More on Establishment

| 47 Comments | 2 TrackBacks

I've dealt already with the argument that the NCSE website's funding by the National Science Foundation violates the Establishment Clause, and Francis Beckwith's article really makes no new points. But I have a few more thoughts about it--and about the sloppy thinking it reveals (which is pretty common among creationists).

In Rosenberger v. University of Virginia, 515 U.S. 819 (1995), the University ran a program which gave students money to publish newsletters and magazines. But religious publications were not eligible. Students sued, arguing that this was discriminatory. The state argued that the Establishment Clause prohibited it from allowing religious publications to participate in the program, but the Supreme Court rejected that argument (albeit, in dicta). "[A] significant factor in upholding governmental programs in the face of Establishment Clause attack," said the Court,

is their neutrality towards religion.... The guarantee of neutrality is respected, not offended, when the government, following neutral criteria and evenhanded policies, extends benefits to recipients whose ideologies and viewpoints, including religious ones, are broad and diverse.... we rejected the position that the Establishment Clause even justifies, much less requires, a refusal to extend free speech rights to religious speakers who participate in broad-reaching government programs neutral in design.
Id. at 839. Now, I think it's pretty obvious that the National Science Foundation's criteria for grants are religiously neutral. As I've pointed out, the NSF has given grants to such religious institutions as the University of Notre Dame and the University of San Diego. The criteria for such grants are wholly secular, and there is no reason why, if ID proponents could devise a genuine experimental or research program, they could not also qualify for such a grant. Were NSF to reject them for a grant on the grounds that they're doing bad science, that would be legitimate, wholly secular criteria, and would not therefore violate the Free Exercise or Equal Protection Clauses.

Rosenberger, in short, shows that even if the NCSE's website statement can be plausibly described as a "religious" statement--which some strongly, and pretty persuasively reject--it would still not qualify as an "establishment of religion" for the NCSE to use a government grant, so long as that grant is based on neutral, secular criteria (i.e., aiding school teachers in understanding and teaching science.)

Now, what's most troubling to me is that Beckwith's argument is very shortsighted. He is arguing that the Establishment Clause prohibits government funds from ever going to a private speaker who makes arguably religious statements. This is an extreme of separationism that only the most ardent leftist makes. It has been--I believe rightly--rejected in cases like Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, 536 U.S. 639 (2002), and the people who have argued that the Court ought to reject it have usually been the conservatives, who have argued that government should have more, not less freedom to fund the propagation of religious statements. Beckwith, relying (erroneously, as I've mentioned) on Justice O'Connor's separate opinion in Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U.S. 668 (1984), argues that any time government funding goes to a private expression of religious views--even when filtered through neutral, secular criteria--it constitutes endorsement. But this would not only forbid school choice programs like the one upheld in Zelman, it would also prohibit government from giving grants to faith-based charities, from placing the words "In God We Trust" on the currency, from having a national Christmas tree, or from sending firetrucks to put out fires in churches. People have made plausible arguments for some of these positions, but it's surprising to see the basic premise of such positions propagated by a religious conservative.

Beckwith's argument is silly, shortsighted pandering based on a sloppy grasp of the caselaw. In fact, you encounter this quite often in the Establishment/Free Exercise realm. It's sort of the legal version of creationism--complete with quote-mining, context-dropping, mis-citations, legal fallacies, and conspiracy-theory-type thinking--and it's usually employed to flatter the preconceptions of one political constituency in particular. Just the other day on the way home, I heard Paul Harvey read a note from a listener, saying "Paul, why can't my kids read the Bible in school? They can read it in jail!" We're supposed to laugh bitterly at the decline and fall of decent, upstanding civic religion and the death of Norman Rockwell. But the fact is that nothing in the Constitution prohibits a student from reading the Bible in school, and in fact it would be unconstitutional (as well as against statutory law, in California) for a teacher to forbid a student from reading the Bible. (Of course, a student can't read the Bible if it's disrupting the class, or if he's supposed to be working on another assignment--but that's reasonable, isn't it?) Yet people gobble up this pseudo-witticism, because they know nothing about the law, and have been taught that the judges are part of a conspiracy against religion.

One more example. Not long ago I got a chain-email from someone complaining about Newdow v. U.S. Congress, 292 F.3d 597 (9th Cir.2002), the case about the pledge of allegiance. The note said that, by the logic of the opinion, the judges couldn't really be judges because they have to say "so help me God" in their oaths of office, so the judges were really saying their own oaths of office were void, and therefore their decision was really void, too. Aha! It's brilliant!--yet the phrase "so help me God" is not required of federal judges, and the Constitution expressly prohibits a religious test for federal office--and the text of the presidential oath excludes any reference to God, and allows people to "affirm," rather than "swear," in order not to limit the Presidency to a particular religious view! But these sort of--shall I call them "blankie memes," as in, security blanket?--these sorts of things really appeal to people who know nothing of the law.

I've said before, and I still believe, that scientific illiteracy is the greatest threat to western civilization; greater than Islamic terrorism, greater than drugs, greater than importing four-inch-long lobster tails. But I would put ignorance of the Constitution high on that list as well.

2 TrackBacks

Baylor professor Francis Beckwith has recently come under fire from the crowd over at Panda’s Thumb for his writings on the Establishment Clause. One curious criticism from Pacific Legal Foundation attorney Timothy Sandefur is that Beckwith is esp... Read More

Baylor professor Francis Beckwith has recently come under fire from the crowd over at Panda’s Thumb for his writings on the Establishment Clause. One curious criticism from Pacific Legal Foundation attorney Timothy Sandefur is that Beckwith is esp... Read More

47 Comments

Syntax Error: not well-formed (invalid token) at line 1, column 59, byte 59 at /usr/local/lib/perl5/site_perl/5.12.3/mach/XML/Parser.pm line 187

Boy, I take a flight to Las Vegas for Easter Break and all hell breaks loose. Just arrived at bro’s house in Vegas and can’t wait to respond to Timothy, who, I understand was a student of a friend mine at Chapman Law School, John Eastman. Hey Timothy, did you ever have lunch at the Filling Station down the street on Glassell? Another good friend of mine owns that place. Enough of the small talk; here it goes.

