Secularism and freedom
Secularism, freedom, and the conflict of science/religion
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There is a curious irony to the conflict of science and religion:
the basis of secularism is as metaphysically engaged as that of religion, and demands, as with the idea of freedom, an extended view of science. The philosopher Kant was the primary figure in the challenge to scientism that was latent in the Enlightenment. His classic discourse on freedom in the context of Newton reposes the issues of modernity. The rise of the modern world was larger than the coming of science. We forget that modernity was the tandem emergence of a duality of parallel ideas, causality and freedom, as science and liberalism double-teamed the spectacular transformation of culture. The debate with religion can be a distraction, and yet the dilemma of nature and supernature is embedded in the very texture of secular ideas of freedom. The irony here is that the idea of freedom, as the keynote of secularism, has no place in science. That should be a reminder that ‘sacred’ and ‘secular’ distinctions are misleading. This leads us at once to the core difficulty with scientific theories of evolution. Here a Kantian framework appeared promptly as one of the foundational insights into the nature of the modern, and its scientific leitmotiv.
Secularism and freedom The prominence of science fundamentalism in the Darwin debate makes us forget that the basis of modernity itself is more than the reductionism it has become in a positivistic age. The Protestant Reformation was itself the first stage of modernity. The very basis of the idea of freedom, at the core of all modern liberalisms, has a metaphysical character that would in principle be excluded by scientific explanation. The transition from Reformation to revolutionary liberalism can be seen in the English Revolution of the seventeenth century.