It must not be forgotten that under the Puritans in Massachusetts there was no religious freedom. They persecuted those who did not believe their way. Many of those calling for a return to “Christian America” have forgotten what this so-called “Christian” state was like. Ironically, some of them are Baptists, who have forgotten that Roger Williams—a Baptist preacher and signer of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution—founded the state of Rhode Island to serve as a refuge from religious persecution by the Puritans! [1]

What’s wrong with the above descriptive picture? The simplistic interpretation of colonial history is certainly evident. And I was not aware that Roger Williams, who died in 1683, signed the Declaration of Independence (1776) and the Constitution (1787). He didn’t. The above quotation appears in Norman Geisler’s (1932–2019) and Frank Turek’s Legislating Morality, a poorly reasoned book that was endorsed by Christian writers and scholars who ought to have known better.

Dr. Geisler was not always at his best when it came to historical analysis. For example, in his Is Man the Measure?, he wrote that when “George Washington was asked if the United States was a Christian country, he replied that ‘the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.'“[2] Washington was never asked this question, and he never said the United States was not a Christian country. The above phrase about America not being founded as a Christian nation appears in a treaty made with Tripoli in 1797 that was designed to assure the Muslim nation that the United States would not interfere in their religious beliefs.

Anti-theist Christopher Hitchens stated the following in his article “Jefferson Versus the Muslim Pirates” (2007): “Of course, those secularists like myself who like to cite this Treaty must concede that its conciliatory language was part of America’s attempt to come to terms with Barbary demands.” The phrase “As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion,” is followed by a comma and a subsequent phrase that explains in what way “the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion, “as it has in itself no character of enmity against the law, religion or tranquility of the Musselmen [Muslims].”

Geisler does not tell his readers that the line was deleted from the revised 1805 treaty during Jefferson’s administration.[3]

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In the October 1985 issue of Moody Monthly, Geisler claimed that theonomists mandated that capital punishment should be administered for drunkards. An absurd and irresponsible assertion. Similar examples of poor scholarship abound in Geisler’s writings.[4]

Legislating Morality was a dangerous and irresponsible book because it falls into the trap of advocating religious neutrality and that law can be separated from religion. Christianity becomes just one religion among many that has nothing unique or prophetic to say to the world about social, ethical, and cultural issues. When Christians are finally coming out of the closet with their Bible in hand, Geisler and Turek told them to keep it shut when dealing with the moral issues of the day.

“That’s Not Fair!”

Geisler and Turek have set aside the Bible and dusted off the Enlightenment theology expressed by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence and his undefined “Nature’s God.” Instead of appealing to the Bible in legislating morality, Geisler and Turek believe that a sense of “fairness” that we all share should be our moral guide. They write:

Since this sense of fairness came naturally to all people, Jefferson appropriately referred to it as part of the “Laws of Nature.” This was also known as “Natural Law,” or the “Moral Law,” or more commonly called “Conscience.” From the Moral Law, Jefferson observed that the “self-evident,” “unalienable Rights” of all people should be protected by a government established by the people.[5]

If a “sense of fairness came naturally to all people,” there would be no dispute over what people believe is fair. King George believed he was being fair in his dealings with the colonists. Actually, since he was the king, he did not believe he had to be fair in the way the colonists defined fairness. Jefferson and the colonists disagreed. “Jefferson believed that the rest of the world—understanding this sense of fairness—would agree that the colonists were clearly right and the king was clearly wrong.”[6] Other kings would not have taken the side of the colonists.

If both sides in the dispute had the same moral law and the same sense of fairness, then why did war break out between the two antagonists? “The anointed and the benighted do not argue on the same moral plane or play by the same cold rules of logic and evidence.”[7]

Contrary to Geisler and Turek, even those sharing the same social and cultural stratum do not agree on what’s fair or moral. As a panelist at the American Academy of Religion/Society of Biblical Literature conference stated, “What counts as abuse differs from society to society; so we can’t really use the word ‘abuse’ without tying it to a historical context.”[8] In an era where moral relativism reigns, “there are no all-encompassing, objective moral laws to which we must all submit.”[9]

