Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Law & Epistemology
The epistemological problems generated by supernatural theism necessitate the faith commitments required of believers. The insufficiency of human cognitive faculties for knowing the supernatural demands willful assent without conclusive evidence—faith—from those who seek temporal meaning in a transcendent reality. The significance of such commitment lies in the sustained effort it requires and the hoped-for recompense that believers see as its culmination. The U.S. Constitution was written to safeguard such commitment against government interference. However, it was also intended to insulate public policy from religious influence given the social tension—sometimes conflict—that results from the inability of believers to resolve disputes over doctrines that some of them would force upon others. The fundamental cause of such disputes is the lack of both a methodology and a epistemology that would enable believers not only to demonstrate to other knowers the existence of the supernatural object of their commitment, but also to reach consensus among themselves concerning the doctrinal corollaries of their belief.
ID raises the same questions as supernatural theism in general: if a supernatural creator exists, how can one know this, and how can one demonstrate one's knowledge to others? Further, how can the doctrines comprising different religious traditions be evaluated in order to determine which, if any, are correct? These issues remain unresolved because there is no way to address questions arising from beliefs that cannot be buttressed by common cognitive access to the object of belief. Consequently, the epistemological problems underlying supernatural religion have historically found and still find expression in social animosity and civil conflict. The potential for such conflict explains why the nation's founders formally—and intentionally—separated church and state in the First Amendment to the Constitution. James Madison warned that "every [legislative] provision for [the rights of conscience] short of this principle [of religious liberty], will be found to leave crevices at least thro' which bigotry may introduce persecution". He stressed the need for constant vigilance against the "danger of a direct mixture of Religion & civil Government": "Strongly guarded as is the separation between Religion & Govt in the Constitution of the United States the danger of encroachment by Ecclesiastical Bodies, may be illustrated by precedents already furnished in their short history". Yet ID creationists, unsupported by scientific data and dogged by the epistemological problems intrinsic to supernatural religious belief, have aggressively cultivated political support at local, state, and national levels for teaching ID as a scientific theory in public school science classes. (Citations omitted)
- Barbara Forrest, "The Non-Epistemology of Intelligent Design: Its Implications for Public Policy"