Video of My Debate Last Week

Last Wednesday I debated Dr. Tim Schmig on the question of whether the constitution was based upon Biblical principles for CFI Michigan. The turnout was amazing, the 4th largest crowd we’ve ever had, and the debate went pretty much exactly as I expected. The debate was civil and amiable — Tim was nothing but a gracious gentleman over the last few months as we’ve planned this — but I think any objective observer would conclude that I got the best of him in this debate.

I’ll post the video of the debate below, but let me first provide some details on the event. The resolution for the debate was:

Resolved: That the government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.

Some of you will no doubt recognize this as a direct quote from the Treaty of Peace and Friendship with the Bey of Tripoli, signed by John Adams and ratified unanimously by the Senate in 1797. I suggested this as a resolution because I wanted to make sure that we were debating the ideas that the government was based on, not the religious views of the founding fathers or the scope and meaning of the First Amendment. Tim even agreed with that at the time, but as you’ll see in the video he spent most of his time talking about the religious views of the founders and not the resolution. This is something I had anticipated happening, despite the wording of the topic.

It’s unusual for the resolution for a debate to contain evidence for one side, but this clearly does. I did not rely on that, but it was the first of six arguments I made in my opening speech. The others:

2. If the Constitution were based upon Christianity, we would expect that it would say so. I quoted Tim from a video talking about the Mayflower compact, which he correctly explained contained language indicating a vertical covenant with God. That was the norm for charters and constitutions up to that point, but the Constitution contained no such language — and this was quite intentional.

3. The lack of language explicitly acknowledging God or Christianity was a matter of great controversy at the time. Many anti-federalist ministers and pamphlateers railed against the new Constitution precisely because it lacked such language, warning that a failure to acknowledge our dependence on and belief in God would bring down his wrath upon us.

4. Not only did people make arguments like that, many attempts were made at the state ratification conventions to amend the preamble to the constitution to add in such “Christian nation” language. All of them failed, of course. But the fact that those attempts were made shows that the framers of the constitution had left such covenantal language out on purpose and argued against adding it. And it shows that the constitution was viewed at the time as a secular document rather than a Christian one.

5. I offered a quote from John Adams’ Defense of the Constitution of the United States, in which he said this:

“The United States of America have exhibited, perhaps, the first example of governments erected on the simple principles of nature; and if men are now sufficiently enlightened to disabuse themselves of artifice, imposture, hypocrisy, and superstition, they will consider this event as an era in their history. It will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service had interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the inspiration of Heaven…it will forever be acknowledged that these governments were contrived merely by the use of reason and the senses.”

6. There is no mention of the Bible or Christian theology as influences over the Constitution found in the Federalist Papers. The Federalist Papers are a collection of more than 80 essays written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay and published in newspapers. They were intended to explain and defend the various provisions of the new Constitution to the people so they would support its passage during the ratification conventions. Not once is the Bible or Christian theology mentioned as a source for any of the ideas found in the Constitution. Now remember, they were writing for an overwhelmingly Christian audience in order to convince them to support the Constitution. If they could point to support in the Bible or in Christian theology for constitutional principles like checks and balances and the separation of powers, their argument would certainly have been more convincing to their audience.

Tim did not respond to most of these arguments. He attempted to rebut the Treaty of Tripoli with two arguments that contradicted. First, he said that Article 11, which contained the language above, was “not in the original treaty.” During cross examination, I asked him what he meant by that, that it was not in the Arabic version? He said yes. And he was right, it wasn’t in the Arabic version. He also admitted that Article 11 was in the version that was passed by the Senate and published in newspapers at the time, which is all that really matters for my position.

Second, he argued that the Senate had no choice but to pass it, that they were “under duress” because our sailors had been taken hostage and were being held for ransom and they had to rescue them. But the treaty had been negotiated over several years time and, as he said, Article 11 was not in the Arabic version. So they could have stripped it out of the English version and passed it and nothing would have changed. So his two arguments contradicted one another.

He attempted to argue against my argument about the lack of mention in the Federalist Papers, saying that the Constitution doesn’t come with footnotes and it’s not unusual for people to write about something without explicitly naming their sources. But as I pointed out, the framers did name their sources, both in the Federalist Papers and in private letters, and those sources were Greek, Roman and Enlightenment philosophers. Never did they mention the Bible as a source for the ideas in the constitution.

