Discoveroids Again Hijack the Fourth of July

Liberty Enlightening the World

We ask our non-US readers to indulge us as we celebrate America’s Independence Day. But first — the news:

As they traditionally do on this day, the Discoveroids have once again hijacked poor ol’ Thomas Jefferson. At their blog we find that this year’s intellectual body-snatching is conducted by David Klinghoffer. His historical-philosophical fiction is titled Try to Imagine Our Country’s Founding if the Founders Had Not Been Advocates of Intelligent Design.

Klinghoffer begins by doing something we often see done by creationists — he misquotes the Declaration. He tells us that these are “the opening words of the Declaration of Independence”:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Are those the Declaration’s “opening words”? The typical, uneducated, brain-dead follower of the Discoveroids may think so, but the rest of us know that Klinghoffer — like so many other creationists — conveniently leaves out the Declaration’s first sentence. You know, the one that says the American people were assuming “the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” entitle them.

It was in Jefferson’s second sentence — the one Klinghoffer quotes — that he started referring to the “Creator” — the one he had just identified in the preceding sentence. But who or what is “Nature’s God”? Does it sound like Yahweh? No, it doesn’t, and that’s why creationist quote-miners always skip Jefferson’s first sentence.

Moving along in Klinghoffer’s charming little essay, we come to this:

The author of the Declaration, deist Thomas Jefferson, could only write as he did because he believed on the grounds of reason and science that human life really did reflect purpose and design.

Then he plucks something out of the extensive late-life correspondence between Jefferson and Adams in which they privately shared their thoughts on religion. Neither was conventionally religious. This is what Klinghoffer quotes — and in doing so he relies on the scholarship of Stephen Meyer who had quoted it earlier:

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.

Quote-mining alert!! You can see the entire letter here: Jefferson’s letter to John Adams, from Monticello, April 11, 1823 and we’ll quote from it, putting the Discoveroid material in blue and the omitted material in red:

On the contrary I hold (without appeal to revelation) that when we take a view of the Universe, in it’s 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 it’s composition.

We’ll leave it to you to make sense of Jefferson’s letter. It’s terribly rambling. With that “On the contrary” phrase he’s dismissing “Jewish and Christian revelation” — and we assume the Discoveroids don’t want you to be too aware of that. Jefferson is relying on the evidence as it was known by him in 1823, and on his powers of reason. Unlike the creationists and the Discoveroids today, he’s not dismissing any well-established scientific knowledge.

However, Jefferson was writing a generation before Darwin’s theory was published, so here and there it seems that he’s fumbling with Paley’s watchmaker analogy — as did Darwin in his youth. It is doubtful that Jefferson would make that mistake today. But even with the limited information available to him, Jefferson was definitely not a creationist — see Thomas Jefferson on Young-Earth Creationism.

Hey — the Discoveroids quoted something from that same Jefferson letter three years ago, and we wrote about it here: Discovery Institute’s False Fourth of July. As with all creationists, they keep recycling their old stuff.

The Discoveroids are somewhat different from other creationists, however, regarding their peculiar practice of appropriating the carcasses and reputations of dead people. Well, why not? Jefferson’s name is laden with prestige, for which the Discoveroids are desperate. Besides, the dead don’t protest when they’re being abused, so that kind of body-snatching is a safe, albeit disreputable tactic. Were we to play that game, we would claim that Alexander the Great agrees with your Curmudgeon, and would eagerly serve as a humble squad leader in our army.

Then Klinghoffer says:

The Western world, in so far as it has adopted the American model, is still living on the inheritance we received from the Founders with their belief, drawn from reason and from faith, in intelligent design.

BWAHAHAHAHAHA! The whole American Revolution was based on intelligent design! Okay, that’s enough from those guys.

As we’ve done before, we’ll give you a few links to some good Fourth of July reading: Here’s the Declaration of Independence, plus the Articles of Confederation, which was mostly drafted at the same time as the Declaration, but it wasn’t ratified until 1781. Hey, no collection would be complete without Common Sense by Thomas Paine.

