Creationist Wisdom #454: Thomas Paine, Fundie

Today’s letter-to-the-editor appears in the Argus Leader, the daily newspaper of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. It’s titled Majority of U.S. founders were Christians.

There’s rarely any reason to provide internet visibility for creationists, and we don’t like to embarrass people (unless they’re politicians, preachers, or other public figures), so we usually omit the writer’s full name and city. We can’t figure out who today’s letter-writer is so we’ll use only his first name, which is Rick. We’ll give you a few excerpts from his letter, enhanced with our Curmudgeonly commentary and some bold font for emphasis. Here we go!

John Adams stated: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

Yes, that’s true. But like most of the Founders, Adams wasn’t conventionally religious. He quietly revealed his thoughts in his famous correspondence with Thomas Jefferson. Then Rick says:

There was a shortage of Bibles, and a request was placed before Congress to print more Bibles for our schools, families and for public worship of God in our churches. Congress concurred and approved by the Founding Fathers in Congress the first English-language Bible to be printed in America known as the Aitken Bible.

That’s an extremely misleading account. The Wikipedia article on Robert Aitken tells us:

The Aitken Bible of 1782 was reviewed, approved and authorized by the US Congress. The bible was reviewed first for accuracy by the Congressional Chaplains White and Duffield and they reported on its accuracy. Then the Journals of Congress for September 1782 records on page 469, “Resolved. That the United States in Congress assembled highly approve the pious and laudable undertaking of Mr. Aitkin, as subservient to the interest of religion as well as an influence of the progress of arts in this country and being satisfied from the above report (by the congressional chaplains), they recommend this edition of the bible to the inhabitants of the United States and hereby authorize him to publish this recommendation.”

In 1782? BWAHAHAHAHAHA! That was the Continental Congress, fifteen under the Articles of Confederation, five years before the Constitutional Convention. Based on the chaplains’ report, they approved the translation. But they didn’t legislate about it and they didn’t pay for it. What is Rick trying to say? Let’s read on:

Of the 56 signers of the Declaration, 29 held what today would be seminary or Bible school degrees.

Is Rick suggesting that they were preachers? BWAHAHAHAHAHA! The universities of the time didn’t offer much other than theology, law, and medicine. Jefferson’s University of Virginia was the first in the US that wasn’t a bible college. Here’s a list of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence and their occupations. Only one, John Witherspoon, was a minister. The letter continues:

Thomas Paine, one of the least religious of the founders, openly acknowledged God and announced his belief in his personal accountability to God. Paine also advocated teaching creationism in the public schools.

The same Thomas Paine who wrote The Age of Reason? BWAHAHAHAHA! It’s described by Wikipedia as “a pamphlet, written by British and American revolutionary Thomas Paine, that challenges institutionalized religion and the legitimacy of the Bible, the central text of Christianity. … [I]t was a bestseller in the United States, where it caused a short-lived deistic revival.”

Hey — where have we heard that crazy claim about Paine and creationism? Ah yes, we once wrote about it — David Barton: Founding Fathers Rejected Darwin. That post has a one-minute video of Barton making his bizarre historical claims about the Founders. Barton is probably the source of Rick’s information. Here’s the end of his brilliant letter:

America was founded on Judeo-Christian values and principles, but unfortunately, America has become extremely ungodly and unrepentant. God promises nations who repent and turn from their wicked ways that he will heal their land.

Yeah, yeah. We’ll link once again to our post on this topic: Is America a “Christian Nation”? There’s no need to say anything else. Great letter, Rick!

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16 responses to “Creationist Wisdom #454: Thomas Paine, Fundie

  1. Or, as the “least religious of the founders” himself said:

    I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church.

    All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.

    I do not mean by this declaration to condemn those who believe otherwise; they have the same right to their belief as I have to mine. But it is necessary to the happiness of man, that he be mentally faithful to himself. Infidelity does not consist in believing, or in disbelieving; it consists in professing to believe what he does not believe.

    — Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason (1.1)

  2. Slightly off topic, but the BBC website has an article on being an atheist in the US. I did not realize it was such a big issue.

  3. Rick the Riled & Rankled writes—

    “God promises nations who repent and turn from their wicked ways that he will heal their land.”

    Yes, and we can all see this wondrous healing happening, most especially in places where God competes with others of His ineffable ilk… 🙄

  4. Paine also advocated teaching creationism in the public schools.

    No doubt that is from a quote mine by the anti-historian David Barton, although I’ve not heard it before. I seriously doubt Paine advocated teaching anything close to what the writer understands to be creationism.

