a chance to blossom as it did.  In other words, if the environment for free thinking had not been strongly established in Western Europe during this time period, it would have been next to impossible for the great scientific minds of this time to collaborate and build upon each other’s work to create the breakthroughs in metaphysics and science that emerged as part of what we now call the Scientific Revolution.   But it was developments in first philosophy and natural philosophy that were more interesting to Charlie, for in these areas you saw considerable and rapid developments across a variety of disciplines that fundamentally overturned mankind’s view of the world and his place in it, dovetailing into the mechanistic worldview that Charlie saw as endemic in modern society, the origins of which he was searching for.

Leaving the realm of practical / socio-political philosophy aside then, you had two major themes and areas of advancement of thought that rapidly evolved as civilization in Western Europe began to stabilize at the end of the Middle Ages that established the foundations of modern materialism/mechanism; one along the lines of metaphysics or first philosophy which explored the boundaries of knowledge (epistemology) and its relationship with the divine, the existence of God upon a more rational and reasonable framework and the moral and ethical implications thereof, and another along the lines of science or natural philosophy (astronomy and physics mostly) that radically challenged the conception of the universe and mankind’s place in it that had been prevalent for the prior thousand years or so and directly and forcefully called into question blind faith in Christian Scripture and the Church which had held such a strong chokehold on civilization since the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century CE.

The scientific or natural philosophical developments are typically grouped together in the period known as the Scientific Revolution, which starts with the work of Copernicus (1473-1543 CE) in the latter part of the 16th century and culminates with the work of Isaac Newton (1642-1727 CE) some three centuries later[6].  This period is marked by significant advancements in mathematics, astronomy, biology, medicine and chemistry and did much to transform society’s views on the ability to explain and understand natural phenomenon, reinforcing the notion that simple faith in God and the underlying creation ex nihilo needed to be abandoned and replaced with a much more complex and rational worldview, one that had its foundations in logic, mathematics, and geometry.

The Scientific Revolution can be followed by the works of essentially just a few great thought leaders, although contributions were made by many others that remain obscured by history and the passage of time:

  • first and foremost you had Copernicus (1473-1543 CE) who was the first to formulate a heliocentric model of the universe,
  • then Kepler (1571-1630 CE) whose work on the laws of planetary motion provided for some of the foundations of Newton’s laws of gravitation,
  • Galileo (1564-1642 CE) who made marked improvements on the telescope along with observations which reinforced Copernican theories of heliocentrism,
  • Leibniz (1646-1716 CE) who made advancements in calculus, binary number theory and specific advancements to the mechanical calculator,
  • the French philosopher and naturalist Diderot who despite significant opposition from authorities was the chief editor of the first Encyclopedia entitled Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers in French or Encyclopedia or a Systematic Dictionary of the Sciences, Arts and Crafts which had profound influence on the dissemination of scientific knowledge throughout Europe,
  • and then of course culminating in the work of Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727 CE) who laid down the foundations for classical mechanics with his laws of motion and theory of universal gravitation.

All of these great thinkers and their associated intellectual advancements came under significant fire during their time from the established authorities which were still very much grounded in Christian fundamentalism, particularly in the early part of the Scientific Revolution which ran up into considerable resistance from the Church establishment which held a strong chokehold on the curriculum of the Universities of the time.  Suffice it to say that all of these philosophers, scientists and authors wrote and published at considerable risk of excommunication and banishment, Copernicus and Galileo most notably, speaking to their roles as not only philosophers and scientists, but revolutionaries as well.  These scientific developments were supported with philosophical developments and the advancement of systems of metaphysics during the same period, developments which attempted to provide a rational and empirical foundation for knowledge, or epistemology, which replaced centuries of blind faith and belief in the authority of God and Scripture, which overturned the Aristotelian notion what constituted matter and how the universe behaved, and completely overturned the geocentric worldview of Ptolemy which had prevailed for millennia.  All of these developments, revolutionary no doubt (hence the name of the period Scientific Revolution) did not altogether topple or completely cast aside the notion of existence of God, which was something that was surprising to Charlie as he studied developments during this period.