Deriving a body of moral law from natural law was thought to be, well, natural as long as biblical theism dominated scientific and moral discussions. The argument went something like this: Since there are certain fixed physical laws ordained by God, there must be a corresponding set of fixed moral laws, also ordained by God. But because man’s “reason is corrupt, and his understanding full of ignorance and error,” the English jurist William Blackstone argues in his Commentaries on the Laws of England (1765), natural law had to be supplemented by “special revelation” (the Bible), which is “of infinitely more authority than what we generally call the natural law.”[10]

Blackstone’s was the accepted Christian position, but it was being challenged at a feverish pace. By the late eighteenth century, anti-Christian philosophers based everything on the authority of the book of nature. To these enlightened philosophers, the notion that God governs the universe both physically and morally was a superstition that had to go. All that remained for the philosophers was a mechanistic cosmos that does not need the God of the Bible to maintain and sustain it. With God and his law expelled from the universe, the philosophers still needed a law, but one they could control, a law for the other guy. While most were not atheists, they did reject the inconvenient God who set down specific laws. Instead of “God the Father,” their absentee god was given grandiose but impersonal names like Supreme Being, Author of the Universe, First Cause, Prime Mover, Architect of the Universe, and Nature’s God. The long-standing designation “natural law” remained, but now it was defined by man independent of the Bible. Rousas J. Rushdoony describes the transition:

When men began to depart from Biblical faith, they turned to ancient classical thought with its pagan faith in natural law. The doctrine of natural law asserts the presence in nature of inherent laws which govern reality, so that law is transferred from God to nature. Law is no longer over creation but within process. The concept of natural law, confused by Christians with God’s providence in nature and the total subservience of all nature to God’s decree and law, made great inroads into Christian thinking and became the mainspring of Enlightenment faith in its rejection of the God of the Bible. Classical liberalism is based on this Enlightenment faith, as is modern libertarianism and conservatism.[11]

Whose view of natural law should be followed? “Aristotle justified slavery on the ground that it was in accord with nature. The stoic emperor, Marcus Aurelius, understood that nothing is evil which is according to nature.“[12] In the final analysis, who determines what’s natural?

With the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species in 1859, the idea that moral laws can be derived from nature disappeared altogether. If the physical cosmos is evolving and changing, and moral law is analogous to physical laws, then moral law is also evolving and changing. “The process of nature was now portrayed not as a perfect working of law, but as a blind, unconscious energy working profligately to express itself.”[13] Even so, belief in science has replaced a moral universe governed by a personal God. Americans have repeatedly been told to “believe in the powers of science in part because it has enabled men to control the world, but also because of a myth in our culture about the power of science. A 16th Century man might attempt to create a penal system according to the ‘laws of God’; a 20th Century one would hope to create a ‘scientific one’.“[14]

Geisler and Turek claim that everyone knows the content of the moral law, what they define as “a moral kind of common sense.”[15] This was true as long as biblical law was dominant. At the time of the drafting of the Declaration and Constitution in eighteenth-century America, people were raised on the Bible. The moral law and the “Laws of Nature” had specific moral content because the people knew the laws of the Bible. This is no longer true.

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[1]Norman Geisler and Frank Turek, Legislating Morality (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 1998), 101.

[2]Norman L. Geisler, Is Man the Measure: An Evaluation of Contemporary Humanism (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1983), 124‑25.

[3]See Gary DeMar, America’s Christian History: The Untold Story (Atlanta, GA: American Vision, 1995), chapter 8.

[4]See Gary DeMar, “The Sorry State of Christian Scholarship,” Theonomy: An Informed Response, ed. Gary North (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1991), 352B57.

[5]Geisler and Turek, Legislating Morality, 19.

[6]Geisler and Turek, Legislating Morality, 19.

[7]Thomas Sowell, The Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy (New York: Basic Books, 1995), 3.

[8]Quoted in William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1994), 73–74.

[9]Paul Copan, “True for You, But Not For Me”: Deflating the Slogans that Leave Christians Speechless (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 1998), 43.

[10]Carl Becker, The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth-Century Philosophers (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1932), 53.

[11]Rousas J. Rushdoony, The Philosophy of History (Nutley, NJ: The Craig Press, 1969), 6–7.

[12]Becker, The Heavenly City, 53.

[13]Rushdoony, Philosophy of History, 7.

[14]C. H. Dodd, Sociologists and Religion, ed. Susan Budd (London, 1973), 144.

[15]Geisler and Turek, Legislating Morality, 24.