The Movement from Law based on Christianity
To Law based on Secular Humanism

Jerry Bergman

(Investigator 164, 2015 September)

A ten year study of 15,000 political documents produced by the 55 authors of the Constitution was completed by University of Houston political science professor Donald Lutz and Dr. Charles Hyneman (1994).

English jurist William Blackstone was third on the list of most quoted sources. Only the Bible (34% of cited sources) and political philosopher Charles de Montesquieu (8.3%) outranked him. Of the possible sources from which the founders drew their ideas, perspectives, values and notions about liberty and responsibility, the one that dominates was the Bible.

The fact is, the original four-volume 1773 edition of Sir William Blackstone’s classic masterpiece Commentaries on the Laws of England “formed the core of American jurisprudence both before and after ratification of the U.S. Constitution” (Vitagliano, 2015, p. 14).

The introduction to the newest reprint concluded that “Sir William Blackstones’s Commentaries on the Laws of England, 1765-69, is the most important legal treatise ever written in the English language.”  A central factor in how this foundation of American law was overturned was the rejection of Blackstone and the acceptance of Darwinism. After the Civil War, several leading

influential individuals embraced a new idea: Darwinian evolution. The Origin of Species, published by Charles Darwin in 1859, had a huge impact on the movers and shakers who saw no room in American jurisprudence for Blackstone’s God based view of nature (Vitagliano, 2015, p. 15).

Thus, the rejection of Blackstone’s work began with Darwin’s writing completed 150 years ago. In short, Blackstone’s work was rejected because his

ideas were rooted in a Judeo-Christian view of the world. God designed the world to express certain ideas and to operate under certain laws—and this theory is called “Natural Law.” The influence of Blackstone and other thinkers of a similar vein led to familiar founding sentiments such as the mention of “the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God” in the Declaration of Independence (Vitagliano, 2015, p. 14).

The basis of law was, as stated by Alabama Supreme Court Justice Parker, when God “created man and imbued him with free will to conduct himself in all parts of life, He laid down certain immutable laws of human nature” (Vitagliano, 2015, p. 14). And

in creating mankind, God “gave him also the faculty of reason to discover the purpose, or the purport, of those laws.” Human laws are therefore to be the product of people comprehending God’s purposes and fashioning their own regulations of human conduct to reflect the Divine will (Vitagliano, 2015, p. 15).    

After Darwin, this legal position radically changed. One factor involved Harvard University’s president, Charles Eliot, working to “introduce evolution into the teaching of law” by hiring Christopher Langdell to be the new dean of Harvard Law School. Dean Langdell served from 1870 to 1895, and during this time changed the curriculum foundation from Blackstone’s Commentaries to the so-called case law approach, meaning basing court decisions on the writings of other judges.

Thus began the revolution in American jurisprudence, a process that eventually succeeded in changing “the focus from the God who gave immutable principles … to the judge—the man—who was writing the law” (Parker, quoted in Vitagliano, 2015, p. 15).
By studying past case decisions, judges were able to evolve the law from Christian centered to man centered. In addition, “Further advance of the Darwinian impulse in law came with the influence of the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes,” who served on the court for 30 years, from 1902 until 1932. This long term enabled him to have a major impact on American law, moving from Judeo-Christian based to secular humanism centered.
Holmes is best known today for his Harvard Law Review article published in 1897. In that article Holmes opined that “every word of moral significance” should be “banished” from law, and other ideas should be adopted that “convey legal ideas uncolored by anything outside the law” such as theology, especially Christian morality (1897). The result of Holmes’ efforts achieved “a complete break from Blackstone and the past” and instituted a radically new source of legal authority, secular humanism (Vitagliano, 2015, p. 15). As a result,

Morality was separated from jurisprudence; human expertise and reason were divorced from … ‘Natures God;’ absolute truth was denied; and the responsibility for determining truth was placed firmly in the hands of judges (Parker, quoted in Vitagliano, 2015, p. 15).

What could change this, Judge Parker opined, is the large number of lawsuits fought today in defense of religious liberty. A problem that works against this, maintains Judge Parker, is “While many Christians have come to see the need for a return to founding principles in law, there remains a large percentage of the Christian community that eschews involvement in politics and culture” (Vitagliano, 2015, p. 15).
Unfortunately, as Judge Parker noted, he and many others are very frustrated by those Christians “who attempt to bury their heads in the sand and not see their role in contending or striving for truth … Because absent their involvement, these [secularist] trends will take down their children, even as we see the signs of them taking down our society right now” (Parker, quoted in Vitagliano, 2015, p. 15).


Blackstone, Sir William. 1773.  Commentary on the Laws of England. Oxford, Clarendon Press

Holmes, Jr., Oliver Wendell. 1897. “The Path of the Law.”  Harvard Law Review. 10: 457

Lutz, Donald and Charles Hyneman. 1994. "Toward a Theory of Constitutional Amendment," American Political Science Review, 88: 355-70

Vitagliano, Ed. 2015. “Sir William Blackstone and … the Long War Against Law.”, pp. 14-15, January

Commentaries on the Laws of England, A Facsimile of the First Edition of 1765-1769. 2002. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. Introduced by Stanley N. Katz.

