Friday, June 22, 2018

Jon Rowe v. Our Founding Truth

Our old buddy (nemesis?) Our Founding Truth has been sporadically updating his blog over the years.  It appears he has been keeping regular tabs on American Creation as well, as evidenced by his most recent post, an attempted rebuttal of our very own Jon Rowe.  In a post made back in April (Jonah Goldberg and the Metaphysics of Liberal Democracy), OFT takes umbrage with Rowe's claim that the Declaration of Independence is a "theist" document but not a "biblical" document.  From OFT: 
Rowe writes, "Even though the Declaration of Independence is a theistic document, it is not a biblical one. The "unalienable rights" in the DOI are anchored to God to make them non-negotiable; but such are, as the doctrine goes, discovered by reason, not revealed directly by God and recorded in a holy book. A generic monotheistic God, though, seems to exist as a necessary given part of the equation." 

 The DOI is proven to be a Christian document and Nature's God as the Divine Person, Christ Jesus, by two prayers. One before the DOI and one after. The first one is 47 days before Hancock signed the Declaration before anyone else. Both prayers mention God through the mediator Christ; meaning Nature's God cannot be anyone else but Christ: 

"The have people of all ranks and degrees duly impressed with a solemn sense of God's superintending providence, and of their duty devoutly to rely.... on His aid and direction... do earnestly recommend...a day of humiliation, fasting, and prayer; that we may with united hearts confess and bewail our manifold sins and transgressions and, by a sincere repentance and amendment of life,...and through the Merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, obtain His pardon and forgiveness." (bold mine) --Journals of Congress (1905), Vol. IV, pp. 208-209, May 17, 1776.
Moreover, the Ratifiers of the Constitution and Bill of Rights had these prayers, and others, before them while they deliberated. The idea God changed is ridiculous and promulgated by people who know little of the founding. Rowe, again, "The "unalienable rights" in the DOI are anchored to God to make them non-negotiable; but such are, as the doctrine goes, discovered by reason, not revealed directly by God and recorded in a holy book. 

However, Our unalienable rights are taken from the Bible:

II. The Rights of the Colonists as Christians.. These may be best understood by reading and carefully studying the institutes of the great Law Giver and Head of the Christian Church, which are to be found clearly written and promulgated in the New Testament. --Samuel Adams, The Report of the Committee of Correspondence to the Boston Town Meeting. November 20, 1772. 

It is the Christian religion that secures unalienable rights: 

[T]he Christian religion is the most important and one of the first things in which all children under a free government ought to be instructed. No truth is more evident than that the Christian religion must be the basis of any government intended to secure the rights and privileges of a free people. --Noah Webster, REVOLUTIONARY SOLDIER; JUDGE; LEGISLATOR; EDUCATOR; “SCHOOLMASTER TO AMERICA” A Collection of Papers on Political, Literary, and Moral Subjects (New York: Webster and Clark, 1843), p. 291, from his “Reply to a Letter of David McClure on the Subject of the Proper Course of Study in the Girard College, Philadelphia. New Haven, October 25, 1836.”
I understand what OFT is trying to say but I'm puzzled by how he thinks prayers somehow serve as proof that the Declaration of Independence is a biblical document.  Perhaps he could chime in here.  OFT, if you're reading, the floor is yours.  


Tom Van Dyke said...

Although I think the claim that the D of I is "Biblical" overshoots the evidence, OFT has a salient point regarding the "godless" revisionism of the modern secular academy that often bleaches out the religious--specifically Christian--landscape of the Founding.

Although the Declaration is written in generally theistic [not Christian] terms to enhance its universal appeal [and satisfy Jefferson himself, if not Franklin and John Adams], the majority--even the vast majority--took the terms in a specifically Christian context. The Continental Congress and men like Samuel Adams invoked Jesus Christ often, and by name.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Yes OFT, as per the custom, shoots too far. It's bizarre that one would conclude a drafting board comprised of author Thomas Jefferson, along with J. Adams and Franklin, constructed a document where the God invoked four times there was necessarily the Second Person in the Trinity, even though neither Jesus nor verses and chapter of scripture are mentioned at all in that document.

