The Paradox of Toleration

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I discovered a very interesting, and slightly disturbing article by Richard Garnett--a thoughtful legal scholar at Notre Dame. Assimilation, Toleration, And The State's Interest in The Development of Religious Doctrine, 51 UCLA L. Rev. 1645 (2004) argues that government has a legitimate interest in shaping the development of religious doctrine: a position which one tends to associate with social conservatism, but which, Garnett shows, is equally common among social liberals.

Now, we often talk about the concept of "indoctrination" in government schools--the charge is thrown by both sides of the evolution education debate--and of course I tend to be very wary of the idea that government may legitimately control the development of moral or religious ideas. This is because I am deeply concerned that government will exploit this power to unsavory ends. (Heaven knows it's done that plenty times in the past.) But at the same time it's undeniable that one of the purposes of education, particularly in a free society, is to teach students the values of freedom. You cannot have an open society that's just a cluster of closed societies. There must be certain generally shared propositions of freedom. Oliver Wendell Holmes could not possibly have been more wrong when he said that Constitutions are "made for people of fundamentally differing views." Lochner v. New York, 198 U.S. 45, 76 (1905). In fact, they're made for people who share a "perception of good and bad and right and wrong and the other moral qualities." Aristotle, Politics 1253a.

The purpose of science education, I believe, is not merely to teach the facts discovered by scientists, but to inculcate the concept of science itself--skepticism, free debate, experimentation, and so forth. As I've noted before, courts have declared these things to be legitimate secular values which the government may teach without conflicting with the Establishment Clause. I've always been somewhat skeptical of that claim, because I think they're clearly values, and as values, they'll necessarily conflict with other values held by certain dogmas. Yet without teaching such values, republican government is bound to fail.* Thus we have a paradox, which resembles several other paradoxes in the law/religion intersection: among its primary jobs is to determine factual controversies in the courts of law, and yet a vast region of truth claims--religion--is declared off limits; a free society is supposed to tolerate wildly different views, yet there are people whose views don't include toleration; government is expected to teach, yet at the same time, it violates my rights to spend tax dollars to teach certain things I disagree with. Karl Popper referred to one of these as the "Paradox of Toleration," 1 The Open Society And Its Enemies 265 n. 4 (5th ed. 1971), but I think the term is good for all of these paradoxes: our government rests on certain principles, including "tolerance," which conflict with some religious traditions. As Garnett puts it,

[E]ven liberal, constitutional governments are not, and cannot be, indifferent to "matters of opinion." Our government consciously and purposely articulates positions, stakes claims, and takes stands; it approves, endorses, and subsidizes some controversial and contestable ideas, and rejects others. Indeed, our government in particular was founded upon, and dedicated to, certain ideas and propositions.

51 UCLA L. Rev. at 1689.

The problem, of course, is not in establishing that government has an "interest" (an important word choice, I think) in supporting or propagating certain religious views. Government has all sorts of "interests." Indeed, every person's action affects some other person's action in some way, however attenuated, and the government will therefore have some interest in just about everything. The question is how to avoid absolutism. One of the ways has been to declare that government simply has no interest in religion at all, or that the values of republican government that our schools teach are merely "secular." Garnett finds that a pretty weak tactic. Another way I've tended to use is to recognize a distinction between an "interest" and a "right." Government may have an interest in something, but may act on that interest only to defend individual rights, or at least, only where acting on that interest violates nobody's rights. Garnett himself acknowledges that "the image of state officials and government policymakers gathered together and designing a strategy to induce changes in those religious teachings to which they object is unsettling," id. at 1682, and"cannot emphasize enough that the conclusion toward this line of argument is not that...the state's perceived social-reproduction and virtue-inculcation needs are normatively prior either to the integrity of religious traditions or to the expressive autonomy of mediating associations. Governments ought to steer clear of doctrinal disputes and ought to avoid excessive entanglement with...religions." Id. at 1699. But he doesn't provide us with tools for doing that. On one hand, we must respect people's rights to hold and teach views that we find revolting, and which might even undermine our society. (Where would we be if the abolitionists had not been free to develop their then-subversive religious views?) But on the other hand, "one of the things that must be done to ‘keep' a liberal democracy is to quite self-consciously create liberal democrats." Id. at 1694.

