In the comments section of my last post in this series Tom Van Dyke implored me to get away from the preliminaries and bring forth the proof behind what Gary Amos asserts concerning the phrase "Laws of Nature and Nature's God" having a long history within historical Christianity. With no further delay here is the first installment:
Did the drafters depart from the Christian tradition of law in the colonies by using the phrase "laws of nature" in the Declaration? Was this something new and different? Some say yes, meaning that the framers consciously rejected a Christian approach to law and government. The claim is historically false.
For example, in 1764, twelve years before the Declaration of Independence, James Otis, relied on the law of nature in his famous protest against the legality of the Stamp and Sugar Acts. In 1765, Massachusetts declared: "1. Resolved, That there are certain essential rights of the British Constitution and government which are founded in the law of God and nature, and are the common rights of mankind; Therefore, 2. Resolved, That the the inhabitants of this province are unalienably entitled to those essential rights, in common with all men; and that law of society can, consistent with the law of God and nature, divest them of those rights." In 1774, the First Continental Congress cited the "immutable laws of nature" in their "Declarations and Resolves." And in the years leading up to 1776 , the phrase "laws of nature" was frequently used and widely understood by the occasions.
This easily refutes the first of 5 objections that secularists raise when confronted with the idea that the phrase "Laws of nature and nature's God" has a long history of use in Christian thought. The quote from Otis alone disproves the absurd theory that Jefferson invented a new phrase.
Most people that have looked into this at all will concede that point. The real controversy starts when the discussion of whether Jefferson chose this phrase because it was overtly "deistic" or not? The idea being that he sought out to distance America from its Christian past and wanted to use the Declaration of Independence to make a statement about the freedom of religion. An assertion that I find absurd considering that this phrase has a long history in the Judeo-Christian intellectual tradition.
Amos goes on for a few pages proving the long history of the use of the first half of the term "laws of nature" in Christianity going back to the 11th Century. This is another point that most secularists that have actually looked into this topic will concede as well. The controversy is with the second half of the phrase which some believe refers to the Bible. The Bible being the "laws" of nature's God. Which, if true, would be the smoking gun in regards to the Declaration of Independence being a document heavily influenced by Christian Thought.
We will pick up this discussion in the next post where it will be clearly shown that the second half of this phrase is not a "deistic" invention of the 18th Century. I also believe he makes a compelling case that the second half of this phrase not only refers to the Bible leading up to the time of the Revolution but that there is no reason to believe that Jefferson sought out to change that.
For those that want to get a head start look into the writings of Blackstone and Coke. Both of whom had an influence over the thinking of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. Two of the three members of the drafting committee.