Here’s the Constitution. Let’s not overlook President of the United States in Congress assembled, listing ten Presidents before George Washington.

Here’s the Federalist Papers — with a search feature at the bottom of the page. And here’s our post on Jefferson’s Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom.

Check out Primary Documents in American History (1763-1815). Loads of goodies there. You ought to be aware of this: Veto of federal public works bill by James Madison, because pork barrel spending is unconstitutional.

That’s enough. Enjoy the holiday, and feel free to use the comments as an Intellectual Free Fire Zone.

Copyright © 2013. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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20 responses to “Discoveroids Again Hijack the Fourth of July

  1. I nominate David Klinghoffer for the 2013 Golden Goebbels Award for his excellence in the quote mining category. He merits a full score of 10 swastikas!

  2. Yes, of course, “Intelligent Design” is a form of deism. Voltaire, another famous 18th century deist, said “The atheists never replied to the difficulty that a clock proves a clock-maker.” (Letter to the Marquis de Villevielle, 26 August 1768). The clockwork universe is a standard trope of deism.

  3. Our Curmudgeon notes

    Hey, no collection would be complete without Common Sense by Thomas Paine.

    Indeed not–though this brilliant son of Thetford was rather poorly served by the Americans whose cause he had so magnificently promoted, As summarised in Wikipedia:

    In 1802 or 1803…Paine returned to the US in the early stages of the Second Great Awakening and a time of great political partisanship. The Age of Reason gave ample excuse for the religiously devout to dislike him, and the Federalists attacked him for his ideas of government stated in Common Sense, for his association with the French Revolution, and for his friendship with President Jefferson.

    I guess this was the time, a quarter of a century after the Revolution, that the seeds of the “America is founded on judeo-christian principles” myth were first sown–and from which the Discoveroids still glean their sorry crop.

  4. So I cannot be accused of quote-mining myself, here is a more complete quote from Thomas Jefferson. The part I gave to Ian Ross earlier in bold.

    “Altho’ I rarely waste time in reading on theological subjects, as mangled by our Pseudo-Christians, yet I can readily suppose Basinistos may be amusing. Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them; and no man ever had a distinct idea of the trinity. It is the mere Abracadabra of the mountebanks calling themselves the priests of Jesus.”

    Source

  5. This is a good video of Lawrence Krauss. It is over an hour but very engaging. At the end he makes a case against creationists obsession with publication (and mentions Stephen Meyer specifically). He makes a good point that isn’t well known outside the scientific community. Publication itself isn’t a big deal. He pointed out that many of the ideas he put forward during publication were found out to be false. It is the occasional one that sticks and creates buzz that are the ideas that are important.

  6. longshadow

    Worth pondering how this applies to contemporary government:

    He has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.

  7. longshadow says: “Worth pondering how this applies to contemporary government”

    I was in a good mood. Don’t remind me of what’s really going on out there.

  8. Well, since we’re talking US history, here are a few tidbits:
    – The first meetings of the Senate and House occurred on 4 March 1789. Neither had enough members present to form a quorum. The Senate wouldn’t have enough for a quorum until 6 April. The House wouldn’t have enough for a quorum until 1 April. Considering our current House, I consider this “an omen”.
    – One of the first things the House of Representatives did was to issue an order that any member who was not present during working hours should be taken into custody by the Sergeant at Arms, “unless he have leave, or be sick and unable to attend.”
    – I personally don’t consider the Fourth of July to be the USA’s “birthday”. More like it’s “conception day”. (I’m sure TA will drop in shortly and give us a more… interesting… take on that statement.) The actual “birthday”, in my opinion, is 21 June 1788. That’s the day that New Hampshire became the 9th state to ratify the new Constitution, and it was officially the Law of the Land. That’s the day that we became the “USA”.

