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A History of Freedom of Thought by J. B. Bury

It means the scientific spirit


[1]

Translated by Lecky.

[2] Complete toleration was established by Penn in the Quaker Colony of Pennsylvania in 1682.

[3] Especially Chillingworth's Religion of Protestants (1637), and Jeremy Taylor's Liberty of Prophesying (1646).

[4] The Reformed Church consists of the followers of Calvin and Zwingli.

CHAPTER VI

THE GROWTH OF RATIONALISM

(SEVENTEENTH AND EIGHTEENTH CENTURIES)

DURING the last three hundred years reason has been slowly but steadily destroying Christian mythology and exposing the pretensions of supernatural revelation. The progress of rationalism falls naturally into two periods. (1) In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries those thinkers who rejected Christian theology and the book on which it relies were mainly influenced by the inconsistencies, contradictions, and absurdities which they discovered in the evidence, and by the moral

[128] difficulties of the creed. Some scientific facts were known which seemed to reflect on the accuracy of Revelation, but arguments based on science were subsidiary. (2) In the nineteenth century the discoveries of science in many fields bore with full force upon fabrics which had been constructed in a naive and ignorant age; and historical criticism undermined

methodically the authority of the sacred documents which had hitherto been exposed chiefly to the acute but unmethodical criticisms of common sense.

A disinterested love of facts, without any regard to the bearing which those facts may have on one's hopes or fears or destiny, is a rare quality in all ages, and it had been very rare indeed since the ancient days of Greece and Rome. It means the scientific spirit. Now in the seventeenth century we may say (without disrespect to a few precursors) that the modern study of natural science began, and in the same period we have a series of famous thinkers who were guided by a disinterested love of truth. Of the most acute minds some reached the conclusion that the Christian scheme of the world is irrational, and according to their temperament some rejected it, whilst others, like the great Frenchman Pascal, fell back upon an unreasoning act of faith. Bacon, who professed

[129] orthodoxy, was perhaps at heart a deist, but in any case the whole spirit of his writings was to exclude authority from the domain of scientific investigation which he did so much to stimulate. Descartes, illustrious not only as the founder of modern metaphysics but also by his original contributions to science, might seek to conciliate the ecclesiastical authorities--his temper was timid-- but his philosophical method was a powerful incentive to rationalistic thought. The general tendency of superior intellects was to exalt reason at the expense of authority; and in England this principle was established so firmly by Locke, that throughout the theological warfare of the eighteenth century both parties relied on reason, and no theologian of repute assumed faith to be a higher faculty.


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