That said, the document could be understood as a lowest common denominator between the orthodoxy that prevailed in the community and the heterodoxy of the authors of the DOI. Hence the term "generic."

Our Founding Truth said...

Hi Brad,

I agree with you the DOI is not a biblical document. That claim is clearly a bridge too far. Specifically, Christ would need to be invoked. With that being said, I've learned quite a bit from this site. There used to be a Colonel who posted on here. He was brilliant and always had something insightful to write. I miss Hercules Mulligan and Bill Fortenberry too. There's not many sites out there that talk about this subject, even though civil debate of our founding documents is needed more than ever.

The Continental Congress prayed in Christ's name right before and right after the DOI. Hence, it follows, Christ must be the object. Maybe it's as simple as the founders using classical terms when they spoke of Christ, given their classical education. Whatever the case, the orthodox didn't object to Nature's God; that term used by Hooker and others, in reference to Romans 2:14-15. It's a Christian term, not a generic one.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well done [mostly], OFT. Good to hear from you, Jim.

Whatever the case, the orthodox didn't object to Nature's God; that term used by Hooker and others, in reference to Romans 2:14-15. It's a Christian term, not a generic one.

Romans 2 refers to "natural law," which dates back to Aristotle and Cicero.

It is not a uniquely "Christian" concept, although Christian thought incorporates it, as it incorporates much of classical philosophy. Truth cannot contradict truth. Christianity's embrace of philosophy is among its greatest strengths, as it unifies faith and reason, which the godless argue are in irreconcilable opposition.

But yes, Christians maintain that God is the "lawgiver" of natural law, but that's actually secondary to the existence of natural law itself: Aristotle and Cicero did not require the Judeo-Christian God to prove and justify the existence of a natural law.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Good comment OFT. I agree this blog is special because of its unique and intense focus on this issue (and has caught the eye the scholars like Mark David Hall who specialize in this issue). And that we try to keep the discussion civil as it is argumentative.

Our Founding Truth said...

Amen to that, Jonathan.

Our Founding Truth said...


We are all in accord with the idea of natural law, and the use of the conscience and right reason. Roman writers such as Cicero expanded their natural law ideas from the Greeks, given their sources were one and the same; a pantheon of gods, one being the chief god.

"Romans 2 refers to "natural law," which dates back to Aristotle and Cicero."

Obviously Paul did not write about Natural Law from the pagans, and so his source is different. Paul's source is his own ancestors, namely Isaiah 1:18, "Come now, and let us reason together," and 43:25-26, which is footnoted. In fact, Moses used Natural Law before the ten commandments were written, Ex 18:16, as well as Jeremiah 31:33 and Paul quoting the moral sense in 1 Cor 11:14, "Does not even nature teach you.."

I know Cumberland goes over the differences, but so do many others.

For the heathens, it was "rational agents in a political system with Jupiter, Zeus or Baal" as the source, with no division of creator with his creation.

The "Laws of Nature and of Nature's God" is a contraction of "The Laws of Nature and The Laws of Nature's God." This must be why Blackstone and James Wilson divided them into reason and revelation.

I know you, Brad and Jon know all this, but laid out like this makes sense to me.

Natural Law are the laws of creation God has established for all people and nations (law of nations), and in the DOI, it justified their actions in the Revolution. The heathens' right reason were not universal laws of a creator over His creation, affirmed by His own revelation.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Obviously Paul did not write about Natural Law from the pagans

As a Roman citizen, Paul is credited with being quite familiar with classical philosophy.

Jonathan Rowe said...
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Jonathan Rowe said...

"This must be why Blackstone and James Wilson divided them into reason and revelation."

Again, NO they didn't, as it relates to the phrase in question. The laws of Nature and of Nature's God is a double invocation of reason because nature = discoverable by reason as opposed to revealed by God and recorded in any holy book.

Both Blackstone AND Wilson used different terminology when they discussed the matter as OFT knows and everyone else here who has read the debates knows.

God is invoked in the phrase "laws of Nature and of Nature's God" to make the natural law/natural rights binding in an ought sense.

Tom Van Dyke said...

nature = discoverable by reason as opposed to revealed by God and recorded in any holy book.