Although many intellectuals contributed to metaphysical developments during this period, there are four that Charlie found that put forward the most comprehensive systems of metaphysics and exerted the greatest influence on subsequent modes and arenas of metaphysical thought, all living and writing between the 16th and 18th centuries CE in Western Europe – namely the empiricist Francis Bacon (1561-1626 CE), the famous French philosopher and mathematician Rene Descartes (1632-1704 CE), the Dutch rationalist philosopher Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677 CE), and then the German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804 CE) whose work in some respects summarizes and consolidates Enlightenment philosophy.

Francis Bacon (1561-1626 CE) was a successful politician in England the 16th and early 17th century who established and propagated inductive methods for scientific enquiry, providing for the foundations of scientific method which were leveraged not only by subsequent philosophers but also by the natural philosophers, or scientists, that followed him.  Although he was a prolific author and wrote works as broad ranging as socio-political theory, ethics, theology and medicine, he is probably best known for his work in natural philosophy/metaphysics than anything else and establishes the framework for attacks on scholasticism, the primary mode of teaching and scholarship of his time, and Aristotelianism in general which was a core part of this curriculum, as inadequate means of the acquisition and categorization of knowledge.

Bacon espouses empiricism and inductive reasoning as the most effective means at arriving at knowledge or truth, and speaks to a more atomistic world view as laid out by the Epicurean school than the Neo-Platonic and Aristotelian schools which were part of core curriculum that he learned in college (Trinity College and Cambridge) as part of his scholastic training.  He believed that the human mind was not tabula rasa, or a clean slate, and the in order to prepare the mind for true knowledge it must be purged of what he referred to as intellectual idols.

Bacon’s philosophy does not exclude the notion of God or God’s will however, but he reduces the world into Two Books which he thinks should be kept separate – the Book of God which he believed reflected God’s Will and the Book of Nature which he believed reflected God’s Works, establishing a framework within which God could co-exist with science, and the laws of each could be kept separate[7].

The glory of God is to conceal a thing, but the glory of the king is to find it out; as if, according to the innocent play of children, the Divine Majesty took delight to hide his works, to the end to have them found out; and as if kings could not obtain a greater honour than to be God’s playfellows in that game, considering the great commandment of wits and means, whereby nothing needeth to be hidden from them.[8]

Rene Descartes (1632-1704 CE) follows shortly after Francis Bacon and not only establishes the foundations of analytic geometry (the Cartesian coordinate system bears his name), but also made significant contributions in philosophy and metaphysics as well.  His seminal work Meditations on First Philosophy written in Latin provided not only a detailed, rational and logical proof of the existence of God but also a metaphysical system which incorporated the science of human nature alongside the physical sciences.  He is most famously known for his phrase cogito ergo sum, or “I think therefore I am”, which comes from his work Discourse on the Method and Principles of Philosophy, signifying the close relationship between perception and existence in his metaphysical framework.  Descartes held an Aristotelian view of knowledge, reinforcing the notion that the field of philosophy embodied all knowledge, spanning all of the modern day disciplines that we now refer to as science: medicine, biology, psychology, etc.  Describing it thus in a letter he wrote to the French Translator of his Principles of Philosophy:

Thus, all Philosophy is like a tree, of which Metaphysics is the root, Physics the trunk, and all the other sciences the branches that grow out of this trunk, which are reduced to three principal, namely, Medicine, Mechanics, and Ethics. By the science of Morals, I understand the highest and most perfect which, presupposing an entire knowledge of the other sciences is the last degree of wisdom[9].

