The Enlightenment that Never Happened
(Excerpt from Textbook Propaganda)
Forget Luther, forget Cromwell, forget Isaac Newton and a hundred other devout scientists and forget Comenius; forget the thousand years of scientific advance in the Catholic Scholastic colleges and the Papal bulls against slavery: the Enlightenment did it all, or so imply the textbooks
“The scientific ideas of the Enlightenment…As literacy grew in conjunction with the Enlightenment…the new technologies and Enlightenment ideas changed society…”
World Regional Geography, p.74
“In the 1730s colonist it British North America began to participate in new ways in transatlantic intellectual, commercial, and religious networks. The most educated of them embraced and practiced science, while thousands flocked to sermons preached by the people who brought evangelical Christianity to both sides of the Atlantic…”
American Horizons: US History in a Global Context, Vol. 1, Schaller and Schulzinger, 2013
Science, Literacy, ideas of individual freedoms, you name it; according to the texts they all came from the atheistic Enlightenment period with a capital “E”. And even in far off British America the educated people practiced “science” while the lesser educated folks continued going to churches.There are two major problems with the above scenarios: first, no enlightenment period as portrayed in the textbooks ever existed with its implied influence on science, literacy or human rights. Second; the subtle idea in the second paragraph that (though not said explicitly) the people who practiced science in early America were not church going Christians like the rest of Americans, but somehow enlightened, is a blatant falsehood.
Let me be clear and not subtle like the authors of the textbooks; there was arguably not one atheist founder in any area of science until well after the 19th century, certainly not more than two or three out of the hundred plus giants of science from the Medieval Ages to the 1900s. Almost to a man they were all avid devotees of the Scripture and gave their faith in the rational Judeo/Christian God as their reason for pursuing science.
Secondly; there is no history of an atheist leader or society or government or individual who ever passed any decree for public schools for the commoners or education for the women. The Catholic scholastic university system had been in use for centuries (in England Oxford became a home for the Reformation) and it was Christian leaders like Oliver Cromwell and John Amos Comenius who supported learning for the commoners and women alike. The first book off the Gutenberg press was the Holy Bible, and it was Luther’s Bible that set the standard for the German language in Germany and the King James Bible in England that standardized the confused dialects of the people into one national language; there was no atheist influence on these languages from enlightened sources. If there was such a person or influence of the atheist enlightenment, please send the proof of their existence to the textbook writers, because they name no scientific leader or educational leader at all; atheist or Christian.
You might think that they left out specific names and movements because their sweeping view of history wouldn’t allow the space. Let me assure you, they left out the specifics because there are not any. The desire to read the bible in their own languages when it became suddenly available and to read the debates between Luther and Erasmus or Zwingli was the primary cause of the major explosion in literacy among the common people in Europe. It would be hundreds of years before the handful of atheist scholars would name their own period the enlightenment.
And the idea of individual freedoms and such coming from enlightened sources is quite a stretch also. Most of the famous men portrayed as enlightened were pro-slavery, while the church had been pursuing ideas of individual freedom long before the days of Augustine; Hobbes was still a long way off. By the time of the bloody French revolution, atheism was certainly aflame in France and the period was a foreshadowing of other atheist revolutions that would take place in Marxist Russia and beyond where hundreds of millions were slaughtered. In France, they not only killed the king, they wiped out the entire nobility. The streets literally ran red with human blood. How enlightened is that?
In England it was Cromwell and the Puritans who overthrew (though they did not want to kill the king) the Monarchy; and who brought an end to the ban on Jews and ordered public schooling for the commoners and brought about a period of scientific discovery; but they were not atheists. But I am doing what the textbooks do; long rants and generalizations without much actual data though I have already named more historical figures in these first paragraphs than you will find in the entire textbook discussion on the development of individual freedom, science and technology and literacy in Europe. Why bother with such details? They can be so messy.
The idea of individual freedoms started in Europe because the Europeans had the bible and the bible made it quite clear that God, the God of the Jews, was if anything the God of the poor, the down trodden and the weak. The bible made it clear that “all men were made of one blood” and that your status or gender or age had nothing to do with your standing before God. It took a while for these concepts to sink in and develop and even longer for them to take shape in the political arena, but they did.
As late as 1797 the Enlightenment scholar Edwin Burke was saying, “The cause of humanity would be far more benefitted by the continuance of the (slave) trade and servitude…as by the total destruction of both or either.” (Davis, the Problem of Slavery in the Western Culture, Cornell University Press, 1966) Other so called Enlightenment heroes such as Voltaire, Locke, Hume and Hobbes all supported the slave trade and Voltaire viewed the Africans as an inferior race. (Stark, Rodney, For the Glory of God, 2003, Princeton University Press, p. 359) A few of the men identified with the Enlightenment were against slavery, but no sharp outcry, no abolition movement or group ever sprang from the files of the Enlightenment atheists.
Plato and Aristotle argued in favor of slavery. They maintained that certain races are inferior and are born to be slaves and their use gave the superior races the time and leisure to become, well, enlightened. The Church began to baptize slaves and recognize them as equals and buying them out of slavery, as early as the third century and even Pope Callistus had been a slave. But as Rodney Stark points out in “The Victory of Reason” (Random House, 2005), it wasn’t until the fall of the Roman Empire that the Church really began to move against slavery with a will.
