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Monday, January 21, 2008

Is Man's Reason Superior to Scripture?

The question in the title is, for the most part , only pondered by secularists, although, it means little to the people of today, to our Founding Fathers, it meant everything; it asks, "What law is our nation founded on? and "Where did the Founding Fathers understand where this written law came from?" To find out what the framers believed superior would be to examine their writings, and what they were taught in school, preferably college, or seminary. The answer becomes obvious, as well as showing how the doctrine of limiting the beliefs to a few infidel framers is not only disingenuous, but displays the only basis for the contrary viewpoint. Let it be clear, the morality of the Founding Fathers includes the sphere of politics; morality and politics cannot be separated. Justice was employed, not from something called the enlightenment, but, given by the law of nature as shown from the bible. The Justice of God, we sinners deserve, but mercy is the pinnacle of enlightenment; punishment fitting the crime, is derived from the bible, as earlier posts have showed. Loving your neighbor as yourself, science, freedom of conscience, and morality, come from the bible. Religion and morality are always superior to reason:

"By renouncing the Bible, philosophers swing from their moorings upon all moral subjects. . . It is the only correct map of the human heart that ever has been published. . . . All systems of religion, morals, and government not founded upon it [the Bible] must perish, and how consoling the thought, it will not only survive the wreck of these systems but the world itself. "The Gates of Hell shall not prevail against it." [Matthew 1:18]
Benjamin Rush
(Source: Benjamin Rush, Letters of Benjamin Rush, L. H. Butterfield, editor (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1951), p. 936, to John Adams, January 23, 1807.)

Founding Father John Witherspoon believed in no distinction between spiritual and civil liberty, promoted by Christians, lead by presbyterians in the revolution. John Locke and the English Whigs may be responsible for writing on the moral sense, but reason encompasses the entire bible, of which Thomas Aquinas showed four hundred years earlier, citing an incorrect source:

"That he is the best friend to American liberty, who is most sincere and active in promoting true and undefiled religion...God grant that in America true religion and civil liberty may be inseparable and that the unjust attempts to destroy the one, may in the issue tend to the support and establishment of both."
The Dominion of Providence Over the Passions of Men, 17 May 1776

It is also important to note Witherspoon was not a pure calvinist as some make him out to be. By his writings, it is safe to say he believed in free will over irresistable grace, that calvinism holds to, as well as denying some other aspects of the flawed doctrine.

"The doctrines I mean are, the lost slate of man by nature ; salvation by the free grace of God"
Works of Witherspoon, Vol. II.

Salvation is not free to Calvinism, but a product of unconditional election.

"Yet I think, admitting all...consider how far any thing is consonant to reason, or may be proven by reason; though perhaps reason, if left to itself, would never have discovered it."
John Witherspoon, Signer of the Declaration of Independence, foremost of the Founding Fathers.
Lectures on Moral Philosophy.

Reason cannot discover the answer, therefore, he believed, as the other framers, only religion, inspired writings could have ultimate truth. Man's reason is only true insofar as it coincides with scripture.

"I may make one particular remark, that though many things are copied from the law of Moses into the laws of the modern nations, yet, so far as I know, none of them have introduced the lex talionis in the case of injuries, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth, and yet perhaps there are many instances in which it would be very proper."

An eye for an eye is enlightenment rationalism?

"If we take tradition or Revelation for our guide, the matter is plain, that God made man lord of the works of his hands, and put under him all the other creatures."

And again, is this enlightenment?

"If any should ask, how I prove that that course of action to which human nature is inclined is evil, without the acceptance of Scripture? I answer, from reason; and that many ways—from its pernicious effects on societies, and private persons; from the testimony of the world in general, when others than themselves are concerned, and from the testimony of every man's conscience in his own case."

Without Scripture as a guide, corrupted reason is just that; corrupt.

"From all this then, I would conclude, that reason accords with scripture, in saying, that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God: that man in a natural state, is wretched and miserable, and poor, and and naked."

