Sunday, July 04, 2004

References to God in the Declaration of Independence

By my count, there are four references to God in the Declaration of Independence. In the initial paragraph, we find the phrase “...Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God....” This phrase rules out pantheism: God is distinct from Nature. In the second paragraph, there is the phrase, “...endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights....” Putting these two references together, we may infer that the God being referred to is not merely a deistic initiator of the temporally first segment of the physical universe, but a being involved in the creation of the human race. For if God endowed human beings with rights, this endowment had to occur at the time of the creation of human beings, which of course occurred later than the beginning of the physical universe. In traditional jargon, God is a creator continuans rather than a mere creator originans.

The other two references are in the final paragraph. There we find the phrase, “...Supreme Judge of the World for the Rectitude of our Intentions....” near the beginning of the paragraph, and near the end, “...a firm Reliance on the Protection of divine Providence....” Now if God is the Supreme Judge, then he is more than a mere metaphysical cause responsible for the universe’s beginning to exist; he is also the supreme moral arbiter. And since he endows human beings with rights, as opposed to being merely a judge of rights antecedently possessed, then it seems we may infer that God is the source of moral distinctions (as opposed to a mere judge of them).

The reference to divine providence is further evidence that the conception of God in the Declaration is non-deistic. For if God provides and protects, then God has an on-going involvement with the world and its inhabitants such as would be ruled out by a deistic view. It should also be obvious that talk of providence (from the Latin, pro-videre) implies divine foreknowledge which implies intelligence and perhaps omniscience on the part of the deity. The God of the Declaration is not a blind metaphysical cause posited to explain why the universe began to exist, but a being with such attributes as moral goodness and intelligence.