Separation of Church and State: Dire Threats to One of the U.S. Constitution's Most Intelligent Designs
A very nice lady I recently met asked me an interesting question: "What do you think about the idea of teaching 'intelligent design' in biology classrooms?"
I'll tell you how I answered her question, but first let me elucidate some of the finer points of this debate.
Intelligent design (ID) is the theory that living things show some sign of having been designed or guided through evolution by an intelligent entity. ID supporters believe that living organisms and their biological systems are too complicated to have arisen through natural selection and the Darwinian theory of evolution, and that a designer or a higher intelligence may be responsible for their complexity. It is a guess that is much more logically acceptable than theories of Creationism, as intelligent design does not suggest that the universe was created in six days; nor does it contradict the commonly held scientific view that the known universe has been in existence for about 15 billion years. ID also does not challenge the idea that humans developed over time as a result of evolution. Evolution itself could be a function of some design or plan, perhaps.
The argument for ID, which has been postulated for hundreds of years, was restated most infamously by William Paley, a 19th century British theologian. Paley argued that by examining the complex workings of a pocket watch, we must assume that it was created by a watchmaker. According to Paley, we must assume the existence of a creator of the universe from the complex systems of living organisms, the mechanical organization of the universe, and other aspects of the natural order.
While Paley's outlook was rooted in the idea of a benevolent Christian God, today's advocates of intelligent design claim that they speak in the interest of scientific discovery. Science has, thus far, failed to explain the development of some profound and fundamental phenomena, such as cell structure. But the overwhelming majority of intelligent design advocates are Christians, and virtually all are theists. They all share a set of assumptions about the "irreducible complexity" of some natural phenomena, if not the process of the design or the characteristics of the designer. However, some of the most vocal supporters of intelligent design have scientific backgrounds and credentials. Prominently among them, Michael J. Behe, a professor of biological sciences at Lehigh University, stresses that he regards ID as a "minimalist position. It only requires that there be physical evidence of an intelligence behind creation of complex natural systems. Who did the creating, or why, comprises a separate set of questions."
Critics of ID point out that this "physical evidence" has not been discovered. Few proponents of intelligent design have used scientifically sound, intelligent ways to support their speculations, such as proposing testable models. Some equate intelligent design theory with the so-called "God of the gaps" farce-- resorting to a divine intelligence to explain the existence of natural phenomena for which we have no scientific explanation. Many scientists have called it "creationism in a lab coat," saying that to point to an intelligent designer as the cause of certain biological systems is to forsake scientific process and inquiry. They argue that, over the decades, science has frequently closed "gaps" and explained previously inexplicable phenomena.
Using the mathematical improbability of evolutionary processes, like protein formation and the development of the human eye, doesn't support the wrongful claim that this philosophical and theological argument is now supported by science, either. In a universe that could possibly be infinite, the "improbable" actually becomes likely. If any combination of stimuli and reactions are possible in a universe of infinite possibilities, it stands to reason that somewhere, somehow, any particular chain of possibilities could reach its logical, or seemingly illogical, conclusion. Although somewhat absurd, the scientific mind has to accept the possibility stated in the classic old example of an infinite number of chimpanzees with an infinite number of typewriters: one of them will eventually type out some Shakespeare. In our own little solar system, for example, the wide range of planetary structures and compositions of their atmospheres is a small example of the multitude of variations possible. The intelligent design conclusion is not scientific in the sense that it makes assumptions based on a complete lack of evidence rather than an adequate supply of data. Humans have not yet discovered life, intelligent or otherwise, anywhere else in the universe; but, mathematically speaking, in terms of probability, it is highly likely that it exists and, perhaps, in no way resembles the life on this planet. Since intelligent design cannot yet be proved, disproved, or predicted, it cannot be science. There is, however, hard evidence that evolution is and has been occurring for millions of years, at least on Earth.
