The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine. - HTML preview
Download the book in PDF, ePub, Kindle for a complete version.
suffers in fact. A religion thus interlarded with quibble, subterfuge, and pun, has a tendency to instruct its professors in the practice of these arts.
They acquire the habit without being aware of the cause.
If Jesus Christ was the being which those mythologists tell us he was,
and that he came into this world to suffer, which is a word they sometimes use instead of to die, the only real suffering he could have endured would have been to live. His existence here was a state of exilement or transportation from heaven, and the way back to his original country
was to die.-—In fine, everything in this strange system is the reverse of what it pretends to be. It is the reverse of truth, and I become so tired of examining into its inconsistencies and absurdities, that I hasten to the
conclusion of it, in order to proceed to something better.
How much, or what parts of the books called the New Testament,
were written by the persons whose names they bear, is what we can
know nothing of, neither are we certain in what language they were ori-
ginally written. The matters they now contain may be classed under two
heads: anecdote, and epistolary correspondence.
The four books already mentioned, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John,
are altogether anecdotal. They relate events after they had taken place.
They tell what Jesus Christ did and said, and what others did and said to him; and in several instances they relate the same event differently.
Revelation is necessarily out of the question with respect to those books; not only because of the disagreement of the writers, but because revelation cannot be applied to the relating of facts by the persons who saw
them done, nor to the relating or recording of any discourse or conversa-
tion by those who heard it. The book called the Acts of the Apostles (an
anonymous work) belongs also to the anecdotal part.
All the other parts of the New Testament, except the book of enigmas,
called the Revelations, are a collection of letters under the name of
epistles; and the forgery of letters has been such a common practice in
the world, that the probability is at least equal, whether they are genuine or forged. One thing, however, is much less equivocal, which is, that out of the matters contained in those books, together with the assistance of
some old stories, the church has set up a system of religion very
contradictory to the character of the person whose name it bears. It has
set up a religion of pomp and of revenue in pretended imitation of a per-
son whose life was humility and poverty.
The invention of a purgatory, and of the releasing of souls therefrom,
by prayers, bought of the church with money; the selling of pardons, dis-
pensations, and indulgences, are revenue laws, without bearing that
name or carrying that appearance. But the case nevertheless is, that those things derive their origin from the proxysm of the crucifixion, and the
theory deduced therefrom, which was, that one person could stand in
the place of another, and could perform meritorious services for him.
The probability, therefore, is, that the whole theory or doctrine of what is called the redemption (which is said to have been accomplished by the
act of one person in the room of another) was originally fabricated on
purpose to bring forward and build all those secondary and pecuniary
redemptions upon; and that the passages in the books upon which the
idea of theory of redemption is built, have been manufactured and fab-
ricated for that purpose. Why are we to give this church credit, when she tells us that those books are genuine in every part, any more than we
give her credit for everything else she has told us; or for the miracles she says she has performed? That she could fabricate writings is certain, because she could write; and the composition of the writings in question, is of that kind that anybody might do it; and that she did fabricate them is not more inconsistent with probability, than that she should tell us, as
she has done, that she could and did work miracles.
Since, then, no external evidence can, at this long distance of time, be
produced to prove whether the church fabricated the doctrine called re-
demption or not, (for such evidence, whether for or against, would be
subject to the same suspicion of being fabricated,) the case can only be referred to the internal evidence which the thing carries of itself; and this affords a very strong presumption of its being a fabrication. For the internal evidence is, that the theory or doctrine of redemption has for its basis an idea of pecuniary justice, and not that of moral justice.
If I owe a person money, and cannot pay him, and he threatens to put
me in prison, another person can take the debt upon himself, and pay it
for me. But if I have committed a crime, every circumstance of the case is changed. Moral justice cannot take the innocent for the guilty even if the innocent would offer itself. To suppose justice to do this, is to destroy the principle of its existence, which is the thing itself. It is then no longer justice. It is indiscriminate revenge.
