Gregory's thesis is more involved, however. He probably goes a little too far--no surprise that he teaches at Notre Dame and I imagine is Roman Catholic. I'm trying to work through some of the details in my mind, so let me merely provide some bulleted points of interest to me.
- His writing is somewhat thick. It's a somewhat heavy style, long paragraphs, high vocabulary. It's not as bad as Christian Smith but reminds one of what I might call a faux-German style. :-)
- He says some of the right things about his sense of things. "This is neither a study of decline from a lost Golden Age nor a narrative of progress toward an ever brighter future, but rather an analysis of unintended historical consequences..." (20). So he says... not sure if he does.
- I'm less confident of this fundamental thesis: "Ideological and institutional shifts that occurred five or more centuries ago remain substantively necessary to an explanation of why the Western world today is as it is" (7). I don't doubt that the present can take on a certain richness if we understand how we got here. I suspect the richness is primarily in knowing what the alternatives were. He goes further, "we cannot understand the character of contemporary realities until and unless we see how they have been and are still being shaped by the distant past" (15). Hmmm.
- Gregory starts with a quote from Max Weber (1864-1920) in which Weber argues that science is antithetical to religion. According to Weber, you just can't have a religious worldview any more because the truth of science is "not an option."
- In effect, this chapter is Gregory arguing that this point of view is an unintended consequence of the Reformation.
- The two biggest culprits for the chain of events, according to Gregory, are 1) the "metaphysical univocity" of nominalism and 2) Occam's Razor.
- Metaphysical univocity, for Gregory, is a shift from thinking of God as genuinely "other" to thinking him as a being, the highest being. He becomes a being (ens) rather than being itself (esse). Occam's Razor means that we look for the simplest explanation of data. Gregory believes this approach implies a "methodological naturalism," even if you believe in God.
- I'm still processing these last points. I believe in the otherness of God, not univocity. But make no mistake, there would be no scientific explanation of the universe if the mode of operation was not to look for natural explanations for the physical universe. I consider Occam's Razor a fundamental principle of good data interpretation.
- What is peculiar about these culprits in Gregory's argument is that they are not products of the Reformation. They precede the Reformation. So I am unclear. I think (and this is a point of investigation for me) it is generally accepted that nominalism was a basis for the Reformation. But if nominalism is the basis for the Reformation, then doesn't Gregory's argument fall apart? The basis for secularism becomes nominalism, not the Reformation.
- Ultimately ideas are usually epiphenomena. They rarely are the actual causes of things. The real causes of things tend to be more fundamental human drives like power and economics.
- Another sense is that, without a commonly agreed Christianity, truth questers in the post-Reformation era could not look to religion for questions of truth. They rather sought for natural explanations and reason that they could count on for stability.
I don't know whether God is directly pulling the strings beneath the quarks or if he has delegated that to natural laws of some sort. But if he is directly doing it, he does it with overwhelming regularity (=natural). So it is not inaccurate heuristically to say that when God does something that is not the normal rule, it is a "supernatural" event. This distinction also allows for the most palatable solution to the problem of evil and suffering.
In short, the natural-supernatural distinction, whether it is literally the case or not, has been overwhelmingly fruitful and generative. Occam's Razor works, and we use it in common sense every day over and over. Science works.