Search This Blog

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

John Witherspoon Claimed the Most Votes

Dr. Witherspoon received the most votes as the important Clergyman of the founding period. Although it was a small sample, and a close race, I was suprised Jonathan Mayhew received the votes he did, as he passed away years before the Revolution. Jonathon Edwards and Joseph Priestley came in 2nd, and 3rd respectively. Witherspoon was the favorite at the outset.

Witherspoon was no doubt one of our greatest Founding Fathers, having participated in over one-hundred committees in the Continental Congress; among his layman graduates was James Madison, the fourth President of the United States, and Vice-President Aaron Burr. Of his students, ten became cabinet officers and sixty served in the U.S. Senate or House of Representatives in Congress. Twelve became Governors of States and fifty-six members of State Legislative bodies and three Justices of the Supreme Court of the U.S. Of the twenty-five College graduates at the Continental Congress, nine were from Princeton University, among which six had Witherspoon's signature on their College diplomas.

He was a staunch Calvinist, teaching its precepts at Presbyterian, Princeton College. Witherspoon disagreed with rationalists of the enlightenment, including, Francis Hutcheson and David Hume, who understood reason was superior to revelation:

"In the deistical controversy, what commonly leads the way, is the necessity of revelation in general...The first infidel writers in Europe, were chiefly employed in shewing the sufficiency of reason as a guide to man in his conduct, of whom Lord Herbert, of Cherburg, was one of the most early, and one of the most eminent. Their way of arguing is very fallacious; for they avail themselves of that very improvement of reason, which they owe to revelation, in order to shew revelation to be unnecessary...Infidels do not now plead for Jupiter, Juno, Mars, and Apollo, but for the suffciency of human reason." [bold face mine]
-Works, Vol 4.

Witherspoon understood, as did John Calvin, that reason supports revelation, and is a vital part of Christian Theology, however, he never aligned with the rationalists, but derided their theology:

"Very plain, that such is our blindness and ignorance in the things of God, that we know very little about them, till they are made known by God himself; and if we were to make our own reason the previous standard of what was admissible or not in quality of revelation, it would make mad work indeed." [bold face mine]
-Works, Vol 4.

He believed, as did all Christians before him, that reason is perfectly agreeable to The Gospel of Jesus Christ:

"I shall care very little what men of vain and carnal minds say of my sentiments; but I have been many years of opinion, that as revelation was necessary, and revelation is given us, we act the most wise and truly rational part, if we take all our theological opinions immediately, and without challenge, from the oracles of truth. I confess it is agreeable to me to shew, that the truths of the everlasting gospel are agreeable to sound reason, and founded upon the state of human nature ; and I have made it my business through my whole life to illustrate this remark. Yet to begin by making the suggession of our own reason the standard of what is to be heard or examined as a matter of revelation, I look upon to be highly dangerous, manifestly unjust, and inconsistent with the foundation-stone of all revealed religion, viz. that reason, without it, is insufficient to bring us to the knowledge of God and our duty; and therefore as Socrates said to Al.cibiades, It is reasonable to think that God will come down into the world, to teach us his will." I am not insensible how far it would be just to carry the principle on which our adversaries ground their sentiments. Any new principles or doctrines, seemingly absurd in themselves, and unholy in their effects, would not, with judicious persons, be rashly or suddenly admitted ; and the more supicious the principles are in themselves, no doubt we will examine the pretensions to miracles the more carefully.—This is the part of prudence ; but to carry it further, and say, we will receive no evidence that God hasn't taught any thing different from what we ourselves think reasonahle, is just weakening the truth before admitted,' that revelation immediately from himself is evidently new?"It will now be time to consider a little, the objections against the Christian religion...That reason is a sufficient guide to truth and happiness and therefore revelation is unnecessary; and that miracles are impossible, and incredible. Those I pass with what has been laid on them above.""that things may be above reason, and yet not contradictory to it. By this expression above reason, may be understood two things—beyond the power of reason to discover, and above the reach of reason to comprehend."Therefore though we say that the trinity in unity is incomprehensible, or above reason, we say nothing that is absurd or contrary to reason; so far from it, I may say rather it is consistent to reason and the analogy of nature that there should be many things in the divine nature that we cannot fully comprehend. There are many such things in his providence, and surely much more in his essence." [bold face mine]
-Works, Vol 4.

The Sovereignty of God is a firm Calvinist belief that all Christians should adhere to. There are many parts of scripture beyond our comprehension to understand, yet God is Sovereign, and has preserved His Words for His Creation.


J said...

