“The God who underwrites the concept of equality in the Declaration of Independence is the same deist God Rousseau worshipped, not that venerated in the traditional churches which still supported and defended monarchies all over Europe. Jefferson and Franklin both spent time in France–a natural ally because it was a traditional enemy of England–absorbing the influence of the French Enlightenment. The language of natural law, of inherent freedoms, of self-determination which seeped so deeply into the American grain was the language of the Enlightenment, though often coated with a light glaze of traditional religion, what has been called our “civil religion.”” (Brians, Paul, 1998)
This background to the birth of the new nation is even evident today. The academic curriculum in the United States tries to entrench its students in the values set forth by the great era of the Enlightenment. Not only have the American universities absorbed and propagated the spirit of rationalism and scientific reason, but have also taken it to a different level. This is evident in the growing spread of Atheism and Agnosticism among the American people. Paradoxically, a sizeable section of the American demography still remains highly religious and conservative. In fact, in America of today, organized religious movements such as Christian Evangelism and the Enlightenment inspired Atheism and Agnosticism thrive side by side. This diversity adds a lot of vitality to the university life, where many debates are conducted around these subjects (Keohane, 1980).
Of course, alongside so many beneficial advancements that it provided to human civil societies, there are a few unsavory consequences of the Enlightenment as well. The most notable of this is the French Revolution. While the end achieved by the revolution was an admirable one, – that of creating the foundations of modern democracy – the means employed to achieve that end does not satisfy any system of ethics. In other words, there has been a lot of violence and bloodshed associated with the decimating of the French Royal family and its supporters. To this day, the magnitude and manner of casualties in the French Revolution remains a dark aspect of the modern French history. Hence, the Enlightenment should be judged by taking into account its progressive and regressive elements. But on the whole, the world of today is the better for it, for without it there would be no democracy as we know it and the scientific progress would have been stunted by the authority of the Church (Porter & Teich, 1981).
The same inferences are applicable to modern universities as well. So much of the liberal thought in the realm of politics, sociology and economics owe their origins to this great epoch in the history of western civilization. The ideas and theories of such revolutionary thinkers as Karl Marx, Adam Smith, Charles Darwin, etc was able to gain a foothold and thrive in the popular culture of today only because of the societal changes instigated by the Enlightenment. A subject such as evolutionary biology, which is a core ingredient in any high school curricula today, is made possible by those brave men, who stood by their beliefs and defended scientific rationale against religious authoritarianism. So, the present day academia owes a lot to the Enlightenment.