Joe Farah Commits The Fundamentalist Fallacy

On “rights & God.” I’ve blogged about this before but think I will mention it again because it’s a line of reasoning common among conservative evangelicals who wish to claim the American Founding, especially the Declaration of Independence (and many more sophisticated Christian conservatives reject the DOI for reasons similar to what I’m about to write).

Farah debated a gay conservative leader of GOProud and tried to invoke the American Founding, in particular the DOI. The Founding Fathers did not support gay rights (a concept unknown to them) and, from what I’ve seen didn’t think too much about homosexuality, which remained deep in the closet. Sodomy laws had long been on the books and the FFs didn’t give much thought to removing them. Jefferson, apparently, supported making sodomy a non-capital crime in a proposed revision to the VA criminal code, a code that also sought to decriminalize bestiality. You can google what that reduction for sodomy was.

I haven’t seen any evidence that one person was executed in post Founding America (I’m not even sure about pre-Founding America) for the crime of sodomy. And the Cato Institute, in their brief submitted in Lawrence v. Texas, argued (unrebutted so far) that sodomy law prosecutions/convictions invariably involved men raping other males, which may explain why Jefferson wanted to decriminalize bestiality, but not sodomy.

Still, the laws did their damage in other ways and are rightly off the books.

Where I think Farah errs is his philosophy of rights/God/the DOI. It goes something like this: 1) Rights come from God; 2) God tells us what is sin in the Bible; 3) therefore there can not be a “right” to do what the Bible forbids. Proof text, proof text, proof text the Bible. That’s what Farah argued during the debate.

The problem with this sentiment is manifold. Leaving aside the issues of whether God exists and whether the Bible is true, it’s not what the Bible says; it’s not what the DOI said; and it’s not what the Founders said or did as a matter of principle. And the Founders wisely avoided this method (prooftexting the Bible to find what our unalienable rights are) because it didn’t work for them, and in fact was what they were trying to get away from.

First, the Bible doesn’t mention the concept of unalienable rights. And many smart evangelical/fundamentalists reject the concept for this very reason. I know you can construct a theological case for unalienable rights based on Imago Dei, in the same way you can construct other theological doctrines that are disputed on Sola Scriptura, and other theological grounds, like original sin or TULIP. But the first step for proof-texting evangelicals is to realize the Bible doesn’t specifically mention the concept of unalienable rights.

Second, the DOI says that men have unalienable rights to life, liberty (meaning political liberty) and the pursuit of happiness. But it does not cite verses and chapters of Scripture for that or any proposition and does not identify God as Jehovah or the God of the Bible. The DOI does not say “look it up in the Bible” to determine the special content of our unalienable rights.

Third, the Founding Fathers recognized men had an unalienable right to do wrong in some instances, or at least what many orthodox (and non-orthodox) Christian believed to be wrong. The rights of conscience were the most “unalienable” of liberty rights. And holding that your neighbor has the right to worship God (or not) according to his conscience and to freely speak his mind on why he so does invariably grants men a right to break the first table in the Ten Commandments, most notably the First Commandment itself.

The Founding Fathers believed in granting the right to worship universally, to Christians and non-Christians. That includes Jews, Muslims, Hindus. Most orthodox Christians believe Hindus worshipped false gods (I suppose there is always a potential Acts 17:23 defense for Hindus, seems a stretch though). Many, but not all, orthodox Christians believe Muslims worship a different God. And a few notable orthodox Christian theologians believe Jews worship a different god than Christians because Jews don’t worship a Triune God.

Back then, I think more orthodox Christians — at least the theologians — would agree Jews and Christians worshipped different gods. And here is where the unitarian controversy which I am so fond of writing about is relevant. The second and third American Presidents were militant unitarians. The first and fourth may well have been unitarians (certainly they never spoke in overtly Trinitarian language) and Ben Franklin politely and gently affirmed unitarian doctrines. Even if their views were “unrepresentative” of the larger era, the fact that played such prominent roles (among other things, they wrote the DOI) means American political-theology had to fully accommodate them.

When reading the theological debates of that era, we see the unitarians and trinitarians accused one other of breaking the First Commandment, of worshipping different gods. The orthodox theologians argued God was Triune in nature, and hence unitarians (and Jews, logically speaking) worshipped different gods. Since God is Triune, their gods (those of any non-Trinitarian) were false.

The unitarians were more generous in recognizing trinitarians worshipped the one true God of the Universe whenever they worshipped God the Father. But worshipping Jesus as God was 100% sinful idolatry (to the more pious unitarian; the more latitudinarian unitarians probably thought worshipping Jesus as God more silly than sinful) and wrongly took rightful worship away from the Father — the only Person who deserved to be worshipped as God.