Witherspoon's rhetoric may impress some believers, but he avoided any substantial discussion of the infallibility and inerrancy issues pertaining to Revelation.

Jefferson, however trite or overexposed he may be, understood that the bizarre events of the Book of Revelation, especially could not be reconciled with his rationalist and/or Lockean premises (though Locke sort of ducked the issue as well). He routinely called into question all the supposed supernatural events of the Bible--even the 'Resurrection."

I suspect Jefferson (and the other secularist framers) had read Hume's writing contra-miracles, and that of the french encyclopedists, perhaps Spinoza. Alas, few Americans bother with Hume's careful analysis of the issue , and his points on the uniformity of experience and the reliability of testimony. Hume's not too PC or touchy feely, but his writing may serve as a healthy correctio--the Logic cure-- to those Americans conditioned by sunday schools (or temples or mosques). Darwin and Lyell, r-c dating has also done much to destroy the dogmatic readings of judeo-christianity.

I will grant the symbolic power (or metaphorical) of the New and Old Testmaments, but fundamentalists who insist on inerrancy and the literal interpretations of the Bible are no better than the hysterical Imams issuing death-fatwas for those who dare question the accuracy of the Koran.

Our Founding Truth said...

Inerrancy depends on the context of course. For example, when Jesus says, "I am the bread of life." He obviously is speaking allegorically.

Understanding the context of a revelation is a more fundamental aspect of interpretation, rather than entering the scene with pre-suppositions, that betray the standard process of exegesis.

J said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
J said...

How would you classify a report of a harlot riding a seven-headed beast with ten horns, sir? Or claims that the dead come back to life? Parting of the Red Sea?

I would call them allegorical as well, or symbolic--otherwise, it's madness. Most of the leading lights of the AmerRev followed Jefferson in regards to his questioning of the inerrancy of scripture, which are really just taking Locke at his word--"revelation must be judged at the court of Reason" (a point which Hume expands upon as well). Though TJ doesn't even grant the allegorical reading.

I think there is some quibbling on the word "Reason" as well: Reason includes evidentiary reasoning as well as deductive reasoning. Preacherly types often use it as sort of a vague term like "intellect" or something. To Hume, reason means assessing the historical, scientific, and logical claims of religion as Truth qua truth. And like a country judge, Hume simply dismisses any testimony--from any religious text, not just the Bible-- where someone starts discussing ghosts, angels, demons, etc. Cold, but that's the facts.

Our Founding Truth said...

The harlot is obviously allegorical about the future. The context seems clear to me who the object is. The revelation gives the city, and location for the context.

If God can create the universe, I don't see raising the dead a problem for him.

Jesus reiterated the parting of the Red Sea, and to this day, that sea is bringing up parts of chariots from that time frame.

TJ's rationale for using his razor is childish to say the least. He never looked at the Greek, nor the masoretic text (by the Jews), that gives the textual support of Scripture.

Locke's last work clarify's his affirming of miracles for once and for all, and the supposed contradiction with reason:

"A miracle then I take to be a sensible operation, which, being above the comprehension of the spectator, and in his opinion contrary to the established course of nature, is taken by him to be divine..that a miracle must be that which surpasses the force of nature in the established, steady laws of causes and effects, nothing can be taken to be a miracle but what is judged to exceed those laws...Super-natural operations attesting such a revelation may with reason be taken to be miracles, as carrying the marks of a superior and over-ruling power, as long as no revelation accompanied with marks of a greater power appears against it. Such supernatural signs may justly stand good, and be received for divine, i.e. wrought by a power superior to all, till a mission attested by operations of a greater force shall disprove them: because it cannot be supposed God should suffer his prerogative to be so far usurped by any inferior being, as to permit any creature, depending on him, to set his seals, the marks of his divine authority, to a mission coming from him."
-John Locke
A Discourse of Miracles
(London, 1701)
in The Workes of John Locke, 10 vols. (London, 1823) 9:256-265

So, only if other parts of Scripture contradicted that miracle, could it be questioned.

Hume's pre-suppositions on text compromise his opinion.

J said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
J said...

Locke really commits a tautological fallacy here, at least by implication:
he suggests that Since the Bible is God's word, and God doesn't allow falsehoods, we know those supposed miracles in the Bible come from God, unless He said something else, elsewhere. Hah. That's not Reason. He starts by assuming the truth of the very thing in question (so begging the question as well--he begs the question by means of his silly tautology). So Locke is making presumptions about the text, unlike Hume or Jefferson.

Really, not one of Locke's finer moments (and really, he probably contradicts this somewhere else--like in ECHU, where he says, again, Reason trumps faith, more or less).

