Sunday, December 7, 2008

Examples of David Barton's Influence

You can listen to Robert Jeffress' latest Christian Nation sermon here. In it he notes David Barton recently spoke at his church and then repeated the canard that 52 out of 55 of the men who attended the Constitutional Convention were "evangelical Christians." As I noted in a past post, Jeffress is also adamant that Mormons are not Christians.

Earlier at American Creation we posted this video of David Barton which I reproduce below. Look at how Barton nods his head when asked by two evangelicals that 95% of the FFs were Christians. When they say "Christian" they think evangelical, orthodox Trinitarian. And it's ludicrous to think that 95% of the FFs qualify as such.

The only reason why I bring this up is because I've been challenged that, no, this really isn't what Barton is trying to do; these two examples demonstrate what Barton's game is all about. If we can concede this, I'm willing to move on and just not discuss David Barton anymore, rather focus on what the Founders actually said and believed and not on attacking one man's revisionist agenda.

Also note how Barton distorts James Wilson's teachings. James Wilson's Works never quotes from the Bible, the Ten Commandments as authority, though he does make some dithering allusions to scripture. The following is the type of dithering allusion that Wilson made to scripture without ever citing individual verses and chapters as authority:

Reason and conscience can do much; but still they stand in need of support and assistance. They are useful and excellent monitors; but, at some times, their admonitions are not sufficiently clear; at other times, they are not sufficiently powerful; at all times, their influence is not sufficiently extensive. Great and sublime truths, indeed, would appear to a few; but the world, at large, would be dark and ignorant. The mass of mankind would resemble a chaos, in which a few sparks, that would diffuse a glimmering light, would serve only to show, in a more striking manner, the thick darkness with which they are surrounded. Their weakness is strengthened, their darkness is illuminated, their influence is enlarged by that heaven-descended science, which has brought life and immortality to light. In compassion to the imperfection of our internal powers, our all-gracious Creator, Preserver, and Ruler has been pleased to discover and enforce his laws, by a revelation given to us immediately and directly from himself. This revelation is contained in the holy scriptures. The moral precepts delivered in the sacred oracles form a part of the law of nature, are of the same origin, and of the same obligation, operating universally and perpetually.


And James Wilson was (probably) not an orthodox Christian but a theistic rationalist who noted, in those dithering allusions, that scripture still doesn't supersede the "operations" of man's reason and the senses which were designed to be supreme. The following is the type of quotation that Barton's followers don't like the hear:

These considerations show, that the scriptures support, confirm, and corroborate, but do not supercede the operations of reason and the moral sense.


25 comments:

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, I'm not interested in Jeffress. As for you and Barton and this "theistic rationalist" business, take up David Baton's number 34 here, where he claims the Pennsylvania Supreme Court claimed Wilson wrote PA's blasphemy laws and said "Christianity is the common law."

I'm sure there's more to it than that, but I'm a bit spent today to look it up myself. Still, there might be something to it.

That's the public James Wilson, one we should not ignore. Writing blasphemy laws is a practical religious orthodoxy by any measure.


More interesting to me is the private Wilson, a thinker of some weight. I do not agree Barton is distorting here, at least not yet; there are a lot of theological arguments about Scripture and natural law that are quite orthodox that Wilson seems to be in harmony with, and I don't share your conclusions about what your cited quotes might mean.

A Strauss-like "close reading" of Wilson on natural law may be found here.

Note that Wilson does not elevate "reason" to the pinnacle, as the authors indicate he does not follow Aquinas here. He instead elevates a vaguely-defined "moral sense" that still conforms to the "law written on the human heart" found in Paul's epistle.

Which is logical: man could not accept the Bible without an innate sense and ability to appreciate its [putative] truth. So too, since the limits of reason alone in determining right and wrong are acknowledged by most philosophers of the day, an innate "moral sense" about right and wrong seems a prerequisite for any rationalism as well.

Our Founding Truth said...

Hey Tom,

I know this is like beating a dead horse, however, read this paragraph in Wilson's works, and tell me what you think it says:

In cases, where his [public minister] instructions are clear and positive, there would be an end of all farther deliberation. In other cases, where his instructions are silent, he would supply them by his general knowledge, and by the information, which he could collect from other quarters, concerning the counsels and systems of the commonwealth. Thus it is with regard to reason, conscience, and the holy scriptures. Where the LATTER give instructions, those instructions are supereminently authentick. But whoever expects to find, in them, particular directions for every moral doubt which arises, expects more than he will find. They generally presuppose a knowledge of the principles of morality; and are employed not so much in teaching new rules on this subject, as in enforcing the practice of those already known, by a greater certainty, and by new sanctions. They present the warmest recommendations and the strongest inducements in favour of virtue: they exhibit the most
powerful dissuasives from vice. But the origin, the nature, and the extent of the several rights and duties they do not explain; nor do they specify in what instances one right or duty is entitled to preference over another. They are addressed to rational and moral agents, capable of previously knowing the rights of men, and the tendencies of actions; of approving what is good, and of disapproving what is evil.

