2. Consistency with ReligionOne part of the explanation is that is was perceived to be less of
a threat to established religion. Whereas the magical philosophy
gave natural explanations for Biblical miracles, the mechanical
philosophy left them unexplained, and therefore it was not viewed as a
threat to Christian faith. Indeed, since the age of miracles is
passed, there is no reason suppose that God or the angels interfere
with the mechanical operation of the material world. Even if
miracles did still occur, that would just be further evidence for the
existence of God. The mechanical philosophy was uncommitted about
the existence of demons, who would in any case be limited by the laws
of physics, but their existence was not essential to its support of
Christianity. (Therefore the mechanical philosophy did not oblige
the church to argue for the existence of witches in order to prove the
possibility of immaterial spirits.) Further, since matter was by
definition inert, it was apparent that the soul (at least its
conscious, reasoning part) must be immaterial, a position consistent
with religious dogma. Since animals were not supposed to have
immortal souls, with the same hopes and fears for the afterlife as we
have, Cartesian philosophy had the further implication that animals are
effectively complex machines, and therefore that their apparent
suffering is illusory. When Cartesians were criticized for their
cruel vivisection experiments, they replied that their accusers had not
outgrown their childish sensibilities.
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Last updated: 2005-01-11.