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Modern Western values owe more to Enlightenment philosophy than to religion.


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I will be arguing that the moral, political, and social values of the modern West (meaning Europe, the United States, and other European-derived cultures) are more closely connected to the ideas propogated by 18th-century Enlightenment thinkers than to Judeo-Christian religion. Ideas I will be focusing on include humanism, democracy, science, secularism, human rights, rationality, and progress. My opponent must argue in favor of religion as the primary influence on today's Western values, as opposed to the often anti-religious Enlightenment.
1. No new arguments in the final round from either side
2. BoP will be shared between debaters. Each side must attempt to prove that their position is correct.
Round 1 = Opening arguments
Round 2 = Rebuttals
Round 3 = Rebuttals
Round 4 = Final rebuttals and summary
I will be taking a risk by allowing anyone to accept. Here's hoping for a challenging and spirited debate!
Round 1
I thank my opponent for accepting this debate. Best of luck!

Many people believe that religious faith is the very foundation that society is based on. In particular, that Western society is based on the Christian faith and the Hebrew traditions it derives from. Conservatives and traditionalists have used this idea to push some alarmist rhetoric. Because attendance at religious services, and religious affiliation in general, has been declining in the West, these alarmists warn that once religion is gone, society will be overwhelmed by moral depravity, and ultimately collapse. Reactionary thinkers such as Ben Shapiro, Jordan Peterson, and Dennis Prager have all given messages like this.

I will admit that religion has played a role in shaping society. In fact, religion ruled over the Western mind for well over a thousand years. But things began to shift in the 18th century, when thinkers like Locke, Montesqieu, Rousseau, Voltaire, Newton, Hume, Diderot, Paine, Kant, and many more began a conversation about how society can be made better. They saw that religion was no perfect guiding light for civilization, but often hindered free thought, punished so-called heretics and dissenters, stifled the blooming Scientific Revolution, and failed to stop man’s sinful and violent impulses. The Enlightenment thinkers were of course diverse and disagreed with each other on many things, but most could generally agree on this: governments should serve people, respect their rights, and not persecute those who hold different beliefs. We take this for granted now, but at the time these were radical ideas. We hear of no such ideas in the Bible, and Europe for 1400 years until that point was a theocratic nightmare that censored free thought, persecuted non-Christians and those considered the wrong kind of Christian, and stamped on human rights in a way that would make the modern Middle East shudder. Only after the Enlightenment did tolerance and liberalism begin to spread. I will now describe what I see as the three main pillars of modern Western civilization - science, democracy, and humanism - and describe why each of these pillars owes a lot to the Enlightenment and little to religion.


We have much easier lives, comparatively, than ever before in human history. This is all thanks to the advances of science. The Enlightenment fostered a Scientific Revolution, and among their thinkers were some of the greatest scientists of all time: Newton, Leibniz, Halley. They promoted science as a way to improve the human condition, and that it did. We have made advances in medicine, food production, architecture, communication, and technology that were unimaginable in those times. Science has shaped the world we live in today. And it would not have been possible without the Enlightenment’s steadfast commitment to reason, logic, and rational, empirical thought. Even the non-scientists among us believe in the ideal of searching for truth and understanding. Thanks to this search, we know more about the universe than ever before.

But this was not always the West’s ideal. From the time of Constantine until the Enlightenment, the Christian religion has notoriously repressed, censored, and even persecuted scientific thought. The Enlightenment thinkers believed in following the truth wherever it led - the Church wanted to contort all the facts to fit into the current belief system. Free thought has no place in a Christian society. The Catholic Church persecuted Galileo for saying that the Earth moved around the Sun, arguing that this went against the Biblical story of Joshua, who supposedly stopped the Sun from moving. The Catholic Church only changed this stance in *1822*, 200 years later. Only when heliocentric theory was completely undeniable, the Church changed its mind, long after even the common people had. The same fight would be repeated with evolution, and other issues I won’t be getting into. Christianity has not fostered science or rational thought, but has fought against it every step of the way, moving the goalposts when necessary.

