The Case for Moral Arguments in the Public Square

October 10, 2012

by Ronnie Rogers

Ronnie Rogers is senior pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Norman, Okla., a university city cited by the North American Mission Board in 2006 as the most unchurched in the state. Pastor Rogers’ expositional sermons draw large collegiate crowds during the school year as he preaches and teaches (and writes) from a biblical perspective that boldly challenges popular culture.


Part 1

The Legitimacy of Religiously Based Arguments in the Public Square:

The Moral Argument

Elsewhere, I develop this more fully as well as lay out historical, constitutional, and intellectual arguments for an alternative to the “separation” model for governing the relationship of church and state, which I call The Proportional Accommodation and Appreciation Model.[1] This article focus is only the moral argument.

The problem is that secularists often, successfully, seek to summarily dismiss religious arguments from the public square via an extreme “separationist” interpretation of the First Amendment. They advert to generally any idea as religious that is in some way associated with supernatural religion or not derived from secularism. In practical terms, this simply means that an opinion is determined to be religious and therefore unworthy of public policy because it is either a part of a religious worldview, is derived from one’s religion, has an element of faith involved, is partly based on religion, is merely consonant with religion, is an argument with religious implications, or many times simply because the person arguing for a contrary view is a Christian. Like biologist Paul Gross who “derides scholars critical of neo-Darwinism as ‘crackpots,’ ‘bogus scientists,’ or ‘scientific illiterates’ who are driven by religious fanaticism and who are part of a ‘vast right-wing conspiracy’ against the separation of church and state.”[2]

For example, regarding the “Human Life Bill”, the membership of the National Academy of Sciences weighed in with a resolution declaring that the question of when human life begins is “a question to which science can provide no answer…Defining the time at which the developing embryo becomes a person must remain a matter of moral or religious value.”[3] Scientists, secularists, began to respond like one professor who argued, “As a citizen I find it abhorrent to contemplate the force of law being given to one set of religious beliefs.”[4]

After having rightly recognized the question as a moral/religious one, religious input was summarily suppressed by invoking separation of church and state. This is how science remains the sovereign of the public square even when naturalism is not surreptitiously presented as science. One wonders if there could have even been a Declaration of Independence with men like this in charge. I think not.

Thus, the question is: “Is it moral and rational to exclude religious opinions from our republic or democratic public square just because those opinions involve an aspect of faith—a faith assumption?” For the following reasons, my answer is NO.

  1. Everyone believes some unproven assumptions

Even the idea that the public square should be limited to what can be demonstrated by science, or that science should trump all other arguments including the religious just because it is science, is not a scientific concept. Scientists often make claims such as “the process of evolution is blind, mechanistic, purposeless, goalless, unplanned, and completely natural and material.”[5] That may or may not be true, but what is absolutely true is that it is a faith assumption because it cannot be proven.

Einstein said, “To the sphere of religion belongs the faith that the regulations valid for the world of existence are rational, that is comprehensible to reason. I cannot conceive of a genuine scientist without that profound faith.”[6] Thus, science is a faith endeavor. The very founding of the United States was premised upon the rational and yet unprovable faith assumption of God, without which America would not exist.

Every worldview bases some of its ideas on faith; ideas that cannot be proven now or may never be, but arguments need only to be rational, not proven; at the heart of this issue is the existence of God. His existence cannot be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt, but neither can His non-existence. A state that values the reality of the immaterial world assumes His existence, as is demonstrably true in America, whereas a purely secular state like the Soviet Union, China…assumes that He does not exist. Neither can be proven, but both have comprehensive and profound political and cultural consequences.

The U.S. Constitution exempts Sundays from legislative work, Art. I, Sec. 7, which is why the U.S. Capitol building was available for church on Sundays; and this recognition of a Christian Sabbath in the U.S. Constitution was cited by federal courts as proof of the Christian nature of America.

Thus, it seems preposterous to assume that the Founders would smile upon our political, educational, and societal compartmentalization of religion and its concomitant hostility toward Christianity in today’s America. Therefore, since everyone argues from some unprovable assumptions, and our founding documents are premised upon the existence of God and they guarantee protection of that belief to be freely expressed in religious opinions both in private and public debate, it is to be particularly valued and protected.