Descartes was more of a philosopher than he was a mathematician, and although analytical geometry was a later invention, his mathematical (mostly geometrical and algebraic) work was groundbreaking and was leveraged by later scientists/natural philosophers in their developments.  Furthermore, his principles of knowledge, or first philosophy, laid the groundwork for establishing the importance of mathematics in describing reality, a tenet that has been heavily leveraged in subsequent centuries and is one of the core foundational principles for the current predominant materialistic and mechanistic worldview, a key development and outcome of the scientific Revolution in fact; namely that the natural universe, material reality operates according to rational and reasonable laws that are best described by mathematics, the language of God if you will.

With Descartes, you have a heavy reliance and emphasis on reason and logic to arrive at truth and knowledge, at a more mature level than the ancient philosophers that came before him.   Descartes the mathematician, as well as the philosopher, attempted to apply the same rigors of inference and deductive reasoning that underpinned the laws of mathematics into the realm of philosophy, metaphysics, and even theology.  In his Meditations on first Philosophy, Descartes takes his concepts of reason and logic as pillars of truth and understanding to prove the existence of God and the soul through the use of the same techniques that he outlines in his Discourse on Method.

I have always thought that two issues – namely, God and the soul – are chief among those that ought to be demonstrated with the aid of philosophy rather than theology.  For although it suffices for us believers to believe by faith that the human soul does not die with the body, and that God exists, certainly no unbelievers seem capable of being persuaded of any religion or even of almost any moral virtue, until these two are first proven to them by natural reason.[10]

You could argue that it is with Descartes that you have the advent of reason and logic as the pillars of modern day thought and perception of the world around us, and the complete departure from the notion of blind faith, or belief in in things that could not be proved or reasoned out by logic.  Note that he did not intend nor did he postulate that God did not exist however, simply that his existence needed to be placed on firmer rational and logical foundations.

The next influential metaphysician of this period that Charlie thought contributed uniquely to developments of this period is Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677 CE), a 17th century Jewish philosopher and naturalist who challenged the authority of Scripture directly as well as Descartes’s mind-body dualism, and put forth an alternative metaphysics and moral and ethical framework that is best described as naturalism.  Spinoza believed that there was only one corporeal substance that permeated all of nature and it was all governed by a set of rational and universal laws, challenging the notion of free will and the existence of an anthropomorphic God, as well as the validity of Scripture and the possibility of miracles, all of which to say the least constituted very radical notions in his day.  His ethics was akin to Stoicism, and he prescribed the restraint of passions as the key to virtue and happiness.

His seminal work published posthumously entitled Ethics is a systematic critique of traditional conceptions of God and theology in general, mankind’s place in the universe, and the ethical and moral framework upon which these belief systems sat, advocating a life of reason and rationalism over the pursuit of passions as the key to the good or happy life and that all events and effects and outcomes of the world are entirely deterministic, i.e. reflecting the absence of free will in both the world of God as well as the individual soul[11].  Note that he did not altogether disavow or set aside the existence of God but rather case God as identified with the whole of nature rather than an anthropomorphic all-knowing deity as put forth in Christian dogma and Scripture, hence the naturalist interpretation of his philosophy.

In Spinoza’s metaphysics, the existence of God is set forth as the underlying substrata of the entire universe via a logical and rational proof which associates God with Nature and discards the notion of an anthropomorphic God, along with the existence of miracles, as human inventions and criticizes the literal interpretation of the Bible[12].  He then goes on to associate human beings with Nature, and not as holding dominion over nature, proposing a significant shift in the Christian theological view that upheld the special place of mankind in the universe that prevailed in his day.

Nature is always the same, and its virtue and power of acting are everywhere one and the same, i.e., the laws and rules of nature, according to which all things happen, and change from one form to another, are always and everywhere the same. So the way of understanding the nature of anything, of whatever kind, must also be the same, viz. through the universal laws and rules of nature.[13]

