It’s been nearly four years since I purchase my copy of The Religious Beliefs of America’s Founders in which Gregg Frazer claims that America’s founders were not Christians but were actually followers of a hybrid religion that Frazer termed “Theistic Rationalism.” I previously wrote about the theological errors of Frazer’s claim, and my goal at the time was to present a detailed analysis of his quotations from and his conclusions about our nation’s founders. Unfortunately, life forced me to put off that goal for a few years, but now that I have a bit more time available for research, I’ve decided to return to Frazer’s book and respond to as much of it as I can.
I’ll begin with Frazer’s first significant error regarding the beliefs of John Adams. In the chapter entitled “The Theistic Rationalism of John Adams,” Frazer presented the following condemnation of Adams’ supposedly Deistic leanings:
His view of how the Creation was effected comported with that of deism, not Christianity. While musing on “the amazing harmony of our solar system” in his diary, Adams observed that “the Stupendous Plan of operation was projected by him who rules the universe, and a part assigned to every particle of matter, to act in this great and complicated Drama. The Creator looked into the remotest Futurity, and saw his great Designs accomplished by this inextricable, this mysterious Complication of Causes.” This passage provides an early glimpse of the dual emphasis on God and nature in the thought of Adams.
However, Adams was not referring to either the act or the means of creation in this statement. Instead, he was writing of the interdependence of the various parts of creation and God’s omniscient knowledge of that interdependence. Adams began this particular diary entry with:
A rainy Day. If we consider a little of this our Globe we find an endless Variety of Substances, mutually connected with and dependent on Each other.
Adams then began a reflection on the interdependence of various aspects of creation. He began with the various creatures on Earth then expanded his contemplation to include the bodies of our solar system. It is in his contemplation of the bodies of our solar system that Franklin penned the phrase that Frazer extracted. Here is the quote that Frazer provided with a little bit more context:
Thus we see the amazing harmony of our Solar System. The minutest Particle in one of Saturns Sattelites, may have some influence upon the most distant Regions of the System. The Stupendous Plan of operation was projected by him who rules the universe, and a part assigned to every particle of matter to act, in this great and complicated Drama. The Creator looked into the remotest Futurity, and saw his great Designs accomplished by this inextricable, this mysterious Complication of Causes. But to rise still higher this Solar System is but one, very small wheel in the great the astonishing Machine of the World. Those Starrs that twinkle in the Heavens have each of them a Choir of Planets, Comets, and Satellites dancing round them, playing mutually on each other, and all together playing on the other Systems that lie around them. Our System, considered as [one] body hanging on its Center of Gravity, may affect and be affected by all the other Systems, within the Compass of Creation. Thus it is highly probable every Particle of matter, influences, and is influenced by every other Particle in the whole collective Universe. A stormy Day.
I’m not sure where Frazer got the idea that Adams was presenting a Deistic view of the creation of the world as opposed to a Christian view. Adams wasn’t speaking of the act of creation at all. He was merely musing on a stormy day about how every particle of the universe has an effect on every other particle. And since God is omniscient, Adams reasoned that God is able to use His knowledge of all these causes to make perfectly accurate predictions of the effects of various motions within the cosmos. This is neither Deistic nor Christian. It is a simple extrapolation of the two facts of the interdependence of everything in the universe and the omniscience of God.
Bill Fortenberry is a Christian philosopher and historian in Birmingham, AL. Bill's work has been cited in several legal journals, and he has appeared as a guest on shows including The Dr. Gina Show, The Michael Hart Show, and Real Science Radio.
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