This single reflection will shew that the doctrine of redemption is
founded on a mere pecuniary idea corresponding to that of a debt which
another person might pay; and as this pecuniary idea corresponds again
with the system of second redemptions, obtained through the means of
money given to the church for pardons, the probability is that the same
persons fabricated both the one and the other of those theories; and that, in truth, there is no such thing as redemption; that it is fabulous; and that man stands in the same relative condition with his Maker he ever did
stand, since man existed; and that it is his greatest consolation to think so.
Let him believe this, and he will live more consistently and morally,
than by any other system. It is by his being taught to contemplate him-
self as an out-law, as an out-cast, as a beggar, as a mumper, as one
thrown as it were on a dunghill, at an immense distance from his Creat-
or, and who must make his approaches by creeping, and cringing to in-
termediate beings, that he conceives either a contemptuous disregard for
everything under the name of religion, or becomes indifferent, or turns
what he calls devout. In the latter case, he consumes his life in grief, or the affectation of it. His prayers are reproaches. His humility is ingratitude. He calls himself a worm, and the fertile earth a dunghill; and all the blessings of life by the thankless name of vanities. He despises the
choicest gift of God to man, the Gift of Reason; and having endeavoured
to force upon himself the belief of a system against which reason revolts, he ungratefully calls it human reason, as if man could give reason to himself.
Yet, with all this strange appearance of humility, and this contempt for
human reason, he ventures into the boldest presumptions. He finds fault
with everything. His selfishness is never satisfied; his ingratitude is never at an end. He takes on himself to direct the Almighty what to do, even in the govemment of the universe. He prays dictatorially. When it is sunshine, he prays for rain, and when it is rain, he prays for sunshine. He
follows the same idea in everything that he prays for; for what is the
amount of all his prayers, but an attempt to make the Almighty change
his mind, and act otherwise than he does? It is as if he were to say—-
thou knowest not so well as I.
In What the True Revelation Consists
But some perhaps will say—-Are we to have no word of God-—no revel-
ation? I answer yes. There is a Word of God; there is a revelation.
The Word of God is the Creation We Behold: And it is in this word, which no human invention can counterfeit or alter, that God speaketh
universally to man.
Human language is local and changeable, and is therefore incapable of
being used as the means of unchangeable and universal information. The
idea that God sent Jesus Christ to publish, as they say, the glad tidings to all nations, from one end of the earth unto the other, is consistent only with the ignorance of those who know nothing of the extent of the world,
and who believed, as those world-saviours believed, and continued to
believe for several centuries, (and that in contradiction to the discoveries of philosophers and the experience of navigators,) that the earth was flat like a trencher; and that a man might walk to the end of it.
But how was Jesus Christ to make anything known to all nations? He
could speak but one language, which was Hebrew; and there are in the
world several hundred languages. Scarcely any two nations speak the
same language, or understand each other; and as to translations, every
man who knows anything of languages, knows that it is impossible to
translate from one language into another, not only without losing a great part of the original, but frequently of mistaking the sense; and besides all this, the art of printing was wholly unknown at the time Christ lived.
It is always necessary that the means that are to accomplish any end be
equal to the accomplishment of that end, or the end cannot be accom-
plished. It is in this that the difference between finite and infinite power and wisdom discovers itself. Man frequently fails in accomplishing his
end, from a natural inability of the power to the purpose; and frequently from the want of wisdom to apply power properly. But it is impossible
for infinite power and wisdom to fail as man faileth. The means it useth
are always equal to the end: but human language, more especially as
there is not an universal language, is incapable of being used as an uni-
versal means of unchangeable and uniform information; and therefore it
is not the means that God useth in manifesting himself universally to
It is only in the Creation that all our ideas and conceptions of a word of God can unite. The Creation speaketh an universal language, independently of human speech or human language, multiplied and various as
they be. It is an ever existing original, which every man can read. It cannot be forged; it cannot be counterfeited; it cannot be lost; it cannot be altered; it cannot be suppressed. It does not depend upon the will of man whether it shall be published or not; it publishes itself from one end of the earth to the other. It preaches to all nations and to all worlds; and this word of God reveals to man all that is necessary for man to know of God.
Do we want to contemplate his power? We see it in the immensity of
the creation. Do we want to contemplate his wisdom? We see it in the
unchangeable order by which the incomprehensible Whole is governed.