(1) I quote O’Connor for her defintion of the endorsement test. I was not quoting Lynch as precedent. What I was interested in doing is presenting a crisp definition of the test. I thought that was clear since I don’t cite the Lynch holding. I don’t want to infer too much from your summary of Lynch, but it seems to me that you are missing the key to O’Conner’s test: it is not a mechanical, Lemon-like test; it’s a “reasonable person” type-test, or at least that’s the way I have always understood it. (2) Zelmann and the Catholic school examples are not applicable. In Zelman the money went to the parents who chose the school their child could attend, whether religious or secular. The money did not directly go to propogate a particular religious point of view as the correct point of view. The NSF grants to Catholic schools , like USD and ND, I am certain would not be given if the NSF was told in the proposal that the money would be used to propogate the “Catholic view as the correct view of the relationship between science and religion.” You are perfectly right that religious schools receive money, much of it indirectly through student loans, scholarships, grants, but some for projects and programs that are found at secular institutions as well. But you would hard pressed to find NSF money given directly to let’s say, Liberty University’s biology department, to create a web site on evolution in collaboration with the University of Virginia’ s science faculty to teach on UVA’s server that the correct and only way to resolve science/religious disputes is by looking at science through the lense of “Scripture” and then including links to fundamentalist denominations that affirm this view in their statements of belief. That view, I am sure, would not be government funded, for it would be a case of a state actor, UVA, using federal funds to propogate a religious point of view as the orthodox or “correct” one, which I argue is going on in the NCSE/Berkeley Evolution site (though I think it is generally a wonderful site and have referred my students to it). (3) Rosenburger is tricky. I see it as a “public forum” type case, since UVA, with student activity funds, was paying for the printing of other student newspapers except religious ones. The court called this “viewpoint discrimination.” Of course, Rosenburger would be applicable if let’s say the NSF were to deny on establishment grounds LU and UVA doing precisely what NCSE and Berkeley are doing with federal funds.

The analogy with ID guys seeking federal funds for their research isn’t quite to the point either. A better analogy would be Discovery Institute receiving an NSF grant and collaborating with UCLA to create a web site on the UC server that would propogate Discovery’s understanding of the relationship between science and religion and calling it the “correct” one and those who disagree with it as holding a “misconception” that is “divisive,” which is precisely what the Berkeley site says about those who disagree with its prescription.

I know that we disagree on this. And I appreciate your response. I very much enjoy thinking this through, for it forces me to better understand my own point of view, and amend it if I am mistaken. (That’s why I loved law school!!) However, I do know the case law. I wrote an extensive graduate dissertation in law on this subject (at Wash. U. Law School in St. Louis). I’m sure my work is flawed, as are all products of human intellectual endeavor. But I put a lot of effort into it, reading literally hundreds of cases, notes, books, etc., and being grilled by my mentor. I am open to correction, but a correction that is done respectfully, as I hope I can offer you as well.

BTW, you guys at Pacific do some wonderful work. Keep it up.

Frank

I appreciate Mr. Beckwith’s compliment, but please keep in mind that I speak only for myself on Panda’s Thumb.

Justice O’Connor’s opinion in Lynch is not a “crisp” definition of the test, because her opinion in Lynch is not the test. The test is Lemon, as modified by Agostini, and as I’ve explained, even if the NCSE statement were really a religious statement, it would not constitute establishment under Lemon.

Zelman is not directly applicable, but it stands for the proposition that establishment is not created simply by the fact that a government dollar ends up in the hand of a private party that makes a religious statement. If the dollar is filtered through legitimate secular criteria, as the NSF grant here, or as the parent choice in Zelman, then the likelihood of an establishment is seriously decreased.

As I explained in my post, if NSF were to refuse to give money to Liberty “University,” that decision would be more than justified on purely secular criteria–i.e., that creationism is not scientifically valid. The Constitution requires the government to treat religious viewpoints equally, but it does not require government to treat them interchangeably. The government has chosen to fund science. You may, I think, plausibly challenge the constitutionality of that decision. But once you grant that decision, as you appear to do, you cannot challenge the government’s right to teach good science over bad.

Rosenberger is a public forum case. And, as I said, its words regarding the Establishment Clause are dicta. But, as they say, very powerful dicta. As to the applicability of its Free Exercise Clause rationale (as opposed to its Establishment Clause rationale, which is what I was quoted and was discussing), to the NSF grant program, it is not applicable at all under these facts. If Liberty were to come up with an actual, scientifically valid research or educational program, then we could talk. Suppose, for instance, that Liberty came up with a website to teach dentistry, and didn’t play any games with it, didn’t try to use it as a ploy for spreading religion or anything like that–just a regular, plain old dentistry education website. If the NSF denied them a grant solely on the grounds that Liberty is a religious institution, then yes, I think that would be unconstitutional under Rosenberger‘s Free Exercise rationale. But again, that is not what your article alleged–you were discussing the Establishment Clause, as was I.

Did you want to respond to my point regarding conservatism? I am surprised and a little troubled by the implications that your absolute-separation argument would have with regard to school choice or to other programs which conservatives have usually defended.

Beckwith persists in an interpretation of the Berkeley/NCSE site that is false and deceptive. He repeatedly uses phrases like

In Zelman the money went to the parents who chose the school their child could attend, whether religious or secular. The money did not directly go to propogate [sic] a particular religious point of view as the correct point of view.

and

That view, I am sure, would not be government funded, for it would be a case of a state actor, UVA, using federal funds to propogate [sic] a religious point of view as the orthodox or “correct” one, which I argue is going on in the NCSE/Berkeley Evolution site …

and

A better analogy would be Discovery Institute receiving an NSF grant and collaborating with UCLA to create a web site on the UC server that would propogate [sic] Discovery’s understanding of the relationship between science and religion and calling it the “correct” one and those who disagree with it as holding a “misconception” that is “divisive,” which is precisely what the Berkeley site says about those who disagree with its prescription.

I’ve reread the Berleley/NCSE material on this topic – “Evo and Religion” – and I found not one use of the word “correct.” Nor did I find one instance of the use of the word “orthodox.” Beckwith imputes ideas that are not there. He fails to distinguish between “prescription” and “description.”

I found accurate statements of the relationship between science and religion on the site. In particular,

Antievolutionists have tried to confuse science and religion, leading to the following misconceptions in the minds of some members of the public. The misconception that one has to choose between science and religion is divisive. In fact, many religious people, including theologians, feel that a deeper understanding of nature actually enriches their faith. Moreover, in the scientific community there are thousands of scientists who are devoutly religious and also accept evolution.

