Consider what would happen 500 years ago when an individual hit the floor in a sudden frenzy of uncontrolled spasms. Depending on where you were in the world, an accepted response might be, “They’re possessed by an evil spirit, or the devil.” Accusations would be made. A good ol' witch burning might follow.
Because somebody began to question this mentality, today we know about seizures, epilepsy, and much more about how the body works. How did we get to this point? Because someone decided to ask questions and challenge what we were told and what we knew. This is the essence of secularism and science.
Both secularism and science are different from other ways of understanding the world because they encourage us to ask questions. Unlike accepting what we are told, as was the case during the medieval period, or accepting on faith what we read from the Holy Book, we pursue new answers to old questions. How important was this to human history and the founding of this country? To help us undestand, consider how war and science have been impacted by keeping religion out of its calculations.
RELIGION & WAR: In 1651, on the eve of a major battle against Oliver Cromwell, Scottish military general David Leslie was ordered to conduct a “faith test” of the troops – probably at the urging of the pious King Charles. General Leslie lost 80 officers and 3,000 men to a purge mandated by religious elders who deemed the discarded warriors insufficiently spiritual. To square the circle – and as a final insult to common sense – Leslie’s spiritual “watchers” forbid his troops from fighting on the Sabbath. Cromwell’s victories in 1651 helped usher in Britain’s Protectorate.
RELIGION & SCIENCE: By looking through a telescope, and playing with some figures, Galileo was the first to scientifically suggest that the earth moved. The discovery was so revolutionary it brought the authority of the Catholic Church down on Galileo. The earth, according to Church teachings at the time, was flat and the center of the universe. The danger in Galileo’s discovery for the Church was that if the Church could be wrong about something as important as the position of the earth perhaps they could be wrong about other things, like the Divine Right to Rule. Galileo’s findings so unnerved his colleagues at the university in Padua that many refused the opportunity to look through Galileo’s telescope. Galileo was forced to recant.
Today, we have the Intelligent Design crowd and many Conservative Christians arguing that we should have more (Christian) religion in society. This mind-set flies in the face of what built this country. Separation of Church and State is not just a slogan to be used in high school civics class. It is grounded in historical and very real world developments that made this great country possible.
Follow me to the Commentary below for a longer discussion on Faith, Science, and Society.