So granting religious liberty to unitarians & trinitarians alone necessarily means giving men an unalienable right to sin according to each’s respective understanding of the Bible.

Finally, the Founding Fathers, especially when they moralized, rarely cited verses and chapters of scripture as “proofs” to settle things. Rather they preferred speaking in a more general philosophical language of “Nature” as discovered by man’s reason. (This is not to say that they didn’t speak in biblical metaphor — they commonly did, even, indeed especially Thomas Paine, when talking politics.) And that’s because they knew just how disputed, just how much blood had been shed over sectarian religious squabbles, especially those where the parties disagreed on how to interpret Scripture.

The Founders recognized, contra many of today’s conservative evangelicals, it’s not just so “easy” to look something up in the Bible to settle things. The Bible is one thick, complicated book that lends itself to multiple interpretations, some more “literal” than others. After Rome lost its monopoly on political theological matters, the Christian West went to war in literal and figurative senses over matters of sectarian biblical interpretation.

For instance, there are powerfully convincing arguments in Christendom that hold Romans 13’s prohibition on revolt is absolute, that what the FFs did against Great Britain — indeed what they said God gave them a right to do — was as sinful as witchcraft. In this sense, the American Founding was anti-Christian and anti-biblical. The Christians in England and the many (perhaps as many as 1/3!) who remained loyalists in America were sympathetic to this understanding of Scripture which for all we know is the “right” one.

But the Founders had no interest in that method of debate. “Nature” had already determined that men had an unalienable right to revolt against tyrants. So go back and interpret the Bible accordingly, even if, as Rev. Samuel West instructed in 1776, we have to conclude that St. Paul was joking in Romans 13.

The Founders removed revelation from politics; that was the only way to solve the political theological sectarian wars based on how to properly interpret revelation. Government therefore would no longer care whether the Bible really taught original Sin, TULIP, Trinity, eternal damnation. And any political matters that stemmed therefrom was consigned to the realm of private conscience.

The bottom line is, in order to make an “American” argument you have to do better than “the Bible says it’s sin, therefore there can be no right to it.” No, the American Founders held, as a matter of principle, in certain circumstances, men had an unalienable God given political liberty right to do what the Bible terms sin. The alternative was to continue religious persecution and sectarian bloodshed.

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45 Responses to Joe Farah Commits The Fundamentalist Fallacy

  1. buddyglass says:

    There’s also the matter that in the one government God himself established he permitted a number of ways to sin legally. Divorce comes to mind. Drunkenness. Or any number of interpersonal offenses (gossip, being hateful to someone, etc.)

    What bugs me most about guys like Farah (and a fair number of my friends at church, for that matter) is the way they apply the “if its sinful we need to make it illegal” logic almost completely arbitrarily. I mean, just look at homosexuality and marriage rights. How can one use the idea that homosexual acts are sinful (which I actually affirm) as a basis for denying marriage rights without also arguing that homosexual acts themselves should be criminalized? But few are willing to make that leap.

  2. D.A. Ridgely says:

    Oh, I wouldn’t say that. I suspect many here in the Bible Belt and among the more, um, fervent evangelical and/or fundamentalist sorts everywhere would be just as pleased as punch if homosexual acts were made (once again) illegal.

  3. buddyglass says:

    Some, yes. I think “most” wouldn’t go that far. Even if they would, I’m pretty sure I can find a sinful activity they’d balk at criminalizing.

  4. James Hanley says:

    I’m pretty sure I can find a sinful activity they’d balk at criminalizing.

    Like pride, sloth, gluttony?

  5. Jon Rowe says:

    Or even coveting which arguably forms the basis of capitalism.

  6. yoshi says:

    without also arguing that homosexual acts themselves should be criminalized

    Most on the extreme edge of the marriage debate DO want to make homosexual acts illegal. Farah included.

  7. tom van dyke says:

    The Founders removed revelation from politics

    Without getting into the tall weeds, there’s an OK case to be made that they removed revelation from national politics.

    However, the US government was designed to have limited and clearly defined powers. The details of everyday life were, as before, left to the states. [Sex, violence, alcohol, all the things that make America really great.] If a state wanted the Bible to guide its laws [or even have an established church, like Massachusetts], the Constitution didn’t molest those rights. That the 14th Amendment subsumed the states’ purview on these matters—or abolished religious conscience in the drafting of such laws—is not yet self-evident, although it appears to be the prevailing assertion.