Secular Society – A Response to Jerry Bergman

Kirk Straughen

(Investigator 165, 2015 November)

In his article The Movement from Law based on Christianity to Law based on Secular Humanism (No. 164) Jerry expresses concern about the secularisation of society, and closes his article with a quote which suggests secularist trends will take down society.

But are Jerry's fears well founded? Are secular societies worse than those where religion is dominant?

A common assumption is that religion is vital for society. This belief, however, does not appear to be supported by cross¬-cultural studies that compare democracies of high religiosity with those of a more secular nature:

If the data showed that the U.S. enjoyed higher rates of societal health than the more secular, pro-evolution democracies, then the opinion that popular belief in a creator is strongly beneficial to national cultures would be supported. Although they are by no means utopias, the populations of secular democracies are clearly able to govern themselves and maintain societal cohesion. Indeed, the data examined in this study demonstrates that only the more secular, pro-evolution democracies have, for the first time in history, come closest to achieving practical "cultures of life" that feature low rates of lethal crime, juvenile-adult mortality, sex related dysfunction, and even abortion. The least theistic secular developed democracies such as Japan, France, and Scandinavia have been most successful in these regards. The non-religious, pro-evolution democracies contradict the dictum that a society cannot enjoy good conditions unless most citizens ardently believe in a moral creator. The widely held fear that a Godless citizenry must experience societal disaster is therefore refuted. Contradicting these conclusions requires demonstrating a positive link between theism and societal conditions in the first world with a similarly large body of data — a doubtful possibility in view of the observable trends. (1)

As well as this large scale study of societies, studies have also been conducted on how children who are raised in secular households develop. The findings are as follows:

Far from being dysfunctional, nihilistic and rudderless without the security and rectitude of religion, secular households provide a sound and solid foundation for children, according to Vern Bengston, a USC professor of gerontology and sociology.

For nearly 40 years, Bengston has overseen the longitudinal Study of Generations, which has become the largest study of religion and family life conducted across several generational cohorts in the United States. When Bengston noticed the growth of nonreligious Americans becoming increasingly pronounced, he decided in 2013 to add secular families to his study in an attempt to understand how family life and intergenerational influences play out among the religionless.

He was surprised by what he found: High levels of family solidarity and emotional closeness between parents and nonreligious youth, and strong ethical standards and moral values that had been clearly articulated as they were imparted to the next generation.

"Many nonreligious parents were more coherent and passionate about their ethical principles than some of the 'religious' parents in our study," Bengston told me. "The vast majority appeared to live goal-filled lives characterized by moral direction and sense of life having a purpose."

My own ongoing research among secular Americans — as well as that of a handful of other social scientists who have only recently turned their gaze on secular culture ¬confirms that nonreligious family life is replete with its own sustaining moral values and enriching ethical precepts. Chief among those: rational problem solving, personal autonomy, independence of thought, avoidance of corporal punishment, a spirit of "questioning everything" and, far above all, empathy.

For secular people, morality is predicated on one simple principle: empathetic reciprocity, widely known as the Golden Rule. Treating other people as you would like to be treated. It is an ancient, universal ethical imperative. And it requires no supernatural beliefs. As one atheist mom who wanted to be identified only as Debbie told me: "The way we teach them what is right and what is wrong is by trying to instil a sense of empathy ... how other people feel. You know, just trying to give them that sense of what it's like to be on the other end of their actions. And I don't see any need for God in that...

"If your morality is all tied in with God," she continued, "what if you at some point start to question the existence of God? Does that mean your moral sense suddenly crumbles? The way we are teaching our children ... no matter what they choose to believe later in life, even if they become religious or whatever, they are still going to have that system."

The results of such secular child-rearing are encouraging. Studies have found that secular teenagers are far less likely to care what the "cool kids" think, or express a need to fit in with them, than their religious peers. When these teens mature into "godless" adults, they exhibit less racism than their religious counterparts, according to a 2010 Duke University study. Many psychological studies show that secular grownups tend to be less vengeful, less nationalistic, less militaristic, less authoritarian and more tolerant, on average, than religious adults.

Recent research also has shown that children raised without religion tend to remain irreligious as they grow older — and are perhaps more accepting. Secular adults are more likely to understand and accept the science concerning global warming, and to support women's equality and gay rights. One telling fact from the criminology field: Atheists were almost absent from our prison population as of the late 1990s, comprising less than half of 1% of those behind bars, according to Federal Bureau of Prisons statistics. This echoes what the criminology field has documented for more than a century — the unaffiliated and the nonreligious engage in far fewer crimes. (2)


As we can see the evidence shows that secular societies and secular families, rather than being a threat to civilization actually promote civilizing influences. The only people who need fear secularism are those fanatics who wish to use religion to manipulate others, as can be seen in the Middle East today.


(1) Paul, Gregory S. Page 7 in Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies:
(2) Zuckerman, Phil How Secular Family Values Stack Up: