Leibniz was the last major figure of seventeenth-century rationalism who contributed heavily to other fields such as metaphysics, epistemology, logic, mathematics, physics, jurisprudence, and the philosophy of religion; he is also considered to be one of the last “universal geniuses”. He did not develop his system, however, independently of these advances. Leibniz rejected Cartesian dualism and denied the existence of a material world. In Leibniz’s view there are infinitely many simple substances, which he called “monads” (which he derived directly from Proclus).
Descartes was the first of the modern rationalists and has been dubbed the ‘Father of Modern Philosophy.’ Much subsequent Western philosophy is a response to his writings, which are studied closely to this day.
Immanuel Kant (1724–1804)
Kant is one of the central figures of modern philosophy and set the terms by which all subsequent thinkers have had to grapple. He argued that human perception structures natural laws and that reason is the source of morality. His thought continues to hold a major influence in contemporary thought, especially in fields such as metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, political philosophy, and aesthetics.
Kant named his brand of epistemology “Transcendental Idealism”, and he first laid out these views in his famous work The Critique of Pure Reason. In it, he argued that there were fundamental problems with both rationalist and empiricist dogma. To the rationalists he argued, broadly, that pure reason is flawed when it goes beyond its limits and claims to know those things that are necessarily beyond the realm of all possible experience: the existence of God, free will, and the immortality of the human soul. Kant referred to these objects as “The Thing in Itself” and goes on to argue that their status as objects beyond all possible experience by definition means we cannot know them. To the empiricist, he argued that while it is correct that experience is fundamentally necessary for human knowledge, reason is necessary for processing that experience into a coherent thought. He, therefore, concludes that both reason and experience are necessary for human knowledge. In the same way, Kant also argued that it was wrong to regard thought as mere analysis. In Kant’s views, “a priori concepts” do exist, but if they are to lead to the amplification of knowledge, they must be brought into relation with empirical data”.
John Eleazer Remsburg (January 7, 1848 – 1919) was an ardent religious skeptic in America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. His name is sometimes spelled Remsberg.
n recent years a list of forty-two names from the “Silence of Contemporary Writers” chapter of The Christ (sometimes called the Remsberg List) has appeared in several books regarding the non-historicity hypothesis by authors such as James Patrick Holding, Hilton Hotema, Jawara D. King, Madalyn Murray O’Hair, Dorothy M. Murdock and Robert M. Price, Asher Norman, Frank Zindler, Tim C. Leedom et al, as well as appearing in some 200 blog posts regarding the non-historicity hypothesis. This Remsburg List was improved upon in 2012 with the book No Meek Messiah, augmenting the number of “Silent Writers” to 126. The list was published in Free Inquiry magazine in August 2014.
It must be mentioned that Remsburg stated “This volume on “The Christ” was written by one who recognizes in the Jesus of Strauss and Renan a transitional step, but not the ultimate step, between orthodox Christianity and radical Freethought. By the Christ is understood the Jesus of the New Testament. The Jesus of the New Testament is the Christ of Christianity. The Jesus of the New Testament is a supernatural being. He is, like the Christ, a myth. He is the Christ myth”.
Moreover Remsburg clarified that “It is not against the man Jesus that I write, but against the Christ Jesus of theology” explaining that “Jesus of Nazareth, the Jesus of humanity, the pathetic story of whose humble life and tragic death has awakened the sympathies of millions, is a possible character and may have existed; but the Jesus of Bethlehem, the Christ of Christianity, is an impossible character and does not exist.”
Furthermore, in “The Christ a Myth” chapter Remsburg described myth as falling into three broad categories: historical, philosophical, and poetic (a mixture of the previous two). Remsburg concluded the chapter by stating “While all Freethinkers are agreed that the Christ of the New Testament is a myth they are not, as we have seen, and perhaps never will be, fully agreed as to the nature of this myth. Some believe that he is a historical myth; others that he is a pure myth. Some believe that Jesus, a real person, was the germ of this Christ whom subsequent generations gradually evolved; others contend that the man Jesus, as well as the Christ, is wholly a creation of the human imagination. After carefully weighing the evidence and arguments in support of each hypothesis the writer, while refraining from expressing a dogmatic affirmation regarding either, is compelled to accept the former as the more probable.”
Robert Green “Bob” Ingersoll (August 11, 1833 – July 21, 1899) was an American lawyer, a Civil War veteran, political leader, and orator of United States during the Golden Age of Free Thought, noted for his broad range of culture and his defense of agnosticism. He was nicknamed “The Great Agnostic”.