  8. buddyglass says:

    Ok, well, maybe my church friends are in the minority then. Some, at least, are all about “defending traditional marriage”, but don’t want to criminalize homosexuality in general.

  9. buddyglass says:

    I was thinking something more easily quantified. Maybe premarital sex. Or non-public drunkenness. Blasphemy. Profanity in general.

  10. James Hanley says:

    It may come as some surprise, but I mostly agree with Mr. Van Dyke here. The Declaration, after all, was not a legal document and imposed no legal boundaries or constraints on the states, and the Framers of the Constitution only created a federal government. The only effect on the state governments was that they sacrificed some sovereignty–no changes were worked on their internal authorities.

    I would make a somewhat more confident statement about the 14th Amendment, though. It’s almost impossible to imagine now that the states actually have any authority over religious issues, either promoting or restricting such. That’s as much settled law as anything else.

    As to “abolishing religious conscience” in drafting laws, I want to emphasize yet again that the Court has never suggested that no legislator or citizen can be guided in lawmaking by their religious conscience. It has only ruled that it is an insufficient basis, on its own, for legislation. If the law serves a legitimate secular purpose, whether or not a legislator or citizen votes for it can be a decision determined by religious values or personal morals.

  11. James Hanley says:

    I should add, that I think state establishments of religion (including coerced school prayers), or denial of free exercise, are among the more shameful elements of American history. Freedom of conscience was a hard-fought victory, and it’s a pity that even in America we have such a flawed history of securing it.

  12. tom van dyke says:

    If the law serves a legitimate secular purpose…

    Lemon v. Kurtzman [1971], I believe. This is what historian Gordon Wood calls our prevailing “legal fiction.” Wood leans to the right, IMO, but is regarded as an honest broker on American history by most folks on either side of the cultural divide. He doesn’t kick about this “fiction,” saying it suits our times, that are much less religious than the Founding era’s. [I happen to think he simply wants no part of the culture wars: he is an historian and would prefer his life’s work to remain umblemished by them. Wise. Culture wars are eternal, but their particulars come and go.]

    Still, few of the products of our modern academy are even aware that this might be a “legal fiction,” so imbued are we with legalism, “rights talk,” and the spirit of our modern age that has no use for the history of ideas except how we have perfected or transcended it.

    , whether or not a legislator or citizen votes for it can be a decision determined by religious values or personal morals.

    As to “abolishing religious conscience” in drafting laws, I want to emphasize yet again that the Court has never suggested that no legislator or citizen can be guided in lawmaking by their religious conscience.

    I’m uncertain about this as actual fact, Dr. Hanley. And leaving Bible and the possibility of revelation and all the rest like tradition aside for the moment—and I happen to agree [if I understand you correctly] that no one should have to explain the reasons behind their vote, since our thoughts are usually more inductive than logically defensible—

    I’m puzzled by the bizarre spectacle in Romer v. Evans, where Plato was put in the docket.

    http://linguafranca.mirror.theinfo.org/9609/stand.html

    As near as I can figure, Plato was brought in as a witness to prove that thumping Bible isn’t the only “rational” justification for the “traditional” position on sexual preference. [The Bible, as “revelation,” is by nature “irrational.” Faith, God, that stuff.] So who’s more rational than Plato?

    What a zoo, what a circus. Actually, I think it was really cool. It’s a shame nobody except you and me and a few of our closest friends really knows about it.

    It appears to me that George & Finnis won the scholarly battle vs. Martha Nussbaum. But regardless of the actual disposition of the single Greek word tolmêma, surely it’s absurd to call Plato as the only witness. Surely there are other reasonable and rational men. The question, as stated by CS Lewis in The Abolition of Man, is not of theology or revelation, but whether we abolish philosophy too.

    You of course are at your usual liberty to ridicule, dismiss, or misrepresent, but surely we both know by now that we don’t actually enjoy a good-faith colloquy. We both write for the unfortunate yet still gentle reader. If we are to follow Europe—and we are on that course—the end of theology is already in the cards. I simply mourn the death of philosophy as well. Plato is out, social science is in. God help us.

  13. James Hanley says:

    Plato is out, social science is in. God help us.

    Yeah, who needs empiricism when we can just put together plausible-sounding strings of logic? Frankly, I prefer Aristotle.

