Sunday, June 27, 2010

Thomas Jefferson, James Wilson, Laws of Nature and Revelation

James Wilson wrote a great deal of what he thought about law, life, religion and philosophy in his public Works. Yet, perhaps because they were public lectures, he leaves some hard questions unanswered (he doesn't address orthodox religious doctrine at all, or whether he believes the Bible inerrant). He praises both "reason" and the "senses" on the one hand and revealed truth on the other as both necessary for determining the ultimate nature of reality. Accordingly, both, by in large, agree and should work together. But both streams have their limits.

In Volume I of Works, Wilson says such things as:

[H]ow shall we, in particular instances, learn the dictates of our duty, and make, with accuracy, the proper distinction between right and wrong; in other words, how shall we, in particular cases, discover the will of God? We discover it by our conscience, by our reason, and by the Holy Scriptures. The law of nature and the law of revelation are both divine: they flow, though in different channels, from the same adorable source. It is, indeed, preposterous to separate them from each other. The object of both is ― to discover the will of God ― and both are necessary for the accomplishment of that end.

[...]

Reason, say they, is the first rule of man, the first principle of morality, and the immediate cause of all primitive obligation. But man being necessarily dependent on his Creator, who has formed him with wisdom and design, and who, in creating him, has proposed some particular ends; the will of God is another rule of human actions, another principle of morality, obligation, and duty. On this distinction, the kinds of obligation, external and internal, are founded. These two principles must be united, in order to form a complete system of morality, really founded on the nature and state of man. As a rational being, he is subject to reason: as a creature of God, to his supreme will. Thus, reason and the divine will are perfectly reconciled, are naturally connected, and are strengthened by their junction.85

[...]

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.

[...]

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.

[...]

These considerations show, that the scriptures support, confirm, and corroborate, but do not supercede the operations of reason and the moral sense. The information with regard to our duties and obligations, drawn from these different sources, ought not to run in unconnected and diminished channels: it should flow in one united stream, which, by its combined force and just direction, will impel us uniformly and effectually towards our greatest good.


From these passages in Works, I get the sense that Wilson believed in both reason and revelation. I don't get the sense that Wilson believed the Bible inerrant or infallible, but nonetheless believed large parts of the biblical canon are God speaking to man. In Gregg Frazer's PhD thesis, he views Wilson's quote -- "[t]his revelation is contained in the holy scriptures" -- as compatible with what he terms theistic rationalism, that "some" revelation is legitimate, but that the Bible is not inerrant or infallible.

Frazer reads "[t]his revelation is contained in the Holy Scriptures," as suggesting man's reason must examine the good book to see which parts of it "contain" genuine revelation. I think that's a fair reading of a somewhat broadly worded assertion.

And then we have the following from Wilson:

The law of nature is immutable; not by the effect of an arbitrary disposition, but because it has its foundation in the nature, constitution, and mutual relations of men and things. While these continue to be the same, it must continue to be the same also. This immutability of nature's laws has nothing in it repugnant to the supreme power of an all-perfect Being. Since he himself is the author of our constitution; he cannot but command or forbid such things as are necessarily agreeable or disagreeable to this very constitution. He is under the glorious necessity of not contradicting himself. This necessity, far from limiting or diminishing his perfections, adds to their external character, and points out their excellency.


Now that passage is compatible with the idea that the Bible is inspired in *some* sense. I don't see it as compatible with the idea of an inerrant, infallible Bible, talking snakes, 6-day creation, and so on.