It’s a miracle that science was able to succeed under the intolerant eye of the Church. But I have no doubt that the Enlightenment’s secular revolution was an essential step in achieving our modern scientific miracles.  And if it weren’t for religion, perhaps science would be at an even higher and greater level in 2020.


An even more essential pillar of the West is democracy. The right of the people to have a say in government is taken by most of us as obvious. Any non-democratic state is rightly considered unjust and tyrannical. If we want to trace that idea back to its origins, we would arrive at the Enlightenment. It was the brilliant John Locke who best argued for democracy, human rights, and toleration in an intolerant world. The Founding Fathers of the American Revolution based their new government largely on his writings - and made sure to separate church and state. And after the French Revolution, the ideal of democracy began to spread throughout the West, throwing off the old chain of monarchy. I will not say that this ideal has been perfectly lived up to. Indeed, many atrocities have been committed in the name of so-called democracy. But this is a marked improvement over what came before, and now we are closer than ever to the Enlightenment ideal of a society in which all people are given a say.

If you open up the Bible and look for passages about democracy, you will find not a peep. This is to be expected, as it was composed in an ancient, theocratic world. But it’s curious that we’re supposed to accept Judeo-Christian values as the very foundation of Western civilization when the most celebrated part of it, democracy itself, is nowhere to be found in the sacred texts. Indeed, religion was often used as a tool to argue against democracy when it was still in the cradle. The absolute power of monarchs was taken as “the divine right of kings”, and defended with pro-monarchy Biblical passages, of which there are many. When the French Revolution kicked in, calling for radical ideas like equality and self-government, the Church denounced it, branding it anti-religious. Only when democracy was a solid reality in the West did Christianity accept it, and in some cases, feebly tried to claim that they invented it first. Christian thought is now perfectly accepted and tolerated in the democratic West, though the Church did not extend democratic thinkers the same courtesy back when they were in power.


Humanism, in my opinion, is the prime and greatest pillar of Western culture. The word has some stigma attached to it, and is often misrepresented. It is not some kind of blind worship of humanity, or extolling humans as gods. Humanism is defined as “An outlook or system of thought attaching prime importance to human rather than divine or supernatural matters.” [1] Most people in the West, even those who are religious, find human matters more important than the supernatural. We see the goodness in people, and extend our empathy to our fellow humans, even those from very different cultures and parts of the world. Humanism budded in the Renaissance, but only in the Enlightenment did it fully bloom. Humanism is the cornerstone of the idea of human rights, of freedom of speech and thought and assembly and worship. Only by occupying ourselves with our fellow people, and not with gods, demons, fairies, or ridiculous nationalist ideologies, can we make the world a better place.

Fundamentalist Christian thought, as it was before the Enlightenment and afterward in some stubborn sects, is thoroughly anti-humanist. Thanks to original sin, humans are inherently depraved, wicked, disgusting creatures. There is no point in trying to improve a world corrupted by sin. The medieval worldview held that life is nothing more than “a vale of tears”, a blip of suffering before eternal judgment in the afterlife. With a worldview like that, what is the point in trying to progress or help humanity at all? It is a worldview that obsesses over death and rejects life. I will admit that many of Jesus’ teachings are wonderful examples of humanism, but Christians have been notoriously bad at following them throughout history. In any case, the human rights we cherish today were not spoken of anywhere in the Bible, and instead derive back to Enlightenment thought.

These three ideals, science, democracy, and humanism, are three main pillars of Western culture. Religion has attempted to suppress these ideals from the start, and without the Enlightenment’s revolt against religious supremacy, we probably wouldn’t have them. In his rebuttal, I ask my opponent to either deny the importance of each of these pillars, or argue that they owe more to religion than to the Enlightenment. And of course, give any additional points he wishes.

I now hand the floor to my opponent for his opening argument.


