Tuesday, June 21, 2011

On the "divine origin" of nature

Books, whether bibles or Korans, carry no evidence of being the work of any other power than man.  It is only that which man cannot do that carries the evidence of being the work of a superior power.  Man could not invent and make a universe -- he could not invent nature, for nature is of divine origin.  It is the law by which the universe is governed.
- Thomas Paine, Prospect Papers:  Of the Word "Religion," and Other Words of Uncertain Signification, reprinted in In God We Trust:  The Religious Beliefs and Ideas of the American Founding Fathers, ed. by Norman Cousins (Harper & Brothers:   1958), pg. 430.

Thomas Paine, advocate of an intelligent design!

31 comments:

Angie Van De Merwe said...

But, intelligent design is not accepted in today's Academy, is it? It is considered pseudo-science.

Causal forces are understood to be "God's Hand", or over-riding hand over Nature! This is Aritotle's "Unmoved Mover", isn't it? or "Providence", the God that controls and rules over all... And those that adhere to a structure or order or Being, that is absolute, leave little room for individuality, because such a view seeks a "wholistic" approach, without understanding or allowing for diversity, agency, contingencies, or parts...much less what makes for a free society!

Pinky said...

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We could apply A.J. Ayer's ideas of logical positivism here.
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Angie Van De Merwe said...

"God of the Gaps", Pinky? Simply because we don't understand everything, do we jump to the "mystery solution"? That's not reasonable.

Each person has reasons of their own, this must be kept in mind whenever there are specific "goals" in mind. Conflict is a "fact of nature", so the question should be what buffers or "balances" power and ambition? The rule of law, not some arbitrary "fall back" to "God". "God" is whatever we don't understand yet...and many things are not understood.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

The West believes that things can be explained by natural processes, but the East is into mystery.

Pinky said...

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What do you mean by east, Cleveland?
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Angie Van De Merwe said...

Pinky,
Don't be sarcastic!
The music of the East isn't appealing to me, whether Indian, or Chinese. The call to prayer of Islam gives me the creeps! And mystical experience like TM, or Tao isn't my cup of tea, either...I don't mind some of thier art, though.

Pinky said...

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I'm not being sarcastic. I figure all religions get involved in mystery. Ayer had a lot to say about the metaphysical.
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Jason Pappas said...

Here’s a more interesting question. The “nature’s creator” phrase indicates two things. Man’s nature is fixed and a superior being force (or being) created man. Since the only cosmological theory around was Creationism there was no need to logically examine each premise separately. We, however, can try to examine the usage of the founders appeals to creationism to infer whether they derived something specific about man’s nature because he was created by a specific deity. We could ask the hypothetical question: what if it wasn’t God who created man? What if they knew about evolution? What in the founders ethical and political philosophy would have to be altered in their view?

Mark in Spokane said...

One of the key things to keep in mind when studying the Founders is that their world was very different from our own. The quote I posted by Paine demonstrates this. Even though Paine was no fan of orthodox Christianity, by modern lights he would on the Right when it comes to understanding the issue of divine causation. He, like most of the Founders, just doesn't fit very well into modern categories. I think that the inability to realize that the Founders really did inhabit a very different world from us is at the roots of the failure of many modern ideological writers, from David Barton to Christopher Hitchens, from understanding them very well.

jimmiraybob said...

...by modern lights he would on the Right when it comes to understanding the issue of divine causation.

No no no no. As you say, "the Founders really did inhabit a very different world from us." I call anchronistic voodoo.

You cannot take them/Paine out of their/his world and use that as evidence for where they would fall on a modern political scale. Given Paine's reverence for science and reason and extreme evisceration of Christianity and Judaism (see Age of Reason) and providing him with the accumulated knowledge of 200 years of scientific advancement he may well be touring with Hitchens today.

Mark in Spokane said...

I think there is value in looking at the Founders to see what they thought relative to our own issues, without conflating them with our own partisan positions. Assuming that Paine wouldn't change his positions if he lived today (something we have no way of knowing), in some ways he would be on the Right, in some ways on the Left. All of the Founders are like that. Adams and Hamilton were the conservatives of the early Republic -- but they supported a Federalist agenda that has little in common with the agenda of conservatism today. Jefferson is the Apostle of Liberty -- who owned (and like slept with at least one of his) slaves. Their world is different from ours, but that doesn't mean that they didn't address issues similar to or the same as the ones we face today. The road to avoiding anachronism, in my mind, is to keep that clearly in mind -- and to realize that none of the Founders fits within our own categories. Cheers!

Mark in Spokane said...

In discussing Jefferson in the comment above, I meant to write "likely slept" in the parenthetical. Sorry for any confusion. That's what I get for typing late at night.

