Ever At Odds: The Conflict and Reconciliation of Science and Religion in Paradise Lost and The Blazing World
Throughout history, scientific theories and spiritual beliefs have often been at odds. Even today, most people are faced with the difficulty of reconciling their religious beliefs with modern science. In the 17th Century, when scientific thought was in its infancy and religion was the established source of knowledge about the universe, this conflict was of particular interest to writers and philosophers. Two similar but contrasting viewpoints on this issue can be seen in John Milton’s Paradise Lost and Margaret Cavendish’s The Blazing World. Milton and Cavendish both see science as a tool for exploring the world; however, while Milton feels that science can provide no deep insight into God’s workings, Cavendish believes that science can potentially be a source of greater knowledge and understanding.
Under the reign of Elizabeth I, England enjoyed a period of religious toleration. However, near the end of her reign, a growing religious minority, the Puritans, became increasingly critical of her policies, believing that she was still too close to Catholicism. These grievances were magnified when Elizabeth’s successor, James I, a devout Anglican, proved to be far less tolerant and tactful. Furthermore, James was accused of abusing his royal authority by attempting to undermine Parliament. The growing tension between Anglicans and Puritans worsened under James’ son, Charles I, who repeatedly angered a Parliament in which the House of Commons had gained a significant Puritan influence. In response, the Puritans, led by Oliver Cromwell, called for a reformation of the church, including the abolition of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer and a ban on bishops voting in the House of Lords. When Charles attempted to dispel the situation by arresting five Commons leaders, loyalties in the country split and the English Civil War began.
Under Cromwell’s political and military leadership, the Puritan forces gained organization and determination. His New Model Army won a major battle in Naesby in 1645, which ultimately lead to Charles’ surrender. In January 1649, Charles I was executed and the Interregnum under Cromwell began. However, Cromwell’s reign was not successful, and by 1653 he was forced to rule through military dictatorship. After Cromwell’s death in 1660, Charles II was invited to return from exile to claim the English throne. His return to power is known as the Restoration (Chambers 478-85).