His answer to the question of how is one to live if the prevailing religious dogma of the day was not to be trusted and the universe was simply a composition of natural objects interacting according to natural laws, mankind being just another aspect of Nature with no special place in it per se, subject to the passions and wills of the natural order of the universe like all other corporeal and non-corporeal substances, was to minimize the effect of these passions by the pursuit of true knowledge and virtue, and to focus on how the natural world reflects the unified essence of God, and thus subduing those passions that lead to misery, pain and suffering – in many respects echoing the sentiments of the Stoics of Ancient Greece as well as the philosophies of the East.  It is the pursuit of knowledge that he professes in his works, in a very Greek and Stoic way despite the dominance of Judeo-Christian thought of the times:

The more this knowledge that things are necessary is concerned with singular things, which we imagine more distinctly and vividly, the greater is this power of the Mind over the affects, as experience itself also testifies. For we see that Sadness over some good which has perished is lessened as soon as the man who has lost it realizes that this good could not, in any way, have been kept. Similarly, we see that [because we regard infancy as a natural and necessary thing], no one pities infants because of their inability to speak, to walk, or to reason, or because they live so many years, as it were, unconscious of themselves.[14]

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804 CE) was a philosopher and anthropologist who lectured and wrote in Germany at the end of the 18th century and in many respects culminates and synthesizes the philosophy and metaphysics of the Enlightenment period.  He argued that human perception structured natural laws and that morality and ethics had their foundation in a reasonable and rational framework, proposing an alternative to the skepticism as put forth by David Hume (1711-1776) that theorized that objects must conform to our perception rather than the other way around and that which could be known was limited by our capacity to understand.  Kant’s major work published in German, Critique of Pure Reason, outlined a human centric view of reality where all experience is shaped through the filter of our minds and aimed to unite rationalism with empiricism to move beyond what he took to be limitations of the metaphysical systems laid out by his philosophical predecessors.

Kant took the work of Descartes and others to another level from a philosophical and metaphysics standpoint, attempting to bridge the gap between the blossoming field of science, which argued that knowledge and truth can only be derived from direct and verifiable experience and results, i.e. empiricism, and the field of philosophy and metaphysics which maintained that reason and innate ideas existed a priori as espoused by Plato and Aristotle, i.e. rationalism.  The empirical view asserted that all knowledge comes through experience and the rationalist view maintained that reason and innate ideas were prior and existed independent of experience.  Kant argued that experience and reason were both required to come to an understanding of the true nature of reality and that using reason without applying it to experience only leads to theoretical illusions with little basis in that which is real or true.  Upon this metaphysical system he constructed a code of ethics and morality which upheld the doctrine of free will and the existence of God.

Kant’s treatment of the concept of God and religion in his critical philosophy, however, does not consist merely in this negative result that we must block reason from taking us along the theoretical paths that rationalist metaphysics had claimed will lead to a proof of God’s existence. He argues that once we have disciplined human reason to stay off that theoretical path, we are then in a position to make an affirmation of God on the basis of what he terms the practical, i.e., moral, use of reason. As he writes in the Preface to the second edition of the Critique of Pure Reason (1787), “I had to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith.” He thus proposes what has come to be known as his “moral argument” for God and the immortality of the soul. In connection with this argument he also develops the concept of “moral faith.[15]

On the natural philosophical side of development, the beginning of the Scientific Revolution starts with Copernicus, who is the first Western philosopher and astronomer who challenges the long held notion that all celestial bodies revolve around the Earth, a notion that underpinned Western civilization’s view of mankind’s place in the cosmos for at least a thousand years.  Although there had been authors and mathematicians that had proposed a heliocentric view of the universe in late antiquity, most notably by Aristarchus in the 3rd century BCE and then Seleucus of the 2nd century BCE, it was the geocentric models expounded by Plato and Aristotle, codified in Ptolemy’s Almagest in the 2nd century CE, that served as the standard astronomical textbook throughout the Middle Ages up until Copernicus challenged its fundamental assertions and underlying mathematics.

The association between astronomy, astrology and religion, or the priesthood, had a long tradition dating back to the dawn of Western civilization, as reflected in Ancient Babylonian, Egyptian Greek and Roman cultures.  It was with Copernicus however that the break between these two disciplines, religion and astronomy, was initially torn, solidified more completely over the centuries following Copernicus with the work of Galileo, Kepler and then Newton, all who built upon and confirmed Copernicus’s thesis and established the foundations of modern science and its correlation with mathematics.