  5. Our Curmudgeon suggests

    Barton is probably the source of Rick’s information.

    Not simply the source–in fact, the author of Rick’s precise words (copied and pasted without attribution). The following passage is from America’s Godly Heritage with David Barton (my bolding)

    It can be easily demonstrated that a very high percentage – in fact, the overwhelming majority – of Founding Fathers were Christians, but certainly not all of them were. Today, citizens are regularly told about the lesser religious Founders (such as Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and Thomas Paine), but hear nothing about the prominent Christians among the Founders (for example, 29 of the 56 signers of the Declaration held what are today considered seminary or Bible school degrees, and many others of the signers were bold and outspoken in their personal Christian faith). Significantly, not one of the Founding Fathers was secular in his orientation; even Thomas Paine (certainly the least religious of the Founders) openly acknowledged God and announced his belief in his personal accountability to God, and he also directly advocated teaching creationism in the public school classroom

  6. It’s abundantly clear that, in addition to virtually every other topic known to man, the Fundies have absolutely no understanding of what Deism meant in the 18th century.

    It’s an interesting topic, but one far too nuanced for the average creationist to begin to grasp. Barton derived his claim that Paine ‘advocated teaching Creationism’ from this text (an absolute Comstock lode for Creationist quote-mine prospectors): A discourse delivered by Thomas Paine, at the Society of the Theophilanthropists, at Paris, 1798

  7. The Clockmaker Argument is a signature of Deism. Voltaire is one of those who favored it.

    It might give a Christian some pause to think whether Christians should use it.

  8. Just for accuracy, the Constitutional Convention was in 1787, 5 years after 1782, not 15. Otherwise, still the Continental Congress and preceding the Constitution.

  9. 29 of the 56 signers of the Declaration held what are today considered seminary or Bible school degrees,

    Barton is lying. In those days “seminary” meant college. Nowadays it means college for pastors. Barton is lying about what the word “seminary” meant in the 1700’s.

    This lie, the Aitken “Congress approved” Bible lie, and Barton’s other lies are exposed at length in Chris Rodda’s free online book “Liars for Jesus.”

    To identify Barton’s lies, the go-to authorities are Chris Rodda and blogger Prof. Warren Throckmorton.

  10. OGee says: ” the Constitutional Convention was in 1787, 5 years after 1782, not 15.”

    Right. I don’t know what I was thinking. 1782 was a year after the Articles of Confederation were ratified. Congress didn’t have much to do in those days.

  11. Megalonyx informs us: “[Barton is] Not simply the source –- in fact, the author of Rick’s precise words (copied and pasted without attribution).”

    Wow — he plagiarized a creationist. Can a biped stoop any lower?

  12. A Modest Proposal

    I hate this argument over whether the founders intended the US to be a christian nation. Why does that matter, and why should it be an argument? They also condoned slavery and the disenfranchisement of women. Things change. We learn, we grow, we change. I really don’t care if the founders did think this should be a Christian nation. We know better now. We’ve evolved.

    I love Paine. He’s one of my favorite authors. One of my favorite quotes from him, “I believe in the equality of man; and I believe that religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavoring to make our fellow-creatures happy.” If only that was all religion was.

  13. Of the year 1782, our Curmudgeon notes

    Congress didn’t have much to do in those days.

    They have, however, been making up for that ever since…

  14. Why can’t these fundamentalists get it through their heads if we go by the religious beliefs of the founding fathers, AMERICA IS A DEIST NATION.

  15. Paine also advocated teaching creationism in the public schools.

    It is possible that Paine advocated public, tax-suppored, what we call today K-12 education, that is, “public schools”. Did he? Did he advocate teaching deist principles (like the “clockmaker analogy”) in those those schools?

    I don’t know.

  16. Thomas Paine, one of the least religious of the founders, openly acknowledged God and announced his belief in his personal accountability to God. Paine also advocated teaching creationism in the public schools.

    This would be the same Thomas Paine later denounced by Theodore Roosevelt as a “filthy little atheist,” right? And in his day, there was no theory of evolution to teach as an alternative to Biblical creation. The Origin of Species wasn’t published until 1859.

    These people want us to trust them about what should be taught in science classes, but can’t be bothered to get ordinary history right.