Posts Tagged ‘Thomas Jefferson’

Democracy Now on the Crimes and Mass Murders of President George H.W. Bush

December 10, 2018

The Friday before last, former president George H.W. Bush, the father of former president George ‘Dubya’ Bush, finally fell off his perch at the age of 94. Like Monty Python’s parrot, he had shuffled off this mortal coil and joined the choir invisible. He was an ex-president, and well and truly. He was buried with due state honours last Wednesday.

And the press and media fell over themselves to praise him to the rafters. If you believed them, you would have thought that America had lost a statesman of the stature of the ancient Athenian politico, Pericles. Or that he combined in himself the wisdom of Thomas Jefferson, Maddison and the rest of the Founding Fathers.

He wasn’t. He was the successor to Ronald Reagan and a former head of the CIA, and had been involved with shady dealings, dirty, proxy wars and invasions in Latin America and Iraq, that had cost thousands their lives, while thousands others were tortured by the dictators he supported. And domestically he was responsible for racist electioneering and a highly discriminatory drugs policy that has resulted in the massive disproportionate incarceration of Black American men.

Mehdi Hasan on George Bush Senior

He was a disgusting creature, and Mehdi Hasan wrote a piece in the Intercept describing just how disgusting and reprehensible he was. In the piece below, he also appeared on Democracy Now! to talk to host Amy Goodman about Bush senior and his legacy of corruption, murder and terror.

Bush was elected president in 1990. He was a former director of the CIA, and served from 1981-89 as Reagan’s vice-president. Despite calling for a kinder, gentler politics when he was vice-president, Bush refused to tackle climate change, saying that the American way of life was not up for negotiation, defended future supreme court justice Clarence Thomas even after he was accused of sexual harassment. He was responsible for launching the first Gulf War in Iraq in 1991. During the War, the US air force deliberately bombed an air raid shelter in Baghdad killing 408 civilians. The relatives of some of those killed tried to sue Bush and his deputy, Dick Cheney, for war crimes. The attack on Iraq continued after the end of the war with a devastating sanctions regime imposed by Bush, and then his son’s invasion in 2003.

The Invasion of Panama

In 1990 Bush sent troops into Panama to arrest the country’s dictator, General Manuel Noriega on charges of drug trafficking. Noriega had previously been a close ally, and had been on the CIA’s payroll. 24,000 troops were sent into the country to topple Noriega against Panama’s own military, which was smaller than the New York police department. 3,000 Panamanians died in the attack. In November 2018, the inter-American Commission on Human Rights called on Washington to pay reparations for what they considered to be an illegal invasion.

Pardoning the Iran-Contra Conspirators

As one of his last acts in office, Bush also gave pardons to six officials involved in the Iran-Contra scandal. This was a secret operation in which Reagan sold arms to Iran in order to fund the Contras in Nicaragua, despite Congress banning the administration from funding them. Bush was never called to account for his part in it, claiming he was ‘out of the loop’, despite the testimony of others and a mass of documents suggesting otherwise.

The Collapse of Communism and Neoliberalism

Bush’s period in office coincided with the collapse of Communism. In the period afterwards, which Bush termed the New World Order, he was instrumental in spreading neoliberalism and the establishment of the NAFTO WTO treaties for international trade.

Hasan not only wrote for the Intercept, he also hosted their Deconstructed podcast, as well as a show, Up Front, on Al-Jazeera English.

The Media’s Praise of Bush

Goodman and Hasan state that there is a natural reluctance against speaking ill of the dead. But they aren’t going to speak ill of Bush, just critically examine his career and legacy. Hasan states that as a Brit living in Washington he’s amazed at the media hagiography of Bush. He recognizes that Bush had many creditable achievements, like standing up to the NRA and AIPAC, but condemns the way the media ignored the rest of Bush’s legacy, especially when it involves the deaths of thousands of people as absurd, a dereliction of duty. He states that Bush is being described as the ‘anti-Trump’, but he did many things that were similar to the Orange Buffoon. Such as the pardoning of Caspar Weinberger on the eve of his trial, which the independent special counsel at the time said was misconduct and that it covered up the crime. And everyone’s upset when Trump says he might pardon Paul Manafort. Bush should be held to the same account. It doesn’t matter that he was nicer than Trump, and less aggressive than his son, he still has a lot to answer for.

