The Enlightenment and Religion

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The 18th century is often referred to as the Age of Reason or the Age of Enlightenment. This is because the Enlightenment is a period of history in which there were dramatic revolutions in science, philosophy, society, and politics. These revolutions were to get rid of the medieval world-view and to “enlighten” society to become modern. Though the Enlightenment can be seen as an age against religion in general, it is more against features of religion, such as superstition, enthusiasm, fanaticism and supernaturalism. Most Enlightenment thinkers do not argue the existence of God (although some are atheists) but they are against the traditional views of religion that reject science and progress. Also, in the Enlightenment, the authority of scripture is strongly challenged, especially when taken literally because developing natural science renders acceptance of a literal version of the Bible increasingly untenable. Many Enlightenment thinkers argue vehemently the proper place of religion in society. Though the Enlightenment is compromised as a scientific and rational system of thought, it still often incorporates many faith-based views. The Enlightenment begins with the scientific revolution of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. “The rise of the new science progressively undermines not only the ancient geocentric conception of the cosmos, but, with it, the entire set of presuppositions that had served to constrain and guide philosophical inquiry.” After this come the philisophes and other Enlightenment thinkers who begin to question many of the problems in their present societies. D'Alembert, a leading figure of the French Enlightenment, characterizes his eighteenth century, in the midst of it, as “the century of philosophy par excellence”, because of the “tremendous intellectual progress of the age, the advance of the sciences, and the enthusiasm for that progress, but also because of the characteristic expectation of the age that philosophy (in this broad...
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