  1. Both secularism and supernaturalism are worldviews

For supernaturalism, it is that God exists; and for secularism it is that God does not exist or is not knowable, or that secularism is the best way to address human concerns or needs. Since both worldviews address questions, either explicitly or implicitly, like where did we come from (big bang or God), why are we here (no teleological reason or to serve God), what is our problem (religion or sin), what is the essential solution to the problem (education or education and repentance), where are we going (nowhere, we don’t know, or to heaven or hell), and are humans valuable (based upon evolutionary scale, a certain quality, or created in the image of God)? Regardless of the answers to such questions, they have potential public impact, they are unprovable at the present and therefore require faith from which we formulate personal and imposable values, and other ideas. Both Christianity and secularism encompass the “Three primary areas (the nature of reality, the nature of the human person, the nature of moral and political values).”[7]

This question is at the heart of the abortion debate. Christians asseverate that human life begins at conception and is intrinsically valuable, whereas abortionists often base their views of abortion on evolution or Darwinism. “Ohio surgeon George Crile argued that the determination of when human life begins should be answered ‘through the eyes of Darwin and evolution.”[8] Also a letter that cited Haeckel’s work was used to justify abortion to the U.S. Senate.[9] The same could be said about racism and eugenics[10] even though others may have sought to justify the same on different grounds.

  1. Everyone argues from a worldview

Christianity and secularism are both worldviews, which are at play in all public debates regarding what laws will be imposed upon the citizenry.

Even at the most basic levels of developing publicly impossible ideas, these worldviews, whether recognized or not, are present. Take for example, debates regarding such everyday issues as appropriate speed limits. This debate actually involves ideas about what is a human and what is the value of a human life. Now, more than likely, no one will mention this, but at its core is the protection of human life, which leads to a spoken or unspoken perspective about the value of human life, property, etc. For example, few if any, care if cockroaches run into each other at 200 mph, except for maybe believing the more the better.

Consequently, since both secularists and the “traditional religions” rely on arguments that contain varying degrees of faith in such things as unproven assumptions, an authority, process, or tradition, neither should be excluded because of their faith.

 

End of Part 1. Cont’d


[1] Ronnie W. Rogers, The Death of Man as Man: The Rise and Decline of Liberty. (Bloomington, IN.: Crossbooks, 2011).

[2] Robert H. Ebert as quoted by John G. West, Darwin Day in America: How Our Politics and Culture Have Been Dehumanized in the Name of Science (Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2007), 334.

[3] Cited in the testimony of Dr. Lewis Thomas in the 1980s, The Human Life Bill, 74, as quoted by West, Darwin Day, 333.

[4] Robert H. Ebert as quoted by West, Darwin Day, 334.

[5] Steven Schafersman, head of Texas citizens for science, as quoted by West, Darwin Day, 255.

[6] William F. Cox, Jr., Tyranny through Public Education, (Fairfax, VA: Allegiance Press, 2003), 334.

[7] Brendan Sweetman, Why Politics Needs Religion, (Downers Grove, IL.: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 77.

[8] West, Darwin Day, 329.

[9] Letter from Milan M. Vuitch to Senator John East, April 22, 1981, in the Human Life Bill Appendix: Hearings Before the Subcommittee on Separation of Powers of the Committee on the Judiciary, United States Senate, Ninety-seventh Congress, first session on S. 158, a Bill to Provide that Human Life Shall be Deemed to Exist from Conception, April 23; May 20,21; June 1, 10, 12, and 18. Serial No. J-97-16 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1982), 105 as quoted by , Jonathan Wells, Ph.D., The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design, (Washington, D.C.: Regnery Publishing, Inc., 2006), 163.

[10] Wells, Politically Incorrect Guide, 162-163.

 

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Daniel Wilcox

Hi Ronnie,

Very good points. I’m glad, too, that you mentioned Jefferson. His letter to Baptists was where the original idea of separation of church and state mainly came from. But neither he (an Enlightenment oriented Christian, by his own self-declaration) nor the Baptists meant that separation of church and state was to exclude spirituality or ethics from the public sphere or government. As you referred to, Jefferson, in the Declaration, even bases our freedom and human rights as endowed by God.

What Jefferson and the other leaders didn’t want was doctrinal persecution like the European Reformed and Catholic Churches had done for centuries, and they didn’t want American fighting religious wars over doctrine like the 30 Years War, etc.

But Jefferson and the other American leaders certainly thought spiritual issues and ethical issues should be dealt with related to government. Though he was hypocritical and ambivalent on slavery, he even included a condemnation of slavery in the original document!

So issues ethical issues such as abortion aren’t only “religious” questions.

Thanks for the article,
Daniel

Even the Deists among the Founding Fathers didn’t believe in that. And, of course, more outspoken conservative Chrstians such as Patrick Henry took an even less separation view.

Bart Barber

I’m with Roger Williams.

The government has no business legislating matters pertaining to the “First Table of the Law.” By that phrase, he meant to signify matters pertaining overwhelmingly to one’s relationship with God: whether one worships, whom one worships, when one worships, how one worships, how one speaks about God, etc.