Robert Ingersoll was born in Dresden, New York. His father, John Ingersoll, was an abolitionist-leaning Congregationalist preacher, whose radical views forced his family to move frequently. For a time, Rev. John Ingersoll filled the pulpit for American revivalist Charles G. Finney while Finney was on a tour of Europe. Upon Finney’s return, Rev. Ingersoll remained for a few months as co-pastor/associate pastor under Finney. The elder Ingersoll’s later pastoral experiences influenced young Robert negatively, however, as The Elmira Telegram described in 1890:
“Though for many years the most noted of American infidels, Colonel Ingersoll was born and reared in a devoutly Christian household. His father, John Ingersoll, was a Congregationalist minister and a man of mark in his time, a deep thinker, a logical and eloquent speaker, broad minded and generously tolerant of the views of others. The popular impression which credits Ingersoll’s infidelity in the main to his father’s severe orthodoxy and the austere and gloomy surroundings in which his boyhood was spent is wholly wrong. On the contrary the elder Ingersoll’s liberal views were a source of constant trouble between him and his narrow-minded parishioners. They caused him to frequently change his charges, and several times made him the defendant in church trials. His ministerial career was, in fact, substantially brought to a close by a church trial which occurred while he was pastor of the Congregational Church at Madison, Ohio, and at which his third wife appeared as prosecutor. Upon this occasion he was charged with prevarication and unministerial conduct. The evidence adduced—the trial is one of the abiding traditions of the dull little town of Madison—was of the most trivial and ridiculous character, but the committee which heard it decided that though he had done “nothing inconsistent with his Christian character,” he was “inconsistent with his ministerial character,” and forbade him to preach in the future. Elder John went before the higher church authorities and was permitted to continue his clerical labors. However, he soon removed to Wisconsin, going from there to Illinois, where he died. The Madison trial occurred when young Robert was nine years old, and it was the unjust and bigoted treatment his father received which made him the enemy, first of Calvinism, and later of Christianity in its other forms.”
In epistemology, rationalism is the view that “regards reason as the chief source and test of knowledge” or “any view appealing to reason as a source of knowledge or justification”. More formally, rationalism is defined as a methodology or a theory “in which the criterion of the truth is not sensory but intellectual and deductive”.
Rationalists believe reality has an intrinsically logical structure.
Rationalists argue that certain truths exist and that the intellect can directly grasp these truths. That is to say, rationalists assert that certain rational principles exist in logic, mathematics, ethics, and metaphysics that are so fundamentally true that denying them causes one to fall into contradiction. Rationalists have such a high confidence in reason that empirical proof and physical evidence are unnecessary to ascertain truth – in other words, “there are significant ways in which our concepts and knowledge are gained independently of sense experience”.
Biblical criticism is the scholarly “study and investigation of biblical writings that seeks to make discerning judgments about these writings”. Viewing biblical texts as being ordinary pieces of literature, rather than set apart from other literature, as in the traditional view, it asks when and where a particular text originated; how, why, by whom, for whom, and in what circumstances it was produced; what influences were at work in its production; what sources were used in its composition; and what message it was intended to convey. It will vary slightly depending on whether the focus is on the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament, the letters of New Testament or the Canonical gospels. It also plays an important role in the quest for a Historical Jesus.
It also addresses the physical text, including the meaning of the words and the way in which they are used, its preservation, history and integrity. Biblical criticism draws upon a wide range of scholarly disciplines including archaeology, anthropology, folklore, linguistics, Oral Tradition studies, and historical and religious studies.
Biblical criticism, defined as the treatment of biblical texts as natural rather than supernatural artifacts, grew out of the rationalism of the 17th and 18th centuries. In the 19th century it was divided between the higher criticism, the study of the composition and history of biblical texts, and lower criticism, the close examination of the text to establish their original or “correct” readings. These terms are largely no longer used, and contemporary criticism has seen the rise of new perspectives which draw on literary and multidisciplinary sociological approaches to address the meaning(s) of texts and the wider world in which they were conceived.
A division is still sometimes made between historical criticism and literary criticism. Historical criticism seeks to locate the text in history: it asks such questions as when the text was written, who the author/s might have been, and what history might be reconstructed from the answers. Literary criticism asks what audience the authors wrote for, their presumptive purpose, and the development of the text over time.
Historical criticism was the dominant form of criticism until the late 20th century, when biblical critics became interested in questions aimed more at the meaning of the text than its origins and developed methods drawn from mainstream literary criticism. The distinction is frequently referred to as one between diachronic and synchronic forms of criticism, the former concerned the development of texts through time, the latter treating texts as they exist at a particular moment, frequently the so-called “final form”, meaning the Bible text as we have it today.