Do we want to contemplate his munificence? We see it in the abundance
with which he fills the earth. Do we want to contemplate his mercy? We
see it in his not withholding that abundance even from the unthankful.
In fine, do we want to know what God is? Search not the book called the
scripture, which any human hand might make, but the scripture called
Concerning God, and the Lights Cast on His Existence
and Attributes by the Bible
The only idea man can affix to the name of God, is that of a first cause, the cause of all things. And, incomprehensibly difficult as it is for a man to conceive what a first cause is, he arrives at the belief of it, from the ten-fold greater difficulty of disbelieving it. It is difficult beyond description to conceive that space can have no end; but it is more difficult to conceive an end. It is difficult beyond the power of man to conceive an
eternal duration of what we call time; but it is more impossible to con-
ceive a time when there shall be no time.
In like manner of reasoning, everything we behold carries in itself the
internal evidence that it did not make itself. Every man is an evidence to himself, that he did not make himself; neither could his father make himself, nor his grandfather, nor any of his race; neither could any tree,
plant, or animal make itself; and it is the conviction arising from this
evidence, that carries us on, as it were, by necessity, to the belief of a first cause eternally existing, of a nature totally different to any material existence we know of, and by the power of which all things exist; and this
first cause, man calls God.
It is only by the exercise of reason, that man can discover God. Take
away that reason, and he would be incapable of understanding anything;
and in this case it would be just as consistent to read even the book
called the Bible to a horse as to a man. How then is it that those people pretend to reject reason?
Almost the only parts in the book called the Bible, that convey to us
any idea of God, are some chapters in Job, and the 19th Psalm; I recollect no other. Those parts are true deistical compositions; for they treat of the Deity through his works. They take the book of Creation as the word of God; they refer to no other book; and all the inferences they make are drawn from that volume.
I insert in this place the 19th Psalm, as paraphrased into English verse
by Addison. I recollect not the prose, and where I write this I have not
the opportunity of seeing it:
The spacious firmament on high,
With all the blue etherial sky,
And spangled heavens, a shining frame,
Their great original proclaim.
The unwearied sun, from day to day,
Does his Creator's power display,
And publishes to every land
The work of an Almighty hand.
Soon as the evening shades prevail,
The moon takes up the wondrous tale,
And nightly to the list'ning earth
Repeats the story of her birth;
Whilst all the stars that round her burn,
And all the planets, in their turn,
Confirm the tidings as they roll,
And spread the truth from pole to pole.
What though in solemn silence all
Move round this dark terrestrial ball
What though no real voice, nor sound,
Amidst their radiant orbs be found,
In reason's ear they all rejoice,
And utter forth a glorious voice,
Forever singing as they shine,
The Hand That Made Us Is Divine.
What more does man want to know, than that the hand or power that
made these things is divine, is omnipotent? Let him believe this, with the force it is impossible to repel if he permits his reason to act, and his rule of moral life will follow of course.
The allusions in Job have all of them the same tendency with this
Psalm; that of deducing or proving a truth that would be otherwise un-
known, from truths already known.
I recollect not enough of the passages in Job to insert them correctly;
but there is one that occurs to me that is applicable to the subject I am speaking upon. "Canst thou by searching find out God; canst thou find out the Almighty to perfection?"
I know not how the printers have pointed this passage, for I keep no
Bible; but it contains two distinct questions that admit of distinct
First, Canst thou by searching find out God? Yes. Because, in the first place, I know I did not make myself, and yet I have existence; and
by searching into the nature of other things, I find that no other thing could make itself; and yet millions of other things exist; therefore it is, that I know, by positive conclusion resulting from this search, that there is a power superior to all those things, and that power is God.
Secondly, Canst thou find out the Almighty to perfection? No. Not only because the power and wisdom He has manifested in the structure of the
Creation that I behold is to me incomprehensible; but because even this
manifestation, great as it is is probably but a small display of that im-
mensity of power and wisdom, by which millions of other worlds, to me
invisible by their distance, were created and continue to exist.
