Voltaire: Science and Religion

Religion / Science

Came across a fascinating post over on “Stop that Crow”

“The real gem which Voltaire found in British society was certainly that of the new natural philosophy, or science as we would now call it. He sees the empiricism of Bacon, Newton and especially Locke as being superior to Descartes in almost every aspect. He defends the idea that the proper source of information about the world is the world its self by way of observation, rather than by way of any appeal to clear and distinct ideas which may or may not be innate. Whereas Descartes is seen as a speculative theorizer as to the substance or nature of mind, Locke endeavors to discover how the mind actually works. Voltaire sees Locke’s skepticism to Descartes’ rejection of materialism as being the only responsible conclusion to reach; the mind may or may not be composed of matter, what matters is that we don’t claim to know that which we do not.

In a similar vein, Voltaire argues that we should avoid metaphysical hypothesizing and the wasting of time with irresolvable questions such as ‘how do we know there is a world outside of me?’ He advocates the use of our limited and natural faculties in searching for knowledge about the world and our relation to it, for it is such knowledge that moves us from helplessness to natural understanding to happiness. He strongly disagrees with the teachings of the theologians that philosophers such as Locke were dangerous and detrimental to society, and turns the tables on the theologians themselves for having bred contention, discord and war. After all, when has anybody ever heard of a theologian or priest being burned at the stake by a bunch of philosophers?”

Check out the rest – it’s well worth the read.

(Via Stop That Crow.)

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Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...