Reply to Steve Hays

Steve at Triablogue has a rejoinder to my earlier post on intelligent design and he makes some great points. Just to clarify my position, I am certainly not saying that Dembski is engaging in a sleight of hand by calling ID “science” when he really means “religion.” I definitely give the Discovery Institute the benefit of the doubt and I’m quite sure that he considers ID science. Of course, the same cannot be said of the ID proponents in Dover, Kansas and elsewhere that the NCSE tracks. If the school board in Dover had listened to the Discovery Institute from the beginning and truly treated ID as science, it’s possible that the ID movement might not have suffered its recent setback.

Where I disagree with Steve is his statement that “the existence of God is an inference from the concept of design, which is, in turn, an inference from the scientific data.” Many of us on this side of the issue do not see how the scientific data leads to the conclusion of a designer. The conclusion seems driven solely by the inductive reasoning employed in the design argument. I certainly hope that the ID camp proves me wrong by publishing their scientific findings in peer-reviewed journals. But don’t hold your breath.

I’m not an attorney but what the hell, I’ll go ahead and play one on this blog. It is true that I am implicitly considering the Constitution to be a living document. I know that there are strict constructionists out there like Scalia who deny that the document should have any meaning other than what the original framers intended. But if that were so and our founding document did not evolve along with our progressing society, then we’d be forced to admit that human slavery, a woman’s right to vote, and other such norms of the eighteenth century should be legal today. I think the framer’s were wise enough to know that the Constitution would need to be durable and flexible enough to provide guidance for issues they could not possibly have anticipated in their day. Or at least I want to give them credit for such foresight.

Steve also suggests that the Establishment Clause should be narrowly understood as a prohibition against the federal government from “meddling in the internal religious affairs of the states” by establishing a national Church. Rather than say whether I agree or disagree with that argument I think it would be more fruitful merely to point out that since Everson v. Board of Education (1947) the Supreme Court has consistently held that the states are not free to establish religion. At this point stare decisis (that new term I’ve learned since watching the Sam Alito hearings) has pretty much settled the matter. We’re just not going to go back to those halcyon days of the one-room schoolhouse where a pupil either recited a Christian prayer or was kicked out of school. So maybe it’s best if we all accept that fact and move on.