In a speech he delivered in Paris on January 16, 1797, Thomas Paine harshly criticized what the French were then teaching in their science classes-especially the philosophy they were using. Interestingly, that same science philosophy of which Thomas Paine was so critical is identical to that used in our public schools today. Paine’s indictment of that philosophy is particularly significant in light of the fact that all historians today concede that Thomas Paine was one of the very least religious of our Founders. Yet, even Paine could not abide teaching science, which excluded God’s work and hand in the creation of the world and of all scientific phenomena. Below is an excerpt from that speech.
(While Benjamin Franklin was serving in London as diplomat from the Colonies to the King, Franklin met Englishman Thomas Paine (born 1737, died 1809). Franklin arranged for him to move to America in 1774 and helped set him up in the printing business. In 1776, Paine wrote Common Sense, which helped fuel the separation of America from Great Britain. He then served as a soldier in the American Revolution. He returned to England in 1787, and then went to France in 1792 as a supporter of the French Revolution. In 1794, he published his Age of Reason, the deistic work, which brought him much criticism from his former American friends. Upon his return to America in 1802, he found no welcome and eventually died as an outcast.)
Thomas Paine on “The Study of God”
Delivered in Paris on January 16, 1797, in a
Discourse to the Society of Theophilanthropists
It has been the error of the schools to teach astronomy, and all the other
sciences and subjects of natural philosophy, as accomplishments only; whereas
they should be taught theologically, or with reference to the Being who is
the author of them: for all the principles of science are of Divine origin.
Man cannot make, or invent, or contrive principles. He can only discover them;
and he ought to look through the discovery to the Author.
When we examine an extraordinary piece of machinery, an astonishing pile
of architecture, a well executed statue or a highly finished painting where
life and action are imitated, and habit only prevents our mistaking a surface
of light and shade for cubical solidity, our ideas are naturally led to think
of the extensive genius and talents of the artist. When we study the elements
of geometry, we think of Euclid. When we speak of gravitation, we think of
Newton. How then is it, that when we study the works of God in the creation,
we stop short, and do not think of God? It is from the error of the schools
in having taught those subjects as accomplishments only, and thereby separated
the study of them form the Being who is the author of them. . . .
The evil that has resulted from the error of the schools in teaching natural
philosophy as an accomplishment only has been that of generating in the pupils
a species of atheism. Instead of looking through the works of the creation
to the Creator himself, they stop short, and employ the knowledge they acquire
to create doubts of His existence. They labor with studied ingenuity to ascribe
everything they behold to innate properties of matter; and jump over all the
rest, by saying that matter is eternal.