The Age of Reason (segment two and conclusion)

As to the Christian system of faith, it appears to me as a species

of Atheism- a sort of religious denial of God. It professes to

believe in a man rather than in God. It is a compound made up

chiefly of Manism with but little Deism, and is as near to Atheism

as twilight is to darkness. It introduces between man and his Maker an

opaque body, which it calls a Redeemer, as the moon introduces her

opaque self between the earth and the sun, and it produces by this

means a religious, or an irreligious, eclipse of light. It has put the

whole orbit of reason into shade.

The effect of this obscurity has been that of turning everything

upside down, and representing it in reverse, and among the revolutions

it has thus magically produced, it has made a revolution in theology.

That which is now called natural philosophy, embracing the whole

circle of science, of which astronomy occupies the chief place, is the

study of the works of God, and of the power and wisdom of God in his

works, and is the true theology.

As to the theology that is now studied in its place, it is the

study of human opinions and of human fancies concerning God. It is

not the study of God himself in the works that he has made, but in the

works or writings that man has made; and it is not among the least

of the mischiefs that the Christian system has done to the world, that

it has abandoned the original and beautiful system of theology, like a

beautiful innocent, to distress and reproach, to make room for the hag

of superstition.

The Book of Job and the 19th Psalm, which even the Church admits

to be more ancient than the chronological order in which they stand in

the book called the Bible, are theological orations conformable to the

original system of theology. The internal evidence of those orations

proves to a demonstration that the study and contemplation of the

works of creation, and of the power and wisdom of God, revealed and

manifested in those works, made a great part in the religious devotion

of the times in which they were written; and it was this devotional

study and contemplation that led to the discovery of the principles

upon which what are now called sciences are established; and it is

to the discovery of these principles that almost all the arts that

contribute to the convenience of human life owe their existence. Every

principal art has some science for its parent, though the person who

mechanically performs the work does not always, and but very seldom,

perceive the connection.

It is a fraud of the Christian system to call the sciences human

invention; it is only the application of them that is human. Every

science has for its basis a system of principles as fixed and

unalterable as those by which the universe is regulated and

governed. Man cannot make principles, he can only discover them.

For example: Every person who looks at an almanac sees an

account when an eclipse will take place, and he sees also that it

never fails to take place according to the account there given. This

shows that man is acquainted with the laws by which the heavenly

bodies move. But it would be something worse than ignorance, were

any Church on earth to say that those laws are a human invention. It

would also be ignorance, or something worse, to say that the

scientific principles by the aid of which man is enabled to

calculate and foreknow when an eclipse will take place, are a human

invention. Man cannot invent a thing that is eternal and immutable;

and the scientific principles he employs for this purpose must be, and

are of necessity, as eternal and immutable as the laws by which the

heavenly bodies move, or they could not be used as they are to

ascertain the time when, and the manner how, an eclipse will take


The scientific principles that man employs to obtain the

foreknowledge of an eclipse, or of anything else relating to the

motion of the heavenly bodies, are contained chiefly in that part of

science which is called trigonometry, or the properties of a triangle,

which, when applied to the study of the heavenly bodies, is called

astronomy; when applied to direct the course of a ship on the ocean,

it is called navigation; when applied to the construction of figures

drawn by rule and compass, it is called geometry; when applied to

the construction of plans or edifices, it is called architecture; when

applied to the measurement of any portion of the surface of the earth,

it is called land surveying. In fine, it is the soul of science; it is

an eternal truth; it contains the mathematical demonstration of

which man speaks, and the extent of its uses is unknown.

It may be said that man can make or draw a triangle, and therefore

a triangle is a human invention.

But the triangle, when drawn, is no other than the image of the

principle; it is a delineation to the eye, and from thence to the

mind, of a principle that would otherwise be imperceptible. The

triangle does not make the principle, any more than a candle taken

into a room that was dark makes the chairs and tables that before were

invisible. All the properties of a triangle exist independently of the figure,

and existed before any triangle was drawn or thought of by

man. Man had no more to do in the formation of these properties or

principles, than he had to do in making the laws by which the heavenly

bodies move; and therefore the one must have the same Divine origin

as the other.

In the same manner, as it may be said, that man can make a

triangle, so also, may it be said, he can make the mechanical

instrument called a lever; but the principle by which the lever acts

is a thing distinct from the instrument, and would exist if the

instrument did not; it attaches itself to the instrument after it is

made; the instrument, therefore, cannot act otherwise than it does

act; neither can all the efforts of human invention make it act

otherwise- that which, in all such cases, man calls the effect is no

other than the principle itself rendered perceptible to the senses.