As a matter of empirical fact, both of the assertions in that paragraph are true. Beginning in a significant way with so-called Scientific Creationism of the 1970s, antievolutionists have for decades tried to confuse science and religion. And tens of millions of devoutly religious people find no conflict between the two, believing that the divinity infuses the world of nature that we study by means of scientific methods.

Divisive? Let Beckwith come out here in the boondocks where the Discovery Institute pilgrims and their YEC political troops are tearing communities apart in their crusade to get their particular brand of theistic orthodoxy incorporated into science education if he doubts it. Let him meet parents who have been told by their pastors that all scientists are necessarily atheists. And let him look to the theocratic roots of the movement he argues for. There’s no science in that movement: Beckwith is as deceived (or as deceptive) as those pastors. There is only the driving motivation of an idiosyncratic religious orthodoxy impelling the Intelligent Design Creationism movement.

RBH

Sigh.… Sorry for misspelling “propagate.” I didn’t mean to have to make you waste all your time inserting “sic.” Every byte, a wanted byte, that’s what I say. I was traveling all day and finally got to my bro’s house in Vegas. So, I’m a bit tired.

In any event, I think you miss the point of my argument. Of course, the word “correct” does not appear on the Evo site, just as the word “orthodox” does not appear in the text of the Nicene Creed. When one reads an auto manual from one’s glove compartment, it usually does not say “this is the correct one.” So, when I say that the NCSE is claiming to give an account of religious epistemology that it maintains is correct, I make that judgment from what the text claims, that it does not use the language of nuance, restraint, or humility, and it does not suggest that it is one perspective among many live options. It offers assertions about what religious knowledge IS and how it relates to science, and then offers links to theological authorities that support this contention. Read closely what it says:

“Religion and science (evolution) ARE very different things. In science (as in science class), only natural causes are used to explain natural phenomena, while religion deals with beliefs that are beyond the natural world.” It says that to disagree with this notion is a misconception, which I believe means that NCSE/Berkeley is claiming its view is the exclusvely correct view: “The misconception that one has to choose between science and religion is divisive.”

As I have noted ad nauseum, this is a view, a well-respected view held by some of the leading lights on this subject including the late Stephen Jay Gould. But it is not the only view. There are people to the left and right of this.Some say that religion and science–though different disciplines–do overlap at points, and that the deliverences of one or the other can shape the insights of both. For example, suppose I had good reason to believe that human consciousness can be accounted for by strictly material causes, that there is no need to postulate an immaterial agent to account for thought, consiousness, personal continuity over time, or freedom. Suppose, however, that my theology teaches that an immaterial soul accounts for these things. Why can’t I say that the science is inconsistent with the deliverances of my theological tradition and that they both cannot be correct at the same time? And per Okham’s razor I reject my theological tradition on grounds derived from my study of neurophysiology.

If that’s even a possible way to look at these issues, then the NCSE/Berkeley is propagating a particular view of religious epistemology as the correct point of view, for it is calling such accounts “misconceptions” that are “divisive.”

I hope that clarifies matters.

Frank

“If that’s even a possible way to look at these issues, then the NCSE/Berkeley is propagating a particular view of religious epistemology as the correct point of view”

Um … this “particular view of religious epistemology” {how quaint and relativist this phrasing} is in fact the only one that is in the least bit compatible with a pluralistic secular government system, so it is not only not wrong for the government to promote it, it is absolutely necessary that it does.

Likewise maybe my religious system says certain things about the law, like that I must sacrifice my hypothetical seven-year-old daughter to Moloch. In this case my “religious epistemology” has come into contradiction with the secular state institution, and unfortunately for you {and Moloch, who I might add had fava beans and a nice chianti already prepared for the occasion} the secular state institution takes precedence. The problem for America isn’t that it takes this idea too seriously, but that it doesn’t take it nearly seriously enough, as over forty states legally do excuse religious child murder. This is untenable.

Might I further mention that I’m so genuinely relieved to see National Review, Am. Spectator, and so forth suddenly taking such a concern with the collapsing boundary between church and state; perhaps this is the perfect opportunity for them to repudiate the effort to infuse the “intelligent design” religion into public schools at the expense of, you know, science.

First, let me say I enjoyed reading Beckwith’s article, even though I disagree with it. It was a pleasant contrast to the rabble rousing of John West and the Discovery Institute.

Beckwith’s error, it seems to me, is assuming that the definition of religion is itself necessarily a matter of religious belief. That is plainly not the case. As a simple example, there is a substantive case law defining what “religion” is for purposes of the US constitution. In those cases, various definitions of “religion” have been proposed. Importantly, however, those definitions are not religious opinions. They are legal opinions. They define what religion is for purposes of law.

Now some one might argue that, no, the judges various opinions are infact religious opinions. But then, you have a paradox, for any judgement deciding the meaning of “religion” for the purposes of the law would itself establish a religious opinion - and hence breach the establishment clause.

Just as there are legal definitions of religion, there can be philosophical definitions of religion, sociological definitions, even psychological definitions of religion. These should be mutually informing, but as they do not serve the same purposes, need not be identical.

From my reading of “Understanding Evolution”, the authors are using a philosophical and/or legal definition of “religion”. They are making a statement about religion, but they are not making a religious statement.

Tom Curtis

Hate to be pedantic, but University of California at San Diego is a University of California school which is hardly “a religious Institution.” The link points to the University of South Dakota, but USC might have also been meant, though you have to look pretty hard to find its Methodist roots.

Actually, what was meant was the University of San Diego which is a Catholic university. Ain’t nobody gonna mistake the University of Southern California for a religious institution. :^)

Beckwith appears to have overlooked my question about how his extreme separationism view clashes with conservatism. And to have misspelled Occam.

There are several legitimate alternate spellings for Occam/Ockham/Ocham. Occam is the latinized version, Ockham is what the village he came from is named.

Francis,

The UE website makes it clear that the misconception is that “one has to choose between science and religion”. Not “false religion,” nor “correct religion,” nor “baptastic religion,” just “religion.” Courts have routinely held that classes in “religion” taught from a secular and academic point of view do not run afoul of the establishment clause. This is why public universities can have Religion Departments but not Divinity Schools. With this in mind, it is very clear that the UE website, which is dicussing religion from the same standpoint, i.e “descriptive,” does not run afoul of the establishment clause.

