Archive for the ‘john adams’ tag
I want to take some time to address a link recently posted by a Facebook friend of mine. I was going to post it as a comment on Facebook, but the reply, as you can tell, got a bit lengthy. I thought this might be an apt forum. The friend posted a link to this article, which makes the claim that
Secular Humanism is an attempt to function as a civilized society with the exclusion of God and His moral principles. During the last several decades, Humanists have been very successful in propagating their beliefs. Their primary approach is to target the youth through the public school system.
I originally commented in Facebook that I would need a lot of “space and time” to address all the errors and misrepresentations in the aforementioned article. Before I do so, it’s important to note that a cursory look at the content of the host website, allaboutphilosophy.org, appears to be an apologetic site masquerading as a philosophical trove of data. A quick read of other articles such as this one on existentialism makes this immediately clear. As such, this seems to be a place for Christians and other believers to go and read a little about some other strains of thought, like existentialism, so they can feel as if they have “learned” something about some contradicting philosophies, when, in reality, the articles mainly present either flatly wrong interpretations of such philosophies or greatly misrepresented versions of those ideologies.
Take, for instance, this statement about existentialism:
Existentialistic ideas came out of a time in society when there was a deep sense of despair following the Great Depression and World War II. There was a spirit of optimism in society that was destroyed by World War I and its mid-century calamities. This despair has been articulated by existentialist philosophers well into the 1970s and continues on to this day as a popular way of thinking and reasoning (with the freedom to choose one’s preferred moral belief system and lifestyle).
In this paragraph, the article attempts to make the case that existentialist thought began after the Great Depression and WWII, that it was born out of despair and that it prescribes that people have the freedom to cherry pick whichever moral systems they choose. This makes it seem almost morally relativistic. To the contrary, existentialism officially sprang up in the 19th century well before the Great Depression. It is less about despair than living decent, personally responsible lives in spite of the despair that may come from realizing the apparent meaninglessness of the world. The writer of the article in question seems to be attempting to claim that existentialism is steeped in despair when really, it’s the opposite. At its core and as I understand it, existentialism is about how to live noble and sincere lives in the absence of anything else for which to live. Some noted existentialists were believers and some were not, but most of them said people were personally responsible for how they live and conduct their lives. Many sub-strains of existentialism exist, of course, and it’s a challenge to reduce the entire philosophy to one sentence, but this is my basic, working definition.
In any case, back to secular humanism. We should note in the first quote the capitalization of the personal pronoun, “His,” to refer to God. This is another clue that this article is not presenting an objective look at secular humanism but one slanted through a theistic lens.
The author’s second quote, framed as a “strategic focus” by humanists, comes from John Dunphy, who supposedly said in an “award winning” essay from 1983 titled, “The Humanist:”
The battle for humankind’s future must be waged and won in the public school classroom by teachers who correctly perceive their role as the proselytizers of a new faith: A religion of humanity — utilizing a classroom instead of a pulpit to carry humanist values into wherever they teach. The classroom must and will become an arena of conflict between the old and the new — the rotting corpse of Christianity, together with its adjacent evils and misery, and the new faith of humanism.
If Dunphy actually made this statement (I can’t confirm that he did because while I found couple essays with his name on them, I could not find one titled, “The Humanist,” anywhere except on apologetic websites, which, unsurprisingly regurgitated the quote in question), he used some unfortunate terms like “faith” and “religion” to describe humanism. Humanism is a philosophy or ideology, not a religion, that explores the concepts of human responsibility, freedom and potential. Or, simply:
Most people who describe themselves as humanists would likely cringe at being lumped into some kind of “new faith.” Humanists, to put it as succinctly as possible, have humans’ best interest at heart. They aren’t satanists or egoists or attempted demigods, as believers have, no doubt claimed.
In any case, if an essay titled, “The Humanist,” received some unnamed award, one would think a record of said essay would have surfaced in an Internet search result.