These considerations show, that the scriptures support, confirm, and corroborate, but do not supercede the operations of reason and the moral sense.

To me, it says where the Scripture speaks, it is superior, and where it doesn't speak, we should still search it anyway to find out, right?

Our Founding Truth said...

And James Wilson was (probably) not an orthodox Christian but a theistic rationalist>

Tom: I also wanted to point out some other quotes by Wilson on orthodoxy, apparently he believed in the Flood, Creation Account of Genesis, Moses being inspired, etc:

The general property of man in animals, in the soil, and in the productions of the soil, is the immediate gift of the bountiful Creator of all. “God created man in his own image; in the image of God created he him: male and female created he them. And God blessed them; and God said unto them, be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.”c Immediately after the DELUGE, the great charter of general property was renewed. “God blessed Noah and his sons, and said unto them, be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth. And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every fowl of the air, and upon all that moveth upon the earth, and upon all the fishes of the sea; into your hand are they delivered. Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things.”

The inspired legislator of the Jews speaks of them as of an institution, which, even in his time, was anciently established in Canaan. “Thou shalt not remove thy neighbour’s land mark, which they of old time have set in thy inheritance, which thou shalt inherit in the land that the Lord thy God giveth thee to possess it.” Numa, mild as he was, ordered those who were guilty of this crime, to suffer a capital punishment.

Our Founding Truth said...

In the entire Works, Wilson attacks reason for being weak, not superior, and even attacks Aristotle:

"Does it prove the nonexistence of a moral sense, or does it prove, in such instances, the weakness or perversion of reason? The just solution is, that, in such instances, it is our reason, which presents false appearances to our moral sense."

Of some philosophers of no small fame [Hume], and of no small influence in propagating a certain fashionable ― creed, I was going to say; but that would be peculiarly improper ― system I will call it, by a particular indulgence ― Of such philosophers it has been the favourite doctrine, that reason is the supreme arbitress of human knowledge; that by her solely we ought to be governed; that in her solely we ought to place confidence; that she can establish first principles; that she can ascertain and correct the mistakes of common sense.

The defects and blemishes of the received philosophy, which have most exposed it to ridicule and contempt, have been chiefly owing to a prejudice of the votaries of this philosophy in favour of reason. They have endeavoured to extend her jurisdiction beyond its just limits; and to call before her bar the dictates of common sense. But these will not submit to this jurisdiction: they plead to its authority; and disdain its trial; they claim not its aid; they dread not its attacks.

If reason may mistake; how shall the mistake be rectified? shall it be done by a second process of reasoning, as likely to be mistaken as the first? Are we thus involved, by the constitution of our nature, in a labyrinth, intricate and endless, in which there is no clue to guide, no ray to enlighten us? Is this true philosophy? is this the daughter of light? is this the parent of wisdom and knowledge? No. This is not she. This is a fallen kind, whose rays are merely sufficient to shed a "darkness visible" upon the human powers; and to disturb the security and case enjoyed by those, who have not become apostates to the pride of science. Such degenerate philosophy let us abandon: let us renounce its instruction: let us embrace the philosophy which dwells with common sense.

The peripatetick philosophy,[aristotelian philosophy] instead of being deficient, was redundant in first principles; instead of rejecting those, which are truly such, it adopted, as such, many vulgar prejudices and rash judgments. This seems, in general, to have been the spirit of ancient philosophy.

How naturally one extreme produces its opposite Des Cartes, at the head of modern reformers in philosophy, anxious to avoid the snare, in which Aristotle and the peripateticks had been caught.

In light of this evidence, how can Jon Rowe claim James Wilson was a "theistic rationalist"

Tom Van Dyke said...

I dunno, ask him directly. Jon's an honest fellow. He did write "probably," after all. You've presented a substantive case. I wasn't familiar with Wilson; he's quite an interesting thinker and touches on many of the issues we've been kicking around here.

I need to read more of him before I get a sense of where he sits. Sometimes grabbing even a paragraph isn't representative of a man's thought. He may use Biblical allusions not because he believes them, but because his audience does.

