Age of Reason – What was the Age of Reason?
The Age of Reason was an eighteenth-century movement which followed hard after the mysticism, religion, and superstition of the Middle Ages. The Age of Reason represented a genesis in the way man viewed himself, the pursuit of knowledge, and the universe. In this time period, man’s previously held concepts of conduct and thought could now be challenged verbally and in written form; fears of being labeled a heretic or being burned at the stake were done away with. This was the beginning of an open society where individuals were free to pursue individual happiness and liberty. Politically and socially, the imperial concepts of the medieval world were abandoned. The Age of Reason included the shorter time period described as the Age of Enlightenment; during this time great changes occurred in scientific thought and exploration. New ideas filled the horizon and man was eager to explore these ideas, freely.
German philosopher, Immanuel Kant, defined enlightenment this way: “Enlightenment is the liberation of man from his self-caused state of minority. Minority is the incapacity of using one’s understanding without the direction of another. This state of minority is self-caused when its source lies not in a lack of understanding but in a lack of determination to use it without the assistance of another.”
The Age of Reason need not necessarily be viewed as a high point in the history of man. Man began to embrace an exaggerated belief in the perfection of humanity based on reason and clear thinking; they happily abandoned reliance on biblical truth and lost their fear of God. Leaving the medieval extremes of mysticism and superstition they swung to the other extremes of reason and rationality, overlooking the subtle shades of grey in between.
Age of Reason – Reason, Rationality and Enlightenment
The Age of Reason brought about a great change in the tale of man’s sojourn on earth. Reason, rationality and enlightenment became the new ‘gods.’ For the previous seventeen hundred years the perfection of man was only to be obtained through grace after death. The Protestant revolt to the Catholic Church and subsequent ‘holy wars’ had done nothing to change the accepted underlying beliefs of society: revelation was the source of ultimate truth and could only be received as a communication from God. This was the basis of Christianity. Now, in this new age, man felt obligated to follow his own intellect, not ‘revealed’ truth. Earth and emphasis on nature became the new dogma; miracles, prophecy, and religious rites were mere superstitions. Reason, philosophically, is defined as the ability to form and operate upon concepts in abstraction, narrowing information to its bare content, without emotion. Rationality carries the dual implication of ordered inference and comprehension along with understanding and explanation. Enlightenment is more or less the application of reason and rationality to previously held beliefs resulting in broader, clearer thinking.
The Age of Reason saw the introduction of the Scientific Revolution and various progressions of new schools of thought. Dualism advocated by Descartes taught that God (mind) and man (nature) were distinct. Baruch Spinoza introduced the idea of pantheism, namely, God and the universe are one and further that, “God was a substance consisting of infinite attributes.” Believers in Deism, described as the religion of reason rejected Christianity as a body of revelation, mysterious and incomprehensible. God’s revelation, believed Deists, was simple, logical and clear-cut, a natural religion which always existed.
Age of Reason – The Christian View
The Age of Reason was fraught with attacks on basic Christian beliefs, rejection of God and denial of miracles. In an attempt to divorce himself from the mysticism of the Middle Ages, man during the Age of Reason, applauded intellect and disdained spirit. God was believed to be unknowable, if He existed at all, and certainly there was no need for divine communication or revelation. Nature was revelation enough, showing all that needed to be known of God. Man was now free to postulate his own theories of existence and ideas about earth and its relation to the sun.
The irony of the period is that though man sought and believed himself to be enlightened, he missed the basic truths that would have been clear to him had he not hardened his heart in denunciation of God. Yes, indeed, God is revealed in nature: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge” (Psalm 19:1-2). The glory of God is clearly revealed in the works of God’s hands. He alone is the giver of wisdom and knowledge. In deviating from the Bible, God’s Word, as absolute truth, man has formulated all kinds of theories to explain his world. But as 1 Corinthians 3:19 says, “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God's sight...”
God can only be found through a heart of faith. God has created man with the ability to think, discover, and reason. But all searching must first begin with God, recognizing Him as the author of all things and the One with absolute power and authority. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. To him belongs eternal praise” (Psalm 111:10).