warfare that had so devastated Europe up through the mid-seventeenth century and to the politics of intolerance by both Protestant and Catholic states that threatened to revive such warfare: for example, the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in France in 1685, or the expulsion of the Protestants from Salzburg in 1730, or the anti-Catholic penal laws in eighteenth-century Britain and Ireland. Surely, some began arguing, it was time to envisage forms of social organization that did not require efforts to impose religious uniformity. The new intellectual trends were also influenced by the growing European exposure to other world religions and cultures through the developing networks of global trade and communication. This exposure promoted among some European thinkers an intense interest in studying other religions - thus, for instance, the so-called British 'Orientalists' in India, who helped to gather and publish the ancient texts of Hinduism. Such studies would lead some European thinkers to a new sense of cultural relativism and a belief that religious systems, even Christianity, were largely human constructs. Perhaps most important, however, was the rise of science, which promoted an alternative means, apart from religious authority, for understanding nature and humanity. Careful observation, mathematical analysis, and logical calculation - the power of reason - would, it was believed, reveal the laws which governed the natural and the social worlds. The experimental method, with experiments that could be repeated by people everywhere, demonstrated sound truths which all rational men and women could accept. Science would show the way to practical improvements in material life, and also to new forms of social organization, based on the natural laws of society and the natural rights of man.
The early proponents of the 'Scientific Revolution' were convinced that its teachings provided more potent proofs of the existence of the Christian God and might even help restore the unity of Christendom. The revelations of science, they believed, confirmed the revelations of Scripture, while at the same time ensuring a more rational grounding for the Christian religion, based on the universal laws of nature. This in turn would diminish confessional divisions and strife. The laws of nature and the ethical precepts of Scripture, they insisted, came from the same source - that is, a benevolent God, the creator of a harmonious universe, who intended humankind to live together in charity and mutual respect. Most of those who embraced the ideals of the Enlightenment remained within the Christian tradition, viewing human reason and natural laws as aspects of God's created order, and seeking to bring a more moderate and ethical spirit to Christianity. An example of this Christian moder-atism was William Robertson, Presbyterian clergyman, celebrated historian, Principal of the University of Edinburgh from 1762 to 1793, and acknowledged
Was this article helpful?