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Tuesday, August 23, 2005

A year of blogging: from The First Amendment to Intelligent Design

Blogging has been great for me.  It's allowed me to meet people from parts of the country I didn't know well enough before, and realize that people throughout this incredible country are caring, compassionate, and intelligent with beliefs that are very similar but they don't exactly mirror them.

That's the problem.  We, who are called liberal, don't think exactly alike.  Earlier this summer I wrote about subway searches.  I was scared, angry, tired of answering comments from people who do usually think alike, and can't understand how people on Bring it on! can think differently from one another.

I won't explain how The First Amendment really means that America is a Christian country; because as many times as it's been explained to me I still don't understand how this: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution can possibly mean that as a non-Christian I have been living in a legally Christian country all these years.  Yes the majority of the population is Christian. 

The variety of religious beliefs in the United States surpasses the nation’s multitude of ethnicities, nationalities, and races, making religion another source of diversity rather than a unifying force. This is true even though the vast majority of Americans—83 percent—identify themselves as Christian. One-third of these self-identified Christians are unaffiliated with any church. Moreover, practicing Christians belong to a wide variety of churches that differ on theology, organization, programs, and policies. The largest number of Christians in the United States belong to one of the many Protestant denominations—groups that vary widely in their beliefs and practices. Roman Catholics constitute the next largest group of American Christians, followed by the Eastern Orthodox.

That in no way means that Thomas Jefferson and the other founding fathers meant for this to be a Christian nation.

The roots of the First Amendment can be traced to a bill written by Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) in 1777 and proposed to the Virginia Legislature in 1779. It guaranteed freedom of (and from) religion. After an impassioned speech by James Madison, and after some amendments, it became law on 1786-JAN-16.

Why when we at Bring it on! have been saying this since we began am I bringing this up now?  Because many radical Christian Rightists still don't get it.  It's simple; it's the Amendment that guarantees the most basic of rights, the right to practice or not practice a religion, and never have to worry that a state religion will be formed, and also and equal, guarantees freedom of speech.

Because so many people feel validated and vindicated by the people occupying The White House, Intelligent Design, and The Discovery Institute have been getting much play recently.  Here are a few quotes by William Safire who isn't exactly known as a liberal, but yikes, he's Jewish, so the Radical Christian right always knew that they couldn't trust him, really.

Then along came the phrase intelligent design, and evolution had fresh linguistic competition. Though the phrase can be found in an 1847 issue of Scientific American, it was probably coined in its present sense in "Humanism," a 1903 book by Ferdinand Canning Scott Schiller: "It will not be possible to rule out the supposition that the process of evolution may be guided by an intelligent design."

At about that time, the traditional creationists took up the phrase. "We are a Christian organization and use the term to refer to the Christian God," says John Morris, president of the Institute for Creation Research in Santee, California. "The modern intelligent design movement looks at Dr. Phillip Johnson as its founder. ... His book, 'Darwin on Trial,' kind of started it all in the early '90s. We were using intelligent design as an intuitive term: a watch implies a watchmaker."

The marketing genius within the phrase - and the reason it now drives many scientists and educators up the wall - is in its use of the adjective intelligent, which intrinsically refutes the longstanding accusation of anti-intellectualism. Although the intelligent agent referred to is Divine with a capital D, the word's meaning also rubs off on the proponent or believer. That's why intelligent design appeals to not only the DNA-driven Discovery Institute complexity theorists but also the traditional God's-handiwork faithful.

To counter the "sophisticated branding experts" who flummoxed establishmentarian evolutionaries with intelligent design, opponents of classroom debate over Darwin's theory have come up with a catchily derisive neologism that lumps the modern advocates of intelligent design with religious fundamentalists: neo-creo. The rhyming label was coined on Aug. 17, 1999, by Philip Kitcher, professor of the philosophy of science at Columbia University, New York, in a lively and lengthy online debate in Slate magazine with the abovementioned Phillip Johnson, professor of law at the University of California, Berkeley.

Intelligent design advocates like to point to Albert Einstein, who repeatedly rejected a statistical conception of physics with his famous aphorism, "I cannot believe that God plays dice with the world." However, his recent biographer, Dennis Overbye, a science reporter for The New York Times, says: "Einstein believed there was order in the universe but that it had not been designed for us." Overbye also notes that Einstein wrote the evenhanded "Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind."

Can't really trust Dennis Overbye, he's a reporter for The New York Times.  Like many New Yorkers, I have spent my life in a love/hate relationship with The Times, but I'm very proud it's my hometown newspaper now.  Anybody who wishes to point out that Einstein's brain was smaller than average, and that he couldn't learn to tie his shoes until he was six etc., will be ignored.  Here's something about The Discovery Institute.