Hume's critique is quite more powerful. It's far more reasonable to think of alternative explanations for supernatural claims (in numerous faiths)--mistakes, exaggerations, hoaxes--even fabrications (say for political ends).

Hume does not say miracles and supernatural events--even the "Resurrection"-- are impossible, however: he does suggest they are highly implausible.

There's another argument contra-miracles that I have read (hold on to your hat):

Say a God of some type existed and can perform miracles. He has Mary appear at Lourdes, or weep blood, etc. Yet He never has sent an Angel or Mary or JC to help say dying soldiers, children in horrible pain, or people being liquidated by nazis or stalinists. What sort of God would that be? (hint: equal to Lucifer). Therefore it's safe to assume a monotheist Being does not exist. Claims of miracles actually work against traditional theism.

Our Founding Truth said...

You may be right about Locke, but a possibility may be that he is referring to a subsequent revelation.

The "Why doesn't God do something about Evil" take is a dead horse. It's been beaten so many times, I'm surprised you brought it up.

By the way, Jews being persecuted by the Nazis is Biblical prophecy come true, of which I believe you are fully aware.

J said...

The point on the miracles follows from the Problem of Evil, but is not equivalent to it (Keller, a Yale professor, has addressed it). A variation, if you will. One can conceive of various hypotheticals which illustrate it (the supposed great Doctor who never arrives, etc)

The POE, whether read as evidentiary or strictly logical, remains rather central to the religious debates, even if a bit overused by some hacks. It may not be a refutation, but certainly relevant. If you had lived through the spanish influenza--which left more people dead than WWI--you might be tempted to question the existence of some supposed benevolent Creator, who allows the deaths of 50 million in great pain--suffocating on your own vomit and blood, etc. Add black plague, cancer, STDs, natural disasters, etc. Even without involving the problem of "free will" that's a lot of misery.

Hume was aware of the POE--even quoted Epicurus, I believe--as was Voltaire--respected by most of the Framers (not all).

The Plantinga-like responses don't suffice, either (possible worlds, or an afterlife that we have no understanding of, might have a sum total of "Good" greater than the world and human history, etc. Folderol.)

Our Founding Truth said...

It's misery alright, however, God didn't cause it, or start it, that was reserved for that sinful being called, man. Why do Christians suffer is more a question I have, and a rhetorical question at that.

But this will all end soon, and God will take care of sin, and the one who first committed it.

I saw or read something on the Black Plague, that people were dying within minutes of getting bit by the bug(mosquito). That is amazing!

J said...

Plantinga himself makes a distinction between "moral" (man made) and natural evils, does he not.

He says G*d allows moral evils for some greater good, more or less. Hitler and Stalin happen for a reason! Heh.

His points on "Natural evils" (disease, plagues, natural disasters, predators, etc.) a bit obtuse, but something along the line of ..gremlins. So evil gremlins, controlled by the Devil--though ultimately by G*d, cause tidal waves which kill hundreds of thousands (and the moving of tectonic plates)
in order to punish the sins of humanity?? Even when it involves innocent or mostly innocent people? Then G*d is no different than Lucifer, and the claims of his benevolence are mistaken. And I think most traditional calvinists--if not monotheists as a whole-- actually believe that: that G*d actually is sort of an amoral King who can do anything--even exterminate Humanity--and yet still must be worshipped.

J said...

Sydney was a Republican and opposed Filmer's ideas on the divine right of Kings. He also sided with Shaftesbury, right, against Chas II though he also had protested Cromwell. I haven't read much of Sydney, but politically he sounds about like Locke, though a bit "Anglican"--he was a courtier, not really a puritan. Sydney made an eloquent speech before Charlie II had his men hang him (then, he was trying to have the Stuarts killed as well).

It was a dangerous time --Shaftesbury and Locke had to leave the country as well, did they not. However I don't perceive the orthodoxy---Jefferson admired Sydney, and he wasn't one for blessing authoritarians.

Our Founding Truth said...

Sin is the result of rebellion against God, and it encompasses the entire Universe. It is only his goodness and blessing that the great Creator hears the prayers of rebels.

Plantinga should read the Scriptures, he may be amazed he finds his views about life are contrary to what God says.

Sydney was Orthodox, unlike Locke. I've read his execution was based on bad evidence, which is why just a few years later parliament exonerated him.

J said...

--Your calvinist views were not shared by the leading Framers.

--I don't assume Wiki's are the final word on anything, but peruse the Wikie on Algernon Sydney. He reportedly hooked up with one of Chas. II's mistresses (when Chas. was a Prince). Not exactly Jonathan Edwards. He also received a pension from none other than the Sun King himself, Louis XIV (discovered a few decades after his demise).

