Is it Unconstitutional Not to Teach ID?

| 68 Comments

The recent anthology Darwinism, Design and Public Education, edited by John Angus Campbell and Stephen C. Meyer, is chock-full of brazen dishonesty, false science, and sloppy arguments. In the midst of all of this silliness, however, is one essay whose arguments are so absurd, so completely divorced from all semblance of rational thought, that it must be singled out for special attention. The essay is entitled “Intelligent Design Theory, Religion, and the Science Curriculum”, by Warren A. Nord. Nord is a professor of philosophy at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Nord writes:


I am not going to argue that students should be required to learn about intelligent design (ID) theory because it is a better or more reasonable theory than its naturalistic counterparts. I don't know whether it is. Instead, I am going to argue that some study of ID theory should be included in the curriculum because there is substantial disagreement about whether ID is a better theory and the disagreement is of such a kind that educators are obligated to teach students about it.

Nord is building up to an argument that the obligation he refers to in the paragraph above stems from the constitutional requirement of religious neutrality in public school education. Before getting to that however, there are a few points to make about the paragraph above.

Nowhere in his essay does Nord tell us what constitutes ID theory. What, exactly, are educators required to teach their students about? The substantial disagreement to which Nord refers exists entirely at the popular level; among scientists ID has no credibility at all. Like ID, astrology is very popular among the public, but has no credibility among scientists. Does Nord believe we are obligated to teach astrology in science classes?

The statement above comes in the introductory section of the essay. The following section deals with the subject of teaching religion generally. Nord writes:


To see why this is important let me draw a distinction between teaching about subjects, on the one hand, and teaching disciplines, on the other. Approaching history as a subject, we might interpret it in a variety of ways, religious as well as secular. But schools don't teach the subject of history, they teach the discipline of history. They teach students to make sense of history as contemporary secular historians make sense of it. And so it is with other “subjects” of the curriculum. Schools don't teach students about the subject of economics, for example, a subject about which there is an extensive and rich religious literature; instead, they teach the discipline of neo-classical economic theory according to which people are self-interested utility-miximizers and the economic domain is the scene of competition by atomistic indivduals for scarce resources-a view found in no religious traditions.

There is a lot here to sink our teeth into. Economic theory no more claims that people are self-interested utility-maximizers than physical theory claims that gasses are composed of tiny billiard-balls making perfectly elastic collisions with one another. Economists are simply describing a model that is useful for understanding certain sorts of human interactions. That neo-classical theory has improved our understanding of economics in ways beneficial to people in their day-to-day lives is undeniable. If the economic insights of any particular religious tradition have similarly proved their worth then I'm all in favor of including them in the curriculum. But Nord gives no examples of such insights.

I think most historians will be shocked to learn that high school students are learning about the discipline of history. Actually, the subject is usually presented as a long sequence of facts that the student must memorize and regurgitate when called upon to do so. There is no “interpretation” going on in these classes.

Nord is using these points as the basis for his claim that schools are currently biased against religion, in violation of the principle of religious neutrality. We will return to that point momentarily, but there is one further quote we must address first:


A generation ago texts and curricula said virtually nothing about women, blacks, and members of minority subcultures. Hardly anyone would now say that this was just, a matter of benign neglect as it were. We now-most of us-realize that this was a form of discrimination, of educational disenfranchisement. And so it is with religious subcultures; religious parents are now, in effect, educationally disenfranchised; their ways of thinking and living aren't taken seriously. The curricular silencing of religous cultures is, in effect, an act of political oppression.

In the context of teaching ID in science classes, this is a poor analogy. Knowing the roles that women and minorities played in shaping our culture is essential to a proper understanidng of our history. Your understanding of history is deificient if you do not have this knowledge. By contrast, your understanding of biology is in no way compromised by not learning the false claims of ID proponents.

Note that Nord is not arguing that students should learn about evolution by seeing how it provides a better explanation for observed data than some other theory, like species fixity. He is claiming instead that the ill-defined religious ways of thinking that he identifies should be accorded equal respect in science classes.

Next we come to Nord's main argument:


For the past fifty years the Court has been clear that public schools must be neutral in matters of religion (they can't favor Protestants over Catholics or Christians over Jews); and they must be neutral between religion and nonreligion. Schools can't promote religion; they can't proselytize; they can't conduct religious exercises. Of course, neutrality is a two-edged sword. Just as schools can't favor religion over nonreligion, neither can they favor nonreligion over religion.

He goes on to write:


An “untutored” and naive conception of neutrality has led educators to ban smoking guns, explicit hostiity to religion, when the hostility has been philosophically rather more subtle-though no less substantial for that.

And:


There is no such thing as a neutral point of view. The only way to be neutral, when all ground is contested ground, is to be fair to the alternatives, taking everyone seriously. That is, given, the Court's long-standing interpretation of the Establishment Clause, it is mandatory for public schools to require the study of religion if they require the study of disciplines that cumulatively lead to a “pervasive devotion to the secular”-as they do.

This is Nord's main argument. It is incorrect in every particular.

First, surely Nord realizes the sheer impracticality of doing what he recommends. There are so many religious perspectives on the issues Nord discusses that there simply isn't time in the school year to present them all. Even if there were, you would need a teacher who is not only knowledgeable about all of them, but who also has the ability to present them all in a non-judgmental way.

Nord addresses this point as follows:


I am not arguing for a “balanced treatment” or “equal time” requirement in particular courses. Economics courses need not become courses in moral theology. In any case, given their competence, economics teachers are not likely to be prepared to deal with a variety of religious ways of approaching their subject. At most, they can provide minimal fairness.