The government is authorized, however, to legislate matters pertaining to the “Second Table of the Law.” By that phrase, he meant to signify matters pertaining overwhelmingly to one’s relationships among other people: murder, stealing, bearing false witness, treatment of parents, marriage laws, etc. The primary test of whether a law is acceptable or not is the effect coming out of it, not the motivation underlying it. Laws about abortion deal with the treatment that one human being gives to another. Whether the thinking about this kind of behavior is informed religiously or not, the people have a right to legislate on these matters.

    BDW

    The example of abortion doesn’t really hold up in light of history. Historically, religious groups—including Christian denominations—have differed on that question of when life begins AND have done so from an entirely religious perspective. The example of Wally Amos Criswell comes to mind. Science/Technology have really changed the perceptions of many Americans—Christian and non-Christian alike—on that particular question of when life begins; because prior to those advancements, the theological perspectives among Christians and different religions was far from consistent.

    Bart, what is the impact of your use of Roger Williams on marriage laws? Why does marriage get lumped in the second table and not the first? Historically, it’s belonged in the first table MORE SO than the second, simply because many marriages throughout history have not received full legal recognition. I’m thinking about African-Americans and 17th century Baptists in Anglican Virginia or in New England, etc.

      Bart Barber

      1. Today’s technology enables us to know full well that abortion law in the US permits the killing of those who are living human beings.

      2. “You shall not commit adultery” is located within the second table of the Law. Williams’s chosen picture of the two categories—the division of the Mosaic Law—makes marriage law prima facie a part of the second table. Being a part of the first table is unrelated to whether or how an item has been legislated in the past, but has to do with the subject matter of the law.

      Ronnie W Rogers

      If I understand your position, you seem to support the idea that unless religious opinion concerning an issue in which laws are going to be made is homogeneous, then the religious arguments are an invalid source of ideas in the market place of imposable knowledge.

      This is actually one of the precise arguments that secularists use to summarily exclude religious ideas from the market place of imposable knowledge—often, even from public expression. However, this argument violates the first amendment, is non sequitur (it does not follow that because people within a certain religion or worldview disagree that someone is not right, there is not a majority opinion, or that their voice is not to be heard) and this standard would actually exclude every religious, as well as secular opinion since there is always disagreement within general ideas. Additionally, it is disastrously subversive to democracy.

      Further, that opinions change over time, for whatever reason, does not merit excluding such opinions, or their sources, from the market place of ideas. Lastly, your position is being used to make the public square a religiously sterile bastion of unchallenged secularism as my abortion illustration illustrates.

        BDW

        No, that’s not my position.

        My comment was a response specifically to this sentence in your post:

        “This question is at the heart of the abortion debate. Christians asseverate that human life begins at conception and is intrinsically valuable, whereas abortionists often base their views of abortion on evolution or Darwinism.”

        My point is that your assertion has historically not been a settled point among Christians. W.A. Criswell is a good example. “Life begins at conception” is the mantra but polling and recent personhood legislative efforts have proven that even evangelicals don’t fully believe that in practice, at least not with regard to medical treatments and devices that *may* have a secondary impact of preventing implantation after fertilization. We seem to be seeing some actual diversity among Christian conservatives when it comes to this opposition to abortion being lived out in the public square. That’s my point.

        I do not believe that religious arguments are an invalid source of ideas. To the contrary, I believe that religiously-motivated and even explicit religious arguments should be welcomed in the public square. I agree with much of what Stephen Carter has written on this topic in his book The Culture of Disbelief.

        I’m not entirely sure how you were able to make all these conclusions about my thinking since I really didn’t offer much for you to base those conclusions on.

        Just to add, I do consulting for a faith-based political consulting firm. So that ought to say a good bit about my views of the needed role of faith in the public square and in public life in general.

          Ronnie W Rogers

          You said, “No, that is not my position”, and I stand corrected.

          I am sorry for misunderstanding your position, and ask your forgiveness. I do not wish to misstate anyone’s position, but particularly a brother or sister in Christ. Please note that I began my response with, “if I understand your position…”

          You said, “I’m not entirely sure how you were able to make all these conclusions about my thinking since I really didn’t offer much for you to base those conclusions on.”

          In order that you may know that I did not arrive at my interpretation of your comments thoughtlessly or by disregarding what is so apparent to you, maybe the following will help even if you do not see it as I did: first, my first use of the issue of abortion was to give an historical example of how secularist use “separation of church and state” to silence religious opinion even when they admit it is an issue only solved by religion and/or philosophy. Since you stated “The example of abortion doesn’t really hold up in light of history,” which is followed by examples to bolster that statement, I took that to be your premise and the rest as evidence of your analysis regarding my first use of abortion—note my example was historical and you referred to history.