First off, I am going to kind of concede about religion not being the foundation of Western Civilization. But my reason is not going to be what Pro is expecting. My reason for saying this is that religion did indeed keep the West in a Dark Age for several centuries. The Bible, on which Christianity should be based, was largely hidden and rejected during the Dark Ages. The Catholic Church prevented the people from reading the Bible and much less from owning one. To do so was to be tortured until you recanted or were burned at the stake. The Bible actually condemn religion throughout the history in it. So I wouldn't say that religion will destroy our country, for there is still plenty of it. But the lack of following the Bible will as promised in its sacred pages.

Next, I want to add that Catholicism was the dominant "Christian" religion for centuries. However, most of its teachings then, and now, are contrary to what the Bible says. Catholicism was and still is a religion where man is the authority, not God and His Word. If Pro wants to debate on that after this debate I would be more than happy to oblige.

Let me briefly comment on the 18th century. During this century there had been already a building up of free thinking starting in the 15th century with the distribution of the Bible. Indeed the most Protestant country, the Netherlands, was the most free thinking country 150 years before England. Then you gave a long list of thinkers of who most based their thinking on what they had read in the Bible. Locke, Newton and Kant were Protestant Christians who believed, studied and promoted the reading of the Bible. Montesquieu was against organized religion, but advocated the true principles found in the Bible (who can blame is dislike for Catholicism, the most oppressive and controlling religion).1 Thomas Paine considered himself a deist, but saw the Bible as a book with eternal truths.2 A Biblical Christian will also be against organized religion, for organized religion can be oppressive and lead people away from what the Bible says. In fact some of these men studied a trilogy of freedom written by three Hougonouts in the 16th century. These are Francogallia, Rights of Magistrates and Vindiciae Contra Tyrannos which used the Bible to expound their ideas on liberty (I might get more into it later).


The pioneers of science (Newton, Spinoza, Bacon, Barrow, Boyle, Kepler and many others) were motivated to study science by a belief that God had created a natural, ordered universe governed by natural laws He had put in place. They reached this conclusion due to the fact that they could finally read the Bible for themselves. 

Indeed, the Catholic Church did not follow Biblical science. Instead it relied heavily on Aristotelian science. For example Galileo. Galileo actually read the Bible and he argued in his Letter to Castelli that Copernicus's heliocentric system was consistent with the Bible, "I say that this passage [Joshua and the sun standing still] shows clearly the falsity and impossibility of the Aristotelian and Ptolemaic world system, and on the other hand agrees very well with the Copernican one"3 and then he goes on to explain why. He basically is saying that Joshua's perspective on earth was that the sun stood still in the sky, but not that that is what happens. So Galileo actually defended the Biblical teaching of science against the Aristotelian science the Catholic Church was using. (As a side note: Pro probably would say that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, but no one would accuse him of believing in geocentricity).

Though the Catholic Church persecuted some scientists like Galileo the Catholic Church burned more Bibles, Bible translators and theologians that scientists and science books. While Galileo was put under house arrest, William Tyndale was hanged and burned at the stake.

While the Catholic Church submerged Europe in the Greek philosophy of science leaving a Dark Age, the Reformation brought true science to a place of prominence. Indeed, up to sixty percent of those who created science were "devout" Christians while the rest were "conventional" ones. Europe had to break the chains that Plato and Aristotle had placed on science and see science as an objective study of the laws of nature established by the Creator God of the Bible.

It is nihilistic to believe, as most scientists today do, that there are no possible answers to the "big questions", and that we can only have knowledge that is discovered by science. However, the pioneers of science did not think this way. They could study small things because God had already answered the "big question". They believed God had already written answers in nature and they only had to discover what hadn't been revealed.
It is interesting to note that Evolution has a Greek view of science established by Aristotle and Plato that had sunk the world into a Dark Age.


I do not know where Pro gets the idea that Locke and the Founding Fathers of the US advocated for democracy. (If Pro is a Democrat I understand why he says that.) Last I checked they all denounced democracy in the strongest terms as being a place where the rabble could take control of government. Instead these men advocated for Republican forms of government. 

