When I read Carrier’s article for yesterday’s review, I really could not tell if his errors were the result of ignorance or intent. For this article, however, I have to assume that he is intentionally twisting the facts, for the level of ignorance required for the first option is simply unthinkable in a man with a PhD in the field of history. Let me show you what I mean.
Carrier’s “best proof” that the founders did not rely on the Bible in formulating our system of government comes from a paragraph in the preface to John Adams’ Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America. Carrier quoted Adams as saying that:
The United States of America have exhibited, perhaps, the first example of governments erected on the simple principles of nature, and if men are now sufficiently enlightened to disabuse themselves of artifice, imposture, hypocrisy, and superstition, they will consider this event as an era in their history. ... It will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service had any interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the inspiration of heaven, any more than those at work upon ships or houses, or laboring in merchandise or agriculture. It will forever be acknowledged that these governments were contrived merely by the use of reason and the senses.
Carrier claims that this statement is “a direct denouncement of the Law of Moses” because that Law was the result of inspiration from heaven, but Adams was not claiming to have ignored all documents claiming to have been produced by inspiration. He was simply acknowledging that none of the founders were claiming to have been personally inspired by God as was typical of the rulers of the past. As we saw yesterday, even in Solon’s Athens, the king was the high-priest of the land, and to continue that thought, Adams also said of Athens that:
Nobility, as well as royalty, was believed of divine right, because the gods and goddesses had condescended to familiar intercourse with women and men, on purpose to beget persons of a superior order to rule among nations.
Thus, when Adams spoke of not pretending to be “in any degree under the inspiration of heaven,” he was actually denouncing the philosophy of Solon’s Athens. Carrier completely ignores this and speaks as if Adams saw Athens as some grand utopia of democracy. In reality, Adams viewed Athens (and Solon as well) as miserable failures. It’s true that Adams recognized that Solon had several good ideas, but he also noted that when it came time to put these ideas into practice, Solon’s system was shown to be unstable.
What’s more interesting than this, however, is the way in which Carrier handled the end of Adams’ paragraph about not being under the inspiration of heaven. Adams concluded that point with this statement:
The experiment is made, and has completely succeeded; it can no longer be called in question, whether authority in magistrates and obedience of citizens can be grounded on reason, morality, and the Christian religion, without the monkery of priests, or the knavery of politicians.
This was how John Adams ended his claim that America was founded on the simple principles of nature. According to Adams, the whole American experiment was to see if laws for authority and obedience could be founded solely on reason, morality and the Christian religion. This was the American experiment, and Adams viewed it as being successful. But look at the way that Carrier refers to this line from Adams:
Adams does also say that “morality and the Christian religion, without the monkery of priests” has helped to sustain America’s success, but he never once credits any specific principle from that religion (like the Ten Commandments) as lying at the foundation of the American Constitution. That idea isn’t even considered. (emphasis in original)
Do you see the difference? According to Carrier, Adams viewed Christianity as something which helped to “sustain America’s success.” But according to Adams himself, Christianity was one of the foundations on which the entire American experiment was grounded. Carrier has taken a statement which directly refutes his claim, twisted it into saying something else entirely and presented it as evidence that he is right. As I said before, the level of ignorance required for this to have been a mere misunderstanding is unfathomable. And yet, it gets even worse.
As part of his claim that Adams did not consult the writings of Moses, Carrier cited a list of the authors that Adams quoted from in his Defence, and he pointed out that “Moses is conspicuous for his absence.” Of course, Solon was absent from that list as well since none of his writings were available to Adams, but Carrier notes that “Solon, of course (and in contrast), would be represented most significantly in the writings of Aristotle.” I have no problem with this; Adams certainly obtained some of his information on Solon from the writings of Aristotle, but if Solon can be represented second-hand, why can’t Moses be found in Adams' book in the same way?
Carrier identified Algernon Sydney as being one of the writers that Adams quoted, but he completely ignored the fact that part of what Adams quoted Sydney as saying was:
And if I should undertake to say, there never was a good government in the world, that did not consist of the three simple species of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy, I think I may make it good. This at the least is certain, that the government of the Hebrews, instituted by God, had a judge, the great Sanhedrim, and general assemblies of the people.
WAIT!!! STOP THE PRESSES!!! Did Adams just reference the divinely inspired Law of Moses? Why, yes. Indeed he did, or at least, he quoted someone else in a favorable light who did so. And that’s not all.
One of the other names on the list was James Harrington who was renowned for his studies of the Law of Moses. In fact, the second volume of his work The Art of Lawgiving was entitled “Containing the Commonwealths of the Hebrews; Namely, Elohim, Or the Commonwealth of Israel; and Cabala, Or the Commonwealth of the Jews.” And in another of Harrington’s books, The Commonwealth of Oceana, he claimed that the Greeks and Romans attempted to implement the same principles of government which were “first discovered to mankind by God himself in the fabric of the commonwealth of Israel.” Adams quoted from Harrington extensively and even included the statement that:
This kind of law, fixing the balance in lands, is called Agrarian, and was first introduced by God himself, who divided the land of Canaan to his people by lot.
This gives us at least two instances in which Adams favorably quoted statements about the Law of Moses in regards to crucial points of the American legal system. The first was in regards to the three branches of government and the second in regards to the agrarian origin of private property rights. Carrier claims that Adams made “No mention of Moses,” but here we see two very important references to him which prove that Carrier is either insanely ignorant of his subject matter, or he is intentionally deceiving his readers.
As long as this article already is, I cannot close it without offering this parting shot across Carrier’s bow. If you recall, the primary claim that Carrier was attempting to prove was that the founders did not base our legal system upon the Ten Commandments of the Bible. In his effort to do so, it was Carrier who suggested that we search for any reference to these Commandments in John Adams’ Defence of the Constitutions of the United States of America. We have seen that, in that book, Adams was critical of Solon, and he spoke favorably of the Law of Moses. But the clearest example of Carrier’s error is found in the fact that Adams actually mentions the Ten Commandments themselves in this book. In the fourth chapter, Adams wrote the following:
If, as Harrington says, the ten commandments were voted by the people of Israel, and have been enacted as laws by all other nations; and if we should presume to say, that nations had a civil right to repeal them, no nation would think proper to repeal the fifth, which enjoins honor to parents.
Here we have Adams recognizing the probability that the Ten Commandments were adopted by Israel through a popular vote, that those same Commandments have been part of the foundation of all other legal codes, and that it would be presumptuous to say that any nation had a right to repeal those Commandments. In short, this one sentence, from the very source that Carrier recommends, disproves everything that Carrier sought to establish about the founding of our great nation.
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.
Contact Us if you would like to schedule Bill to speak to your church, group, or club.
"Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser: teach a just man, and he will increase in learning." (Proverbs 9:9)