Monday, July 03, 2006

Thank you, Galileo

My Musing yesterday described Enlightenment values as under attack by religious fundamentalists, New Agers, and postmodern academic critics of science.

Environmentalist romantics too. The Enlightenment is rued for its so-called "disenchantment of nature," for ripping us away from our roots in the enchanted Earth.

Would critics of the Enlightenment rather have lived in 14th or 15th-century Europe? What was so enchanting about the Black Death or the Saint Bartholomew's Massacre? Would they have preferred pre-Columbian America, with its constant warfare between neighbors? What's the alternative to enlightened reason? Burning women as witches? An Index of Forbidden Books? Human sacrifice?

An enchanted Earth was an Earth full of demons, jealous gods, and malevolent spirits. An enchanted Earth belonged to viruses, bacteria, rats, and mosquitoes. The "blessing" of enchantment was a short, quick life with rotten teeth that ended in sickness or violence.

Whatever its flaws, the Enlightenment project is better than the alternative. I'll take reliable, empirical, consensus knowledge of the world -- and supply my own enchantment.