The Iran-Contra Scandal

Goodman gets Hasan to explain about the Iran-Contra scandal, in which Reagan sold arms to Iran, then an enemy state, to fund a proxy war against a ‘Communist’ state in South America despite a congressional ban. He states that it was a huge scandal. Reagan left office without being punished for it, there was a Special Council charged with looking into it, led by Lawrence Walsh, a deputy attorney general under Eisenhower. When he looked into it, he was met with resistance by Reagan’s successor, Bush. And now we’re being told how honest he was. But at the time Bush refused to hand over his diary, cooperate with the Special Counsel, give interviews, and pardoned the six top neocons responsible. The Special Counsel’s report is online, it can be read, and it says that Bush did not cooperate, and that this was the first time the president pardoned someone in a trial in which he himself would have to testify. He states that Bush and Trump were more similar in their obstruction of justice than some of the media would have us believe.

Iraq Invasion

They then move on to the Iraq invasion, and play the speech in which Bush states that he has begun bombing to remove Saddam Hussein’s nuclear bomb potential. It was done now, because ‘the world could wait no longer’. Because of Bush’s attack on Iraq, his death was marked by flags at half-mast in Kuwait as well as Washington. Hasan states that Hussein invaded Kuwait illegally, and it was a brutal occupation. But Hasan also says that Bush told the country that it came without any warning or provocation. But this came after the American ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie, told Hussein that American had no opinion on any border dispute with Kuwait. This was interpreted, and many historians believe, that this was a green light to Hussein to invade.

Bush also told the world that America needed to go into Iraq to protect Saudi Arabia, as there were Iraqi troops massing on the border of that nation. This was another lie. One reporter bought satellite photographs of the border and found there were no troops there. It was lie, just as his son lied when he invaded twelve years later. As for the bombing of the Amariyya air raid shelter, which was condemned by Human Rights Watch, this was a crime because the Americans had been told it contained civilians. Bush also bombed the civilian infrastructure, like power stations, food processing plants, flour mills. This was done deliberately. Bush’s administration told the Washington Post that it was done so that after the war they would have leverage over the Iraqi government, which would have to go begging for international assistance. And this was succeeded by punitive sanctions that killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children. It all began on Bush’s watch.

Racism, Willie Horton and Bush’s Election Campaign

They then discuss his 1988 election campaign, and his advert attacking his opponent, Michael Dukakis. Dukakis was attacked for having given a weekend pass from prison to Willie Horton, a Black con serving time for murder, who then went and kidnapped a young couple, stabbing the man and repeatedly raping the woman. This was contrasted with Bush, who wanted the death penalty for first degree murder. The advert was created by Lee Atwater and Roger Ailes, who later apologized for it on his deathbed. This advert is still studied in journalism classes, and until Trump’s ad featuring the migrant caravan appeared it was considered the most racist advert in modern American political history. Atwater said that they were going to talk about Horton so much, people would think he was Dukakis’ running mate. Bush approved of this, and talked about Horton at press conferences. And unlike Atwater, he never apologized. Roger Stone, whom Hasan describes as one of the most vile political operatives of our time, an advisor to Donald Trump and Nixon, actually walked up to Atwater and told him he would regret it, as it was clearly a racist ad. When even Roger Stone says that it’s a bad idea, you know you’ve gone too far. But the press has been saying how decent Bush was. Hasan states he has only two words for that: Willie Horton.

In fact, weekend passes for prison inmates was a policy in many states, including California, where Ronald Reagan had signed one. Hasan calls the policy what it was: an attempt to stoke up racial fears and division by telling the public that Dukakis was about to unleash a horde of Black murderers, who would kill and rape them. And ironically the people who were praising Bush after his death were the same people attacking Trump a week earlier for the migrant caravan fearmongering. It reminded everyone of the Willie Horton campaign, but for some reason people didn’t make the connection between the two.