As noted, the curriculum that was taught throughout the institutions of higher learning throughout the Middle Ages and into the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries was greatly influenced by the Church, and the Church and its associated dogma which asserted that mankind was created by God in his own image, rested very dearly upon the principle that the Earth was the center of the Universe.  When Copernicus questioned this assumption, based primarily upon mathematical problems he encountered in Ptolemy’s work, the Church did not receive this criticism lightly to say the least.

Copernican heliocentric planetary model

Copernican heliocentric planetary model

Copernicus (1473-1543) most influential work which laid out his case for a heliocentric model of the universe was authored in Latin and called De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, or On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres or simply On the Revolutions.  It was published just before his death in 1543 and set out to demonstrate that the observed motions of stars, planets and other celestial bodies can be explained without having the Earth be the center upon which all else revolves.  It being published posthumously kept Copernicus out of controversy for the most part, but as is work was picked up and expounded upon by subsequent authors and teachers of the Scientific Revolution, most notably Galileo, the rift with the Church manifested quite forcefully.

Galileo (1564-1642), sometimes referred to as the “father of science”, was the first to publicly defend Copernican’s thesis that the Earth revolved around the sun, despite Copernicus’s On the Revolutions being officially condemned pending correction in 1616.  Galileo defended the Copernican system in his work, Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems (which was published in 1632 in Italian and translated into Latin in 1635) which compared the Copernican and Ptolemaic systems directly and laid out his case for a heliocentric model of the universe.

In 1633, in no small measure due to his popularity, Galileo was condemned, convicted of heresy, forced to recant his heliocentric views specifically, and was subsequently forced into exile and spent the rest of his life under house arrest, where he ironically he produced perhaps his most profound work, Discourses Concerning the Two New Sciences (published in Italian in 1638).  In the Two New Sciences, Galileo outlined an entirely new framework for natural philosophy, arguably transforming the field closer to what we today call physics, as described by his two new sciences, namely “strength of materials” and “motion of objects”.  In the Two New Sciences Galileo lays the foundation for the work of Kepler and Newton among others to follow him and provides the framework for modern physics, where celestial and terrestrial matter obey the same laws, and where the language of mathematics is called out specifically to be the greatest form of universal expression, the Bible being relegated by Galileo as a subsidiary to science, a revolutionary concept indeed.

For most people, in the 17th Century as well as today, Galileo was and is seen as the ‘hero’ of modern science. Galileo discovered many things: with his telescope, he first saw the moons of Jupiter and the mountains on the Moon; he determined the parabolic path of projectiles and calculated the law of free fall on the basis of experiment. He is known for defending and making popular the Copernican system, using the telescope to examine the heavens, inventing the microscope, dropping stones from towers and masts, playing with pendula and clocks, being the first ‘real’ experimental scientist, advocating the relativity of motion, and creating a mathematical physics. His major claim to fame probably comes from his trial by the Catholic Inquisition and his purported role as heroic rational, modern man in the subsequent history of the ‘warfare’ between science and religion. This is no small set of accomplishments for one 17th Century Italian, who was the son of a court musician and who left the University of Pisa without a degree.[16]

Kepler's Laws of Planetary Motion

Kepler’s Laws of Planetary Motion

Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), the German mathematician, astronomer and astrologer, followed in the footsteps of Copernicus and Galileo and is best known for his three mathematical laws (outlined in his treatises Astronomia nova and Harmonices Mundi) that describe orbital/planetary motion around the sun, grounding Copernican heliocentrism in sound mathematics and providing for one of the core foundations for Newton‘s theory of universal gravitation[17].

