Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Stephen Meyer on Thomas Jefferson and ID

Stephen Meyer of the Discovery Institute has an article in the Boston Globe on how Thomas Jefferson would view ID. He writes:

In 1823, when materialist evolutionary ideas had long been circulating, Jefferson wrote to John Adams and insisted that the scientific evidence of design in nature was clear: “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.’’ It was on empirical grounds, not religious ones, that he took this view.

Contemplating everything from the heavenly bodies down to the creaturely bodies of men and animals, he argued: “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.’’

Did I read that right? Evolutionary ideas before Charles Darwin? Weren 't Darwin and "Darwinism" responsible for the decay of society? No matter. Onward. Meyer proceeds to use the example of the information present in DNA to suggest that Jefferson had it right, and that evolution could not possibly be responsible for how the information in DNA exists.

The problem is that, as Abyssal's weblog points out, Jefferson had other things to say on the matter, in a letter to John Adams, in 1823:
The movements of the heavenly bodies, so exactly held in their course by the balance of centrifugal and cent. metal forces; the structure of our earth itself, with its distribution of lands, waters, and atmosphere; animals and vegetable bodies, examined in all their minutes” particles; insects, mere atoms of life, yet as perfectly organized 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 of 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 regeneration into new and other forms.
While this one passage is not exactly a smoking gun, it is clear that Jefferson had some idea that creation had not been static and that the ideas of biological change through time had some credibility. Meyer confuses the call for belief in a creator and his creation with the mechanism by which He did it. This passage as much supports "Jefferson the Theistic Evolutionist" as it does "Jefferson the ID Supporter."
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