It seems to me that you are not arguing against the UE website, but rather some straw-man version of it. Now if you want to continue on this crusade, then I suggest that you start by identifying statements in the section under debate that are false. Here I will list them for you.

1) Religion and science (evolution) are very different things

2) In science (as in science class), only natural causes are used to explain natural phenomena, while religion deals with beliefs that are beyond the natural world.

3) The misconception that one has to choose between science and religion is divisive.

4) Most Christian and Jewish religious groups have no conflict with the theory of evolution or other scientific findings.

5) In fact, many religious people, including theologians, feel that a deeper understanding of nature actually enriches their faith.

6) Moreover, in the scientific community there are thousands of scientists who are devoutly religious and also accept evolution.

I count six statements. Care to make an argument that any of these are false?

Timothy Sandefur: “And to have misspelled Occam.”

PZ Meyers: “There are several legitimate alternate spellings for Occam/Ockham/Ocham.”

Not to worry gentlemen, we can look instead to his misspelling of “ad nauseam”.

~8^)

Tom Curtis came the closest to understanding what I was trying to say, though I think he missed it, but just by a hair. (Don’t say I misspelled “hair” and that I meant “hare” just because you may accuse me of taking you on a rabbit trail).

He’s right that the definition of religion itself cannot be religion; it is actually a philosophical question. Just as the question of the nature of science is itself not a scientific question, but a philosophical question about the nature of science.

Having said that, the question of what “counts as knowledge” and whether the deliverances of theology are part of a knowledge tradition that may count for or against the deliverances of other disciplines including science is a question that each theological tradition answers differently.

Keep in mind that my analysis of the NCSE/Berkeley website is based on my understanding of contemporary Supreme Court jurisprudence. I would prefer that the Court not hold that view. But given that view, it seems reasonable to conclude that there are establishment concerns. If “balanced treatment” statutes are wrong because creationism is religion (and I believe that is a correct analysis, by the way), then NOMA-treatment is wrong as well because NOMA is one understanding of religious epistemology.

I’m afraid I am not a relativist. My view is that arguments are arguments, and that the quality of them should be assessed without recourse to metaphysical litmus tests. I think, at the end of the day (and here I think that Leiter is completely right), the ID arguments stand or fall based on their quality, not whether they lead to conclusions thath are inconsistent with a particular understanding of what counts as “science.”

Or “Myers”!

As an atheist, I would love it if the new Beckwith rule were to become law; it would drastically undermine *any* government involvement in religion. It would certainly make the pending Pledge of Allegiance case easy, and would almost certainly act to prevent “In God We Trust” on currency as well as any mention of religion in the public square. An atheist’s dream! Thank you, Francis Beckwith!

Francis,

You are wrong if you think that the UE website is arguing for NOMA.

1) “Religion and science (evolution) are very different things.”

2) “In science (as in science class), only natural causes are used to explain natural phenomena, while religion deals with beliefs that are beyond the natural world.”

Note that although these points are close to NOMA they are distinct from it since they do not state that “religion only deals with beliefs that are beyond the natural world.”

UE is only stating the simple fact that religion and science are different. Science restricts itself to the natural world; religion does not.

O.K., now that’s my bad PZ. Sorry for the mangulation of your name.

Pointing out my errors is more like shooting fish in the proverbial barrel of monkeys. Not as much of a challenge.

Anyhoo, back to more serious matters.

Frank wrote:

“If “balanced treatment” statutes are wrong because creationism is religion (and I believe that is a correct analysis, by the way), then NOMA-treatment is wrong as well because NOMA is one understanding of religious epistemology.”

Is this your version of an argument by analogy? It’s not a very good one.

I suggest taking your “religious epistemology” catch-phrase back to the dirty cafe corner where you found it. Or at least try to explain what the phrase means and why you believe that if I understand what you are talking about then I must somehow be “religious.” Also, let me know if getting high first will help me understand what you are talking about.

“Religious epistemology” is the study of claims typically attributed to theological traditions and what it means to say that one “knows” them to be true. So, for example, people in the Christian tradition believe that special revelation is a legitimate avenue of knowledge. Whether such people have warrant in maintaining this belief and whether such a claim may count for or against claims in other areas of knowledge is a question of “religious epistemology.” So, when Berkeley/NCSE asserts what are the limits of such claims–that they do not touch on questions exclusive to “science”–it is in fact engaging in religious epistemology.

I hope that clarifies matters. May I suggest a number of philosophy or religion dictionaries and encyclopedias that are accessible on the net and most any academic library.

As far as my analogy, I think it works well. “Balanced treatment” statutes affirmed that evolution and creationism (a religious position) are two accounts of the same subject. NOMA affirms that evolution (science) and creationism (religion) are two different subjects. Both “balanced treatment” statutes and NOMA are attempts to explain the relationship between science and religion, though each gives contrary answers. So, here’s the key:

BT tries to explain S+R as same subject different answers NOMA tries to explain S+R as different subjects

So, I think it’s a good analogy.

I have to thank Beckwith for his complement. It would surprise me, however, if I was closest to understanding his point; and he did not quite understand mine. Contrary to his claim, it is certainly possible to have a religious view of what constitutes religion. In fact, I thought he was claiming that any view of what consitutes religion is necessarily a religious view. By the same token, what constitutes religion is not necessarily a philosophical view. There are legal views on the issue as well, and sociological, anthropological, and psychological views. These views will significantly overlap, but not necessarily coincide in which beliefs and practises they call religious.

All that is a little beside the point, for Beckwith accepts my major premise, that the “Understanding Evolution” definition of “religion” is a philosophical (and/or legal) definition, not a religious definition. But given that, I do not see how he thinks he has a case.

He and I, it appears, would agree that there can be specific religious beliefs that contradict scientific beliefs. A person may believe that the Earth is only 6,008 years old; and that all species were created separately by a supernatural being within six days of the creation of the Earth. They may have arrived at that belief by religious means; and believe it for religious reasons. Such a person would certainly have a religious belief that contradicts scientific knowledge; and there error would not lie in the philosopy of religion (ie,I believe NOMA is false).

Despite this contradiction, a science teacher teaching that the Earth is 4.5 billion years old, and that all species descend from the same small set of ancestors with a common gene pool is not violating the establishment clause. This is because their belief was arrived at by non-religious means; they believe it for non-religious reasons; and they are not teaching it for any religious purpose.