In his letter to Peter Carr, August 10, 1787, Jefferson addresses the problems with an immutable law of nature on the one hand and the text of the Bible on the other:

Read the Bible, then as you would read Livy or Tacitus. The facts which are within the ordinary course of nature, you will believe on the authority of the writer, as you do those of the same kind in Livy & Tacitus. The testimony of the writer weighs in their favor, in one scale, and their not being against the laws of nature, does not weigh against them. But those facts in the Bible which contradict the laws of nature, must be examined with more care, and under a variety of faces. Here you must recur to the pretensions of the writer to inspiration from God. Examine upon what evidence his pretensions are founded, and whether that evidence is so strong, as that its falsehood would be more improbable than a change in the laws of nature, in the case he relates. For example, in the book of Joshua, we are told, the sun stood still several hours. Were we to read that fact in Livy or Tacitus, we should class it with their showers of blood, speaking of statues, beasts, &c. But it is said, that the writer of that book was inspired. Examine, therefore, candidly, what evidence there is of his having been inspired. The pretension is entitled to your inquiry, because millions believe it. On the other hand, you are astronomer enough to know how contrary it is to the law of nature that a body revolving on its axis, as the earth does, should have stopped, should not, by that sudden stoppage, have prostrated animals, trees, buildings, and should after a certain time gave resumed its revolution, & that without a second general prostration. Is this arrest of the earth's motion, or the evidence which affirms it, most within the law of probabilities? You will next read the New Testament. It is the history of a personage called Jesus. Keep in your eye the opposite pretensions: 1, of those who say he was begotten by God, born of a virgin, suspended & reversed the laws of nature at will, & ascended bodily into heaven; and 2, of those who say he was a man of illegitimate birth, of a benevolent heart, enthusiastic mind, who set out without pretensions to divinity, ended in believing them, and was punished capitally for sedition, by being gibbeted, according to the Roman law, which punished the first commission of that offence by whipping, & the second by exile, or death in fureĆ¢. See this law in the Digest Lib. 48. tit. 19. §. 28. 3. & Lipsius Lib 2. de cruce. cap. 2. These questions are examined in the books I have mentioned under the head of religion, & several others. They will assist you in your inquiries, but keep your reason firmly on the watch in reading them all.


Now, I understand many orthodox Trinitarian Christians have struggled to reconcile real science on the one hand and the biblical record on the other. They might not necessarily turn into Jeffersons, cutting out most of the Bible as false. But they do seem to embrace more metaphorical explanations, including, most notably, of the Adam and Eve story in Genesis. They don't believe that the Earth actually stood still for several hours or that Lot's wife actually turned into salt. They also accept Darwin's theory of evolution and attempt to reconcile it with the Bible. Those are the kinds of "rational Christians" who better reconcile what James Wilson wrote in Works with their faith. It seems to me those who take a more literal view of the Creation story -- young earth, 6 day creationists -- should be much less receptive to James Wilson's ditherings in Works.

40 comments:

Tom Van Dyke said...

James Wilson agrees with Thomas Aquinas and Richard Hooker more than with Thomas Jefferson. I don't quite follow the point here, or Jefferson's relevance to Wilson much, really.

An evangelical view of creation via Augustine, compatible with evolution.

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2009/may/22.39.html

Mark in Spokane said...

I'm going to agree with Tom on this one. St. Augustine very clearly demonstrated that Genesis need not be read read (and in fact, should not be read) as a literal account of creation in his Sermons on Genesis. These sermons have been widely translated into English and are available both online and in print via Amazon.com.

Pope Pius XII in his encyclical Humanae Generis (1950s) also embraced the legitimacy, within Roman Catholic theology, of not reading Genesis as a literal creation account. He specifically mentioned that evolution, as a mechanism for the development of the physical form of the human body (although not the human soul) was a perfectly permissible position for a Roman Catholic theologian or scientist to hold.

Wilson in my reading typifies the generally orthodox approach to Christian faith that was present among many of the (and pardon the use of classification here) second and third tier Founders. He was open to rational explanation, and he sought to incorporate the best of modern learning with the cultural and theological patrimony that America had inherited thanks to its Christian roots. In this, he was no different than, as Tom points out, theologians like the Anglican Richard Hooker and the Catholic Thomas Aquinas. Pietism and fideism it ain't, and for that we should be thankful.

Now, I think there are other reasons why Christians and people of good will should be wary of adopting Wilson as a role-model. His private business dealings were disgraceful, and he ended up dying on the run to stay ahead of his creditors. But in terms of his intellectual work, I don't think there's much to his approach that a non-fundamentalist but orthodox Christian would have any trouble with.

