Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Cosmic Religions

That's the title of a new post I have at "Ordinary Times."

Here is a taste insofar as it relates to the American Founding & Religion:
But Franklin soon abandoned such strict deism. He desired to worship a more personal God. So his next stop — where he attempted to reconcile Enlightenment with worship of a personal God — was something quite cosmic, indeed proto-Mormon. As he described it in 1728:
When I think thus, I imagine it great Vanity in me to suppose, that the Supremely Perfect, does in the least regard such an inconsiderable Nothing as Man. More especially, since it is impossible for me to have any positive clear Idea of that which is infinite and incomprehensible, I cannot conceive otherwise, than that He, the Infinite Father, expects or requires no Worship or Praise from us, but that he is even INFINITELY ABOVE IT.

I CONCEIVE then, that the INFINITE has created many Beings or Gods, vastly superior to Man, who can better conceive his Perfections than we, and return him a more rational and glorious Praise. As among Men, the Praise of the Ignorant or of Children, is not regarded by the ingenious Painter or Architect, who is rather honour’d and pleas’d with the Approbation of Wise men and Artists. .
It may be that these created Gods, are immortal, or it may be that after many Ages, they are changed, and Others supply their Places. .

Howbeit, I conceive that each of these is exceeding wise, and good, and very powerful; and that Each has made for himself, one glorious Sun, attended with a beautiful and admirable System of Planets. .
It is that particular wise and good God, who is the Author and Owner of our System, that I propose for the Object of my Praise and Adoration. .
Note that Franklin, for the rest of his life articulated belief in an active personal God, but never repudiated or retracted the above “cosmic” sentiment. (I’m not sure, however, whether he continued to believe in such.)


Tom Van Dyke said...

Franklin was born in 1705, and what he wrote in 1728 at 23...?

I dunno. I wouldn't hold him to it, esp since he didn't die until 68 years later. Me, I barely remember what I had for breakfast, let alone what I said 68 years ago, which I didn't because I'm not.

jimmiraybob said...

The use of the microscope and the telescope in the 17th and 18th centuries opened vast new areas of scientific and philosophic insights, speculations and hypotheses. Prior to the use of instrumentation to expand our sense of scale, multiple worlds were first hypothesized by some ancient philosophers such as Epicurus (see Lucretius’ de rerum Natura) and rested on the such ideas as atomism and the universe as infinite. Giordano Bruno (late 16th century), Pierre Gassendi (17th century), and Leibnitz (late 17th century to early 18th centuries) are a few that dabbled in the “new astronomy” and/or, the “new philosophy.”

Ben was a well-read man of his times even at such an early age and against great personal obstacles. This served him well in his latter scientific and philosophic endeavors including his efforts to help found the University of Pennsylvania and as recognized by having been elected the first president of the American Philosophical Society. But Ben wasn’t the only founder to engage these metaphysical speculations. Here are a couple of entries from John Adams diary (1)(2):

25. Sunday [April 1756]. Astronomers tell us with good reason, that not only all the planets and satellites in our solar system, but all the unnumbered worlds that revolve round the fixed stars are inhabited, [14] as well as this globe of earth. If this is the case, all mankind are no more in comparison of the whole rational creation of God, than a point to the orbit of Saturn. Perhaps all these different ranks of rational beings have in a greater or less degree committed moral wickedness. If so, I ask a Calvinist whether he will subscribe to this alternative, “Either God Almighty must assume the respective shapes of all these different species and suffer the penalties of their crimes in their stead, or else all these beings must be consigned to everlasting perdition?” (1)

26. Monday [April 1756]. The reflection that I penned yesterday appears upon the revision to be weak enough. For first, we know not that the inhabitants of other globes have sinned. Nothing can be argued in this manner till it is proved at least probable that all these species of rational beings have revolted from their rightful Sovereign. When I examine the little prospect that lies before me, and find an infinite variety of bodies in one horizon of, perhaps, two miles diameter, how many millions of such prospects there are upon the surface of this earth, how many millions of globes there are within our view, each of which has as many of these prospects upon its own surface as our planet; great and marvellous are thy works! &c. (2)

1) John Adams, The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: with a Life of the Author, Notes and Illustrations, by his Grandson Charles Francis Adams (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1856). 10 volumes. Vol. 2. 7/5/2015.

2) John Adams, The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: with a Life of the Author, Notes and Illustrations, by his Grandson Charles Francis Adams (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1856). 10 volumes. Vol. 2. 7/5/2015.