Racism and the War on Drugs

Hasan also makes the point that just as Bush senior had no problem creating a racist advert so he had no problem creating a racist drug war. They then move on to discussing Bush’s election advert, in which he waved a bag of crack cocaine he claimed had been bought in a park just a few metres from the White House. But the Washington Post later found out that it had all been staged. A drug dealer had been caught selling crack in Lafayette Square, but he had been lured there by undercover Federal agents, who told him to sell it there. The drug dealer even had to be told the address of the White House, so he could find it. It was a nasty, cynical stunt, which let to an increase in spending of $1 1/2 billion on more jails, and prosecutors to combat the drugs problem. And this led to the mass incarceration of young Black men, and thousands of innocent lives lost at home and abroad in the drug wars. And today Republican senators like Chris Christie will state that this is a failed and racist drug war.

This was the first in a series of programmes honouring the dead – which meant those killed by Bush, not Bush himself. The next programme in the series was on what Bush did in Panama.

Dark Rock and Bush: The Sisters of Mercy’s ‘Vision Thing’

I’ve a suspicion that the track ‘Vision Thing’ by the Sisters of Mercy is at least partly about George Bush senior. The Sisters are a dark rock band. Many of front man Andrew Eldritch’s lyrics are highly political, bitterly attacking American imperialism. Dominion/Mother Russia was about acid rain, the fall of Communism, and American imperialism and its idiocy. Eldritch also wanted one of their pop videos to feature two American servicemen in a cage being taunted by Arabs, but this was naturally rejected about the bombing of American servicemen in Lebanon. Another song in the same album, ‘Dr Jeep’, is about the Vietnam War.

‘Vision Thing’ seems to take its title from one of Bush’s lines, where he said, if I remember correctly, ‘I don’t have the vision thing.’ The song talks about ‘another black hole in the killing zone’, and ‘one million points of light’. It also has lines about ‘the prettiest s**t in Panama’ and ‘Take back what I paid/ to another M*****f****r in a motorcade’. These are vicious, bitter, angry lyrics. And if they are about Bush senior, then it’s no wonder.

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Facebook Censors George Monbiot Movie on Western Imperialism and Genocide

October 27, 2018

Facebook has been accused recently of censorship and pulling down masses of left-wing and alternative sites. In this video, RT America reports on Facebook’s censorship of a film by Groaniad columnist, George Monbiot for Double Down Media, on the crimes of the British Empire and Columbus’ genocide of the Amerindians. RT’s reporter states that it disproved the claim that the West’s conquests were less barbaric than others.

This is then followed by a piece from movie, in which Monbiot explains that before Columbus landed in the New World, there were 100 million native Americans. By the 19th century, there were less than one million. It was a policy deliberately endorsed by George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, who wrote of the necessity of wiping out Native American peoples.

There then follows a Tweet from Double Down News reporting how Facebook had taken down the movie for ‘violating community standards’. The company states that it was a work of serious journalism which had gather 1 million views. The company was given no right of appeal or any reason for censorship. Why, they ask, is Facebook censoring history?

This came after Facebook took 800 pages they claimed were posting spam. They also used that excuse to pull down other alternative sites, like police watchdog groups and a fan page for RT correspondent Rachel Blevins. Monbiot himself tweeted that he thought the company’s banning of the Columbus film was a one-off, but now it appears to be part of a purge of dissenting posts.

The piece’s host then turns to interview George Galloway in London, asking him if this latest act of censorship by Facebook will lead to more people paying attention to the story.

Galloway replies that it sounds like a great video, and that he’ll try and see if he can go and see it somewhere, observing that the book they try to ban always goes to the top of the bestseller lists. Hopefully this will backfire on Facebook. He goes on to say that he himself has about a million and a half followers on social media, and because he is so well-known, he always thought he’d be invulnerable to this kind of thing. But George Monbiot is a very famous journalist and something of an insider in the British establishment, and now it’s happened to him. He states that it is quite intolerable that Facebook, a private company, can take an anti-commercial decision – which it is, if the movie had a million views – based on the political view of censoring history. And he states that he’s always known that British imperial history is censored from schooldays onward. We’re taught all about the crimes of Hitler and Stalin, but never about the crimes of imperialism.