But the “Understanding Evolution” website’s discussion of religion meet exactly these criteria. That the belief was not reached by religious means has already been agreed by Beckwith. That it is not believed for religious reasons, and that it is not being taught for religious purposes is, I believe, self evident. Its purpose is plainly to support the secular activity of science education. And that it is not believed for religious reasons is suggested by the fact that it is agreed to by people of such widely divergent religious beliefs.

Tom Curtis

So, when Berkeley/NCSE asserts what are the limits of such claims–that they do not touch on questions exclusive to “science”–it is in fact engaging in religious epistemology.

Francis,

You are still either misreading or misrepresenting the UE website. It does not say anything about the limits of religion. It does not advocate NOMA. If you want to still follow your problematic logic, I suggest you start making an argument that some of their six statements are factually wrong.

Professor Beckwith’s argument if followed consistently–and there’s no reason to think the Professor desires otherwise–would outlaw the teaching of science altogether. After all, the talk of ‘natural law(s)’ in science texts, violates Malebranche’s doctrine of ‘occasionalism’ and so constitutes a species of ‘theology’.

The proper lesson to draw from this, following the good Professor’s lead–is that everything is theology, in the end. Teaching science really is teaching theology, and must end in government-funded schools since it violates the establishment clause.

Of course, there is the slight possibility that one need not follow the Professor in his absurdity. Rather, perhaps one ought to conclude that there’s a difference between philosophy and religion. And the American constitution prohibits the establishment of any particular version of the latter, not brief mentions–en passant–of the former.

Francis says:

“‘Religious epistemology’ is the study of claims typically attributed to theological traditions and what it means to say that one “knows” them to be true. …So, when Berkeley/NCSE asserts what are the limits of such claims–that they do not touch on questions exclusive to “science”–it is in fact engaging in religious epistemology.”

Francis, just for fun (meaning, just for YOUR amusement because the sorts of bogus arguments you present here are so typical of creationists and their apologists) let’s assume that the NCSE is engaging in epistemology when it says that religion and science are different.

The next question is: so what? There is no clause respecting an establishment of epistemology in the Constitution. Please try to answer the question without launching into a discussion of Hume’s treatment of Swinburne’s analysis of Portnoy’s complaint.

The bottom line – and we are at the bottom, Frank, whether you realize it or not, because your arguments truly reek – is that I, and many other people with law degrees and other advanced degrees can UNDERSTAND the logic in the arguments that Timothy and Jason and Reed are making. I don’t necessarily agree with every sentence they write and I can nitpick their wording from time, but that is only because I can follow their argument.

Your arguments, Frank, just don’t make SENSE and the reason they don’t make sense is because you are throwing around this philosophical claptrap like a hamster in fresh cedar. It’s as if you somehow want only that we all become as confused as you are, so we might have a realization : “aha! this feeling of confusion and my hurting brain must mean that there really is something fishy about what those crafty scientists are claiming.”

Just file your lawsuit, Frank, and spare us the hot air. And PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE when the Judge tells you that he doesn’t understand what the f**k you are talking about, don’t forget to tell her to consult “a number of philosophy or religion dictionaries and encyclopedias that are accessible on the net and most any academic library.”

I can’t wait to read the Judge’s response to that statement. Also, make sure you emphasize that the libraries you are referring the Judge to are *academic* libraries because I think “academic” is a key word when it comes to appreciating the bogusness of your arguments.

My birthday-bride is napping. So, I can sneak this in.

I think Reed and I are at a standstill. I just think his reading of the site is much too charitable, for if it were as nuanced and careful as he thinks it is, it would have actually included in writing the distinctions he thinks that are there.

The “if Beckwith were to take his principles to their logical conclusion” guys are missing the narrow strand of jurisprudence I am addressing: government funding of a theological point of view as correct and published on a government server. It involves a cluster of cases that have touched on the “purse string” issues. “In God We Trust” on money, the Pledge, and so on concern other questions and cases.

Tom makes the most sense, though I still think he’s wrong on what may appear to the non-philosophically-inclined to be a minor point. He rightly points out that the question of what constitutes “religion” is not a question of religion but a question about religion. The same, of course, goes for science as well: definitions of science qua science are notoriously philosophical. Tom is correct that one can have a religious view of what constitutes religion. The Apostle James offers such a definition in the New Testament: “True religion is the caring of widows and orphans.” (my paraphrase). So, one can have a definition of religion within a religious tradition and a definition of religion qua religion that is philosophical and not dependent on the plausibility of any religious tradition per se. However, is it the role of the state to fund a project that propagates a particular definition of what constitutes “religious knowledge” as the correct one? But what constitutes religious knowledge is part of a theological worldview. (It is not knowledge of religion, which of course has nothing to do with the epistemological status of a particular religion’s truth claims). Christian thinkers, such as Thomas Aquinas in Summa Theologica, present their faith as consisting of layers of beliefs, some of which are based on arguments and evidence, on the nature of knowledege, reality, human beings, nature, and law. These beliefs are inexorably tied together in what we call a religion. They are typically interdependent beliefs, e.g., Alvin Plantinga argues that a proper function understanding of the mind–that depends on theistic realism–better accounts for reason and true knowledge than natural selection and random mutation (This he calls “an evolutionary argument against naturalism”).

So, I stand by my American Spectator article and still think the argument holds.

Thanks for the feedback. All your comments are helpful in thinking this stuff through. BTW, I just completed a 25-page academic article that deals in much greater detail with the jurisprudential issues I allude to here: “It’s the Epistemology, Stupid: Science, Religion, and School Boards. In this article I side with the Freiler court on disclaimers because of its correct understanding that religious anti-evolution claims may be defeated by science or even philosophical arguments. It will appear in an anthology of new essays by others as well sometime next year.

Frank writes:

“I hope that clarifies matters. May I suggest a number of philosophy or religion dictionaries and encyclopedias that are accessible on the net and most any academic library.”

Frank, why don’t you file your suit and when the Judge asks you what the hell you are talking about, you can tell the Judge to go to the library. Why should I have to go to the library to understand what you’re talking about? I’ve have a JD from Hastings and a Ph.D. from Berkeley and if that isn’t enough to follow an establishment clause argument regarding a posting on a web site then I don’t know what is.

