The Mind of an Age'

The Mind of an Age

The fourth chapter of the book, titled "The Mind of an Age," explores the various ideas that people in the 18th century had about earthquakes and other natural catastrophes that were incredibly destructive. During this time, scientific thought began to expand more widely, which was accompanied by the previously mentioned widespread belief in the supernatural, which was centered on a great God who created the world.

Malagrida's Viewpoint

An examination of some of the author's research questions and the evidence offered will reveal the prevailing opinion that some of the intellectuals held regarding the Lisbon earthquake, illuminating an accurate portrayal of 18th Century thinking. According to Malagrida, the catastrophic Lisbon earthquake occurred as a result of the sins that were committed by the residents. The Jesuit discarded any other explanations that the people attempted to attach to the disaster, castigating those that chose to think of it as a natural disaster, deeming them naïve. Malagrida seem to think that further disaster would strike the city if its people continued to ignore the significance of the earthquake and continued to live sinfully. He posited that any notions regarding the catastrophe as a sum of natural causes were lies greater than those the devil would create. As such, Malagrida asserted that any belief in them would only lead to greater ruin. Although Malagrida deems the situation in Lisbon as desperate, he thinks that it can be reversed only if the residents dedicated the efforts that they channeled into other activities solely towards repenting. He states that God is merciful but vigilant of disobedience, which He harshly punishes.

John Wesley's Perspective

John Wesley, a protestant priest, disagrees with the notions that were posited by Malagrida on many accounts. He thinks that it is impossible to separate any act of nature from God, as it is the main avenue with which He interacts with His creation. According to Wesley, the spread of sin, both among the clergy and the commoners alike, is the core cause of the earthquake. He asserts that due to the nature of the sin, it is not surprising that God would judge the world in such a harsh manner. The only way that Wesley saw to avoid such disasters is to worship God truly, devoid of tethers to the stained clergy, ill formed religious rules, and worldly possessions. While Wesley's and Malagrida's arguments differ on many accounts, they both agree that the disaster was an act of God that took place due to the rampant sin. Similarly, both recommend seeking the favor of God through devout worship and the abandonment of worldly pleasures that split human loyalty.

Newton's Theory

The method that Isaac Newton proposed to understand the earth was the existence of a single natural force that directed all of its activities and movements, from the apple that falls from the tree to the rising and setting of the moon. Due to this assumption, he discovered that the relationships on which the world runs occurred through the law of attraction that initiated the mechanical processes that defined the physical world. Newton's ideas provide a theory which explains that the physical earth moves and reacts in the way that it does due to underlying natural causes. Those that ascribe to Newton's philosophies may describe the world as a machine because all of the movements of its parts are dependent on each other and they are usually powered by a single source.

Pope's Perspective

Pope reflects traditional religion due to his strong belief in God and His power in the lives of humans. He states that true worship is the ability to be fully aware of one's imperfect qualities as well as their extent so as to bestow them in the hand of the Lord, who is better placed to bear the burden. The elements of the sixteenth and seventeenth-century scientific thought that are most abundant in Pope's poem are the lack of awareness that people had of the earth and its inner workings as well as the belief that all events that unfolded were the direct work of God. According to Pope, God's role in the world is to be its soul. He fills the physical aspects of the earth, giving the sun its warmth, the breeze its crisp nature, making the stars glow and initiating the blossoms in the trees. This divine role impacts humankind as it defines our mortality, regardless of the righteousness or sinfulness of a person. Pope states that God lives within every human, essentially equalizing everyone that exists.

Buffon's Scientific Explanation

The article by Buffon provides the readers with the scientific view that explains the occurrence of natural disasters, with a special focus on earthquakes. He applies this vision to highlight the processes that lead to an earthquake, such as the vibration of the earth's bands and the gradual combustion of explosive materials under the earth's crust. The casual pattern that Buffon outlines regarding earthquakes is the different order of arrangement of the flammable material in the crust of the earth, an argument that has since been disproved. Due to Buffon's foundation in science, there is no room for divine intervention in his argument. He categorically asserts that all natural calamities that unfold do so due to the culmination of scientific processes, not through the hand of God. Between Buffon's or Malagrida's view, I identify more closely with Buffon.

Voltaire's Changing Perspective

Voltaire's poem and the account that he had written on the science of Newton are diverse due to the tone and the message. When he wrote on Newton's discoveries, he was optimistic, hopeful, and excited by the thought that the mysteries of the earth could finally be explained. He fully endorsed the theory that was posited by Newton, encouraging him to advance his work. In the poem, he is angry and hopeless, cursing all eternal scientific laws for pushing the hand of God. His point of view changed from a belief in the laws of science to disdain for their existence and their actions. In fact, the tone of skepticism is absent in the older Voltaire. It becomes apparent in the new Voltaire who apart from dispelling all scientific thought, he castigates those that state that such a disaster is the work of God. He concludes that the earth is all bad and full of suffering, which all humans will inevitably have to endure. In his letter to Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau informs him that his dispensation only serves to increase suffering and that there is no such thing as moral evil as some of the misery that unfolds in human lives is a result of their consequences. Rousseau's thinking coincides with seventeenth-century philosophy, during which society believed that God was the architect of all the earth's physical events.

Voltaire and Hume's Skepticism

Voltaire's skepticism and the position Hume takes in "The Essay on Miracles" coincide due to their dismissal of the power of divinities in both arguments. Voltaire doubts that God could exist and allow innocents to die in the Lisbon earthquakes while Hume doubts the authenticity of the miracles that Jesus performed. Hume and Rousseau undoubtedly diverged in their intellectual thought when Hume dismissed the religion of Christianity and its tenets. Hume doubts the authenticity of the Bible, explaining that the passage of information from those that experienced the miracles to their disciples dilutes it. He goes on to state that those that believe in Christianity are unreasonable because they do so without any tangible proof. On the other hand, Rousseau believes in God, the information in the Bible, and the existence of an afterlife. Hume's insistence on the application of human reason to all issues lessens the influence of religion and challenges the existence and participation of God in earthly events. Hume's notions leave no room for the role of divinity in natural order.

The Intellectual Crisis

Overall, the Lisbon earthquake posed such an intellectual crisis for the eighteenth-century thinkers due to the extent of the damage that the calamity caused and the divergent opinions on its cause. Theologians stated that it was an act of God, meant to punish sinners while Enlightenment thinkers credited it to natural phenomena. However, both sides were beginning to realize that the physical world operates through forces other than divinity, and some individuals fully adopted the idea while others completely dispensed it.


Hume, David. Essays: Moral, Political, and Literary. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1963.

Kendrick, Thomas D. The Lisbon Earthquake. New York: J. B. Lippincot Company, 1957.

Voltaire. Letters Concerning the English Nation. New York: Burt Franklin Reprints, 1974.

Voltaire. Oeuvres complètes de Voltaire, 9th ed. Paris: Garnier Freres, 1877.

Wesley, John. The Works of the John Wesley, 11th ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1958.

Wiesner, Merry E., Evans, Andrew D., Wheeler Bruce William, and Ruff, Julius R. Discovering the Western Past: A Look at the Evidence, 7th ed. Wadsworth Publishing, 2015.

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