Ideas systems struggle like Leviathans

In his book called The Great Leviathan (1931) Joseph Needham argued that history had been marked by great ideas systems struggling “like leviathans” against each other:
“No opposition has been more violent and long-continued in the past than that between the organised apprehension of the world’s ultimate mystery, which we call religion, and the organised investigation of the world’s apparent mechanism, which we call science”.

Much evil had been caused by this profoundly tragic strife. In the present age, one of obvious secularisation, the world was increasingly dominated by scientific thought.

1 thought on “Ideas systems struggle like Leviathans

  1. Hello, Paul. It has been a while since I stopped by, here.

    Needham was evidently a follower of the conflict thesis, which in his youth (the book you mention is now ninety years old!) was a fairly recent invention. It has since (even in his lifetime, although it remained fashionable during his prime working years) been rather thorougly discredited. Needham was a Sinophile, as I recall, so he would have found that account congenial, derogatory as it is of the real roots of scientific thinking.

    The historical record shows that science arose directly and explicitly out of “religion”, specifically out of medieval Christianity. With the secularisation of western society that has proceeded over the last five centuries, I would argue that science first flowered, having been given a push-along and a firm foundation at the start, then around a century ago (hand-in-hand, in fact, with the popularisation of the conflict thesis) began to falter. Now we are left, alas, with only its ruins – post-modern “science”, pseudo-science and scientism. Michael Crichton was a good popular writer and speaker on this subject.

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