Moving on, here is the next passage from the article on secular humanism:
John Dewey, remembered for his efforts in establishing America’s current educational systems, was one of the chief signers of the 1933 Humanist Manifesto. It seems the Humanists have been interested in America’s education system for nearly a century. They have been absolutely successful in teaching children that God is imaginary and contrary to “science.”
It is true that Dewey signed the Humanist Manifesto, but after scanning two of Dewey’s works on the education system, “The Child and the Curriculum” and “Moral Principles in Education,” I could find no references to either “God,” “creation,” ”Darwin” or “evolution” and only a few references to “science.” The only references to science in these two works discuss it as a mere subject in the classroom and do not address a deity in any way. One would think that if humanists were so interested in taking over the classroom, one of its leading proponents would have made some reference along those lines in two of his works that address education directly.
While Dewey probably did think Darwin’s theory of natural selection was the correct one in explaining how complex life came about, I can find no evidence to suggest that he lead or supported some kind of humanist conspiracy to take over the school system in the way suggested by this article. The concept of creationism, of course, is indeed “contrary to ‘science’,” and that’s not under dispute by any serious scientist who adheres to the scientific method to draw his conclusions about how the world works.
Here is another flatly wrong statement from the secular humanism article:
Yet Evolution has not been proved. In fact, it seems that the Theory of Evolution is contrary to established science.
When it comes to the Origin of Life there are only two possibilities: creation or spontaneous generation. There is no third way.Spontaneous generation was disproved one hundred years ago, but that leads us to only one other conclusion, that of supernatural creation. We cannot accept that on philosophical grounds; therefore, we choose to believe the impossible: that life arose spontaneously by chance!”
Contrary to what the article says, Wald was known for his work on retinas in the eye, not for evolution. Whatever personal opinions Wald might have held on evolution are irrelevant. He was most certainly not an evolutionist, so here is another patently false statement. A look at more recent Scientific American articles, however, will provide reams of credible information about evolution. Here are some examples: 1, 2 and 3.
The scientific explanation of how life developed from simpler forms is, not only a more beautiful and marvelous explanation than creationism, it is the default explanation. People purporting creationism or intelligent design have all their work ahead of them in explaining these subversive notions. Evolution by natural selection, to say it again and for the millionth time, is a scientific theory, as firmly established as gravity. Here’s a good explanation:
A theory is a scientific explanation of an observed phenomenon. Unlike laws, theories actually explain why things are the way they are. Theories are what science is for. If, then, a theory is a scientific explanation of a natural phenomena, ask yourself this: “What part of that definition excludes a theory from being a fact?” The answer is nothing! There is no reason a theory cannot be an actual fact as well. … So there is the theory of evolution. Then there is the FACT of evolution. Species change– there is variation within one kind of animal. There is a predictable range of genetic variation in a species, as well as an expected rate of random mutations. …
Yes, evolution is a fact, as real as gravity. The fact that all species alive today have descended from a common ancestor can be denied, but not refuted. We know it happens because we can observe it directly in short-lived species, and for longer lived species there is genetic and fossil evidence that is unambiguous. There is no other scientific explanation for the diversity of living species. Evolution is a very well established scientific concept with a massive amount of physical evidence for support. It is not a guess. Evolution is the basis of modern biology, and universities and laboratories across the world are engaged in research that explores evolution.
To address the other part of the quote from the secular humanist article, the idea that God, like creationism, is contrary to science, I might propose the following: If a supremely intelligent and powerful being actually exists, would this not tear down everything we have learned in 300 years of serious scientific inquiry? For, he would have to be somewhere, perhaps not in this dimension but in some other dimension, a fourth or fifth dimension perhaps. Or, some heretofore unexplained “spiritual” dimension, whatever that might mean. Christians here will roll out the oft-touted claim that God must exist outside of space and time, but to say that throws God, along with the baby, out the window.