After toiling in obscurity for nearly a decade, the institute's Center for Science and Culture has emerged in recent months as the ideological and strategic backbone behind the eruption of skirmishes over science in school districts and state capitals across the country. Pushing a "teach the controversy" approach to evolution, the institute has in many ways transformed the debate into an issue of academic freedom rather than a confrontation between biology and religion.

Mainstream scientists reject the notion that any controversy over evolution even exists. But Mr. Bush embraced the institute's talking points by suggesting that alternative theories and criticism should be included in biology curriculums "so people can understand what the debate is about."

Financed by some of the same Christian conservatives who helped Mr. Bush win the White House, the organization's intellectual core is a scattered group of scholars who for nearly a decade have explored the unorthodox explanation of life's origins known as intelligent design

In any other political climate, these people would be known as crack pots who are pushing a pseudo-scientific answer to the theory of evolution.  But in today's climate they are scientists posing an important alternative to a theory that has been postulated over and over again.  Oh right, Intelligent Design can't be tested through regular tests; a designer acted.  How can you test faith?  Sorry,then it's not science, and can't be taught in public schools.

Here's something by Carl Zimmer that refutes Intelligent Design

It describes how the Institute has spent $3.6 million dollars to support fellowships that include scientific research in areas such as "laboratory or field research in biology, paleontology or biophysics."

So what has that investment yielded, scientifically speaking? I'm not talking about the number of appearances on cable TV news or on the op-ed page, but about scientific achievement. I'm talking about how many papers have appeared in peer-reviewed biology journals, their quality, and their usefulness to other scientists. Peer review isn't perfect--some bad papers get through, and some good papers may get rejected--but every major idea in modern biology has met the challenge.

It's pretty easy to get a sense of this by perusing two of the biggest publically available databases, PubMed (from the National Library of Medicine) and Science Direct (from the publishing giant Reed Elsevier)....Look for the topics that have won people Nobel Prizes--the structure of DNA, the genes that govern animal development, and the like--and you quickly come up with hundreds or thousands of papers.

A search for "Intelligent Design" on PubMed yields 22 results--none of which were published by anyone from the Discovery Insittute. There are a few articles about the political controversy about teaching it in public schools, and some papers about constructing databases of proteins in a smart way. But nothing that actually uses intelligent design to reveal something new about nature. ScienceDirect offers the same picture. (I'm not clever enough with html to link to my search result lists, but try them yourself if you wish.)

Here's another search: "Discovery Institute" and "Seattle" (where the institute is located). One result comes up: a paper by Jonathan Wells proposing that animal cells have turbine-like structures inside them. It describes no experiments, only a hypothesis.

Zimmer's talking about peer review and the importance of papers agreeing with or refuting a hypothesis.  Anybody who does any kind of meaningful research in any field will tell you that the first step is a lit review to see what is or isn't there.  Don't tell me that Intelligent Design is too new to have been studied; it's been discussed enough these last several months, and has been studied for a longer time period.  I have linked to an article from The Natural History Magazine that talks about it in 2002. 

They take it a little less seriously then New Yorkers take subway searches.  They're an inconvenience that can't work. .Subway searches can't work though I would have loved for them to be an easy answer.  Like any good Liberal I have flip-flopped on that one.  I will discuss why they can't work in depth next time.  But I will leave you with one last thing that I have learned this year; the ACLU is a Commie organization out to poison your water and kill your children. No, I added the part after "Commie organization."

Of everything that has happened in the past year, and of all the things that I have learned the movement to stop the ACLU scares me almost as much as or the same as the movement to re-create The First Amendment.

The 2006 elections will be here before we can blink our eyes; and then there will be 2008.  Moderates will take back this country because more and more people are waking up to the reality that the Radical Christian Right has gained power way beyond its membership.  When William Safire and I agree on an issue; it should be a wake-up call.

We Jews don't all know each other; but we do tend to get a bit crazed when The First Amendment is under attack; and Intelligent Design is just another attack on it.

Posted by Pia Savage at 12:00 AM in Current Affairs, Education, Politics, Religion, Right Wing Nut, Science, Weblogs | Permalink


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Thanks, Pia. As with "conservatism," "Intelligent Design" in the present form is an attack on intelligent design in it's traditional form.

Posted by: Doug | Aug 23, 2005 8:37:42 AM

An intersting essay overall.

I just wanted to point out that although the establishment of the United States as a Christian state is not apparent from any document in our Constitution, the implication of such a belief derives not from Jefferson's writings, but from the influence of a man named John Locke.

It's eerie how similar Locke's writing is to the wording and intent of our Constitution, but littered with references to a specific Christian belief. It should be obvious that Jefferson was enamoured with his work at the time of his amendment proposal.

The most common statement that I hear made concerning the lack of Christian wording in the Constituion is that the "Christian" part was implied. "They were all of the same Christian mind, they did not need to spell it out when they all agreed." My belief is that although the founding fathers may have all been Christian, they begrudgingly left that wording out of the Constitution on purpose. If we could just get people to execute the words as-written, we'd be in good shape.