A couple of arguments he made struck me as rather amusing. In the first cross examination I asked him this question: If you met someone today and he told you that he believes in a creator but he doesn’t believe Jesus was divine, he rejects the virgin birth, original sin, the atonement, the resurrection, etc, would you consider that person a Christian? He made the odd suggestion that they might have a “Christian worldview” but finally admitted that he would not consider them a Christian. I asked this question intentionally and strategically. I knew that he would bring up the Declaration of Independence and its mention of a Creator, nature’s god, providence and so forth. And indeed he did in his rebuttal, going so far as to claim that those phrases were proof that Jefferson had a “Christian worldview.” I then noted that he had already admitted that Jefferson was not a Christian during cross examination.

Also during the cross-ex, I asked him if he could name any provision in the Constitution that was based on the Bible and his answer was an incredible reach. He said that checks and balances were only needed because of original sin. I managed to avoid actually facepalming when he said that.

He also brought up the Donald Lutz study, which I was really hoping he would do. In fact, I was going to bring it up myself if he hadn’t. But he mentioned it briefly in his opening speech, which gave me the opportunity to show how badly he was distorting the findings of that study (probably not intentionally; more likely he was just copying from David Barton and others who have been lying about that study and hadn’t read the original). He said:

When Donald Lutz examined the founding documents, looking at over 15,000 pamphlets, he stated that the Bible was a primary source, more than any other source for the founding fathers.

This was absolutely perfect for me because I had a copy of that study with me. And it is simply false to claim that Lutz said anything like this misrepresentation. First, his study was not of “the founding documents,” it was of publicly available political writings between 1760 and 1805. Nor was it a study of documents written by the founding fathers but mostly of documents written by others about the political issues of the day. It had nothing at all to do with what sources were influential on the founding fathers. In fact, 75% of the Bible references in the study came from sermons that were reprinted as pamphlets. As I pointed out, what that study really discovered was that Christian ministers mention the Bible a lot.

But more importantly, the study looked specifically at documents from 1787 and 1788, when the constitution was written, debated and ratified. And here is what he found about that specific period of time:

“The Bible’s prominence disappears, which is not surprising since the debate centered upon specific institutions about which the Bible had little to say. The Anti-Federalists do drag it in with respect to basic principles of government, but the Federalists’ inclination to Enlightenment rationalism is most evident here in their failure to consider the Bible relevant.”

In other words, the only people who cited the Bible in relation to the Constitution during that time were those who used the Bible to argue against its passage. This is a very compelling argument for my position and he handed it to me on a silver platter by bringing it up.

Okay, enough of that. Here’s the video:

httpv://youtu.be/6AQmjN33YXE

About Ed Brayton

After spending several years touring the country as a stand up comedian, Ed Brayton tired of explaining his jokes to small groups of dazed illiterates and turned to writing as the most common outlet for the voices in his head. He has appeared on the Rachel Maddow Show and the Thom Hartmann Show, and is almost certain that he is the only person ever to make fun of Chuck Norris on C-SPAN.

  • davefitz

    Thank you for this. This will, no doubt, assist me greatly as I visit my kooky relatives over the holidays who subscribe to this nonsense. Or not, as they are often immune to evidence.

  • Kevin Kehres

    Well done.

    I would have approached it with a different frame. If the Constitution were based on “Christian values”, then it should be a simple process to demonstrate that by showing where to find in the New Testament:

    1. A democratic republic form of government.

    2. A tripartate government with co-equal branches that provide checks and balances against one-another

    3. Direct election of a House of Representatives.

    4. A non-hereditary ruler selected by the people, with a definite term of service.

    5. Specific rights given to citizens against the government’s interest, including right to trial by jury, right to face one’s accusers, right to remain silent and not incriminate oneself (a big deal coming from the era of Inquisitions, wouldn’t you say?).

    None of that is found anywhere in the bible. It’s “kingdom” this and “kingdom” that. There’s no separation between judge and jury, no separation between law-maker and law-enforcer. Zero. Zip. Nada. Bupkis. There is so little of “Christian” values in the Constitution that it’s purely perverse to claim otherwise.

