Thursday, June 21, 2018

Evolution by Hybridization of a New Species of Galapagos Finches from a Founding Father

                                                     The Big Bird Finch of the Galapagos

Last year, in one of my posts on my second tour of the Galapagos Islands, I wrote about the evolution of new species through hybridization, including the report from Peter and Rosemary Grant that there might be a new species of finch on the island of Daphne Major arising from hybridization, although they had not yet said that this really was a new species.

Recently, the Grants have published their claim that this is indeed a new species that has evolved through hybridization (Lamichhaney et al. 2018; Wagner 2018).  In 1981, a male large cactus finch (Geospiza conirostris) arrived on Daphne Major, having immigrated a long distance (over 100 km) from the island of Espanola, the only island where this species is found.  They called him "Big Bird" because of his unusually large head.

Big Bird mated with a medium ground finch (G. fortis).  This pair produced offspring, and with only one exception, the offspring found mates descended from the original pair, thus breeding within the hybrid lineage, for over 30 years.  Because of their larger body size, they are called Big Birds.  So, as with the biblical story of Adam and Eve, we have a new species derived from a founding pair of mates.

Large cactus finches learn the distinctive song of their species by listening to their fathers sing, which is thus passed down through a culturally learned tradition.  The first Big Bird--the founding father--sang a unique song, slightly different from the song sang by male large cactus finches on Espanola.  This is the song now sung by male Big Birds, and it contributes to their reproductive isolation.

Another cue for reproductive isolation is that the size of the Big Birds' bill is intermediate between the bill sizes for the other species, which is probably a consequence of natural selection favoring a bill morphology adapted for feeding on certain kinds of seeds on Daphne Major.

Genetic analysis has confirmed that the Big Birds are a distinctive species separate from the other 18 species of finches on the Galapagos Islands.

Notice the historical contingency in this scientific study.  The rare and chance event of one individual bird with a unique song immigrating to Daphne Major and mating with a female of a different species, in the unique circumstances of that island at a particular historical moment, became a founding event for the evolution of a new species.

This illustrates the historical character of biology as the study of unique individuals with unique life histories and cultural traditions.  It is not true, therefore, that human beings are the only animals who have individual and cultural histories.  A biopolitical science of political animals must include the study of the individual personalities and the social history of those animals.  (I have written about this here, and here.)

My next post will be devoted to another kind of hybrid breeding by a founding father--Thomas Jefferson's interracial breeding with his slave Sally Hemings.


Lamichhaney, Sangeet, Fan Han, Matthew T. Webster, Leif Andersson, B. Rosemary Grant, and Peter R. Grant. 2018. "Rapid Hybrid Speciation in Darwin's Finches." Science 359 (12 January): 224-228.

Wagner, Catherine E. 2018. "Improbable Big Birds." Science 359 (12 January): 157-159.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

The "Supreme Judge" and "Divine Providence" in the Declaration of Independence

There are four references to a deity in the Declaration of Independence.  At the beginning of the document, the first two references are to "the laws of Nature and of Nature's God" and to the "Creator."  Then, at the end, in the penultimate sentence, there is a third reference in the formal declaration of independence: "We, therefore, the representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name, and by the authority of the good people of these colonies, solemnly publish and declare, that these united colonies are, and of right ought to be free and independent states."  The final reference is in the last sentence: "And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor."

Thus, God's government of the world has three branches: the legislative (the laws of Nature's God), the executive (Creator and Providence), and the judicial (Supreme Judge).

"Appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions" suggests the need for divine judgment as a sanction for law and morality.  Does human law and morality require belief in divine rewards and punishments?  Does that belief include a belief in the immortality of the soul in an afterlife where God can mete out eternal rewards in Heaven and eternal punishments in Hell?  And if so, does a Darwinian science of human evolution support or subvert those religious beliefs?

And if we must appeal to the Supreme Judge, how does He promulgate His judgments?  If the Supreme Judge is Nature's God, then we might have to rely on our human rational understanding of nature, in which case we would not need any supernatural revelation.

But if nature is not enough, and we do need some special revelation of God's supernatural message, we might look to the Bible, although the Declaration never refers to the Bible or any other holy book. So, for example, recently Attorney General Jeff Sessions has quoted from the Bible as supporting the controversial policy of the Trump administration for taking children away from parents who have entered the United States illegally.  Many Christians, including evangelical Christians who have supported Trump, have denounced this policy as immoral.  Sessions quoted from the thirteenth chapter of Romans where Paul apparently declares that the powers of government are ordained by God, and thus Christians have a duty to obey the government: "Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers.  For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.  Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation" (Romans 13:1-2).  Since this policy of taking children away from parents who have crossed the borders illegally is a legal order of the government, Sessions indicates, those who resist this policy are resisting an ordinance of God, and they will be punished with damnation.

In response to Sessions, some Christians have pointed out that this same thirteenth chapter of Romans commands "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" (13:9), and kidnapping children seems contrary to this commandment.

Some Christians have also pointed out that the 13th chapter of Romans was quoted by proslavery Christians to support obedience to the laws enforcing slavery.  In Slavery Ordained of God (1857J), the Reverend Fred Ross, a prominent Presbyterian minister in Alabama, cited Romans 13 and many other biblical teachings as supporting slavery.  Moreover, he argued, Romans 13 shows that the Declaration of Independence is a work of infidelity contrary to God's revelation in the Bible, because if government is ordained of God, then it is wrong to teach that government's authority comes from the consent of the people.  I will say more about Ross's argument in a future post on slavery and the Declaration.

