ROBERT W. BROCKWAYTHE ROOTS OF NEW AGE
and Isaac Newton in England. Soon a shift in opinion occurred concerning the way to acquire knowledge. The scientific method won acceptance among North European intellectuals and, as it did so, the old geocentric cosmic model of Aristotle and Ptolemy gave way to the heliocentric model of the solar system.
The initial resistance to the adoption of this model is very understandable. As mentioned, the naïve observer sees the sun rise in the east and set in the west, while the planets appear to move around the heavens. What is more, since Hellenistic times, their path was plotted along the course of a line of twelve constellations called the “zodiac.” For this reason, astrology made great sense. It does not make as much sense if the sun is seen as the center of the solar system with the earth and other planets revolving around it. On that basis, especially, there was growing skepticism concerning astrology, even though most of the early astronomers were also astrologers.
There is a further point, a very serious one. The heliocentric model of the solar system removed man from the center of the universe, and therefore profoundly challenged Christian teleology. If the universe, the heavens and the earth, were created by God as a home for man, why then was the earth relegated to one of several planets circling the sun (and later, the sun itself relegated to an insignificant place on the edge of one of billions of galaxies)? Indeed, the Papacy did not finally acknowledge the heliocentric model of the cosmos until the early nineteenth century.
Nevertheless, the pioneer scientists eventually won strong support, aided by the founding, for instance, of the Royal Society in England for the furtherance of scientific research.
The Scientific Revolution paved the way for a further stage in intellectual history: the Enlightenment.The term “The Enlightenment” is value-laden, implying strong approval. It refers to the keen interest of people who read scientific and philosophical literature, and discussed such in salons, carriages, and coffee houses. In France, they were called philosophes, meaning “lovers of learning.” They made up the readership for and support of the scientists and philosophers. Some, though by no means all, were skeptics in the area of religion. Among these were the deists who subscribed to the advances being made in physics and astronomy by men such as the philosopher Réne Descartes, the astronomer Johannes Kepler, and Sir Isaac Newton, the greatest mind of his time in the opinion of most of his contemporaries. The findings of these men increasingly revealed a cosmos based on inexorable laws, and hence led to the cosmic view called mechanistic materialism. Deism is the belief that though God exists and created the world, he assumed no control over it or over the lives of people thereafter. This remote, transcendental creator does not act in and through history, nor does he hear or answer prayer. Instead, he is the Great Architect who designed the cosmos.
It is interesting to note that neither Descartes, Kepler, nor Newton were deists. To the contrary, Newton, in particular, was a very devout Christian,