King of Ireland said...

"In Gregg Frazer's PhD thesis, he views Wilson's quote -- "[t]his revelation is contained in the holy scriptures" -- as compatible with what he terms theistic rationalism, that "some" revelation is legitimate, but that the Bible is not inerrant or infallible."

I knew I would find it. This basically says, if you are quoting him right, that if you do not believe the Bible to be infallible and innerant that you are a Theistic Rationalist. Innerrant is absurd in that we know there are all kinds of errors in it. I have never been able to understand what infallible means. There are interpolations for sure.

What did Abraham do before there was a Bible? What did the Jews do without the New Testament before Jesus? What does a large chunk of the world that has never seen a Bible or does not have a complete one in their language do? This is where Romans 1 and 2 and natural law come in.

Can one have a Paul of Tarsus encounter with God and never have seen the Bible? Most certainly so. Would that be revelation? Yes. So I am still not sure what terms we are using and how we are using them.

Maybe the orthodox are the heretics?

King of Ireland said...

"An evangelical view of creation via Augustine, compatible with evolution"

Funny, I brought this up down below in another comment box before I saw this. I like the way that Mark seperates orthodox from fundementalism. I think we are confusing some things here Jon.

King of Ireland said...

"Now that passage is compatible with the idea that the Bible is inspired in *some* sense. I don't see it as compatible with the idea of an inerrant, infallible Bible, talking snakes, 6-day creation, and so on."

If this is what infallible means then Frazer has a very narrow defintion of infallibe for the reasons that Tom brings up. I repeat those that differ on Genesis do not have a problem with the Bible they have a problem with the interpretations that became dogma. Is this his definiton of infallible or yours?

King of Ireland said...

Now with Jefferson and the sun thing we have to look at the fact that Hebrew history, from what I have read, was much similar to Greek history in that a great deal of myth was incorporated with actual events so much so that it is hard to distinguish one from the other. Historiography, I have done some reading on this but not much, did not change until much later with some of the Greeks that eliminated a lot of the myth portions. Church History then became quite literal from what I remember.

Thus, Genesis or even the Sun standing still as myth is most certainly a valid interpretation. If I am reading him right then Jefferson does not have a problem with the Bible but with interpretations. I actually agree with him here personally to a point. He eliminates all miracles which would obviously throw out much of the New Testament.

But eliminating some of the more sensational things like talking snakes and chalking it up to myth is not an idea foreign to Christianity at all.

Hell, depending on when Historiography changed and I cannot remember when it became more literal, one could maybe make an argument that some of the miracles in the New Testament were myth? I am not saying they were but I get Jefferson's point for sure here.

King of Ireland said...

Jon,

I am starting to believe, the more I read what you post and church history, that the Enligthenment and many of the beliefs and doctrines that came up in it were not anything new but a Protestant rehash of many battles that had already taken place in Catholicism.

If so then this Theistic Rationalism thing is flawed from the start because it seems to imply that Christianity started in 1517 and ignores the larger history. He says that he incorporates Roman Catholicism but he really does not because it seems he ignores things like the fact that the Trinity was pushed down people's throats by Constantine and those that did not believe were heretics because of politics not religious conviction.

Early Protestants seem to have taken many of these doctrines uncritically, not surprising considering Luther was a Monk, and when creeds were written they were transfered. It seems that when natural law and reason came back in after years of sola scriptura and faith alone, that these discussions started again. It was nothing new and is most certainly a debate among Christians.

Now the beliefs of the those that began to exalt Science to a place that non before them dared did come into the French Revolution where they threw it all out and started something new. But I bet if we read history it was not that new either.

The Dispatches Crowd(the more rabid atheist types) can claim the French Revolution and I wish they would. But they cannot claim the American one no matter how hard they try by pimping Frazer's seemingly flawed term and historical interpretation based on theology more than anything historical.

I would add that he is a brilliant guy and though I do not agree with his interpretation of the facts have great respect for his much more superior knowledge of them than mine. This is no dismissal of him personally just how they use him but do not understand where he is coming from.