It’s precisely the sort of arrogance and hubris in your library comment that will ultimately catch up with you creationist sympathizers and wackos because most people who have “faith” are intelligent enough to KNOW (without a high falootin’ explanation re what Hume said about Swinburne’s treatment of Portnoy’s complaint) that religion and science are different and that there is no a priori reason that a person can’t accept evolution as a fact and also be religious. How do they know that? For the same reason they know that masturbation won’t cause them to go blind: first hand experience.

Frank asks:

“… is it the role of the state to fund a project that propagates a particular definition of what constitutes “religious knowledge” as the correct one?”

(1) There is no particular definition of religious knowledge on the website.

(2) There is no “propogation” of anything having to do with religion, unless you want to call science a religion, in which case you might as well call everything a religion, in which case, blah blah blah

(3) There is no discrimination against any religion by the website nor is there any promotion of religion on the website. So why should we care if the state is funding the website?

Bonus points if you can answer the question without referring to a philosopher or (gag me) an apostle. And remember what God says about liars.

To Dr. James R. Quaradial. First, your use of Ed Brayton’s favorite word is precious. :-) Second, whenever I run into writers I don’t understand or whose reasoning I cannot follow, I initially blame myself rather than the writer, unless I have reason to believe otherwise. (Sometimes it is not the height of the words but the stature of the heads). Third, you write that “there is no clause respecting an establishment of epistemology in the Constitution.” Of course, there is also no clause that says that one should interpret the Constitution adequately or with integrity, for that is a philosophical presupposition that one takes to the Constitution before one interprets it. Courts have in fact dealt with the question of “religious epistemology” in so many words, e.g., U.S. v. Ballard, Freiler v. Tangipahoa Parish Board of Education, Segraves v. California Bd. of Educ., No. 278978 (Cal. Super. Ct. June 12, 1981), McLean v. Arkansas (1982), and Peloza v. Capistrano Unified Sch. Dist., 782 F. Supp. 1412 (C.D. Cal. 1992) (“Peloza I”), aff’d in part, Peloza v. Capistrano Unified Sch. Dist., 37 F.3d 517 (9th Cir. 1994) (“Peloza II”). I address all these cases in my book (except for Ballard, which I do cite in my analysis of Freiler).

First, your use of Ed Brayton’s favorite word is precious. :-)

He used “riff”? It’s funny, last week I got a comment from the guy I stole “riffing” from. He’s an old buddy of mine from my comedy days and I had named him by name. He didn’t see a name on my blog and had no idea who I was. He left a comment that said, “Thanks for calling me brilliant. Who are you?”. I sent him an e-mail and now I’m getting caught up with the guy after almost a decade.

I think Reed and I are at a standstill. I just think his reading of the site is much too charitable, for if it were as nuanced and careful as he thinks it is, it would have actually included in writing the distinctions he thinks that are there.

What? You expect them to have predicted your misreadings and pre-disclaimed them?

If your claims about the UE website have merit, then you must be able to demonstrate where one of their six statements is false, from a secular, academic point of view. You have been repeatedly asked this and so far have not done so. I can only imagine that you are avoiding the question because you cannot answer it.

The fact remains that religion and science are different things. Science only deals with natural things, but religion does not.

One more comment to Dr. James. First, I like the “first hand experience / masturbation” pun. Very nice. Just keep ‘em comin’. Second, you’re not reading me with a charitable eye. The NCSE/Berkeley site offers one understanding of religious knowledge as correct (remember the apple/orange illustration on the site?), an understanding that says they are separate realms. Of course, it does not follow from this I believe that religion and science are in fact the same thing. I believe they are NOT, and I have said that a few times. I have, in fact, offered analogies and illustrations to make my point. The religions promoted by the site are the ones that say that theology is not a knowledge tradition whose deliverances may overlap the deliverances of science. The religions discriminated against are the ones that think otherwise and who are judged by the site as holding a “misconception” that is “divisive.” It doesn’t get clearer than that. If you can’t see that, I can’t help you.

BTW, the dictionary referral was not meant to be insulting. I apologize if it came across that way. I frequently refer people to online resources that typically can offer better definitions than I can. I’m thinking of sources like the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, which is quite good. Once again, my apologies.

Take care, Frank

Frank writes:

“The religions promoted by the site are the ones that say that theology is not a knowledge tradition whose deliverances may overlap the deliverances of science.”

Frank: (I ask, coughing up cedar chips) how about an example of such a religion along with proof that the religion in your example “says” what you claim it “says”. I hope you know what I mean by “proof,” but if you don’t, you know where to go to look it up.

Frank also said:

“The religions discriminated against are the ones that think otherwise and who are judged by the site as holding a “misconception” that is “divisive.”

How is the state discriminating against these unidentified religions by funding this web site? Please cite the relevant Supreme Court case law re: religious discrimination when you explain your answer to this question.

“I frequently refer people to online resources that typically can offer better definitions than I can.”

You realize of course that some dictionaries define “religious epistemology” one way and other dictionaries define it another way. The only definition that mattered is the one that you were adopting and putting forward in making your argument. Also, I suggest sticking with just one definition when you make your argument. In theory, that should make your argument a bit easier to follow.

“Of course, there is also no clause that says that one should interpret the Constitution adequately or with integrity, for that is a philosophical presupposition that one takes to the Constitution before one interprets it.”

No, but there are Federal laws against bringing claims to the Courts in bad faith.

Thanks for the list of case cites which you allege address issues relating to your “philosophical” argument. Do any of the Supreme Court cases you support your argument regarding the web site we are discussing here? If so, please let us know which case and also where is the language in that case that you propose should be cited to compel the government to withhold funding to the web site unless the text on the web site is changed?

The NCSE/Berkeley site offers one understanding of religious knowledge as correct (remember the apple/orange illustration on the site?), an understanding that says they are separate realms.

Hmm, neither “separate realms” nor “correct” appear on that UE webpage. I don’t see an apple/orange illustration either.

“I think Reed and I are at a standstill. I just think his reading of the site is much too charitable, for if it were as nuanced and careful as he thinks it is, it would have actually included in writing the distinctions he thinks that are there.” -Frank

No standstill here. Reed nailed you with the missing word “only.” The site does not say that that religion and science never conflict. It just says they do not have to. It may not be nuanced, but it is a crystal clear distinction that obviates your argument. From your writing, it seems you have the strength of character to admit it.