So, I answered the nice lady with, "I disagree that you can teach religious speculation in what is meant to be a science class. We have evidence of evolution's occurrence, yet we have nothing conclusive or even tangible about intelligent design. Science is about conclusions based on hard, testable evidence. Plus, I believe religion is something that is to be either taught or ignored at home, in the family, or in the church the family decides to attend. For millenia, superstition has been used to explain the unknown and the undiscovered. I do not want educators attempting to program my child with 'God' as synonymous with the phrase 'I don't know'... As a matter of fact, I don't want any tax-funded agency attempting to infiltrate my family's spiritual or skeptical outlook."
I was elated to find that she seemed to agree with my position, and there would be no further argument on the matter. And then she opened another can of worms. "So what's your opinion of 'In God We Trust' on our currency?"
I don't remember my response verbatum, but I believe we reached agreement yet again. I told her I could cite both biblical and constitutional problems with the motto.
Starting with the Bible... As loath as I am to use the Bible as support for any non-superstitious debate, there are actually some reasonable passages in Christian scripture which should discourage the reference to god(s) on our money. In Matthew 22:21, Jesus is quoted as saying, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's." Luke 16:13 says, "No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money." In John 2:16, when driving money changers from the Temple, Jesus says, "Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father's house into a market!" Most people who support keeping the mention of God on the dollar call themselves Christian; yet these few examples of the Gospels' quotings of Christ clearly demonstrate the He was strongly opposed to connecting or associating God with Money. But this rationale isn't nearly as important as the First Amendment.
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads as follows:
"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 motto "In God We Trust" on coins and currency violates the Free Speech, Free Exercise and Establishment clauses of the First Amendment and the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States because it is a religious phrase demonstrating that the government has selected a particularly monotheistic type of religion. The slogan has a direct effect of advancing such a religion. This nation was founded by Europeans who were seeking to escape the oppression of governments that were, in effect, making their religious choices for them. Since citizens of this country are warranted by these amendments freedom from such oppression, the motto itself is unconstitutional. The fact that it implies that there is a god and only one god makes this statement every bit as offensive to non-monotheists as the statement "there is no god" would be to Christians, Muslims, Jews, and other monotheists.
In 1863, eleven Protestant denominations (including United Presbyterians and the Methodist Episcopalian General Conference) organized the National Reform Association. They were attempting to "reform" the Constitution and to amend the document to "indicate that this is a Christian nation." The association formally petitioned Congress to change the preamble of the Constitution so it would read:
"We, the people of the United States, HUMBLY ACKNOWLEDGING ALMIGHTY GOD AS THE SOURCE OF ALL AUTHORITY AND POWER IN CIVIL GOVERNMENT, THE LORD JESUS CHRIST AS THE RULER AMONG THE NATIONS, HIS REVEALED WILL AS THE SUPREME LAW OF THE LAND, IN ORDER TO CONSTITUTE A CHRISTIAN GOVERNMENT, AND in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the inalienable rights and the blessings of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to ourselves, our posterity, and all the people, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."
The Christian amendment never succeeded in obtaining the approval of Congress in any of the states. However, former governor of Pennsylvania, James Pollock, who was among its most prominent supporters, was chosen by President Lincoln to be the mint's tenth director in 1861, and he served in that position until he resigned in 1867. The U.S.A. had had a Director of the Mint during that period who was among those who wanted to make the United States an official theocracy.
In 1956, the nation was working its way through the cold war, McCarthyism, and the communist witch hunts. As a result, the 84th Congress passed a joint resolution to replace the existing motto of "E Pluribus Unum" with "In God we Trust." The president signed the resolution into law on July 30, 1956. The new motto was first used on paper money in 1957, when it was added to the one-dollar silver certificate. By 1966, "In God we Trust" was added to all paper money, from $1 to $100 denominations. The change was influenced by a drive to differentiate between communism, which promotes Atheism, and Western capitalistic democracies, which were at least nominally Christian. While many consider Atheism as unpatriotic and "un-American" as communism, the fact remains that most American Atheists are not communists. There are many Atheistic and Humanistic legislators at the federal and state levels, but very few are willing to reveal their beliefs, because of the widespread prejudice against Atheism. Also, during the McCarthy era, there was a massive movement to blacklist or fire Jews from prominent positions.
