I’m going to have to back up a bit on this and I’ll tell you why. Very late last night I was reading the letters of Adams and Jefferson and started to notice other quotes often used. One was out of The God Delusion, it’s a quote by Jefferson about Jesus. What I found interesting was two sentences before this damning quote is mention of Atheist.
Well, this got me thinking, how far did I read into the letter that contains the second part of the Miller series quote. This morning I decided to read the entire thing.
It is from, The Works of John Adams, found HERE - as you may notice it is much like, The Wisdom of John Adams, that you referenced. I also learned a trick with entries in JSTOR, - http://www.jstor.org/ - entering bits of a quote will highlight what is in the entry. These three references match very well for the original writings of the correspondences. I also have access to the university search databases such as Academic Search Premier, and again here when referenced in a historical journal or document, you find consistences with the other three.
But, anyway, lets take a look deeper into the quote by Adams that starts : “They all believe that great principle which has produced this boundless universe…..”
It is from a letter from John Adams to Jefferson…
~~ “Your university is a noble employment in your old age, and your ardor for its success does you honor; but I do not approve of your sending to Europe for tutors and professors. I do believe there are sufficient scholars in America, to fill your professorships and tutorships with more active ingenuity and independent minds than you can bring from Europe. The Europeans are all deeply tainted with prejudices, both ecclesiastical and temporal, which they can never get rid of. They are all infected with episcopal and presbyterian creeds, and confessions of faith. They all believe that great Principle which has produces this boundless universe, Newton’s universe and Herschells’ universe, came down to this little ball, to be spit upon by Jews; And until this awful blasphemy is got rid of, there never will be any liberal science in the world.
I salute your fireside with best wishes and best affections for their health, wealth and prosperity.” ~~ JA
The way it is set up in the Miller series actually fit this quite well. If you start from around 40 minutes into part 1, he is continuing his conversation about religion in America, especially Christian faith, as a theme in public life. He contrast this by saying :
~“it’s interesting because when this country declared its independence in 1776….the very first president of the United States, George Washington as an example was a very unenthusiastic church goer, who always walked out of a service before the congregation took the sacraments… so he subsequently never bothered to attend the church at all, And the presidents who closely followed him in that office were often on record as being considerably less then devout Christians.” ~ HM
What H. Miller is talking about folds into the quotes quite well. In fact, from reading the Jefferson quote, he is also quite right.
Adams is making a clear strike for independent thought, notice his wording, he is partly saying it is the Europeans that are biased by faith which leads to incoherence. Neither of them thought highly of the Christian faith at that time, and they quite plainly say so in their correspondence.
They also correspond about the “miracles” in the Bible as believed by Christians at that time. And here again neither of them to be favorable to this idea.
So, going back to the Miller series quote:
~“God is an essence we know nothing of. Until this awful blasphemy is got rid of, there will never be any liberal science in the world.”~
Clearly a manipulation was done, because put together I find no evidence Adams said this and very reliable evidence that they are taken from from the quotes we provided.
But, it is no where close to how I reacted to it at first discovery. Taking the entire thing in context, it is clear to me it fits. In fact, Jefferson uses the exact phrasing when speaking of God, using the “know nothing of”, ideal. This is saying the “miracle” stories are not believable, that God has not shown himself as presented in text.
The bias of “miracle” believers (stories of Jesus pertaining to miracles, rising from grave etc.) is what Adams does not see as fit to teach at the university because a science can not be fully objective, liberal, open when this bias is possibly tainting the teaching. Again, it is a strike for free, open inquiry.
The blasphemy then is that someone claims to “know God” and show this through “miracle” stories.