Frank writes:

“Second, whenever I run into writers I don’t understand or whose reasoning I cannot follow, I initially blame myself rather than the writer, unless I have reason to believe otherwise. “

Wow, me too! My reasons to believe otherwise are (1) I’m a lawyer and this discussion was about the Establishment Clause (2) you spew forth pop-philosophical concepts like “knowledge traditions” and “theistic realism” but refuse to discuss the FACTS about the website at issue here or to point out any support for your position in the Supreme Court’s case law. The Supreme’s don’t give a damn about “theistic realism” and if you were honest about your “argument” you wouldn’t be bringing that nonsense up.

C’mon, Frank, just lay it out in easy pieces for us morons. I guarantee you you’re not going to find a Judge who’s interested in your “knowledge tradition” horse hockey so here’s your chance to state your position in English, no abbreviations, no philosophical mumbo jumbo, no Apostle James. Just the facts and some case law. Go for it.

Everyone, please remember to stay polite. PT should be the internet equivalent of a cheery, cosy pub, not a place for bar brawls (goodness knows there are plenty of places on the ‘net for that). Beckwith is being the height of a gentleman in the face of considerable provocation, everyone should reply in kind.

Re: “cheery cosy pub” versus “stuffy office atop ivory tower”:

I’m happy to avoid going for the jugular if the point of all this is just to tease the animals. I thought we were trying to put them out of their misery. My bad.

Professor Beckwith’s dismissal of those who suggest he has no principled way to stop taking his principles to their logical–and absurd–conclusion, misses the point of the argument.

Tell me, Professor, just how would your jurisprudential virtue allow you to teach physics in public schools: Again, physicists talk of the laws of nature does violate an occasionalists’ central theological dogma.

The central problem with your argument–whatever its jurisprudential merit–is to confuse theology with philosophy with science. Theology, sir, is not a field constrained solely by the use of reason: Faith in certain dogmas + Reason is central to theology. Philosophy doesn’t rely on religious dogmas.

Consequently, a philosophy may entail propositions that conflict with religion, but that does not make that philosophy into a religion. Think of a relevant analogy from physics: Some Christians believe the earth is flat. Physicists..err…dispute this point. This doesn’t mean that physics is really religion.

Yet that’s what your analysis must lead you to conclude. Hence, again, my question to you: When will you take up the cudgels against all those horrible physicists/missionaries of materialism in the public school classroom ?

You have a double burden, it seems to me: Not only must you show that any tenet which contradicts anyones’ religious belief, is itself a religious/theological proposition. You must also demonstrate that the Constitution bars the government from funding any such belief, even if it is arrived at in a non-religious manner and serves a (mainly) non-religious purpose.

Beckwith was referring to the apples/oranges “scientific concept”/”religious belief” graphic in the Misconception: “Teachers should teach ‘both sides’ and let students decide for themselves.” section.

The text is decidedly prosaic:

Misconception: “Teachers should teach ‘both sides’ and let students decide for themselves.”

Response: Given the wide variety of religious views about creation, there are not simply “two sides” to be compared. In science class, students should have opportunities to discuss the merits of arguments within the scope of science. For example, scientists debate whether birds are descended from dinosaurs or their ancestors branched off the evolutionary tree before dinosaurs evolved. In contrast, a debate pitting a scientific concept against a religious belief has no place in a science class and misleadingly suggests that a “choice” between the two must be made. The “fairness” argument has been used a great deal by creationist activists attempting to insinuate their religious beliefs into science curricula.

The next page is similarly prosaic.

Misconception: “Evolution is itself ‘religious,’ so requiring teachers to teach evolution violates the First Amendment.”

Response: Evolution is science. The study of evolution relies on evidence and inference from the natural world. Thus it is not a religion. Supreme Court and other Federal court decisions clearly differentiate science from religion and do not permit the advocacy of religious doctrine in science (or other public school) classes. Other decisions specifically uphold a school district’s right to require the teaching of evolution.

The strange thing is, it seems that Beckwith accepts this legal analysis. He thus accepts that the argument “it conflicts with my religion” is not grounds for a challenge on first-amendment grounds. And yet, Beckwith maintains that, just because certain religious groups think that evolution does conflict with religion, the mere mention that religion and science are different and don’t necessarily conflict (an observable fact, documented by the link to the NCSE resource, not to mention the decisions of the courts) constitutes a violation of church-state separation worthy of national media attention.

It’s all very confusing. It is easier to understand when one realizes that the core motivation of the ID movement is the idea that evolution undermines Christianity. If this is what the ID movement believes, then challenging the dissemination of contradictory evidence becomes very attractive to them.

PS: While looking for the apple/oranges thing on the Understanding Evolution site, I found that a search on “apple” reveals references to the origin by sympatric speciation of apple maggot flies (there goes the “evolution can’t produce new information” argument of many Intelligent Design advocates), the origin of the golden color of golden delicious apples by mutation (there goes the “mutations can’t produce new information” argument of ID advocates), and a simple example answer to a student question about parsimony (click on the skinny guy in the top row, second from the left; unfortunately, this apple mention doesn’t directly undermine ID, although parsimony is a huge problem for ID explanations). A search on oranges reveals no mentions (although I’m sure that a qualified orange-ologist could support evolution and/or disprove an ID argument with oranges, also).

By the way, the “you can’t compare apples and oranges” saying, while it makes a useful point, has its limitations. See Sandford (1995), “Apples and Oranges – A Comparison”, Annals of Improbable Research, Volume 1, Issue 3.

“And yet, Beckwith maintains that, just because certain religious groups think that evolution does conflict with religion, the mere mention that religion and science are different and don’t necessarily conflict (an observable fact, documented by the link to the NCSE resource, not to mention the decisions of the courts) constitutes a violation of church-state separation worthy of national media attention.”

The argument is a little more subtle than this. AFAICT, he states that the religions linked to accept the NOMA proposition, IOW the idea that religions cover a separate and non-overlapping knowledge set than science (actually, I suspect when you look into the religions on the Voices page you find that this is untrue). He extends this a la Phil Johnson to the conclusion that the UE website promotes only religions that have no role for God’s activity in the natural world, and that the UE is therefore promoting NOMA.