Throughout the period of the Scientific Revolution there was no clear distinction between astronomy and astrology, although there was however a strong division between astronomy, which was typically covered in the field of mathematics, and Aristotelian physics, a branch of natural philosophy.  Kepler’s work, built off the foundations laid out by Galileo before him, broke down the distinctions of these two fields however and created an even larger divide between theology and science, although Kepler, consistent with the philosophers that preceded him, did not abandon religion altogether (atheism) but encapsulated theology and the belief in an anthropomorphic Creator in his works, arguing that mathematics, reason and logic, were the tools used by God to create and maintain the universe, further entrenching rationalism and empiricism into the intellectual developments that followed him.

It’s with Newton (1642-172) however that we see celestial and terrestrial mechanics become completely integrated in a holistic system, and the solidification of mathematics as the tool best suited to describe God’s creation.  Newton, best known for his principle of universal gravitation which underlies his three laws of motion which govern the interaction of all mass and bodies in the universe, provided the final blow to the Ptolemaic/Aristotelian geocentric model of the universe as well as the subjugation of the Judeo-Christian view of the universe as God’s willful creation to the mathematical and theoretical models that he proposed and in turn verified for the most part via empirical data and observations.  Newton’s mechanics as it is referred to today, dominated the scientific view of the physical universe for the next three centuries and arguably still represents the primary mode within which most of us understand our relationship to the physical world around us even today[18].

What Charlie found most fascinating about Newton though, when you looked under the covers a bit and tried to step back from the laws of physical motion that he was most known for, was that he was an interesting and diverse character with a wide range of interests in a far ranging set of fields both scientific and theological.  For example in astronomy he invented the first reflecting telescope, and in the field of optics he was the first to demonstrate that light can be decomposed into a spectrum of colors via a prism.  And clearly he made significant contributions in mathematics[19] but he also was a serious student of alchemy[20], and some scholars even believe that it was his work with alchemy that provided the inspiration for the concept of universal gravity.  John Maynard Keynes, the famous economist, after purchasing many of Newton’s extant alchemical treatises, is reported to have noted; “Newton was not the first of the age of reason, he was the last of the magicians.”

But Newton, as with his predecessors, did not abandon faith in God.  Although he was unable to accept the beliefs of the Church of England (and according to some scholars believed that the Church had deviated from the teachings of Christ over the centuries), he was required as a Fellow of Trinity College to take holy orders, i.e. follow the curriculum and guidance of the Church with respect to what he could research, write about or teach.  The Church of England however, was more understanding and sympathetic to the ideas of Newton than Galileo, and King Charles II issued a royal decree excusing Newton from the necessity of taking holy orders saving Newton from the hardships and censorship that Galileo had to endure.[21]

What Charlie found interesting then in looking at the life of Newton, and considering all of his works and contributions to many branches of thought, was that Newton must have had a very broad view of the nature of reality that incorporated the mystical and theological, as well as the implicit belief that the world of physical objects around him could be explained mathematically.  Moreover, he must have been driven by the belief that there existed fundamental laws of the universe, laws which could be described by mathematical equations and relationships, laws which could be arrived at by inspiration (the establishment of a premise or hypothesis) combined with experimentation and measurement to validate the theories that were postulated, a belief system and process no doubt at least to some extent inspired from his alchemical studies.  From Charlie’s perspective, to look at the conclusions that Newton came to with respect to the world of classical mechanics without considering his beliefs and work in theology and alchemy, would be like tasting a salad without dressing – yes it would be the same salad without the dressing, the same underlying physical and chemical structure of lettuce, but it would lack flavor, and all of the subtleties and intricacies of the taste of that very same salad with the dressing.  And it’s Newton’s alchemical, theological and philosophical beliefs that were the dressing to the salad of his work in classical mechanics and mathematics.

