The Federalist Society and ID

| 10 Comments

Brian Leiter has a post up about the reactions of some Federalist Society members concerning the recent Van Dyke flare-up.

A distinguished legal scholar and well-known Federalist Society figure reacted to my recent comments on Stuart Buck and Lawrence VanDyke, in which I quipped that they seem "intent on making sure the Federalist Society gets a reputation as a hotbed of dense apologists for Intelligent Design." This reader objects:

"[H]olding the Federalist Society responsible for idiotic design people in its midst is like holding the Democratic Party responsible for Larouchies. [...]

Youch! It's quite an interesting issue, but I think it's worth noting that many conservatives care little for the ID movement, despite the fact that ID was originally conceived for the express purpose of advocating a strain of conservative ideology. Can't blame 'em.


10 Comments

As a member of the Federalist Society myself (indeed, former president of my law school chapter), I want to emphasize that Prof. Leiter is absolutely correct that the Federalist Society is not dominated by ID proponents. In fact, it would be inaccurate to say the Federalist Society is “dominated” by any real political theory. The Society is just what it says it is–an organization of people who like to get together and discuss legal and political theory. The debates between conservatives and libertarians–and between different varieties of conservatives–are profound and often very vigorous within the chapters of the society. This is a large part of what makes it fun. But a group which can include Robert Bork, Richard Epstein, and students of Harry Jaffa, is nothing if not a “big tent.” I appreciate Prof. Leiter’s acknowledgment that the Society ought not to be stigmatized on account of ID proponents within our ranks.

Oh, and Prof. Leiter’s correspondent is right about the Lucky Charms.

But a group which can include Robert Bork, Richard Epstein, and students of Harry Jaffa, is nothing if not a “big tent.”

I’m tempted to say that any group that includes Robert Bork and any sane human being is nothing if not a big tent. But I’ll resist. :)

Isn’t Bork an ID apologist?

Isn’t Bork an ID apologist?

He is, at the very least, quite sympathetic to it.

For another take, see this comment by Tom Smith, from The Right Coast:

Annoying Federalist Society Atheist By Tom Smith

Brian Leiter has reprinted a long passage from some annoying Federalist Society atheist, who hurls a few of the usual insults at people who believe in God, namely that they cannot think straight, are stupid, and so forth. This is a silly claim to make. First, let’s review the speakers list at any given Federalist Society national event (they are much the same). You sure see a lot of theists on the list! Nino Scalia–yes. Bob Bork– probably. Ken Starr–yes. Frank Easterbrook–no, but believes in Easterbrook like most of us believe in God, so count him as half. Posner the Greater and Posner the Lesser– ditto. Clarence Thomas–yes. One could go on. If the Federalist Society invited only non-believers to their events, they would have to get a new set of icons.

Next, this point that theists are stupid. What a stupid thing to say. Lots of very smart people are or were theists. Take Bertrand Russell. Oh, that’s right. He was the self-serving atheist with bad breath. I meant to say Wittgenstein. He certainly spoke as if he were a theist. He was always talking about God this and that in his letters and to friends. Unappealing man in lots of ways, to be sure, but no dummy. One could go on, especially if you go back before God became so unfashionable. I. Kant for instance. Smart, last time I checked. And Karl Marx. Oh, sorry. He’s the atheist who almost destroyed the world. R. Descartes. No slouch at maths, solid grasp of theory, high IQ I think. Maybe not up to the standard quite of your average Federalist Society member, but still a clever chap. Or Leibnitz or Newton. Whichever one invented calculus, they both worshipped you-know-who. But that was before science! Well, not before science, but before really good science! I don’t know about that. Seems to me they did really good science, and understood very well what science was.

But most philosophers these days are atheists! Proves nothing. There’s a strong selection bias at work. People who believe in God and like to buy a new car every few years decide not to become philosophers. I think you would find that a lot of professional mathematicians are theists. Are they stupid?

A rather mean thing to say, but look: before we worry about why so many scientists are atheists, we should worry about why so many became Nazis in Germany. People aren’t very good at separating what they believe from what gets them ahead. Those that do are often a little wacky, like Ludwig.

Lots of Federalist Society members believe in God. I for one, though I think my membership in said society may have lapsed, cheapskate that I am. Few libertarians may believe in God, presumably because they think the universe was created by the market in a moment of perfect efficiency. When they die, they go to a resort run by the Libertarian Party. Oh, just kidding. Some of my best friends are libertarians. I’m half-libertarian myself. Just don’t go to them for religious advice. posted by thomas at 4/13/2004 02:27:45 PM

Smith of course is not endorsing ID here; he’s just commenting (amusingly and judciously, I think) on the anti-theistic bent of the unnamed Federalist Society guy.

Tom Smith said:

A rather mean thing to say, but look: before we worry about why so many scientists are atheists, we should worry about why so many became Nazis in Germany.

Note Tom’s use of synecdoche to cast aspersions on the character of all atheists. One could say the same thing about Christians, of course. Remember the Inquisition? Tom’s example is particularly odd, though, considering that Nazi accoutrements were emblazoned with the phrase “Gott Mit Uns”.

Gould neatly summarized Johnson’s use of the same rhetorical trick in his scathing review of Darwin On Trial:

Second, consider Johnson’s false use of synecdoche. The art of having an item or part stand for the whole is a noble trope in poetry and the classical, unfair trick of debate.

http://www.stephenjaygould.org/ctrl[…]n-trial.html

The unnamed Federalist Society member’s commentary certainly has its faults, but that Tom Smith article… nevermind.

The Unnamed Federalist Sociey Member (I will call him UFSM, which sounds a lot like “Bob”, so Bob it is) seems to miss what’s really amiss with ID. The claim that the universe or reality itself to some extent or another “designed”, in the sense that it’s the intended consequence of God(s), is not what’s wrong with ID. I’m sure that’s what most theists believe, and I don’t find that an unreasonable thing to believe at all, though I’m personally agnostic as far as that goes.

What makes ID different is that it’s proponents claim to have empirical evidence of this extremely vague notion of “design”, the detection of which somehow constitutes scientific theory that should be taught in public school science classes. (And upon doing so, all the boys and girls will turn into religious goody-goodies, and evil things like homosexuality and nipples on TV will vanish for good.) It’s the claim of emprical evidence that renders ID “that far a stretch” from simple theism. Upon closer inspection, it turns out that ID is just warmed over creationism without any testable claims about Earth history.

I don’t like that paragraph either. I was more impressed by his rebuttal (earlier on) of a kind of almost automatic assumption in some circles that theists are weak-minded. (I’ve given up on traditional theism myself, but the reminder, for me, was salutary.)

Yes, the more I look at it, the worse that paragraph is. Still, aside from that, I like the posting.

>hat makes ID different is that it’s proponents claim to have empirical evidence of this extremely vague notion of “design”, the detection of which somehow constitutes scientific theory that should be taught in public school science classes. (

Intelligent Design is conspiracy theory applied to the cosmos.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Steve Reuland published on April 12, 2004 9:26 PM.

McEnnis on Ohio “critical analysis” lesson plan was the previous entry in this blog.

Answers in Nemesis is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Categories

Archives

Author Archives

Powered by Movable Type 4.381

Site Meter