Aside from raising very important points, Garnett's article is important to us for two reasons. First, because, as I've said, enemies of science education routinely accuse us of trying to "propagandize" a secular world-view to students. This is usually an unfounded accusation, but there is a grain of truth to it, in the sense that we do not want to just teach the discoveries but teach discovery. An attempt at a hands-off, entirely value-neutral science education is doomed, either to fail, or to accomplish an entirely pointless success. Second, because this is a fascinating instance of the public-choice phenomenon playing itself out, not in economics, but in memetics: conservatives have long claimed that government "ha[s] an ‘interest' in the content of associations' messages, in the views of political parties' nominees, in the views and attitudes parents impart to their children, and in the ‘developments of doctrine' in religious communities." Id. at 1692. This is, for example, a frequent argument in the debate over homosexual marriage. But liberals, too, "argue[ ] that a ‘more judgmental liberalism' is needed, one that is wary of and aggressive in opposing ‘religious enthusiasm' and that uses not only the public schools, but ‘all of the instruments of public policy' to ‘shape [the] social norms and meanings that mold individual choices and character.'" Id. at 1696. The power to "shape social norms" and "mold individual character" is an extraordinarily dangerous power, particularly to a society that prides itself on dynamism and liberty. I have therefore always been extremely skeptical of such proposals. As Jacob Bronowski put it, no nation has died of dissent, but many have died of conformity, in our lifetimes. And yet my view is based on certain principles--dynamism and liberty--which are fundamental to the survival of a free society, and which must be taught if that society is to function. (Personally, I think the best solution is privatizing education, but that's hardly a perfect solution.)

In teaching the scientific method, we are necessarily inculcating certain values in students. Doing so is essential to the survival of a free society. But in large doses, it can be deadly. I don't know the solution to this problem, but it's something we all must seriously confront.


*-This is why Thomas Jefferson advocated government-run education, and also why he argued for a careful mechanism for assimilating immigrants:

Every species of government has its specific principles. Ours perhaps are more peculiar than those of any other in the universe. It is a composition of the freest principles of the English constitution, with others derived from natural right and natural reason. To these nothing can be more opposed than the maxims of absolute monarchies. Yet, from such, we are to expect the greatest number of emigrants. They will bring with them the principles of the governments they leave.... These principles, with their language, they will transmit to their children.... They will infuse into it their spirit, warp and bias its direction, and render it a heterogeneous, incoherent, distracted mass.

18 Comments

As we say in the law, res ipsa loquitur.

As they say in the airline flight attendant business…buh bye, Mr. Richard Feder of Ft. Lee, New Jersey.

Great post!

Timothy Sandefur Wrote:

An attempt at a hands-off, entirely value-neutral science education is doomed, either to fail, or to accomplish an entirely pointless success.

I think this is precisely right, and has a direct application to the ID/creationism/evolution issues in public schools. If scientists, science teachers, and other supporters of teaching evolution will outline explicitly the values they aim to inculcate (“skepticism, free debate, experimentation, and so forth”), it will help to focus discussion and improve communication, in my view. Most of the Creationist/ID motivation comes from a deep-seated emotional reaction against attacks, real and perceived, against core values. (At least that is how it looks from my perspective.) A more direct discussion of values, while no panacea (as Timothy says), would still bring the focus on the real conflicts, rather than the endless debates over evolutionary details, which are usually just proxies for the underlying values questions.

I also think it would be helpful if scientists, especially those who are not religious believers, would be more outspoken against the more ‘radical’ anti-theists. To use an analogy, it is somewhat akin to the situation with Muslim extremism today - there are many more moderate Muslims than extremist ones, but the fact is that they are not very vocal in speaking out against the radicals. Thus the radicals get to define the image of Islam to the rest of the world. If all people hear is the quotations of Will Provine, Richard Dawkins, et al., it’s not surprising if they get the idea that science is hostile to religion, and are thus sympathetic to the rhetorical pleas of the IDers.

Well, yes, unless (or to the extent that) “skepticism, free debate, experimentation, and so forth” are themselves (seen as) “attacks, real and perceived, against core values.”

Mike S.

If all people hear is the quotations of Will Provine, Richard Dawkins, et al., it’s not surprising if they get the idea that science is hostile to religion, and are thus sympathetic to the rhetorical pleas of the IDers.

Mike, could you provide the littlest bit of evidence that “all people hear” from scientists are quotes from Will Provine and Richard Dawkins?

Perhaps you could look at the last five years of articles in Nature, Science, and the New York Times which relate to aspects of evolutionary biology and let me know what percentage of the scientists quoted are named Dawkins or Provine or who otherwise make statements which attack religion. I’m guessing it’s about 1%.

Now, if your talking about “science” articles written by creationists, then that’s another s

As for “perceived” attacks, I think it is plain as paint that fundamentalist Christians are among the thinnest-skinned humans on the planets. After all, the position many of them have taken is that any “worldview” which doesn’t include supernatural intervention is implicitly an affront to their sensibilities. Hence, Philip “Azweepay” Johnson’s call to his followers to “turn the train around” and head back to the Dark Ages when the fear of unimaginable horribles was sufficiently real to compel unquestioning worshipfulness.