This indicates the problem in appealing to the divine revelation of the Bible as a guide to the judgments of the Supreme Judge:  we often cannot agree on how to interpret the Bible and how to apply it to our lives.  As with any book, the language of the Bible is open to conflicting interpretations, as manifest in the history of Judaism and Christianity.  The American founders certainly saw this problem.  In The Federalist (no. 37), James Madison observed: "When the Almighty himself condescends to address mankind in their own language, his meaning, luminous as it must be, is rendered dim and doubtful by the cloudy medium through which it is communicated."

Nevertheless, many of the American colonists settling in the New World in the seventeenth century thought the legal language of the Bible was clear enough to incorporate the Mosaic laws of the Old Testament into their colonial constitutions.  For example, the "Laws and Liberties of Massachusetts" of 1647 functioned as a constitution for Massachusetts, and it included many Mosaic laws in addition to English common law and what was considered natural law.  Part of this was a legally established Church that could punish heretics and infidels (Lutz, 1998, 95-135).

After the Declaration of Independence, however, those framing new state constitutions and the Articles of Confederation relied hardly at all on the divinely revealed laws of the Bible.  In his Defense of the Constitutions of the United States of America (1786-1787), John Adams explained: "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."  Those who formed these new American governments did not claim "interviews with the gods" or "the inspiration of Heaven."  These thirteen governments were contrived "merely by the use of reason and the senses," and founded "on the natural authority of the people alone, without a pretense of miracle or mystery."  This experiment has succeeded so well, Adams concluded, that "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" (Adams, 2000, 117-19).

But notice that even as Adams scorns the pretense of grounding governmental authority on "the monkery of priests" who might claim "interviews with the gods," he still appeals to "the Christian religion" as important for enforcing political authority and obedience to the laws.  So if it doesn't mean legally enforcing the Mosaic laws and a politically established Church, what does it mean for government to be grounded on "the Christian religion"?

In an often-quoted passage of George Washington's Farewell Address, Washington insisted that religion was necessary for popular morality:
"And let us indulge with caution the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion.  Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle."
And yet we can't help noticing that while stressing the importance of religion for the "national morality" of most people, Washington suggests that a few people with "minds of peculiar structure" don't need religion for their moral education.

Similarly, while Thomas Jefferson thought the Christian religion could support morality, religious belief was not absolutely necessary for moral conduct, because there was a natural moral sense inherent in human nature that could be known by natural human experience even without religious belief.   In a letter to Peter Carr (August 10, 1787), Jefferson laid out a plan of education for him, including the study of moral philosophy and religion.  He advised:
"Do not be frightened from this inquiry by any fear of it's consequences.  If it ends in a belief that there is no god, you will find incitements to virtue in the comfort & pleasantness you feel in it's exercise, and the love of others which it will procure you.  If you find reason to believe there is a god, a consciousness that you are acting under his eye, & that he approves you, will be a vast additional incitement; if that there be a future state, the hope of a happy existence in that increases the appetite to deserve it" (Jefferson 1984, 903).
Jefferson refused to speak in public about his religious beliefs, because he insisted that religion was a private matter of conscience between oneself and God, and that freedom of conscience meant that no one should be forced into a public confession of one's faith or lack of faith.  Even in the presidential election of 1800, when ministers sermonized against him as an infidel or atheist, Jefferson refused to respond to this charge in public.

In private, however, in conversations and correspondence with his friends, he professed to believe in the purely moral teachings of Jesus, once they were cleansed of the corruptions coming from Platonic Christianity.  He thought that Jesus taught "the principles of pure deism."  "To the corruptions of Christianity I am indeed opposed; but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus himself. I am a Christian, in the only sense he wished any one to be; sincerely attached to his doctrines, in preference to all others; ascribing to himself every human excellence; & believing he never claimed any other" (letter to Benjamin Rush, April 21, 1803).  In the same letter where he identified himself as an Epicurean, Jefferson also identified Jesus as a "benevolent moralist," whose moral teaching needed to be rescued from the "artificial systems" of Christian sects, which included "the immaculate conception of Jesus, his deification, the creation of the world by him, his miraculous powers, his resurrection and visible ascension, his corporeal presence in the Eucharist, the Trinity; original sin, atonement, regeneration, election, orders of Hierarchy, etc." (letter to William Short, October 31, 1819).  In other words, the corruptions of true Christianity included most of the fundamental doctrines of orthodox Christianity!

Jefferson's account of the moral teaching of Jesus striped of all the "artificial systems" looks like what Spinoza identified as "the dogmas of universal faith"--"that there exists a supreme being who loves justice and charity, and that, to be saved, all people must obey and venerate Him by practicing justice and charity towards their neighbor . . . or love of one's neighbor" (Theological-Political Treatise, 14.10).

To extract this pure moral teaching of Jesus from the Bible, Jefferson prepared his own revised version of the Bible.  He went through some Greek, Latin, French, and English translations of the Bible; he read the four gospels--Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John--and cut out those passages that represented the true life and teachings of Jesus; and he then pasted these excerpts on pages with four columns so that the Greek, Latin, French, and English texts were parallel.  He arranged them in the chronological order of the life of Jesus from birth to death.  He cut out all the references to miracles--including the incarnation of Jesus as the Son of God, the resurrection of the crucified Jesus, the water being turned into wine, the multitudes being fed on five loaves of bread and two fishes, and so on.  He gave it the title of The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth Extracted Textually from the Gospels in Greek, Latin, French & English.  He kept this for his private use.  It was never seen outside his family until it was sold to the Smithsonian Institution in 1895.  It was later published under the title Jefferson's Bible.  In 2011, the Smithsonian Institution published a beautiful facsimile edition of the original book.

