Recently two of my friends have challenged the affirmation in the United States Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self evident …”
The first challenge came from my good friend, co-laborer and contributor to this blog site, Vishal Mangalwadi. Vishal wrote:
“Because the truths on which America was founded have never been self-evident to human reason in any culture. Jefferson would have been honest had America’s Declaration of Independence affirmed, “We hold these truths to be divinely revealed that all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights (such as) life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.”
A few days ago Alice, our friend and a reader of this blog, wrote:
[I]f there is one important thing I’ve learned from Vishal Mangalwadi, it is this: “It is not self-evident that all men are created equal” as it says in the preamble to our constitution. To most of the people of the world it is evident that some are created “more equal” than others and therefore we can lord it over them. Being created equal and in the image of God is something that we learn from a biblical foundation and not that it is self-evident to all.
I agree with Vishal’s preferred “We hold these truths to be divinely revealed …”. (Actually, Jefferson had originally penned, “We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable…”, but Franklin edited the affirmation to: “We hold these truths to be self-evident.” )
Having said that, I’m not convinced the Founding Fathers got it wrong. Yes, it is through God’s revelation that we understand these truths. However God has revealed himself comprehensively through both his Word and his Works. God’s Word includes the Bible – the written word, and Jesus Christ – the living Word. This is often called special revelation. His works—including Imago Dei man and the rest of creation—are often referred to as general revelation. Jefferson may have been thinking about general revelation when he said that the truths are “self-evident.”
We live at a time in history where atheistic culture is dominant and truth is seen as relative. Even a majority of professed Christians regard truth as based on feelings. This is in contrast with objective truth which comports with reality, is universal for all time, and is independent of our own feelings and perception. If there is no revelation and no self-evident truth, then there are no inalienable rights granted by God. If there is no truth, anything is possible and everything is morally permissible. Eventually such thinking will lead to anarchy–everyone doing what is right in his own eyes, and anarchy will ultimately lead to tyranny. There will be no foundation for free societies.
The universe is intelligible! This affirms two things, first the creation is orderly and rational. Second, men are made in the image of God and have the ability to discover the order and rationality of the universe. In our own time we have witnessed the unraveling of the sequence of human DNA, with its three billion chemical based pairs, and the mapping of the 20,000-25,000 genes in human DNA. These make clear, to all who will see, the beautiful and comprehensive mind of the Creator.
The purposes of created things are found in the structure and function of the object. In addition the Purposer is revealed in the purpose, the Code Maker is revealed in the code.
Truth that God has revealed (through general revelation) to all members of the human family is, by definition, self-evident. However that does not mean that all people will see it, nor that in seeing it they will affirm it. This is explicitly stated by the Apostle Paul in his letters to the Romans. We will examine two claims, the first in Romans 1:18-23 and the second in Romans 2:14-15.
… to be continued