I am glad that Pro brought up "the divine right of kings" and its connection to religion because I am going to contradict him by saying that the idea of "divine right of kings" is against the Bible and I will use none other than Thomas Paine's' Common Sense to prove it. When talking about the originating of kings Paine says,
"Government by kings was introduced by the Heathens, from whom the children of Israel copied the custom. It was the most prosperous invention the Devil ever set on foot for the promotion of idolatry. The Heathens paid divine honors to their deceased kings, and the Christian World hath improved on the plan by doing the same to their living ones. How impious is the title of sacred Majesty applied to a worm, who in the midst of his splendor is crumbling into dust ! As the exalting one man so greatly above the rest cannot be justified on the equal rights of nature, so neither can it be defended on the authority of scripture; for the will of the Almighty as declared by Gideon, and the prophet Samuel, expressly disapproves of government by Kings."
Then Paine continues expounding the idea for many pages. His conclusion is that kings are just as much sinners as the common man, so why should he get to command all others.

While Pro gives credit to Enlightenment he doesn't mention the Magna Carta or the Netherlands who stripped kings of rights and gave the people more of a say in government long before John Locke. Let us look at some books on freedom written by Hougonouts that influenced John Locke and Montesquieu. Their books are called the trilogy of freedom. Francogallia was written by Francois Hotman. In this book Hotman says that kings are responsible for to their people for their conduct while in power and that the people should have a right to remove them when violating their duties. He argued that a king should not have the sole power in administering the government, but that the government should be divided in "Three Estates". He considered this assembly the center of government not just to act as counsel for the ruler. He further says that the Bible should be what the rule of law should rely on. Theodore Beza's The Right of Magistrates was one of the original sources for the idea of human rights. Beza said that the peoples first duty is to defend the kingdom even if it meant going against the king. God, he said, was interested in people first and if the king was violating his people rights then the people should depose him. Why is this so? Because human rights come from God and not man. Therefore, no king had the authority from God to violate human rights. The third book, Vindiciae Contra Tyrannos, used the example of King Josiah. When he was crowned king he made a covenant between himself and God to obey Him, followed by a pact between him and the people. If the King stopped obeying God, then the people had the right to depose him.

While the Founding Fathers rejected one established religion, they were not opposed to the Bible being the foundation of society and politics. 
John Adams: Suppose a nation in some distant region should take the Bible for their only law book and every member should regulate his conduct by the precepts there exhibited. . . . What a Eutopia – what a Paradise would this region be!"
Benjamin Franklin: "As to Jesus of Nazareth, my opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think the system of morals and His religion as He left them to us, the best the world ever saw or is likely to see."
Patrick Henry: "The Bible… is a book worth more than all the other books that were ever printed."
John Jay: "The Bible is the best of all books, for it is the word of God and teaches us the way to be happy in this world and in the next. Continue therefore to read it and to regulate your life by its precepts."
Thomas Jefferson: "I am a Christian in the only sense in which He wished anyone to be: sincerely attached to His doctrines in preference to all others."


Pro contradicts himself by saying that Jesus taught humanism yet humanism didn't begin until the Enlightenment. What? I also what to mention that the "Enlightenment Founders", if you will, were very divided on man. Locke, Montesquieu and the American Founding Fathers (also many scientists like Newton and Boyle) believed in the depravity of man and encouraged the Bible to be taught so that man could know what God demanded from His creation. While Voltaire and Rousseau rejected the Bible and became atheists or close to it.

I would like to touch more on Humanism in the next round. As I said this much space doesn't give justice.
4. Excerpt from Common Sense

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I don't think this debate will do justice to the theme. Though I am debating this I have another one on the same subject that will go more in depth if anyone is interested. I have it titled The Bible is the Foundation of Western Civilization.
hol up
--> @Phenenas
Secularism is not anti-Christian.
--> @Dr.Franklin
There was certainly philosophy in the late Roman Empire, but nothing like that of the Enlightenment. Historians consider the Enlightenment to have started in the mid-late 17th century, at the earliest.
Also, do you not realize that religious skepticism and secularism were the Enlightenment's defining characteristics?
enlightenment philosophizes goes back to christian rome
This is a really cool one where I don't have a particular opinion. I might've taken it but I'm too busy atm. Looking forward to following this one though
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