It is evident that both of these questions were put to the reason of the
person to whom they are supposed to have been addressed; and it is
only by admitting the first question to be answered affirmatively, that
the second could follow. It would have been unnecessary, and even ab-
surd, to have put a second question, more difficult than the first, if the first question had been answered negatively. The two questions have different objects; the first refers to the existence of God, the second to his attributes. Reason can discover the one, but it falls infinitely short in discovering the whole of the other.
I recollect not a single passage in all the writings ascribed to the men
called apostles, that conveys any idea of what God is. Those writings are chiefly controversial; and the gloominess of the subject they dwell upon, that of a man dying in agony on a cross, is better suited to the gloomy
genius of a monk in a cell, by whom it is not impossible they were writ-
ten, than to any man breathing the open air of the Creation. The only
passage that occurs to me, that has any reference to the works of God, by which only his power and wisdom can be known, is related to have been
spoken by Jesus Christ, as a remedy against distrustful care. "Behold the lilies of the field, they toil not, neither do they spin." This, however, is far inferior to the allusions in Job and in the 19th Psalm; but it is similar in idea, and the modesty of the imagery is correspondent to the modesty of
Of the Theology of the Christians; and the True
As to the Christian system of faith, it appears to me as a species of atheism; a sort of religious denial of God. It professes to believe in a man
rather than in God. It is a compound made up chiefly of man-ism with
but little deism, and is as near to atheism as twilight is to darkness. It introduces between man and his Maker an opaque body, which it calls a
redeemer, as the moon introduces her opaque self between the earth and
the sun, and it produces by this means a religious or an irreligious ec-
lipse of light. It has put the whole orbit of reason into shade.
The effect of this obscurity has been that of turning everything upside
down, and representing it in reverse; and among the revolutions it has
thus magically produced, it has made a revolution in Theology.
That which is now called natural philosophy, embracing the whole
circle of science, of which astronomy occupies the chief place, is the
study of the works of God, and of the power and wisdom of God in his
works, and is the true theology.
As to the theology that is now studied in its place, it is the study of human opinions and of human fancies concerning God. It is not the study of God himself in the works that he has made, but in the works or writings
that man has made; and it is not among the least of the mischiefs that the Christian system has done to the world, that it has abandoned the original and beautiful system of theology, like a beautiful innocent, to distress and reproach, to make room for the hag of superstition.
The Book of Job and the 19th Psalm, which even the church admits to
be more ancient than the chronological order in which they stand in the
book called the Bible, are theological orations conformable to the original system of theology. The internal evidence of those orations proves to a
demonstration that the study and contemplation of the works of cre-
ation, and of the power and wisdom of God revealed and manifested in
those works, made a great part of the religious devotion of the times in
which they were written; and it was this devotional study and contem-
plation that led to the discovery of the principles upon which what are
now called Sciences are established; and it is to the discovery of these
principles that almost all the Arts that contribute to the convenience of human life owe their existence. Every principal art has some science for
its parent, though the person who mechanically performs the work does
not always, and but very seldom, perceive the connection.
It is a fraud of the Christian system to call the sciences human inventions; it is only the application of them that is human. Every science has for its basis a system of principles as fixed and unalterable as those by which the universe is regulated and governed. Man cannot make principles, he can only discover them.
For example: Every person who looks at an almanack sees an account
when an eclipse will take place, and he sees also that it never fails to take place according to the account there given. This shows that man is acquainted with the laws by which the heavenly bodies move. But it would
be something worse than ignorance, were any church on earth to say that
those laws are an human invention.
It would also be ignorance, or something worse, to say that the sci-
entific principles, by the aid of which man is enabled to calculate and
foreknow when an eclipse will take place, are an human invention. Man
cannot invent any thing that is eternal and immutable; and the scientific principles he employs for this purpose must, and are, of necessity, as
eternal and immutable as the laws by which the heavenly bodies move,
or they could not be used as they are to ascertain the time when, and the manner how, an eclipse will take place.
The scientific principles that man employs to obtain the foreknow-
ledge of an eclipse, or of any thing else relating to the motion of the
heavenly bodies, are contained chiefly in that part of science that is
called trigonometry, or the properties of a triangle, which, when applied to the study of the heavenly bodies, is called astronomy; when applied to direct the course of a ship on the ocean, it is called navigation; when applied to the construction of figures drawn by a rule and compass, it is
called geometry; when applied to the construction of plans of edifices, it is called architecture; when applied to the measurement of any portion
of the surface of the earth, it is called land-surveying. In fine, it is the soul of science. It is an eternal truth: it contains the mathematical demonstration of which man speaks, and the extent of its uses are unknown.
