Moder­nity starts here, if only the world re­al­ized it

Jerusalem Post - - OBSERVATIONS - • BY MELANIE PHILLIPS Melanie Phillips is a colum­nist for The Times (UK).

So it be­gins once more. In the syn­a­gogues this week, it’s Ground­hog Day. Jews go back to the open­ing of the Five Books of Moses and start the nar­ra­tive all over again.

The sec­u­lar world looks on with in­dif­fer­ence, be­muse­ment or con­tempt. Among un­be­liev­ers, it is an ar­ti­cle of faith that rea­son, science and moder­nity are in one box and re­li­gion, su­per­sti­tion and ob­scu­ran­tism in an­other.

Ah yes; the ra­tio­nal, fac­tual, grounded sec­u­lar world. The one that is cur­rently dis­invit­ing speak­ers and vi­o­lently at­tack­ing uni­ver­si­ties on the grounds of up­hold­ing free­dom and equal­ity. The one that is spew­ing un­hinged lies and para­noid dis­tor­tions at Is­rael and the Jewish peo­ple. The one that ap­pears to be spin­ning off its axis into ut­ter mad­ness.

The rea­son for this is some­thing the sec­u­lar world can­not bring it­self to grasp. For in set­ting out to de­stroy the bib­li­cal ba­sis of west­ern civ­i­liza­tion, the sec­u­lar world is in the process of de­stroy­ing rea­son it­self. This is is how it works.

For the past half-cen­tury, the re­ceived wis­dom among our cul­tural elites has been that the West is fun­da­men­tally big­oted and il­le­git­i­mate and must be trans­formed. Ac­cord­ingly, bib­li­cal codes em­body­ing ob­jec­tive truth and good­ness have been re­placed by ide­olo­gies such as moral and cul­tural rel­a­tivism, ma­te­ri­al­ism, anti-cap­i­tal­ism, anti-im­pe­ri­al­ism, anti-racism, util­i­tar­i­an­ism, fem­i­nism, mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism, uni­ver­sal­ism and en­vi­ron­men­tal­ism.

These move­ments are all utopian. Each in its own way wants to cre­ate a new kind of hu­man be­ing and a per­fect world. The greens be­lieve they will save the planet. The mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ists be­lieve they will ex­cise big­otry from the hu­man heart. The uni­ver­sal­ists be­lieve they will cre­ate the brother­hood of man.

Yet ev­ery one of these ide­olo­gies is anti-rea­son. Be­cause they all aim at moral per­fec­tion, their gov­ern­ing idea can­not be chal­lenged. So in­stead of us­ing ev­i­dence to reach a con­clu­sion, facts are wrenched to fit their gov­ern­ing idea. Since in­de­pen­dent thought thus be­comes im­pos­si­ble, such ide­olo­gies are in­im­i­cal to rea­son it­self.

What’s more, ev­ery one of them is anti-Ju­daism. Moral rel­a­tivists at­tack the Mo­saic code. En­vi­ron­men­tal­ists at­tack the (mis­un­der­stood) as­ser­tion in Gen­e­sis that mankind has do­min­ion over the Earth. Ma­te­ri­al­ists at­tack the be­lief that there can be any­thing be­yond the uni­verse at all. And so on.

It is no co­in­ci­dence that these ide­olo­gies are both anti-rea­son and anti-Jew, for Ju­daism and rea­son are not in sep­a­rate boxes at all. The one in fact cre­ated the other.

The pop­u­lar be­lief is that the roots of science lay in an­cient Greece. In fact, Greek think­ing was in­im­i­cal to a ra­tio­nal view of the uni­verse. The Greeks, whose uni­verse was an end­less cy­cle of progress and de­cay and who trans­formed heav­enly bod­ies into ac­tual gods, ex­plained the nat­u­ral world by ab­stract gen­eral prin­ci­ples. Socrates thought em­pir­i­cal ob­ser­va­tion a waste of time, and Plato ad­vised his stu­dents to “leave the starry heav­ens alone.”

For the de­vel­op­ment of science, monothe­ism was es­sen­tial. As the Ox­ford math­e­mat­ics pro­fes­sor John Len­nox puts it: “At the heart of all science lies the con­vic­tion that the uni­verse is or­derly.”

Science grew from the idea that the uni­verse is ra­tio­nal; and that be­lief was given to us by Gen­e­sis, which set out the revo­lu­tion­ary propo­si­tion that the uni­verse had a ra­tio­nal cre­ator. With­out such a pur­pose­ful in­tel­li­gence be­hind it, the uni­verse could not have been ra­tio­nal; there would have been no place for rea­son in the world, be­cause there would have been no truths or nat­u­ral laws for rea­son to un­cover.

This is why many sci­en­tists from the ear­li­est times on­wards have been Chris­tians and Jews. It is why Fran­cis Ba­con said God had pro­vided us with two books – the book of na­ture and the Bi­ble – and that to be prop­erly ed­u­cated one must study both.

It is why Isaac New­ton be­lieved the bib­li­cal ac­count of cre­ation had to be read and un­der­stood; why Descartes jus­ti­fied his search for nat­u­ral laws on the grounds that they must ex­ist, be­cause God is per­fect and so “acts in a man­ner as con­stant and im­mutable as pos­si­ble” ex­cept for the rare ex­cep­tion of mir­a­cles; why the Ger­man as­tronomer Jo­hannes Ke­pler be­lieved that the goal of science is to dis­cover within the nat­u­ral world “the ra­tio­nal or­der which has been im­posed on it by God” and why Galileo Galilei said “the laws of na­ture are writ­ten by the hand of God in the lan­guage of math­e­mat­ics.”

As CS Lewis wrote: “Men be­came sci­en­tific be­cause they ex­pected law in na­ture, and they ex­pected law in na­ture be­cause they be­lieved in a law­giver.”

The sig­nif­i­cant point, how­ever, is that it was not re­li­gion in gen­eral but the He­brew Bi­ble in par­tic­u­lar that gave rise to science. The Hun­gar­ian Bene­dic­tine pri­est Stan­ley Jaki has shown that in seven great cul­tures – the Chi­nese, Hindu, Mayan, Egyp­tian, Baby­lo­nian, Greek and Ara­bic – the de­vel­op­ment of science was trun­cated. All made dis­cov­er­ies that car­ried hu­man un­der­stand­ing for­ward, yet none was able to keep its sci­en­tific dis­cov­er­ies go­ing.

Jaki at­tributes this to two crit­i­cal fea­tures that these cul­tures had in com­mon: a be­lief in pan­the­ism and in the cycli­cal con­cept of time. Science could pro­ceed only on the ba­sis that the uni­verse is ra­tio­nal and co­her­ent and thus na­ture be­haves in ac­cor­dance with un­chang­ing laws. It was there­fore im­pos­si­ble un­der pan­the­ism, which as­cribed nat­u­ral events to the whims and caprices of the spirit world.

The other vi­tal fac­tor in the cre­ation of science and moder­nity was the Bi­ble’s lin­ear con­cept of time. This means that his­tory is pro­gres­sive; ev­ery event is sig­nif­i­cant; ex­pe­ri­ence is built upon. Progress was thus made pos­si­ble by learn­ing more about the laws of the uni­verse and how it works.

It should there­fore come as no sur­prise that the Jewish peo­ple finds it­self at the very eye of the civ­i­liza­tional storm. It isn’t just the peren­nial scourge of an­tisemitism. It is that the mod­ern world is turn­ing sav­agely against the very creed on which it it­self is based. And this week, the Jewish peo­ple starts reaf­firm­ing the foun­da­tions of that creed all over again.

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