And sometimes, a paragraph might be explaining someone else's thoughts and we shouldn't take them as the author's own. For instance, Locke quotes Rev. Richard Hooker, who's apparently quite orthodox and even a Thomist, in the Second Treatise, apparently approvingly. [The "judicious Hooker," he calls him.] Now is Locke a Thomist? Hardly anyone thinks so.

So, I'd like to read more of Wilson to get a better feel for him. Still, he apparently [it's good to use words like "apparently" or "probably" when you're not sure of what you're talking about] does NOT elevate reason to the highest place, but the "moral sense." This is worth far more discussion and inquiry.

My reading of "supercede" only goes as far as Wilson saying that following the Bible doesn't require the suspension of reason. For instance, if God had let Abraham kill Isaac, and required each man thereafter to sacrifice his son, that would present a big problem for Judeo-Christianity as a reasonable religion that comports with natural law. But that's not the case.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Because Wilson also attacks the inadequacy of the Bible:

But whoever expects to find, in [Scripture], particular directions for every moral doubt which arises, expects more than he will find. They generally presuppose a knowledge of the principles of morality; and are employed not so much in teaching new rules on this subject, as in enforcing the practice of those already known, by a greater certainty, and by new sanctions. They present the warmest recommendations and the strongest inducements in favour of virtue: they exhibit the most powerful dissuasives from vice. But the origin, the nature, and the extent of the several rights and duties they do not explain; nor do they specify in what instances one right or duty is entitled to preference over another. They are addressed to rational and moral agents, capable of previously knowing the rights of men, and the tendencies of actions; of approving what is good, and of disapproving what is evil.

Jonathan Rowe said...

And btw, that's just part I. There's more to the story but I don't have time to discuss Wilson in exhaustive detail tonight.

Our Founding Truth said...

My reading of "supercede" only goes as far as Wilson saying that following the Bible doesn't require the suspension of reason. For instance, if God had let Abraham kill Isaac, and required each man thereafter to sacrifice his son, that would present a big problem for Judeo-Christianity as a reasonable religion that comports with natural law. But that's not the case.>

That's what I believe too.

I dunno, ask him directly. Jon's an honest fellow. He did write "probably," after all. You've presented a substantive case.>

Jon has claimed Wilson to be a rationalist on many positive liberty posts, as well as his own, with no evidence for its support, only a biased, unscholarly perusal of Wilson's works.

Because Wilson also attacks the inadequacy of the Bible:>

Wilson doesn't attack the Bible like he does Reason. The Bible doesn't give an answer to every moral dilemma, or how to fix a horse-carriage. The Christians lying to the Nazis when hiding the Jews comes to mind.

"Right Reason" should take precedent in what seminary calls "graded absolutism," to break one part of the law (lying) to uphold a higher part of the law (save a life).

Tom Van Dyke said...

I spent the afternoon with James Wilson, and he specifically addresses the moral dilemma, where one good must be valued above another. No handbook, not even the Bible, can give the solution for every dilemma in advance or be without its gaps, hence the need for what Wilson refers to as "rational and moral agents," our faculties of head and heart.

Therefore, "attacks" the Bible is a bit strong, Jon. As OFT notes [in an extraordinary cleaning up of his game, well done, sir], whatever Wilson has to say about the Bible, unlike many or most "Enlightenment" figures, he is far less convinced of the truth and honesty of man's reason, as we are quite able to lie to ourselves, contra our innate "moral sense."

There is a compatibility with Thomism [or at least Hooker]. See p. 184 onward for the argument. Or counterargue that Wilson's view of natural law was not the Christian one. That will be difficult, I believe.

"'I know of no power,' says Sir William Blackstone, "which can control the parliament." His meaning is obviously, that he knew no human power sufficient for this purpose. But the parliament may, unquestionably, be controlled by natural or revealed law, proceeding from divine authority. Is not this authority superiour to any thing that can be enacted by parliament? "---James Wilson

This is completely in accord with Thomism, and in fact Wilson in one place speaks as well of revelation being more directed at the afterlife, as that's its primary role and purpose. But Wilson, like Aquinas, does not contemplate that natural law, which he explicitly says is divine in origin [there are more quotes], will be in contradiction with revelation, which he attributes to the same divine origin. How could two laws, both of divine origin, disagree, both men ask. Surely they are one in the same!