Posted by: Owen | Aug 23, 2005 10:03:12 AM

Welcome back Pia!

I loved Verlyn Klinkenborg's editorial that was in the Times today - just thought I'd throw that link in here to add to the ammunition -


This is my FAVORITE line from that one -

"Much has been made of a 2004 poll showing that some 45 percent of Americans believe that the Earth - and humans with it - was created as described in the book of Genesis, and within the past 10,000 years. This isn't a triumph of faith. It's a failure of education."

SO true!

Posted by: bonnie | Aug 23, 2005 10:52:31 AM

Understanding, my friend, is more important than judgement and generalizations!

Posted by: Eddy | Aug 23, 2005 10:58:23 AM

Meaning what exactly Eddy?
You're fortune cookie quip can be construed pretty much any way the reader chooses, please elaborate!
I am not understanding your generalization so that I may make an unimportant judgement.

Posted by: Matt | Aug 23, 2005 11:54:01 AM

Eddy I hope that I'm understanding. Don't think that it's judgement and generalization when Intelligent Design is going to be taught in many public school systems. That's a direct affront to the First Amendment which is the foundation for all the other Amendments.

When the President of the US gets involved in a matter that should be clear cut--maybe I am being judgemental and am generalizing. But I really think that the President has no right to take place in this debate other than to say "public tax dollars shouldn't support it."

Though I'm not sure who you are saying is being judgemental and generalizing.

Bonnie thanks for the Times Editoral Veryln Klinkenborg is a great writer with even better insights

Owen--off the top of my head--John Locke was a 17th Century English scholar who debased the theory of "Enthausism" or very simply blind faith

The founding fathers might have been enamored by his writings and ideas; but Jefferson made his intentions clear in prior drafts of the First Amendment and in the Virginia documents.

I am saying that Jefferson disavowed the USA from being a legally Christian nation, and think that I made that clear

Posted by: pia | Aug 23, 2005 12:10:48 PM

I'm curious if the implication of Locke's influence is that the founding fathers meant to include Christianity means that the implication of the Magna Carta's influence means they were named James.

Posted by: doug | Aug 23, 2005 12:13:31 PM

Owen, Jefferson may have technically been Christian, but he dispised the people of his time that are similar to the Religious Right of our times. Here is a quote I really liked, but there are many more...

"I concur with you strictly in your opinion of the comparative merits of atheism and demonism, and really see nothing but the latter in the being worshipped by many who think themselves Christians."

-Thomas Jefferson, letter to Richard Price, Jan. 8, 1789 (Richard Price had written to TJ on Oct. 26. about the harm done by religion and wrote "Would not Society be better without Such religions? Is Atheism less pernicious than Demonism?")

Posted by: Dr. Forbush | Aug 23, 2005 4:08:27 PM

Great post Pia.
And they wonder why the United States is so far behind the rest of the world in science and math.

Posted by: COOPER | Aug 23, 2005 9:03:11 PM

Pia - just wondering - do you ever make it over to Daily Kos? http://www.dailykos.com. I think your writing would be a huge contribution over there. Cheers!

Posted by: RenaRF | Aug 23, 2005 10:31:21 PM

Hey y'all ChosenOne here,

Just wanted to let you in on the latest that's been going on with me. The following was an incredible experience for me:

Subject: What a Radio

I Just got my new Lexus RX400h, and returned to the dealer the next day, complaining that I couldn't figure out how the radio worked.

The salesman explained that the radio was voice activated.

Watch this! he said.."Nelson!"

The radio replied, "Ricky or Willie?"

"Willie!" he continued....and On The Road Again came from the speakers.

I drove away happy, and for the next few days, every time I'd
say, "Beethoven!" I'd get beautiful classical music, if I said,
"Beatles!" I'd get one of their awesome songs.

One day, a couple ran a red light and nearly creamed my new
car, but I swerved in time to avoid them.

"ASS-HOLES!" I yelled..... The French National Anthem began to play, sung by Jane Fonda and Michael Moore, backed up by John Kerry on guitar, Al Gore on drums and Bill Clinton on sax....

I LOVE this car !!!!!!!!!

GOD, I love new technology!!

Posted by: TheChosenOne | Aug 23, 2005 10:42:40 PM

Is that the hybrid Lexus SUV?? Would it be crass to ask how much that set you back? I've been looking at it but as I configured it I couldn't get it under $55K. Might be too rich for my blood. ;-)

Posted by: Rena | Aug 23, 2005 11:16:02 PM

I think he is lying. Kerry only spoke french once to a Haitian but atleast he doesn't have a french tailor named Georges de Paris

And none of them are the idiot son of an asshole!!!

Posted by: The Bastard | Aug 23, 2005 11:38:16 PM

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