Why Is Censorship of Scrutiny so Much a Part of Evolutionary Science? - Evolution News & Views

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Why Is Censorship of Scrutiny so Much a Part of Evolutionary Science?

Atheist constitutional commentator and attorney Timothy Sandefur and I have exchanged blog ripostes about his bizarre assertion that teaching public school students that the theory of evolution has weaknesses as well as strengths is a violation of the Establishment Clause.

Mr. Sandefur asserted:

...to teach the (non-existent) "weaknesses" of evolution in a government classroom is almost always (a) contrary to the lesson plan--and therefore a violation of a teacher's employment contract--or (b) in reality an attempt to teach creationism to school children as true...To teach a religious viewpoint--such as that God created life--in government classrooms, taught by government employees, is to put the government's imprimatur on that religious viewpoint and in violation of the Establishment Clause.

Mr. Sandefur believes that the weaknesses of evolutionary theory are non-existent, and to teach the weaknesses (as well as the strengths) of evolutionary theory is to teach a religious viewpoint.


I replied that evolutionary theory obviously has weaknesses, as all scientific theories do, and that is not a religious viewpoint. It's a scientific viewpoint. All theories in science have strengths and weaknesses. Weaknesses of scientific theories are the basis for scientific research. The weaknesses of evolutionary theory are the basis for evolutionary research. It's just as constitutional to use public funds to teach students about those scientific weaknesses as it is to use public funds to conduct scientific research on those scientific weaknesses. It's just good science.

Mr. Sandefur replied:

Dr. Egnor has now moved on to argue that the Establishment Clause forbids the government from funding research in evolutionary biology.


No. Unlike Mr. Sandefur, I believe that publicly-funded research and teaching about evolution -- strengths and weaknesses -- is constitutional. I pointed out that Mr. Sandefur was inconsistent; if his assertion is accepted that publicly funded teaching about the weaknesses of evolutionary biology is unconstitutional, it follows that publicly funded research on the weaknesses of evolutionary biology is unconstitutional as well, because both teaching and research involve the use of public funds to address weaknesses of evolutionary theory. Their constitutionality stands or falls together.

I think that both teaching and research about the weaknesses of evolutionary theory are obviously constitutional. Mr. Sandefur disagrees. He believes that teaching students about the weaknesses is unconstitutional, but publicly funded research about the weaknesses is constitutional. Mr. Sandefur's view is incoherent.

The Supreme Court, in Edwards v. Aguillard, ruled that it is permissible to "require that scientific critiques of prevailing scientific theories be taught." This is my view, again, stated succinctly, so Mr. Sandefur can grasp it:

We should teach and study the strengths and weaknesses of evolution, with public funds, without hindrance. We need more academic freedom, and more teaching and research on evolution, not less.

Mr. Sandefur believes that teaching public school children that evolutionary theory has weaknesses is unconstitutional. He's wrong on the law, and transparently so. If I didn't know better, I'd think that Mr.Sandefur was merely trying to silence criticism of Darwinism in public school classrooms, and he's grasping at any premise he can think of to do it.

Here's a question to ponder: most scientific disciplines welcome scrutiny and debate. That's how science is done. Why is censorship of scrutiny so much a part of evolutionary science?