Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Rowe on Dembski and the Founders

I was busy yesterday with other things, so I sent this post to Jon Rowe to give it the good fisking it deserves. He obliged. In short, Dembski attempted, weakly. to answer Judge Jones’ statements about the founding fathers making reason the arbiter of religious claims. His answer didn’t really answer that assertion, but he appeared to think that it did. Jon rightly points out that Judge Jones’ statements were quite accurate. He quoted one long passage from Adams, but could have chosen many others. The one that comes to mind immediately is Jefferson’s advice to his nephew:

Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear.

The leading founders really did believe that claims of revelation were subordinate to man’s reason and that truth should be ascertained by the application of reason alone. To that extent, contra Dembski, they were indeed very much like the French philosophes that he scoffs at. This is, indeed, the heart of Enlightenment rationalism, a movement that Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, and Madison, among others, surely must be included in.


  1. #1 Dave S.
    May 24, 2006

    Nice post by Jon.

    Plus, I learned a new word, “philosophes”. Thought at first it was a miss-spelling of ‘philosophers’.

  2. #2 beervolcano
    May 24, 2006

    But not Washington, John Jay, Alexander Hamilton, and others.

    No side can claim all the FF’s. Some were very pro-secularity. Others were very pro-Christianity. Some were pro-both.

  3. #3 Ed Brayton
    May 24, 2006


    I would include both Hamilton and Washington in the group of theistic rationalists. John Jay, no. But you’re certainly right that there was a split among the founders on this issue and some were orthodox Christians.

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