Here is former pastor Dan Barker on the subject:
To say that God does not exist within space-time is to say that God does not exist. And even if it is true that God does exist “outside of time,” despite our failure to intuitively grasp what appears to be an impossibility, then how can he possibly interact with us mere temporals? It would be similar to an author trying to interact with one of the fictional characters in his or her novel — you can’t get there from here.
My believing friends might retort that if God is all-powerful, surely he can jump into our own space-time from wherever it is he abides, thus crashing into our world to alter the thoughts, actions and outcomes of human lives. But if this is the case, he is not outside of space-time after all. Ignoring the fact that there is, by definition, nothing outside of space-time, at the very least, God would have to exist in part of this space-time in addition to partly existing in some other realm. Here, we are bordering on the absurd, but to say that he exists outside of space-time either suggests that a) he is beyond our grasp and vice versa, b) does not exist or c) is at least a part-time member of our space-time. And if he is partly a member of our space-time, he requires an explanation like any other phenomenon. And it is here that we return to futile attempt to explain how a supremely complex being came into being. As Richard Dawkins has stated, if we grant this being the power to intervene in this world, the attempt to explain his complexity then becomes a scientific endeavor.
Here is Dawkins in “The God Delusion,” writing about a couple points he made at a conference at Cambridge:
First, that if God really did communicate with humans, that fact would emphatically not lie outside of science. God comes bursting through whatever other-worldy domain is his natural abode, crashing through into our world where his messages can be intercepted by humans brains — and that phenomenon has nothing to do with science? Second, a God who is capable of sending intelligible signals to millions of humans simultaneously, and of receiving messages from all of them simultaneously, cannot be, whatever else he might be, simple. Such bandwidth!
I have only covered the first page of the allaboutphilosophy.org article. The second page trots out some quotes from a few of the Founders on religion, most notably one from John Adams, which is often summoned by conservative talking heads. It reads:
We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. … Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.
This was a passage from a letter written to a brigade in Massachusetts in October 1798 and must be understood through his audience, his personal thoughts on religion and Christianity being markedly different than his “public” stance on the matter. Probably most if not all of the soldiers to whom Adams was writing were Christians, so being the statesman that he was, he framed his letter according to his audience.
But consider some of Adams’ personal correspondence:
The question before the human race is, whether the God of nature shall govern the world by his own laws, or whether priests and kings shall rule it by fictitious miracles? — letter to Thomas Jefferson, June 20, 1815
As I understand the Christian religion, it was, and is, a revelation. But how has it happened that millions of fables, tales, legends, have been blended with both Jewish and Christian revelation that have made them the most bloody religion that ever existed? — letter to F.A. Van der Kamp, December 27, 1816
I almost shudder at the thought of alluding to the most fatal example of the abuses of grief which the history of mankind has preserved — the Cross. Consider what calamities that engine of grief has produced! — letter to Thomas Jefferson, from George Seldes, The Great Quotations
And now, Thomas Jefferson. Notice that the final fourth and fifth quotes are addressed to John Adams himself.
I am for freedom of religion, & against all maneuvres to bring about a legal ascendancy of one sect over another. — letter to Elbridge Gerry, 1799
I never will, by any word or act, bow to the shrine of intolerance, or admit a right of inquiry into the religious opinions of others. — letter to Edward Dowse, April 19, 1803
Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them; and no man ever had a distinct idea of the trinity. It is the mere Abracadabra of the mountebanks calling themselves the priests of Jesus. — letter to Francis Adrian Van der Kemp July 30, 1816
To talk of immaterial existences is to talk of nothings. To say that the human soul, angels, god, are immaterial, is to say they are nothings, or that there is no god, no angels, no soul. I cannot reason otherwise … without plunging into the fathomless abyss of dreams and phantasms. I am satisfied, and sufficiently occupied with the things which are, without tormenting or troubling myself about those which may indeed be, but of which I have no evidence. — letter to John Adams, August 15, 1820
The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the Supreme Being as his father, in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter. — letter to John Adams, April 11, 1823
There is no need to go further. I think I have sufficiently made the case that allaboutphilosophy.org both gets the basic definition of secular humanism wrong, distorts basic science and trots out a very selective grouping of quotes from some Founders, whereas other quotes, which are more personal in nature, more truly represent some of our Founders’ thoughts on religion, indeed, of two of our most revered Founders, Adams and Jefferson.
