Mr. Sandefur's Illiberal Views - Evolution News & Views

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Mr. Sandefur's Illiberal Views

Timothy Sandefur has been waiting anxiously for my reply to his most recent post. He and I disagree on this point: I believe that teaching the strengths and weakness of Darwin's theory in public schools is constitutional and is good science. He believes that teaching the strengths and weaknesses of Darwin's theory is unconstitutional, and that only the strengths of Darwinism may be taught to schoolchildren.

In his most recent post, he begins with three points.

First, Mr. Sandefur asserts:

[Egnor] accuses me of misrepresenting him by calling him a creationist
That's an easy one to resolve. The term creationist in this debate refers to young earth creationism. I'm not a young earth creationist. Therefore when Mr. Sandefur calls me a "creationist," he's misrepresenting my views.


[Egnor] claims that it is constitutional for creationists to teach religion in government schools
Again, it is quite revealing that Mr. Sandefur is resorting to misrepresenting his opponent's views. No, I don't believe that it is constitutional for creationists (or anyone else) to advocate creationism in public schools. Likewise, I don't believe that it's constitutional for atheists (or anyone else) to advocate atheism in public school. I don't believe that it's constitutional for public schools to advocate religion.

But what is "religion"?

Religion can be defined in two ways. First, religion is a belief in a particular ultimate metaphysical reality. Mr. Sandefur's religion is that there is no God. My religion is that God exists, and that he is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Other peoples' religions are that many Gods exist (polytheism), or all is God (monism, or pantheism), or that God is Yahweh, or that God is Allah, etc. (monotheism).

The second definition of religion -- the definition favored by sociologists of religion -- is that religion is liturgy, a set of customs and practices of worship. Traditional religions certainly meet this definition, and atheism ironically comes close as well. Atheists in the French Revolution founded the Cult of Reason, and they seized several Parisian churches and dedicated them to the Cult. Atheism was (and is) the state religion of communist nations, in which worship of leaders and veneration of relics is a bastard liturgy. The modern atheist adulation of Darwin has religious overtones -- P.Z. Myers desecrated Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion along with the Koran and the Eucharist. The act of desecration presupposes sacredness.

Public school advocacy of religion in the first sense -- religion as an opinion about ultimate metaphysical reality -- is unconstitutional, because it represents the government 'establishment' of a particular metaphysical reality as true. Public schools can't constitutionally teach that God does exist, or that he doesn't exist. They obviously can (and should) teach students about the arguments advanced about these fundamentally important issues. No child should graduate public school without intimate familiarity with Aquinas' Five Ways, the Kalam Cosmological Argument, the Elohist and Jahwist contribution to the Torah, and the philosophy of Epicurus and Lucretius, the views of Nietzsche and Hume, among many others. The philosophical and theological illiteracy of public school graduates is a scandal. Although public schools cannot constitutionally advocate the truth of any one of these views, students should be aware of all of these perspectives -- both theist and atheist.

Yet instruction in metaphysics isn't limited to philosophy classes. Much of what children learn in science class about evolution has profound metaphysical implications. Again, in this case it's best to teach students about both scientific views for and against evolution, without indoctrinating them in only one view or the other. Mr. Sandefur seems to prefer that students be indoctrinated in only the evidence for evolution. But my argument is simply that it is perfectly constitutional to teach students about scientific critique of evolution as well. As the U.S. Supreme Court stated in the case Edwards v. Aguillard, it is not impermissible to "require that scientific critiques of prevailing scientific theories be taught."

Public school advocacy of religion in the second sense -- religion is custom and liturgy -- is unconstitutional, because it represents the government 'establishment' of a particular custom and liturgy. However, there is no religion that includes 'strengths and weaknesses of Darwin's theory' in its liturgy. And teaching students about both the strengths and weaknesses of evolution also establishes no particular metaphysical reality as true (religion in the "first" sense). Therefore there is no reason to conclude that teaching the strength and weakness of Darwin's theory is unconstitutional.

Mr. Sandefur:

third, [Egnor] claims I am part of a conspiracy to preach atheism to schoolkids...or something.
Perhaps Mr. Sandefur desires to indoctrinate children in atheism, perhaps he doesn't. This I know for sure: The method of science is to consider the strength and weakness of all scientific theories. Teaching only the strengths of a theory, and not the weaknesses, is indoctrination, not science.

Yet Mr. Sandefur insists that public school children be taught only Darwinism's strengths. Thus, it's clear that Mr. Sandefur wants to indoctrinate students, one way or the other.

He insists that teaching the weaknesses of Darwin's theory, along with the strengths, is unconstitutional. This is unfortunate: the First Amendment was designed to protect freedom of inquiry, but Mr. Sandefur wants to misuse the First Amendment's legitimate prohibition on religious establishment in order to ban scientific inquiry into the weaknesses of evolution.

Remarkably, Mr. Sandefur's idiosyncratic interpretation of the Constitution -- he believes that the Establishment Clause prohibits objective teaching of one particular scientific theory -- coincides perfectly with his personal religious beliefs. Mr. Sandefur is an atheist. The atheist understanding of the creation of life -- the atheist Creation Myth -- is Darwin's theory of evolution. Mr.Sandefur proposes that school children be taught only the strengths of Darwin's theory, and not the weaknesses, and he supports the use of force via federal courts to establish as fact this core tenet of atheism in public schools.

He might deny it, but it fits "conspiracy to preach atheism to schoolkids" pretty well.