• We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately. -Benjamin Franklin, Freedom Fighter

  • We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. -Martin Luther King, Jr., Freedom Fighter

  • Let us be cautious in making assertions and critical in examining them, but tolerant in permitting linguistic forms. -Rudolf Carnap, Philosopher

  • A clash of doctrines is not a disaster—it is an opportunity. -Alfred North Whitehead, Philosopher

  • If we could read the secret history of our enemies we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility. -Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Poet

  • Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there. -Rumi, Mystic

  • If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things. – Rene Descartes, Philosopher

  • A house divided against itself cannot stand. -Abraham Lincoln, President

  • Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them. -Albert Einstein, Scientist

  • Be the change you want to see in the world. -Mahatma Gandhi, Freedom Fighter

Thanksgiving, 2005

Stan Stahl, Ph.D.

A clash of doctrines is not a disaster — it is an opportunity.

Alfred North Whitehead
20th Century English Philosopher

On this Thanksgiving, I am once again thankful to the Pilgrims for bequeathing to us the Mayflower Compact with its premise of a civil body politic.

That there is so little civil body politic in the present political environment makes us all the poorer. As the founders so well understood, without a civil body politic there will be no blessings of liberty. Where there is no civil body politic there is only chaos.

Chaos, however, as the Chinese have taught us, carries within it both crisis and opportunity. Surprisingly, the cultural battle over intelligent design carries within it the seed of this opportunity.

On the surface, intelligent design is the point-of-view that holds that the incredibly complex order we see in the universe, particularly in the genetic code, is evidence of a supra natural higher being that designed the universe with this complexity. Proponents of intelligent design believe this position to be reinforced by the many questions that science has yet to answer about this complexity. Based on this, they argue that intelligent design should be taught alongside science as it takes the two together to form a complete objective understanding of the material world.

As someone trained in mathematics and the sciences, it seems to me that science already does an excellent job of describing our physical reality. The mathematics of physics is correct to approximately 40 decimal places. DVDs work only because we can accurately calculate the details of quantum physics. Our GPS navigation systems work because we have the equations of Einstein’s General Relativity to keep track of time and distance on space satellites that orbit the Earth 24,000 miles up. The human genome project is already changing the way we manage disease.

Even more, it seems to me that intelligent design is—from the perspective of the philosophy of science—intellectually bankrupt. As science is about asking questions, we should not be surprised that it doesn’t have all the answers about our material universe. It’s doubtful that science ever will, given our human propensity to ask questions. But the answer is more science, more research. It is not intelligent design. In their eagerness to substitute a supra natural intelligent designer for rigorous scientific work, the proponents of intelligence design display all the virtues of theft over honest toil.

But this isn’t the issue with intelligent design, for below the surface intelligent design is not about science but about moral behavior, specifically about why we humans should behave morally.

If the universe is the way science describes it—purely objective, mechanistic, materialistic; evolving with no design, no intent, no purpose—then why be moral? If we’re going to die and that’s it, then where is right and wrong and why should we care?

And the intelligent design people are correct about the need for us to take a deep hard look at how we should behave.

In the last 50 years every two-term U.S. President has had a major moral scandal. Eisenhower. Nixon. Reagan. Clinton. And, now, Bush. Every one.

Political immorality seems worse now than at any time in my life. Plamegate certainly suggests coordinated action by the Administration to bear false witness against someone who undercut the Administration’s rationale for the Iraq war. The House Majority Leader has had to step down after being indicted for money laundering and illegally using campaign funds. The Majority Leader of the Senate is under investigation by the SEC for the sale of stock just prior to a plunge in the stock’s price. A recent Majority Leader was forced to resign after suggesting that the country would be better off had we not ended segregation.

Lest you think I’m just picking on politicians, what of the morality of a Church that fails to protect its children from pedophile Priests, a Church Deacon who turns out to be a serial killer, and, oh yes, let’s not forget religious leaders who encourage their followers to bind themselves in dynamite and blow up God’s children. Not to mention white collar criminals, gang bangers, and the new generation of cyber crooks.

And these are only the moral issues on which most of us can agree. What about pro-choice and pro-life, the war in Iraq, the Administration’s tax bills, gay marriage, the PATRIOT Act, the phrase “under God” in the Pledge, physician-assisted suicide, etc, etc, etc. On what moral basis are we to decide these questions, individually and as a nation?

Why should we be moral? Why shouldn’t we all grab what we want, to hell with the other guy? Kill or be killed. Survival of the fittest. Isn’t that what evolution tells us? Vito Corleone … There’s a man who took care of his family!

To the intelligent designers this is the issue. For them, the logic is simple and straightforward. Without design, there is no morality. Evidence for design, they argue, is found in the unanswered questions of science. Consequently there is design and, therefore, morality in the universe.

Now that the intelligent designers have introduced morality into the universe, they take a very large leap of faith that I don’t claim to understand and conclude that conservative Christianity is the one true account of the universe’s moral structure. And this provides them their justification for their version of right and wrong.

Is this why we should be moral? I don’t happen to think so, but what do I know? I wasn’t there at the creation. Of course, they weren’t either, but maybe they’re right. It’s certainly not impossible for them to be right. And, even as a secular Jew, I find a great deal of wisdom in the teachings of Jesus.

While I don’t know the ultimate origin and purpose of the universe, it seems to me rather obvious that democracy and freedom cannot long endure if you deny people the right to their own point of view.

So instead of keeping intelligent design out of our schools, what if we went in the opposite direction? Instead of keeping intelligent design out, what if we let it in? More generally, what if we took seriously the idea of teaching moral behavior in our schools?

Imagine if we explored intelligent design alongside secular humanism as simply two different paradigms through which we perceive our common human moral compass. Imagine if we did the same with Moses and Jesus and Mohammed and Buddha and Socrates and Confucius and Lincoln and Gandhi and King and Mother Theresa and all of our other great moral leaders, contrasting them with Pontius Pilate and Torquemada and Hitler and Stalin. Not in the science curriculum, but in the moral behavior curriculum.

Imagine if we explored moral behavior not only with intellectual rigor but also with respect for each other and for our past, our history. Indeed I think we have a moral responsibility to do this, that this is implicit on the very notion of a civil body politic. And it was certainly the view of the founders.

Imagine studying moral behavior not as dogma but as hypothesis, as an intellectual and spiritual journey into the very essence of our humanness, an exploration of the highest aspirations we have for peace, love, compassion, responsibility, and the myriad other moral objectives that are America.

The result could lay the moral foundation for a new American revolution, a moral revolution to restore America to Jefferson’s vision as the best hope of mankind, a moral revolution making real America’s promise of equality for all our children, a moral revolution that would secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.

Maybe we’d even get a civil body politic in Washington.

While Thanksgiving is a time to be thankful for our blessings, it is also a time to reflect on what we, the people must accomplish if the blessings of liberty are to flow to us and our posterity. There is no greater need than finding our common moral ground.

Let Freedom Ring.

Copyright © 2005. Stan Stahl. All Rights Reserved. Permission is granted to republish this essay in its entirety provided its source is identified asThe Agnostic Patriot at www.agnosticpatriot.org and this copyright is included.

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