Though infinitely more fairminded and knowlegable yourself I think you error in this vain at times too.

King of Ireland said...

I guess what I am saying is that I see why Frazer uses the years that he does to determine what was orthodox. I just do not agree with it. If we are talking about "Christian" it needs to go back to Christ. That is 2,000 years.

Does he give a reason as to why he narrows it down to those years?

Jonathan Rowe said...

"I like the way that Mark seperates orthodox from fundementalism."

No need to be confused; "orthodox" is a genus. "Fundamentalism" is a species.

Roman Catholics, evangelicals, fundamentalists, Anglicans, capital O Orthodox, are all "orthodox" that is they accept Nicene Trinitarian orthodoxy. That's the LCD among them. From my reading of them -- or at least a great deal of them -- they claim orthodoxy is "historic Christianity," such that if you deny those non-negotiables like the Trinity, you are not only not "orthodox" but you are not a "Christian."

That means you King, like the Mormons and JWs, are not a "Christian."

Tom Van Dyke said...

I don't disagree with Frazer's chart of orthodoxy.

However, socio-historically speaking, the "Christian" chart can contain just 2 things, as the unitarian Christians described themselves: God spoke through the Bible, and Jesus was some sort of Savior or Messiah, unique among all men. These are the essentials.

Whatever term one devises or modifiers used for such folks, the word "Christian" has to figure in there someplace.

As we see, the Protestantism of Luther and Calvin kept much of Roman Catholic theology; Protestantism itself inevitably must go on to question even those 12 tenets from Frazer's dreaded chart. In a way, "orthodox Protestantism" is an oxymoron.

As for Jefferson, he gets too much play; he kept most of his unorthodoxy from the public. He was a "theistic rationalist," as was Thomas Paine; the rest not as much. Adams still called Christianity a "revelation," and even Franklin allowed for miracles. Of Washington and Madison we can't say much. Almost all the other Founders were comfortably Christian under the 2 tenets posited above.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Tom,

That's fine as an alternative to Frazer's approach. But do understand, it's just an alternative. The Bible as some kind of revelation and Jesus as some kind of Messiah where Arians, Socinians, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses etc. are "Christians" is an understanding of the faith to which many orthodox who carefully guard the faith will not assent.

But as with Dr. Frazer's "theistic rationalism" terming such faiths "Christian" -- in say a word limited op ed -- will have to come with a caveat (probably in the comments section).

Mark in Spokane said...

Catholicism does not refer to all non-orthodox as non-Christians. Catholicism recognizes the Nestorians and Monophysites as Christians, for example -- even though those two forms of Christianity reject the Nicene Creed and the Definition of Chalcedon.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Mark,

I'd be interested in the official RC documents where they note those groups qualify as "Christian" AND officially RC doctrine on how the term "Christianity" defines, who is and who isn't.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Jon, the point here is that Frazer's is essentially a counterargument, what they didn't believe.

First order of business is what they did believe, which is why "Judeo-Christianity," although an imperfect term, covers more ground: One God, creator, providential, the Bible as divine revelation.

The rest indeed can be qualified in comments sections, but gets a lot of the work done. Only Jefferson and Paine explicitly or implicitly reject the Bible as divine in origin; Franklin withholds judgment.

James Wilson's [completely echoing Locke's] seems to be the prevailing sentiment at the Founding, including the unitarian Christians':

"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."

Jonathan Rowe said...

I don't quite get your point; Frazer covers both what they did and didn't believe.

Creator/Providence/active personal God -- theism -- is one of the ten tenets that the theistic rationalists believed in.

Re "Bible" as divine inspired, this is a difficult issue, one in which I don't fully understand.

Gregg has three boxes, perhaps which are not enough. 1) none of the Bible as inspired (the Deist position); 2) the Bible as inerrant, infallible (the orthodox position). And 3) the Bible as partially inspired. That is even if one believes in 97% God speaking to man 3% error and amendment, it's not the "orthodox" position.

