Rosenhouse on Dean on Lynn on ID

No, that's not a pyramid setup of the sort done at cheerleading camps or Iraqi prisons. One of the good things about blogs is the ability for response and counter response. In this case, Barry Lynn wrote an op-ed piece about ID; Darrick Dean wrote a critique of Lynn's article; and Jason Rosenhouse wrote a critique of Dean's critique. And now I'm writing a follow up to Rosenhouse's critique of Dean's critique of Lynn's article. Got it? Good. But I want to focus on this statement made by Dean:

The Rev. Barry W. Lynn is executive director of the far left, anti-religion, anti-constitution - yet patriotic sounding - Americans United for the Separation of Church of State. This isn't the place to discuss the fact that "Separation of Church of State" isn't in the Constitution, but this is the place to discuss Lynn's recent factless editorial attacking intelligent design.

Jason already pointed out the silliness of the "separation of church and state is not in the Constitution" argument, as have many others before. You also don't find the phrase "separation of powers" and "checks and balances" in the Constitution either, but no one would attempt to argue that they aren't there. Those are phrases that describe the intent of various provisions in the Constitution and they are commonly used, as they were used by the men who wrote the Constitution. The same is true of the phrase "separation of church and state", which was used by men like Jefferson and Madison to refer to the intent behind the religion clauses of the first amendment. Now you can of course quibble with how the phrase should be interpreted in light of various disagreements among the founders, but to blithely declare that it's not there is to make a pointless and meaningless argument. But I want to focus more on the first sentence, wherein Dean declares that Americans United for Separation of Church and State are "anti-religion".

This is a common argument from the religious right, that support for strict separation of church and state makes one "anti-religion", but the argument is patently false and betrays a far reaching ignorance of history. Leaving aside the fact that it seems rather idiotic to accuse Barry Lynn, a United Church of Christ minister, of being anti-religion, we can certainly ask the question of whether one must be against religion in order to be in favor of a strict separation of church and state. The answer to that question, if one knows anything at all about the roots of the idea in American history, is quite obviously no. The metaphor of a wall of separation between church and state was in fact invented by the devout Christian founder of Rhode Island, Roger Williams. Thomas Jefferson borrowed the metaphor as a description of the first amendment, as did James Madison, neither of whom were "anti-religion" (though Jefferson was certainly against many aspects of religion, particularly Judaism and Christianity).

This claim also ignores the fact that many of the staunchest supporters of strict separation in the early days of the Republic were ministers, particularly Baptist ministers who had seen first hand the oppressive effects of religious establishments. The Rev. Isaac Backus, a prominent Baptist minister in New England, wrote that, "if church and state are separate, the effects are happy, and they do not at all interfere with each other: but where they have been confounded together, no tongue nor pen can fully describe the mischiefs that have ensued." You can see Backus' passionate appeal for separation of church and state here. Likewise John Leland, another Baptist minister who was prominent both in Massachusetts and in Virginia. Leland, who saw so many of his fellow Baptists put in jail for not following the prescribed state religion, helped Madison lead the fight in Virginia for complete disestablishment of the official Anglican church and for Jefferson's Act for Establishing Religious Freedom, the intellectual basis for the first amendment. On July 4, 1902, Leland delivered a famous oration on the subject of the dangers of allowing any intrusions on strict separation of church and state. He said:

Disdain mean suspicion, but cherish manly jealousy; be always jealous of your liberty, your rights. Nip the first bud of intrusion on your constitution. Be not devoted to men; let measures be your object, and estimate men according to the measures they pursue. Never promote men who seek after a state-established religion; it is spiritual tyranny--the worst of despotism. It is turnpiking the way to heaven by human law, in order to establish ministerial gates to collect toll. It converts religion into a principle of state policy, and the gospel into merchandise. Heaven forbids the bans of marriage between church and state; their embraces therefore, must be unlawful. Guard against those men who make a great noise about religion, in choosing representatives. It is electioneering. If they knew the nature and worth of religion, they would not debauch it to such shameful purposes. If pure religion is the criterion to denominate candidates, those who make a noise about it must be rejected; for their wrangle about it, proves that they are void of it.

For men like Isaac Backus and John Leland, and yes Barry Lynn as well, separation of church and state is vital not only to the state but to the church as well. And they are hardly alone. There is a long tradition of strong support for strict separation not only among Baptists but among many other mainstream Christian denominations as well as among groups like Quakers and unitarians. For that matter, we could look at James Madison himself, who ended his Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments, one of the most important documents in our early history in that it turned the tide against church establishments and convinced numerous other prominent lawmakers to move their states toward true religious freedom, with a prayer to "the Supreme Lawgiver of the Universe" to illuminate the minds of those who would seek to tie church and state together and to "turn their councils from every act which would affront his holy prerogative". Even Madison, the staunchest separationist of them all (he even argued that having chaplains for Congress and the military was a violation of the first amendment), was not the least bit anti-religious, but rather saw separation as not only the right thing to do politically, but theologically as well.

It may be convenient for someone like Dean to smear all opponents as "anti-religion" or "anti-Christian", because it sets up a false dichotomy between Christian good guys and atheist bad guys, but this smear is entirely specious and unjustified. And even a cursory knowledge of American history provides incontrovertible evidence of its falsehood. But it's a safe bet to say that even when confronted with this reality, they will almost certainly continue to make this same silly argument in the future, primarily because it's convenient for them and it makes for a predictable emotional response on the part of their readers. And why let the truth get in the way of a good marketing campaign?