Like Jefferson and the other deists among the American founders, Charles Darwin found it hard to believe in the miracles of the Bible: "the more we know of the fixed laws of nature, the more incredible do miracles become."  He finally concluded that the Bible could not be a divine revelation. And yet he saw "the morality of the New Testament" as "beautiful" (Autobiography, 86).  In particular, he quoted Jesus' statement of the golden rule--"As ye would that men should do to you, do ye to them likewise" (Matthew 7:12)--as "the foundation of morality" (Descent of Man, 151).

Darwin thought that "the conviction of the existence of an all-seeing Deity has had a potent influence on the advance of morality," although the idea of "a universal and beneficent Creator" was not instinctive but arose only at the end of a long history of cultural evolution (Descent, 682).

Darwin believed that morality could be explained as rooted in the natural evolution of a moral sense or the moral sentiments, as understood by David Hume and Adam Smith.  "Any animal whatever, endowed with well-marked social instincts, the parental and filial affections being here included, would inevitably acquire a moral sense or conscience, as soon as its intellectual powers had become as well, or nearly as well developed, as in man" (Descent, 121).  "Ultimately our moral sense or conscience becomes a highly complex sentiment--originating in the social instincts, largely guided by the approbation of our fellow-men, ruled by reason, self-interest, and in later times by deep religious feelings, and confirmed by instruction and habit" (Descent, 157).

For this moral sense, Darwin believed, the "reverence or fear of the Gods or Spirits" is "most important, although not necessary."  For example, we can reject the belief that "the abhorrence of incest is due to our possessing a special God-implanted conscience," because we can explain the incest taboo as rooted in an evolved instinctive disgust towards sexual mating with close relatives (Descent, 138-39, 688; Variation of Animals and Plants, 2:104).

Darwin's evolutionary theory of morality has been deepened and confirmed by recent research in the evolutionary psychology of morality by those like Edward Wilson, Jonathan Haidt, and Joshua Greene.  (I have written about this herehere, and here.)

The importance of religious belief in moralistic "Big Gods" for the enforcement of morality in large agrarian states has been shown by Ara Norenzayan and his colleagues.  But they have also shown that with moral progress in cultural evolution, it is now possible in modern societies for people to be moral without religion--or good without God--although there is still some culturally evolved popular suspicion of atheists as less moral than religious believers.  (I have written about this here and here.)


Adams, John. 2000. The Political Writings of John Adams. Ed. George W. Carey. Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing.

Darwin, Charles. 1959. The Autobiography of Charles Darwin, 1809-1882. Ed. Nora Barlow. New York: W. W. Norton.

Darwin, Charles. 1998. The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication. 2 vols. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Darwin, Charles. 2004. The Descent of Man. New York: Penguin Classics.

Jefferson, Thomas. 1984. Writings. Ed. Merrill D. Peterson. New York: Library of America.

Jefferson, Thomas. 2011. The Jefferson Bible: The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth Extracted Textually from the Gospels in Greek, Latin, French & English. With essays by Harry R. Rubenstein, Barbara Clark Smith & Janice Stagnitto Ellis. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Books.

Lutz, Donald, ed. 1998. Colonial Origins of the American Constitution: A Documentary History. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund.

Ross, Fred. 1857. Slavery Ordained of God. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott.

Spinoza, Benedict de. 2016. Collected Works of Spinoza. Ed. & trans. Edwin Curley. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The Darwinian Science of the Creator in the Declaration of Independence

Here is the beginning of the second sentence in Thomas Jefferson's first draft of the Declaration of Independence:  "We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal and independent; that from that equal creation they derive rights inherent and inalienable."

Here is that same passage as it appears in the final version: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights."

Although the first version conveys the idea of human beings as created equal and deriving rights from that equal creation, the addition of "by their Creator" in the final version makes it clearer that the agent of creation is the divine Creator.

Here is the last sentence in the first edition of Charles Darwin's Origin of Species published in 1859: "There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved."

In the second edition of this book, Darwin added the phrase "by the Creator" after the word "breathed."  Darwin's language here about creation through "breathing" echoes the language of the King James translation of Genesis 2:7--"And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul."  As in the revision of the Declaration, Darwin's addition of "the Creator" makes the implication clear that there's a divine agent at work in the origin of life.

In the Biblical story of Creation, there seems to be something special about God's creation of human beings, and that human specialness is emphasized by the Bible's declaration that "God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them" (Genesis 1:27).  There is also a suggestion of human specialness in the Declaration's claim that human beings are endowed by their Creator with rights.

In Darwin's text, however, the powers of life were originally breathed by the Creator "into a few forms or into one," implying that human beings were not specially created but rather evolved from lower forms of life.  And, in fact, Darwin explicitly rejects the "theory of special creation"--the theory that the Creator had to miraculously create each species of life separately--in affirming "the theory of natural selection"--Darwin's theory that all living species of life have naturally evolved over millions of years from one or a few primordial forms of life.

The exact dating of creation is not clear either in the Bible or in the Declaration.  "In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth" (Genesis 1:1).  But Genesis does not give us a date for "the beginning." God's acts of creation are said to be spread out over six days, and yet it's not clear whether these are meant to be literal 24-hour days.  In the seventeenth century, Bishop James Ussher tried to calculate the chronology of Biblical history, and he estimated that the "beginning" of creation was 4,004 years before the birth of Christ; so that the whole world was no older than 6,000 years.  But the Bible does not clearly state this.  And the Declaration takes no position on this dating.