It may be said, that man can make or draw a triangle, and therefore a
triangle is an human invention.
But the triangle, when drawn, is no other than the image of the prin-
ciple: it is a delineation to the eye, and from thence to the mind, of a principle that would otherwise be imperceptible. The triangle does not make
the principle, any more than a candle taken into a room that was dark,
makes the chairs and tables that before were invisible. All the properties of a triangle exist independently of the figure, and existed before any triangle was drawn or thought of by man. Man had no more to do in the
formation of those properties or principles, than he had to do in making
the laws by which the heavenly bodies move; and therefore the one must
have the same divine origin as the other.
In the same manner as, it may be said, that man can make a triangle, so
also, may it be said, he can make the mechanical instrument called a
lever. But the principle by which the lever acts, is a thing distinct from the instrument, and would exist if the instrument did not; it attaches itself to the instrument after it is made; the instrument, therefore, can act no otherwise than it does act; neither can all the efforts of human invention make it act otherwise. That which, in all such cases, man calls
the effect, is no other than the principle itself rendered perceptible to the senses.
Since, then, man cannot make principles, from whence did he gain a
knowledge of them, so as to be able to apply them, not only to things on
earth, but to ascertain the motion of bodies so immensely distant from
him as all the heavenly bodies are? From whence, I ask, could he gain that knowledge, but from the study of the true theology?
It is the structure of the universe that has taught this knowledge to
man. That structure is an ever-existing exhibition of every principle upon which every part of mathematical science is founded. The offspring of
this science is mechanics; for mechanics is no other than the principles of science applied practically. The man who proportions the several parts
of a mill uses the same scientific principles as if he had the power of constructing an universe, but as he cannot give to matter that invisible
agency by which all the component parts of the immense machine of the
universe have influence upon each other, and act in motional unison to-
gether, without any apparent contact, and to which man has given the
name of attraction, gravitation, and repulsion, he supplies the place of
that agency by the humble imitation of teeth and cogs. All the parts of
man's microcosm must visibly touch. But could he gain a knowledge of
that agency, so as to be able to apply it in practice, we might then say
that another canonical book of the word of God had been discovered.
If man could alter the properties of the lever, so also could he alter the properties of the triangle: for a lever (taking that sort of lever which is called a steel-yard, for the sake of explanation) forms, when in motion, a triangle. The line it descends from, (one point of that line being in the ful-crum,) the line it descends to, and the chord of the arc, which the end of the lever describes in the air, are the three sides of a triangle. The other arm of the lever describes also a triangle; and the corresponding sides of those two triangles, calculated scientifically, or measured geometrically,—and also the sines, tangents, and secants generated from the
angles, and geometrically measured,—have the same proportions to each
other as the different weights have that will balance each other on the
lever, leaving the weight of the lever out of the case.
It may also be said, that man can make a wheel and axis; that he can
put wheels of different magnitudes together, and produce a mill. Still the case comes back to the same point, which is, that he did not make the
principle that gives the wheels those powers. This principle is as unalterable as in the former cases, or rather it is the same principle under a different appearance to the eye.
The power that two wheels of different magnitudes have upon each
other is in the same proportion as if the semi-diameter of the two wheels were joined together and made into that kind of lever I have described,
suspended at the part where the semi-diameters join; for the two wheels,
scientifically considered, are no other than the two circles generated by the motion of the compound lever.
It is from the study of the true theology that all our knowledge of sci-
ence is derived; and it is from that knowledge that all the arts have
The Almighty lecturer, by displaying the principles of science in the
structure of the universe, has invited man to study and to imitation. It is as if he had said to the inhabitants of this globe that we call ours, "I have made an earth for man to dwell upon, and I have rendered the starry
heavens visible, to teach him science and the arts. He can now provide
for his own comfort, And Learn From My Munificence to All, to Be Kind
to Each Other."
