The Age of Reason Moving from Puritanism to Rationalism
Tinkers & Thinkers • The Age of Reason began with philosophers & scientists of the 17th and 18th centuries who called themselves rationalists.
Rationalism • The belief that human beings can arrive at truth by using reason, rather than by relying on the authority of the past, on religious faith, or on intuition.
Puritanism vs. Rationalism Puritanism Rationalism • “God is actively and mysteriously involved in the workings of the universe.” • Sir Isaac Newton said God is a “clockmaker”. • God’s special gift to humanity was reason – “the ability to think in an orderly, logical manner.”
The Watchmaker Theory • Sir Isaac Newton compared God to a watchmaker. • Having created the perfect mechanism of this universe, God then left his creation to run on its own, like a clock.
Smallpox Plague (1) • The outbreak in 1721 was the equivalent to our problem with AIDS today. • Cotton Mather (natural science and medicine as well as minister) was accredited with pushing a non-traditional method of inoculation as a cure. (It worked!)
Smallpox Plague (2) • Interesting points about American life in the early 18th century: • Contradictory qualities of the American character existed side by side (Ex: Cotton Mather) • A practical approach to social change and scientific research was necessary in America.
Rationalists & God • Discovered God through the medium of the natural world. • Thought it unlikely that God would choose to reveal himself only at particular times to particular people. • Believed that God made it possible for all people at all times to discover natural laws through their God-given power of reason.
Deism – Are People Basically Good? • Believed: • “that the universe was orderly and good” • “in the perfectibility of every individual thought with the use of reason” • “that God’s objective was the happiness of his creatures” • “the best form of worship was to do good for others”
Rationalism & Revolution • The American struggle for independence was justified by rationalist principles. • The Declaration of Independence bases its arguments on rationalist assumptions about relations between people, God, and natural law.
The Rationalist Worldview – Recap (1) • People arrive at truth by using reason rather than relying on the authority of the past, on religion, or on non-rational mental processes, such as intuition. • God created the universe, but does not interfere in its workings.
The Rationalist Worldview – Recap (2) • The world operates according to God’s rules, and through the use of reason, people can discover those rules. • People are basically good and perfectible.
The Rationalist Worldview – Recap (3) • Since God wants people to be happy, they worship God best by helping other people. • Human history is marked by progress toward a more perfect existence.