Reader Michael Heath sends along the following thoughtful comment to this post:
We could say that the Declaration of Independence refutes Trinitarian Christianity. But there’s a problem isn’t there? There were many Trinitarian Christians in the nation who supported the Declaration of Independence, the Revolution and Constitution. And they didn’t understand Nature’s God this way.
To add a couple of quips supportive of the argument that key founders distinguished between nature’s god and the Christian god, consider the following regarding the re-drafting of Jefferson’s first draft of the DofI by the drafting committee, comprised of Jefferson, Franklin, Adams, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingston:
1) Jefferson’s first draft included the term, “sacred and undeniable” – here is the original draft: “We hold these truths to be sacred & undeniable; that all men are created equal & independant (sic), that from that equal creation they derive rights inherent & inalienable, among which are the preservation of life, & liberty, & the pursuit of happiness.”
It is believed that Franklin persuaded Jefferson to replace the religious label, “sacred and undeniable” with the reason/science-centric “self-evident”.
2) Jefferson referred to King George III to the “CHRISTIAN king of Great Britain” in a clause regarding slavery, all of which was deleted in the final draft.
These two changes, taken together, further emphasize the god of nature rather than the Christian God at least in terms of what Jefferson believed.
I agree that many of the founders and certainly many of the colonialists who signed on to revolt against Britain would not have subscribed to Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin’s theology and they certainly wouldn’t have gained a consensus regarding his attack on slavery. However, there is a natural progression regarding the framers’ contributions regarding the nature of God from the DofI to what we ended up with in the Constitution.
When I was at Independence Hall this past July, there was a little skit that evening that focused on only one issue, a three man fictionalized play where Franklin convinced Jefferson to remove “sacred and undeniable”, where the actor playing Dr. Franklin made a short, but very eloquent speech on why “self-evident” was so much more fitting relative to their shared religious and political philosophies. There were some very red faces in the audiences; I was beaming.