I do get a sense that many orthodox Trinitarian Christians, Roman Catholics, evangelicals, Anglicans fall into number 3. Though I have seen, apparently, some try to claim for instance, common descent evolution, billion of year old earth as compatible with position 2 by claiming many of the provisions of the Bible (like creation in Genesis) were meant to be taken metaphorically.

But no Tom, I don't see you as having scratched the surface of the work in constructing an affirmative case that the term "Judeo-Christian" is better than "theistic rationalist."

Tom Van Dyke said...

That's OK. The only ones who agree with theistic rationalist are hardcore religionists and secularists who want to pimp them. That way, Christianity gets safely buried out of sight.

James Wilson is identifiably Judeo-Christian and Thomas Paine is not; although both are "theistic rationalists," I suppose, the term isn't terribly helpful.

On a different note, I was struck by James Wilson's use of the formulation "Creator, Preserver, and Ruler." I've traced it to the Westminster Puritans in 1645 coming up with their alternative to the Anglican Book of Common Prayer.

However, it appears it was used in 1791 in a UK unitarian proclamation of belief, and agreeably picked up by a Jewish scholar named Wise in the 1800s.

This formulation, with the possible exception of Zoroastrianism, is Abrahamic, i.e., Judeo-Christian.

A bleg, if anyone wants to follow this formulation up.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Islam is also Abrahamic and John Adams recognized it as such.

Jonathan Rowe said...

I may be wrong because I haven't spent as much time with Paine as I have the others, but I don't see him endorsing the idea of theism, or of an active personal God. Therefore he wasn't a theistic rationalist, but a deistic rationalist.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Oh, I believe Paine referred to providence.

Still, amend my statement to:

James Wilson is identifiably Judeo-Christian and Thomas Jefferson is not; although both are "theistic rationalists," I suppose, the term isn't terribly helpful.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Well under your amorphous "Judeo-Christian" (which I assume was synonymous with Providence) TJ is one b/c he believed in Providence. TJ even believed the 100% non-virgin birth man who didn't have a resurrection Jesus was a "Savior."

Jonathan Rowe said...

"The only ones who agree with theistic rationalist are hardcore religionists and secularists who want to pimp them."

I think your real problem with the term isn't that it's unhelpful but that some secular minded folks have jumped on it because it rings nicely to the ears.

I see it as more a matter of resentment than principled objection.

On the religious conservative side the folks who have endorsed the term other than Gregg have hardly been neanderthals. Gary Scott Smith, though from the evangelical Grove City, did so in a book published by Oxford University Press.

And the other conservatives who endorsed it were the Claremont Institute (very conservative, but not fundamentalists) and Gregg's dissertation committee, one of whom was a Roman Catholic (they were par for the course of Claremont conservatives).

Tom Van Dyke said...

Conflicting theses pass dissertation level all the time. Proves nothing---if it did, there would be no disagreements between scholars and PhDs.

And yes, I have seen the term used to bury the Christian influence on the Founding.

Still, any term that includes both Jefferson and Wilson doesn't tell us much. In fact, the imposition of the term shuts down legitimate inquiry. The OP's comparison of Jefferson and Wilson is a one big non sequitur except to show how little the two men had in common.

As for Gary Scott Smith, asked and answered.
_______________
Triune metaphysics from the 1800s, for those interested:

http://books.google.com/books?id=oh0PAAAAIAAJ&pg=PA159&lpg=PA159&dq=Creator,+Preserver,+and+Ruler&source=bl&ots=uunBNYmBfT&sig=G0dUXyldwuKwMRCBs8OUddDBd3c&hl=en&ei=vPkoTJXWFcWgnQfHy-GoAQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=2&ved=0CBoQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=Creator%2C%20Preserver%2C%20and%20Ruler&f=false

King of Ireland said...

"Re "Bible" as divine inspired, this is a difficult issue, one in which I don't fully understand."

But Jon this is at the heart of reason trumps revelation. There are numerous obvious scribal errors in the King James Bible. It is not inerrant. If believing that Genesis is a myth is a violation of infallible then it is not that either.

King of Ireland said...