I suspect his hanging was related to some courtly intrigue, compounded by Sydney's anti-monarchical views.

Our Founding Truth said...

It depends what you mean by Calvinist views; there are many points to Calvinism. Total Depravity, and original sin was believed by most all. As my last post shows, it's entirely biblical.

James Madison was drilled with total depravity in his education, and never wrote a thing against Calvin. All three of Madison's main teachers were Calvinists, starting with Don Robertson when he was 11.

If Parliament exonerated Sydney, they must have investigated the charges against him. Intrigues with mistresses is a strong charge, and would need primary source support.

J said...

Madison opposed the orthodox christians who wanted to impose a tax on Virginians to pay for religious educations. (See his Remonstrance). That later became part of Jefferson's similar Bill for Religious Liberty. JM also made some rather harsh comments on theological tradition (in the Rem. as well).

Madison may have been the real Humean sort of skeptic among the Framers. After his presidency he made a few somewhat religious remarks, but they were vague and hardly traditional. He opposed military chaplains late in life.

Some of the Framers upheld a moderate religious tradition-- such as RH Lee's approach (he was Episcopalian, not presbyterian or baptist). Lee, while he had doubts of the Constitution, did not, as far as I can tell, join with the George Mason types in the pro-states rights,and pro-slaver movement. (His great nephew RE Lee did of course)

Our Founding Truth said...

It's fairly common knowledge Madison changed his views over time, even voting for chaplains, then changing his mind, therefore, he isn't representative of the majority, but I'm referring to theology, of which the Memorial is Calvinist all the way, as I've mentioned to you before; grace all the way.

Old Lights, Jefferson, Franklin, and Adams rejected Grace, for character.

What is more important, Madison's views while forming the nation, or when he was President? I say the former. The founding is what we're concerned with.

Lee wrote in the anti-federalist papers.

J said...

The Remonstrance predates the Constitution, and provides fairly solid evidence of Madison's secular politics:

""Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects? that the same authority which can force a citizen to contribute three pence only of his property for the support of any one establishment, may force him to conform to any other establishment in all cases whatsoever? """"

Not exactly a Jerry Falwell like sentiment.

Secularism does not necessarily imply atheism, or even agnosticism, though some conservatives make the mistake of thinking the terms are equivalent. The Framers wanted to avoid the problems of having a state church of any particular denomination, and at the same time eliminate the problems of sectarianism (a point Madison hammers on throughout the Fed. papers).

Madison may have sounded a bit pious at the end of his life--though I think his rationalism still comes through his few religious comments--but that does not negate the essentially secular nature of his political philosophy (outlined in the Fed papers, the Remonstrance, and really the Constitution itself).

Our Founding Truth said...

J, I'm not referring to separation, that has nothing to do with Madison's theology; that is the issue. Madison was confused about the Bill, it didn't establish anything. Read closely the second paragraph, he thought support for a religion was establishment, no doubt from his knowledge from the abuses of the past. The framers were clear, establishment meant a NATIONAL CHURCH. But at this time, he appears an Orthodox, Calvinist. Madison is not secular one bit:

"The first is an arrogant pretension falsified by the contradictory opinions of Rulers in all ages, and throughout the world: the second an unhallowed perversion of the means of salvation...Because the establishment proposed by the Bill is not requisite for the support of the Christian Religion. To say that it is, is a contradiction to the Christian Religion itself, for every page of it disavows a dependence on the powers of this world: it is a contradiction to fact; for it is known that this Religion both existed and flourished, not only without the support of human laws, but in spite of every opposition from them, and not only during the period of miraculous aid, but long after it had been left to its own evidence and the ordinary care of Providence. Nay, it is a contradiction in terms; for a Religion not invented by human policy, must have pre-existed and been supported, before it was established by human policy. It is moreover to weaken in those who profess this Religion a pious confidence in its innate excellence and the patronage of its Author; and to foster in those who still reject it, a suspicion that its friends are too conscious of its fallacies to trust it to its own merits...Because the policy of the Bill is adverse to the diffusion of the light of Christianity. The first wish of those who enjoy this precious gift ought to be that it may be imparted to the whole race of mankind. Compare the number of those who have as yet received it with the number still remaining under the dominion of false Religions; and how small is the former! Does the policy of the Bill tend to lessen the disproportion? No; it at once discourages those who are strangers to the light of revelation from coming into the Region of it; and countenances by example the nations who continue in darkness, in shutting out those who might convey it to them."