Not scripture accords with reason, but reason according to the scripture. As far as salvation, that is Jesus Christ, which is the ultimate truth, scripture must be greater than reason, because only God's word can reveal faith.

"We must conclude therefore, that however stable a foundation there is for the other attributes of God in nature and reason, the way in which, and the terms on which, he will shew mercy, can be learned from Revelation only."

Here is another instance of reason not providing ultimate truth in a matter.

"It is true, that infidels do commonly proceed upon pretended principles of reason."

As did Infidels David Hume and Thomas Jefferson.

Witherspoon was President of Princeton College, his students included, in addition to a president and vice-president of the United States, nine cabinet members, twenty-one senators, thirty-nine congressmen, three justices of the Supreme Court, and twelve state governors. Five of the nine Princeton graduates among the fifty-five members of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 were students of Witherspoon.

Witherspoon also claims the judging of good and evil by man's reason is not sufficiently precise and explicit, the Divine conduct being the standard of wisdom.

Let it forever by destroyed, the use of generic terms a departure of orthodoxy as Witherspoon shows in his Lectures:

"In the law of Moses, where rules are laid down for their treatment" p. 92, "many things are copied from the law of Moses into the laws of the modern nations" p. 145, "and that both in the Scripture revelation..." p. 56, "The first two of these founded on the New Testament, and the last on reason."

"The particulars which reason and nature point out, relating to the marriage contract, are as follow: 1. That it be between one man and one woman. Polygamy is condemned by nature...

The Law of Moses and the New Testament is secular? Condemnation, which would be the just punishment of homosexuality, is enlightenment rationalism?

George Washington says religion and morality, not reason, are indispensable to government:

'Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports."
George Washington, Address of George Washington, President of the United States . . . Preparatory to His Declination (Baltimore: George and Henry S. Keatinge), pp. 22-23. In his Farewell Address to the United States in 1796.)

"To the kindly influence of Christianity we owe that degree of civil freedom, and political and social happiness which mankind now enjoys. . . . Whenever the pillars of Christianity shall be overthrown, our present republican forms of government, and all blessings which flow from them, must fall with them."
Jedediah Morse, Patriot and Father of American Geography
A Sermon, Exhibiting the Present Dangers and Consequent Duties of the Citizens of the United States of America (Hartford: Hudson and Goodwin, 1799), p. 9.)

"[P]ublic utility pleads most forcibly for the general distribution of the Holy Scriptures. The doctrine they preach, the obligations they impose, the punishment they threaten, the rewards they promise, the stamp and image of divinity they bear, which produces a conviction of their truths, can alone secure to society, order and peace, and to our courts of justice and constitutions of government, purity, stability and usefulness. In vain, without the Bible, we increase penal laws and draw entrenchments around our institutions. Bibles are strong entrenchments. Where they abound, men cannot pursue wicked courses, and at the same time enjoy quiet conscience."
James McHenry, Signer of the Constitution

The scriptures alone, not reason, give man total truth.

Separation of religion and government? Not to the Founding Fathers:

"[T]he primary objects of government are the peace, order, and prosperity of society. . . . To the promotion of these objects, particularly in a republican government, good morals are essential. Institutions for the promotion of good morals are therefore objects of legislative provision and support: and among these . . . religious institutions are eminently useful and important. . . . [T]he legislature, charged with the great interests of the community, may, and ought to countenance, aid and protect religious institutions."
Oliver Ellsworth, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
Connecticut Courant, June 7, 1802, p. 3, Oliver Ellsworth, to the General Assembly of the State of Connecticut)

"Without morals a republic cannot subsist any length of time; they therefore who are decrying the Christian religion, whose morality is so sublime & pure, [and] which denounces against the wicked eternal misery, and [which] insured to the good eternal happiness, are undermining the solid foundation of morals, the best security for the duration of free governments."
Charles Carroll of Carrollton, Signer of the Declaration of Independence
Bernard C. Steiner, The Life and Correspondence of James McHenry (Cleveland: The Burrows Brothers, 1907), p. 475. In a letter from Charles Carroll to James McHenry of November 4, 1800.)