Of what use is it, unless it be to teach man something, that his eye is
endowed with the power of beholding, to an incomprehensible distance,
an immensity of worlds revolving in the ocean of space? Or of what use
is it that this immensity of worlds is visible to man? What has man to do with the Pleiades, with Orion, with Sirius, with the star he calls the north star, with the moving orbs he has named Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Venus,
and Mercury, if no uses are to follow from their being visible? A less
power of vision would have been sufficient for man, if the immensity he
now possesses were given only to waste itself, as it were, on an immense
desert of space glittering with shows.
It is only by contemplating what he calls the starry heavens, as the
book and school of science, that he discovers any use in their being vis-
ible to him, or any advantage resulting from his immensity of vision. But when be contemplates the subject in this light, he sees an additional
motive for saying, that nothing was made in vain; for in vain would be this power of vision if it taught man nothing.
The Effects of Christianism on Education; Proposed
As the Christian system of faith has made a revolution in theology, so
also has it made a revolution in the state of learning. That which is now called learning, was not learning originally. Learning does not consist, as the schools now make it consist, in the knowledge of languages, but in
the knowledge of things to which language gives names.
The Greeks were a learned people, but learning with them did not con-
sist in speaking Greek, any more than in a Roman's speaking Latin, or a
Frenchman's speaking French, or an Englishman's speaking English.
From what we know of the Greeks, it does not appear that they knew or
studied any language but their own, and this was one cause of their be-
coming so learned; it afforded them more time to apply themselves to
better studies. The schools of the Greeks were schools of science and
philosophy, and not of languages; and it is in the knowledge of the
things that science and philosophy teach that learning consists.
Almost all the scientific learning that now exists, came to us from the
Greeks, or the people who spoke the Greek language. It therefore became
necessary to the people of other nations, who spoke a different language, that some among them should learn the Greek language, in order that
the learning the Greeks had might be made known in those nations, by
translating the Greek books of science and philosophy into the mother
tongue of each nation.
The study, therefore, of the Greek language (and in the same manner
for the Latin) was no other than the drudgery business of a linguist; and the language thus obtained, was no other than the means, or as it were
the tools, employed to obtain the learning the Greeks had. It made no
part of the learning itself; and was so distinct from it as to make it exceedingly probable that the persons who had studied Greek sufficiently
to translate those works, such for instance as Euclid's Elements, did not understand any of the learning the works contained.
As there is now nothing new to be learned from the dead languages,
all the useful books being already translated, the languages are become
useless, and the time expended in teaching and in learning them is
wasted. So far as the study of languages may contribute to the progress
and communication of knowledge (for it has nothing to do with
the creation of knowledge) it is only in the living languages that new knowledge is to be found; and certain it is, that, in general, a youth will learn more of a living language in one year, than of a dead language in
seven; and it is but seldom that the teacher knows much of it himself.
The difficulty of learning the dead languages does not arise from any su-
perior abstruseness in the languages themselves, but in their being dead, and the pronunciation entirely lost. It would be the same thing with any
other language when it becomes dead. The best Greek linguist that now
exists does not understand Greek so well as a Grecian plowman did, or a
Grecian milkmaid; and the same for the Latin, compared with a plow-
man or a milkmaid of the Romans; and with respect to pronunciation
and idiom, not so well as the cows that she milked. It would therefore be advantageous to the state of learning to abolish the study of the dead
languages, and to make learning consist, as it originally did, in scientific knowledge.
The apology that is sometimes made for continuing to teach the dead
languages is, that they are taught at a time when a child is not capable of exerting any other mental faculty than that of memory. But this is altogether erroneous. The human mind has a natural disposition to scientific
knowledge, and to the things connected with it. The first and favourite
amusement of a child, even before it begins to play, is that of imitating the works of man. It builds bouses with cards or sticks; it navigates the little ocean of a bowl of water with a paper boat; or dams the stream of a gutter, and contrives something which it calls a mill; and it interests itself in the fate of its works with a care that resembles affection. It afterwards goes to school, where its genius is killed by the barren study of a dead
language, and the philosopher is lost in the linguist.