    This may be the crux of our disagreement. You prefer philosophy and theology, presumed to be approaches to “Truth,” but untestable, so that one can never actually know if one has an Truth or not. I prefer empiricism, which allows–requires–us to actually put our claims to the test, the great risky approach to “truths.” I believe all students should take some philosophy courses, as it indisputably helps to develop critical thinking skills. But in the end, philosophy and theology have these two great virtues: 1) Because there is no testing of their claims, the theologian/philosopher cannot be proven wrong; hence 2) they are perfect systems for devising logic-chains that support pre-conceived beliefs.

    I began college as a religion student. When I shifted to political science I was interested in political philosophy. Ultimately I found both of those fields dry and barren, unable to tell us how the world around us really worked. I know you love to sneer at social science. But even if you could actually point to social science’s errors, it would only be because it is actually testable, because it puts its claims up to the test and accepts the risk of being proven wrong, a virtue not shared by either philosophy or theology.

  14. tom van dyke says:

    Such empiricism is devoid of content beyond physical needs and appetites. By rejecting things like metaphysics and teleology, it empties human life of all meaning and purpose. It is anti-philosophical and anti-theological, but it’s man’s nature to be both.

    This might not be so bad in government but the modern scheme is for government to encroach upon if not obliterate “society,” and we are by nature social animals. “Society” is artificial enough with its codes and conventions, but law is pure artifice.

    As for social science, again, it cannot tell us “what is good,” as by its own lights it strives to be value-free. It’s not without utility, but I don’t believe a civilization, a society, can sustain without values.

    I also have a healthy distrust of social science as administrated by “the academy.” I do not believe it will find defects in its favored agenda if they exist, because it will not look for them. But that is another discussion.

    I do understand your POV; I simply counterargue that man does not live by bread alone. I’m unsurprised that Turkey, which is 99% Muslim, is chafing against the rigid secularism of its 100-year experiment with Kemalism. I always thought it was just a matter of time, and by the lights of my own argument here, do not say it’s a bad thing, and indeed think it’s an inevitable one.

  15. Chris says:

    Right, Tom, straw men and hand-waving are a good way to get your point across.

  16. James Hanley says:

    I also have a healthy distrust of social science as administrated by “the academy.” I do not believe it will find defects in its favored agenda if they exist, because it will not look for them.

    One thing good social sicentists know is not to conflate individuals and groups. “The academy” is occasionally good shorthand to refer to us all collectively, but of course “it” doesn’t decide whether to look for defects or not, individuals do. Flaw number one in Mr. Van Dyke’s logic.

    Of course philosophy and theology are also academic pursuits, engaged in by the academy. What’s to say that portion of the academy will do better looking for “defects in its agenda” than the social sciences? Nothing at all. Mr. Van Dyke is just repeating memorized lines in a kabuki theater. Flaw number two in his logic.

    Such empiricism is devoid of content beyond physical needs and appetites. By rejecting things like metaphysics and teleology, it empties human life of all meaning and purpose. It is anti-philosophical and anti-theological, but it’s man’s nature to be both.

    Indeed it is in man’s nature to be philosophical and theological, and I don’t deny that philosophy at least has some value. But you’re wrong to say that empiricism empties life of all meaning. It enables us to discover what is really happening in life. For those who find meaning in understanding the universe, from the movements of the cosmos down to the interactions of humans, and all the way down to the chemical interactions of our DNA, empiricism provides great meaning. Flaw number three in Mr. Van Dyke’s logic.

    Finally, there is no evidence that philosophy or theology provide a correct view of the meaning of life. Given the dramatically conflicting ideas that come from these fields, it is clearly impossible that we can come to any certainty about the accuracy of any claimed approach to the meaning of life. Arguably, all those fields do is provide an illusion of meaning. Flaw number four in Mr. Van Dyke’s logic.

    I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.

  17. tom van dyke says:

    Unresponsive.

    But I do not claim truth. I simply observe, as in the case of Turkey, that it’s not reasonable to expect people who believe God is a reality to pretend he’s not.

  18. James Hanley says:

    Tom, I point out four logical flaws in your argument, and all you can come up with is “unresponsive”?! That’s a doozy–I knew it would be waiting for.

  19. OFT says:

    Jefferson, apparently, supported making sodomy a non-capital crime in a proposed revision to the VA criminal code, a code that also sought to decriminalize bestiality. You can google what that reduction for sodomy was.

    Quoting TJ is useless; he is the fringe minority of the FF’s.

    And the Founders wisely avoided this method (prooftexting the Bible to find what our unalienable rights are) because it didn’t work for them, and in fact was what they were trying to get away from.

    The FF’s need not proof text the Bible, the Laws of God, and its subsequent obedience, is listed in the DOI. It was already common knowledge to the people that human law was null and void if contrary to the Divine Law and Gospel.