Now, there's a lack of overt religiosity in Wilson, and that's for very good reason: Wilson saw himself as the successor to the great legal theorist Sir William Blackstone, whom he felt was in error by tracing the origin of man's rights to allowances by the government instead of coming from the Creator Himself. Wilson's Lectures were designed to be the basis of his summa on the law. Unfortunately, although a Supreme Court justice, he died far from home, on the run in North Carolina from his creditors and has been largely forgotten until recently.

So before we try to peek behind the curtain of Wilson's personal belief in the Bible, we can have no doubt that exoterically, he speaks well of it, and of it being of divine origin. Further, there can be no doubt that the theme of his writings need not be reduced to the shading of a specific quote to know that his belief in the divine origin of natural law was steadfast, and was the foundation of his philosophy of law.

Our Founding Truth said...

Now, there's a lack of overt religiosity in Wilson, and that's for very good reason: Wilson saw himself as the successor to the great legal theorist Sir William Blackstone, whom he felt was in error by tracing the origin of man's rights to allowances by the government instead of coming from the Creator Himself.>

Good point! I noticed that too. He admires Blackstone, but he definitely thought he was in error in a few areas, not just in Parliament's superiority.

He does seem orthodox, just by all the Biblical references; did you read his words on Abraham and Lot?

As to his faith in Christ, I haven't seen one quote, but then again, it may have been too private to speak of. Later in life, Madison was silent about his faith.

How could two laws, both of divine origin, disagree, both men ask. Surely they are one in the same!>

Not only that, but how couldn't it be the same God? That's been my contention the entire time. If the god of the DOI is the god of rationalism as Rowe says, why do the State Constitutions reference The God of the Bible, and the same men who signed the DOI, signed the State Constitutions?

Tom Van Dyke said...

He's Jon to his friends and Mr. Rowe to his opponents, Mr. Goswick. Arguments have been made. They need to breathe and be breathed. When we're at our best around here, it's not debate, it's discussion, not adversarial but cooperative. All "victories" are hollow because it's not that kind of party.

Cheers.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Let's look at what the definition of "supersede" means in the dictionary. This is from one I pulled:

This word, meaning to replace, originally meant “to sit higher” than, from Latin sedere, “to sit.” In the 18th century, rich people were often carried about as they sat in sedan chairs. Don’t be misled by the fact that this word rhymes with words having quite different roots, such as intercede.

Wilson says, in no uncertain terms, that the Bible does not "sit higher" or trump the operations of reason and the senses. In other words, the purpose of revelation was to support the findings of reason, not the other way around. THAT'S why Wilson says: "These considerations show, that the scriptures support, confirm, and corroborate, but do not supercede the operations of reason and the moral sense."

Revelation is supporting, confirming and corroborating reason and the moral sense NOT the other way around.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Analyzing one word is not the same as engaging his life's work. He specifically says that he does not expect scriptures to require ignoring the other faculties. However, it's incontrovertible he's very skeptical of "reason."

Jonathan Rowe said...

'm going to check more on the context of Wilson's writings about property. I concede this is an example of him citing verses and chapter of scripture which I had not before seen (the parts of "Works" that I've read just dither about the value of reason v. revelation, without citing ANYTHING from scripture; and even we can't seem to agree on what exactly he meant).

I will again note that the theistic rationalists DID believe in a partially inspired Bible. And I've seen Ben Franklin of all people quote the Bible in a similar sense that OFT produces Wilson doing.

Further, something that I'm looking out for: The theistic rationalist when they quoted the Bible or used biblical allusions often did so in the context of quoting other pagan systems as though they were all true. I seem to recall Wilson doing that as well; and that's what I'm keeping my eye out for.

Jonathan Rowe said...

If the god of the DOI is the god of rationalism as Rowe says, why do the State Constitutions reference The God of the Bible, and the same men who signed the DOI, signed the State Constitutions?

Check your facts here. Please list the men who both signed the state constitutions AND the DOI. I'd imagine they are different people.

My initial response would be the DOI has precisely nothing to do with what's written in state constitutions. But lets get the first factual assertion straightened out first.

Pinky said...

.
The type persona presented by David Barton is pandemic in American society.
.
I watched some call-in show on C-Span this morning where they had a representative of unionism, a management representative, and you could figure that the next one would be a representative of the charity industry. They are all artists in their field. David Barton certainly qualifies as an artist par excellence. .
.
I guess they all think that as long as the American public is going to buy B.S., they might as well buy theirs.
.
B.S. has come to be a major art form in America.

Tom Van Dyke said...

That is not an argument, Phil.


Also note how Barton distorts James Wilson's teachings. James Wilson's Works never quotes from the Bible...


