James Madison, Ken Ham, & Jonathan Falwell

WorldNetDaily, a creationist rag, has an article by Jonathan Falwell, the son of and successor to the late Reverend Jerry Falwell — What believers must do to win back culture.

Falwell’s article goes downhill with its opening paragraph. The bold font was added by us:

In an 1825 letter to Frederick Beasley, James Madison wrote: “The belief in a God All Powerful wise and good, is so essential to the moral order of the world and to the happiness of man, that arguments which enforce it cannot be drawn from too many sources nor adapted with too much solicitude to the different characters and capacities impressed with it.”

That is not a good beginning. We’ve seen this kind of thing before — hijacking one of the Founders by presenting a quote out of context, as if the Founder supported the views of a creationist.

Instead of doing what Mr. Falwell did, and giving you an un-sourced quote, your Curmudgeon will give you Mr. Madison’s words in their full context, with a link you can visit. Madison’s letter is here: TO FREDERICK BEASLEY.

Madison begins by telling Beasley: “I have duly rec’d. the copy of your little tract on the proofs of the Being & Attributes of God.” Then he mentions “… the celebrated work of Dr. Clarke, which I read fifty years ago only… .” That is the missing context in which Madison says what Falwell quoted — but we’ll also provide you, shown here in bold, the omitted start of Madison’s sentence:

The reasoning that could satisfy such a mind as that of Clarke, ought certainly not to be slighted in the discussion. And the belief in a God All Powerful wise & good, is so essential to the moral order of the World & to the happiness of man, that arguments which enforce it cannot be drawn from too many sources nor adapted with too much solicitude to the different characters & capacities to be impressed with it.

So what Mr. Falwell quoted out of context wasn’t Mr. Madison’s own view. Rather, he was describing Clarke’s view. Note also that Falwell’s quote began by omitting the “And” from the start of Madison’s sentence. That omission concealed the clue that something significant preceded the words quoted by Falwell.

After the mined quote, Madison goes on in that same letter to give his own thoughts (not Clarke’s). We note that Mr. Falwell didn’t quote this — understandably so, as Madison seems to disparage the idea of a First Cause:

What may safely be said seems to be, that the infinity of time & space forces itself on our conception, a limitation of either being inconceivable; that the mind prefers at once the idea of a self-existing cause to that of an infinite series of cause & effect, which augments, instead of avoiding the difficulty; and that it finds more facility in assenting to the self-existence of an invisible cause possessing infinite power, wisdom & goodness, than to the self-existence of the universe, visibly destitute of those attributes, and which may be the effect of them.

We immediately suspected that Falwell had misrepresented Madison’s thinking. Unlike the creationists, we know American history. We’ve read the writings of the Founders. We love their ideas, and we can’t stand it when their words are hijacked and misrepresented.

We know that Madison authored the First Amendment. Also we know that he was instrumental in getting Jefferson’s Statute for Religious Freedom passed in Virginia. For a further understanding of Madison’s views on church and state, read his very revealing letter to Edward Livingston. Whenever we sense that some creationist has tried to hijack a Founder like Madison, all we need to do is Google around a bit, and everything will become clear.

Now then, we’ve disposed of Mr. Falwell’s quote-mining effort. He then starts praising Ken Ham, founder and president of Answers in Genesis:

Along with Liberty University’s Dr. David DeWitt and others, Ham just completed an inspiring three-day “Answers to Darwin” seminar at Thomas Road Baptist Church. He stated during the conference, “Your starting point determines your worldview.” It is therefore not surprising that America, with autonomous man replacing God as the cultural centerpiece, exists within a culture that endorses abortion, sexual permissiveness and moral relativism.

[…]

The devastating effect that evolutionary humanism has had on society, and even the church, makes it clear that everyone – including Christians – needs to return to the clear teachings of Scripture and Genesis and acknowledge Christ as our Creator and Savior,” he [Ken Ham] says. “In fact, Genesis has the answer to many of the problems facing the compromising church and questioning world today.”

We can’t handle too much of this, so we’ll have to skip a lot. Near the end, Mr. Falwell says:

I urge my friends to visit the Answers in Genesis website frequently, or even schedule an appointment at the Creation Museum near Cincinnati.

You want to read the whole thing? Really? Okay, click over and check it out.

Copyright © 2009. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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5 responses to “James Madison, Ken Ham, & Jonathan Falwell

  1. mightyfrijoles

    I was about to jump all over you for mentioning Madison together with those jerks, but I guess you done good.

  2. MF says: “… mentioning Madison together with those jerks …”

    I like titles that make Google choke.

  3. Creationists think in quotes, just look at how they grab chunks of the bible and fling them like context free feces.

    Falwell was probably handed that quote by some other mindless god drone, didn’t bother to look it up and has no idea it isn’t Madison’s own thoughts. Typical.

  4. Tundra Boy says: “Falwell was probably handed that quote …”

    O sure. There are mined Founders’ quotes all over the internet. You have to dig for a scholarly collection in order to verify this stuff.

  5. You have totally misread the Madison quote. It is a complex, compound sentence, and perhaps it will help to separate out the various parts to make it more understandable to the 21st century mind used to being fed sound-bites from the dumb-down media:
    1. Madison is agreeing with Clarke, whom he considers an excellent thinker by referring to “such a mind as that of Clarke”;
    2. Madison believes that it is important to argue effectively for the belief in God.
    3. When he says, “that arguments which enforce it cannot be drawn from too many sources nor adapted with too much solicitude to the different characters & capacities to be impressed with it,” he is not saying that there are not many such arguments. He is asserting that the matter is so important that the more arguments one can marshall to support the case the better. Therefore, there cannot be too many sources nor too much solicitude; use all you can muster.
    I read the full letter to Beasley, and Falwell has understood Madison correctly. Madison declares that it makes more sense to him that there is a “self-existing cause” behind the causes and effects we observe. You are free to disagree with Madison, but first make sure you know what he actually said. 18th and 19th century writers must be read carefully; they assumed their readers could follow a complex sentence and think straight.