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Austin Cline

America Founded as a Scientific Nation

By January 22, 2012

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Many conservative Christians insist that America was founded as a Christian Nation, despite the absence of any evidence that would support this. In contrast, there is some evidence for the idea that America was founded as a "scientific" nation. What I mean is that principles of science and scientific investigation, as they were understood at the time, were an important influence behind the creation of American democracy and government.

The writings of Newton, Francis Bacon, John Locke and David Hume deeply influenced Jefferson as he drafted the Declaration of Independence. Newton teased out the difference between belief and knowledge. Bacon laid out how we could build knowledge using inductive reasoning. Locke defined how knowledge is different from and superior to "but faith or opinion". Hume defined freedom as the ability to choose to do something or not.

Jefferson incorporated these ideas in America's founding document and they laid the philosophical and legal foundations of the US. If every human had the potential to build knowledge about reality and truth using science, no king or pope could claim a greater authority than an ordinary citizen. All men were created equal. This justified a secular government that respected and tolerated religion, but did not base its authority on religion--instead basing it on liberty, reason and science.

Source: New Scientist, October 29, 2011

It's appropriate that Thomas Jefferson was influenced by scientific knowledge when he also believed that democracy works best when the voting public is well-informed. It all comes down to knowledge about the world around us and the ability to use that knowledge to make our lives better. That's an important part of what defines both science and democracy.

This should be contrasted with our current government where elected politicians are mostly lawyers. Being a lawyer isn't inherently bad, but one of the things which defines a law education is learning how to use facts in a highly selective way to win a case. That's contrary to how science works, which means it's contrary to some of the more important ideas behind the founding of our government.

What should really dominate government and government policy: ideology or facts? If it's ideology, then having lawyers in charge is appropriate and denial of science is only to be expected. If it's facts, though, then we're on the wrong course and need to make some significant changes in order to get back on the right course.

January 23, 2012 at 12:02 pm
(1) Grandpa_In_The_East says:

I believe that many, if not most, lawyers begin their careers with the highest ideals, but then they enter the post-post-graduate school of hard-knocks. They learn to spin the truth with “razzle-dazzle” and with a moderate amount of “gloryification,” they come to know they can sway, perhaps, not just a jury but even an electorate here or there or maybe everywhere.

If our democracy fails it will be the starry-eyed electorate that makes it so. They must be critical, skeptical thinkers and they must demand more than slogans and “core values,” whatever that means, if we are to remain a free nation. And, they must not only demand that he or she, which they, the voters, have elected, perform their affirmed duty, but that they see to it that their staffs and appointees do likewise.

To do this our greatest potential leaders must learn to trust us!

The buck stops here with you and me (all of us).



January 24, 2012 at 3:25 am
(2) The Sojourner says:


What’s going on with the comments? My last published comment took over 24 hours to get in. My most recent comment has not yet been published and its been a day and a half, at least, since it was submitted.

January 24, 2012 at 5:06 am
(3) Austin Cline says:

I can’t find any comments of yours sitting in the spam folder or waiting to be approved.

January 24, 2012 at 1:24 pm
(4) The Sojourner says:

I’m trying again. So here goes… It seems some theists just can’t accept facts. I call it “willful ignorance”. I learned a new word recently, “anosognos­ia”. I’m a closet etymologis­t. I love discoverin­g more about our language. Also, I think the word is very appropriat­e for what these people are suffering from. It’s much more than just denial. It’s the inability to accept facts even if they are presented, or even explore the world of knowledge outside of their purview.

I think they have been stunted in their logic and reason by fear. Allowing reality to invade their narrow confines, can lead to damnation and hell. They must not waver from their “faith” no matter what.That is why a complete education is so important. If you’re taught to distrust Science or evolution or historical fact, you cannot become a truly mature adult; nor can you help to advance the progress of the country or world.This is the problem, the fact that it’s willful.

1000 characters isn’t enough. More if you wish to pursue this further:



January 26, 2012 at 5:52 am
(5) Grandpa_In_The_East says:

@The Sojourner,

Great comment!!!!


June 6, 2012 at 9:07 pm
(6) Robert C. says:

Religionists are supposed by logic to give up thisworld for that next, reason for faith and civil regulation-based interpersonal society for a single cell or one in a monastery wherein as individuals or groups they score future gains three ways: I. working themselves to the point of death; II. making use of every resource except the human mind; III. ignoring the world since it no longer matters to them–voting, citizenhood, war, livelihood earning, children, family, everything.

Is any of this Americanism? Yes, but not for worldly citizens. We lack the monasteries such people by right need to enjoy.

That’s how far our Founding Father as sons of the Enlightenment were from believing in medieval kingship and the infallibility of it’s central figure as “god’s deputy” on Earth.
The anchorite looks after his soul which demands that he separate it from space-time as much as he can. The citizen of a civil societal association is free to adopt specific religious ideas for his own life’s purpose, but never free to enforce them upon anyone else. keep the order that you have; anything else would deprive you of order and leave you with dog-eat-dog anarchy”.

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