After Chris Rodda had her personal account banned from David Barton and Wallbuilders’ official Facebook page, it became common place for her so called “minions” to pick up where she left off. Today brought a typical troll attempt by a user named “Master Gibson“. A quick glance at the information available on his and Rodda’s accounts, it is revealed that the two are “friends” on Facebook. Per Master Gibson’s sharing of one of Rodda’s recent blog posts three times in three different places on the Barton/Wallbuilders’ page, it can be concluded that Master Gibson is but another Rodda minion out to spam attacks against Barton on his own page. As to the meat of Rodda’s attack in question, perhaps we should have a more in-depth investigation.
Master Gibson linked up a blog post by Rodda in which she provides a portion of her most recent self-published “Barton-Basher”(available on Amazon), along with some added commentary, aimed at taking cracks at the credibility of Barton’s conclusions in his recent book, The Jefferson Lies. Before we get into Rodda’s “scholarly” (I’m being generous there) assertions against Barton, her amateurish, childish blog post should be addressed.
What is Ms. Rodda’s deal in constantly referring to Barton as a “pseudo-historian”, or her more favorite but lengthy title of “Christian-Nationalist-Revisionist-Pseudo-Historian”? Rodda has previously attacked Barton for not having a formal education in history or a history degree, whilst she also has no such training. According to her requirements for what constitutes “being a historian”, if Barton fails, then ironically so does Rodda as she also has neither the formal training or degree (whereas I, for example, do).
Let’s just cut right to the chase: Rodda calls Barton a pseudo-historian because she doesn’t agree with him or consider his work valid. That’s her opinion. I could just as well call her a “pseudo-historian” because my opinion of her work is that it is shoddy and would be considered disgraceful coming from a formally trained historian, or even a high school graduate for that matter. But I’m not going to call her a “pseudo-historian”, I’m just going to say that she produces terribly researched and poorly argued works dealing with historical topics.
Rodda concludes her blog post by calling Barton a “lying sack of Christian nationalist crap.” While her words here are expressed through the medium of a mere blog post, I’m questioning why anyone should be taken seriously as a scholar when they use such language in any setting. This is the kind of childish rabble I expect from a preteen in middle school, not from the blog post of a “professional” author/researcher/scholar who appears to at least be over the age of 40. Then again, Rodda lists herself as a “highschool dropout”, so perhaps there is a potential correlation to be left for further investigation.
Now, on to the actual substance, or lack thereof, of Rodda’s assertions in the portion of her work she references. In the quoted portion of her work, Rodda writes,
“With his two examples of Hume and Raynal – both of which are complete misrepresentations of what Jefferson wrote…”
Ironically, in attempts to show that Barton misrepresented Jefferson, she is guilty of misrepresenting Barton (as well as Jefferson). Rodda literally spent pages talking about how Barton misused a quote of Jefferson in which Jefferson referred to Raynal as a “mere shrimp”. Indeed, Rodda is right to say that in the cited quote, Jefferson was not referring to the intellect of Raynal, but his physical stature. I can see how in the form of Barton’s usage, a reader could make the stretch to pose that Barton was trying to indicate that said quote was being applied to reference Raynal’s intellect. But making this stretch is supposition and thus logically fallacious when formulating an argument.
The real problem however, is how after making such a supposition Rodda essentially claims “ha! I got you Barton! You are a liar and nothing you said is correct!” Here, Rodda is clearly guilty of making a straw man argument because she fails to address the entire section and overall point made by Barton. She beats away at an arguably valid, yet minor point in question, whilst acting as if by doing so she has debunked Barton’s overall point, despite that not being the case.
Simply put, all Barton was doing in the section in question was explaining how Jefferson was critical of Raynal. If Jefferson referred to a man as a “shrimp” in regards to his physical stature, is that not a bit, well, demeaning? Would you go up to a close friend, one who has inspired and mentored you, and call them a “midget” just because they were short? Why be offensive when you could easily just say “short”? A simple reading indicates that Jefferson was being derogatory towards Raynal. Why? Because he didn’t much like the man or his ideas. Even if Barton fallaciously tried to massage the “shrimp” quote into referring to Raynal’s intellect (which I’m not fully convinced this is what Barton tried to do), was not the quote still an example of Jefferson being critical of Raynal, which was the whole point Barton was making?