A proposal in which “the alternatives” are all presented seriously sure sounds like a “balanced treatment” requirement to me.

Nord follows this statement up by suggesting that students should have a year-long course in religious and secular ways of understanding the world. In principle I think such a course would be very valuable. As a practical matter it would be impossible to teach such a course in a way that didn't leave everyone offended. At any rate, the merits of such courses have nothing to do with what should be taught in science classes.

Second, Nord's logic would require, for example, according equal respect to the worldview of the Ku Klux Klan (an organization that claims to derive its ideology from Christian principles) when teaching about Martin Luther King. The simple fact is that there are mahy dopey, harmful worldviews out there, and they are generally excluded from the curriculum. That is as it should be.

Third, as I alluded to earlier, Nord is simply wrong about schools promoting secularism over religion in the way they teach academic subjects. There is very little interpretation going on in any high school classes. When a history teacher tells his students that Abraham Lincoln was president during the Civil War, he is not favoring one worldview over another. He is simply teaching the facts. Similarly, when a science teacher presents the basic facts of biology and shows how the theory of evolution successfully accounts for all of them, there is no worldview being presented.

If there were other facts that tended to contradict evolution, as the ID's claim, then it would be right to include those facts in the curriculum as well. The reason for including those facts would have nothing to do with fairness to any particular religious worldview. The reason would be to give students a proper understanding of the subject.

No one would argue that science education is non-neutral for showing how Newton's principles of mechanics successfully explain numerous observations in the laboratory. So why is it non-neutral to show how Darwin's principles do the same for biology?

It is true, of course, that many nonscientists disagree with the idea that evolution provides such a good explanation. It is equally true that the claims made in defense of this view are incorrect. For example, we should not accord any respect to the widely-held view that the second law of thermodynamics contradicts evolution because this view is simply false. Nord's logic suggests that once you attain a certain critical mass of believers of some assertion, that assertion should, indeed must, be presented respectfully in schools. Surely the facts count for something, however.

Fourth, polls routinely show that more than 40 percent of the population accepts a young-Earth creationist view of the world. By Nord's logic, we are required to present that view respectfully alongside evolution in science classes. But the Supreme Court has specifically ruled (in the 1987 decision Edwards v. Aguillard) that such a requirement is unconstitutional.

Nord addresses this point as follows:


The Supreme Court's Edwards v. Aguillard decision has often been read to ban teaching about religion in science courses. In Edwards, the Court struck down Louisiana's “balanced-treatment” act, which required that students be taught creation science if they were taught “evolution science”. Why was the act unconstitutional? The purpose of the act, Justice William Brennan wrote for the Court was to shore up fundamentalist Christianity, and this violated the neutrality required by the Establishment Clause-and he cited a paper trail of comments from Louisiana legislators that made it clear that their purpose was to promote conservative Christianity.

Now, the Court has long held that a religious purpose need not invalidate a law so long as there is also a good secular purpose for it. Justice Brennan could find no secular purpose for the Lousiana law, but, of course, there might well be a good secular purpose in requiring students to learn something about religious ways of interpreting nature.

The trouble with this analysis is that neither ID nor creation science are presented as religious ways of interpreting nature. They are presented as alternative scientific theories. In Edwards the Court also found that the close parallels between the theory of creation-science outlined in the Lousiana law and the story in Genesis, coupled with the origin of creation science in Bible-supporting organizations, was enough to deem it unconstitutional to require that it be taught in science classes. The Court made a clear distinction between theories supported by scientific methodologies and those that are supported only by religious doctrine.

Justice Scalia based his dissent in Edwards on the same principle. He argued that creation-science was a valid scientific theory (more precisely, that there was nothing in the record to suggest that it was not) and therefore it was acceptable to require that it be presented in science classes. He did not argue that religious neutrality required that creationism be taught.

In other words, the dispute among the justices had to do not with religious neutrality, but rather with whether creationism was legitimate science or religious doctrine.

Nord's failure to distinguish between the facts of a subject and metaphysical interpreations of those facts becomes even more clear when Nord begins to address science education specifically:


First, I note the extraordinarily lively conversation among scholars and intellectuals in our culture about the relationship of religion and science.

Later:


Well, if students are to think critically, if schools are to treat different cultural traditions with respect, if education is to be religiously neutral, then, when we disagree, as we do about the relationship of religion and science, students should learn about the nature of the disagreement; they should hear the contending voices; they should be taught the conflicts.

But the relationship between science and religion is not something that is discussed at all in science classes. The facts of biology can be taught perfectly well without any reference to religion whatsoever. It is not as if currently we are teaching only one view of the relationship between science and religion to the exclusion of others. Currently, no opinions at all are presented in high school.

Of course, if your religion holds it as essential that evolution is false, then learning about evolution will pose a threat to your religion. But that doesn't mean, either constitutionally or morally, that schools have to present your view respectfully. There are religious people who view the flat-Earth as an essential part of their religion, but no one thinks that view should be presented respectfully in school.

Many religions take stands on questions of scientific fact. But they do so for unscientifc reasons, and therefore there is no need to accord their views respect in high schools.

I will close with one further quote from Nord:


The purpose of high school science courses should not be to train scientists but to educate students by initiating them into our ongoing cultural conversation about how to make sense of the world. Science texts do not now convey to students anything of the controversial nature of this conversation.

Of course, the purpose of high school science courses should be to teach students about the methods and findings of science. This purpose has nothing to do with any conversations Nord imagines we're having.