Since, then, man cannot make principles, from whence did he gain

a knowledge of them, so as to be able to apply them, not only to

things on earth, but to ascertain the motion of bodies so immensely

distant from him as all the heavenly bodies are? From whence, I ask,

could he gain that knowledge, but from the study of the true theology?

It is the structure of the universe that has taught this knowledge

to man. That structure is an ever-existing exhibition of every

principle upon which every part of mathematical science is founded.

The offspring of this science is mechanics; for mechanics is no

other than the principles of science applied practically. The man

who proportions the several parts of a mill, uses the same

scientific principles as if he had the power of constructing a

universe; but as he cannot give to matter that invisible agency by

which all the component parts of the immense machine of the universe

have influence upon each other, and act in motional unison together,

without any apparent contact, and to which man has given the name

of attraction, gravitation, and repulsion, he supplies the place of

that agency by the humble imitation of teeth and cogs. All the parts

of man's microcosm must visibly touch; but could he gain a knowledge

of that agency, so as to be able to apply it in practice, we might

then say that another canonical book of the Word of God had been


If man could alter the properties of the lever, so also could he

alter the properties of the triangle, for a lever (taking that sort of

lever which is called a steelyard, for the sake of explanation) forms,

when in motion, a triangle. The line it descends from (one point of

that line being in the fulcrum), the line it descends to, and the cord

of the arc which the end of the lever describes in the air, are the

three sides of a triangle. The other arm of the lever describes also a

triangle; and the corresponding sides of those two triangles,

calculated scientifically, or measured geometrically, and also the

sines, tangents, and secants generated from the angles, and

geometrically measured, have the same proportions to each other, as

the different weights have that will balance each other on the

lever, leaving the weight of the lever out of the case.

It may also be said, that man can make a wheel and axis; that he

can put wheels of different magnitudes together, and produce a mill.

Still the case comes back to the same point, which is, that he did not

make the principle that gives the wheels those powers. That

principle is as unalterable as in the former case, or rather it is the

same principle under a different appearance to the eye.

The power that two wheels of different magnitudes have upon each

other, is in the same proportion as if the semi-diameter of the two

wheels were joined together and made into that kind of lever I have

described, suspended at the part where the semi-diameters join; for

the two wheels, scientifically considered, are no other than the two

circles generated by the motion of the compound lever.

It is from the study of the true theology that all out knowledge

of science is derived, and it is from that knowledge that all the arts

have originated.

The Almighty Lecturer, by displaying the principles of science

in the structure of the universe, has invited man to study and to

imitation. It is as if He had said to the inhabitants of this globe,

that we call ours, "I have made an earth for man to dwell upon, and

I have rendered the starry heavens visible, to teach him science and

the arts. He can now provide for his own comfort, AND LEARN


Of what use is it, unless it be to teach man something, that his

eye is endowed with the power of beholding to an incomprehensible

distance, an immensity of worlds revolving in the ocean of space? Or

of what use is it that this immensity of worlds is visible to man?

What has man to do with the Pleiades, with Orion, with Sirius, with

the star he calls the North Star, with the moving orbs he has named

Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Venus, and Mercury, if no uses are to follow

from their being visible? A less power of vision would have been

sufficient for man, if the immensity he now possesses were given

only to waste itself, as it were, on an immense desert of space

glittering with shows.

It is only by contemplating what he calls the starry heavens, as

the book and school of science, that he discovers any use in their

being visible to him, or any advantage resulting from his immensity of

vision. But when he contemplates the subject in this light he sees

an additional motive for saying, that nothing was made in vain; for in

vain would be this power of vision if it taught man nothing.

As the Christian system of faith has made a revolution in

theology, so also has it made a revolution in the state of learning.

That which is now called learning, was not learning originally.

Learning does not consist, as the schools now make it consist, in

the knowledge of languages, but in the knowledge of things to which

language gives names.

The Greeks were a learned people, but learning with them did not

consist in speaking Greek, any more than in a Roman's speaking

Latin, or a Frenchman's speaking French, or an Englishman's speaking

English. From what we know of the Greeks, it does not appear that

they knew or studied any language but their own, and this was one

cause of their becoming so learned: it afforded them more time to

apply themselves to better studies. The schools of the Greeks were

schools of science and philosophy, and not of languages; and it is in

the knowledge of the things that science and philosophy teach, that

learning consists.

Almost all the scientific learning that now exists came to us from

the Greeks, or the people who spoke the Greek language. It, therefore,

became necessary for the people of other nations who spoke a different

language that some among them should learn the Greek language, in order

that the learning the Greeks had, might be made known in those nations,

by translating the Greek books of science and philosophy into the mother

tongue of each nation.

