Challenges to the Enlightenment: In Defense of Reason and Science
The Enlightenment was an intellectual movement which began in seventeenth-century Europe and espoused an optimistic project: an end to human ignorance and the slavish adherence to ancient texts and dogma; the application of scientific principles to solving the world's problems; the elimination of inequality between the sexes; and the advocacy of political rights for all citizens. Modern western society, with its democratic institutions and its reliance on science as the basis of technology and industry, is largely an outgrowth of Enlightenment ideals. Yet today the entire Enlightenment agenda is being challenged, not only by members of the religious orthodoxy but also by a group of academics loosely described under the label of "postmodernism". Whereas the Enlightenment project has always been at odds with religious orthodoxy, which has traditionally been suspicious of efforts to achieve human progress without supernatural support, today it must deal with a very different type of attack from postmodernist intellectuals. Critics of this school question the very ability of human reason to grasp objective reality, and they raise serious objections to the reliability and efficiency of the scientific method and the "tyranny of democratic elites". Is the Enlightenment project still worth pursuing? The distinguished members of the Academy of Humanism who have contributed to this important collection of essays are united in their conviction that the ideals of the Enlightenment must be preserved. Editors Paul Kurtz and Timothy J. Madigan have grouped the diverse perspectives represented in this volume into three major sections dealing with philosophical issues, scientific issues, and socialissues. These cogently argued and vigorous responses to traditional and postmodernist criticisms of the Enlightenment make it clear that reason, science, and the political and social ideals of the Enlightenment are indispensable for the welfare and future of our planet.
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