"Though I have seen, apparently, some try to claim for instance, common descent evolution, billion of year old earth as compatible with position 2 by claiming many of the provisions of the Bible (like creation in Genesis) were meant to be taken metaphorically."

If I am understanding Frazer right I think this would be reason trumping revelation. Thus they would be "Theistic Rationalists."

Jonathan Rowe said...

King,

Re your first comment, yes Gregg would clearly say this is the "theistic rationalist" not the "orthodox" interpretation.

Re the second comment, this is where I get confused because I know a number of orthodox Christians who hold to such while claiming the Bible inerrant, and infallible. Rather, they would note, a "reasoned" interpretation of the Bible demands reading certain passages more metaphorically, not as "journalistic, eyewitness accounts." Yet, to folks like Gregg (and OFT) folks who believe in an old Earth and common descent and that Gensis is a poetic metaphor do indeed use reason to trump revelation.

You may want to look at my current jonrowe.blogspot comment section. OFT is claiming if you don't believe Jonah was actually in the whale for three days, you don't believe in an inerrant Bible.

Whatever James Wilson believed on reason v. revelation, I don't see him believing Jonah living for three days in a whale or talking snakes.

King of Ireland said...

So Jon if strict deist is a 1 and John Calvin is a 10 where do you rank each of the "key founders"? Even Jefferson is probably a four or maybe even a five. Theistic Rationalist, in the way secularists use it, is about a 2.

When you get away from personal beliefs and focus on inflential ideas this term does little to nothing. Go back and read what I said about whether it really matters whether Washington took communion or not. I think we are focused on the wrong things.

King of Ireland said...

"Re the second comment, this is where I get confused because I know a number of orthodox Christians who hold to such while claiming the Bible inerrant, and infallible. Rather, they would note, a "reasoned" interpretation of the Bible demands reading certain passages more metaphorically, not as "journalistic, eyewitness accounts." Yet, to folks like Gregg (and OFT) folks who believe in an old Earth and common descent and that Gensis is a poetic metaphor do indeed use reason to trump revelation."

This is where I get confused too Jon. This is not reason trumping revelation. This is a reasoned interpretation trumping Church dogma. Often Church dogma that was passed with thuggery not for reasons of conviction. Thus, many of the people that Frazer says reason trumps revelation do not. This was my frustration with him over the Romans 13 thing.

As far as Jonah goes, it depends on what the historiography was back then. Something tells me that the stuff that Adams talked about being burned brought a lot of the correct way of reading Hebrew history to light.

Side note, OFT wants to come back and said he would not turn this into an evangelism session anymore. I vote for him to be allowed back. I do not agree with all of what he says but I think his point of view is lacking here.

King of Ireland said...

"Whatever James Wilson believed on reason v. revelation, I don't see him believing Jonah living for three days in a whale or talking snakes."

Nor do I. But it does mean he believes that reason trumps revelation. It would mean that he believes that reasoned interpretation trumps dogma. Huge difference. I do not see much difference between Locke and Aquinas other than that Locke did not believe that conscience is inate. Supposedly that is. Amos says he did and people read him wrong. I cannot find my book or I would do a post on it.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Yet, to folks like Gregg (and OFT) folks who believe in an old Earth and common descent and that Genesis is a poetic metaphor do indeed use reason to trump revelation.


Jon, you illustrate where "theistic rationalist" breaks down. In [St.] Augustine, we see a willingness---although the evidence hadn't arrived yet---to discard literalism in the face of incontrovertible scientific fact.

Augustine even warns that by holding onto to literalism against clear fact, one might bring the Gospel into disrepute. [A word to the wise for creationists.]

Reason trumps revelation. St. Augustine, Gregg. Geez.
_______________

Gentlemen, pls check me on this, but biblically speaking, "inerrant" is not synonymous with "infallible." One may read passages of the Bible metaphorically and still insist on its infallibility as moral [and sacred] truth, without insisting on its literal "inerrancy."

Augustine would definitely hold the Bible as infallible.

Tom Van Dyke said...

