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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Did Men of the Enlightenment Believe in Miracles?

Carl Becker and Murray Rothbard promoted the idea Scottish Presbyterians of the Enlightenment rejected miracles. Did the intellectuals of the Enlightenment, as well as the Founding Fathers, believe man's Reason was King and reject the supernatural? The evidence gives a resounding no!

The fact is, Benjamin Franklin, supposedly a man of the Enlightenment, believed in Miracles!
[T]he Deity sometimes interferes by his particular Providence, and sets aside the Events which would otherwise have been produc’d in the Course of Nature..If you say he has in the Beginning unchangeably decreed all Things….[but] he has divested himself of all further Power, he has done and has no more to do, he has ty’d up his Hand and has now no greater Power than an Idol of Wood or Stone; nor can there be any more Reason for praying to him or worshipping of him.
--Benjamin Franklin, “On the Providence of God in the Government of the World,” in The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, ed. Leonard W. Labaree, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1963), vol. 1,  p. 267-8.

Franklin, though called himself a Deist, affirmed Jesus turning water into wine at Cana:
We hear of the conversion of water into wine at the marriage in Cana as of a miracle. But this conversion is, through the goodness of God, made every day before our eyes. Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards; there it enters the roots of the vines, to be changed into wine; a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy. The miracle in question was only performed to hasten the operation, under circumstances of present necessity, which required it. [bold face mine]
--Franklin, 1779, On the marriage at Cana.

What then of Franklin's statement against the Old Testament:
To which I may now add, that the[re are] several Things in the old Testament impossible to be given by divine Inspiration, such as the Approbation ascrib’d to the Angel of the Lord, of that abominably wicked and detestable Action of Jael the Wife of Heber the Kenite. If the rest of the Book were like that, I should rather suppose it given by Inspiration from another Quarter, and renounce the whole.
--to John Calder, Aug 21, 1784.

He is referring to Inspiration, not a miracle, given the action he condemns is not a miracle. Moreover, did these men believe in violations of the physical laws of nature, or something similiar to an angel delivering a baby out of a burning building? The Enlightenment thinkers believed they were the same thing, only different forms of Providence, but done by God or Angels. Here are some names of the Enlightenment that believed in Miracles:

John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Joseph Priestley, Charles Blount, Lord Shaftesbury, Robespierre, Francis Hutcheson, Samuel Clarke, Richard Price, Isaac Newton, John Locke, Rousseau, Kant, Washington, Reid, John Toland, Herbert of Cherbury, John Trenchard, et al.

This website did the footwork with the primary sources, and notes some interesting views from the philosophers:
For example, In his “Essay on Miracles,” the English deist John Trenchard said a miracle was when God altered the usual order of the universe:  “A Miracle or actio mirabilis, is an action to be wondered at; as when God Almighty interposes, and by his omnipotent power alters the order he at first placed the universe in, or enables or empowers other beings to do so.
Did Trenchard believe in miracles? In his view he did. He believed a flying angel violating the laws of gravity was a miracle. And Trenchard was one of the leading Deists of the Enlightenment.

The Chief Scientist of the Enlightenment was Isaac Newton; a man who believed in miracles. Newton wrote there were:
[S]ome very small irregularities which may have arisen from the mutual Actions of the Planets and Comets upon one another; and which tis probable will in length of Time increase more and more, till the present System of Nature shall want to be anew put in Order by its Author.
--Isaac Newton, from the Optics, as quoted in Samuel Clarke, “A Collection of Papers which passed between the late Learned Mr. Leinitz and Dr. Clarke, in the years 1715 and 1716,” 1st Reply, in The Works, vol. 4 (New York: Garland Press, 1978), p. 587.

