Thursday, October 05, 2006

With Regrets: an excursus to respond to Dr Gregg Frazer


Unfortunately, Dr Frazer's response to me at the EO forces me to publicly address what are IMHCO his errors on fact and logic. I here excerpt and slightly adapt from a response to him. I will also -- posting conditions permitting -- briefly comment at EO, and link to this for those interested in a view of the other side of the matter.

Again, this is sadly not without relevance to the current trend of issues in this blog. I regret the pain this will cause to Dr Frazer, but I consider that he has left me little choice in the matter, through the tone of his further remarks, that "you’ve tapped into an age-old tactic of the propagandist – attempt to discredit the messenger so that you do not have to deal with an inconvenient or undesirable message." This is simply not so, but I need to explain why:


For the reasons in 1 Tim 5, I have sought to not directly state what I considered the objective errors of fact and logic in Dr Frazer's remarks, but simply to address them implicitly, first apologising and briefly explaining for having caused him offense, by pointing to the chain of evidence and reasoning that bring out the underlying problem: materiality of omitted points and evidence. In short, IMHCO -- sadly and unfortunately -- I am adressing here one who has committed a strawman fallacy, actually two of them [and may end up in the associated fallacy of the closed mind, if he fails to address material, contrary evidence]. Please, therefore, understand that the below is NOT intended as a personal attack nor a distraction from the actual facts that Dr Frazer may have unearthed regarding US founders, but instead show why I believe that a few notes on clarifications and corrections are in order.

On merits of fact and logic:

when even a perfectly accurate remark fails to reckon with material facts and reasoning before drawing conclusions and making decisions, it unfortunately becomes erroneous [which can be quite honestly so, as I believe is happening with my interlocutor, as I will now explain] or even misleading [this last being the specialty of the clever rhetorician or lawyer: exploiting the gap between what is true and the truth]:

1] Onlookers will see that my fact and logic -- NOT personal attack -- point re the US founders has little or nothing to do with the acknowledged fact that several of them -- as opposed to the majority as far as their public commitments were concerned [as Eidsmowe noted and as I linked and copied] -- were deists in the american sense, but that as a BODY, they were operating in a judaeo-christian, Christendom context and spoke to that cultural and historical context [and not that of Hinduism or Buddhism or Islam etc] in their public documents -- most explicitly in the 1776 and 7 calls to days of prayer, penitence, fasting and thanksgiving, precisely bracketing the issuing of the DOI. In short in perceiving and knocking down a "Christian America" argument I did not make, Dr Frazer evidently made a relatively minor strawman case, and so immediately merited my remarks on facts and logic. [I believe this error occurred because he probably did not know the context in which I spoke, nor did he follow up the links I have made. That too is a fact and logic problem.]

2] But, strictly, that belongs to his earlier reply. On the original point as evident from his earlier public statements as used by Mr Rowe et al [which I did look at before responding in brief], even such "deists" -- Dr Frazer has a different terminology but that is the common one, so I use it -- in the american sense, as he acknowledged in his own writings as I have seen, e.g. a recent Claremont review, were strongly influenced by the biblical worldview, hence their distance from the European "breed standard". In light of my own major points as may be seen in my notes, that is all I need. For instance, observe the context for the US Constitution's "blessings of liberty" in light of Congressional fast, penitence and thanksgiving proclamations. Similarly, the US DOI's parallels to the earlier Calvinist literature, e.g.Vindiciae, the Dutch DOI and the Lex Rex, which of course is by a Presbyterian author, whose work plainly had some influence on Locke. That is, the fact -- often highlighted by secularist progressivists and their fellow travellers [sometimes even theologians] who wish to infer that there was no significant biblical influence on the US founding [sadly, too often, the better to characterise us as potential oppressors and even terrorists] -- that there was deist etc influence in the US founding circle is irrelevant to the force of the point that there is a credible and traceable material influence deriving from biblical, i.e. Judaeo-Christian, and even -- let us give Jack his jacket -- calvinist sources and forces in that founding. [BTW, let me hasten to add: I am NOT a calvinist, but belong to the stream of Biblical theology.]

