The Creationism of America's Founding Fathers
by Henry Morris, Ph.D.
As the nation celebrates American liberty on the Fourth of July each year, it would be appropriate for all Americans (including those who have come here from other nations in search of that same freedom) first of all to reflect on the Christian foundations—including genuine creationism—on which our nation was built in the first place.
In a previous article on this theme (see the July 1996 "Back to Genesis" article, "Sweet Land of Liberty"), it was noted that many of the founding fathers of our country were strict creationists and that this fact was reflected in the Declaration of Independence itself. In this article, several more testimonies are cited in support of this vitally important fact.
For example, John Hancock, who was the first to sign the Declaration, had been president of the Provincial Congress of Massachusetts a year before when he issued a proclamation calling for "A Day of Public Humiliation, Fasting, and Prayer," referring to "that GOD who rules in the Armies of Heaven and without whose Blessing the best human Counsels are but Foolishness-and all created Power Vanity."1
That same year, the Continental Congress had also passed a stirring resolution expressing "humble confidence in the mercies of the Supreme and impartial God and ruler of the universe."2
George Washington (often called "the father of our country") was also a strong Bible-believing Christian and literal creationist. Among other things, he once commented as follows: "A reasoning being would lose his reason, in attempting to account for the great phenomena of nature, had he not a Supreme Being to refer to: and well has it been said, that if there had been no God, mankind would have been obligated to imagine one."3
It has long been argued as to whether or not Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin were genuine Christians, but there is no doubt that both men were convinced creationists. Franklin is especially remembered for his stirring exhortation to the delegates to the Constitutional Convention in 1787 to pray for God's guidance and blessing in the framing of our United States Constitution. James Madison then made the motion, seconded by Roger Sherman. to open all future sessions in prayer, and this was unanimously approved by the delegates. God's resultant blessing is a matter of history. In his autobiography, Franklin wrote as follows:
I never doubted, for instance, the existence of the Deity: that He made the world, and governed it by His providence.4
James Madison, who is often considered the chief architect of the Constitution as well as the Bill of Rights, was a profound Bible student studying for the ministry during his college days at Princeton (then known as the College of New Jersey). Although he eventually became a lawyer and statesman, his Christian convictions never wavered. It was especially his influence that eventually established religious freedom in our country. He later wrote that "belief in a God All Powerful, wise and good, is . . . essential to the moral order of the world and to the happiness of man."5
Madison's theology had been largely shaped by the teachings of President John Witherspoon of the College of New Jersey (also a signer of the Declaration) whose strong Biblical Calvinist faith included the doctrine of the natural depravity of man. This truth in turn was behind Madison's unique insistence on a government of checks-and-balances in which the innate sinfulness of men attaining power could be prevented thereby from usurping total power. This doctrine, of course, rests squarely on the Biblical record of the Creation and Fall of man.
Consider also the testimony of John Jay, the first Chief-Justice of the United States Supreme Court. In an address to the American Bible Society (of which he was then president) he said: "The Bible will also inform them that our gracious Creator has provided for us a Redeemer, in whom all the nations of the earth shall be blessed: that this Redeemer has made atonement for the sins of the whole world, and . . . has opened a way for our redemption and salvation."6
In fact, all the signers of the Declaration and the delegates to the Constitutional Convention, as well as the delegates to the various sessions of the Continental Congress—at least so far as known—were men who believed in God and the special creation of the world and mankind. Nearly all were members of Christian churches and believed the Bible to be the inspired Word of God.
This has been true of their forebears as well:
In colonial times, the Bible was the primary tool in the educational process. In fact, according to Columbia University Professor Dr. Lawrence A. Cremin, the Bible was the single most primary source for the intellectual history of Colonial America. From their knowledge of the Bible, a highly literate, creative people emerged. Their wise system of education was later replaced by a man-centered system which has caused a steady decline in literacy and creativity.7
No wonder the evolutionary historian, Gilman Ostrander, in his history of the rise of evolutionism in this country, started out by saying:
The American nation had been founded by intellectuals who had accepted a worldview that was based upon Biblical authority as well as Newtonian science. They had assumed that God created the earth and all life upon it at the time of creation and had continued without change thereafter. Adam and Eve were God's final creations and all of mankind had descended from them.8
Many more of the founding fathers could be quoted to similar effect—men such as John Adams, Roger Sherman, Alexander Hamilton, Patrick Henry, Governor Morris, Samuel Adams, George Mason, and others. The same is true of the great colonial leaders before them—Roger Williams, William Penn, Jonathan Edwards, John Winthrop, Thomas Hooker, and many, many others.
As one example, in a letter written by William Penn (the Godly founder of Pennsylvania) to the Indians offering to purchase the land from them, even though he had already received the relevant land grant from King Charles, he began by saying: "My Friends: There is one great God and Power that hath made the world and all things therein, to whom you and I and all people owe their being and well-being, and to whom you and I must one day give an account, for all that we do in the world."9
God truly has "shed His grace" on this "sweet land of liberty" more fully than on any nation in history, but these blessings are the result of the commitment of our founding fathers to God as Creator, to God's incarnate Son as redeeming Savior, and to the Bible as His inspired Word and the basis of our constitutional legal system. The tragic departure of our schools, our government, and even many of our churches and seminaries from these great principles may well lead to God's judgment instead of His blessing, unless we return soon to the God of our fathers.
1 Cited in William J. Federer: America's God and Country (Coppell, Texas: Fame Publishing Co., 1996), p. 275.
2 Ibid., p. 140.
3 Maxims of Washington, Ed. by John E. Schroeder (Mt. Vernon, Virginia, Mount Vernon Ladies Association, 1942), p. 209.
4 Franklin, in his second autobiography, as cited in Christianity and the Constitution, by John Eidsmoe (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1987), p. 195.
5 Princeton University Library Chronicle, (Spring 1961, p. 125), cited by Eidsmoe, p. 110.
6 Cited in A Cloud of Witnesses, Ed. by Stephen A. Northrop. (Reprinted by American Heritage Ministries, Portland, Oregon, 1987). p. 251.
7 Mary-Elaine Swanson, "Teaching Children the Bibles" Mayflower Institute Journal (Volume 1, July/August 1983), p. 5.
8 Gilman M. Ostrander, The Evolutionary Outlook 1875-1900 (Clio, Michigan: Marston Press, 1971), p. 1.
9 William Penn, as cited in Federer, p. 498.
* Dr. Henry Morris is Founder and President Emeritus of ICR.