Again, the Founding Fathers are clear; the bible is superior to man's reason for government.

"Our liberty depends on our education, our laws, and habits . . . it is founded on morals and religion, whose authority reigns in the heart, and on the influence all these produce on public opinion before that opinion governs rulers."
Fisher Ames, Framed the final wording for the First Amendment
An Oration on the Sublime Virtues of General George Washington (Boston: Young & Minns, 1800), p. 23.)

"The law given from Sinai was a civil and municipal as well as a moral and religious code; it contained many statutes . . . of universal application-laws essential to the existence of men in society, and most of which have been enacted by every nation which ever professed any code of laws."
John Quincy Adams, Sixth President of the United States
Letters of John Quincy Adams, to His Son, on the Bible and Its Teachings (Auburn: James M. Alden, 1850), p. 61.)

It is clear, the Founding Fathers believed religion far superior to man's right or wrong reason.


mroberts said...

Man's reason certainly is inferior and subordinate to God's laws and scripture. William Blackstone, a legal scholar very influential in the Founding Era, wrote on the nature of law in his famous work Commentaries on the Laws of England. In this work he said the following:

"Man, considered as a creature, must necessarily be subject to the laws of his creator, for he is entirely a dependent being."

Because we were made by God, we certainly are subject to his standards of justice - known as the law of nature - which he revealed in Scripture. Blackstone continues:

"This law of nature, being coeval with mankind and dictated by God himself, is of course superior in obligation to any other. It is binding over all the globe in all countries, and at all times."

If God's laws are binding over all the globe at all times, then there isn't any place where humanity is completely free from God's authority. In fact, even human governments are subject to the laws of God:

"[N]o human laws are of any validity, if contrary to [the law of nature]; and such of them as are valid derive all their force, all their authority, mediately or immediately, from this original [natural law]."

It is scary to think of what it would be like to live under an atheistic regime. What would restrain an atheist tyrant from oppressing and abusing the rights of his people? He has no fear of consequences in the next life; he has no fear of someday facing God. Is not such a leader capable of anything? He believes he has nobody to answer to for his actions other than himself. There is no scarier individual than one who believes that and possesses great authority and power over others. I would argue that our liberties here in America are only secure as long as their is a widespread belief that we are subject to God's laws. We all will someday answer to God for our actions, and it is this realization that restrains the more base tendencies of humanity.

Jonathan said...

Blackstone didn't write America's Declaration, Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin did. And they clearly held that man's reason trumps revelation as the ultimate arbiter of truth. That's why they appealed only to reason or "the law of nature and nature's God," and left revelation entirely out of the formula in the Declaration.

Anonymous said...

Dude, you are a total douche! I've read your blog for a couple of weeks and can honestly say that you are full of it! Give up!

mroberts said...


I appreciate your comments. So, based on what you are saying, I am to conclude that the only writings that have any relevance to our founding philosophy is the writings of those three guys? Are you saying that we are to disregard the writings of everybody but those three? What about Story's Commentaries? That was the preeminant work on the meaning of the Constitution even into the 20th century. What about the Federalist Papers? Are we to disregard those as well?
You made a very interesting statement here:

"That's why they appealed only to reason or "the law of nature and nature's God," and left revelation entirely out of the formula in the Declaration."