3] This brings me to the major major strawman. For in his reasoning, as it seems Mr Rowe echoes, he sought to dismiss Calvinism and its interpretation of the biblical literature on the matter of liberty as a factor in the history of ideas and events leading to the US' founding era by making a restrictive reference to Calvin and to the TULIP framework - but calvinism is both broader and deeper than that, as a glance at Vindiciae -- by a French Calvinist statesman -- will at once document. Thus, in the discussions I have seen from him in similar fora to EO, or in that Claremont review, Dr Frazer used such an argument to in effect -- if, perhaps, not intent -- restrict the discussion to the deist-/enlightenment- influenced American founders and thus highlighted the several founders whose theology was arguably not orthodox, or who were deistic in the american sense. But this is plainly besides the major issue I made, as (a) Enlightenment-based deists, skeptics, rationalists and atheists can be following thoughts that originated from outside their system, and (b) can be responding to so Christian-influenced a public that they are forced to address it as if they too adhered to the system that they may privately despise.

4] And as my previously excerpted note on Jefferson hints at [i.e. on the client he wrote for, the nascent USA, a Christianity-dominated country at that time], that is precisely what happened with the DOI for instance, which is directly a major aspect of the US' covenant of publicly acknowledged nationhood and government under God, in a country that was then a part of what -- for excellent reason -- was called Christendom. The strong parallels between the US DOI and the earlier Dutch DOI, as touching the points in the covenant theology process of repudiation of and resistance to tyranny are diagnostic as to the specifically Biblical -- i.e. Judaeo-Christian -- roots of the framework in which the US' founding originated, as the Library of Congress also notes regarding the influence of Covenant Theology as taught by New England's Puritans. Puritans, of course were strongly influenced by calvinism, indeed, were calvinists.

5] In terms of Duplesis-Mornay's 1579 reference to covenants 1 and 2, the US Articles of Confederation and the later Constitution are of course a fine example of Covenant no 2 [institution of new government] in light of covenant no 1 [nationhood under God]. In so instituting new Government, it is highly noteworthy that the preamble to the Constitution speaks specifically to securing the blessings of liberty,and concludes the main body with the acknowledgment that this was done in the year of our Lord 1787 [contrast the anticlerical French praxis of a few years later and again under the Communards], which of course implicitly speaks to the Lordship of the risen Christ, however "conventional" it may be dismissed as. That is itself a token of the fact that this document was composed under the influence of Christendom. I contend, further, that an excellent and well-warranted way to understand this phrase is to address the fact that Madison had training in theology under Witherspoon, and to examine the proclamations of days of public penitence, fasting and prayer or thanksgiving issued by the founding congress, as I have excerpted and already discussed with Mr Rowe et al. I must also submit that this point is again diagnostic of the secularist-progressivist influence on the way he approached the question, and his first and second responses to me on the matter are unfortunately and regrettably, further illustrative.

6] Onlookers will therefore see that the calvinist sphere of thought and action embraces far more than TULIP or Calvin, as say the famous 1898 Stone lectures at Princeton by Abraham Kuyper, especally no 3 on calvinism and politics, will amplify. ( I note in passing that he was the last great calvinist statesman.) In the political context of that wider sphere of calvinism, Duplesis-Mornay [ a major contributor I gather to the Edict of Nantes] and his Vindiciae [as I excerpted in my own blog] made a pioneering breakthrough in the stream of ideas that appears in the literature down to the US founding, and is the underlying context of the covenant theology of both nationhood and government under God, and of the basis for revolution through resistance to tyranny by interposing lower magistrates. That thinking soon bore practical fruit in the Dutch DOI of 1581 [which BTW embraced a deep respect for freedom of conscience and laid the basis for Holland's function as a place of refuge for Jews and Pilgrims (again calvinist influenced) alike], and appears in the literature and chain of thought and events that runs to the US founding.

7] In brief, strawman no 2 is to restrict the focus of discussion to the US' founding era and fathers [highlighting those whom it can be argued were not fully orthodox Christians], when the major influences in question began 200 years earlier, in Europe. By the time of the US founding, it was a in many relevant quarters, a conventional way of thought, under titles such as covenant theology and even in some cases, social contract. I bring to notice again on this the LOC web page and its links that show the sort of ways in which the US founders thought, and its summary of the forces and influences on that thought -- which BTW, he has never addressed in responding to me:

The Continental-Confederation Congress, a legislative body that governed the United States from 1774 to 1789, contained an extraordinary number of deeply religious men . . . both the legislators and the public considered it appropriate for the national government to promote a nondenominational, nonpolemical Christianity . . . . Congress was guided by "covenant theology," a Reformation doctrine especially dear to New England Puritans, which held that God bound himself in an agreement with a nation and its people . . . The first national government of the United States, was convinced that the "public prosperity" of a society depended on the vitality of its religion. Nothing less than a "spirit of universal reformation among all ranks and degrees of our citizens," Congress declared to the American people, would "make us a holy, that so we may be a happy people."