It’s curious where he gets this conclusion. As Reed points out, the site does not state that religion discusses (or more properly, the NOMA concept would state ‘should’ - and the site certainly does NOT make this prescriptive statement) ONLY supernatural constructs. So Beckwith is simply incorrect in making this assertion. The site makes the simple factual statement that many religions and religionists accept evolution and provides evidence of the assertion in the form of a pointer to the voices of evolution website. Nowhere does the site state that evolution does not conflict with some people’s religious views. Nor does it state, as Gould did, that those religious people are violating the NOMA principle. It simply states that their religious opinion is not the only one and provides evidence for that assertion.

In addition, the use of naturalistic apparatus to describe and explain nature does *not* exclude a role for God in the “real” world. The book _Perpectives on an Evolving Creation_ and as well Terry Gray’s book reviews of Phil Johnson’s books are helpful in understanding this.

Frank-

I’m having trouble reconciling two statements that you made. On the one hand, when I challenged you to take your legal argument to court you replied that a good argument is not necessarily a winning argument, implying that you think you have a good argument but that it’s not one that would win. But in your comments on this post you say:

Keep in mind that my analysis of the NCSE/Berkeley website is based on my understanding of contemporary Supreme Court jurisprudence. I would prefer that the Court not hold that view. But given that view, it seems reasonable to conclude that there are establishment concerns.

Which seems to me to say the opposite - that you think you have a winning argument, but not a good one (i.e. not an argument that SHOULD win because you prefer the court not hold the views that would make it a winning argument). Can you clear up this apparent contradiction? If you think that you have a winning case based on current court precedent, as you imply here, why did you beg out of the challenge to take it to court by saying it’s not a winning argument even though it’s a good one?

Frank said:

“Religious epistemology” is the study of claims typically attributed to theological traditions and what it means to say that one “knows” them to be true. So, for example, people in the Christian tradition believe that special revelation is a legitimate avenue of knowledge. Whether such people have warrant in maintaining this belief and whether such a claim may count for or against claims in other areas of knowledge is a question of “religious epistemology.”

This reminds me of something Richard Dawkins wrote about “alternative” medicin. His argument is that medicin either works, or it doesn’t, so there’s no need to use a qualitifier like “alternative.” There is no alternative medicin – just medicin.

Frank’s comment about “religious” epistemology is similar. Either you know something, or you don’t, so epistemology doesn’t need any qualifier. This is a kind of post-modernism, not unlike (say) “feminist” mathematics. Alvin Plantinga (from whom Frank might have learned the religious epistemology idea – note Frank’s use of the term “warrant” above) wants Christians to do “Augustinian” science, based on what they “know” as Christians.

Note also that Frank did a bait-and-switch. He said “religous epistemology” but then later said “avenue of knowledge.” He didn’t say “Christian” knowledge, just “knowledge.” It’s one thing for a Christian to use “religious” epistemology to justify the claim “I know there is a God,” but he must carefully circumscribe such justification for claims to knowledge that lie outside of Christian theology specificially.

As a side note realize that revelation (Frank probably meant “general” not “special” revelation) as a source of knowledge is a tautology. You can’t simply say “I have knowledge of God, because God revealed himself to me” (which is the definition of revelation) because then you’d be using God in your own proof.

See this link for more info about global skepticism: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philos[…]l_skepticism

See also Robert Pennock’s book Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics, in which Christian theologians rebut many of Plantinga’s arguments.

Quick reply to Ed, and then I’ve got to post my reply to Timothy’s claim that I am an inconsistent conservative. Yes, I do believe that my analysis is consistent with contemporary SC jurisprudence. But that does not mean that a Court will accept my arguments on their merits. Sometimes a Court will reject principles that lead it to conclusions that it will not accept for a variety of cultural and/or sub-rational motivations. This is typically the case in the “culture war” issues, and the Darwin-education debate is one of them. This is why, for example, in Freiler the federal court rejects a disclaimer because evolution could be a defeater to creationism, whereas Judge Overton in McLean, and the judge in Peloza, rule against the creation side because creationism is religion and evolution is science. So, in Freiler evolution and creation are two different answers to the same subject; in McLean and Peloza they are two different subjects. This doesn’t make any sense, for if McLean and Peloza are right, then a disclaimer has a secular purpose, namely to reinforce what the Courts said in McLean and Peloza.

Timothy Sandefur recently raised a question above about my April 7 American Spectator piece: “Beckwith appears to have overlooked my question about how his extreme separationism view clashes with conservatism.” The original American Spectator piece can be found here. Here’s my reply:

(1) I am first a Christian and then a conservative. And whenever the former conflicts with the latter, I lean toward the former. I’m more convinced that Jesus was right than I am about William F. Buckley, Jr.’s opinions. Part of my understanding of Christian theology and its relationship to the state is that the state should not be in the business of coercing people to be Christians, either directly or indirectly. It should respect the rights of all believers and unbelievers to believe as they will and to make life choices consistent with these beliefs as long as they do not violate the public good or infringe on the rights of others (I know that there is a can of worms here with “public good,” but I’m just articulating the general principles). So, in that sense I am a church-state separationist.….….….

To read the rest of my reply, go here.

Oops. To the read the rest of my reply, go HERE

Francis said:

This is why, for example, in Freiler the federal court rejects a disclaimer because evolution could be a defeater to creationism…

Note Francis’ use of the phrase “defeater.” This is exactly the same language Plantinga uses when he argues that naturalism is “self-refuting:”

http://www.philosophers.co.uk/porta[…]le.php?id=44

Plantinga is of course a theistic realist. Do read the interview with Don Cupitt, who is a theistic anti-realist, for the antidote to Plantinga:

http://www.philosophers.co.uk/porta[…]le.php?id=43

Francis’ language confirms my tentative hypothesis that the godfather of the modern anti-evolution movement is really Alvin Plantinga, not Phillip Johnson. I haven’t read any of Johnson’s books, but my hunch is that Johnson didn’t come up with “theistic realism” all by himself, and he probably got that idea by reading Plantinga – but I don’t really know for sure.

The interesting question is why does a guy like Dembski, who is trained in both philosophy and theology, refer in his speaches and writing to Phillip Johnson and not Alvin Plantinga? Plantinga’s philosophy appears to be in harmony with the IDC movement, so why doesn’t Dembski refer to Plantinga directly?

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Timothy Sandefur published on April 7, 2004 6:23 PM.

Beckwith and the Understanding Evolution Website was the previous entry in this blog.

Living words: Dearth and taxa - “primitive” 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 4.361

Site Meter