Ever since the time of Plato and Aristotle in Classical Greece then, mankind has created semantic and metaphysical paradigms within which the nature of existence can be discussed, and the order within which the heavens and the earth and all its creatures were described and categorized.  The common thread for the Western models of reality, since ancient history then, has been empiricism to a greater or lesser extent, the models and branches of study evolving as the data and tools within which the world could be perceived evolved, culminating to some extent from a metaphysical standpoint to the rationalism of Kant who attempted to bridge science and theology with a single metaphysical framework.  Empiricism in this context is defined as the process of the development of hypotheses about reality, and then the process of testing these hypotheses, ultimately evolving into what we call scientific method as taught today.

This Western civilization and its associated philosophy emerged from the cultural melting pot that began with the Persian and then Greek empires which spread throughout the Mediterranean and Near East in the first millennium BCE, the rise of the Roman Empire at the end of the first century BCE which at its height in the first few centuries AD extended as far West as modern day Portugal, Spain and North Africa (Morocco) and as far East as modern day Afghanistan and, and then Muslim conquests in the 6th century AD which stretched from the orders of China and the Indian subcontinent throughout the Middle East, Iberian Peninsula all the way back to far Western reaches of North Africa.  All of these imperial conquests brought with them a forced assimilation of cultures that drove theological and metaphysical developments as a bi-product, as schools of learning sprung forth not only in Athens, but in Rome, and Alexandria in Egypt as well.

These cultural forces in the Western world accelerated with the advent of printing and intellectual exchange, characteristics that were hallmarks of the Age of Enlightenment, a period of tremendous intellectual progress which encompassed not only the evolution of robust systems of metaphysics that emphasized rationalism, empiricism and even skepticism to a lesser extent, but also drive socio-political developments which fueled political revolutions that rested on principles of free thought and balance of power, and of course the Scientific Revolution itself which from Charlie’s perspective had to be looked at as the source of mechanism and atheism, although not (yet at least) an abandonment of theology and a belief in some sort of anthropomorphic creator that spoke to the soul of man, a concept which Charlie thought albeit at some level inconsistent with science still played a fundamental role in the development and feeding of the soul, a principle that played a central part in the metaphysics, and religions, of all the great theo-philosophical systems that evolved up until the 20th century or so.

During the Age of Enlightenment, the supremacy of rationalism and empiricism became firmly established in the intellectual community no doubt, but the rational order of the universe as a divine emanation of an anthropomorphic God was still very much present in the works of the great philosophers and (what we would today call) scientists of the Age of Reason, despite their view that reason and empirical evidence as gathered and assimilated from the natural phenomenon of the world around us was to be held in the highest regard and the one and only tool for enlightenment and knowledge – higher than revelation, scripture or even faith in God itself.


[1] The Rig Veda is one of the oldest extant texts in any Indo-European language.  With philological and linguistic evidence indicating that it was composed roughly between 1700–1100 BC, known as the early Vedic period.

[2] Lucretius, De Rerum Natura; Book I, lines 487-496.  ‘De rerum natura (On the Nature of Things) is a didactic poem intended to explain Epicurean philosophy to a Roman audience. The poem, written in some 7,400 dactylic hexameters, is divided into six untitled books, and explores Epicurean physics through richly poetic language and metaphors.  In it Lucretius presents the principles of atomism; the nature of the mind and soul; explanations of sensation and thought; the development of the world and its phenomena; and explains a variety of celestial  and terrestrial phenomena. The universe described in the poem operates according to these physical principles, guided by fortuna, “chance”, and not the divine intervention of the traditional Roman deities.’  – from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/De_rerum_natura

[3] Porphyry tells us (Cf. Life of Plotinus, chapters.24-26) that the First Ennead deals with Human or ethical topics; the Second and Third Enneads are mostly devoted to cosmological subjects or physical reality; The Fourth concerns about Soul; the Fifth to knowledge and intelligible reality; and finally the Sixth has for topics Being and what is above it, the One or first principle of all.  Outside of his Enneads, Porphyry was prolific author and philosopher in his own right.  He wrote an introductory work on ancient philosophy and logic called the Isagoge for example, which in its Latin translation form represented the standard textbook on logic and philosophy that was taught to students well through the Middle Ages and even into the Renaissance and Age of Enlightenment in the West.

