Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Scientific Democracy

Before I begin this little treatise, I want to thank the American Democracy project and those at Geneseo who made this activity possible. It is a fervent hope of mine that through such mechanisms the original vision of American democracy might be reclaimed by bringing a marketplace of ideas directly to the people and giving citizens a forum in which to employ them.

As my initial contribution, I hope to lay out a framework of some general ideas of the relationship between science and modern society. In the weeks to come I expect to flesh this out by examining past and present scientific and technological achievements and discussing their impacts on society. As a starting point, I shall share my view of science AS democracy (or democracy as science) and the importance that this thinking has on understanding a truly democratic society.

As a starting point, I would like to expose a myth.

This myth is one that probably every American was taught in school. It is still in History textbooks and has been celebrated by generations of Americans for over 200 years. That myth is: George Washington was the Father of our Country.

It is true that without Washington and his actions throughout the Revolution, the United States would not exist. Washington uniquely played a vital role in the birth and early development of this nation. However, a father is a male whose creative act results in a birth. George Washington was the protector of the developing nation from its conception through its earliest days of life. Actually, George Washington was the Obstetrician of our Country.

The creative act in the formation of the United States was the constitution of the Constitution. The genealogy of a person can identify key traits s/he will have in life. Similarly, the heritage of some very important ideas allows us to better understand American Constitutional democracy. While James Madison is often referred to as the Father of the Constitution, the family tree also includes John Adams, Thomas Paine, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson’s thinking is particularly important not only in its own right, but doubly so because he was Madison’s principal guide and mentor for many years.

Vital to creating this new form of government was establishing the moral authority of a secular democracy. The Founders had to wrestle with how to create a basis for law that does not derive from the moral of a particular religion.

As scientific thinkers, the Founders found a way. Jefferson is perhaps the best example. His philosophy in this regard comes from the school of thought known as deism. Franklin, Paine, Madison, James Monroe and even Washington are also considered deists. An outgrowth of Enlightenment thinking, deism can be thought of as the science of God. A deist must determine the nature of God for oneself by discerning a body of evidence and discovering the principles those examples illustrate. By observing people in various circumstances not as children of God, but as manifestations of God, one comes to know God. Deism rejects “revealed” religion and such ideas as the divinity of Jesus Christ.

Jefferson spent his time and effort trying to infer the nature of God through the investigation of Creation and the human condition. One illustration of his methods was the construction of what came to be called “The Jefferson Bible.” Jefferson took the Gospels in English, French, Latin and Greek and literally cut and pasted a volume to study. To create this work, he removed material rooted in paganism added by the early Church and anything supernatural. He rejected most of the Old Testament and the parts of the New Testament on the development of the Christian Church. Jefferson had a great regard for the moral teachings of Jesus but little trust in the church that grew up in his name. He once referred to the Apostle Paul as “the first corruptor of the teachings of Jesus.”

The influence of deist thinking is evident in what is in, and not in, the Declaration of Independence and Constitution. As author of the Declaration, Jefferson cited “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.” While some point to this as evidence that the US is a Christian nation, the opposite is true. “Nature’s God” is a deist idea that does not mean the God who rules nature, but the God understood from the study of nature.

Madison is important not only as the Father of the Constitution, but also as the author of Memorial and Remonstrance in protest of a bill proposing government financing of Christian teachers. In it he decried the fruits of 15 centuries of Christianity as “More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity, in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution.” With Madison as principal author it is no wonder that the Constitution has no reference to God or the doctrines of any particular religion. To the contrary, Article VI forbids any religious test as a requirement for federal offices.

So if the science of God is the moral basis for the secular democracy of the United States, how is it to be applied?

The simple answer is: rationally. However, there are many ways of reasoning about any simple issue which must be multiplied when confronting complex issues. Here again, Jefferson is instructive.

In rejecting both revealed religion and most of the Old Testament, Jefferson not only committed himself to a God discerned by reason, but a God of compassion and justice. These are the overriding themes of Jesus’ message that Jefferson studied over and over in four languages. This calls citizens to make distinctions based on the motives of leaders to judge the reasoning they apply to issues.

Deng Ming Dao warns of the brave man, “Such a person will threaten others, force his will upon others, and even murder others not out of passion but out of something much more deadly—rationale. He will justify his actions according to ideology, patriotism, religion and principle.” We see far too much of this from rulers today.

We must see the difference between rationality and rationales. A rational morality applied with compassion and a quest for justice is a vision that Jefferson and other Founders held for the fledgling United States. The application of scientific ways of thinking to this moral pursuit is the ultimate possible relationship between science and society. It is also a possible way to achieve the goal I described in the first paragraph of this essay, “...a fervent hope of mine that through [blogs and similar tools of discussion] the original vision of American democracy might be reclaimed by bringing a marketplace of ideas directly to the people and giving citizens a forum in which to employ them.”

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