          Second, since you did not state the precise sentence that you were addressing, it seems quite reasonable for me to conclude that you were arguing against my first use of abortion and therefore my argument. Even reading your paragraph now, it still seems best—even though I now understand that is not your intent.

          Third, my conclusion is augmented by the reality that, the statements you made are similarly and regularly made by those who do seek to silence religious opinions at least in the area of imposable knowledge. Fourth, if you would have quoted the specific sentence you were referring to, all this misunderstanding could have been avoided. I hope you can see that it is impossible for someone to know what specific sentence you are addressing if you do not state it, even though you know. In another words, greater specificity would have led me to address your specific concern (granted me a more precise context in which to read your words). Fifth, my understanding of your words, “The example of abortion doesn’t really hold up in light of history”, (not being contextualized by citing the specific sentence) was quite naturally based upon the intent of my article and my specific argument. “Lastly, without some statement of agreement, or clarity of your sentiments, it is quite difficult to contextualize your words as you intended them to be. It still appears to me that your comments—for those of us who do not know you or your position—lend themselves to merely leveling an argument against the position being advocated. I have been in many of such discussions, which does not make my conclusions right, but it does mean that they are not without basis.

          As for “all these conclusions”, there really is one main conclusion that I drew from your first statement and the rest were deduced from that conclusion and your supporting comments—which do in fact follow from how I understood your words.

          Now, with respect to your specific comment regarding my statement, “This question is at the heart of the abortion debate. Christians asseverate that human life begins at conception and is intrinsically valuable, whereas abortionists often base their views on evolution or Darwinism.” You said, “My point is that your assertion has historically not been a settled point among Christians.”

          Actually, I do find my assertion both historically and contemporarily valid. Without doubt, the vast majority of those who advocate such are and have been conservative Christians; thus, it is a Christian position. That being the case it is absolutely accurate to say “Christians asseverate….

          I do not find your point relevant to my position, and on that we apparently must simply disagree. I do believe human life beginning at conception is “at the heart of the debate” and that Christians do “asseverate” such. I did not say all Christians. For if I would have said that, your point would be notable. Also, note the context of the article, and that I am contrasting a Christian position with that of “abortionist…[Who] base their views of abortion on evolution or Darwinism”? Clearly, the Darwinian, secular position is not that human life begins at conceptions and has “intrinsic value”. Again, had I said all Christians or only Christians or the only Christian position is… then your point would be relevant.

          Therefore, I do actually find my assertion to be both historically and contemporarily “settled” as a long held—Even back to the first century—Christian position even though some Christians have and do demur.

          I maintain that if something has to be “settled” among Christians before Christians can see it as the heart of a debate, then there is very little (if anything) that one can regard as a settled Christian position. Further, on another day, I can plausibly argue that human life beginning at conception or not is at the heart of the debate. Among conservative evangelicals that seems to be a given, although not all hold the position of human life beginning then. Suffice it to say, regardless of the ebb and flow of opinions, Darwinism asseverates…and Christians do argue human life begins at conception and has intrinsic worth and have done so for centuries. Consequently, I believe my assessment is accurate.

          With regard to polls or recent personhood legislation, I am sure you are well aware that there are other political and pro-life issues and reasons at play—wording, whether to seek an amendment or do something legislatively etc. Also, the umbrella of “evangelicals” has unfortunately become so extraordinarily large, that one must take care in using what evangelicals do or do not do as compelling unless one clearly defines the term. This is unfortunate, but it the day in which we live.

          Thanks for the feedback, and I do truly pray that we have both benefitted by our exchange. If you still see my perceptive abilities as woefully inadequate, please know that you are not alone! Again, I am sorry for any and all misunderstanding and ask your forgiveness.

    Daniel Wilcox

    Ah Roger Williams,

    It’s been years since I read his book The Bloody Tenet of Persecution, but I taught Roger Williams-lite to students for a long time.

    It would seem that Jefferson wanted to protect the state from the church, while Williams wanted to protect the church from the state.

    But neither thought ethics or spirituality were separate from government.

    Daniel

      Lydia

      “It would seem that Jefferson wanted to protect the state from the church, while Williams wanted to protect the church from the state.”

      Good point! I never thought of it in just that way. Just recently started slogging my way through “Bloudy Tenent”. It is free on google books. Roger Williams does not get enough credit for his influence, imho.

      While the Puritans wanted to punish the Quakers, Williams, who had been banished and persecuted by his fellow Puritans, wanted to “debate” them.

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