The God they are mentioning is a personal God. Know how I know that? Because they entrusted themselves to His care at the end of the Declaration. This personal God is the same one that they believed created us (remember the phrase "we are all endowed by our Creator"?), and if he created us, then we are subordinate to Him. It doesn't matter what man reasons, he is always subordinate to God and it takes at least some revelation to have knowledge of God. The writers of the Declaration contradict your opinion even with the Declaration itself. If it wasn't an appeal to the higher authority of God's laws, they would have had no legal recourse with which to declare the King in violation of their inalienable rights. In fact, without God, there ARE no inalienable rights. If rights are from man, then who is to say a man can't take them away? If man's reason was the highest authority, who were the Founders to tell the King that he was wrong and they were right? The legal and moral basis for the Declaration absolutely hinges on the belief that God's laws are absolutely supreme over mankind and his reason. Like I mentioned in my first comment, our rights are not secure without the acknowledgement that they come from God. This acknowledgement places them beyond the reach of humanity.

And to "anonymous": you could have at least had the balls to post your name with your insults.

Jonathan said...

Of course I believe that it was more than just those three Founders who influenced the Founding; but given they were the ones who wrote the Declaration [they were 3/5 of the drafting board and the author of the document to boot] their thoughts on the matter are of primary importance.

I've done my homework on this issue. The term "nature" in Founding era parlance meant discoverable by reason as opposed to revealed by the Bible. The concept of God and man's subordination to Him is still consistent with man discovering truth primarily through reason as opposed to revelation. As John Adams put it:

"To him who believes in the Existence and Attributes physical and moral of a God, there can be no obscurity or perplexity in defining the Law of Nature to be his wise benign and all powerful Will, discovered by Reason."

– John Adams to Thomas Boylston Adams, March 19, 1794. Adams Papers (microfilm), reel 377, Library of Congress. Seen in James H. Hutson’s, “The Founders on Religion,” p. 132.

Thus, "the laws of nature and nature's God" refers to what man discovers from reason as opposed to revelation, and it includes a rich "natural theology" which is what man can discover about God's attributes from reason unassisted by revelation. It was from this "natural theology" not the Bible that the Founders "discovered" men had unalienable God given rights.

Hercules Mulligan said...

Hang on just a minute!

How can Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin be rejecting divine revelation when they appealed to "the laws of nature AND of nature's God"?!?!? They are appealing to the TWO basic laws that Blackstone spoke of: (1) the laws of nature, and (2) the laws of nature's God!

And although Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin were not Christians, and seemed to have based their own philosophies on reason more than the Scriptures, yet they do not deny divine revelation in the Declaration; rather, they acknowledge it as a basis for the Revolution in the Declaration!

To demonstrate this truth further, see one of the documents from which the Declaration drew -- the act of the citizens of North Carolina, who declared their own independence from Great Britain on May 31, 1775:

'We dissolve the political bands which have connected us with our mother country -- we absolve ourselves from all allegiance to the British crown -- declare ourselves a free and independent people, are and of right ought to be, a sovereign, self-governing association, under the control of no power other than that of our God, and the general government of Congress -- to the maintenance of which Independence we solemnly pledge our lives, our fortunes, and our most sacred honor.' (emphasis added) (Source)

Jonathan said...

Read the Adams quotation again. The laws of "nature's God" are what man discovers from reason not the Bible. Again, those Founders or natural law scholars would point out that this is not what man "makes up" from reason but discovers. A legal realist or modern philosopher would point out man's reason really is "making up" the natural law, but also that man's creativity made up the Bible.

I wouldn't say the Declaration rejects revelation, just doesn't rely on it. The laws of Nature's God do not refer to revelation.

As least that's the way a conservative Christian former President of University of Dallas sees it. He writes:

The theology of the Declaration is a natural theology grounded in both the laws of nature and the laws of nature's God. [The latter "laws" could be a reference to Revelation and the laws knowable only by Faith ( e.g., in "The Gospel of Jesus Christ"). But I doubt it. More probably it is a reference to the fact that the natural law is not morally obligatory if not rooted in Divine command (which is law to his creatures), or in what St. Thomas [Aquinas] called "the eternal law."] I believe that the Declaration's principles and argument refute the claims of the Secularists who would kick God out of our politics, laws, and customs. Nor do they support the claims of those Christians who proclaim that our regime is founded on the Gospel or its Christian principles. Compatibility is one thing; identity is another.