As a sidenote, I consider Atheism also to be a religious "faith," in the sense that Atheists choose to believe that there is no god. They are taking this on "blind faith," since there isn't and has never been any actual proof of the existence or lack of any deity.
Law 36 U.S.C. 186, entitled "National Motto," states in its entirety: "The national motto of the United States is declared to be 'In God We Trust.'" This law, (1) has no clear secular purpose, (2) advances religion, and (3) entangles government with religion excessively; thereby failing all three tests for constitutionality under the Establishment Clause.
In a letter to a colleague, Positive Atheism publisher Cliff Walker stated, "Their so-called motto is, in fact, a lie, because even though the United States has never before been more religious than she is today, and yet over 14 percent of us (adults) call ourselves 'Not Religious.' In what is trusted by whom!? Either emphasized word presents very sticky problems in U.S. law... ...'In God We Trust,' according to recent surveys, is not believed by a solid 14 percent of the nation's population, and is not believed in its proper context (referring to the Christian deity), by as many as one-quarter of the people (23.5 percent CUNY 2001 weighted estimate) who call America their nation."
The previous national motto, "E Pluribus Unum," meaning "Of Many, One," is obviously a much more fitting motto to describe the Constitution of the United States as a document that was the result of a unity of many minds. Our "melting pot" country is indeed the product of a unity of many people who immigrated from many lands, languages, religions, and ideologies. The three-word Latin phrase could also be interpreted as "One Unity Composed of Many Parts," "Out Of Diversity Comes Unity," or "A Plurality Of People Becomes A Nation United," and so on. Our original National Motto was written by a subcommittee headed by Thomas Jefferson that included John Adams and Benjamin Franklin. In 1782, Charles Thomson, Secretary of Congress, with a friend named Barton, designed the national seal that was accepted by Congress on June 10, 1782, that included an eagle with a heart-shaped shield holding arrows and an olive branch in its claws. The motto "E Pluribus Unum" appeared on a scroll held in the eagle's beak. The seal was first used September of 1782 and was first used on some federal coins in 1795. Use of the original motto continued until the 1950's.
During the 1950's the federal government enacted more unconstitutional references to God. The phrase "under God" was added to the otherwise secular Pledge of Allegiance. "So help me God" was added as a suffix to the oaths of office for federal justices and judges. American paper currency has included the motto "In God We Trust," since 1957. Simply removing these phrases from these statements and our currency would make them constitutionally acceptable and legal again. The Pledge in its original form, written by Francis Bellamy in 1892, was modified by the U.S. congress in 1954 by adding the words "under God." This, in effect, changed it into an unconstitutional public prayer. The religious beliefs of a large number of Americans are being violated by our government daily, in schools, in public meetings, or anywhere the Pledge is recited. Wishing to avoid First Amendment conflicts, many avoid reciting the Pledge. I was among several children in my class actually punished at my school for refusing to recite it, as I was unsure about my faith. If I had been my adult self, rather than an impressionable and somewhat helpless child, I would have stood up for myself and sued. It is hard to imagine what connection a person's stance on religion has to do with his loyalty to his country, his willingness to be a good student, or his commitment to an oath of honesty, fairness, etc.
The public speaking of the words "God Bless America" by the President and other government officials is also somewhat questionable, although likely within their rights as individuals. I find it funny, however, that in a recent discussion on the HBO series Real Time with Bill Maher, Martin Short stated that, in his home country of Canada, no one would ever get elected if they went around mentioning God all of the time. Is it disgraceful that a foreigner has so succinctly pointed out our own American hypocrisy? We are constantly having religious messages shoved or spat at us by a government that is forbidden to do so by our own U.S. Constitution.
