Benjamin Franklin’s “First Principles”: More Inclusive Monotheism

By September 22, 2015

franklin

Benjamin Franklin Drawing Electricity from the Sky, c 1816, Benjamin West

Newton’s views likely influenced a remarkable statement from young Benjamin Franklin. Franklin had met with John Conduitt, the man who said that Newton had said that God had appointed “superior beings” over heavenly bodies.[1] Not long after, Franklin wrote the following which he entitled “First Principles.” Here I simply quote the whole thing and will offer further thoughts in a later post.

 

I BELIEVE there is one supreme, most perfect Being, author and father of the gods themselves.

For I believe that man is not the most perfect being but one, but rather as there are many degrees of beings superior to him.

Also when I stretch my imagination through and beyond our system of planets, beyond the visible fixed stars themselves, into that space that is every way infinite, and conceive it filled with suns like ours, each with a chorus of worlds for ever moving round him; this little ball on which we move, seems, even in my narrow imagination, to be almost nothing, and myself less than nothing, and of no sort of consequence.

When I think thus, I imagine it great vanity in me to suppose, that the supremely-perfect does in the least regard such an inconsiderable nothing as man; more especially, since it is impossible for me to have any clear idea of that which is infinite and incomprehensible, I cannot conceive otherwise, than that he the infinite Father expects or requires no worship or praise from us, but that he is even INFINITELY ABOVE IT.

But since there is in all men something like a natural principle which inclines them to DEVOTION, or the worship of some unseen power;

And since men are endued with reason superior to all other animals, that we are in our world acquainted with;

Therefore I think it seems required of me, and my duty, as a man, to pay divine regards to SOMETHING.

I conceive then that the INFINITE has created many beings or gods, vastly superior to man, who can better conceive his perfections than we, and return him a more rational and glorious praise.

As among men, the praise of the ignorant or of children, is not regarded by the ingenious painter or architect, who is rather honored and pleased with the approbation of wise men and artists.

It may be these created gods are immortal; or it may be that after many ages, they are changed, and others supply their places.

Howbeit, I conceive that each of these is exceeding wise and good, and very powerful; and that each has made for himself one glorious sun, attended with a beautiful and admirable system of planets.

It is that particular wise and good God, who is the author and owner of our system, that I propose for the object of my praise and adoration.

For I conceive that he has in himself some of those passions he has planted in us, and that since he has given us reason whereby we are capable of observing his wisdom in the creation, he is not above caring for us, being pleased with our praise, and offended when we slight him, or neglect his glory.

I conceive, for many reasons, that he is a good Being; and as I should be happy to have so wise, good, and powerful a Being my friend, let me consider in what manner I shall make myself most acceptable to him.

Next to the praise resulting from and due to his wisdom, I believe he is pleased and delights in the happiness of those he has created; and since without virtue a man can have no happiness in this world, I firmly believe he delights to see me virtuous, because he is pleased when he sees me happy.

And since he has created many things which seem purely designed for the delight of man, I believe he is not offended when he sees his children solace themselves in any manner of pleasant exercises and innocent delights, and I think no pleasure innocent that is to man hurtful.

I love him therefore for his goodness, and I adore him for his wisdom.

Let me not fail, then, to praise my God continually, for it is his due, and it is all I can return for his many favors and great goodness to me; and let me resolve to be virtuous, that I may be happy, that I may please him, who is delighted to see me happy. Amen!

This paper is dated PHILADELPHIA, Nov. 20, 1728.[2]

 

[1] James Parton, Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin (Boston, Ticknor and Fields, 1867), 1:174; I. Bernard Cohen, Franklin and Newton: An Inquiry into Speculative Newtonian Experimental Science and Franklin’s Work in Electricity as an Example Thereof (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1956); 208-9; Michael J. Crowe, The Extraterrestrial Life Debate, 1750-1900 (Cambridge University Press, 1986), 107.

[2] Benjamin Franklin, The Posthumous and Other Writings of Benjamin Franklin, 3d ed. 2 vols, (London, 1819) 1:1-4.

 

Article filed under Miscellaneous


Comments

  1. […] Franklin’s statement may provide a lens through which to view some of Smith’s final statements about God(s). In the Sermon at the Grove (June 16, 1844) Smith insisted that there were multiple Gods: “the word Eloiheam ought to be in the plural all the way thro—Gods—the heads of the Gods appointed one God for us.” Franklin said there was a high God over Gods and that our God was the one who created our solar system. Franklin was probably influenced by Isaac Newton who also said there were multiple God in the universe and cited 1 Corinthians 8:5-6: “But to us there is but one God.” Smith cited the same scripture in the Sermon at the Grove.[1] […]

    Pingback by Juvenile Instructor » Inclusive Monotheism and Joseph Smith’s Sermon at the Grove — October 5, 2015 @ 11:36 am


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