68 Comments

Mr. Rosenhouse’s analysis is quite correct. If “intelligent design” were to have a legal case that it should be taught as science at all, the courts’ queries would be to the science foundation behind any ID hypothesis that would have to be developed first.

And so I challenge (again): Is there any person who could qualify as an expert witness in favor of “intelligent design” in any court in any state? Such a qualification under the rules of evidence in every state, and under federal rules, would require that the expert show that she or he has done real work in the field. Of course, there is no such science work anyone could point to – no peer-reviewed papers, no experimental results, not even a research laboratory working on the topic.

If there were science evidence to back up “intelligent design,” it could be taught as science. If there were science evidence, there would be no reason to take the issue to court.

But there is no such evidence, and so there is no such research, and no such expert.

No, the Constitution does not require that we teach known falsehoods or wishes as science. Any philosopher who thinks so might benefit from a course in Constitutional law.

You could have made one point more sharply, actually -

Nord: “A generation ago texts and curricula said virtually nothing about women, blacks, and members of minority subcultures.”

Rosenhouse: “In the context of teaching ID in science classes, this is a poor analogy. Knowing the roles that women and minorities played in shaping our culture is essential to a proper understanidng of our history. Your understanding of history is deificient if you do not have this knowledge. By contrast, your understanding of biology is in no way compromised by not learning the false claims of ID proponents.”

Nord didn’t even say which texts and curricula. It’s not clear that he’s talking about shaping our culture or proper understanding of our history. He doesn’t bother to say whether he means physics textbooks, algebra textbooks, Latin textbooks, history textbooks, or all of them, or what. Perhaps because to be specific would weaken his case? Perhaps the omission is deliberate evasion rather than sloppiness? Because if he had specified, say, history, of course that would have pointed up the difference between history and biology in this context - would have pointed up the nonsensicality of what he’s saying.

Mr. Nord wrote “The only way to be neutral, when all ground is contested ground, is to be fair to the alternatives, taking everyone seriously.”

This is, in my opinion, simply wrong. Neutrality is equally well served by simply not engaging contentious topics - hence the dictum of polite society ‘Don’t bring up politics or religion.’ It is my belief that our public schools largely follow this principle in their curricula, leaving matters of religion appropriately unaddressed.

The problem that arises is that for many people, the question of human origins is a religious one. By their lights when evolution is taught we are bringing religion into the schools by teaching a view that is contradictory to their religious beliefs. They conflate ‘not teaching religion’ with ‘teaching irreligion’, which may not be wholly inappropriate in this specific example.

I do think that it is limited to this specific example though, and not endemic as Mr. Nord suggests.

If we must offer a remedy to those who are threatened by the teaching of evolution (and I am not convinced we must), I think that a religious exemption, allowing students to sit out the portions of curricula their parents find inappropriate, would be a far better solution then the wide reaching course revisions being discussed. Such religious exemptions already exist in many places, addressing areas of conflict such as sex education.

Penny

this reminds me of an excellent joke. I don’t remember where I first heard it, but here’s a version from the web:

The chancellor calls the physics dean in for a reprimand: “Why do I always have to give you guys so much money, for laboratories and expensive equipment and stuff? Why couldn’t you be like the math department - all they need is money for pencils, paper and waste-paper baskets. Or even better, be like the philosophy department. All they need are pencils and paper.”

Why is evolution being presented as a ‘worldview’ rather than a scientific theory? Simple. It’s framing the debate in the context of “theism vs. secularism”. Far easier to fight that than it is to fight science.

Nord follows this statement up by suggesting that students should have a year-long course in religious and secular ways of understanding the world. In principle I think such a course would be very valuable. As a practical matter it would be impossible to teach such a course in a way that didn’t leave everyone offended. At any rate, the merits of such courses have nothing to do with what should be taught in science classes.

The class exists. The International High School curriculum (associated with the International Bachalaureate degree) has a sophomore class entitled “Values and Beliefs” which acts as a survey of world religions and an intro to the history of philosophy. At my old school, at least, there was no contraversy or affront at all. The fact that each religion (including the branches of christianity) were treated in a fairly descriptive/ethnographic manner probably helped. Eight years later, and I can still remember the five pillars of Islam. ;-)

Senior year, students take a course entitled “Theory of Knowledge” which deals with ways of knowing on a more advanced level, more secular than spiritual this time. It is, however, a very hard class to describe in detail (our teacher was..ecclectic, to say the least).

In any case, just wanted to show that it _can_ be done without “offending everyone.” ;-)

I believe that many social studies curricula around the country do in fact deal with religion as a cultural phenomenon, much as Eric describes above. I’ve seen it being taught in a similar fashion in my middle school, and never heard a word of objection about it.

At the same time, whenever I teach anything about evolution or the history of life on earth, it is impossible to avoid some kind of discussion with my students about religion, because inevitably someone will bring up their religious beliefs that god made the world and everything in it and that’s why the world is the way it is etc…

I don’t think there is any justification for a science teacher not addressing the issue and showing respect for the student’s religious views, to the extent possible, in the process. Having myself gone through a religious phase in high school (I’m over it now), I know how deeply some students are affected by this conflict between evolution and the biblical creation story. At the very least, I think some discussion about how scientists know what they know would be in order, whether or not you would want to directly tackle the question of how this differs from a religious way of thinking is another question. Good science teaching requires some treatment of science epistemology.

Just to be clear, I am not proposing the teaching of creationsim or ID in any way, shape, or form in science class. I don’t think an opt-out clause works either, unless the student opts out of biology entirely.