The programme’s presenter states that there is an irony there, as Monbiot’s film touched on the way that history has been censored, and then Facebook does it all over again. Galloway replies that some of this censorship will be accidents, performed by some machine or factotum somewhere striking down something that casts an unfortunate light on the proprietors. It may be reinstated. But the general pattern seems to be that Facebook has become an adjunct of the Deep State in Britain, the United States and elsewhere, and that Deep State is bent on suppressing dissident views. This should open up a space for capitalism to work, of it works as it’s claimed to, for new Facebooks to come online, because after all it’s just a noticeboard. He hopes that the laws of commercial reality will reassert themselves. And people will know that if there’s a million views for Monbiot’s video, that’s a market not just an audience, and we’ll have to wait and see what emerges.

The host then goes on to ask him to talk about the crimes of western civilization and the British Empire which he thinks are overlooked. Galloway responds by saying the one she’s just discussed, about the massacre of nearly 100 million native Americans, is fairly hard to beat. ‘That is a Holocaust with a double capital ‘H”. But, he continues, the British Empire was committing crimes well into his own lifetime. We were shooting down Yemenis in Aden in the Crater(?) district when the Beatles were No. 1; we were shooting down Irish people on the streets of the Six Counties in the North of Ireland when the Beatles had been gone for several years. British imperial crimes are almost without number. He quotes his Irish grandfather as saying that the sun never set on the British Empire as God would never trust them in the dark. He goes on to say that the crimes of the British Empire continue to this day, in Yemen and Syria. Galloway describes the Kenyan examples, which Monbiot discusses in his film, as ‘quite extraordinary’. In Kenya and Malaya we were paying British servicemen a bounty for coming in with the heads of rebels, who were fighting for their own countries’ freedom from the British Empire. ‘And they talk about savages’.

It’s astonishing that Facebook should censor Monbiot’s video. I haven’t seen it, and don’t know anything about it except what is said here. But it seems to be well-established, uncontroversial fact. Columbus’ landing in the Americas did lead to the genocide of the Native American peoples. This was through exposure to European diseases, to which they had no immunity, enslavement and being worked to death. And what Columbus and the Spanish did the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean is truly horrific. They were worked to death producing gold. If they didn’t produce enough, they were mutilated. Their hands were cut off and hung round their necks. Indigenous women were raped by the conquistadors, and beaten if they didn’t show themselves to be sufficiently enthusiastic about pleasing their masters. Quite apart from the murder of their priests and aristocracy as pagans.

As for what the British did in Kenya, that can be read about in books like Africa’s Secret Gulags, amongst other books. I’ve posted reviews here from Lobster of more recent books discussing more recent British covert actions aimed at subverting nationalist movements and the democratic process in the former British colonies.

Facebook’s censorship of dissident and oppositional pages is a threat to the new freedoms of information that the internet has brought. Alternative news shows like Sam Seder’s Majority Report are discussing the possibility that the Net should be brought into government ownership in order to preserve it from interference and censorship by private corporations. I’m not sure this would do much good, as it would leave the American government able to censor it, in the same way that Blair, Sarkozy and Berlusconi used their power to censor and control information and news on state television. But I don’t think there can be much doubt now that Facebook and other big internet corporations are censoring news very much in concert with the demands of the Conservative elite and Deep State.

Benjamin Banneker, America’s First Black Mathematician

October 26, 2018

October is Black History Month, and there’s a concern to find and publicise the scientific achievements of Black people. Leafing through David Wells’ The Penguin Book of Curious and Interesting Mathematics (London: Penguin 1997), I found this chapter about the pioneering Black American mathematician, Benjamin Banneker. I should warn readers that the quotation seems to come from a rather dated text, and uses the term ‘Negro’, which many Black people don’t like. However, don’t let it put you off the passage, which is well worth reading and clearly comes from someone profoundly impressed by Banneker’s achievements.

‘There is much to admire in the life of Benjamin Banneker (1731-1806). He was the first American Negro mathematician; he published a very meritorious almanac from 1792 to 1806, making his own astronomical calculations; using a borrowed watch as a model, he constructed entirely from hard wood a clock that served as a reliable timepiece for over twenty years; he won the enthusiastic praise of Thomas Jefferson, who was then the Secretary of State; he served as a surveyor on the Commission appointed to determine the boundaries of the District of Columbia; he was known far and wide for his ability in solving difficult arithmetical problems and mathematical puzzles quickly and accurately. These achievements are all the more remarkable in that he had almost no formal schooling and was therefore largely self-taught, studying his mathematics and astronomy from borrowed books while he worked for a living as a farmer.