The study, therefore, of the Greek language (and in the same

manner for the Latin) was no other than the drudgery business of a

linguist; and the language thus obtained, was no other than the means,

as it were the tools, employed to obtain the learning the Greeks had. It

made no part of the learning itself, and was so distinct

from it, as to make it exceedingly probable that the persons who had

studied Greek sufficiently to translate those works, such, for

instance, as Euclid's Elements, did not understand any of the learning

the works contained.

As there is now nothing new to be learned from the dead languages,

all the useful books being already translated, the languages are become

useless, and the time expended in teaching and learning them is wasted.

So far as the study of languages may contribute to the progress and

communication of knowledge, (for it has nothing to do with the creation

of knowledge), it is only in the living languages that new knowledge

is to be found; and certain it is that, in general,

a youth will learn more of a living language in one year, than of a

dead language in seven, and it is but seldom that the teacher knows

much of it himself. The difficulty of learning the dead languages does

not arise from any superior abstruseness in the languages

themselves, but in their being dead, and the pronunciation entirely

lost. It would be the same thing with any other language when it

becomes dead. The best Greek linguist that now exists does not

understand Greek so well as a Grecian plowman did, or a Grecian

milkmaid; and the same for the Latin, compared with a plowman or

milkmaid of the Romans; it would therefore be advantageous to the

state of learning to abolish the study of the dead languages, and to

make learning consist, as it originally did, in scientific knowledge.

The apology that is sometimes made for continuing to teach the

dead languages is, that they are taught at a time when a child is

not capable of exerting any other mental faculty than that of

memory; but that is altogether erroneous. The human mind has a

natural disposition to scientific knowledge, and to the things

connected with it. The first and favorite amusement of a child,

even before it begins to play, is that of imitating the works of

man. It builds houses with cards or sticks; it navigates the little

ocean of a bowl of water with a paper boat, or dams the stream

of a gutter and contrives something which it calls a mill; and it

interests itself in the fate of its works with a care that resembles

affection. It afterwards goes to school, where its genius is killed

by the barren study of a dead language, and the philosopher is

lost in the linguist.

But the apology that is now made for continuing to teach the

dead languages, could not be the cause, at first, of cutting down

learning to the narrow and humble sphere of linguistry; the cause,

therefore, must be sought for elsewhere. In all researches of this

kind, the best evidence that can be produced, is the internal evidence

the thing carries with itself, and the evidence of circumstances

that unite with it; both of which, in this case, are not difficult

to be discovered.

Putting then aside, as a matter of distinct consideration, the

outrage offered to the moral justice of God by supposing him to make

the innocent suffer for the guilty, and also the loose morality and

low contrivance of supposing him to change himself into the shape of a

man, in order to make an excuse to himself for not executing his

supposed sentence upon Adam- putting, I say, those things aside as

matter of distinct consideration, it is certain that what is called

the Christian system of faith, including in it the whimsical account

of the creation- the strange story of Eve- the snake and the apple-

the ambiguous idea of a man-god- the corporeal idea of the death of a

god- the mythological idea of a family of gods, and the Christian

system of arithmetic, that three are one, and one is three, are all

irreconcilable, not only to the divine gift of reason that God hath

given to man, but to the knowledge that man gains of the power and

wisdom of God, by the aid of the sciences and by studying the

structure of the universe that God has made.

The setters-up, therefore, and the advocates of the Christian

system of faith could not but foresee that the continually progressive

knowledge that man would gain, by the aid of science, of the power

and wisdom of God, manifested in the structure of the universe and in

all the works of Creation, would militate against, and call into

question, the truth of their system of faith; and therefore it

became necessary to their purpose to cut learning down to a size

less dangerous to their project, and this they effected by restricting

the idea of learning to the dead study of dead languages.

They not only rejected the study of science out of the Christian

schools, but they persecuted it, and it is only within about the

last two centuries that the study has been revived. So late as 1610,

Galileo, a Florentine, discovered and introduced the use of

telescopes, and by applying them to observe the motions and

appearances of the heavenly bodies, afforded additional means for

ascertaining the true structure of the universe. Instead of being

esteemed for those discoveries, he was sentenced to renounce them,

or the opinions resulting from them, as a damnable heresy. And,

prior to that time, Vigilius was condemned to be burned for

asserting the antipodes, or in other words that the earth was a globe,

and habitable in every part where there was land; yet the truth of

this is now too well known even to be told.