Great post. You’ve done an excellent job exposing the many flaws in Nord’s argument. Distilled to its essence, it is nothing more than the usual ID/creationist arguments, poorly reasoned in the extreme, and with an equally poorly reasoned constitutional argument thrown in. The good news is that the Supreme Court in Edwards wasn’t fooled – Justice Brennan’s majority opinion saw the creationism legislation there as an attempt to dilute science with religion. That’s the good news.

Now for the bad news. The only Justice in the Brennan majority still on the Court is Justice O’Connor. She not only joined in Justice Brennan’s majority, she also joined in a concurring opinion by Justice Powell that, in my view, would give an ID/creationist much to be hopeful about. Though Justice Powell saw the Louisiana statute as religiously motivated, and thus agreed that it was unconstitutional, he also said that state and local school officials should be responsible for determining local education policy. This statement alone is not controversial; indeed, it is entirely consistent with well-established federalism principles. But Justice Powell followed with this: “A decision respecting the subject matter to be taught in public schools does not violate the Establishment Clause simply because the material to be taught ‘happens to coincide or harmonize with the tenets of some or all religions.’ (Citation omitted). In the context of a challenge under the Establishment Clause, interference with the decisions of these authorities is warranted only when the purpose for their decisions is clearly religious.” Edwards, 482 U.S. at 605 (Powell, J., concurring).

Justice Scalia wrote a dissenting opinion, in which Chief Justice Rehnquist joined. Not surprisingly, Justice Scalia would have upheld the statute, granting far greater deference to the Louisiana legislature’s statements that the statute had a secular purpose. Note, particularly, Justice Scalia’s willingness to embrace “creation science”: “The only evidence in the record of the ‘received meaning and acceptation’ of ‘creation science’ is found in five affidavits filed by appellants. In those affidavits, two scientists, a philosopher, a theologian, and an educator, all of whom claim extensive knowledge of creation science, swear that it is essentially a collection of scientific data supporting the theory that the physical universe and life within it appeared suddenly, and have not changed substantially since appearing. (Citations omitted). These experts insist that creation science is a strictly scientific concept that can be presented without religious reference. (Citations omitted). At this point, then, we must assume that the Balanced Treatment Act does not require the presentation of religious doctrine.” Edwards, 482 U.S. at 612 (Scalia, J., dissenting).

It is particularly disconcerting that given the composition of the Court today, Justice Scalia’s views might carry the day. The conservative Justices Scalia and Rehnquist are typically joined by Justices Thomas and Kennedy. Justice O’Connor is often a crucial swing vote. What worries me is that the ID/creationists will learn the lessons of Edwards, and the various battles fought in state legislatures and at the school board level, and moderate their rhetoric sufficiently that Justice O’Connor might be persuaded to vote with the conservative four were this issue to come before the Court any time soon.

I realize that this is primarily a scientific forum, but my point (not lost on anyone here, I’m sure) is that this battle isn’t being fought on scientific terms alone. A determined and conservative court could, as Justice Scalia demonstrated, read “science” so liberally as to include ID/creationism. The battle for science education must also focus on political issues, including the appointment of federal and state judges who decide the legal meaning of “science.” Given the existing political climate, losing the battle on this front causes me much more concern than losing the battle on the science front.

Dan said:

“A determined and conservative court could, as Justice Scalia demonstrated, read “science” so liberally as to include ID/creationism.”

Yet another of the many ironies about pseudoscientific anti-evolution: extreme conservatives tend to be extremely liberal with what constitutes science.

Dan wrote

I realize that this is primarily a scientific forum, but my point (not lost on anyone here, I’m sure) is that this battle isn’t being fought on scientific terms alone. A determined and conservative court could, as Justice Scalia demonstrated, read “science” so liberally as to include ID/creationism. The battle for science education must also focus on political issues, including the appointment of federal and state judges who decide the legal meaning of “science.” Given the existing political climate, losing the battle on this front causes me much more concern than losing the battle on the science front.

It’s not being fought on scientific grounds at all, really. To quote Robert Lattimer, leader of the Ohio branch of Intelligent Design Network during the Ohio troubles, in a talk in November, 2003:

This is basically a political struggle. It is in any state, it’s a political struggle. Science will have very little to do with the arguments on what science standards will look like. Education will have little to do with it. It’s basically how the politics will work in a particular state.

RBH

I think a minor correction is in order - Nord appears to be a lecturer at UNC, not a professor (at least, that’s what the department website shows him as).

While it’s a minor issue, it does make *me* feel a bit better, given that I went to UNC and double-majored in philosophy and biology as an undergrad. What has my alma mater come to?

A propos my post of yesterday, an encouraging sign: http://pacer.ca6.uscourts.gov/opini[…]0171p-06.pdf.

The Sixth Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals just issued a ruling (Doe v. Porter) that Bible study classes at an elementary school in Tennessee violate the Establishment Clause. The School advanced, as a secular purpose, that the classes taught “character development, as required of all Tennessee public schools.” The Sixth Circuit said even if that’s true, the classes still taught the Bible as religious truth. The Court didn’t buy the school’s reasoning here, but note the fluidity of the rhetoric: replace “character development” with “scientific criticism” or “scientific inquiry” or something like it, and the ID/creationists have themselves an argument.

Particularly interesting is the factual background at page 5 of the slip opinion – the threats of violence against the plaintiffs occasioned by the suit. Evincing the all-too-frequent “love thy neighbor unless he disagrees with your religion or gets your Bible study class declared unconstitutional” philosophy, in which case, apparently, its OK to beat the hell out of him.