Although it was impossible for Darwin to date the history of life precisely, he saw that the natural evolution of all forms of life would require at least hundreds of millions of years.  One of the achievements of geology in the first half of the nineteenth century was reaching a general agreement that the Earth was surely much older than 6,000 years.  Nevertheless, by the beginning of the twentieth centuries, there were some "young-Earth creationists" who defended Ussher's dating, although the "old-Earth creationists" were willing to concede that the geological evidence was against Ussher, and that the "days" of creation in Genesis should be interpreted as "ages" much longer than 24 hours.  William Jennings Bryan, for example, was an old-Earth creationist.

So is the Darwinian science of human evolution compatible with what the Declaration says about the creation of human beings by the Creator?  Well, it depends on what one means by "creation" and "the Creator."  As I have already indicated, there are different kinds of creationism, and while some kinds clearly contradict Darwin's science, some do not--as suggested by Darwin himself in his reference to "the Creator."  A Creator whose creative activity is always against the laws of nature denies Darwin's science.  But a Creator whose creative activity works through the laws of nature--who acts as Nature's God--is compatible with Darwin's science.

There are five kinds of creationism--young-Earth creationism, old-Earth creationism, intelligent-design creationism, evolutionary creationism, and Spinozistic creationism.  Spinozistic creationism is completely compatible with Darwinian science, and evolutionary creationism is largely so.  (I have written about the different kinds of creationism herehere, here, here, here, and here.)

Most scientific creationists today concede that Darwin refuted the "theory of special creation"--the idea that the Creator had to miraculously create every plant and animal species separately.  The Bible speaks of God as creating the "kinds" of life, but these "kinds" are not necessarily all the "species" of life.  Some creation scientists claim that "created kinds" correspond not to "species" but to groups of plants or animals at a taxonomic level higher than species, perhaps at or near the taxonomic rank of family.  So, for example, Todd Wood concedes that Peter and Rosemary Grant have presented convincing evidence for the evolution of diverse species of "Darwin's finches" on the Galapagos Islands as adaptations to the environment of the Galapagos.  But still, Wood argues, all of these species of finches belong to a single "kind" created by God.

Wood also concedes that the human species might have evolved from ancestral primate species, so that human beings and apes might belong to some "kind" that was originally created by God with the genetic potential for evolving into all of the primate species.

Unlike the young-Earth creationists (like Wood), the old-Earth creationists (like Hugh Ross) concede that the universe is billions of years old, and so Ussher's dating of 6,000 years is false.  But over those billions of years of cosmic history, Ross argues, God had to miraculously intervene at critical points for supernatural creative activity that cannot be reduced to natural evolution.

The evolutionary creationists (or theistic evolutionists) like Francis Collins and Deborah Haarsma believe that God could have acted as First Cause in originally creating the general laws of nature, but then He could have allowed natural evolutionary history to unfold just as evolutionary scientists have explained it, without any need for God to miraculously disrupt the natural order of things.

This is the idea of the metaphysics of dual causality that Darwin introduces in the Origin of Species: God's establishment of general laws constitutes the primary causes of the universe, while the natural scientist studies the secondary causes that govern the observable world. (I have written about this herehere, and here.)

The signers of the Declaration of Independence were familiar with a similar conception of dual causality in Isaac Newton's version of deistic religion.  The universe is a "machine" governed by the mathematical laws of nature.  But God is the "Maker" of the machine.

This Newtonian conception of the "clockmaker God" creates a dilemma, however, for anyone who wants to see God as a transcendent being beyond the immanent order of nature.  As Gottfried Leibniz pointed out in his debate with Samuel Clark, either God must intervene regularly to rewind or repair the clock, which shows that God is an incompetent clockmaker; or the clock works fine all by itself, and God the clockmaker is indistinguishable from God the clock.  If it's the latter, then Newton's God is Spinoza's God, who is the same as Nature.

In one of the most influential statements of Lockean political philosophy in the eighteenth century--Cato's Letters--John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon resolved this debate in favor of Spinoza.  In their essay on how to dispel "superstitious fears" by recognizing that what appear to be miraculous events are probably works of natural causes, they argue:
"The works of Almighty God are as infinite as is his power to do them.  And 'tis paying greater deference to him, and having higher conceptions of his omnipotence, to suppose that he  saw all things which have been, are, or ever shall be, at one view, and formed the whole system of nature with such exquisite contrivance and infinite wisdom, as by its own energy and intrinsick power, to promote all the effects and operations which we daily see, feel, and admire; than to believe him to be often interposing to alter and amend his own work, which was undoubtedly perfect at first" (no. 77, Liberty Fund edition, 2:565).
This same Spinozistic idea of identifying God and Nature was adopted by Darwin.  After reading one of the first copies of The Origin of Species, Charles Kingsley--a prominent clergyman of the Church of England and a friend of Darwin--wrote a letter to Darwin, which included this remark:
"I have gradually learnt to see that it is just as noble a conception of Deity, to believe that he created primal forms capable of self development into all forms needful pro tempore & pro loco, as to believe that He required a fresh act of intervention to supply the lacunas which he himself had made."
Darwin wrote to John Murray, his publisher, that Kingsley's "capital sentence" should be inserted into the second edition of Origin, "in answer to anyone who may, as many will, say that my Book is irreligious."  This sentence was introduced into the concluding section of Origin as showing that there is "no good reason why the views given in this volume should shock the religious feelings of any one" (Origin of Species, Modern Library/Random House, 1936, pp. 367-68).

