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Date of Award

4-1998

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Religious Studies

Supervisor

Louis I. Greenspan

Abstract

A common twentieth-century hypothesis, found in various forms in the work of Berdyaev, Toynbee, Foster, Jaki, Cox, White, and many others, is that the Bible taught the West to regard nature as inanimate, raw material, operating according to mechanical laws, and hence subject to rational understanding and ultimately to human dominion. According to this hypothesis, it was the Biblical attack upon 'pagan' doctrines of animate nature, combined with the Biblical injunction to rule over the earth, which created the modern Western consciousness of nature and hence paved the way for modern industrial civilization. This hypothesis is used by some of its proponents to blame the Bible and by others to praise it, according to their evaluation of modern technological mastery.

This dissertation establishes that the hypothesis is untenable. It shows: (a) that ancient Western 'paganism' was neither in theory nor in practice identifiable with 'nature-worship', and did not restrain human aggression toward nature nearly as much as is often supposed; (b) that the Bible, in particular the Old Testament, appears to teach restraint, not unlimited mastery, regarding nature; (c) that the 'Biblical understanding of nature' discussed by these modern writers is actually a re-statement of the pro-technological Biblical apologetics of Francis Bacon and his seventeenth-century followers, and, like that earlier interpretation of the Bible, is selective and misleading. Therefore, it is the Baconian reading of the Bible, not the Bible itself, which is to be praised or blamed for the consequences of modern technological mastery over nature. The Bible itself, like the ancient paganism to which it is often opposed, favoured a limited technical mastery over nature, whereas the modern West, following Bacon, has committed itself to unlimited mastery.

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