Dan noted

Evincing the all-too-frequent “love thy neighbor unless he disagrees with your religion or gets your Bible study class declared unconstitutional” philosophy, in which case, apparently, its OK to beat the hell out of him.

Yeah, the fundies will tell you that you’ve been suckered in to the myth that Jesus was this simpering wimp like Mr. Rogers. In fact, Jesus (like his alter egos, God and the Holy Spirit) is a sword-wielding ass-kicking evil fighter that NEVER compromises when a fundamental principle is at stake. Any other reading of the Bible simply ignores the numerous instances where God demonstrates his awesome and frightening powers. Ignoring parts of the Bible because they are “inconvenient” to the fairy tale version of Jesus many Americans were taught is nothing short of blasphemy. So there.

Notice: Mr. Nord doesn’t speak for most philosophers, or even most theologians.

I am not going to argue that students should be required to learn about intelligent design (ID) theory because it is a better or more reasonable theory than its naturalistic counterparts. I don’t know whether it is.

Then what makes him think he has anything meaningful to contribute to the issue? He clearly doesn’t. For the sake of brevity, that should be his last sentence.

Hi. I’m back. I haven’t read Nord’s essay. But I would like to comment on something said above:

“I think most historians will be shocked to learn that high school students are learning about the discipline of history. Actually, the subject is usually presented as a long sequence of facts that the student must memorize and regurgitate when called upon to do so. There is no ‘interpretation’ going on in these classes.”

It seems, though, that judgment–even moral judgment–is part of historical analysis. For example, describing Hitler’s genocidal activities as “the Holocaust” is a judgment. Of course, if you think like I do that moral judgments are not “interpretative” but may be correct descriptions of the world, then there is a component to history that is more than merely “just the facts, ma’am.” On the other hand, if you buy into a fact/value distinction, then apparent descriptions of history that carry with them moral judgment–e.g., “the Holcaust happened”–are “interpretative.”

The notion that history is sequential, that prior events shape future ones, that agents and ideas alter the trajetory of history, and that history can teach us something are judgments that seem to be contingent on philosophical notions: history is linear, immaterial entities have causal properties, history is going somewhere, and that learning is a good worth pursuing. I’m not trying to start an argument here; all I’m doing is suggesting that even something as apparently simple as “factual history” is not as simple as one may think.

Now, it’s time to return to an undisclosed location.

Frank

I think Frank’s right; it does us little good to pretend that curricula aren’t purposive. The question is whether that purposive bias is justified, and in the case of evolution, it’s clear that it is.

The controversy over teaching of evolution in public schools is one facet of the larger cultural battles going on in our society. The frustrating thing about it is that both sides tend to ignore this, which means that the debate is largely two groups speaking past one another. The ID/Creationists real concern is the moral values (or lack of moral values) exhibited by our society. For whatever reasons they have discerned a very strong connection with evolutionary theory and the moral state of our country. They do make this connection explicit when they are talking to fellow conservative Christians, but when they argue for including ID into science classrooms they supress this perceived connection.

On the other hand, when defenders of evolution argue that science classes are “just teaching science” and not passing along moral values, they are being either disingenous or obtuse. It is generally true that high school biology classes are teaching biological facts which are neutral with regard to religious doctrines. However, it is not true that public schools are neutral with regard to religious belief vs. non-belief (Eric’s post notwithstanding). Due to a combination of factors, many public schools frown on any public display or discussion of religion. And as a group, public school teachers and administrators tend to be hostile towards conservative Christian beliefs. And sometimes this hostility is evident in science classrooms.

This is not to say that ID in particular or religion in general should be taught in science classrooms. But I think scientists and teachers would have a somewhat easier time defending the teaching of evolution if they were more upfront about addressing the fears that motivate the ID movement.

Mike S.

And sometimes this hostility is evident in science classrooms.

Really? How often and where? I’ve never seen this problem examined. Certainly I don’t recall any hostility towards religion in my classroom in high school. I don’t recall religion being mentioned at all.

Is an issue of the Skeptical Enquirer in the teacher’s lounge which debunks creation “science” considered to be “hostile” to religion? If so, why?

Do you believe the Establishment Clause permits the censorship of scientific information that is at odds with religious “beliefs”?

Mike S Wrote:

… as a group, public school teachers and administrators tend to be hostile towards conservative Christian beliefs

Where do you live? and how soon can I move there?

Depending on the definition of “conservative Christian beliefs”, there may be some conflict between high school science and religion. If said beliefs involve a literal interpretation of Genesis, for instance, the teacher (if (s)he’s any good) will be saying, in essence, “your church is mistaken about this”. That’s just the way it is. It’s not hostility, and I don’t want the schools wasting a lot of time on reconciling the irreconcilable. In the end, it’s not the responsibility of science and public education to accommodate every - or any - religion that insists on mixing physics and theology.

If religion says 2+3=45, expect school to be hostile to it.

Really?  How often and where?  I’ve never seen this problem examined.  Certainly I don’t recall any hostility towards religion in my classroom in high school.  I don’t recall religion being mentioned at all.

I agree it hasn’t been documented very systematically. But there are plenty of anecdotes ( see here for some examples). The one I’m most familiar with is a biology class my sister took in college ( a private one ), where the professor said on the first day of class how evolution had disproved the existence of God.

Is an issue of the Skeptical Enquirer in the teacher’s lounge which debunks creation “science” considered to be “hostile” to religion?  If so, why?