But can the creation of human beings "in the image of God" arise by purely natural evolution without any miraculous intervention by God?  Pope John Paul II and Pope Francis--and Catholics generally--have embraced theistic evolution in conceding that Darwin's theory of evolution has been verified.  But they have also declared that the creation of the human soul requires an "ontological leap" through a miraculous divine act that transcends natural evolution.  (I have written about that here.)

Darwin suggests, however, that even the creation of the soul might be explained by natural evolution. Here is the last sentence of The Descent of Man:
"I have given the evidence to the best of my ability; and we must acknowledge, as it seems to me, that man with all his noble qualities, with sympathy which feels for the most debased, with benevolence which extends not only to other men but to the humblest living creature, with his god-like intellect which has penetrated into the movements and constitution of the solar system--with all these exalted powers--Man still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin."
Darwin's reference to the "god-like intellect" of human beings suggests that there might be some truth in the biblical idea that human beings bear the image of God.  But still, Darwin argues, all of the "noble qualities" of humanity can be explained as products of a natural evolution from lower animals.

To support this conclusion, Darwin offered evidence of the anatomical, behavioral, and mental similarities between human beings and other animals.  But he also saw that human beings were unique in their capacities for language, self-conscious reflection, and the moral sense.  Now, recent research in evolutionary neuroscience allows us to explain the emergent evolution of the mind in the brain, which includes the human mind's capacity for moral judgment, which allows us to recognize our natural rights, such as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Jefferson foresaw this, because he studied some of the earliest neurological experiments showing how mental activity was correlated with the stimulation of the brain, which Jefferson took as evidence of how mind arises naturally from the material brain.  This came up in his correspondence with John Adams: "Why may not the mode of action called thought, have been given to a material organ of peculiar structure? as that of magnetism is to the Needle, or of elasticity to the spring by a particular manipulation of the steel?" (letter to Adams, March 14, 1820).  (I have written about this here.)

Monday, June 11, 2018

Nature's God: The Lucretian, Spinozist, and Darwinian Deity of the Declaration of Independence

It is often claimed that a Darwinian science of human evolution denies the political theory of natural rights in the Declaration of Independence by denying the Declaration's appeal to God as the Creator who has endowed human beings with unalienable rights.  Darwin seemed to clearly deny this when he wrote: "Man in his arrogance thinks himself a great work, worthy of the interposition of a deity, more humble, and I believe true, to consider him created from animals" (1987, 300).  If human beings have been "created from animals," it might seem that they have not been specially created by God in His image and thus endowed with that moral dignity that sets them apart from other animals.

For this reason, William Jennings Bryan (1922, 1924) warned that Darwinian evolution was an assault on the American political theology of the Declaration, which was one of his reasons for joining the prosecution in the famous Scopes trial in 1925, where John Scopes, a public school teacher, was charged with teaching that human beings evolved from a lower animals, in violation of a Tennessee law prohibiting such teaching.

As an alternative to teaching Darwinian evolution, Bryan and his followers have argued for teaching "creation science" or "intelligent design theory."  Proponents of intelligent design have been motivated by their belief that Darwinian evolution promotes a culturally degrading materialism that denies the creationist theology that is foundational not only for American life but for Western civilization in general.  The Discovery Institute, the leading organization promoting intelligent design theory, made this point clear in 1998 in the founding document for its "Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture," which has a reproduction of Michelangelo's "Creation of Adam" painting on its cover, and which begins:
"The proposition that human beings are created in the image of God is one of the bedrock principles on which Western civilization was built.  Its influence can be detected in most, if not all, of the West's greatest achievements, including representative democracy, human rights, free enterprise, and progress in the arts and sciences."
Thus, the Darwinian denial of the creationist theology of the Declaration of Independence can be seen as a general denial of the whole idea of human rights.  Theorists of human rights like Michael Perry (1998, 2007) have contended that international norms of human rights must be founded on the principle of the sacredness of human life as created in God's image (the subject of a previous post).

Against my argument for "Darwinian liberalism," Adam Seagrave (2011) and many others (Dilley et al. 2013), including the Straussians, have insisted that the Lockean liberal conception of natural rights depends on Locke's creationist anthropology, which is contrary to Darwin's evolutionary science (the subject of posts here and here).

Similarly, Carl Becker in his classic study in 1922 of the Declaration of Independence concluded that modern Darwinian science had refuted the Declaration's recourse to "God or the Transcendent Idea." After all, Becker explained, Darwin had shown how all forms of life could be explained as the result of purely natural material causes:
"When so much the greater part of the universe showed itself amenable to the reign of a purely material natural law, it was difficult to suppose that man (a creature in many respects astonishingly like the higher forms of apes) could have been permitted to live under a special dispensation.  it was much simpler to assume one origin for all life and one law for all growth; simpler to assume that man was only the most highly organized of the creatures (the missing link would doubtless shortly be found), and to think of his history accordingly, as only a more subtly negotiated struggle for existence and survival" (Becker 1941, 274-75).
This dispute over whether Darwinism contradicts the theology of the Declaration depends on how one identifies the God of the Declaration. If one interprets the Declaration's deity as a transcendent creative agent working against the laws of nature in  miraculously endowing human beings with a supernatural soul, that would contradict the Darwinian account of natural human evolution.  But if one interprets the Declaration's deity as an immanent creative power working through the laws of nature for the emergent evolution of human beings, that would be compatible with Darwinian science.  In this case, we could see the appeal in the first sentence of the Declaration to "the laws of Nature and of Nature's God" as implying that God and Nature are two ways of talking about the same thing.  Nature's God is the God of the deists, the God of Spinoza, a way of talking about God long after the death of God.