‘But laudable as all the accomplishments of Benjamin Banneker mentioned above are, there is a further item that perhaps draws stronger applause. In his almanac of 1793, he included a proposal for the establishment of the office of Secretary of Peace in the President’s Cabinet, and laid out an idealistic pacifist plan to insure national peace. Every country in the world has the equivalent of a Secretary of War. Had Benjamin Banneker’s proposal been sufficiently heeded, the United States of America might have been the first country to have a Secretary of Peace! The possibility of realizing this honour still exists – and the time for it is overripe.’ (p. 97).

He must have been an amazing man, not just intelligent, but also highly determined to educated himself and rise so far in American society at a time when Blacks were enslaved and heavily discriminated against, even as free people. And he clearly puts the lie to the belief that Blacks are automatically thicker than everyone else, although the racists now are careful not to state this quite so explicitly.

Last Sunday, the Doctor and her friends traveled back to ’50s America to meet Rosa Parks. Parks was the lady of colour, whose refusal to stand for a White passenger started the bus boycott that became one of the major starting points of the Civil Rights movement. And on the way, they also met Dr. Martin Luther King, who was then a pastor at her local church. It was good, inspiring stuff, co-written by prize-winning children’s writer, Malorie Blackman. Who is herself Black.

The Doctor, as he/she flies back and forth across time, regularly meets the great figures of the past, like Shakespeare, Richard the Lionheart and so on. In a David Tennant story, the Doctor travels back in time to Pompeii, just before it erupts. This is caused by the presence of aliens, made of stone, deep within the volcano. Bending the laws of time, he saves one Roman who would otherwise have been destined to perish. This is a young man, who wants to grow up to be a philosopher. The Doctor rescues him, and encourages him to pursue his dream of studying the deep nature of reality. If the Beeb ever decides they want to try a similar storyline in which the Doctor meets a Black scientist or mathematician of the past, looking at this they should choose Banneker.

And we definitely, definitely need his plan for a Secretary of State. The various departments and ministries of war have no been renamed ‘Defence’ following World War II, at least in the West. But the world’s countries are just as belligerent, and the wars now being fought by the West in the Middle East are still for reasons of economic imperialism, however much they’re being sold to the public as humanitarian interventions.

And it’s all the more pressing now that we have governments in America and Britain determined to sell arms to the bloodiest of dictators and despots. Trump is withdrawing from an anti-nuclear treaty with Russia and gearing up for an invasion of Iran.

We’ve had a Black president in the shape of Barack Obama, but Banneker’s dream is still to be realized. Perhaps if more people became aware of him and his achievements, more people would come to support a Secretary of Peace. And perhaps ending wars before they could even begin.

Trump Blames Fail in Iowa due to Rumours

February 3, 2016

According to Mike over at Vox Political, Donald Trump is already pleading dirty tricks to explain his failure to take the lead in the Iowa Caucus. He claims that the results were skewed by a rumour going round that one of the other Republican candidate, Ben Carson, was going to retire. See http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/02/03/trump-gets-the-hump-over-iowa-vote/. Mike also reports that the piece about it in the Guardian states that this is par for the course in America. Both George Dubya and his father are supposed to have beaten their opponents by spreading rumours about them, or otherwise manipulating images to blacken their names.

This is true, and it’s been going on almost since the beginnings of America itself as an independent, sovereign nation. Andrew Jackson was plagued by a series of malicious rumours. One of these was that he had taken the virginity of the daughter of southern gentleman, while staying with the girl’s parents. Another was that he was drunkard and an atheist, who planned to burn Bibles. There are eerie echoes of that today, in all the bizarre pronouncements made by various Republicans about liberals in general being manic atheists, determined to destroy Christianity and American pride, decency and liberty. Ann Coulter devoted a whole book to this point, Godless: the Church of Liberalism. Or some such, in which she declared that liberals were indeed heartily opposed to God, and formed a dire atheist church in which ‘abortion is the highest sacrament’. There are atheist churches. One opened here in Bristol last October, but ‘liberalism’ as a general political creed isn’t a religious, or anti-religious faith. Atheists can be liberals, but then, so can people of faith and agnostics. And indeed, Soviet Communism was militantly atheist, but hardly liberal.

