Nancy Pearcey's latest book, Saving Leonardo, provides a bird's eye view of how our culture gradually crept towards secularism by surveying hundreds of years of philosophy, art, and a history of ideas. As a scientist and bioethicist, I was interested in the history of science presented in this book, however, Pearcey's look at philosophy, theology, politics, film, and many other disciplines should not be ignored. In the process of secularization, science was elevated to a pillar that placed it as the sole arbiter of truth, also known as scientism. The study of science is different from scientism because scientism places sensory perceptions and the scientific method in the place of God as ultimate authority. The study of science is the study of nature. Scientism is an idol dressed up in scientific facts that are mushed together with secular ideologies. At this point in history, these two are so inextricably intertwined that it is difficult to sift one from the other.
Pearcey adeptly untangles the knot of ideology and science by taking the reader through pre-Enlightenment thought and the two paths of secularization, the Enlightenment and Romanticism. She not only addresses science, but many of the ideological idols of our day such as empiricism, Darwinism, and existentialism. This book provides a quintessential and accessible history of ideas that any reader can appreciate.
Pearcey also has a message to the Christian reader, in particular. What you will not find in this book are cut-and-paste pat answers to objections to Christianity or a list of counter-attacks on a particular cultural trend. Pearcey does argue that the Christian worldview, unlike many of the worldviews presented in this book, is logically consistent because it does not define reality by reducing it to some arbitrary aspect of nature. But more than this, she invites Christians to understand and to appreciate the culture around them. She helps the Christian to sympathize with the empiricist or existentialist or many other worldview products of the Enlightenment or Romanticism by helping the reader understand how these perspectives are ultimately trying to fulfill a need. These paths to secularization however, are always found wanting because they ultimately lead to fragmentation and denial of a fundamental aspect of human nature. However, the holistic nature of the Christian worldview does not lead to fragmentation because it is not confining, but rather liberating. It incorporates both the physical and the spiritual.
Many parts of this book left me chewing on it long after I had read it, but perhaps the point that really stayed with me was after she asked the question, where are today's counterparts to Bach? Pearcey's admonition: "Christians must go beyond criticizing the degradation of American culture, roll up their sleeves, and get to work on positive solutions. The only way to drive out bad culture is with good culture."