One of the first of America's revolutionaries to declare his belief in "Nature's God" was Thomas Young.  In 1770, three years before he would become the instigator of the Boston Tea Party, Young responded to a sermon by the revivalist George Whitefield denouncing American Deists as Satanic atheists.  In the Boston Evening Post (August 27, 1770), Young proudly professed his deist faith in the God who could be known by reasoning about nature rather than from biblical revelation: "That the religion of Nature, more properly stiled the Religion of Nature's God, in latin call'd Deus, hence Deism, is truth, I now boldly defy thee to contest."

To better understand this "Religion of Nature's God," Young recommended "[Alexander] Pope's little Essay on Man, confessedly deduced from the inspiration of Lord Bolingbroke, and perhaps every sentence adopted by me."  Indeed, the first appearance of the term "Nature's God" in English was in Pope's Essay on Man, a philosophical poem published in 1734, where in explaining how "Virtue alone is Happiness below," he observes:
"Slave to no sect, who takes no private road,
"But looks thro' Nature, up to Nature's God" (4.331-32)
Echoing the monistic naturalism of Epicurus, Lucretius, and Spinoza, Pope speaks of Nature and God interchangeably, in denying sectarian religion in favor of a natural religion in which "true piety," as Lucretius declared, is not to bow before the gods, but to contemplate nature's wondrous order (On the Nature of Things, 5.1197-1203).

Pope's Essay on Man also shows the first published use of the phrase "science of Human Nature" (Pope 2016, lv, 4).

Pope's book was dedicated to Henry St. John, Viscount Bolingbroke (1678-1751), who became notorious for his posthumously published Philosophical Works that attacked Christianity and promoted an Epicurean and Spinozist atheism or natural religion.  "The law of nature is the law of God," he explained, and therefore the laws of the Bible that contradict nature cannot truly be God's laws.  As a young man, Thomas Jefferson copied this and many other passages from Bolingbroke into his Literary Commonplace Book (sec. 36).

In his private correspondence, Jefferson affirmed his Epicurean materialism: "I too am an Epicurean" (letter to William Short, October 31, 1819).  In his correspondence with John Adams, he rejected the "spiritualism" of traditional Christianity and defended a monistic conception of human nature in which mind is an activity of the physical brain.  (I have written about that here.)  He thought that Jesus was originally a great teacher of natural morality, but then his moral teaching was corrupted by a tradition of Christian miracle-working spiritualism.  He edited his own personal version of the New Testament in which he cut out all of the stories of miracles and of the divinity of Jesus.

Although Jefferson kept all of this private during his lifetime, his published writing--and particularly his Notes on the State of Virginia (written in 1781 and published in 1787)--provided enough evidence for him to be generally identified as an "infidel."  In the presidential election of 1800, ministers published sermons warning Christians not to vote for this "open infidel."  John Mitchell Mason (1991 [originally 1800]) quoted one of the most infamous passages in the Notes on Virginia: "The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others.  But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty Gods or no God.  It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg."  Mason identified this as a clear statement of infidelity or atheism, because it affirmed that a society could be founded in atheism, and that religion was not necessary for social order.

Remarkably, Mason said that many Christians in 1800 were saying that "there is no prospect of obtaining a real Christian, and we had better choose an infidel than a hypocrite" (1991, 1468).  His reply was to argue that it was better to vote for hypocrites like George Washington and John Adams--who hide their infidelity behind their professions of religion--than to vote for an open infidel like Jefferson, because at least hypocrites show public respect for religion.  The fact that the Constitution of the United States never mentions God makes it even more imperative, Mason observes, for Christians to elect either Christians or hypocrites rather than open infidels, if there is to be any chance of slowing America's decline into atheism.

But even if Jefferson was infected with the Epicurean infidelity of Lucretius, Spinoza, Bolingbroke, and Pope, one might assume that the political theology of the Declaration of Independence echoes the Christian creationism of John Locke.  But many of Locke's Christian critics--including Bishop Stillingfleet, Leibniz, and William Carroll--accused Locke of hiding his Epicurean and Spinozist infidelity behind his pretensions of orthodox Christianity.  Carroll argued that Locke had advanced a "double View, double Design, intended to fool the pious while promoting Spinozism."  After all, a careful reading of Locke shows his slippery language--sliding between "the laws of God," "the laws of Nature," or "the laws of God and Nature," and moving from "God has designed" to "Nature has designed"--so that his deity looks like Spinoza's: "God or Nature" (see The Second Treatise of Government, secs. 1, 4, 60, 66, 142, 195; Essay Concerning Human Understanding, 2.9.12, 2.10.3).  (For a meticulous account of how Epicurean naturalism was transmitted through Lucretius, Spinoza, and Locke to the American founders, see Matthew Stewart's book Nature's God: The Heretical Origins of the American Republic.)

How one interprets the theology of the Declaration of Independence is connected with one's interpretation of its Lockean morality of natural rights.  A transcendent conception of the Declaration's deity will support a transcendent conception of its morality, so that its Lockean morality will depend upon the supernatural authority of God's commands as revealed in the Bible.  Consequently, infidelity or atheism will deny that morality.  By contrast, an immanent conception of the Declaration's deity will support an immanent conception if its morality, so that its Lockean morality will depend upon human reason's grasp of a natural moral law known by human experience without any need for supernatural revelation.