Similarly, there is no defense for public schools which display Christian Nativity scenes, crucifixes, and other religious messages on public ground. The display of the Ten Commandments in any court building is also unconstitutional, as it has no relevance to the American legal system. It is offensive to non-monotheists to connect modern secular laws with milennia-old religious codes of conduct. Those who support the religious messages currently contained in American government contend that the U.S. was founded "based on Christian values." Sure, there's no doubt the "founding fathers" were mostly Christians; but they left us a Constitution that protected anyone's set of religious values, or lack thereof. Again, most of the earliest immigrants and "pilgrims" came to this country trying to escape the European governments which were trying to impose upon them certain sets of "Christian values."
Obviously, there can be no regulation of religious displays on private property, private schools, churches, or in privately owned businesses. People are guaranteed the right to put up Christmas trees, Menorahs, Nativities, or the Muslim star and crescent moon on their own ground. Citizens of this country have the right to say "Merry Christmas," "Happy Hannukah," "Happy Kwanzaa," or anything else they want-- provided they are not acting on behalf of any federal or state government agencies, such as the Postal Service or public schools.
Ever neutral, I find "Happy Holidays" or "Season's Greetings" to be simple ways to convey the sentiment without offending anyone, but that's purely my preference (in The Grey Area)-- and, believe it, I have been attacked by so-called Christian fundamentalists for not mentioning CHRIST. I have also been attacked for calling him by the name he would have been known by and answered to, Yeshua ben Yusef. This means "Yeshua, son of Yusef" (or Jesus, son of Joseph, as English speakers now know them); "Jesus" and "Christ" are nicknames that were later attached to him by Greek and Latin speakers. I do this out of respect, as I would not want people to call me, in life or after death, by a name that was never mine. Strangely enough, when I mention Yeshua ben Yusef, some of the Christians around me seem to think that I am talking about some Middle Eastern terrorist-- imagine their surprise when I reveal to them that I am using the REAL NAME of their professed lord and saviour!
And on the subject of Middle Eastern terrorists...
We'll call the lady who wrote this letter Pamela "X" from Atlanta. She's been in business since 1980 doing interior design and home planning. She recently wrote a letter to a family member serving in Iraq... And if this letter is any indicator of her intelligence, it's a safe bet that she's not capable of any 'intelligent designs'. (I couldn't resist that one.) The letter, as follows, was forwarded to me in a friend's email:
"... ... ...WHAT'S ALL THE FUSS?...
...Are we fighting a war on terror or aren't we? Was it or was it not started by Islamic people who brought it to our shores on September 11, 2001? Were people from all over the world, mostly Americans, not brutally murdered that day, in downtown Manhattan, across the Potomac from our nation's capitol and in a field in Pennsylvania?
...Did nearly three thousand men, women and children die a horrible, burning or crushing death that day, or didn't they?
...And I'm supposed to care that a copy of the Koran was "desecrated" when an overworked American soldier kicked it or got it wet? Well, I don't. I don't care at all.
...I'll start caring when Osama bin Laden turns himself in and repents for incinerating all those innocent people on 9/11.
...I'll care about the Koran when the fanatics in the Middle East start caring about the Holy Bible, the mere possession of which is a crime in Saudi Arabia.
...I'll care when Abu Musab al-Zarqawi tells the world he is sorry for hacking off Nick Berg's head while Berg screamed through his gurgling! , slashed throat.
...I'll care when the cowardly so-called "insurgents" in Iraq come out and fight like men instead of disrespecting their own religion by hiding in mosques.
...I'll care when the mindless zealots who blow themselves up in search of nirvana care about the innocent children within range of their suicide bombs.
...I'll care when the American media stops pretending that their First Amendment liberties are somehow derived from international law instead of the United States Constitution's Bill of Rights.
...In the meantime, when I hear a story about a brave marine roughing up an Iraqi terrorist to obtain information, know this: I don't care.
...When I see a fuzzy photo of a pile of naked Iraqi prisoners who have been humiliated in what amounts to a college hazing incident, rest assured that I don't care.