  9. On another note, as to Klinghoffer’s statement,

    Try to Imagine Our Country’s Founding if the Founders Had Not Been Advocates of Intelligent Design.

    I would just like to say, “I don’t have to imagine.”

  10. Gary says:

    The actual “birthday”, in my opinion, is 21 June 1788. That’s the day that New Hampshire became the 9th state to ratify the new Constitution, and it was officially the Law of the Land. That’s the day that we became the “USA”.

    It was earlier than that. The Articles of Confederation, Article I, says: The Stile of this Confederacy shall be “The United States of America”. Years later, when the Constitution was ratified, the original government peacefully went home and the new one took over, but the nation’s continuity was unbroken.

    Addendum: As for the country’s name, that appears even in the Declaration — in the signature section: “We, therefore, the representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, assembled …” The Articles were drafted that same month, also with the country’s name, but not finally ratified until 1781.

  11. And then there are the religious fascists who keep insisting that Jefferson, Franklin, et. al. intended to establish a “Christian Nation.”

  12. SC said:

    The Articles of Confederation, Article I, says: The Stile of this Confederacy shall be “The United States of America”.

    Okay. I’ll go with that. March 1, 1781. But I’d consider it a premature birth requiring corrective surgery. The current Constitution, complete with the Bill of Rights, should be considered the corrective surgery.

  13. SC said:

    The Articles were drafted that same month, also with the country’s name, but not finally ratified until 1781.

    I’m thinking more of when we were a collective nation, as opposed to a group of individual states. I don’t think of the Declaration as doing that; the Articles fit the bill. The current Constitution does it far better (as I said, “corrective surgery”).

  14. Gary writes: “More like it’s “conception day”. (I’m sure TA will drop in shortly and give us a more… interesting… take on that statement.)”

    That would be September 12th, just one week before Talk Like A Pirate Day, therefore proving this country was founded on Pastafarian principles. YARRR!

  15. docbill1351

    The Tute is on a multi-prong attack. First, ID is an Old Idea ™ going back to the Greeks who both taught the controversy and practiced academic freedom. Hey, if that’s that the Tute says it must be true! Stiffle youselves, infidels!

    Second, Life is a Mystery ™ therefore ID. Check out their Butterfly film, the new Boids film, Meyer’s Hopeless Monster II book and the ever exciting Machines o’ th’ Cell. My, my, my – lookie at all the complexitization and tricksy thingies going on there. All these things are mysteries, totally unknown how them stuffs woiks, by hecky! Must be ID!

    OK, boys and girls, Thomas Jefferson believed in ID and so should you, or you’re a Commie. Like that Franklin guy.

  16. Really the United States was the first country to have a secular foundation. For those who believe we are a Christian nation should read the constitution and for comparison sake read the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran. You will see what a real theocracy looks like.

  17. Mark Joseph

    Everyone should check out the rather more accurate of the thoughts of the founding fathers at:
    http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2013/07/04/happy-fourth-from-the-ffrf/

  18. For years it has been trendy for radical paranoid authoritarians (e.g. “conservative” politicians and commentators who are anything but conservative) to downplay the Founding Fathers’ support of the Enlightenment in favor of their fondness for religion. If anything, that’s the exact opposite of what needs to be done. There is nowhere near enough exposure given to how much the FFs valued science. From everything I read that is not filtered through the paranoid wishful thinking of hopeless authoritarians, the FFs, if alive today, would certainly actively oppose Discoveroid pseudoscience.

  19. The “Christian Nation” thing is another authoritarian bait-an-switch scam that, unfortunately fools many who know better. In fact, on talk radio, you are more likely to hear the “This is a Christian nation!” whine from a Jew (Medved and Prager) than from a Christian! To respond with “no it’s not!” is to take the bait. The correct response is that it is in one sense (morals and values that are, fairly or not, considered “Judeo-Christian”). But not in the sense that they pretend it is.