TTHE GREAT WAR AND THE DEATH OF GOD: POSTWAR BREAKDOWN OF WESTERN CULTURE, RETREAT FROM REASON, AND RISE OF SCIENTIFIC MATERIALISM
O'Connor, Charles Aloysius, III
ABSTRACTSince World War I, scientific materialism has emerged as the dominant metaphysic of the 20th century, with its claim that reality is merely configurations of brute, mindless matter governed by indifferent physical laws having no underlying meaning or purpose. Scientific materialists present their metaphysic as scientific truth based upon their epistemological conviction, called scientism, that science is the only reliable source of genuine knowledge about reality. Although scientism and scientific materialism have accompanied the advance of science since the Enlightenment, they ascended to prominence only after World War I, the axial event in modern Western civilization. This thesis proposes that the war contributed significantly to the 20th century rise of scientism and scientific materialism by causing a broad Western cultural retreat from rational engagement with metaphysics, and then critiques their respective claims to objective truth and scientific certainty about the nature of the universe.After examining the post-Enlightenment cultural engagement with scientism and scientific materialism which consistently mitigated their prewar influence, the thesis explores the effects of the war's cultural devastation, especially on those Western cultural institutions historically concerned with cosmic meaning and purpose, namely, theology, philosophy, literature, and art. The war precipitated a generational revolt among Protestant Crisis theologians, led by Karl Barth, who rejected reason and advocated Scripture alone to understand God and the universe. The war inspired Pierre Teilhard de Chardin to align Christian thought with evolutionary science, but the Catholic hierarchy remained hostile to meaningful engagement with modern science.The war profoundly influenced the philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein, Edmund Husserl, and Martin Heidegger with the result that European philosophy lost its remaining rationalist content and deferred metaphysical questions to the arts. Their thought fostered two postwar movements in philosophy: logical positivism, which supported scientism and rejected metaphysics, and existentialism, which disregarded metaphysics and focused on human authenticity. Literature primarily addressed the war's psychic toll, essentially deferred to science, and largely accepted an indifferent, materialist universe, exemplified in works by Ernest Hemingway, Franz Kafka, and Jean-Paul Sartre. In art, the war inspired Dadaism and its successor Surrealism, which savaged human reason as the cause of a disastrous war and celebrated man's unconscious in a mechanized postwar world and an indifferent universe.Having shown that the war created a cultural vacuum which facilitated the rise of scientism and scientific materialism by causing a postwar loss of faith in human reason and disengagement from metaphysical concerns, the thesis undertakes a rationalist critique of three leading scientific materialists - Jacques Monod, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Stephen Hawking - by pointing out the limits of their inductive reasoning and the logical inconsistencies in their worldviews.
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Science and It's Discontents Review of SCIENCE and the RETREAT FROM REASON, by John Gillot and Manjit Kumar; NEWTON'S SLEEP: TWO CULTURE and TWO KINGDOMS, by Raymond Tallis; and MISUNDERSTANDING SCIENCE? the PUBLIC RECONSTRUCTION of SCIENCE and TECHNOLOGY, Edited by Alan Irwin and Brian Wynne Meadows, A.J. (1996-05-30)