This column is the last in the series I have been writing on the Enlightenment, the rise of modernity and the secularization of modern culture. There have been dozens of comments, e-mails and letters on these columns, many of them thoughtful.
Some commenters concluded that my observations were anti-science, that I somehow wanted to turn back the clock to pre-Copernican times. I have no such desire. Indeed, it is impossible to overstate the benefits of the scientific revolution. Science laid the foundation for most of the medical, mechanical and technical developments which have saved and improved the lives of billions.
Unfortunately, while science has been the instrumentality of so much technical and physical progress, many in the scientific/philosophical community have sought to make the scientific method the exclusive basis of all knowledge. This has led many to conclude that the only explanation for the origins of the universe and of life, cosmology, is materialistic. That is, the result of purposeless random interactions of matter over billions of years. This materialistic view necessarily excludes, often ruthlessly, any possibility of divine intervention. This view of science is an indispensable pillar of today's secular culture.
Another series of comments question why the editorial pages of this paper should allow for a discussion of religion, shouldn't this discussion be reserved for the religion pages? This series has attempted to look at vast cultural shifts that have their roots in events and thinking of earlier centuries. These shifts are integrally related to changes in governments, how we are governed, science, laws, wars and the role of religion in our lives. As Mickelthwait and Wooldridge, editors at The Economist, point out in their book "God is Back," "Ever since the Enlightenment there has been a schism over the relationship between religion and modernity."
Only in late modernity could someone not see the intimate links between religion and the developments of the past half millennium. Indeed, it appears that one of the projects of modern materialistic secular humanists is to drive religion and the discussion of religion, altogether out of the public square.
Lastly, a number of commenters felt that I was cherry-picking from scholarly works to buttress my "arguments." I will turn later to my perspective, but certain things are universally agreed upon.
Something happened around the 1500s that initiated what most call the Modern Age. Personally, I date the beginning of the modern project to Gutenberg's press in 1439. Sometime after that, by the mid-17th century, the Enlightenment began. By the early 19th century, we see the rise of modernity characterized by an increasingly secular and relativistic outlook.
There is vast literature on these topics. If it is of any help to you, I have included a bibliography (click the graphics tab on right-hand side of this page) of works I believe are relevant.
Some of have thought these columns too pessimistic, especially the last one. Of course, the opposite is true. I am deeply optimistic. I am optimistic because I reject the material explanation of existence. God did create the universe and he watches over it. As Tennyson wrote during, and in response to, the Darwinian revolution, "God is not dead nor doth he sleep."
As a Latter-day Saint I see God's hand intimately involved in, and guiding, the events of history that have led to the Restoration of his Gospel and ultimately his Second Coming.
The Restoration would not have been possible without the Enlightenment which laid the foundation of political and religious freedom. The Enlightenment was an indispensable element of the American Revolution, also a necessary precondition of the Restoration. Though the Enlightenment created and carried within it the corrosive seeds of materialism and secularism, the Gospel is the antidote.
I, and numerous others, have noted the crucial importance of the secular changes that began in the 1820s and 1830s. God, who knows the end from the beginning, knew, and was prepared for, the disastrous consequences of secularization. In 1831 Joseph Smith received the following revelation. "Wherefore, I the Lord, knowing the calamity which should come upon the inhabitants of the earth, called upon my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and spake unto him from heaven, and gave him commandments; and also gave commandments to others, that they should proclaim these things unto the world [that] the weak things of the world shall come forth and break down the mighty and strong ones."
As I stated, this is my perspective as a Latter-day Saint, but I believe this is a much more preferable and supportable view than to think, as many do, we are descending into a post-modern new dark age.
Joseph A. Cannon is editor of the Deseret News. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org