King, there's actually a great difference between Locke and Aquinas, according even to Edward Feser, a scholar on each and an Aristotelian-Thomist himself.

This is the tall weeds, so it might be safer to say that the Founders---James Wilson for one---didn't perceive those differences to any great degree. The Founders believed in a natural law and a "moral sense" that was supra-natural, in that it surpassed merely the senses and intellection [i.e., empiricism or even rationalism].

King of Ireland said...

"Jon, you illustrate where "theistic rationalist" breaks down. In [St.] Augustine, we see a willingness---although the evidence hadn't arrived yet---to discard literalism in the face of incontrovertible scientific fact."

I think this blows a hole in his whole argument too.


Tom,


I do not see a lot of difference but I am no expert and am probably missing some things.

Tom Van Dyke said...

That's OK, Joe. Sometimes somebody's onto something good and needs somebody to keep them out of the tall weeds.

A catcher in the rye?

King of Ireland said...

I have been following this reason trumps revelation discussion between you and Jon for a long while and finally feel like we are getting somewhere. When you open the debate up to all of Christianity for the last 2000 years one realizes that many of the things the founders had problems with had alreadly been brought up before by others in church history.


Frazer seems to have cherry picked by limiting the time period of his study. Bringing in Augustine and the larger context paints a different picture.

It is possibly time to begin to wonder if Cosell needs to repeat the famous words, "Down goes Frazer." It ain't looking so good for theistic rationalism.

King of Ireland said...

" [A word to the wise for creationists.]"

Yes, it is and the whole entire culture wars comes down essentially to this. Just go look at Dispatches where they thought I was professing "Creationist" leanings even though I am not a Creationist and believe the Genesis is a myth. The well is poisoned. Augustine is right.

Tom Van Dyke said...

It's cool. We don't want us to get totally adverserial. If you followed the link to our previous discussion about Gary Scott Smith, it's about the "hole in the doughnut," all the Christian thought that led up to the Founding, the hole [heheh] picture.

I was reading some of GSSmith's essays today, and he has a good handle on religion and the Founding, some stuff we should mainpage.

The Hooker-Suarez-Aquinas-Aristotle thing, as well as the Calvinist/Reformed Theology thing [Beza, Peter Martyr, Mornay/Vindiciae, Christopher Goodman] takes more digging, is all.

It's just that

bpabbott said...

Regarding Thomas Paine's religious views;

from The Age of Reason

"[…] I believe in one God, and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond this life.

I believe in the equality of man; and I believe that religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavoring to make our fellow-creatures happy.

But, lest it should be supposed that I believe in many other things in addition to these, I shall, in the progress of this work, declare the things I do not believe, and my reasons for not believing them.

I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church.

All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit. […]
"

I think it fair to qualify Paine as a Deist; not a Deist who views God as totally detached from men, but as one closer to the early Deist sort.

In any event, I see Thomas Paine as being more anti-establishment than anti-religious. Which is consistent with how Paine came to treat his once friend GW, after GW become President.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Ben, I think he's quite hostile to revelation, in this case, the Bible. Paine's seems to be a "natural theology."

Which is fine, but Locke writes in Reasonableness that even mankind's best philosophers never succeeded in bringing natural religion into a coherent moral code.

Hence, God in His mercy sends Jesus to earth to lay it all out for us, a sentiment echoed exactly by James Wilson.

bpabbott said...

Re: "Locke writes in Reasonableness that even mankind's best philosophers never succeeded in bringing natural religion into a coherent moral code."

I'd agree with Locke. Many (most?) of the natural philosophers don't appear to focus on, or be concerned with, grounding morality.

I'd say they are more concerned with the truth.

bpabbott said...

I should mention that I don't mean to belittle natural religion philosophy.

Personally, I find the "self-evident" approach to be compelling. Largely because it is easily understood by all and avoids drawing theological lines.

King of Ireland said...

Well I am not so sure why so many have a problem with natural religion considering it is in the Bible in Romans 1 and 2. Like I have stated before it is the only means that most of the world has even today of knowing God. If it is only be revelation that we can know him then that word must mean something different for these people.