    First, the Bible doesn’t mention the concept of unalienable rights.

    Maybe not specifically, however, if God grants a liberty in scripture, it is an unalienable right.

    But it does not cite verses and chapters of Scripture for that or any proposition and does not identify God as Jehovah or the God of the Bible.

    The Laws of Nature and Nature’s God is a contraction of The Laws of Nature and the Laws of Nature’s God. That is clearly the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, so says the FF’s, Francis Bacon, Aquinas, Newton, Locke, Calvin, Luther, Grotius, Hooker, Blackstone, Montesquieu, all the Apostles, et al.

    And holding that your neighbor has the right to worship God (or not) according to his conscience and to freely speak his mind on why he so does invariably grants men a right to break the first table in the Ten Commandments, most notably the First Commandment itself.

    Because the Gospel gives freedom of conscience.

    The first and fourth may well have been unitarians (certainly they never spoke in overtly Trinitarian language)

    The fourth President was a Trinitarian, and there is no evidence he departed from these views:

    Gospels.

    Mat. Ch 1st Pollution[:] Christ did by the power of his Godhead purify our nature from all the pollution of our Ancestors v. 5. &c

    Virgin Mary had no other Child (probably) but our Saviour. v. 25

    Acts
    “Christ’s divinity appears by St. John, ch. XX. v. 28.”

    The editor believes these notes, with the exception of the extracts from Proverbs, were quoted from William Burkitt’s, Expository Notes, with Practical Observations, on the New Testament of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, printed in London in 1724. JM most likely wrote these notes while a student at the College of New Jersey.

    -“Notes on Commentary on the Bible” found in The Papers of James Madison, p. 51-59. Vol. I. 16 Mar 1751 – 16 Dec. 1779. Edited by William T. Hutchinson and William M. E. Rachal. 1962, by the University of Chicago Press.

    Even if their views were “unrepresentative” of the larger era, the fact that played such prominent roles (among other things, they wrote the DOI) means American political-theology had to fully accommodate them.

    The DOI accomodated everyone who did not subvert social order. However, John Adams, who deferred draughtsmanship believed in biblical inerrancy as he read it. The below quote has nothing to do degrees of liberalism, as he says, “The man who can think of it with patience is a traitor.” When Adams retired, he became what he denounced:

    “The idea of infidelity cannot be treated with too much resentment or too much horror. The man who can think of it with patience is a traitor in his heart and ought to be execrated [denounced] as one who adds the deepest hypocrisy to the blackest treason.

    -John Adams to James Warren on August 4, 1778.

    The Founders recognized, contra many of today’s conservative evangelicals, it’s not just so “easy” to look something up in the Bible to settle things. The Bible is one thick, complicated book that lends itself to multiple interpretations, some more “literal” than others.

    Like what? Romans 13 is not cut and dry at all.

  20. James Hanley says:

    Quoting TJ is useless; he is the fringe minority of the FF’s.

    Sorry, TvD, there’s a new winner for fantabulous responses.

    Selected for the Continental Congress, selected for the committee to draft the Declaration of Independence, selected as ambassador to our major Revolutionary War ally, selected as Secretary of State, voted in as VP,* then voted in as President. Known as the Sage of Monticello. A national hero because he was known as the author of the Declaration of Independence.

    But fringe.

    Oh, lord help us all.

    Can someone please find us a conservative who can think rationally?
    _________________________
    *By virtue of coming in second in the electoral college, a bizarre error of the Constitutional Convention’s design.

  21. OFT says:

    Selected for the Continental Congress, selected for the committee to draft the Declaration of Independence, selected as ambassador to our major Revolutionary War ally, selected as Secretary of State, voted in as VP,* then voted in as President. Known as the Sage of Monticello. A national hero because he was known as the author of the Declaration of Independence.

    He was the fourth choice to write the rough draft of the DOI. GW would have fired TJ if he had not resigned. Fringe is right. He only won the Presidency because Edward Rutledge died, thereby South Carolina would have voted Federalist for Charles Coteworth Pinckney and Adams, to swing the election.

    He was a racist, who, attacked the Apostle Paul, and backstabbed George Washington and John Adams.

    TJ was one of only a couple FF’s at the most, who believed man’s flawed reason was superior to the Scriptures. He was definitely fringe.

  22. tom van dyke says:

    James, your answer to the challenges of theology and philosophy is to abolish them, or ignore them. But as soon as you begin to derive “meaning” from “the movements of the cosmos down to the interactions of humans, and all the way down to the chemical interactions of our DNA,” you are philosophizing [or theologizing].