Wilson's references to "scripture" and "Holy Scriptures" are not dithering. See also his thoughts on marriage, where he excoriates the Roman version of it and speaks approvingly that "By the precepts of Christianity, and the practice of the Christians, the dignity of marriage was, however restored."

Further, "it seems not uncongenial to the spirit of a declaration from a source higher than human—“They twain shall be one flesh.”

A source "higher than human," in this case Mark 10:8.

We may examine what he means here, but his reference is not "dithering," and your charge against David Barton is patently unjust.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Barton leaves the impression that Wilson was a Bible thumper which he wasn't. I had to wade through endless text of philosophical reasoning to get to Wilson's citing of the Bible as authority.

Remember these are the folks who equate "the laws of nature and nature's God" as shorthand for what's in the Bible.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Hey I caught the link from Vindicating the Founding. This caught my eye. We learned about this in law school, but not in a positive sense. Like chattel slavery, what's bold has been consigned to the ashcan of history. Bold mine.

The most important consequence of marriage is, that the husband and the wife become, in law, only one person: the legal existence of the wife is consolidated into that of the husband. Upon this principle of union, almost all the other legal consequences of marriage depend. This principle, sublime and refined, deserves to be viewed and examined on every side. Among human institutions, it seems to be peculiar to the common law. Peculiar as it is, however, among human institutions, it seems not uncongenial to the spirit of a declaration from a source higher than human—“They twain shall be one flesh.”

The shorthand I remember from law school was: Common law held husband and wife unite into one legal person...and the husband is that person.

Tom Van Dyke said...

What are you talking about, Jon? Mr. Goswick quotes several occasions where Wilson says things like:

"Thus it is with regard to reason, conscience, and the holy scriptures. Where the latter give instructions, those instructions are supereminently authentick."

These are not "dithering" references. "Latter" may refer to both conscience and Scripture, but it plainly cites scripture as authority!

As for the marriage question, I went to the original text, not a website excerpt. Wilson considers the question from all legal sides, including existing law, since he sees himself as a legal theorist.

http://oll.libertyfund.org/index.php?option=com_staticxt&staticfile=show.php&title=2074&search=%22twain%22&chapter=166652&layout=html#a_2958035

I cited his "feelings" on marriage and approval of the Christian view of it as an argument for his sentiments, which in this case are plainly Christian. He apparently does not like divorce, consistent with the "twain shall be one flesh": "To the law of England, two kinds of divorce are known—a divorce from the bed and the table—and a divorce from the chains—the metaphor is proper on this occasion—a divorce from the chains of matrimony. The propriety of the first kind, I am, I confess, at a loss to explain..."

I wished only to establish his sentiments, which are plain. The entire chapter is well worth reading, as he's quite pro-woman and anti-slavery. An amazing and wise man.

Jonathan Rowe said...

I know were getting a little off topic Tom. But this restatement of the common law is an historical anachronism and is not "pro-woman."

"[T]he legal existence of the wife is consolidated into that of the husband."

For his time Wilson may have been pro-woman. And this utterance may well be more egalitarian than the way the Greeks and Romans treated their women.

But the fact that "the husband" at common law was the legal person in a marriage is something that dreadfully flunks modern day standards that demand equality between the sexes. Perhaps I shouldn't be judging Wilson by present standards. But that's the only point I was trying to make in my last comment.

Tom Van Dyke said...

When you get the time to read the entire text, it shows his view is not so narrow, nor does he overlook the deficiencies of common law. He continually points to a higher law and is certainly suggesting that it can and should be incorporated in the common law.

"This long investigation concerning natural rights and natural remedies, I conclude by answering the question, with which I introduced it: man does not exist for the sake of government, but government is instituted for the sake of man. The course of it has naturally led me to consider a number of interesting subjects, in a view somewhat different, perhaps, from that, in which we see them considered in some of our law books; but in a view perfectly consonant to the soundest rules and principles of our law."

Kristo Miettinen said...

Jon,

I presume that this video is your smoling-gun response to me. But what part of it am I supposed to recoil in horror from?

Where does Barton say the things that you have repeatedly claimed he says (e.g. that the founders were all Nicene Christians, or all modern Evangelical Christians)? The closest he comes is nodding his head when another fellow says that most of them were (generic) Christians, with no qualifier.

If this is as deceptive as Barton gets, then I feel pretty validated in calling you out whenever you bash him.

-Kristo.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Kristo,

If you want worse I can give you worse.

Kristo Miettinen said...

Yes please, especially in writing or prepared remarks, as opposed to unscripted comments.

Perhaps on your own blog, instead of this one?