    My debate strategy would be to bring a bible in and ask the opponent to please find in the New Testament (Christian values, remember) any of those things in the Constitution, and much more. Start with the Preamble and move all the way through to the Bill of Rights. There is not one bible verse that can be shoehorned into any of it. None. Zip. Zilch.

    Jesus is supposed to return as a king and judge everyone. Well, that’s as unConstitutional as it gets.

    The bible is not a manual on how to develop a Constitution, and the Constitution has zero evidence of being influenced by the bible.

  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Is the video edited? It’s missing the Talent Competition. Why bother spending all that time learning to juggle ventriloquists and then just cut it out at the end?

  • Randomfactor

    I asked him if he could name any provision in the Constitution that was based on the Bible

    Well, there were the provisions (including the 3/5 count for representation and quite possibly the Second Amendment) which allowed slavery to continue…

  • http://www.pandasthumb.org Area Man

    I almost wish that the Constitution did contain a reference to the Bible or two; it would ironically be easier to discuss the significance of those concrete references as opposed to discussing the meaning of a vacuum.

  • Sastra

    Excellent series of arguments, and well done. Kudos.

    In fact, this is so tightly argued that if I was your upcoming opponent on the same topic and had the opportunity to study this debate beforehand, I would create an entirely new strategy.

    I’d have you show up prepared for “Resolved: That the government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion” and start out by placing an emphasis on the phrase “in any sense.”

    “In any sense.” What does that really mean? It means that if the Christian God exists and created the Founders as individuals and the United States as land and the Constitution as paper-it’s-written-on — along with everything else in the universe plus the universe itself — then there IS a “sense” in which the government of the United States was “founded on the Christian religion.” It’s a possible interpretation. You said “any.”

    And then I’d charge full-steam ahead with a debate on whatever newly-related topic I think you’re least prepared for: the existence of God, the truth of Christianity, the Empty Tomb. I’d do a Gish Gallop with Ontological Argument, historical Jesus, Fine Tuning, Biblical prophesies, apostles-dying-for-a-lie, presuppositionalism, the Kalam, the Ground of Being, Pascal’s Wager, and of course look at this sunset, just look at it — how can anyone say there’s no God? And here’s a dying child praying. Ed would tell him Heaven is NOT for real.

    Man, that Ed Brayton sure wouldn’t know what hit him. Take that, athiests!

    So watch out for that move. Don’t say “in any sense.” Too ambiguous.

  • http://www.pandasthumb.org Area Man

    Is the video edited? It’s missing the Talent Competition.

    I don’t know, but the free version available for download does have the Swimsuit Competition. You have to pay extra for the DVD version to get it removed.

  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Area Man, on his Kick Starter campaign for the DVD, only the highest donation level had him not personally delivering it to your home while wearing it.

  • eric

    Why bother spending all that time learning to juggle ventriloquists and then just cut it out at the end?

    The nice thing about juggling ventriloquists is that, when you add in the chainsaws, you can’t tell which one of them is screaming.

  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Eric, lies! If the scream is “Oh ny God! Helt neee!” it’s the ventriloquist. Otherwise, it’s the dummy.

  • http://rationalrant.blogspot.com/ sbh

    It seems to me to be somewhat disingenuous to say that Article 11 wasn’t in the Arabic version of the Treaty of Tripoli. The fact is that Article 11 is missing from the extant copy of the treaty. Article 10 (so numbered) is present in the Arabic text, and Article 12 (so numbered) is likewise present, but where Article 11 ought to be is an irrelevant passage from a letter. Presumably the original Arabic text had an Article 11, and there is no good reason to suppose that it was substantially different from the English text of Article 11. That some functionary copied the wrong text at that point is unfortunate, in that it deprives us of the Arabic text–but it hardly shows that there was no Article 11 in the treaty.

  • https://www.facebook.com/davidsimms David Simms

    Time marker 49:29 – “Ed did admit that we were founded on some Christian principles.”

    I really don’t understand how someone can lie like this so casually during a debate. At no point did Ed admit this, at all. And, his entire position was to the contrary.

    What Ed admitted was that Christianity has obviously had some influence in our country’s history. Claiming that this is an admission that we were founded on some Christian principles is a willful misrepresentation of Ed’s position.