No.

Do you believe the Establishment Clause permits the censorship of scientific information that is at odds with religious “beliefs”?

No, I’m not suggesting changing anything with regard to science curricula. My point was more generally about the atmosphere in many public schools. I’m just saying that if you would like to have some of the debates about evolution in the classroom be less rancorous, you should take some time to understand where the creationists are coming from. This does not mean excusing their disingenuous or deceptive behavior, it just means trying to understand what motivates them. And recognizing that those fears are not made up out of thin air (even if they are exaggerated or embellished). But of course some people enjoy beating up on those stupid Christian fundamentalists, and don’t really care about achieving any kind of mutual understanding.

Depending on the definition of “conservative Christian beliefs”, there may be some conflict between high school science and religion. If said beliefs involve a literal interpretation of Genesis, for instance, the teacher (if (s)he’s any good) will be saying, in essence, “your church is mistaken about this”. That’s just the way it is. It’s not hostility, and I don’t want the schools wasting a lot of time on reconciling the irreconcilable. In the end, it’s not the responsibility of science and public education to accommodate every - or any - religion that insists on mixing physics and theology.

That is not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the kinds of things I linked to in my previous post, which do demonstrate real hostility. I’m not advocating changing any of the current content in science classes. I was basically reiterating what Michael Gatton said in his post above.

The fact that you are apparently hostile to conservative Christian beliefs means I’m probably barking up the wrong tree, here, Russell. Or maybe we are operating under different definitions of conservative Christian beliefs.

of course some people enjoy beating up on those stupid Christian fundamentalists, and don’t really care about achieving any kind of mutual understanding.

In the context of a science class, of course, the beliefs of Christian fundamentalists are irrelevant. Once fundies understand that facts about science do not undermine their FAITH, there will be “mutual” understanding between science teachers and fundies.

With respect to the anecdotes you provided, I have to ask: are you fxxing kidding me??!!! I did not even bother to read them because they appear to be in the context of an Ann Coulter summary of a book by David Limbaugh. Ann Coulter is a lying scumbag. Let me know if you doubt this assessment and I will provide you with evidence to support my characterizations of these individuals. I similarly have no reason to trust any of the self-serving crap that David Limbaugh writes. In any event, as I scanned through the lies I did not see any mention of a science classroom.

The one I’m most familiar with is a biology class my sister took in college ( a private one ), where the professor said on the first day of class how evolution had disproved the existence of God.

This anecdote is completely irrelevant to the issue of hostility towards religion in science class rooms in public school, assuming that the anecdote is accurate, which I doubt. No offense, but I’m guessing your sister misheard the professor.

Seriously: is this the basis for your support for the statement that “sometimes [hostility towards conservatie Christian beliefs] is evident in science classrooms”? If so, then I say: bullsh#t. To the best of my knowledge, there is NO EVIDENCE of even a mild problem of science teachers in public schools making statements that are hostile towards conservative Christian beliefs. If a science teacher is attacking ID creationism and the Discovery Institute for attempting to push bogus science in the classroom, then I applaud that teacher. I am not aware of that happening either (although I hope that it will be happening in biology classrooms all over the USA very shortly).

GWW:

I did not even bother to read them because they appear to be in the context of an Ann Coulter summary…

Well, then, you may have missed this at the bottom of the page (and, no, I am not making this up)

Ann Coulter Talking Action Figure Amuse your conservative friends and annoy your liberal neighbors with the Ann Coulter Talking Action Figure. This incredibly lifelike action figure looks just like the beautiful Ann Coulter, and best of all … it sounds like Ann, too! This highly collectible doll comes in a display box with information highlighting Ann’s unique contributions to America’s political discourse. If you can’t get enough Ann Coulter, you’ll want to order the Ann Coulter Talking Action Figure today!

I think I’ll be crossing Mike S off of the list of people to take seriously.

This incredibly lifelike action figure looks just like the beautiful Ann Coulter

What a suprise that a piece of plastic could be molded to look just like the “beautiful” Ann Coulter. ;)

Syntax Error: mismatched tag at line 15, column 193, byte 2492 at /usr/local/lib/perl5/site_perl/5.12.3/mach/XML/Parser.pm line 187

Steve’s link to the anecdotal accounts in public schools was an interesting read. If true or not grossly exaggerated, they are still only a very small handful of instances. It’s seemingly becoming more of an accepted practice to latch on to a rare, outrageous event, hold it up and shout, “See? This kind of stuff is going on all over the country!!” One only needs to watch the popular news magazine shows to see this in action.

Personally, I tend to believe that what went on in my high school is more the norm (at least in rural areas). In even the advanced science program, evolutionary theory was barely discussed. No form of creationism was brought up, but evolution didn’t get much of a mention either. Because of pressure from local parents, evolution was deemed “too controversial” to teach. I’m sure it was still in the official cirricula and such, but it just wasn’t talked about much at all in the classroom.

My bet is, this type of avoidance approach is fairly common.

Steve’s link to the anecdotal accounts in public schools was an interesting read. If true or not grossly exaggerated, they are still only a very small handful of instances. It’s seemingly becoming more of an accepted practice to latch on to a rare, outrageous event, hold it up and shout, “See? This kind of stuff is going on all over the country!!” One only needs to watch the popular news magazine shows to see this in action.

Personally, I tend to believe that what went on in my high school is more the norm (at least in rural areas). In even the advanced science program, evolutionary theory was barely discussed. No form of creationism was brought up, but evolution didn’t get much of a mention either. Because of pressure from local parents, evolution was deemed “too controversial” to teach. I’m sure it was still in the official cirricula and such, but it just wasn’t talked about much at all in the classroom.

