Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Bryan Fischer Digs Himself Deeper in the Hole

I have no idea who BF is responding to in this article that ends "To our secularist friends: man up, get over yourselves, and deal with it." Perhaps he read my earlier article that refuted his assertion that America's Founders were all "Christians" in a way that satisfies a conservative evangelical's test for the faith.

As I've noted before, if one casts a wide enough net, just about all of America's Founders were "Christians," as is Barack Obama, Bishop Spong and all of the Mormons. But according to evangelical minimums, a great deal of them were not.

Fischer conveniently defines those minimums in his article:

... Of the 55 framers of the Constitution, we know as a matter of historical record that 51 or 52 of them swore on oath to evangelical statements of faith,...


According to Dr. M.E. Bradford of the University of Dallas, of the 55 framers, 28 were Episcopalians, 8 were Presbyterians, 7 were Congregationalists, and there were two each of Lutherans, Dutch Reformed, Methodists and Roman Catholics. That left, by Bradford's counting, three deists and one founder whose religious views cannot be determined definitively.

Don't forget that at this time, most churches required sworn adherence to strict doctrinal statements, meaning all 51 of these men swore an oath before Almighty God that they believed the Bible to be God's revelation to mankind and that they themselves believed Jesus Christ to be the Son of God and that they trusted in him for their eternal salvation.

The problem with this is that it isn't true. ME Bradford did not "find" 51 of the 55 framers of the Constitution were "members" of churches in the "I took an oath" sense. All he found was some kind of nominal connection to an orthodox Church. I have one of those too; I was baptized in the Roman Catholic church but never went beyond that step. So did Jefferson -- he was nominally Anglican -- who denied every single tenet of orthodox Christianity. And Jefferson actually did take orthodox oaths when he became an Anglican Vestryman (which was more of a social function). Indeed of the 28 Episcopalians, however many of them did take oaths (understanding there is no proof all 28 of them did), actually took loyalty oaths to the crown that they violated when they rebelled.

There is reason why appeal to authority is logical fallacy and that's because sometimes expert authorities get it wrong. If I am wrong -- if ME Bradford did find that 51 out of the 55 Framers were "members" in the "I took an oath" to an orthodox Church sense -- then prove it by citing the primary sources. I've already looked into this and know "there is no there there" and I'm willing to wager $$ to get Fischer to put up or shut up.

Based on what he wrote in the article Fischer should understand Dr. Bradford's figure is worthless: Even the 3 Deists had those nominal connections to orthodox churches. Yes, BF understands Bradford's 3 Deists weren't really "Deists" but doesn't seem to understand that casts doubt on the credibility of the argument for the other 51-52.

Finally, let us appreciate irony of Christian Nationalists like Fischer using the "oaths" argument as a shortcut to prove the Founders' orthodox Christianity. While they were all God believers and attached to their various sects for social and hereditary reasons, many of them disbelieved and questioned the "official" doctrinal stories that their orthodox clergy sold them. For that reason, many Founders hated sectarian oaths, especially sectarian oaths required for public office. See James H. Hutson's The Founders on Religion, pp. 154-56 to match Fischer's appeal to authority.*

* More on the Founders' explicit anti-oath arguments that reference the primary sources in subsequent posts and perhaps in the comment thread to this post. As I challenged BF, I will put up or shut up.


Tom Van Dyke said...

Fischer is wrong on this point. However, digging up the worst and dumbest ["Christian Nationalists like Fischer"] to slam the greater whole is sophistry, indeed, a corollary of the "straw man" argument.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Okay well then I'm doing a favor by bottom feeding just like the Lobster does the Ocean a favor.

Tom Van Dyke said...

"Christian Nationalists like Fischer" implies that Christian Nationalists are like Fischer. But only the dumbest are. It's like "Democrats like Cynthia McKinney." Sure there are some, but few as dumb and extreme as she.

Anonymous said...

Yes, BF understands Bradford's 3 Deists weren't really "Deists"[?] but doesn't seem to understand that casts doubt on the credibility of the argument for the other 51-52.

Shouldn't that be "...weren't really 'Christians'"?

(Jeffrey Kramer)

bpabbott said...

Deist or Christian? It depends upon definition or qualification.

My impression is that many Evangelicals and "New Atheists" have a common agreement on this, but that the middle doesn't lie between these two extremes.

Jonathan Rowe said...


NO. Perhaps I should be more explicit for new readers. But one purpose of this blog is to get beyond the "Deist" "Christian" false dichotomy. Ben Franklin, Hugh Williamson and James Wilson -- Bradford's 3 "Deists" were not strict Deists. That doesn't mean they were "Christians" according to orthodox standards.

Whatever Ben Franklin was -- whatever we want to term it -- I'd argue lots of ME Bradford's 50-52 FFs were as well. Believers in Providence but not necessarily in orthodox Trinitarian doctrine, that Christ is the only way to God, that the Bible is inerrant or infallible, etc.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, I got on Jon here, but Bryan Fischer screws the pooch bigtime by guilding the lily:

Of the 55 framers of the Constitution, we know as a matter of historical record that 51 or 52 of them swore on oath to evangelical statements of faith...

BF mine. There were 2 Catholics listed in the mix. So now CATHOLICS are evangelicals, too? What a mess.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I'm still confused. I thought your argument was:

1) The "Fisher/Bradford" thesis assumes that anybody who had a church membership was in fact a Christian (i.e., a believer in the divinity of Christ and the other creeds subscribed to by those churches);

2) But in fact three of the founders whom Bradford calls Deists -- i.e., not believers in the divinity of Christ or other orthodox Christian principles -- were also members of 'orthodox' Christian churches;

3) Therefore the basic assumption behind the Fisher/Bradford thesis is false.

So I assumed you were saying, in effect, "even Bradford identifies three church members as non-Christians ('knew they were not Christians'), so it is ridiculous for Fisher to assume that church member=Christian."

Jeffrey Kramer

Jonathan Rowe said...

Jeff: Yeah that's my argument. Even Bradford's "Deists" had the same nominal affiliations with orthodox churches.

I think where we might be getting hung up is I was trying to point out: Fischer seems to recognize that Bradford's "Deists" were not "Deists" (that is Franklin and Wilson believed in an active intervening God, believed at least parts of scripture were revealed); if his method is flawed in categorizing the "Deists," it calls his entire method into question.

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