    You can’t get around it, so as for your victory dance once again, what can I say? Your “logic” may be unassailable, but it proceeds from an insufficient premise. Contra your assertion that “empiricism provides great meaning,” you remain back at where you started, with no meaning atall beyond man’s physical needs and appetites.

    As for your faith in social science, it proceeds from the same lack of foundation. Its reliability [and the academy’s] remains a separate question.

    As for Jefferson, I didn’t write that he was a “fringe minority,” however it’s certainly true that he kept most of his unorthodoxies private, which tells us more about the age and his place in it than poring over his theological musings. Outside of Paine, there was really none like him. I do think Jefferson would largely agree with you, except that slip-up about “endowed by their creator” and all.

  23. James Hanley says:

    He was the fourth choice to write the rough draft of the DOI.

    Um, yeah. Because he was so young, only about the youngest guy in the Congress. And chosen for the committee because he was known to have such a flair for writing. If he was fringe because he was chosen fourth, then how about the other few dozen members of the Congress who weren’t chosen at all? The great majority must have been even more fringe.

    Logic, Mr. OFT. I’d really like to introduce the two of you sometime.

    GW would have fired TJ if he had not resigned.

    Yeah, only fringe people have ever been forced out of a president’s administration.

    He only won the Presidency because Edward Rutledge died, thereby South Carolina would have voted Federalist for Charles Coteworth Pinckney and Adams, to swing the election.

    Oh noes! He would only have come in second in the presidential election, for the second time in a row! Only very fringe people come that close to the presidency without obtaining it!

    He was a racist,

    And you think that was fringe in the late 18th/early 19th century? That was a deplorably mainstream position. To the extent Jefferson was fringe, it was because he had more qualms about slavery than just about any other Virginian of his era.

    who, attacked the Apostle Paul,

    Oh, for pete’s sake, so have I. Who cares about someone attacking a guy who’s been dead for 15 centuries?

    and backstabbed George Washington and John Adams.

    Politics is a dirty business, and was just as nasty back then as it is today. Jefferson had legitimate disagreements with them. At best you’ve argued that he’s not perfectly noble, not that he’s fringe.

  24. James Hanley says:

    Tom,

    There is a vast chasm between beginning with mere conjecture and trying to build a system out it via philosophy, and building a system based on observation that may lead us to a point where we have enough empirical knowledge so that we can begin to apply philosophy more validly.

    Speaking of “lack of foundation,” your theology assumes first that such things as Gods exist; second, that there is only one, and only one, of these beings; that it is eternal, omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent. Uh huh. Talk about shaky foundations.

    As for philosophy, it assumes that there is meaning in the universe (at least the way you approach it). You sneer at any approach that doesn’t have that as a core assumption. Yet what evidence is there that would keep us believing in such an assumption. And please don’t give me the, “people search for it line.” As a social scientist, I can observe that very well, but it’s not evidence the universe is meaningful in the way you desire.

    It takes either a lot of chutzpah or a lot of thoughtlessness to condemn others foundations when you’re own are based on the wildest speculation.

  25. Jim51 says:

    I have heard this “fringe” or outlier argument before, at least once from OFT himself in another venue. The argument also often includes Madison. It is a preposterous attempt to dismiss, for current ideological purposes, two clear leaders.
    This “fringe” was chosen again and again, by both the leadership of the founding and the ‘people,’ as then defined, for prominent positions from as early as 1775 all the way to 1817.
    If they are truly to be characterized as ‘fringe’ then either there must have been a lot of them, or others of the day must have had fewer problems with their fringiness than some do today.
    Jim51

  26. OFT says:

    Jim51, TJ was fringe just because he was a racist. Most of the FF’s were not racist. Add to that, he believed man’s flawed reason was superior to the Scriptures, makes TJ more fringe, as he hid his views from the public.

  27. James Hanley says:

    Most of the FF’s were not racist

    Assertions without evidence. Prove that a) “most” (that means a majority) of founders were not racist (that requires you to define the appropriate set of founders), and b) that Jefferson was more racist than most of them.

    That requires a long essay. Please don’t post it in the comments. But if you want to attempt it and actually come up with a decent essay I’ll post it as a guest-posting. Don’t expect that I’d be easily satisfied as to quality, though–I’ll require real evidence.

  28. OFT says:

    Assertions without evidence. Prove that a) “most” (that means a majority) of founders were not racist(that requires you to define the appropriate set of founders), and b) that Jefferson was more racist than most of them.