But the apology that is now made for continuing to teach the dead lan-
guages, could not be the cause at first of cutting down learning to the
narrow and humble sphere of linguistry; the cause therefore must be
sought for elsewhere. In all researches of this kind, the best evidence that can be produced, is the internal evidence the thing carries with itself, and the evidence of circumstances that unites with it; both of which, in this case, are not difficult to be discovered.
Putting then aside, as matter of distinct consideration, the outrage
offered to the moral justice of God, by supposing him to make the inno-
cent suffer for the guilty, and also the loose morality and low contrivance of supposing him to change himself into the shape of a man, in order to
make an excuse to himself for not executing his supposed sentence upon
Adam; putting, I say, those things aside as matter of distinct considera-
tion, it is certain that what is called the christian system of faith, including in it the whimsical account of the creation—the strange story of Eve, the snake, and the apple—the amphibious idea of a man-god—the cor-poreal idea of the death of a god-—the mythological idea of a family of
gods, and the christian system of arithmetic, that three are one, and one is three, are all irreconcilable, not only to the divine gift of reason, that God has given to man, but to the knowledge that man gains of the power
and wisdom of God by the aid of the sciences, and by studying the struc-
ture of the universe that God has made.
The setters up, therefore, and the advocates of the Christian system of
faith, could not but foresee that the continually progressive knowledge
that man would gain by the aid of science, of the power and wisdom of
God, manifested in the structure of the universe, and in all the works of creation, would militate against, and call into question, the truth of their system of faith; and therefore it became necessary to their purpose to cut learning down to a size less dangerous to their project, and this they effected by restricting the idea of learning to the dead study of dead
They not only rejected the study of science out of the christian schools, but they persecuted it; and it is only within about the last two centuries that the study has been revived. So late as 1610, Galileo, a Florentine, discovered and introduced the use of telescopes, and by applying them to
observe the motions and appearances of the heavenly bodies, afforded
additional means for ascertaining the true structure of the universe. In-
stead of being esteemed for these discoveries, he was sentenced to re-
nounce them, or the opinions resulting from them, as a damnable heresy.
And prior to that time Virgilius was condemned to be burned for assert-
ing the antipodes, or in other words, that the earth was a globe, and habitable in every part where there was land; yet the truth of this is now too well known even to be told. 11
If the belief of errors not morally bad did no mischief, it would make
no part of the moral duty of man to oppose and remove them. There was
no moral ill in believing the earth was flat like a trencher, any more than there was moral virtue in believing it was round like a globe; neither was 39
there any moral ill in believing that the Creator made no other world
than this, any more than there was moral virtue in believing that he
made millions, and that the infinity of space is filled with worlds. But
when a system of religion is made to grow out of a supposed system of
creation that is not true, and to unite itself therewith in a manner almost inseparable therefrom, the case assumes an entirely different ground. It
is then that errors, not morally bad, become fraught with the same mis-
chiefs as if they were. It is then that the truth, though otherwise indifferent itself, becomes an essential, by becoming the criterion that either con-firms by corresponding evidence, or denies by contradictory evidence,
the reality of the religion itself. In this view of the case it is the moral duty of man to obtain every possible evidence that the structure of the
heavens, or any other part of creation affords, with respect to systems of religion. But this, the supporters or partizans of the christian system, as if dreading the result, incessantly opposed, and not only rejected the sciences, but persecuted the professors. Had Newton or Descartes lived
three or four hundred years ago, and pursued their studies as they did, it is most probable they would not have lived to finish them; and had
Franklin drawn lightning from the clouds at the same time, it would
have been at the hazard of expiring for it in flames.
Later times have laid all the blame upon the Goths and Vandals, but,
however unwilling the partizans of the Christian system may be to be-
lieve or to acknowledge it, it is nevertheless true, that the age of
ignorance commenced with the Christian system. There was more know-
ledge in the world before that period, than for many centuries after-
wards; and as to religious knowledge, the Christian system, as already
said, was only another species of mythology; and the mythology to
which it succeeded, was a corruption of an ancient system of theism. 12
It is owing to this long interregnum of science, and to no other cause, that we have now to look back through a vast chasm of many hundred
years to the respectable characters we call the Ancients. Had the progression of knowledge gone on proportionably with the stock that before ex-
isted, that chasm would have been filled up with characters rising super-
ior in knowledge to each other; and those Ancients we now so much ad-
mire would have appeared respectably in the background of the scene.
