Storm Centres of History: Versailles, Revolution and Enlightenment

BBC Radio Devon – Pause for Thought:  Storm Centres

During the Pause for Thought recently, I’ve been talking about 7 places I have been to:  Storm-centres of history.

Today, we will go to the Palace of Versailles, Paris.

The place that speaks of kingship, revolution and Enlightenment.

Louis XIV’s reign set the events in motion that culminated in the paradigm shifting events that led to the execution of Louis XVI, and spawned the French Revolution of the late 18th century and the Modern period we know as the Enlightenment.

If any building symbolises such powerful events it is this one.


I visited there in 2017 during a sabbatical break and it is absolutely beautiful.

Now think about the word Enlightenment!

A new way of thinking about the world that has been a huge benefit to humanity.

A bright light that shone into the dark areas of human thought.

A light that gave rise to scientific and political revolutions.

The French Revolution, I think, being pre-eminent among them.


The rise of the physical sciences.  All good and necessary.

There’s a good side to all that.  And there’s a shadow side.

And with the Enlightenment, comes bright light.

Carl Jung:  “The brighter the light, the darker the shadow.”

Hence in Star Wars:  The Force is the light, but Darth Vador is the shadow to Luke Skywalkers light.


So while the Enlightenment gave rise to the bright light of knowledge.

So we celebrate the sciences and their incredible achievements.

But we must reject, not science, but scientism – the shadow side.


What does this shadow side, this scientism, do?

It reduces all knowledge to the scientific form of knowledge.

It is a false claim to truth that can’t be verified by its own criteria!

It’s a confusion of categories and disciplines.

And what is real and true is not expanded or enlightened, but reduced to what we can control through the scientific method.

As Dr David Berlinski reminds us, “Cows belong in fields, not bedrooms.”

This dark side thus reduces/removes other ways of knowing that cannot fit into the scientific method:  The Arts, Humanities, Poetry, Literature, Philosophy and – here we go:  Religion!

The cultural theorist Terry Eagleton calls this is a flattened view of reality, he says, “The Age of Faith is heroically ousted by an Age of Reason, it is one of the plentiful myths or superstitions of [the] Enlightenement.”

He then adds, “A bracing critique of myth and superstition degenerates into a bloodless scientism for which nothing that cannot be poked or prodded in the laboratory need be taken seriously.”

Here he is calling the dark side of the Enlightenment a “superstition” and it is this level of discourse that prevails today in the popular debates between religion and science.


I’m so thankful that my tutor at Theological college, Rev Dr Ernest Lucas, was a scientist and a theologian – for they are not opposing disciplines!

That is why the internet forums and debates are starting from the wrong place.  Maybe we have assumed too much about scientism and its claims.

So we say a determined No to a scientism that limits our human capacity to know what is true.

And we say a hearty Yes to science, and to the God who created it – the One is is the very reason for the possibility of science.


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