The distinction called "general" vs "special" revelation made by Aquinas. No educated person in Western civilization was not influenced by scholastic thought and aware of this distinction.

"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."
---James Wilson, Of the Law of Nature, 1804

For the believer, this is true: the "same adorable source" is the Lawgiver, God. Even Locke references a "lawgiver," which argues against the secular whitewash of religion in the Founding era.

But still, the distinction between "general" vs "special" revelation was made.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Also of interest, Tom West on Locke:

"As Zuckert himself correctly points out, the only source of moral obligation that Locke recognizes is a law whose punishment is imposed by a lawgiver. Locke writes, "Moral good and evil, then, is only the conformity or disagreement of our voluntary actions to some law, whereby good or evil is drawn on us, from the will and power of the law-maker; which good and evil, pleasure or pain, attending our observance or breach of the law by the decree of the lawmaker, is that we call reward and punishment."


"Contrary to Zuckert, I agree with Strauss that Locke's doctrine of natural law is not a moral doctrine in the strict sense, because Locke is unable to establish by mere reason the fact of a moral obligation, that is, a lawgiver who promulgates the law and punishes those who disobey it. Locke is able to show that the law of nature benefits all or almost all men. But he cannot show that it is promulgated (for only a small number know it in the state of nature). Nor can he show that it is enforced by the lawgiver (its enforcement in the state of nature is left up to every individual, which means that it will go mostly unenforced, as Locke admits)."

Leo Strauss [as well as Voegelin, who was far more vociferous against him] had his doubts about Locke being a genuine philosopher since we see a fogginess--if not self-contradiction--at the heart of Locke's grounding of his is-es and oughts.

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Our founding truth said...


You could be right, but my gut feeling says no. I don't believe TJ invented LONANG; so he had to borrow it from someone, then change the phrase somewhat into what is written in the DOI. I've never seen that exact phrase used before. The attorney's at claim the phrase "The laws of nature and of nature's God" is a plural contraction of "The laws of nature and the laws of nature's God". It looks like that is the case to me, but I'm no grammar expert, so I put in an email to them to see what they say. If it can be proven it's a plural contraction, then it follows the phrase contains two sets of laws; one for nature and one for nature's God, especially as TJ wrote "Laws" instead of "Law." Otherwise, it seems redundant.

Incidentally, I found a post by Bill Fortenberry about this from a few years ago with some background information. He gives a few 18th century examples of the phrase with two sets of laws and then quotes JQA from 1841:

“In the Declaration of Independence the Laws of Nature are announced and appealed to as identical with the laws of nature’s God, and as the foundation of all obligatory human laws.”

Therefore, Adams is clearly making a delineation for two sets of laws from two channels. Further, TJ most likely got lonang from Lord Bolingbroke. TJ wrote over ten thousand words of Bolingbroke in his Commonplace Book attacking biblical Christianity; even how to question the authenticity of ancient sources. Bolingbroke's comment to Alexander Pope reads:

“You will find that it is the modest, not the presumptuous enquirer, who makes a real, and safe progress in the discovery of divine truths. One follows nature, and nature’s God; that is, he follows God in his works, and in his word.”

This interpretation appears to be the same from the beginning of the Christian era, since both Augustine and Tertullian make the same delineation. It follows, JQA and the other framers understood the phrase as two sets of laws.

I believe Bill's source is Allen Jayne's book on Jefferson, where he claims most every modern scholar believes TJ got lonang from Bolingbroke

Jonathan Rowe said...
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Jonathan Rowe said...

Yes I remember Fortenberry's argument AND Allen Jayne's argument about Bolingbroke. And I think it proves almost the exact opposite of what you would like. Or at least it proves the Gregg Frazer/David Holmes thesis (not necessarily the secular thesis).

Bolingbroke was a notorious "Deist." Now, as Joseph Waligore has demonstrated, many of the notable English Deists weren't quite as distant or "non-Christian" as they have been made out to be.

It's possible that Bolingbroke in some way deserves to be lumped in with the "Christian-Deists" as opposed to the "non-Christian" Deists.

But however heterodox Jefferson was in the way in which he cut up his Bible, Bolingbroke was worse.