Friday, June 26, 2009


Dissembling For God

David Klinghoffer is trying to claim that even a "deist" like Thomas Jefferson supported Intelligent Design. He bases this on a quote mine that I've already addressed:

I hold (without appeal to revelation) that when we take a view of the Universe, in its parts general or particular, it is impossible for the human mind not to perceive and feel a conviction of design, consummate skill, and indefinite power in every atom of its composition....

The movements of the heavenly bodies, so exactly held in their course by the balance of centrifugal and centripetal forces, the structure of our earth itself, with its distribution of lands, waters and atmosphere, animal and vegetable bodies, examined in all their minutest particles, insects mere atoms of life, yet as perfectly organised as man or mammoth, the mineral substances, their generation and uses, it is impossible, I say, for the human mind not to believe that there is, in all this, design, cause and effect, up to an ultimate cause, a fabricator of all things from matter and motion, their preserver and regulator while permitted to exist in their present forms, and their regenerator into new and other forms.[Emphasis Klinghoffer's]
Unfortunately, conservative theists are not the only ones who try to dig up Jefferson and flop him around after his death like the poor Ayatollah. Sometimes atheists do too.

Jefferson was neither a deist nor an atheist (nor, perhaps, a Christian, depending on how you define the term). But he certainly was a theist and a providentialist and a believer in an interventionalist God.

But Klinghoffer adds a layer of stupidity by emphasizing Jefferson's understanding of biology. As a commenter there, "freelunch," says:

So, David, you have to go back before scientists had any idea how the complexity of life came to be to find a sensible person whose speculation fits your biases. Wow.

Your problem is that you cannot find us a scientist of today who believes this. You have to ignore two centuries of discoveries to defend your thesis.
Before Copernicus, many, if not most, intelligent people perceived and felt a firm conviction that the sun orbited the Earth ... and why not? In the absence of science, it certainly seems that the Earth is immovable and that the sun moves around it. The point of science is to extend our knowledge beyond so-called "common sense" and to discover how the world really works.

Jefferson's letter makes it clear beyond any doubt that he is discussing a theological argument of the sort made by William Paley in his book Natural Theology. His statement that he is not appealing to revelation is not, as Klinghoffer tries to imply, a claim that it is a scientific or secular claim. Quite the contrary.

Klinghoffer is either incapable of reading English; did not read Jefferson's letter in full, in which case he mislead his readers about his knowledge of Jefferson's intent; or he is deliberately dissembling. He's a professional writer and can obviously write in English.

That leaves one option.


There is a problem with the word "deist", which in the eighteenth century generally meant a person who did not believe in revelation. Its meaning has shifted so that today it means a person who denies providence.

Aside from that, of course the belief in "intelligent design" is a non-providentialist belief. The "watchmaker" analogy - that God is a "watchmaker" who makes the universe like a watch which He then lets run on its own - is a standard analogy for non-providentialist deism.

Another example of a deist who liked the "watchmaker" analogy is Voltaire.

One can only wonder why advocates of ID would want to draw attention to deism.

Tom S.
I suppose, as Dembski claimed, it's a "ground clearing" operation for Christian evangelicanism. They think as long as they can make it intellectually respectable to believe in any god, conservative Christianity can win the subsequent "argument" as to which god. Why then they are so against theistic evolution is another matter.
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