Between Faith & Reason

Scholar, writer and former executive editor at The Economist, Anthony Gottlieb, wrote about the Enlightenment in his two books, ‘The Dream of Reason’ and ‘The Dream of Enlightenment’. Counter to the popular narrative, he argues that the overwhelming majority of Enlightenment thinkers reconciled between faith in God and a reason based method of enquiry. From his interview with Spiked:

“So anti-clericalism is a good way of encapsulating the main sense in which the Enlightenment was anti-religious. Its protagonists wanted to limit the power of the church to persecute people and to execute people, merely because they believed and said the wrong things. However, most of the key Enlightenment philosophers – probably the only exception among the main figures is David Hume (1711-1776) – believed in God. So, in the modern sense, in our sense, they were religious. After all, we tend to think of someone as fairly religious if they believe in God, and those who attack religion today tend to attack the belief in God itself.”

“Yes, it was certainly common throughout the period to think that the more science shows you about nature, the more it showed the evidence of God. Isaac Newton (1643-1727) was very specific about this. He endorsed what we now call the argument of design, that is, the idea that there is evidence of design in nature. Newton thought that the further you looked into the workings of the natural world, the more you saw the evidence of God. And most Enlightenment thinkers, except for Hume and some after him, accepted that idea.”

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