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Adam Smith once said that “science is the great antidote to the poison of enthusiasm and superstition”. Though he is criticizing scientific thought as a dreary process, he brings a valid point into perspective: science has given humanity the rational lens towards the unknown. In The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne depicts a time before scientific thought was a commonality. In his novel, the protagonist, Hester Prynne, and her daughter, Pearl, are faced with ignominious conditions in their hometown of Boston. Hester has committed adultery, but she alone stands accused. She accepts her charges, and she is condemned to a life of disapproval and societal neglect. As a very pious society, the Puritan Bostonians are a superstitious bunch. When something they do not understand occurs, they would likely blame it on witchcraft, often to an unwarranted extent. One such example of superstition running amuck is with the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, where nearly 20 innocent people were executed because they had done something suspicious. Fortunately, due to the induction of scientific thought, the subsequent developments of major religions since the 17th century, and the growing indifference and acceptance towards foreign cultures and beliefs, witchcraft is considered nothing short of deceit and a laughable operation in the modern world.The introduction of scientific thought has been the chief depreciator in the belief of the supernatural. In Hester’s time, people were forced to resort to religious concepts in explaining their experiences, as it was all they had. To that extent, I believe that Hawthorne, who had, no doubt, be well acquainted with scientific reasoning at the time of his writing the novel, superbly demonstrates his understanding of Puritan thought. One such instance of his understanding lies in this quote: “It had the effect of a spell, taking her out of the ordinary relations with humanity and enclosing her in a sphere by herself” (Hawthorne 82). Here, it is clear that Hawthorne is metaphorically expressing the appealing aesthetic of Hester’s scarlet letter as if it were some fantastical object when, in all actuality, there is some logical reason for its appeal. Perhaps a beam of light had struck the letter at an angle which encapsulated its beauty to the extreme, or maybe people simply dramatized their very basic fascination with the gold embroidery. Regardless of the reason for their fascination, modern-day men and women would, assuming they had half a brain, find their appeal to be the result of something other than witchcraft, as the Puritans so readily had. This movement of scientific thought began (or, rather, caught on to the public) in the Era of Enlightenment. Transpiring in 18th century Europe, the Era of Enlightenment, also known as the Age of Reason, was an intellectual movement that centered on reason as a primary source of authenticity. As fate would have it, humans have favored the philosophy of reason since its 18th-century debut and, consequently, kicked religion and superstition out the door. The inauguration of scientific thought into human societies opened new doors for civilization, but it has also drastically changed our views towards religion.Though many assume that scientific reasoning is a competitor to religious ideals, it is simply not the case. Science has revealed the impossibilities in many religious beliefs, but it has not, and will not, entirely discredit them (or I would like to think so); both science and religion are highly complex cultural endeavors that have shifted with time. In fact, many modern-day religions have accepted science as an essential element of their faith. Hinduism, for instance, has historically embraced scientific thought, claiming that it brings legitimate, yet incomplete, knowledge. One effect of this compatibility between religion and science has been the nullification of certain religious concepts. The supernatural is one such nullification, and it was one of the first to go.Unfortunately, however, the Puritans of Boston, Massachusetts had not yet incorporated scientific thought into their religious framework and were thus completely ignorant of the reality. This assertion is held evident in the following quote: “It was whispered, by those who peered after her, that the scarlet letter threw a lurid gleam along the dark passageway of the interior” (Hawthorne 105). Here, Hawthorne uses a personification of the letter to portray the Puritans as superstitious and credulous. The Puritans can’t be blamed for their ignorance, though, as many scientists and philosophers have struggled to identify the correlations between religion and science; some scientists see the relationship as having many parallels, others see it as having non-overlapping properties, and some suggest that it is an intrinsic interconnection. The major discrepancies in the matter lie in the fact that the theory of evolution completely disqualifies the theory of supernatural causation. Regardless, theories are simply theories, and nothing has disproved either concept. The manipulations of religion by scientific reasoning have played a big part in the incredulity of modern day society, furthering the divide between superstitious belief and common rationale. A final cause for the modern world’s acceptance of beliefs such as witchcraft is the arrival of an “Age of Indifference”. In other words, we have entered a time period where foreign cultures and beliefs are looked upon equally to our own. In The Scarlet Letter, only one belief was supported: that of their own, collective faith. Anything other was heresy and a capital crime. Granted, the citizens of Boston openly address a select few as witches. At one point, Hawthorne states that “It might be, too, that a witch, like old Mistress Hibbins, the bitter-tempered widow of the magistrate, was to die upon the gallows”(Hawthorne 76). Hawthorne references the poor old widow as a witch as if it was a commonly held opinion. Such an occurrence would never arise in today’s world of indifference. In 1984, a certain Russell Kirk wrote an essay called The Age of Sentiments, in which he spoke of the world’s transition from an “Age of Discussion”, made precedent in ancient Greece and Rome, to that of an Age of Sentiments. In this so-called Age of Discussion, Kirk refers to a time in human history where there was a general relay of ideas throughout a given society. The incoming Age of Sentiments, however, refers to an age in which man is governed by their sentiments, which is to say a higher, deeper, emotional sort of judgment. However, this Age of Discussion presents a tricky problem–the information channels available in the modern world made information instantaneously available. Thus, the pursuance of critical thinking is unnecessary; people are exposed to radio- and television-borne indoctrination daily, with no remediation. Despite the aforementioned trouble with the efficiency of this new epoch, the dismantlement of superstitious beliefs such as witchcraft has long been accomplished. Due to the inauguration of scientific thought, the ensuing developments of major religions since the 17th century, and the growing indifference and acceptance towards foreign cultures and beliefs, witchcraft is considered nothing short of deceit and a laughable operation in the modern world. Scientific thought has, without a doubt, drastically shifted our views away from the supernatural, but not necessarily away from religion as well. Modern sentiments have become more placid, allowing for a variegated array of cultures within a single society. Thus, witchcraft has become an acceptable venture for those who choose to embark on it, though it is very commonly disregarded as mere tomfoolery.

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