Rodda didn’t have the courtesy to quote the entire context of this section from Barton’s book, which is as follows:
“Jefferson was similarly forthright in his criticism of other secular Enlightenment writers, including Guillaume Thomas Francois Raynal (known as Abbe Raynal). Jefferson described his works as “a mass of errors and misconceptions from beginning to end,” containing a “great deal of falsehood” and being “wrong exactly in the same proportion.” He even described Raynal as “a mere shrimp”. Such vehement denunciations of leading secular Enlightenment writers are generally not consistent with a Jefferson who was supposedly greatly influenced by them.” (Jefferson Lies, p. 38)
Ms. Rodda, after hammering away on the “mere shrimp” comment, did not even bother to address the other quoted portions (“a mass of errors and misconceptions from beginning to end”, “great deal of falsehood”, “wrong exactly in the same proportion”). Had Barton not even included the short sentence “He even described Raynal as ‘a mere shrimp'”, Rodda has nothing to say about the rest of the quoted evidences revealing Jefferson’s apparent distaste for Raynal’s postulations.
As Rodda continues:
“Barton then proceeds to explain that the reason Jefferson admired and was influenced so much by Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton, and John Locke was because of their theological writings.”
“The reason given by Jefferson for his choice of Bacon, Newton, and Locke as the three greatest men who ever lived was that they had “laid the foundation of those superstructures which have been raised in the Physical and Moral sciences,”(1) not that they were his favorite theologians”.
“Barton is just once again making something all about religion that wasn’t all about religion.”
Barton identifies Bacon, Newton and Locke for who they were, philosophers, attorneys, mathematicians, statesmen, scientists, AND also theologians. He does not explicitly say that Jefferson was only influenced by the “theological works” of these three thinkers, nor that “the scientific works of these three men did NOT influence Jefferson.” All Barton does is point out that Jefferson was heavily influenced by these three men, three Christians who happened to develop their understandings through the lens of a biblical worldview; in other words, that their theological beliefs formed their other theories, thoughts, beliefs etc. regarding various matters of science.
Nowhere does Barton make the explicit claim that Jefferson considered those three men to be his “favorite theologians”. Rodda quotes Jefferson’s letter to John Trumbull, February 15, 1789 but apparently fails to note Jefferson’s differentiation between the physical and moral sciences. Moral sciences are those that stem from theological and philosophical principles, thoughts, and teachings. Here, by using Jefferson’s own words, Rodda only and quite ironically supports the exact opposite of what she was going for! She says that Barton falsely claims the “trinity” of scholars as theological influences of Jefferson, yet the quote of Jefferson she uses indicates that he was in fact influenced by them in regards to “moral” (or theological/philosophical) sciences. Yes, Jefferson also was influenced by their ideas regarding the “physical” sciences, but at no point did Barton ever claim the contrary.
Because she already hadn’t levied a terrible enough argument, Rodda apparently felt the need to continue with more:
“First of all, it is impossible for Jefferson to have even read Newton’s theological writings because almost none of them had been published at the time that Jefferson was alive.”
Firstly, Rodda references, but not properly cites, a portion from Wikipedia which states that “Newton did not publish any of his works of Biblical study during the time he was alive.” So if Newton died in 1727, we can deduce that his theological works would have started being published after that date. Knowing that, could Jefferson have possibly read the following “theological” works of Newton:
- “Notes on Early Church History” (written c.1680, publication unknown, referenced by Barton on p.39)
- “Upon the Prophecies of Daniel and the Apocalypse of St. John” (published in 1733, referenced by Barton on p.40)
- “Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica” or simply, “Principia” (first published in 1687, again in 1713 and 1726, referenced by Barton on p.40)
Considering these three works were apparently available during the years Jefferson had lived, why yes, he could have “possibly read” those works. Though not mentioned by Barton, other works of Newton likely available to Jefferson include Newton’s A Dissertation upon the Sacred Cubit of the Jews and the Cubits of the several Nations (1737) and his An Historical Account of Two Notable Corruptions of Scripture (1754).