The book Rumor, by Hal Morgan and Kerry Tucker (New York: Penguin 1984) lists some of the American politicians, who’ve been plagued by malign rumours. These include John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Martin van Buren, William Henry Harrison, James Polk, Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson, Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison, Theodore Roosevelt, Warren G. Harding, Franklin D. Roosevelt and JFK.

There’s a story about one of the 20th century American presidents – I think it may have been FDR, but I’m not sure – states that when one of his aids asked him what they were going to say about his rival, the great man responded by telling him to spread a particularly vicious rumour. The man was a farmer, and so FDR, or whoever, said, ‘Tell ’em he f*cks his pigs’. The aid was horrified, and protested that it was untrue. But the president continued. ‘Yeah, but let the sonofabitch prove it.’

Sometimes the attempts to cast aspersions on a rival’s character are genuinely witty, and actually show the man or woman to be entirely blameless, while seeming to do the opposite:

George ‘Smooch’ Smathers, in his 1950 campaign for the Senate, made this speech attacking his rival:

Are you aware that Claude Pepper is known all over Washington as a shameless extrovert? Not only that, but this man is reliably reported to practice nepotism with his sister-in-law, and he has a sister who was once a thespian in wicked New York. Worst of all, it is an established fact that Mr Pepper, before his marriage, practiced celibacy.

So it’s been a long established custom in America to use all manner of dirty tricks to spread damaging rumours against one’s political opponents. However, the authors of Rumor also noted that this rarely works, though it’s the only positive thing that can be said of the tactic.

Not that this changes what happened to Trump. He still lost, and he’s whining about it. As you’d expect.

18th Century Religious Scepticism Not Based on Science: Part 2 – Atheist Materialism

June 8, 2013

In the first part of this essay, I examined how most of the arguments against Christianity and revealed religion used by the Deists were philosophical, rather than scientific. Science did play a part in their attacks on Christianity, but it was a subordinate role. The same is true of 18th century atheism. Most of the arguments used by Jean Meslier in his Testament, for example are again, moral, philosophical and political, rather than scientific. Meslier was a former Roman Catholic priest, who attacked Christianity and particularly Roman Catholicism for its supposed immorality. He considered that religions were artificial creations of ruling elites, intended to justify and further their own power. He attacked Christian morality for supposedly preaching an acquiescent attitude towards tyranny, like monarchist rule in contemporary France. Like many later atheists, he also attacked the idea of an immortal soul and rewards in the hereafter for discouraging people from social reform here on Earth.

The Three Scientific Developments Used to Argue for Atheism in the 18th Century

Like some of the Deists, he also believed that matter had self-organising properties. The evidence for this came from three sources. These were John Turbeville Needham’s experiments into spontaneous generation, Haller’s discovery that muscles from recently deceased animals contracted when pricked, and the hydra’s ability to regenerate when cut. Needham was an English Roman Catholic priest. In his experiments he noted the appearance of microscopic organisms from the remains of vegetable matter and even the gravy from roast meat. Albrecht von Haller was a Swiss naturalist, who believed that there was an unknown force present in the heart. This indicated that matter had its was able to move itself independently of the soul. La Mettrie, the author of the materialist, L’homme machine (Man a Machine) of 1747 incorporated it into his own arguments against the existence of the soul. The dissection of polyps showed that this creature would become two or more when cut into pieces, and so apparently disproved the idea of indivisible animals. Finally, the great 18th century atheist, Denis Diderot argued living creatures may have evolved over millions of years to produce their present forms. He suggested a kind of natural selection, in which useless or defective physiological features had died out. This gave living creatures the appearance of design, even though they were simply the products of chance evolution.