Scoping the net tonight (late tonight) for something to write about, mostly for no other reason than the fact that I haven’t written in a few days, and I like to keep some level of consistency, I came across this guest column on the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Web site about gun control. The gist of the story is that an autoshop owner, with a wife and two kids, was shot in the head over an $800 bill.
The writer was angry and remorseful over the man’s death and used it to briefly speak his mind on the need for more gun regulations, noting that
The only thing that could have saved George was the irrational man’s inability to access a gun.
But, we’re unwilling to address that issue, right? Because people kill people, not guns.
Well, if we’re unwilling to somehow curtail the development of irrational people with things like first-rate education and mental health services — which we’re clearly averse to — then we better address the guns. If not both, it has to be one. — AJC, Oct. 13, By Steve Reba
I want to be on board with his thoughts, I really do. Needless killing, with guns or knives or broad swords or cannon fire should never be Ok. But I do have a couple bones to pick with this argument, and frankly (I’ll go ahead and get it out of the way), I can’t say that I’m totally sold on the idea of gun control or ridding the country of guns altogether. My reasons are not moral or ethic, but purely logical.
To address the above statements from the writer, first, we have no way of knowing whether the shooter was rational or not. He, in fact, could have been quite a rational person in thinking he was being being ripped off. True, typically the unethical action of ripping a person off doesn’t license the “victim” to wield a Magnum and start shooting. The shooter could have been insane, or not. We don’t know. Mass murderers have often been quite calm and collected, in the case of Dennis Rader, aka BTK, of whom, after watching the chilling BTK Killer movie awhile back, I could make the case Radar was cool as a salamander as he violently binded, tortured and killed at least 10 women over about a 17-year stint in Kansas and then disposed of the ravaged bodies. One could say Radar was deranged and perverted, but as he carried on his charade (He was also a leader in his church) for such a long time, one could hardly call him irrational. He was smart and one step ahead of investigators nearly the entire way, meanwhile carrying on his “real life” as if he was as innocent as the candy man.
But back on point. I do agree with Reba’s tongue-in-cheek facetious-point: “people kill people, not guns.” If we magically took all the guns in the United States (and it would have to be by magic), we would not end violence in America. Killers half their weight in salt would find other ways to kill. We may hope to reduce the number of deaths initially by eliminating guns, but to say that atrocities like the death of a guy with a family wouldn’t take place in a world without guns misses an important point about human nature: we will never inhabit a world where desperation, irrationality, psychosis, dementia, revenge and evil do not exist (I use the last word as a blanket term for anything else that may motivate someone to kill). I suppose it would be possible to imagine a society that has evolved to some higher order where we have, by no small measure, eradicated the tendencies that cause people to kill or to want to kill, for instance, by increasing the scale and efficiency of education and increasing (by leaps and bounds) the standard of living in even the most slum-like neighborhoods. But these high notions are far, far into the future, farther away in America’s future, less far away in more progressive countries.
I cringe, and yes, cringed even today, upon seeing a “right to keep and bear arms” bumper sticker on the back window of some super-sized tank of a truck, likely owned by a hunter or gun nut who has no notion of the Second Amendment or the context in which it was written. For a detailed discussion of the amendment, see here. We must understand that the Second Amendment was ratified just 15 years after the country declared its independence from an invading country. At the onset, before Congress officially made Washington general of the army, a state militia, mostly Massachusetts’, was fighting against the British invaders. The right to keep a “well regulated Militia” was a very real and necessary concern in those days, as was likely the right of every man to possess a gun to protect his family, as there was, very real in most people’s memory, once an invading army just around the bend. The full force of Britain’s army, was, indeed, at one time, just five miles from John Adams’ homestead, and Abigail, indeed, kept one of John’s guns in easy reach in case the British cut through the state’s militia. So, both the personal right to possess a gun and the corporate, or state’s right to form a militia (I think I would read: the nation’s right) are probably intrinsic in the amendment.