If the belief of errors not morally bad did no mischief, it

would make no part of the moral duty of man to oppose and remove

them. There was no moral ill in believing the earth was flat like a

trencher, any more than there was moral virtue in believing that it

was round like a globe; neither was there any moral ill in believing

that the Creator made no other world than this, any more than there

was moral virtue in believing that he made millions, and that the

infinity of space is filled with worlds. But when a system of religion

is made to grow out of a supposed system of creation that is not true,

and to unite itself therewith in a manner almost inseparable

therefrom, the case assumes an entirely different ground. It is then

that errors not morally bad become fraught with the same mischiefs

as if they were. It is then that the truth, though otherwise

indifferent itself, becomes an essential by becoming the criterion

that either confirms by corresponding evidence, or denies by

contradictory evidence, the reality of the religion itself. In this

view of the case, it is the moral duty of man to obtain every possible

evidence that the structure of the heavens, or any other part of

creation affords, with respect to systems of religion. But this, the

supporters or partisans of the Christian system, as if dreading the

result, incessantly opposed, and not only rejected the sciences, but

persecuted the professors. Had Newton or Descartes lived three or

four hundred years ago, and pursued their studies as they did, it is

most probable they would not have lived to finish them; and had

Franklin drawn lightning from the clouds at the same time, it would

have been at the hazard of expiring for it in the flames.

Later times have laid all the blame upon the Goths and Vandals;

but, however unwilling the partisans of the Christian system may be to

believe or to acknowledge it, it is nevertheless true that the age

of ignorance commenced with the Christian system. There was more

knowledge in the world before that period than for many centuries

afterwards; and as to religious knowledge, the Christian system, as

already said was only another species of mythology, and the

mythology to which it succeeded was a corruption of an ancient

system of theism.*

*It is impossible for us now to know at what time the heathen

mythology began; but it is certain, from the internal evidence that it

carries, that it did not begin in the same state or condition in which

it ended. All the gods of that mythology, except Saturn, were of

modern invention. The supposed reign of Saturn was prior to that

which is called the heathen mythology, and was so far a species

of theism, that it admitted the belief of only one God. Saturn is

supposed to have abdicated the government in favor of his three

sons and one daughter, Jupiter, Pluto, Neptune, and Juno; after

this, thousands of other Gods and demi-gods were imaginarily

created, and the calendar of gods increased as fast as the

calendar of saints and the calendars of courts have increased since.

All the corruptions that have taken place in theology and in

religion, have been produced by admitting of what man calls revealed

religion. The Mythologists pretended to more revealed religion than

the Christians do. They had their oracles and their priests, who

were supposed to receive and deliver the word of God verbally, on

almost all occasions.

Since, then, all corruptions, down from Moloch to modern

predestinarianism, and the human sacrifices of the heathens to the

Christian sacrifice of the Creator, have been produced by admitting of

what is called revealed religion, the most effectual means to

prevent all such evils and impositions is not to admit of any other

revelation than that which is manifested in the book of creation,

and to contemplate the creation as the only true and real word of

God that ever did or ever will exist; and that everything else, called

the word of God, is fable and imposition.

It is owing to this long interregnum of science, and to no other

cause, that we have now to look through a vast chasm of many

hundred years to the respectable characters we call the ancients.

Had the progression of knowledge gone on proportionably with that

stock that before existed, that chasm would have been filled up

with characters rising superior in knowledge to each other; and

those ancients we now so much admire would have appeared

respectably in the background of the scene. But the Christian

system laid all waste; and if we take our stand about the

beginning of the sixteenth century, we look back through that

long chasm to the times of the ancients, as over a vast sandy

desert, in which not a shrub appears to intercept the

vision to the fertile hills beyond.

It is an inconsistency scarcely possible to be credited, that

anything should exist, under the name of a religion, that held it to

be irreligious to study and contemplate the structure of the

universe that God has made. But the fact is too well established to be

denied. The event that served more than any other to break the first

link in this long chain of despotic ignorance is that known by the

name of the Reformation by Luther. From that time, though it does

not appear to have made any part of the intention of Luther, or of

those who are called reformers, the sciences began to revive, and

liberality, their natural associate, began to appear. This was the

only public good the Reformation did; for with respect to religious

good, it might as well not have taken place. The mythology still

continued the same, and a multiplicity of National Popes grew out of

the downfall of the Pope of Christendom.

Having thus shown from the internal evidence of things the cause

that produced a change in the state of learning, and the motive for

substituting the study of the dead languages in the place of the

sciences, I proceed, in addition to several observations already

made in the former part of this work, to compare, or rather to

confront, the evidence that the structure of the universe affords with

the Christian system of religion; but, as I cannot begin this part

better than by referring to the ideas that occurred to me at an

early part of life, and which I doubt not have occurred in some degree

to almost every person at one time or other, I shall state what

those ideas were, and add thereto such other matter as shall arise out

of the subject, giving to the whole, by way of preface, a short


My father being of the Quaker profession, it was my good fortune

to have an exceedingly good moral education, and a tolerable stock

of useful learning. Though I went to the grammar school,* I did not