The Christian Humanist Podcast, Episode #55: The Enlightenment 101

General Introduction
– Is Nathan a Quaker?
– What’s on the blog?
– How to read the Great Books on your own

Historicize! Historicize!
– Where did the Renaissance leave off?
– The rise of the monarch and the fall of the Church
– Five centers of the Enlightenment
– Fleeing nationality and sectarian questions

Generalize! Generalize!
– Whiggish history
– The Reformation and the Enlightenment
– How coffee created the modern world

– Reactions to the Medieval past
– Diminished Thomisms
– Empiricism and Rationalism
– Enlightenment thinkers as compartmentalizers
– The postmodern critique
– Blaming the Renaissance and the Reformation
– The need for change

Enlightenment Religion
– Calvin vs. Hume
– The major players
– Alchemy and heresy
– Scientifically credible religion
– Godwin’s (Other) Law
– Open hostility to institutional religion
– The birth of Religion and tolerance
– The Village Square

The Rise of Modern Science
– Francis Schaeffer’s compartmentalization
– Rationalist vs. empiricist science
– Science and politics
– Paleontology

Political Changes
– Locke’s contribution
– Where do rights come from?
– The French Revolution blows up
– Why Jefferson is boring
– Founding Fathers as popularizers
– Original Sin and Balance of Powers

Breaking the Mold
– Jonathan Edwards
– Emmanuel Swedenborg
– Blaise Pascal






Adler, Mortimer J. Aristotle for Everybody. New York: Touchstone, 1997.

Descartes, Rene. Meditations on First Philosophy. Seattle: CreateSpace, 2009.

Diderot, Denis. The Nun. Trans. Leonard Tancock. New York: Penguin, 1974.

Edwards, Jonathan. The Sermons of Jonathan Edwards: A Reader. New Haven: Yale UP, 1999.

Franklin, Benjamin. The Autobiography and Other Writings. New York: Oxford UP, 2009.

Godwin, William. Caleb Williams. New York: Penguin, 2005.

Hazen, Craig James. The Village Enlightenment in America: Popular Religion and Science in the Nineteenth Century. Urbana-Champaign: U of Illinois P, 2000.

Hume, David. An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. Seattle: CreateSpace, 2009.

Jefferson, Thomas. The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth: The Jefferson Bible. Seattle: CreateSpace, 2011.

—. Political Writings. Ed. Joyce Appleby and Terence Ball. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1999.

Johnson, Steven. The Invention of Air: A Story of Science, Faith, Revolution, and the Birth of America. New York: Riverhead, 2008.

Locke, John. Two Treatises of Government. Seattle: CreateSpace, 2010.

McEntyre, Alistair. After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory. South Bend, Ind.: U of Notre Dame P, 2007.

Newton, Isaac. Observations Upon the Prophecies of Daniel and the Apocalypse of St. John. Seattle: CreateSpace, 2011.

Paine, Thomas. The Age of Reason. Seattle: CreateSpace, 2011.

Pascal, Blaise. Pensées. Trans. W.F. Trotter. Oxford: Benediction, 2011.

Schaeffer, Francis. How Should We Then Live?: The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture.

Smith, Adam. The Wealth of Nations. New York: Simon and Brown, 2011.

Spinoza, Baruch. Trans. Edwin Curley. New York: Penguin, 2005.

Suarez, Francisco. Metaphysical Demonstration of the Existence of God. New York: St. Augustine’s, 2004.

Swedenborg, Emmanuel. Heaven and Its Wonders and Hell. Seattle: CreateSpace, 2011.

Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologica. Trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province. New York: Christian Classics, 1981. 5 volumes.

Voltaire. God and Human Beings. New York: Prometheus, 2010.


15 thoughts on “The Christian Humanist Podcast, Episode #55: The Enlightenment 101

  1. As the angry guy mentioned at the start of the episode I clearly overstated myself last time. I love the show and meant that like any healthy interation I have some major difference in opinion and have been known to make exasperated comments at my iPod while listening to the CHP. If leaving comments on a iPod wasn’t such a pain I think I would far more often (my wife and I are presently Internet free but I dl episodes while at work).
    Wondering when the actual Neil Postman episode will actually happen (I’d love to see McCluen, Ellul and Illich interacting on such an episode as well though I suspect based on some passing comments that that episode might actually cause a rise in my blood pressure) keep up the good work.

  2. I suggested that in pre-season brainstorming, but I think I’m the only CHP host who’s read and taught a great deal of Postman. Perhaps we can do an episode or two in which we read and dig into one of his books as we did with Weaver last spring.

    Also, Gus, I’m sorry we couldn’t conjure your name on the spot, and thank you and John for listening and commenting!

  3. Just after I left this comment I ended up getting around to the cybernetics episode and I really enjoyed some of what you guys had to say about our relationship to tech. If you do get to a specifically Postman episode I really do want to encourage you guys to look at least a little at Ellul and Illich in particular because they are approaching these issues as Christians and have some really (I think) amazing insights theologically. Not to give you a reading list, since you clearly all ready have one (I too am reading The Devil Wears Nada for a review at but three other Christian writters who deal with some of this are Wendell Berry, Ched Myers and (someone who takes more than a couple cues from Walter Brueggemann, Ellul and Myers) Wes Howard-Brook who just wrote an incredible book this last year called “Come Out My People!” that takes on the Bible as a whole from this sort of a lense (It’s an amazing book). I did really want to reidderate that my frustration with the show was the kind I feel I have with my best friends when we disagree on something we all feel adamently about (I just get frustrated because I can’t jump right in and give my piece in the middle of the podcast).

