- that all men are created equal,
- that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights,
- that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Jefferson considers these truths to be self-evident. If you don’t agree, Jefferson’s America was not for you. Jefferson and the signers continue:
- That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
- That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.
Jefferson’s great paradigm shift, a shift that all the founders shared, was from the Divine right of kings to the manifest and self-evident God-given rights of the individual to liberty. Whether one agrees or disagrees with Jefferson’s view on Intelligent Design, that huge shift is why his views of the creation must be taught at the high school and college level. Without an understanding the idea of a Creator of an orderly universe with a clear purpose for humanity, students cannot properly understand the American idea.
Thomas Jefferson’s idea is that legitimate government is responsible to God to secure the rights He has given to men, rights that the Creator has designed for everyone. In the design of mankind the Creator’s purpose is revealed. Against that purpose no government, monarchy or republic, dare stand. That’s the American idea.
The resounding triumph of Jefferson’s words are often ignored by the uncritical mind as some reflexive product of a religious background. This could not be more incorrect. Jefferson’s views were primarily philosophical; they were not religious. The key is in Jefferson’s term: “self-evident.” As an example of Jefferson’s strongly reasoned and critically evaluative thinking is some of what Jefferson wrote to John Adams:
“They (Diderot and others) say then that it is more simple to believe… in the eternal pre-existence of the world … than to believe in the eternal pre-existence of an ulterior cause, or Creator of the world, a being whom we see not, and know not, of whose form… no sense informs us, no power of the mind enables us to… comprehend. On the contrary I hold (without appeal to revelation) that when we take a view of the Universe… 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. The movements of the heavenly bodies, so exactly held in their course by the balance of centrifugal and centripetal forces (Newton), the structure of our earth itself, with it’s distribution of lands, waters and atmosphere, animal and vegetable bodies, examined in all their minutest particles, insects mere atoms of life, yet as perfectly organised 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 this, design, … a fabricator of all things…” [emphasis mine].
This is what Jefferson meant by “self-evident.” Of particular note is his phrase “without appeal to revelation.” This means Jefferson did not believe in design because of any religious text or religious background. Jefferson believed based on what he could see in the world around him. This notion of self-evident belief in a Creator is central to Jefferson’s idea of religion and religious expression. While Jefferson was conveniently in Europe as the constitution was written, his letters were still a force in the debate.
Many will say that if Jefferson had only known about Darwin, he would have had a different view. Notice that the perfect mathematical laws of Newtonian physics influenced Jefferson’s beliefs, and his study of the “minutest particles…of life” also persuaded him of an Intelligent Designer. During the last century astronomy has again indicated a beginning for the universe, and based on this beginning, the mathematics of microbiology has disproven the theory of the origin of life arising from random forces.1 The real question is whether Charles Darwin would believe his own theories if he had seen modern science. Either way, Jefferson’s views are critical to understanding his perspective on the role of religion in American society.
Again, consider the force of Jefferson’s beliefs as expressed in the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson, by writing “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” all but perfectly echoes the key terms of Locke’s Enlightenment ideas about the natural rights of man (“life, liberty, and estate” see: paragraph 5 and 6). These words are not a mere student’s assent to the wisdom of his English heritage. They constitute, in literary terms, an allusion. Jefferson’s work purposely subsumes all that Locke had written under a larger banner of liberty than had yet been conceived. Consider these words of the Declaration of Independence: “When in the Course of human Events, it becomes necessary for one People …to assume among the Powers of the Earth, the separate and equal Station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them…” Jefferson only declares the Enlightenment ideas after citing Nature’s God. While Locke’s ideas reside in the equality of men because of the powers of reason, Jefferson’s sees, instead, the God of Nature’s Divine plan for the liberty of all mankind. The design of mankind indicates His purpose in endowing us with reason and with the concomitant natural abilities or rights.
Jefferson, was of course, a man of his times. He was an Enlightenment thinker. However, instead of being a mere disciple of Locke or Rousseau, Jefferson was the master. Jefferson’s preamble is a capstone for and an apex to Enlightenment thinking. By way of the witness of natural rights, Jefferson undermines the Divine right of kings and establishes the Divinely ordained sovereignty of the individual; Jefferson does so with an eloquence that allows for all who recognize a Designer in the fabric of life to plainly see the Creator’s plan for humanity’s liberty.
The Jeffersonian idea was for a nation united in liberty answerable, as one people, to a benevolent God, the Creator of the Heaven and Earth.
1. An exhaustive list of Nobel Prize winners who have done the math on this can be found in Stephen Meyer’s Signature in the Cell (see also my previous articles “A Scientific Consensus…” and “Darwinism Deselected:…”). Perhaps the best synopsis for those not scientifically minded is a video promotion for Signature in the Cell that simulates some of amazing discoveries in recent microbiology. Modern science was wrong on the atom and the cell. Neither are irreducible units of the world around us. The more we look into the depths of the world around us the more phenomenal it reveals itself to be.
Addendum 1/31/12– As a result of losing some of the great board posts to the original article:
The point of the foregoing is that the theory of intelligent design is not, in Jefferson’s view, faith based. Furthermore, Jefferson is but a case in point for the many founders who signed the Declaration of Independence. Therefore, it cannot be considered unconstitutional or un-American to discuss the theoretical elements pertaining to the reasons the founders believed in and based our laws on an Intelligent Designer.
More importantly, the logic of a political system based on the notion of intelligent design must be taught. It is our duty and responsibility to teach that the founders believed men were designed for liberty and that governments that refuse to respect these liberties are counter, not only to humanity itself, but to the plan of the God of nature.
The above is a legal argument rather than a scientific argument for including intelligent design in the classroom. However, if Ron Paul means anything to Libertarians, then the position of this article and other articles on evolution by Paul Benedict are genuinely Libertarian. For more information see the following link to Ron Paul’s views:
By the way, Ron Paul is a Dr. of medicine. He certainly has more of a scientific background than many who love to pound these boards.
The distinction between a religion and a philosophy is the willingness to relate one’s convictions to observable evidence. Jefferson’s willingness to do this is demonstrated in his discussions of Dedirot and other Enlightenment pre-Darwinian naturalist philosophers. His willingness to do so is far greater than the willingness shown by many in the ‘scientific’ community today.
For instance, the latest analysis of human DNA indicates that our genetic information could not have come from Darwinian-styled ancestors or predecessors. Instead of recognizing, based on this evidence that Darwinian theories of evolution are impossible, that there may well be an Intelligent Designer; scientists are forced to publicly comply with a religion of materialistic or naturalistic causes that is “beyond discussion.” Modern ‘science’ has devolved into a cult of maniacs.