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Scientific Naturalism: A Manifesto for Enlightenment Humanism

June 19, 2017

This article appeared in Theology and Science Vol. 15, No. 3 in June 2017.

A recording of this article can be listened to below, read by the author, with an introduction by David Smalley, thanks to our Patrons at Patreon.

Abstract

The success of the Scientific Revolution led to the development of the worldview of scientific naturalism, or the belief that the world is governed by natural laws and forces that can be understood, and that all phenomena are part of nature and can be explained by natural causes, including human cognitive, moral and social phenomena. The application of scientific naturalism in the human realm led to the widespread adoption of Enlightenment humanism, a cosmopolitan worldview that places supreme value on science and reason, eschews the supernatural entirely and relies exclusively on nature and nature’s laws, including human nature.


In June of 1510, 64 women and men were burned at the stake in Val Camonica, Italy, for causing drought and fires and for harming people, animals and land.

In July of 1518, 60 women and men were burned at the stake in Breto, Italy, for triggering thunder and lightning and for causing sickness and death of nearly 200 people.

In June of 1582, the wife of an English sawyer named Alice Glosscock from the town of Chelmsford was stripped naked and her body searched for “the marks of a witch,” which were found, leading to her conviction and execution.

In May of 1653, a Connecticut colonialist named Elizabeth Godman asked her neighbor Goodwife Thorp if she had any chickens to sell, but none were available. The next day Thorp’s chickens dropped dead, leading to Godman’s arrest and trial.

In May of 1692, seven teenage girls writhed on the floor of a Salem, Massachusetts, courtroom during the trial of a suspected witch named Martha Carrier, crying out “There is a black man whispering in her ear!” Carrier was one of 20 people executed in what became the most famous witch trial in history.

What were these people thinking?1 It is convenient to dismiss them as unthinking naïfs caught up in the hysterics of a moral panic, but in fact they were thinking quite clearly and they had the authority of the Bible behind them, as in Exodus 22:18: “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” They also had the power of the Roman Catholic Church behind them. In 1484, Pope Innocent VIII issued the Papal Bull, Summis desiderantes affectibus, in which he pronounced that many people had […]

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