Also, in one important sense, the “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms,” given the context of the words before, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State,” do suggest that “the people,” could mean, not each individual person (for it certainly says nothing of the sort), but the people as a whole of the state (nation).
The Supreme Court has ruled on the amendment, and I could elaborate further, but I suppose my grander point here is that we simply don’t know for sure what they meant by the “right to keep and bear arms.” If the full body of the Congress were before us today, maybe they could enlighten us on what they meant. But we don’t know for sure, and impassioned, to use the term here, “irrational,” voices on both sides of the issue of gun control gets us nowhere because they only add to the babble and cacaphony of polarization.
The larger point, I think, is that crime is not going to go away in a gun-free world, and we must succumb to this bitter fact: to erase guns is not to erase the will in some to kill or harm others. They will find other ways. We’re a very inventive species, and the last 200 years has told us that much. The irrationality and non-erudition on both sides, in my opinion, cancel each other out (and this can apply to other issues). The actual truth, as it does on so many questions, likely lies somewhere in the middle.
The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more. — “Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams, 3 July 1776, ‘Had a Declaration…’“. Adams Family Papers. Massachusetts Historical Society. http://www.masshist.org/digitaladams/aea/cfm/doc.cfm?id=L17760703jasecond. Retrieved on 2009-06-28.
In a particularly busy week at work — nothing unusual there — I was asked to compose the editorial for the week at about 9 p.m. the night before it would be published in the paper. I got started about about 10:30 p.m. or so that same night and this was the result. If I had to summarize what the July the Fourth holiday means to me, I suppose this would be pretty close to my personal feelings. (As a point of clarification, “institutional editorials” as they are called in the newspaper business, have no author, per se. They are supposed to be the “collective” position of the paper’s editorial staff, which would be me [news editor], the editor and the publisher.) I have to clarify that point because we get calls occasionally asking, “Who wrote that darn editorial!” which likely blasted some public official or another. We reply, “It’s the collective opinion of the paper and has no author, per se.” Anyway, I felt compelled to make that point because for practical purposes, although I was the author technically, I was only the vessel by which the editorial sprang forth … or something like that.
That said, as “we” laid out in the editorial, our very ability to be able to celebrate the liberties and freedoms we enjoy in this country were anything but inevitable, and it’s truly remarkable that we have come this far, given our sundry and violent history.
This weekend — and I’ve already started with a concert by some military orchestra band — I am covering a couple July 4th events including a Fun Run near one of the local lakes and a fireworks display the night of the Fourth. I have covered the fireworks show before, but I dare say Dillard, Ga. will again be brimming with locals hoping to catch the show. We in American have a bad habit of thinking too little about history and too much about the future. I do hope that as folks go out and shoot fireworks, grill, swim or whatever, that they will take a moment to reflect about how we got here. The path, as noted in the editorial, was not laid out so much by God’s providence, but by much sacrifice, sweat and tears … many of those tears coming from peoples we either oppressed, displaced or enslaved. The Enlightenment ideas, eventually, and quite slowly, took hold finally in the mid-1960s, and we today are less apt to publically denigrate our fellow man as we did for centuries prior. So, I wanted to quickly make the point to say that, as we celebrate where we are in this country and celebrate our place in the world, we need to also celebrate how far we’ve come. There was no “Ready and Easy Way,” to coin a phrase from John Milton, and the present reality we know was anything but a given and nearly resulted in a country torn asunder.
Adams got it right when he said July 2 (the actual day America made a resolution declaring independence. The famous “Declaration of Independence” was an explanation of that resolution) will be ”the most memorable epoch in the history of America.”