Tom Van Dyke said...

The Founders don't seem any mystery to me. Even for Paine, God is a reality, not a theory.

The rest is details.

The New Atheists of the current day, now, they're confused. They don't even know what they're rejecting.

http://www.american.com/archive/2010/march/the-new-philistinism

Jefferson knew the [Thomistic] "proofs of God" and wanted them taught in the "ethics" classes at the University of Virginia. You could look it up.

[Sectarian dogma, no thanks, although they were invited to set up shop on their own at the university but not as part of the university.]

For virtually every Founder, God was a reality. And so too today for most Americans. It's really not that complicated.

Pinky said...

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As per hypothetical questions. What do they have to do with reality?
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The American Creation was far more productive than merely a new form of government. I think we often get going too far down that political road. Once the hassling with the monarchy ended, the fulness of what our Founders had crafted for us started to unfold. And, that process began in serious action during the ninteeth century.
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There was an explosion of metaphysical ideas as a result of just the idea of freedom itself began to take place. And, that began a national discussion that continues to this date. Gradually, we are beginning to grasp the importance of what it means to be a self governing people. There's a lot of resistance to our way of seeing social reality.
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Pinky said...

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Any attempt to argue what Paine, Jefferson, and all the others believed and wrote as though they had the same benefits to choose ideas that we have today is plain nonsense. There was no idea developed to the level we have today regarding nature. In fact, until Hubbell, scientists thought the faint light of distant galaxies was some "gas" out there. It was believed that life might exist on Venus and that there might be some form of human beings walking on Mars. The Founders were dumb to what most grade school students are learning today. The knowledge just wasn't available. There is nothing in that to berate the thinking or intellectual abilities of our Founders--they just didn't have our advantages. It took the ninteenth century and its explosion of First Amendment freedoms to bring us our time.
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So, the American Creation was far, far more that the establishment of a form of self government for political reasons. Our Constituton has changed what reality is believed to be for all time.
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To argbue the religious beliefs of the Founders takes us to nonsense.
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Pinky said...

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An example:

One of the key things to keep in mind when studying the Founders is that their world was very different from our own. The quote I posted by Paine demonstrates this. Even though Paine was no fan of orthodox Christianity, by modern lights he would [be] on the Right when it comes to understanding the issue of divine causation. (my emphasis)
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I don't see where you get the authority to make such a claim. With due respect, it reads as though you have an agenda to fill. Those people didn't even possess the simplest ideas of present day science let alone all the experience of the ensuing two hundred and thirty-some years that fills our knowledge today. They used blood suckers to heal sickness.
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Pinky said...

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These things said, Tom Paine most certainly questioned the status quo and, in such a way, that his grave site was desecrated by those who held what was then considered to be the "absolute" truth. Then, philosophy was seen as the hand maiden of theology.
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We have come a long way.
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It seems to me that Paine could more easily be seen as a progressive then and that now, he would be on the Left.
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Mark in Spokane said...

It's more complicated than that. Paine was Ronald Reagan's favorite founding father -- Reagan quoted Paine more than any of the other founders. In many ways, Paine's radicalism moved in what we would call a libertarian direction. He wasn't a conservative -- then or now -- but Paine just doesn't fit the modern definition of a Leftist. And Paine's religious convictions, as Tom so effectively noted, were real. He believed in a God who was active in history, who required human beings to conform to a moral law. In that way, he was no radical, but built on a very old tradition in Western thought that went back through the Scholastic tradition into the reaches of classical philosophy.

Paine's complicated.

Jason Pappas said...

In the above quote Paine is dismissing the great books of revelation as man-made myths. He’s quite unusual in that respect. Of course his views continue to evolve. Without the Bible, Paine rests little of his political views on religious doctrines. He doesn’t need religion for his political foundation.

Those Founders who believe that man was created in God’s image will obviously want to know about God’s identity. I tend to find a more vehement insistence on religious teachings.

Finally, the only example of atheism known to the Founding Fathers was Hobbesian materialism. Given this example, it is understandable why there would be such a hostility to atheism. The believe is a threat to all ethical knowledge and Whig political philosophy. I’d prefer not to describe the Founders as opposed to atheism because they just didn’t know about atheism in general. They were opposed to Hobbesian atheism--the only kind available. Thus, you can’t say what they would say about other forms, can you?

Jason Pappas said...

I agree with Mark (and others) that you can’t classify the Founders with modern terms. These include left-right (French 19th century terms) and liberal-conservative (more developed after the American revolution). You can still debate disposition (conservative or experimental). You can use their political terms (Whig vs. Tory). Or just be descriptive. For example, they had a strong (but not perfect) acceptance of the institution of private property. I prefer the latter.