My bet is, this type of avoidance approach is fairly common.

Both Jack and Jason refer to Steve… but probably mean Mike S, no? Most Steves, as you know, support solid science.

GWW:

What is it exactly that you “can’t imagine” high school students not learning about the Bible and how much time do you expect it will take to teach students the “essentials” about the “bible as literature”?

It’s hard to imagine developing any deep appreciation for western art, literature, culture, or history without a pretty good grounding in biblical literature.

I still remember reading Job in high school English class, analyzing it as “literature.” I’m certain my English teacher had no religious agenda. Ironic, I suppose, because my Biology teacher DEFIINITELY had a religious agenda when she presented her arguments against evolution - “no missing links” and all that rot. She did not hide the fact that she believed the Genesis story of creation. That was the late 70’s in a rural North Carolina public high school.

All of the commonly alluded to stories have been made into movies and appear on cable TV twenty times a year at LEAST

That may be part of the problem. I haven’t seen “Troy” (yet), but from what I’ve heard, it’s probably less deserving of the “timeless” label than is “The Iliad”. I guess I’d also like my kid to be introduced to the bible as a book, rather than The Book.

It’s hard to imagine developing any deep appreciation for western art, literature, culture, or history without a pretty good grounding in biblical literature.

Gosh. I just don’t agree. Why do I need a “good grounding” in the bible to “deeply” appreciate Western art??? I have zero “grounding” in the religious writings (or folklore) of many cultures from around the world but I certainly have a deep appreciation for their religious music (if a thousand LPs of ethnic music is an indication).

What part of the Bible do I need to have a high-school level “grounding in” to “deeply appreciate” the works of Michelangelo? Or Mark Twain? Or Kurt Vonnegut? Or Ken Kesey? or Nicholas Ray? or Sam Fuller? or Orson Welles? or the Velvet Underground? or Merle Haggard? or Frank Sinatra? or Frank Zappa? or Jelly Roll Morton? etc., etc.

When they start deconstructing Bob Dylan’s “Infidels” LP in high school classrooms, maybe I’ll warm up to the Bible studies. Until then, I think it’s a “compleat” waste (as Bob and Ray, two more icons of Western civilization, would say).

Virge Wrote:

Whenever the bell rings the dogs salivate. The dogma linking evolution with anti-God is well established. It’s not a reasoned debate, but a conditioned response. You see it by the way the same old debunked arguments keep being recycled year after year.

This is true, which is why I said earlier in response to Jack Krebs that it might not be possible to placate their fears. But dogs can be de-conditioned, and there are people who leave the Fundamentalist mindset. Also, it’s easier to expose (to others) the flaws in the Creationist’s position if you understand what is driving that mindset in the first place, even if you can’t change the Creationist’s mind.

However, one of the reasons I tried to bring up the issue of values is that there are some, like Dawkins and Dennett, who use evolution to defend an atheistic worldview. Probably there are some here who have the same views. What I would suggest people do is to be clear about when they are talking about science, and when they are talking about metaphysics. Some scientists, starting with Huxley, have contributed to the perception that evolution is necessarily in conflict with religion in general or Christianity in particular. In many ways the vocal atheists and vocal fundamentalists are parasitic upon each other. Evolution, or science in general, can disprove particular religious accounts (such as the claim that the Earth is 10,000 years old, or that the Great Spirit baked the Pueblo Indian ancestors in an oven to create them), but that is not equivalent to either disproving the existence of God or invalidating the spiritual and moral messages of a religion. If you want to insist that all religious beliefs must satisfy the criteria of modern science, that is your right, but you need to recognize that that debate is essentially philosophical in nature, and not scientific.

Marty Erwin made a good point about the rhetoric/images employed by the ID movement. This is another example of how countering it has to run beyond merely refuting the (pseudo) scientific arguments.

JoePGuy, I don’t believe I ever argued that the ID/Creationists weren’t interested in promoting their particular creation story over all others. With regard to your ethics class suggestion, one of the things that puzzles me is why they are so focused on public schools. If they don’t like what’s taught in their kid’s school, they can a) correct the teaching themselves at home, b) send their kid to a parochial school, or c) homeschool them. I think the answer is related to their fears about the general moral decline (whether perceived or real) in the country. They see public schools as a place where common values are inculcated, and they have leverage via principals and school boards and other elected officials that they don’t have over college curricula, for example. I think Virge is probably right that they have made the connection between evolution and amorality so strong in their own minds that even if you ‘corrected’ it by teaching proper ethics in another class, they would still say that evolution would undermine it in the long run.

Frank Schmidt Wrote:

A large part of the struggle is really within Christianity, with the fundies trying to impose their theological viewpoint on the mainstream.

This is quite right. Phillip Johnson and Dembski tend to reserve their harshest rhetoric for Christians like Howard Van Till and Kenneth Miller who claim to believe in both the Bible and in evolution.

I guess I’d also like my kid to be introduced to the bible as a book, rather than The Book.

I’d like my kid to be introduced to the bible by ME, at home. And then we can watch Nicholas Ray’s “King of Kings” together and I can teach him the difference between the great direction, cinematography and technicolor in that movie versus the crap that Hollywood produces today (and yes, we will watch Johnny Guitar afterwards).