More like this

Continuing the theme from the last essay, we often hear this argument - "Separation of church and state isn't in the constitution". It's a rather silly argument, but it's very popular. Some people really do look at the first amendment and think, "Gee, those words really aren't in there. I guess…
A friend sent me a link to this horrible article on church/state separation written by someone named Michael Tremoglie. It's so badly reasoned that even with the straw man he constructs of his opponents' position on separation, he still has to resort to other logical fallacies and outright…
Jon Rowe has a post linking to this article by Dave Daubenmire, a guy whose sole credentials are that he once coached high school football. Now, I remember taking classes from the coaches in high school. I remember having to explain econometric formulas to the baseball coach who taught economics,…
This past Monday was an important date, the 220th anniversary of what I and many others believe was the birth of religious freedom in America - the passage of the Virginia Statute Establishing Religious Freedom. On January 16, 1786, this important law, written by Thomas Jefferson and pushed to…

Well said sir! At the risk of pedantry, I'd like to point something out, which may forestall a misplaced objection. As you quote him, Leland says: "Heaven forbids the bans of marriage between church and state." Now on first reading it might look like that means this: some people want to ban marriage between church and state; but Heaven forbids this. But this can't be what he means, as the rest of the passage makes clear. To the dictionary! "Banns, n. pl. proclamation or notice of a proposed marriage [...] also spelled bans. [...] to forbid the banns; to make public or formal objection to a proposed marriage." How about that? Now the sentence makes sense; after all, it finishes up with "their [church and state] embraces, therefore, must be unlawful." No nonmarital hankypanky!

Hm. Dean describes Lynn's editorial as "factless." And yet Lynn wrote the following sentence:

Intelligent design proponents say their idea is a serious challenge to Darwinism.

If this statement is, as Dean asserts, "factless," what can we conclude? That intelligent design proponents admit their idea is not a serious challenge to Darwinism?

I'm pretty sure the date is wrong there
Oops. I of course intended that to read 1802. My keyboard sometimes refuses to cooperate with me and I have to beat it severely.

I posted this comment to Dean's post.

Considering the title of the post, I wonder if he'll think it "is virtually a verbatim regurgitation of the naturalist evangelism talking points."

My Post:

Any theory to be considered as science must meet these minimum requirements. It must be:

1. Internally consistent
2. Experimentally verifiable
2. Predictively useful

ID advocates have failed to produce such a theory on all counts.

1. IDers are all over the place when it comes to agreeing how much evolutionary theory (if any) they are wiling to accept before ID "kicks in." The irreducible complexity (IC) formulation, which is to provide an "objective" measure supporting their propositions, contains an "R" factor, or "rejection region" which allows for the dismissal of signs of complexity which are "obviously" a result of natural causes, not ID. And who determines what falls into this rejection region? Why it's the ID investigator himself! As more natural causes fill in these "gaps," and enter the rejection region, ID "theory" eventually evaporates into thin air.

2. With no cogent theory, there are no hypotheses available to test. No research can be done. No results can obtain. Colloquially speaking, there is no "there" there.

3. Saying "God did it" whenever we find a gap in our knowledge provides us with no useful way to proceed. Information theory tells us that the information content of a message is related to its unpredictability. If "God did it" is the answer every time, then the information value is zero.

Since ID does not meet these three criteria, it is not science and cannot be presented in a public school science class.

Dean wrote (did he really?)

The Rev. Barry W. Lynn is executive director of the far left, anti-religion, anti-constitution....

Someone really should tell Dean that terms like "far left," "anti-religion" and "anti-constitution" are nothing but noise words. Intelligent people substitute "blah," "blah" and "blah" for silliness like that.

The Founders made their arguments, and some disagreed among themselves, for separation of church and state based on a theistic/religious rationale.

That is the very thing that Lynn would "separate" too, in seeking to establish some form of oligarchic atheocracy, counter to the theism of the Founders, the Constitution and the Declaration.

On the issue of ID, that has to do with theism and deism. That is not a religion or a church that can be established.

Instead, that is the very philosophy of all the Founders to be found in the documents of the nation, etc., without exception.

That is the very thing that Lynn would "separate" too, in seeking to establish some form of oligarchic atheocracy, counter to the theism of the Founders, the Constitution and the Declaration.

Oligarchic atheocracy? Are you ok mynym, our are you just making up words and concepts? I mean seriously, that's just crazy talk. Separation of church and state is a concept of our democracy, and it's worked for 200+ years.

Religion has been the greatest beneficiary of the "separation of church and state." By not supporting religion in general or one religion in particular, by not allowing the posting of the Ten Commandments in the public courthouse, for example, this concept has forced religions to compete fairly in the market place of ideas which has lead to a multi-religious meritocracy that is absent in countries that do not have this separation as finely honed as we do. Just because the government is neutral with regard to religion, doesn't mean that the country as a whole is an oligarchic atheocracy. Only someone who thinks it's OK for the government to use its power to force their peculiar religious views on everyone would suggest something so ridiculous.

The amusing thing about these people (you have to get your political amusement anywhere you can, these days) is that they're driving all non-Moral Majority type religious people closer to the AUSCS, ACLU position. Conservative people who would normally dislike such organisations realise that separation of church and state is ultimately what protects them from pogroms and heresy trials.

By Ginger Yellow (not verified) on 21 Feb 2005 #permalink