    Is being a slaveowner evidence of being a racist? If it is evidence, TJ was more racist than most of them, because only a handful of FF’s had slaves.

  29. Jon Rowe says:

    GW was a racist too then?

  30. OFT says:

    I would say yes, GW was a racist. To own a human being, yes, I would say anyone who does that is a racist. Most of the FF’s freed their slaves once the yoke of the King was discarded. GW wouldn’t even free his slaves after he died.

  31. James Hanley says:

    So basically all of the southern founding fathers were racist. But not owning slaves is not evidence of non-racism, since in some cases it was forbidden, and in other cases the economic circumstances just didn’t really favor it. Then also, a really virulent racist might not even want a black person as a servant, just because they don’t want them around. So I’m not sure how you prove someone was non-racist.

    Even a desire to end slavery won’t work as evidence of non-racism, or you’ll have to concede that Jefferson wasn’t racist. Many people saw slavery as an evil system, without themselves seeing blacks as equal to whites.

    You’ve made a very substantial thesis, and while the historical materials probably exist to work out its correctness or incorrectness, it’s rather more than a weekend task. Really, it’s at least a master’s thesis, although an outstanding undergrad might do a decent, if incomplete, senior thesis out of it.

  32. James Hanley says:

    By the way, was GW a “fringe” founder, too? He was a racist, and you’ve claimed the majority weren’t, so he’s clearly in the minority. And as Jon has demonstrated to us, he certainly wasn’t very orthodox in his religious beliefs.

  33. OFT says:

    I agree with Jon’s views on GW. We cannot know for certain what he believed, but he walked out of communion for eight years, indicating he didn’t believe in what the ordinance Jesus instituted represented.

  34. James Hanley says:

    OFT,

    So are you willing to state for the record that Washington was a fringe founder?

  35. tom van dyke says:

    Speaking of “lack of foundation,” your theology assumes first that such things as Gods exist; second, that there is only one, and only one, of these beings; that it is eternal, omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent. Uh huh. Talk about shaky foundations.

    I don’t make such truth claims in these sort of discussions. Seldom if ever in any discussions, really. I brought up the nation of Turkey as an arms-length control on the discussion as political philosophy.

    As for philosophy, it assumes that there is meaning in the universe (at least the way you approach it). You sneer at any approach that doesn’t have that as a core assumption. Yet what evidence is there that would keep us believing in such an assumption. And please don’t give me the, “people search for it line.”

    But of course I do. I’m discussing man’s search for meaning, not the meaning itself, and certainly wouldn’t assert I know what the meaning is.

    My problem with your method is that it’s hegemonic in its approach, and short-circuits man’s search for meaning by making all things material no more and no less. But I’m not asserting there’s any meaning to life or anything beyond the physical. I think there is, and so do most men, but hell, I dunno. But I think any method that closes the door on the metaphysical [or that God is a reality, not a mere belief system] is inconsistent with man’s nature and is as tyrannical as any fundie’s Bible thump. I never thought the strict secularism of laicite in Turkey was a good match for a country that’s 99% Muslim. Law should reflect culture, ethos, mores and manners, not dictate them.

  36. OFT says:

    My basis for refuting what you said, more specifically referred to TJ and his exaltation of man’s flawed reason over the Scriptures. In that sense, GW was not on the fringe.

    As to owning human beings on the fringe of the FF’s, off the cuff, it appears GW was on the fringe to the others.

    “[T]he northern states abolished slavery: Pennsylvania and Massachusetts in 1780; Connecticut and Rhode Island in 1784; New Hampshire in 1792; Vermont in 1793; New York in 1799; and New Jersey in 1804.”
    http://www.wallbuilders.com/LIBissuesArticles.asp?id=120

    For the sheer fact of numbers, GW was in the minority with the rest of the people. What do you think?

  37. James Hanley says:

    Tom Van Dyke,

    But I’ve never disputed that humans search for meaning. I’m disputing that philosophy and theology can actually provide any access to true meaning, and claiming that all we can say for certain is that it provides a “sense” of meaning that may be pure illusion. If you’re not talking about meaning itself, then you’re not rebutting that claim.

  38. James Hanley says:

    My basis for refuting what you said, more specifically referred to TJ and his exaltation of man’s flawed reason over the Scriptures. In that sense, GW was not on the fringe.

    Unfortunately for you, the evidence of what you said previously is right here in this thread, and that evidence does not comport with what you are saying here. Were you on the witness stand being confronted with your previous deposition, you’d have a hard time persuading the jury that your latest statement doesn’t contradict your earlier statement.

