Feb. 12, 2009
"The heavens declare the glory of God; the firmament sheweth his handiwork." Thus saith the Lord. Not necessarily, saith George Will. Washington's leading smart man notes today's two hundredth anniversary of Lincoln's birth with a useful explanation of what Darwin taught. Darwin was born on the same day that Lincoln was born. Historian John Lukacs calls such coincidences spiritual puns. There are some secularists who are trying to make Lincoln and Darwin trans-Atlantic twins, suggesting somehow that just as Lincoln liberated the slaves, so Darwin freed us from religious dogma and catechesis through his writings on the origins of dogs and cats-and us.
Will notes that Darwin "had no intellectual room for a directing deity that wills a special destination for our species." Darwin, Will points out, "placed humanity in a continuum of all protoplasm." How elevating.
Will rejects Intelligent Design. "The fact of order in nature does not require us to postulate a divine Orderer." But is it reasonable for us to rule that divine Orderer out of order?
That's what happening in our schools today. Discussion of Intelligent Design is being banned as a violation of the separation of church and state. When such matters become court cases, as they invariably do, the invocation of Jefferson's 1802 Letter to the Danbury Baptists brings a responsory amen chorus from our elites. In Pennsylvania recently, a federal judge cited Jefferson's famous letter as his rationale for banning any classroom discussion of Intelligent Design.
Isn't it odd for today's atheizers to invoke Jefferson against Jefferson? When Jefferson wrote to John Adams in 1823, he came down foursquare on the side of Intelligent Design:
... it is impossible for the human mind not to percieve and feel a conviction of design, consummate skill, and indefinite power in every atom of [the universe's] 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. We see, too, evident proofs of the necessity of a superintending power to maintain the Universe in its course and order. Stars, well known, have disappeared, new ones have come into view, comets, in their incalculable courses, may run foul of suns and planets and require renovation under other laws; certain races of animals are become extinct; and, were there no restoring power, all existences might extinguish successively, one by one, until all should be reduced to a shapeless chaos. So irresistible are these evidences of an intelligent and powerful Agent that, of the infinite numbers of men who have existed thro' all time, they have believed, in the proportion of a million at least to Unit, in the hypothesis of an eternal pre-existence of a creator, rather than in that of a self-existent Universe.
George Will is certainly a smart man. But so was Jefferson. Evidence of design that Will rejects Jefferson thought "irresistible." To Jefferson, the idea that all men are created equal was "self evident." And Jefferson also stood up for free intellectual inquiry. At his University of Virginia, he welcomed debate "for here we are not afraid to follow truth, wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate error so long as reason is left free to combat it." Those who reject Intelligent Design owe us a reasonable response, not just a back of the hand dismissal or, worse, a court-ordered suppression of debate.
Lincoln often said he had no political idea that did not derive from Jefferson's Declaration of Independence. To Charles Darwin, on the other hand, human beings may or may not be equal, but we are certainly not created.
Americans are free to choose whom they will honor tomorrow. My guess is that more of us will thank Lincoln for what he achieved than will genuflect to either the memory or the lengthening shadow of Darwin.