Our regime does not recognize a triune God whose essence is love. Our regime is ordered to freedom and justice, not to the advent of the Kingdom of God. Nor does our regime command either love of God or love of neighbor as does the Gospel. Finally, Christ founded a Church, not a polity. Salvation is to be found only in Christ and through Christ. It is not to be found in politics, or through politics, or through the founding or reconstitution of the political and social order. That belief is idolatry.

Jonathan said...

I would also note you need to reread Blackstone again carefully. He distinguishes between the natural law and the revealed law. The laws of nature's God is the natural law discoverable by reason. It's not revealed law unless that term is used, which the Declaration does not.

In any event America's Founders had a qualified appreciation of Blackstone and could be quite critical of him. He certainly was not the source of the Declaration, given the Declaration at its heart is an anti-Blackstonian document: Blackstone, a Tory, argued a near absolute right of Parliament, the exact opposite of what America's Declaration stands for. Here is how he put it:

It can, in short, do every thing that is not naturally impossible; and therefore some have not scrupled to call it’s power, by a figure rather too bold, the omnipotence of parliament. True it is, that what they do, no authority upon earth can undo.

And here is Gary North's assessment: “Blackstone was wrong: beginning eleven years later, the American colonies undid a lot of what Parliament had done.”

Our Founding Truth said...

Hey guys, I was sick several days, the worst I've ever been, but I'm better now, thank God.

I would say as James Wilson says, whether by reason, the bible, etc. they are from the same source"

The conscience and the written Word cannot be separated, and even if you did, once you put reason to words, the bible trumps it, as all human laws are inferior to the divine law.

Hercules Mulligan said...

Hello OFT. Glad you are better! I will need to catch up on your blog! I have been very preoccupied myself, with little time to reply to comments or to post or to read posts.

In response to the assertion that "the laws of nature's God" is merely talking about natural law, discovered by human reason (I don't believe that man "makes up" things with reason; I do acknowledge man's ability to discover truth through reason, but I don't believe, and I don't see a predominant belief among the majority of the Founders, that reason is a greater authority than Scripture, also called divine revelation).

If "the law of nature's God" was talking about natural law, than why would the authors of the Declaration waste words by saying the laws of nature and of nature's God? True, the laws of nature and the laws of God are ultimately God's law; however, when someone says "the law of God," we all know they are talking about "the law of God found in Scripture."

As to the John Adams quote presented earlier, it only mentions the law of nature, not the law of God. Adams' quote does not equate the two, because he only mentions the law of nature. And as to Blackstone's take on the two branches of law, it's true he does say the "revealed law," but the synonym for this is "the law of God" because it is the law revealed by God in the Bible.

As to Blackstone and Parliament, he was talking about Parliament's rule over England. America was allowed to be free from the rule of Parliament, so what Parliament was doing was illegal. Blackstone said that Parliament had great powers nationally, not internationally.

Our Founding Truth said...

Hey Herc,

Thanks for the comment, I'm still not one hundred percent, but I'm better than I was on super bowl weekend.

I agree with you, only a couple founders believed the conscience was superior to the bible, everyone else didn't, especially as none of the colleges taught that heresy.

In fact, the idea I made in my last post I received from you. It's actually illogical to believe the conscience superior to God's word, because once govt. puts man's reason into words, it becomes inferior, as all human laws are null and void to the divine(biblical) law.

That Adams quote is a poor apologetic, as he isn't saying what is superior, only that reason is God's will, which it is. The key words are physical, meaning laws, and moral, which is the conscience. Jon, and the secularists need to find a better quote that supports his view, but he won't find any before he retired. My last blog has Adams saying the principles of the revolution is derived from the bible, especially the Torah, that is an entire blog itself.

You may be right on Blackstone, I haven't researched it, but it seems logical, if Parliament is acting illegally, Blackstone would have saw it.