The main source of Rodda’s illogical arguments is her fallacious implication that “science” and “theology” cannot mix. She falsely argues that Jefferson could not have read Newton’s theological works, but then stretches even further by implying that Newton could not have touched on theological points in his other “scientific works” as if theology is separate from “science”.
Theology and philosophy are actually sub-fields within the broad field of “scientific” study, the term science simply meaning “the gaining of knowledge.” This is a common mistake of those who equivocate the term “science” to refer to only a specific branch of science, in this case “physical science”. As Founder John Adams once explained in a letter to Rev. Andrew Norton (November 24, 1819),
“The science of theology is indeed the first philosophy – the only philosophy – it comprehends all philosophy and all science, it is the science of the Universe and its Ruler – and what other object of knowledge can there be… there can therefore never be more than one perfect theologian in the Universe, and that is the eternal omnipotent Jehovah.”
If Newton was a scholar, a philosopher, a theologian, a mathematician, a scientist, then would not his theological beliefs influence his beliefs concerning everything else? Theology formed the man’s “worldview” and we can clearly see it evidenced through ALL of his scientific works. For instance, just look at the section Barton quotes of Newton’s Pincipia (considered a “mathematics” and “philosophy” book):
“This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being. And if the fixed stars are the centres of other like systems, these, being formed by the like wise counsel, must all be subject to the dominion of One.”
I sense quite a significant theological feeling from what somebody like Rodda would apparently consider “not a theology” work, but a strictly scientific work. This is because the reality of the matter is that Newton approached all scientific study from a stance of believing in the all powerful Creator, who through understanding His Creation, he would be able to better understand God. An atheist approaches scientific study with a theological foundation just as a theist (in this case with Newton, a Christian) does, it just happens that these are opposite stances. One believes in God’s existence while the other rejects His existence. Regardless, each has formed and adhered to said theological belief/foundation.
Rodda lastly accuses Barton of “very deliberately [trying to hide] this inconvenient little fact by chopping it out of the article he quotes about Newton’s theological writings…” which again, is using supposition to support her conclusion. Did Barton intentionally take the section out of said quote that talked about Newton’s “non-scientific writings” (please reference the previous paragraph… theology is a scientific study) not fully being publicized until centuries after Newton’s death?
Regardless of whether Barton did or didn’t (only he knows) is besides the point as this issue in no way impacts the previously analyzed facts. If anything, it only helps discredit the atheist/secularist argument even more! If Isaac Newton wrote a ton of works completely focused on theology and he actually believed in God and was a “Christian”, how exactly does that help a person like Rodda’s cause? Rodda says “The reason that Newton’s theological writings… were rejected… [was] because of Newton’s heretical religious views.” Aside from Rodda again making a false equivocation saying that theology is not scientific, she points out nothing new or that has any impact on whether or not Jefferson was influenced by the theological ideas of Newton.
So in the end, we are left with the following conclusions:
- Rodda says “Thomas Jefferson never even read Newton’s theological writings” when this is pure supposition and actually quite refutable seeing as Jefferson himself says that he was influenced by the likes of Newton (and others) and his personal writings evidence that fact.
- She claims that “without a time machine, Jefferson obviously could not have read something that wasn’t even published until over a century after his death.” This is again false because as shown, several of Newtons “theological” works had been published and were available to Jefferson during his life, as well as the fact that Newton’s “scientific” works incorporated various scientific fields such as physical science and moral science, physics, mathematics, geology and even theology.
- Finally Rodda having not provided a single instance of valid, evidence supporting argumentation, fallaciously asserts that “Jefferson considered Newton great because he was a scientist, not a freakin’ theologian!” And on top of all that, the use of the word “freakin'”, even on an informal blog, is pretty amateurish and franking speaking, quite insulting to those of us who actually engage in scholarly research and writing.