Science Religion A Struggle To Exist Together Philosophy
Science and religion have always struggled to exist harmoniously. While science seeks to understand events through reasonable explanations and testing, religion puts emphasis on beliefs that cannot be proven through testing or calculations but rather, the faith in a higher being who controls every action and event. This explicates why Benjamin Franklin's beliefs, greatly influenced by the Enlightenment, clashed with Puritan ideals of the time. He believed human beings were, generally, good because they were created by an all-good God, but the Puritans believed God was merciful and loving towards individuals even though they were naturally corrupt because of original sin.
Although improvements were needed, human nature was moral in Franklin's mind. The decency of human nature came from an all-good God that could only create all-good in the world. "â€¦being able to do only such Things as God would have him to do, and not being able to refuse doing what God would have doneâ€¦" (Franklin, 27). This statement supported the idea that humans were generally good because they could only act in God's pleasure. Conversely, Puritans thought, although God was all-good, original sin was to blame for human corruption, not God. It was the reason why improvement was certainly needed. Franklin's credence in human progression became evident when he tried to achieve moral perfection. "It was about this time I conceiv'd the bold and arduous project of arriving at moral perfection" (Franklin, 32). Since human nature was largely good, improvement could only increase one's standing in God's eyes. Also, most individuals deserved to go to Heaven because they were moral. These beliefs were severely contrasted by the Puritans' beliefs of human nature.
Puritans such as John Winthrop thought that humans were sinners which caused them to be evil. "â€¦ (I mean as our nature is now corrupt [because all people are sinners])â€¦" (Winthrop, 1). Original sin was the main reason why humans were corrupt. Since it was unavoidable, humans would go to hell. "The justification for what seems like appalling ruthlessness is that everyone sinned in Adam and everyone deserves eternal deathâ€¦" (Wigglesworth, 4). Not only did original sin make humans evil, natural liberty also caused individuals to be evil because it allowed them to do as they pleased, which was usually bad. Natural liberty could not co-exist with any authority including God's authority. "â€¦This [kind of liberty] is the great enemy of truth and peace, that wild beast, which all of the ordinances of God are bent against, to restrain and subdue it" (Winthrop, 1). Natural liberty would not allow humans to achieve morality; therefore, they deserved to go to hell. Franklin did not agree with this belief because God would not create something evil or against him.
Another of Franklin's beliefs was that God could only be all-good since he created humans who were, mostly, all-good. "If He is all-powerful, there can be nothing either existing or acting in the Universe against or without his Consent; and what He consents to must be good, because He is good; therefore Evil doth not exist" (Franklin, 26). Puritan dogmas that God was powerful and good made Franklin argue that God had to be all-good because an all-good God would only create an all-good world and not create something to oppose him. So, their assumption that human nature was genuinely corrupt was incorrect because God would not create evil human beings if he was a good God. The general morality of humans also caused God to love and have mercy on all individuals, not just on those who were predestined to go to Heaven.
Predestination was one of the most important concepts in the Puritan church. No matter what an individual did, only predestination could ensure their entrance into Heaven. "But all effort is ultimately futile if it does not come from the grace that God gives to those he wishes to save, and no one else" (Wigglesworth, 4). Humans could never be sure if they would go to Heaven because even if they were staunch Puritans and did everything that they thought God wanted them to do, it might not have been predestined for them. Puritans also believed that God punished people for their sins such as when He punished John Dane with the wasp sting. "It pleased God in a short time to cease me, and I did reform and stood in awe of God's judgments [punishment for sin, like the wasp sting]" (Dane, 9). Dane's account of his life indicated that God was not simply pleased by a person's attempt to reform his life because he would still be punished if he was not one of the chosen few. Even though God's love and mercy extended to everyone, He would only share his unconditional love with predestined individuals. "â€¦the emphasis on the extraordinary love God shows to those few wretched sin-drenched mortals he chose to save" (Wigglesworth, 4). The Puritan belief that God only dearly loved the predestined, who were not corrupt by nature, opposed Franklin's belief of God's equal love of all humans.
The last difference between Franklin's early Deism and Puritanism was the importance of the Bible. As his interest in Deism increased, he began to read books that support and refuted Deism. "Some books against Deism [Deism argued that there is a god, but not a Christian God; Jesus was a wise man and the Bible mostly fables] fell into my handsâ€¦" (Franklin, 26). The arguments against Deism only strengthened his beliefs as he began to question the Bible. "â€¦as I found them disputed in the different books I read, I began to doubt of Revelation itself [he questioned if the Bible was the word of God]" (Franklin, 25-26). Clearly, Franklin did not hold the Bible as a sacred text like the Puritans. He believed that it was just a book with fables that helped a person learn lessons that would help him in life. Also, the miracles did not appeal to him because, as stated before, he just thought of it as a book. Nothing was sacred about it in his
mind because he doubted that it was the word of God. The Puritans believed the miracles because of the sacredness of the Bible.
For the Puritans, the Bible's importance was more than just a sacred text. It was also a guide on how to live life and it helped explain life's events. Through all the pain and suffering that Rowlandson endured, she found happiness when a Bible came into her possession. "I cannot but take notice of the wonderful mercy of God to me in those afflictions, in sending me a Bible" (Rowlandson, 17). This demonstrated the importance of it because she knew that after reading the Bible, she would be able to understand the experiences she was going through and it would allow her to respond in a way that would please God. Rowlandson turned to the Bible whenever she felt that she could not endure the pain and sorrow anymore so that it could give her strength. One example is when she was crossing through the river. "I was so weak and feeble that I reeled as I went along, and I thought there I must end my days at lastâ€¦but in my distress the Lord gave me experience of the truth and goodness of that promise, Isaiah 43:2" (Rowlandson, 19). Her Puritan beliefs made her have faith that God was guiding her through the Bible. Dane also referred to the Bible whenever he felt lost spiritually. Unlike them, Franklin would not have taken the Bible so literal and believed that the occurrences were happening because of God. He believed that man controlled his own destiny through his actions.
Practicalness was one of the driving forces behind Franklin's way of life. He chose to perceive happenings through systematic explanations than to attribute them something out of humans' reach. Believing that everything happened for a reason and was uncontrollable did not satisfy Franklin because he was always trying to better himself as a person and improving flaws that led to fruitless habits or misfortunes. In his mind, if humans led a moral life, they would receive the blessing of going to Heaven. These ideals could not be more different than those of the Puritans. God had a plan and everything happened according to his plan. Humans could do nothing to change it. Human improvement would not change a person's final destination because it had already been decided by God. The greatest difference between Franklin and the Puritans was human nature created by God, which was guided by the Bible.
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