These Experiments Do Not Necessarily Lead to Atheism

In fact all three of these scientific discoveries could be interpreted in other ways that did not support materialist atheism. Needham himself did not see any danger to religion in his results. Indeed, he was attacked by Voltaire as an Irish Jesuit monger of fraudulent miracles, despite the fact that he was English, not Irish, and not a Jesuit. As for the new force of motion supposedly inherent in muscle tissue, Haller believed it was similar to gravity. Both forces were known through their effects, but were ultimately instruments of a Creator God. He considered the presence of this so-called “irritability” in muscle tissue was much less important than contemporary debates in embryology in supporting or leading to atheism. At the time Haller was engaged in an argument with C.F. Wolff over the nature of the development of the embryo. The debate centred around two rival concepts, epigenesis and pre-formation. Epigenesis was the view that the embryo developed from the less organised material of the egg. Pref-formation, by contrast, was the view that creature already existed, pre-formed in the egg or sperm of the animal. Haller strongly supported pre-formation. He considered that the development of living beings from unorganised matter would indicate that similarly life itself had originated through these forces without the action of a creator God. Wolff believed that his observation of chick embryos had indeed shown that individual organisms develop from the primordial, undifferentiated matter of the egg. Unlike Haller, he did not see any theological difference whether one believed in either theory. He stated that ‘Nothing is demonstrated against the existence of divine power, even if bodies are produced by natural forces and causes, for these very forces and causes … claim an author for themselves just as much as organic bodies do.’ Thus immaterial forces and the matter they shaped were both grounded in God.

AS for Abraham Trembley’s experiments with the polyp, this was only felt to show that polyps did not have indivisible souls. It was not believed to be relevant to other animals and humans. Indeed, more conservative naturalists believed that the polyp was actually a missing link in God’s great chain of being between plants and animals.

Joseph Priestley: Scientist, Revolutionary and Unitarian, Rational Christianity

Some Unitarians, such as the Dissenting Minister Joseph Priestly, also managed to combine materialism with a form of Christianity. Priestly was an active scientific research. His experiments on the various gases included the production of what he termed ‘dephlogisticated air’, which was later called ‘oxygen’ by Lavoisier. Priestly attempted to show that materialist science would serve to purify Christianity of what he considered to be superstitious features derived from ancient Platonism, such as, he believed, the doctrine of the Trinity. Priestly was a philosophical monist, who believed that God worked through forces that were neither physical or immaterial as commonly understood. They could be identified with matter, but this was a matter that possessed active powers of motion and organisation. He did not believe in an immaterial soul, but did look forward to the Resurrection. He also accepted miracles, and argued as proof that without them, Christianity could not possibly have spread. He was also an egalitarian, who supported first the French, and then the American Revolutions. He finally moved to America after the War of Independence. In an 1802 letter to Thomas Jefferson, Priestly described how he was looking forward to living under the protection of the American Constitution. He praised this as ‘the most favourable to political liberty, and private happiness, of any in the world’. Despite his scientific scepticism of orthodox Christianity, he always denied that he was an atheist. When one of his French materialist friends at a dinner stated that he no more believed in Christianity than they did, he replied that he was indeed a Christian believer.

Science as Means for Purifying Christianity, Unitarians Active in Scientific Advances of Industrial Revolution

For Priestly, scientific progress was ‘the means under God of extirpating all error and prejudice, and of putting an end to all undue and usurped ahtority in the business of religion as well as science’. These views were shared by other Unitarians in the main British manufacturing towns. These Unitarians were active in scientific research and their practical application in industry. They were particularly prominent in the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society, but were also strongly present in most of scientific societies outside London. William Turner, another Unitarian, was the dominant figure behind the Newcastle Literary and Philosophical Society. Turner has been described as believing that the Industrial Revolution was not happening behind God’s back, but at His express command.

Conclusion: 18th Century Science Not Necessarily atheist, Could Lead instead to Rational, Unitarian Christianity

Thus, scientific developments also played only a small role in the atheist arguments that arose during the 18th century. Like the arguments of the Deists, these were also primarily moral, philosophical and political. The three major scientific observations that did seem to argue for atheism and materialism – Needham’s observation of spontaneous generation, the response of dissected muscle tissue to stimulation and the polyp were largely seen as having no relevance to the wider debate about the Almighty. In the case of the continued activity in muscle tissue, this was seen as like Newton’s force of gravity in being based in God, and as a force through which the Lord worked.
Finally, Joseph Priestly and his fellow Unitarian scientists showed how some Dissenters combined a belief in science to produce an unorthodox form of rational Christianity.