    For the sheer fact of numbers, GW was in the minority with the rest of the people. What do you think?

    No, you haven’t made your case that the majority of founding fathers were non-racist. As I noted above, simply abolishing slavery doesn’t make one non-racist. Case in point, Lincoln, who wanted an end to slavery, but ideally would have shipped the slaves “back” to Africa. So, no, you haven’t even begun to make a case.

  39. OFT says:

    My case is from the inference that a slaveholder would be more a racist than a non-slaveholder. Besides that, along with the FF’s abolition writings, I haven’t given it more research.

  40. tom van dyke says:

    But I’ve never disputed that humans search for meaning. I’m disputing that philosophy and theology can actually provide any access to true meaning, and claiming that all we can say for certain is that it provides a “sense” of meaning that may be pure illusion. If you’re not talking about meaning itself, then you’re not rebutting that claim.

    Ah, we do agree, and it’s been nice to have the opportunity make my actual thoughts explicit. Of course all provisional truths may be pure illusion. But provisional though they may be, we must proceed upon them, with as much consensus as we can muster. The alternative is to proceed as though no truths exist except those of the physical world. [And as you know, the social sciences reverse themselves frequently enough, too; even they can offer only provisional truth, since the study of man is a tricky business and is likely to remain so.]

    But man is not just a physical animal. Or he’s under the illusion he’s more than just a physical animal anyway, and the polity—civilization itself—is based on that illusion. We outlaw it at our peril.

  41. James Hanley says:

    My case is from the inference that a slaveholder would be more a racist than a non-slaveholder.

    Now you’ve moved the goalposts from racist/non-racist to racist/less-racist. You’ve already abandoned your original thesis.

  42. James Hanley says:

    Mr. Van Dyke,

    Social Science, and the sciences in general, never actually claim more than provisional truth. However theology, or at least religion in general–if not necessarily philosophy–claims to move beyond provisional truth to absolute truth. And it’s utterly incapable of providing anything approaching consensus, whereas the sciences, including the social sciences, can.*

    But your last sentence is pure speculation. If man is merely under an illusion of being merely a physical animal–and we have no verifiable evidence it’s anything more than an illusion–you don’t provide any logic for your following conclusion that we “outlaw” that belief “at our peril.” (Of course this is another of your silly over-statements mean to demonize your opponents and win the argument through emotion rather than logic–nobody’s talking about “outlawing” belief.) But if belief in religion declines, there’s no evidence that society will be for the worse. The decline of religion in Europe has no apparent negative effects except on church attendance. In the United States, the strength of religious belief in a state is strongly correlated with poverty, divorce, and out-of-wedlock birth (I speak only of correlation here, and set aside discussion of how the causal arrows point). Religion is also regrettably correlated with violence–I take that not as religion causing violence, but as humans using any handy ideology for violence. But that means the decline in strong ideological beliefs in general, including religion, would lead to less violence.

    Sorry, there is evidence out there–social scientific evidence, as a matter of fact–and you’re posing against that a mere assertion, with neither evidence nor logical explanation. It’s not even a good philosophical argument, just mere speculation.

    To my way of thinking, illusions need to be eliminated. Illusions cannot lead us toward Truth or truths. But you’re arguing that the illusions–if that is all they are–are good and need to be encouraged, treated as serious truths worth serious study, and held onto against countervailing evidence.

    And you think that’s a sophisticated intellectual approach?

    _____________________-
    *I have no doubt that, like most of the public, you have no idea at all about the type of things on which social sciences do have a pretty solid consensus, simply because you’ve never particularly studied them, and the media doesn’t report on them. I don’t condemn you in any way for not knowing those things, as there’s no particular reason you ought to. I do, however, criticize you for regularly speaking out of ignorance about them. As I always remind my students, “politics” is not the same as “political science,” and the media’s talking heads by and large don’t know anything about what political science, economics, psychology, has actually learned. And by the way, you might want to take that “social sciences don’t really know anything” line up with Chris. My general impression, possibly inaccurate, is that the cognitive psychologists are the most advanced of the social scientists in terms of justified confidence in their knowledge.

  43. tom van dyke says:

    Europe highlights the limits of your approach, and your standard for measuring social science is of course social science. You cannot lose, since you make the rules. But the European scheme is only a half-century years old, far too early to draw the conclusion that George Washington was wrong:

    Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

    But actually, I was only going as far as Plato, and why it was in the docket in Romer.

  44. always i used to read smaller articles or reviews that as well
    clear their motive, and that is also happening with this paragraph which I am
    reading now.

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