8] Now, Dr Frazer has considered that my remarks on what I believe is an undue secularist progressivist influence on his own work as it relates to what I have raised, are a personal attack. I am sorry that he so sees it, and wish I could make it more plain that my intent was to speak only to matters of fact and logic, without personal reference as such. I appreciate that he has done primary research in the specific areas he addressed, especially re the US Founders [and that after all is what a PhD -- as Mr Rowe referenced --directly implies], but the fact and logic problems are not in what he has addressed, but in what he did not IMHCO adequately reckon with, as BTW is confirmed to me by the references and remarks he made in the materials I did see by virtue of Mr Rowe's excerpts and links and my own searches online, which often came back to Mr Rowe's two blogs. The above points will show why I believe he, in his research unfortunately missed material facts and factors, and so has not at all come up with a parallel to say the law of gravity [which BTW was identified by a hebraic thinker and unorthodox Christian also fascinated by occultic matters, i.e. Newton]. The way in which he ever so easily lumped me with so-called "Christian America" thinkers [who I understand are held to think that the US founding was effectively solely Christian] should speak to the force of that influence on his thought. For, I explicitly have spoken to many streams of influence, and have spoken to the Christian habit of critical synthesis -- which is tied to the earlier genius of the Greek mind -- ever since Paul's Mars Hill address of Acts 17, in Athens. On this, I have also excerpted the remarks of Pope Benedict XVI.

9] I also think onlookers -- and hopefully Dr Frazer -- will see on further thought that by removing the "his" in my excerpt, I sought to emphasise my focus: fact and logic, not person. I regret that he saw that as clever distortion on my part, which it was not intended to be -- and certainly not in the same comment thread a few days and posts later than the original and his complaint! [There was certainly absolutely no "propagandistic" intent on my part.]

I trust that the above is sufficient to clarify the matter, and again apologise for unintended offense. END


UPDATE: First, I was unable to get through the reply to EO directly, and attempts to send in anything with URLs linking back to my usual source materials are blocked bt being suspended in an obviously inactive wait-for-moderation loop. Since today [Oct 8], I got through one posted comment without such links but then one in which even inactive links were put was blocked, it is in part probably a glitch we are looking at. The comment is I think appropriately corrective on the tendency to ignore material evidence, inthe onward comments. In short the problem adverted to and addressed above, sadly, continues.

UPDATE 2: I should note that even so eminent a contemporary philospher as Antony Flew now refers to himself -- post his recent reassessment of the merits on the case of evidence for God through the signs of design in nature -- as a Deist in the mould of Jefferson, and applies an interesting interpretation of Jefferson's thinking, i.e one that would leave room for Jesus' thought to be a moral advance [as Jefferson definitely viewed it], but would dismiss the miraculous [cf. his clipping out of the miracles in his moral maxims "edition" of the Gospels], including revelation in any sense beyond clear insight and apt expression on issues, especially through direct communication from God. I am not sure to what extent Flew accurately captures Jefferson's thought, but his usage is telling on how Jefferson is generally perceived, even by world class philosophical thinkers. Of course, Mr Franklin's calling the Constitution Convention to prayer -- as I commented on in my earlier notes on the difference between American and European "Deists" -- poses the issue that perhaps that other "Deist" in the US Founding circle, was more open to the direct, thus supernatural, intervention of God. In the relevant part of the Flew interview, here is the exchange:

HABERMAS: Once you mentioned to me that your view might be called Deism. Do you think that would be a fair designation?

FLEW: Yes, absolutely right. What Deists, such as the Mr. Jefferson who drafted the American Declaration of Independence, believed was that, while reason, mainly in the form of arguments to design, assures us that there is a God, there is no room either for any supernatural revelation of that God or for any transactions between that God and individual human beings.

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