Background Probability

The Agnostic Popular Front has moved to its new home at Skeptic Ink, and will henceforth be known as Background Probability. Despite the relocation and rebranding, we will continue to spew the same low-fidelity high-quality bullshit that you've come to expect.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Question with boldness!

When the door-to-door Baptists came to my porch last weekend, I tried to explain why we are no longer their coreligionists. Alas, I neglected to mention that my own apostasy was primarily the result of following the path laid out by Thomas Jefferson some centuries earlier:

Full original page image courtesy of the Library of Congress
Transcribed letter courtesy of UVA’s Electronic Text Center

Here is the keynote excerpt:

[S]hake off all the fears & servile prejudices under which weak minds are servilely crouched. Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear. You will naturally examine first the religion of your own country. Read the bible then, as you would read Livy or Tacitus. The facts which are within the ordinary course of nature you will believe on the authority of the writer, as you do those of the same kind in Livy & Tacitus. The testimony of the writer weighs in their favor in one scale, and their not being against the laws of nature does not weigh against them. But those facts in the bible which contradict the laws of nature, must be examined with more care, and under a variety of faces. Here you must recur to the pretensions of the writer to inspiration from god. Examine upon what evidence his pretensions are founded, and whether that evidence is so strong as that its falsehood would be more improbable than a change in the laws of nature…

Honestly, I cannot fathom why my evangelical friends and neighbors continue to insist that they are honoring our Founding Fathers by narrowing our national discourse to the confines of ancient monotheism. Thus far we have seen George Washington heartily approving of atheists, John Adams marginalizing the central dogma of Christianity, and now we have Thomas Jefferson encouraging the widest possible scope of rationalist freethinking upon one of his protégés, even to the point of deliberately courting atheism. Can the narrative possible get any worse for those (e.g. John McCain) who claim that America was founded as a Christian nation?

You bet it can! James Madison is up next.

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