[4] Arguably the pinnacle of scholastic thought is encapsulated in the work by Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274 CE) called Summa Theologica authored in 1265-1274 CE.  Although unfinished, it basically was an instructional guide for theologians of the day and included topics on the existence of God, Creation and mankind’s place in it, and of course the teachings of Christ and of scripture.

[5] The first institutions in the West to be considered universities were established in Italy, France, Spain and England in the late 11th and the 12th centuries for the study of artslawmedicine, and theology, such as the University of Salerno, the University of Bologna, and the University of Paris.

[6] The philosopher and historian Alexandre Koyré coined the term Scientific Revolution in 1939 to describe this period in Western civilization.  While the start and end dates of the Scientific Revolution are debated, the publication in 1543 of Nicolaus Copernicus’s De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, “On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres” and Andreas Vesalius’s De humani corporis fabrica, “On the Fabric of the Human body” are often cited as marking the beginning of this period, sparking follow on developments in science along many lines.

[7] For more on Bacon’s philosophy and theory of Idols and theory of Two Books, see the entry on Francis Bacon in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy at http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/francis-bacon/.

[8] Taken from Klein, Jürgen, “Francis Bacon”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2012 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2012/entries/francis-bacon/&gt;.  Quote from Blumenberg, Der Prozess der theoretischen Neugierde, 1973.

[10] Meditations on First Philosophy, Rene Descartes, Third Edition, Letter of Dedication, pg 1.

[11] In his own words, “That eternal and infinite being we call God, or Nature, acts from the same necessity from which he exists Spinoza, Ethics, Latin version only.  Part IV, Preface.

[12] The English-American political philosopher and activist Thomas Paine (1737-1809 CE) also authored a influential treatise specifically aimed at undermining the faith in scripture entitled The Age of Reason which attacked the authority of the Church and validity of the Bible, emphasizing reason and rationalism over blind faith in authority or the Church.

[13] Nadler, Steven, “Baruch Spinoza”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2012 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2012/entries/spinoza/&gt;.  Page 22.

[14] Nadler, Steven, “Baruch Spinoza”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2012 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2012/entries/spinoza/&gt;.  Page 27.

[15] Rossi, Philip, “Kant’s Philosophy of Religion”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2013 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2013/entries/kant-religion.

[16] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, The Metaphysics Research Lab, Center for the Study of Language and Information, Stanford University, Galileo Galilei, by Peter Machamer.

[17] Kepler’s three laws of planetary motion specifically are 1) the orbit of each planet is elliptical with the sun being one of the two foci of the ellipse, 2) a line joining each planet and the sun sweeps out along the elliptical orbit in equal areas during equal intervals of time, and 3) the square of the orbital period of a planet is proportional to the cube of the semi-major axis of its orbit. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kepler%27s_laws_of_planetary_motion for a more full account of the mathematics underlying his laws.

[18] Newton’s three laws and principle of universal gravitation are laid out in Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, published in Latin in 1687.  For a more detailed account of the Life and Works off Isaac Newton see https://snowconenyc.com/2012/10/21/classical-mechanics-the-life-and-times-of-sir-isaac-newton/ by the same author.

[19] For a history of Calculus and specifically the controversy surrounding its discovery between Newton and Leibniz see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_calculus.

[20] Alchemy is an influential philosophical tradition whose early practitioners’ claims to profound powers were known from antiquity. The defining objectives of alchemy are varied; these include the creation of the fabled philosopher’s stone possessing powers including the capability of turning base metals into the noble metals gold or silver, as well as an elixir of life conferring youth and immortality. From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alchemy.

[21] More specifically the decree specified that, in perpetuity, the Lucasian professor, which was the title given to the incumbent of the Lucasian Chair of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge (widely regarded as one of the world’s most prestigious academic posts even to this day, currently held by the famed theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking), was exempt from holy orders.



Categories: Ancient Civilization, Christianity, Metaphysics, Philosophy

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