  • hexidecima

    hmmm, civil and amiable and this Tim fellow was still an inept liar. it seems that these Christians think that no one has access to the internet at all.

  • jeffreykramer

    Thanks, Ed. All very cogent arguments, but I would particularly like to know if he ever responded to points 2 and 6, the silence of the Constitution’s authors and advocates on the Christian nature of this form of government. Essentially the “Christian Nation” side is arguing:

    1) The Constitution’s advocates (like Hamilton and Madison) believed that the form of government they were creating was inspired by, and made particular use of, specifically Biblical, Christian principles;

    2) They were writing for an audience which believed that using Biblical, Christian principles in creating a new form of government would be the single strongest guarantee of its morality and success;

    3) They never so much as hinted to that audience that they were using those principles in creating that form of government.

  • http://www.thelosersleague.com theschwa

    First, his study was not of “the founding documents,” it was of publicly available political writings between 1760 and 1805. Nor was it a study of documents written by the founding fathers but mostly of documents written by others about the political issues of the day.

    So they basically looked at everything, including the People Magazines of the day. That would be like, in 100 years, studying the passage of the ACA, declaring Kim Kardashian was big part of its passage.

  • jeffreykramer

    In response to Ed’s point that the Federalist has no Christian or Biblical references or language, Dr. Schmig cites passages from Federalist #2 which speak of “Providence” and of seeking “the blessing of the Almighty.” But writers as uncompromisingly hostile to Christianity as Voltaire and Thomas Paine also spoke of Providence and of trying to do the will of the Almighty. It seems to me a fair rule that if the passage you quote could have been applauded by Voltaire or Paine, it isn’t specifically Christian.

  • Donnie

    For me, my response to anyone who says, “American is a Christian Nation founded on biblical principles” is:

    “So, you think the Founding Fathers were a bunch of incompetent morons incapable of specifically writing in an incredibly important document founding our great Nation, “We, the aforesigned, believe that American is a Christian Nation? That the founding father were nincompoops who could not write out explicitly bible verses supporting their assertions of a Christian Nation? Have you even read the Constitution? Here is my pocket copy, please locate the bible verse in the Constitution that support a Christian Nation. If you continue asserting America is a Christian Nation then you, by default, are calling the Founding Fathers morons who could not write or explain themselves accurately. Which is it? Were the Founding Fathers dumb, stupid, and incompetent (the ‘Dumb and Dumber of the 1700s’) – or is America a secular nation with a 1st Amendment legally codifying the right for everyone to choose and practice their own religious beliefs, or no religious beliefs as they see fit without any government interference? You chose. Which is it?”

  • Michael Heath

    Here’s the relevant portion of Federalist No. 2 that references providence three times:

    It has often given me pleasure to observe that independent America was not composed of detached and distant territories, but that one connected, fertile, widespreading country was the portion of our western sons of liberty. Providence has in a particular manner blessed it with a variety of soils and productions, and watered it with innumerable streams, for the delight and accommodation of its inhabitants. A succession of navigable waters forms a kind of chain round its borders, as if to bind it together; while the most noble rivers in the world, running at convenient distances, present them with highways for the easy communication of friendly aids, and the mutual transportation and exchange of their various commodities.

    With equal pleasure I have as often taken notice that Providence has been pleased to give this one connected country to one united people–a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs, and who, by their joint counsels, arms, and efforts, fighting side by side throughout a long and bloody war, have nobly established general liberty and independence.

    This country and this people seem to have been made for each other, and it appears as if it was the design of Providence, that an inheritance so proper and convenient for a band of brethren, united to each other by the strongest ties, should never be split into a number of unsocial, jealous, and alien sovereignties.

  • http://www.facebook.com/joe.winpisinger Joe Winpisinger

    The Treaty with France in 1793 was in the name of the Trinity. This sould never use this as an argument for America being founded a Christian Nation. Almost everyone here would agree with that.

    But almost to a man will use the Treaty of Tripoli to prove the counter argument?

  • http://www.facebook.com/joe.winpisinger Joe Winpisinger

    I would also point out that religion was mostly left to the states and most had God in their constitutions.

    Some had established churches well into the 1800’s.

    Why this is not considered is perplexing. Start with a false premise and end with a wrong conclusion.