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Skip to 0 minutes and 6 secondsANDREA SANGIACOMO: This video will focus on the notion of secularisation. And we will try to understand how this notion can apply to the evolution of early modern science. The term, secularisation, refers to social, historical, and political processes in which certain ideas, practises, or even institutions that had distinguished religious connotation, lose this connotation. For instance, you might have seen old churches renovated and transformed into event venues, houses, or even supermarkets. Insofar as these churches no longer have the religious function for which they were designed, we could say that they have been secularised. With regard to the emergence of early modern science, secularisation can refer to a number of cultural and social aspects.

Skip to 0 minutes and 52 secondsSuch as, the personal commitments of national philosophers, the religious motivations of scientific institutions, or the religious nature of socio-political authorities that had some influence on scientific practises. However, secularisation can also refer to two main kinds of conceptual transformations, on which we will focus in the rest of this video. The first kind of conceptual secularisation refers to the way in which scientific debates increasingly avoid any references to religious and theological problems. An example of this first kind of secularisation can be seen in the progressive dismissal of theological considerations concerning God's involvement in the creation and governance of the natural world. Earlier this week, for instance, we have seen how the discussion of God's immutability played a structural function in Descartes' Physics.

Skip to 1 minute and 43 secondsHowever, later in the 18th century, several authors dropped these kinds of considerations. According to a famous legend, when the French astronomer, Marquis Simon De Laplace presented his cosmological system to Napoleon, Napoleon asked him, you have written this large book on the system of the universe, and have never even mentioned its creator. It seems that Laplace replied, sir, I had no need of that hypothesis. Yet, conceptual secularisation can also have a second meaning. Secularisation can refer to the use of concepts that were originally introduced to discuss religious and theological problems, but that can be adapted to deal with scientific problems as well.

Skip to 2 minutes and 28 secondsFor instance, the reference to the laws of nature was used in scholastic debates to refer to the moral laws that God has universally established for human beings. However, in 17th century physics, this term comes to signify a set of universal rules that describe regularities in nature. By the end of the 18th century, the laws of nature seem to completely lose their original theological connotation, and become purely scientific descriptive, and explanatory tools. You have read Koyre's interpretation of the process of secularisation of early modern science. Koyre's text well represents why early modern science is often considered to be one of the driving forces behind the secularisation of Western culture as a whole.

Skip to 3 minutes and 16 secondsKoyre's analysis of the secularisation of early modern science, concerns mostly the first kind of conceptual secularisation. In this view, modern science evolves in such a way to progressively dismiss theological presuppositions. But what about the second kind of conceptual secularisation? The second kind of conceptual secularisation is often more difficult to detect. Theological problems often confronted different thinkers with highly unfamiliar scenarios, and situations that exceeded the domain of the natural. These problems often represented intellectual challenges, and urged the development of new concepts. Now during the early modern period, several of these concepts found new implementation in the domain of natural philosophy.

Skip to 4 minutes and 3 secondsThe second kind of conceptual secularisation shows that science can rework several concepts developed by theologians, and integrate them in its own conceptual toolkit In turn, this reveals how the connection between science and religion is indeed far more entrenched than what might appear at first sight. In the next steps, you're going to explore the second kind of conceptual secularisation, and you're going to trace the theological origins of several scientific notions.

What is secularisation?

In this video Andrea Sangiacomo will explain to you the different meanings that the notion of ‘secularisation’ might have when referred to early modern science. By distinguishing these meanings we can obtain a more nuanced understanding of the way in which scientific and religious factors affected the emergence of early modern science.

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This video is from the free online course:

The Scientific Revolution: Understanding the Roots of Modern Science

University of Groningen

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