Unless there is an elective “religious studies” class, I don’t see much justification for teaching any study of the Bible “as literature” in public schools. It certainly isn’t English literature so it wouldn’t belong in English class. The reason it’s been published so many times has nothing to do with its quality as a book and everything to do with its status as a religious tool. Is it necessary for high school children to be fed McDonald’s hamburger’s so they can “deeply appreciate” French cooking?

GWW:

I suppose some people listen to Italian opera and love it, without understanding a word of Italian. But how much more is to be appreciated by someone who understands the language? Or I could use German literature as an example (I studied German Literature in a previous life): If you’ve never read Guenther Grass in the original German, you don’t know what you’re missing. Similarly, you may appreciate the paintings of Michelangelo or Carravaggio for their color, light, mood, expression, etc., but you are missing something if you don’t know the biblicial references in them. I’m not saying you can’t learn about those references in the context of studying art history, for example, but sooner or later you have to learn them or miss part of the picture, so to speak.

I also did not mean to suggest that knowledge of biblical stories was sufficient (and please don’t use the term “bible studies,” that’s not what I’m talking about. “Bible studies” has a pretty clear connotation of religious indoctrination which is the farthest thing from my mind. Your use of the term is unduly dismissive and inflammatory). There’s obviously a good argument for studying other religions as well- Western civilization has been influenced by Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Taosism, etc.

I don’t quite understand how you can maintain that a well educated student should not learn about these cultural influences in public school. I just don’t buy the slippery slope argument. On the contrary, I think the fundamentalists would be quite threatened by the idea of presenting all the religious traditions side-by-side in a non-judgmental way. What more could you ask for - you can acknowledge the role of religion in human society and anger the fundamentalists at the same time. Sounds like a wedge strategy to me.

Then let them argue about incorporating ID into the “religiion & society” curriculum, and leave our science curriculum alone. Wouldn’t it be helpful in a practical sort of way to be able to suggest a real alternative setting for ID, rather than simply saying “please just go away with your stupid non-theory?” As others have pointed out, logic doesn’t win arguments in the political arena.

logic doesn’t win arguments in the political arena.

I disagree. Logic isn’t all that is important but it helps. Part of the logical argument for not teaching ID is that ID is bullcrap and that the people who are promoting it most vigorously are, by and large, charlatans. Evidence for both elements of this argument is ample. I don’t want ID discussed in any class unless it’s described as what it is: a worthless wasteful political game played by fundies. I don’t expect that’s going to go over too well with the ID folks, even after their bid to get ID taught in public schools is shot down with a fat cannonball.

I don’t quite understand how you can maintain that a well educated student should not learn about these cultural influences in public school.

Hey, a religious studies elective is fine with me, providing it’s not promoting a religious philosophy over agnosticism or atheism. And I vaguely recall that I did spend a few minutes reading about the different views of Hindus and Buddhists, etc, I think in my World History class in 9th grade. Maybe I read some stuff about Christianity just before we watched El Cid on video (horribly cropped, unfortunately, but probably my first exposure to the incredible cinema of Anthony Mann).

If you’ve never read Guenther Grass in the original German, you don’t know what you’re missing.

I don’t doubt that this is true. The subtext of films like Renoir’s “The Grand Illusion” are somewhat attenuated when one can not appreciate the lower versus upper class accents of the characters. But so it goes. One cannot appreciate everything to the fullest extent in one’s lifetime.

Similarly, you may appreciate the paintings of Michelangelo or Carravaggio for their color, light, mood, expression, etc., but you are missing something if you don’t know the biblicial references in them.

Well, to some extent this is proving my point. Because all of this Biblical mythology can be easily learned from other sources, why spend time in public schools rehashing it? And the fact is that the “something” that I am “missing” in those painting if I haven’t read the Bible is **by far** the least important feature of those paintings.

The “deepest” art and literature requires more background knowledge than any public high school class is going to provide. One need not speak English nor have any knowledge of the Bible to appreciate the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Indeed, I’d give my left nut to be able to see that monument as a Biblically-naive non-Wesetern adult human being would see it.

However, one of the reasons I tried to bring up the issue of values is that there are some, like Dawkins and Dennett, who use evolution to defend an atheistic worldview. Probably there are some here who have the same views. What I would suggest people do is to be clear about when they are talking about science, and when they are talking about metaphysics. Some scientists, starting with Huxley, have contributed to the perception that evolution is necessarily in conflict with religion in general or Christianity in particular. In many ways the vocal atheists and vocal fundamentalists are parasitic upon each other. Evolution, or science in general, can disprove particular religious accounts (such as the claim that the Earth is 10,000 years old, or that the Great Spirit baked the Pueblo Indian ancestors in an oven to create them), but that is not equivalent to either disproving the existence of God or invalidating the spiritual and moral messages of a religion. If you want to insist that all religious beliefs must satisfy the criteria of modern science, that is your right, but you need to recognize that that debate is essentially philosophical in nature, and not scientific.

Dawkins and Dennett are not cited in most biology books, nor in most biology curricula. The textbooks available from the major publishers, with one notable exception, avoid making philosophical claims at all. When creationists complain about Richard Dawkins, it’s clear that they have a political or philosophical agenda they’re running that is completely divorced from the reality of what is taught in public school biology classes.

The notable exception is one of the Advanced Placement Biology Texts (which one I forget at the moment) which has one brilliant page that explains carefully why creationism doesn’t work, with details against all the major creationist claims against science.

Oddly, no one complained about that book for that reason in Texas.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Jason Rosenhouse published on June 5, 2004 3:20 PM.

Dembski’s Five Questions: Number One. was the previous entry in this blog.

EvolutionBlog Returns! 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