The Declaration is open to both interpretations.  The openness to a transcendent deity was enhanced by the changes made to Jefferson's first draft.  In that first draft, "Nature's God" was Jefferson's only reference to a deity.  Later, other members of the Congress added three more references to deity: "they are endowed by their Creator" in the second sentence; "appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intensions" in the penultimate sentence; and "with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence" in the last sentence.  God as Creator, as Supreme Judge, and as Providential Caregiver does suggest a divine agency above or beyond the natural world that might intervene miraculously in the natural world against natural law to serve His purposes, and thus enforcing a transcendent morality.  (On the drafting of the Declaration, see Becker's book.)

So, for example, as I indicated in my previous posts, some American charismatic evangelicals can appeal to "the protection of divine Providence" in their belief that God intervened in the presidential election of 2016 to give Donald Trump a miraculous victory in response to prayers from Christians asking for His aid.

But if one interprets "Nature's God" as the immanent creative power of nature itself, one could affirm a natural Lockean morality rooted in human nature and reason.  That was Jefferson's position in arguing for a natural moral sense that did not necessarily depend on believing in a transcendent God of the Bible who enforced morality with supernatural rewards and punishments.  Darwin agreed with this, and it has been reinforced by recent developments in the evolutionary psychology of morality.

When Jefferson and Adams resumed their correspondence in 1812, after it had broken off during their period of being political opponents, much of what they wrote over the next 15 years was about their hope that Nature's God of the scientific Enlightenment would finally prevail over the priestly superstition enforcing tyranny over the human mind.  In his letter of September 14, 1813, Adams wrote to Jefferson saying that he would be happy to hear that the British Parliament had passed a bill to repeal the provisions of the Toleration Act of 1689 that made it illegal to deny the Christian doctrine of the Trinity; and he declared:
"The human Understanding is a revelation from its Maker which can never be disputed or doubted.  There can be no Scepticism, Pyrrhonism or Incredulity or Infidelity here.  No Prophecies, no Miracles are necessary to prove this celestial communication.  This revelation has made it certain that  two and one make three; and that one is not three; nor can three be one.  We can never be so certain of any Prophecy, or the fulfillment of any Prophecy; or of any miracle, or the design of any miracle as We are, from the revelation of nature i.e. nature's God that two and two are equal to four.  Miracles or Prophecies might fright Us out of our Wits; might scare us to death; might induce Us to lie; to say that We believe that 2 and 2 make 5. But We should not believe it. We should know the contrary" (Cappon, 1987, p. 373).
Clearly then, Nature's God is not three (Father, Son, Holy Spirit), but one with Nature itself; and Nature's God is known not by faith in miracles but by human understanding of the natural order of things.

Some of these points are elaborated in posts hereherehere, and here.


Becker, Carl. 1942. The Declaration of Independence: A Study in the History of  Political Ideas. New York: Random House.

Bryan, William Jennings. 1922. In His Image. New York: Fleming H. Revell.

Bryan, William Jennings. 1924. Seven Questions in Dispute. New York: Fleming H. Revell.

Cappon, Lester J., ed. 1987. The Adams-Jefferson Letters. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Darwin, Charles. 1987. Charles Darwin's Notebooks, 1836-1844. Ed. Paul H. Barrett et al. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Dilley, Stephen, ed. 2013. Darwinian Evolution and Classical Liberalism: Theories in Tension. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.

Jefferson, Thomas. 1989. Jefferson's Literary Commonplace Book. Ed. Douglas L. Wilson. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Mason, John Mitchell. 1991 (orig. 1800). "The Voice of Warning to Christians." In Political Sermons of the American Founding Era, 1447-1476. Ed. Ellis Sandoz. Indianapolis: Liberty Press.

Perry, Michael. 1998. The Idea of Human Rights. New York: Oxford University Press.

Perry, Michael. 2007. Toward a Theory of Human Rights. New York: Oxford University Press.

Pope, Alexander. 2016. An Essay on Man. Edited and with an Introduction by Tom Jones. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Seagrave. S. Adam. 2011. "Darwin and the Declaration." Politics and the Life Sciences 30: 2-16.

Stewart, Matthew. 2014. Nature's God: The Heretical Origins of the American Republic. New York: Norton.

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Is Donald Trump God's Chosen One--Like Cyrus?

Donald Trump at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Holding Up Stephen Strang's Book God and Donald Trump

Lance Wallnau Hears from God in May of 2016 that the 45th Chapter of Isaiah Identifies Trump as the 45h President, God's New Cyrus

If America is a Christian nation chosen by God, and if God providentially enters history to carry out his purposes, is it possible that the miracle of Donald Trump's election in 2016 was an act of God to save America from its decline into secularism?  Many American evangelicals say yes, and they point to the evangelical prophecies of Trump's victory, when almost no one thought he could win.

Although most of us might be skeptical of this, it is true that almost a third of the votes cast for Trump came from evangelical Christians, most of them in the states that were crucial for Trump's electoral college victory.  If many of these evangelical Trump voters were motivated by their belief that Trump really was God's chosen one, then it would seem that this was a self-fulfilling prophecy.

We now have the story of how this prophetic vision of God's providential intervention changed American history in the new book by Stephen Strang--God and Donald Trump--which has been endorsed by evangelical politicians such as Mike Huckebee and Michelle Bachmann.  In the picture above, you can see Trump proudly waving his copy of the book at the World Economic Forum in Davos.  Strang is a leading Pentecostal evangelical who publishes Charisma magazine, and part of his story is how the Pentecostals were the first Christians to support Trump.  As early as 2003, Paula White Cain, a Pentecostal television minister, became Trump's spiritual advisor after he had seen her TV show.