But the christian system laid all waste; and if we take our stand about the beginning of the sixteenth century, we look back through that long
chasm, to the times of the Ancients, as over a vast sandy desert, in which not a shrub appears to intercept the vision to the fertile hills beyond.
It is an inconsistency scarcely possible to be credited, that any thing
should exist, under the name of a religion, that held it to be irreligious to study and contemplate the structure of the universe that God had made.
But the fact is too well established to be denied. The event that served
more than any other to break the first link in this long chain of despotic
ignorance, is that known by the name of the Reformation by Luther.
From that time, though it does not appear to have made any part of the
intention of Luther, or of those who are called Reformers, the Sciences
began to revive, and Liberality, their natural associate, began to appear.
This was the only public good the Reformation did; for, with respect to
religious good, it might as well not have taken place. The mythology still continued the same; and a multiplicity of National Popes grew out of the
downfal of the Pope of Christendom.
Comparison of Christianism with the Religious Ideas
Inspired by Nature
Having thus shewn, from the internal evidence of things, the cause that
produced a change in the state of learning, and the motive for substitut-
ing the study of the dead languages, in the place of the Sciences, I pro-
ceed, in addition to the several observations already made in the former
part of this work, to compare, or rather to confront, the evidence that the structure of the universe affords, with the christian system of religion.
But as I cannot begin this part better than by referring to the ideas that occurred to me at an early part of life, and which I doubt not have occurred in some degree to almost every other person at one time or other,
I shall state what those ideas were, and add thereto such other matter as shall arise out of the subject, giving to the whole, by way of preface, a short introduction.
My father being of the quaker profession, it was my good fortune to
have an exceedingly good moral education, and a tolerable stock of use-
ful learning. Though I went to the grammar school, I did not learn Latin, not only because I had no inclination to learn languages, but because of
the objection the quakers have against the books in which the language is taught. But this did not prevent me from being acquainted with the subjects of all the Latin books used in the school.
The natural bent of my mind was to science. I had some turn, and I be-
lieve some talent for poetry; but this I rather repressed than encouraged, as leading too much into the field of imagination. As soon as I was able, I purchased a pair of globes, and attended the philosophical lectures of
Martin and Ferguson, and became afterwards acquainted with Dr. Bevis,
of the society called the Royal Society, then living in the Temple, and an excellent astronomer.
I had no disposition for what was called politics. It presented to my
mind no other idea than is contained in the word jockeyship. When,
therefore, I turned my thoughts towards matters of government, I had to
form a system for myself, that accorded with the moral and philosophic
principles in which I had been educated. I saw, or at least I thought I
saw, a vast scene opening itself to the world in the affairs of America;
and it appeared to me, that unless the Americans changed the plan they
were then pursuing, with respect to the government of England, and de-
clared themselves independent, they would not only involve themselves
in a multiplicity of new difficulties, but shut out the prospect that was then offering itself to mankind through their means. It was from these
motives that I published the work known by the name of Common Sense, which is the first work I ever did publish, and so far as I can judge of myself, I believe I should never have been known in the world as an author
on any subject whatever, had it not been for the affairs of America. I
wrote Common Sense the latter end of the year 1775, and published it the first of January, 1776. Independence was declared the fourth of July
Any person, who has made observations on the state and progress of
the human mind, by observing his own, can not but have observed, that
there are two distinct classes of what are called Thoughts; those that we produce in ourselves by reflection and the act of thinking, and those that bolt into the mind of their own accord. I have always made it a rule to
treat those voluntary visitors with civility, taking care to examine, as
well as I was able, if they were worth entertaining; and it is from them I have acquired almost all the knowledge that I have. As to the learning
that any person gains from school education, it serves only, like a small capital, to put him in the way of beginning learning for himself afterwards. Every person of learning is finally his own teacher; the reason of which is, that principles, being of a distinct quality to circumstances, cannot be impressed upon the memory; their place of mental residence is