  4. Oh, wow. I didn’t make the Jesus Radicals connection, Gus. So you’re doing for real what I’m playing at doing. I salute you.

    Thanks again for listening, and feel free to chime in (via iPod or otherwise) when you get a chance. I’ll see what we can do about a Postman episode.

  5. Do things for real? Hardly! I’m an in home care provider who has had a couple articles posted @ JRad. A book nerd who reads enough to just make him grumpy about far too many things. This’ll be my first book review.

  6. Very interesting episode, guys!

    Listening to this episode I was really interested in Nathan’s thoughts regarding the inseparability of the Enlightenment and the rise of modern science. I agree to some extent, but I also think that this can go down a certain road that our atheist friends all to often like to travel. That is, to the extent that Enlightenment thinking was a departure from the “need” for invoking God as meaningful in the world, there were indeed some thinkers who took these things hand-in-hand with the very development of science; namely that science *itself* is somehow a departure from a “need for God”. As Laplace famously declared, “I have no need for that hypothesis”. Personally, I think this mode of thinking betrays more about an overly “clockwork” rationalistic view of God as being yet another hypothesis that competes with “natural” or “scientific” hypotheses. As I’ve written a little about on my blog, I think this is persistent, yet ultimately false dichotomy.

    Obviously as a Christian who is a scientist (have to be careful about calling myself a Christian scientist for obvious reasons!), I obviously don’t think that the rise of science owes itself to this shrugging off of God. In fact, I do think that the rise of “intellectual” Christianity in the West was in fact a huge catalyst for the development of modern science and all that entails: the “codifying” of the scientific method, to paraphrase Nathan’s statement, and also the very confidence that nature is orderly and intelligible and amenable to investigation precisely because it has an orderly and intelligible (at least in some sense) Creator behind it. I haven’t read Schaeffer, but if he is saying something like this in his critique of the Enlightenment, I’d have to say I would agree at least with that sentiment. Of course, one could simply argue that the above is a sort of distilling of Christian thought through the very apparatus of the Enlightenment, but I don’t think that is necessarily a bad thing. And, if I understood you guys correctly, you would also agree that the Enlightenment has good things to tell us and has thought patterns and ideas that we should take with us on our Christian intellectual journeys.

    And finally, while again I agree that the Enlightenment and the rise of modern science are very much intertwined, I don’t necessarily think that science needs to be wed to Enlightenment philosophy to function well. To the extent that what we call “science” is just the application of our intellect to discovering how the world physically works, it can find its home in many philosophical and theological traditions. As well, I think we always need to keep in mind the distinctions between philosophies that have something to say about science, and science qua science.

    Sorry for the long comment, but what do you guys think? Could you elaborate more on how you see the relationship of Christian thought, Enlightenment thinking in general, and science?

  7. Nathan’s your guy if you want something more philosophically rigorous, but I’d say that the Enlightenment perspective, even in its anti-supernatural bent, aided the maturation of modern science in at least one practical way. It has been said that, if the only problem-solving tool one has is a hammer, all problems begin to look like nails. This is meant to poke fun at the lack of imagination or conceptual limitations of the hammer-people. However, practically speaking, the hammer-people probably end up learning far more uses for a hammer than, say, folks who also have a monkey wrench and some screwdrivers. Christian thinkers in the late Middle Ages, for example, had Aristotle’s empiricism hammer, but mostly they found the intellectual tasks they could do with their theological ratchet-socket set much more interesting, and mostly the hammer was used in those projects. The Enlightenment thinkers, though, were and are zealous hammer-people; and while Christians may decry the hammer-people’s attempts to use hammers for the wrong tasks, we should also concede that they showed us some things to do with hammers we might not otherwise have figured out, given our penchant for other tools.

  8. Not, of course, that Michial is not also philosophically rigorous, albeit differently. I’m just the folksy analogy guy.

  9. Dan, the point I was trying to make was a historical one: to see the rise of modern chemical science and the rise of modern political science and the rise of modern theological liberalism as things that could have happened without each other’s influence isn’t very good history, as far as I’m concerned.

    Now if one wants to talk about a post-modern reconciliation of scientific experimentation and Christian confession, and if one wants to bring in resources from figures like Buffon and Boyle and Bacon and other folks whose names start with B, I fully support that project and would like to see more of it, but I consider that constructive/positive philosophy rather than explanatory/descriptive historical work.

  10. David and Nathan,

    Thanks for the replies. I find your analogy very helpful, David. Certainly I get frustrated at my fellow scientists who think that science (the hammer) can solve every problem (i.e. they are all really nails in the end). But one cannot deny that this has led to some creative and heretofore unrecognized uses for a hammer.


    Thank you for clarifying, and I agree with your historical description. I just find it frustrating that so many modern thinkers use this to perpetuate the “warfare” model of science and religion, which, as you stated in your podcast, are categories that were more-or-less seen as separate starting with the Enlightenment. My comments took that and ran with it. Please forgive me if I wax somewhat passionate about this issue from time to time, as I’m somebody who finds himself stuck right in the middle of the storm fairly often.

  11. I’m glad that folks are interested in ramping up a message board. I’m less thrilled about the deadlines that loom ahead of me. September 30 is the last big one in the near future, so I’ll try to set something up in early October.

  12. I started my Great Books campaign by picking up Ethical Writings by Peter Abelard. It was on the list and I previously had read about Abelard through other endeavors.

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