...When I see a wounded terrorist get shot in the head when he is told not to move because he might be booby-trapped, you can take it to the bank that I don't care.
...When I hear that a prisoner, who was issued a Koran and a prayer mat, and fed "special" food that is paid for by my tax dollars, is complaining that his holy book is being "mishandled," you can absolutely believe in your heart of hearts that I don't care.
...And oh, by the way, I've noticed that sometimes it's spelled "Koran" and other times "Quran." Well, Jimmy Crack Corn and ---- you guessed it, I could not have said this any better myself!
...If you agree with this view point, pass this on to all your e-mail friends. Sooner or later, it'll get to the people responsible for this ridiculous behavior! If you don't agree, then by all means hit the delete button. Should you choose the latter, then please don't complain when more atrocities committed by radical Muslims happen here in our great country... ... ..."
Although I can identify with some of this lady's feelings of outrage, desperation, and helplessness, these wars the U.S. is fighting were not and are not ever supposed to be religious wars. All terrorists are not Muslims, and all Muslims are not terrorists. All Americans are not ignorant of the rest of the world; all Asians aren't poor drivers who are good at math; all Frenchmen aren't rude, and so on. Stereotypes are narrow-minded bullshit. There are countless "terrorists" from Asia, Africa, Europe, Ireland, South America, and right here in the U.S; and most of these don't actually have the sponsorship of a governing body or an actual religious group. Remember the Oklahoma City bombings, Columbine, and the interstate freeway snipers?
American terrorists. Sending American military into a country to, in effect, take it by force and strong-arm it into restructuring its government is also American terrorism.
I've said it before, and I'm saying it again. REAL Muslims are not terrorists any more than REAL Christians, REAL Jews, or REAL Buddhists. All of the aforementioned religions preach messages of compassion, non-violence, and tolerance. I know because I've been studying these doctrines for years. The so-called "Islamic radicals" who have committed these terrorists acts are considered pariahs and disgraceful by good Muslims everywhere, who could never condone killing or harming innocents.
The noble Qur'an and the Holy Bible are both beautiful, although flawed, pieces of literature-- and I see no reason to desecrate either of them. The Bible may not be treated with respect in other nations; but this isn't other nations, this is the United States. We have the right to possess, read, quote, interpret, preach, and, yes, even desecrate either book in our land. It's the respect of others that is important here. Pamela "X" seems to have taken the "eye for eye, tooth for a tooth" passage from Exodus 21:24 a bit too nearly to heart. In the Gospel of Matthew 5:38-48, Jesus teaches the disciples that this attitude is unrighteous. Mohandas Ghandi, one of history's premiere examples of compassion and peaceful demonstration, said, "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind."
I'm going to have to praise this lady for her exercise of her free speech rights; and, naturally, I'll use my own free speech rights to rip on this kind of ignorance and blatant racism. We do not have the right to torture, terrorize, or rule over other nations' citizens simply because some such citizens of other such nations are actually evil enough to committ such acts. Our own Constitution directs us to avoid discrimination in general. Americans are supposed to have their own secular code of ethics, without prejudice and sponsorship of needless violence or unjustified invasion of other countries. We are to avoid allowing religion to override our reason. We're not supposed to be lowering ourselves to the kind of religious intolerance found in Saudi Arabia or elsewhere. We're supposed to be modern, tolerant, humane, educated, and understanding. We're supposed to hold the individuals who commit crimes accountable for their crimes-- not an entire religion or a scapegoated country of innocent bystanders. We should be working to outshine this misconceived stereotype that much of the rest of the world holds of Americans, rather than reinforcing such a negative image with more needless violence and messages of hate and ignorance.
I don't consider compassion, tolerance, non-violence, and education to be ridiculous behavior.
Pamela "X" and many others may not care. I DO CARE... but, dear reader, you know that by now. I hope you care, too.
You can write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org for a free copy of the United States Constitution. You can also tell me there what kind of American you think I am.
Copyright 2006, Jonathan DownardSend us your comments on this article