Moreover, Samuel Clarke defended his friend Isaac Newton against Leibnizs' attacks:
[I]s himself the author and continual preserver of their [all things in the world] original forces or moving powers.  And consequently ’tis not a diminution but the true glory of his workmanship that nothing is done without his continual government and inspection.  The notion of the world’s being a great machine, going on without the interposition of God, as a clock continues to go without the assistance of a clockmaker, is the notion of materialism and fate and tends (under the pretense of making God a supramundane intelligence) to exclude providence and God’s government in reality out of the world . . . so whoever contends that the course of the world can go on without the continual direction of God, the supreme governor, his doctrine does in effect tend to exclude God out of the world.
--Samuel Clarke, “A Collection of Papers which passed between the late Learned Mr. Leinitz and Dr. Clarke, in the years 1715 and 1716,” Second Reply, in The Works, vol. 4 (New York: Garland Press, 1978), p. 598-600.

Leibniz was severely attacked by Newton's friends; ironically Leibniz believed in miracles. He attacked the wrong man and the wrong theory. Leibniz wrote:
I say that God’s miracles and extraordinary concourse have the peculiarity that they cannot be foreseen by the reasoning of any created mind.
--"Discourse on Metaphysics,” in Philosophical Essays, ed. and trans. Roger Ariew and Daniel Garber (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1989), p. 49.

Enlightenment thinkers even viewed natural disasters were God's punishment for sin. This thought would make today's liberals foam at the mouth:
[I]n a 1750 address to the scientists of the Royal Society, the English botanist Stephen Hales said earthquakes were sometimes sent by God to chastise people.  Hales said God sometimes “changes the Order of Nature, with Design to chastise Man for his Disobedience and Follies, natural Evils being graciously designed by him as moral Goods.
--Stephen Hales, Some considerations on the causes of earthquakes (London, 1750), p. 6.

Here is an English Naturalist affirming Joseph stopped the sun. [H]e said that Joshua’s miracle of  stopping the sun and Hezekiah’s wheel turning backward were “miraculous Perversions of the Course of Nature…. They are great Arguments of the Power of God."

--William Derham, Physico-Theology, 7th ed. (London, 1727), p. 45.

Scientist Joseph Priestley believed in miracles, tearing apart Hume's rejection of them, which raises the question why Thomas Jefferson rejected them. The foremost Philosopher of the Enlightenment, Francis Hutcheson, believed in Miracles:
If the teachings are holy and leading to people’s happiness, we rightly believe that their announcer or teacher was filled with the  divine spirit in accomplishing the miracles.  And so NATURAL THEOLOGY will lead us to the embrace of what is called REVEALED THEOLOGY.
--Francis Hutcheson, Synopsis Metaphysicae Ontologium et Pneumatologiam (Glasgow, 1744), p. 123.  My translation.

Even Scottish Common Sense Philosopher Thomas Reid believed in miracles:
These laws of nature neither restrain the power of the Author of nature, nor bring him under any obligation to do nothing beyond their sphere.  He has sometimes acted contrary to them, in the case of miracles, …miraculous events, which are contrary to the physical laws of nature…  GOD is the cause of them, and to him only are they to be imputed.
--Thomas Reid, Essays on the Active Powers of Man (Edinburgh, 1788), p. 345.

Incredibly, the derelict Jean Jacques Rousseau, who abandoned all his children, believed in miracles:
He asserted it was “impious, if not absurd,” to say an omnipotent God could not do miracles.  In fact, he said a person who asserted such a point should not be punished as that would be too good for him; instead, he should be “confined to straw and a dark chamber.  But then who hath ever denied the power of the Deity to work miracles?”
--Jean-Jacques Rousseau,  Letters Written from the Mountain, in The Miscellaneous Works of J.  J. Rousseau, 4 vols. (Edinburgh: 1774), vol. 3, p. 79.

Could even the French Revolutionary Maximilien Robespierre believe in Miracles? Yes, he did. He believed God orchestrated the demise of Leopold, Emperor of Austria.

Based on this information, men of the Enlightenment did not believe Reason was King, as modern liberalism claims. They questioned only the inerrancy of the Bible because of faulty transmission.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

franklin didn't really believe in the cana miracle. he thought Jesus sped up the natural process