In 657 A.D. Saint Bathilda, who was the wife of King Clovis, began efforts to abolish slavery and buy slaves from out of their bondage. In the 700s Charlemagne opposed slavery with the help of many bishops and the Pope. By 1200 A.D. slavery was abolished in Europe everywhere but in southern Spain where a trade was kept going with the Muslim slave traders. When the New World slave trade opened up again centuries later, several Papal bulls were issued against it; none of which are ever mentioned by any of the three textbooks we have been reviewing. This essential act of recognizing the individual rights of men was not a product of the Enlightenment or any other movement anywhere. No other movement against slavery is found in any other culture or religion, with the exception of certain Jewish sects. And Moses was the first to recognize the rights of slaves.
Now, but what about science? Surely the Enlightenment brought us science, right? Please name me one founder of modern empirical science that was an atheist and I will name you a hundred dedicated Christians. Let me list a few for you here;
Isaac Newton, who discovered of law of gravity and three laws of motion, an accomplished mathematician who made the first reflecting telescope and so much more, clearly stated his faith not only in a God, but in the Bible. He said that god,” governs all things and knows all things” and that, “The true God is a living, intelligent, powerful being…”, “He endures forever, and is everywhere present…” and on and on. He wrote literally millions of words on theology and the study of Scripture.
Robert Boyle, founder of modern Chemistry who helped to debunk the beliefs in alchemy so prevalent all over the globe. He was a devout biblical Christian who started a missionary enterprise, and established a will to help support the defense of biblical Christianity. And he wrote a book whose main thesis was that it was a religious duty of man to study and observe nature.
Johannes Kepler, one of the main founders of modern astronomy, who claimed that as a scientist he was thinking God’s thoughts after Him. He had intended to become a theologian but instead decided to pursue astronomy because he said, “The Heavens declare the Glory of God.” quoting the Bible.
Christopher Columbus, who said in his journals;
“It was the Lord who put into my mind ( I could feel his hand upon me) that it would be possible to sail from here to the Indies (India)…There is no question that the inspiration was from the Holy Spirit because He comforted me with rays of marvelous illumination from the Holy Scriptures…” (Libro de Profecias)
More modern examples would be Lord Kelvin, the leading founder of modern physics, who was devout in his biblical faith in a creator and who said, “…the atheistic idea is so nonsensical that I cannot put it into words…”
Or Louis Pasteur, who discovered and founded the science of microbiology, and who called Darwin’s idea of spontaneous generation, “Dumb, dumb, dumb.”, and said that the study of nature brought him closer to God.
Francesco Redi, the scientist who falsified spontaneous generation experimentally years before Darwin inspired Pasteur to again disprove it with his experiments. Redi said;
“I shall express my belief that the earth, after having brought forth the first plants and animals at the beginning by order of the Supreme and Omnipotent Creator, has never produced any kinds of plants or animals, either perfect or imperfect; and everything which we know in past or present times that she has produced, came solely from the true seeds of the plants and animals themselves, which thus, through means of their own, preserve their species”
Redi, F. , Experiments on the generation of insects, translated by Mab Bigelow. Reprint, Millwood, New York, Kraus
Or Joseph Lister, who helped save millions of people through his development of antiseptics and their use in medicine. The son of devout Quakers he said, “…In my opinion there is no antagonism between the Religion of Jesus Christ and any fact scientifically established…”
And as for the technological advances, As Lynn White points out, by “the late thirteenth century, Europe had seized global scientific leadership.” “…so much technical progress took place during this era (the middle ages) that by no later than the thirteenth century, European technology surpassed anything to be found elsewhere in the world”… (Stark, For the Glory of God, p.134)
Eyeglasses, extensive use of wind and waterwheels, the fire place and chimney, cannon and muskets, the iron horse shoe and horse harness, the manufacture of paper, the list is too long to put into this chapter. Suffice to say the technological advance of Europe had nothing to do with the 18th century enlightenment.
I have no idea who “The most educated of them embraced and practiced science” were in the textbook quote in our heading about early America. Whoever they were I can assure you they were not atheists or even Deists. Of course once again, they don’t bother to give us any names or discoveries so one can only wonder. Not that many Americans were actually working on experimental science projects at the time, though Benjamin Franklin comes to mind. He never confessed to the teaching of the Church on salvation by the merits of Christ through faith, and was the member of no sect¸ but was he an atheist? He said this is what he believed;
“There is one God who made all things, and he governs the world by his providence, that he ought to be worshipped by adoration, prayer and thanksgiving, the most acceptable service of god is doing good to men, the soul is immortal and God will certainly reward virtue and punish vice either here or hereafter.” Benjamin Franklin, Autobiography
Not an atheist creed.
So, no, I guess he wasn’t one of the textbook’s enlightened “embracers of science” either. I’m sure they must have existed somewhere. Or maybe, like the secular myth of the Enlightenment, they didn’t. At least, not outside of our modern college textbooks.