Jason Pappas said...

"Paine’s complicated."

And he was always changing. He ended his life advocating the creation of a welfare state. I think Reagan, like the rest of us, think of Paine of “Common Sense” as the definitive Paine. Everyone was a sort of libertarian (or better yet, Whig) in 1776 ... even Hamilton! Ah, the days when we believed that faction was an evil that could be banished from our land.

Pinky said...

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I tend to find a more vehement insistence on religious teachings.
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Yes and--I agree with you--naturally so. What else was being taught?
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I think a more productive question has to do with gathering strong evidence that any Founders harbored serious doubts regarding those teachings. The First Amendment--itself--exhibits strong evidence as it displays their fearlessness toward new thinking as evidenced by the promotion and establishment of the principles laid down in the First Amendment. That it was first is significant in my thoughts.
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What we have come to be is a consequence of those principles.
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Jason Pappas said...

That's an excellent point. The very first amendment has to do with intellectual and spiritual liberty.

Mark in Spokane said...

No, it doesn't. The 1st Amendment standing on its own is a jurisdictional amendment. It prohibited the federal government, and Congress specifically, from doing certain things, it didn't bind the states. Many states had their own protections for religious and political liberty in their constitutions, but that didn't involve the 1st Amendment (which wasn't held to apply to the states at all until long after the 14th Amendment was ratified).

We tend to forget how limited the original Bill of Rights were -- and how much of the heavily lifting for liberty in our early Republic was left to the states.

Pinky said...

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???
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Angie Van De Merwe said...

Since States have the right over and above the Feds, in protecting liberty, then since Indiana has the most stringent laws agasint abortion and wants to implement the "Marriage Act"...

Those that live in Indiana would define and judge another person's virtue/behavior based on such laws/standards. So, gays would have "no chance" to be defined in such an environment as "virtuous", even when they are monogomous, or active community participants, or do volunteer at the local charity! And abortion would be a public affair, where girls would have to be admitted into the hospital, etc.

Parental rights are at issue in the abortion law, and I think this is fair. But, the example is that those that don't agree with the conservative bent need to live elsewhere!

Angie Van De Merwe said...

One question:

Are these behavior standards similar to heresy convictions of the past. It was the Orthodox who put people to death back then. Belief was of ultimate concern then, today it is social norms and values. While social norms and values are important, don't we have to think more broadly than 'The Bible" to legislate....where does it end?

Tom Van Dyke said...

I'd love to see a poll on how many Americans believe our rights come from God. That's what we're really talking about here, not executions for heresy and the like.

Jason Pappas said...

Yes, Mark, but that's a different point. The 1st Amendment prohibited the federal government from violating the intellectual and spiritual rights of the people. You mentioning that it didn't prohibit the states from doing so; quite true. The 1st Amendment does have to do with liberty ... if only by keeping the federal government from being a threat. That was the worry.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Tom,
Of course most would say that our rights come from God, because most Americans believe in God...But, just because the majority believes something does not make it so, does it? And didn't our Founders want to protect the liberty of the minority? We weren't to be ruled by "the mob"....

That said, beliefs about anything define what someone "sees" or understands. And "life" is defined as granted by "God", as god was over nature, in the Founder's eyes..

With stem cell research, should we limit "life" to protect another life? Should we legislate against all stem cell research because it protect "God's created order"? How much power does "God" have over the universe and what happens. Does he limit, oversee, overintend, supervise, pre-determine, or ordain? Is "God" really nature, itself? These are questions relevant to science, life, the value of life, and the ethics of our culture....

People that believe that God intervenes in history, don't have to ask any more questions than the 'fact that this is what is", so therefore, it obviously is "God" permissive or pre-determined will/plan! It is FATE.. that defines what is "God"s will...or they search "the Bible" and find some obscure verse to defend what they really already believe..

On the other hand, when one is responsible (whether under God or not) then how is one to be responsible, and how does one determine what values are most important and where to draw the lines and how to determine what is "life", "liberty" and the "pursuit of happiness"...Is that to be defined by the individual, or is it to be defined by social elites? If social elites, then will those elites be of a particular religious affiliation (denomination) or a particular political persuasion?

Philosphical dilemmans are here to stay...

Tom Van Dyke said...

Of course most would say that our rights come from God, because most Americans believe in God...But, just because the majority believes something does not make it so, does it?

"We hold these truths to be self-evident" doesn't require the "truths" to be true, it says we believe them to be true.

As for "fate," Washington stoically accepted it; the Calvinists believed in predestination. But it can't be said to have been the majority position, and it's certainly not the American Way to sit back and be trod upon as being God's will. Not even for the Calvinists! Especially not the Calvinists!