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The 18th century England was embroiled in ceaseless controversy - Christianity.

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The 18th century England was embroiled in ceaseless controversy. The first half of the century was marked by political movements, the rise of skeptics and deists (enlightenment period) whereas in the second half, revival within the church became the issue at stake. Harris states that the century witnessed deterioration in religious tradition, which resulted from a new spirit of individualism, accompanied by the development of new literary forms.1 Ancient records served as the basis for the claims of Christian theology,2 and the deists questioned their authenticity. The deists also ignored revealed religion, laying emphasis on the religion of nature, which is based on reason. As Cragg infers, gradually reason took the place of theology, and served as a principal factor preoccupying the century's thought. Moreover, its supremacy as a foundation of faith was universally accepted.3 As a result, the deists expressed their objections to Christianity, considering it as a religion contrary to reason. The enlightenment period of the 18th century also came up with biblical criticism. New methods of empirical science were applied to the study of all disciplines, including the Bible.4 Consequently, a number of distinguished writers subjected the Bible to criticism. One of these personalities was Thomas Paine. In his second part of The Age of Reason, he attacked the Bible based on his own investigation. In 1796 Richard Watson, bishop of Liandaff (1737-1816),5 wrote a refutation against Paine's book, entitled: "An Apology for the Bible." Thus, Paine's The Age of Reason (II) and Watson's refutation represent enlightenment insights and religious authority respectively, which stood at conflict in the 18th century. By comparing their different perspectives, this paper will demonstrate that Paine's argument is based on reason whereas Watson's is based on Biblical authority and tradition. Paine is a believer in natural religion, and so his writings are opposed to the assumptions of revealed religion. For him, God fully reveals himself not in written scripture but through the universe, which can be communicated to anyone without being falsified as the Bible is. ...read more.


Likewise, Matthew and Luke took their accounts from the public registers and wrote differently; Matthew followed the genealogy of Joseph (Jesus' stepfather), and Luke the genealogy of Mary (Jesus' mother). Had not their account been true, they would have been exposed by the Jews for having imposed a false genealogy on the Jewish nation (Apology, 122). Watson observes that Paine reads the Bible with a critical eye, pointing out what he thinks as an error, and disowns its moral and historical significance. The ongoing issues indicate that Paine's and Watson's contrary views resulted from the 18th century modern biblical criticism, which emphasized fact, discarding the value of faith.16 Paine got used to this method while Watson stuck to Biblical authority. Their difference can be seen in their understanding of truth. What Watson regards as "truth" appears to be a myth for Paine. Their attitudes towards miracles can be mentioned as an example here. Paine asserts that the miracles cited by Josephus, i.e. opening the sea of Pamphlilia to let Alexander and his army pass is related to the division of the Red Sea narrated in Exodus. Also the two miracles, curing a layman and a blind man which Tacitus relates with Vespasian are synonymous to the miracles told of Jesus Christ by his historians.17 All these miracles are not acceptable to Paine because they sound naturally incredible. Responding to Paine, Watson argues that the miracles recorded in the Bible are the works of God, and therefore superior to those mentioned by Tacitus (Apology, 22). While Paine views the Biblical miracles as mere fables, Watson values them as supernatural acts whose validity cannot be doubted. Taking seriously the sort of contradictions he found in the Gospels, Paine rejects the whole story of Jesus (his virgin birth, crucifixion, and resurrection), considering them as myths derived from heathen mythology.18 Conversely, based on his inference that whenever two individuals write about somebody's story there may be a disagreement in minute points, Watson does not hesitate to accept the story of Jesus Christ as true. ...read more.


The Christian has no misgivings as to the pardon of penitent sinners through the intercession of a mediator; the deist is harassed with apprehensions lest the moral justice of God should demand with inexorable rigor, punishment for transgression. The Christian has no doubt concerning the lawfulness and the efficacy of prayer; the deist is disturbed on this point by abstract considerations concerning the goodness of God (Apology, 158). As one of the "intellectual party of the church,"23 Watson defends revealed religion, showing the defect of deism. His apology demonstrates his zeal and dedication to Christianity. Also as reported in his anecdote, a number of Christians who had been perplexed by the writings of Paine expressed their appreciation to Watson, for he has relieved the church, which was on the way to be subverted by deism.24 The over all discussion illustrated above implies that Watson rests his mind in the revealed religion being guided by scripture, the inspired word of God. In contrast to Watson, Paine uses the exercise of his reason for the investigation of truth. In conclusion, we have seen that Paine and Watson approached the Bible differently. As a deist, Paine was opposed to revealed religion, and deduced that all religious truth should be discerned in accordance with human reason. As a result, like any one of the writers of the enlightenment period who criticized the Bible, he investigated it according to his own understanding. His evaluation of the Bible demonstrates that Paine was familiar with Biblical criticism and historical critical method, which began to appear at the beginning of the 18th century. By contrast, Watson stood as a defender of the supernatural revelation, avoiding any criticism of the Bible. He was convinced that supernatural revelation is rational in its nature. Moreover, contrary to Paine, Watson believes that reason is misleading so that we cannot examine the Bible by reason alone. The teachings of the church, which were accepted through tradition, are desirable. Hence, Watson stands as the negative image of Paine and vice versa. ...read more.

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