Here is a video of Cain and other charismatic ministers laying hands on and praying for Trump in his Trump Tower office on September 30, 2015, six months before the first presidential primaries:

This appeals to the grandiose narcissism of Trump's chimpanzee personality, which has been a topic of my post here.

Christians like Strang who believe that Trump's election came from a miraculous intervention by God must make at least two kinds of arguments--an interpretation of the American founding and an interpretation of the Bible.

First, they must argue that the American founders established America as a Christian nation specially chosen by God to be under his providential care.  So, Strang refers to "Benjamin Franklin's surprising declaration during the Constitutional Convention of 1787, when he said famously, 'God governs in the affairs of men'" (xiv).  And Strang says that the purpose of his book in telling the story of God's intervention in the election of 2016 is to confirm this idea "that God is involved in the affairs of men" (184).

Remarkably, however, Strang is silent about the circumstances of Franklin's declaration at the Constitutional Convention.  Franklin was proposing that the Convention should have daily prayers and Bible reading so that God would providentially intervene to help them write the Constitution.  The members of the Convention refused to even allow a vote on his proposal, and Alexander Hamilton quipped that they "had no need for foreign aid"!  I have written about this previously here.

Christians like Strang must also argue that identifying Trump as God's chosen one is consistent with the Bible.  Is there any evidence in the Bible that God would choose someone like Trump--who is not a Christian--to act as the savior of God's people?  Well, yes, as Lance Wallnau explains in the video above, God could chose Trump just as God chose the pagan Persian Cyrus as his "anointed one" or "messiah" to liberate the people of Israel from their Babylonian captivity.  In fact, God spoke to Wallnau and noted the connection between the 45th chapter of Isaiah and Trump becoming the 45th president of the United States.  In that chapter of Isaiah, God speaks to Cyrus as his "anointed one," although "you do not know me."  Although Cyrus does not worship Yahweh--he worships other gods--Yahweh can use him for his purposes.  Likewise, then, God could use Trump to bring America back to God even if Trump himself is not a believer.  And that is what many evangelicals decided: Trump's sinful character and lack of any clear belief in Christianity need not weaken his claim to be chosen by God to carry out God's plan for saving America from Hillary Clinton!

There is a problem here, however, that Strang briefly mentions and then passes over without resolving it (75-76).  As the evangelical Tom Horn has pointed out, God used the pagan leader Nebuchadnezzar as "the servant of the Most High God" to punish Judah by taking them into the very Babylonian captivity from which Cyrus would later liberate them (Jeremiah 25).  So if God is using Trump, we can't be sure whether Trump is to be America's savior (like Cyrus) or America's punishment (like Nebuchadnezzar).  And indeed many Christians who refused to vote for Trump worry that the Christians supporting Trump are showing a shameless lack of moral authority.  Is God punishing these Christians for their hypocrisy?

There is another problem for the Christian here: if Cyrus was the "messiah," does that deny the claim of Jesus that he was the fulfillment of these prophecies in Isaiah?  As I have indicated in a previous post, that's a problem for Handel's Messiah, which was an attempt to refute the deistic denial of providential prophecy.

And, of course, there is the fundamental problem with all claims of prophecy that they are stated in such vague and confused ways that they cannot be verified, or if some seem to be verified, they are mixed up with others that are falsified.

Consider, for example, this claim by Strang: "As far back as 2007, the late Kim Clement had prophesized, 'Trump shall become a trumpet. . . . I  will raise up the Trump to become a trumpet, and Bill Gates to open up the gate of a financial stream for the church.' The first has come true, but we'll have to wait and see about the second part" (69).

The first prophecy is ridiculously vague: "Trump shall become a trumpet"?  The second prophecy that Bill Gates will give his money to the church is false.

If you go to Kim Clement's Elijah's List for April 14, 2007, which is Strang's source, you will see that Clement issued hundreds of prophecies every year, most of them in vague language, and most of them have not been plausibly fulfilled.  Here is the passage from which Strang quoted an excerpt:
"I am God and you have called to Me, and many from this Nation has said, 'Enough--enough of religion, and enough of dead speech.'  The Spirit of God said, 'This is a moment of resurrection.'  For the Spirit of God says, 'Honor Me with your praise and acceptance of this that  I say to you.  This that shall take place shall be the most unusual thing, a transfiguration, a going into the marketplace if you wish, and into the news media.  Where Time magazine will have no choice but to say what I want them to say; Newsweek what I want to say; and The View, what I want to say.'"
"'Trump shall become a trumpet,' says  the Lord!  'I will raise up Trump to become a trumpet, and Bill Gates to open up the gate of a financial realm for the Church,' says the Spirit of the Living God!'"
It's been 11 years now since the Spirit of God prophesized that Time, Newsweek, and ABC's The View would become outlets for God's message.  How long should we wait for the fulfillment of this  prophecy?  Strang is carefully silent about this and many other dubious prophecies from Clement.

Many of us find it hard to take this stuff seriously.  But many evangelical Christians do take it seriously.  For example, Strang reports that during the 2016 election, Cindy Jacobs, a Charismatic prophet, mobilized tens of thousands of people to "prayer walk" through the seven critical states that helped to elect Trump (20-21).  These "prayer warriors" walked around courthouses and centers of towns praying for God's intervention in the election.  We cannot ignore the fact that many of the millions of evangelical Christians who voted for Trump could have done so with the belief that he was God's chosen one; and if so, that would mean that this belief in divine intervention could have been the deciding factor in giving the presidential election to Trump.

As an alternative to the view of God as a providential interventionist in the world, which creates these problems, we might consider returning to the deism of the American founders, whose deity was not the God of the Bible but Nature's God.  That's the topic for my next post.