Most of the Creationist/ID motivation comes from a deep-seated emotional reaction

Of course this is true. But why are many of these people so emotional, do you suppose, over something so intangible and irrelevant to their daily lives? I’ll tell you: the religious leaders of these people have brainwashed their followers into believing that they are engaged in a “battle” for “traditional values” and “Western Civilization as we know it.” Let me know if you doubt this is true, Mike. And let me know if you think it is the fault of scientists that people have been indoctrinated to think that way. You could just as easily argue, then, that scientists are responsible for 9/11.

I chortle loudly at the idea that hard-core conservative Christians want to teach kids “skepticsm” and “experimentation.” That is the funniest thing I’ve heard in a long time.

The value we can all agree on is the value of knowing the truth. In science class, truth means the scientific truth. For the purposes of science classrooms, we let scientists determine what is scientifically true.

The only reason this concept is at all controversial is because a group of well-funded, conservative and mostly evangelical Christians has TURNED it into a controversy by claiming that the teaching of certain theories (accepted by the overwhelming majority of scientists) interferes with their ability to indoctrinate/brainwash their children (if I understand Sandefur correctly, this is the Constitutional right of parents).

Note: I use the term indoctrinate/brainwash as opposed to “teach” because religion, unlike science, is not based on objective facts about the universe. The important names, places and events associated with deity worship are largely arbitrary as anyone who has traveled outside of their state knows.

The problem with the allegations of indoctrination/brainwashing interference is not just that there is no evidence to support the claim that their children are less religious than they otherwise would be. The problem is that, to the extent the issue with Christians is that a “materialistic worldview” is at odds with their “worldview,” then just about EVERYTHING in the world interferes with their attempts to indoctrinate/brainwash their children. Indeed, conservative and evangelical Christians admit this fact ALL THE TIME.

Let’s ignore for now the ironic fact that the friction between the way the world IS and the way Christians WISH it was provides the heat which keeps the engine of Christianity humming (and that has been the case at least since they stopped threatening to kill people who didn’t convert).

The question in my mind is: if conservative evangelical Christians succeed in destroying public education in this country, will they then be satisfied that the indoctrination/brainwashing of their children is proceeding free of interference? Or will they concentrate their money and efforts on destroying another publically funded system which allegedly propogates a “naturalist materialist philosophical worldview” (i.e., any “worldview” which does not include deity worship)?

My money is on the latter.

Disclaimer: I attended a great public school system where I was given the opportunity to take college-level biochemistry classes as a junior, leave school during study hall for a smoke or sex break, and read all of Kurt Vonnegut’s books. Of course, my parents never knew a thing about what their human offpsring was thinking and doing when they weren’t watching. And they still don’t. Why is that? Because, having repudiated their attempts to brainwash me into believing that I must honor their every wish, I chose not to tell them.

Apparently some of the anti-religious motivation comes from deep-seated emotional reaction, as well.

Apparently some of the anti-religious motivation comes from deep-seated emotional reaction, as well.

Mike, please let me know which part of my post you consider “anti-religious” and why. I think my post clearly relates to a particular subset of one particular sect of one particular religious group. In the context of this blog and this post, is it really necessary to type “group of mostly conservative evangelical Christian creationists” over and over? Do we need yet another acronym on the Panda’s Thumb in addition to ID and CSI?

Or is it your position that if I rail against abortionists that I am anti-medicine?

Acronyms are how all good science is done. Years before he actually came up with a theory, Al Einstein wrote pop books about RT, or Relativity Theory, about how it obliterated Newtonian mechanics, which was a ‘theory in crisis’. Wrote pop books, held conferences at churches, discussed it with all his lawyer RT friends. Started RT clubs. Tried to get it taught in equal time with newton. Then later he published an actual theory.

GWW Wrote:

Perhaps you could look at the last five years of articles in Nature, Science, and the New York Times which relate to aspects of evolutionary biology and let me know what percentage of the scientists quoted are named Dawkins or Provine or who otherwise make statements which attack religion.  I’m guessing it’s about 1%.

Perhaps you could calculate what percentage of the population reads Nature, Science, or the NYT Science section on a regular basis. I’m guessing it’s on the order of 10%.

Mike, please let me know which part of my post you consider “anti-religious” and why. 

Anytime I see someone post something that even makes an attempt to be conciliatory towards conservative Christians, or Fundamentalists, you jump all over them with barely disguised invective. There’s plenty of quotes to choose from, but I’ll just pick one:

Note:  I use the term indoctrinate/brainwash as opposed to “teach” because religion, unlike science, is not based on objective facts about the universe.  The important names, places and events associated with deity worship are largely arbitrary as anyone who has traveled outside of their state knows.

So religion is not objective, and parents who teach their children religious beliefs and principles are indoctrinating or brainwashing them (with the sarcastic aside that this ‘appears’ to be the parents Constitutional right). And the names, places, and events associated with deity worship are arbitrary. I’d say that is dismissing almost all religious beliefs out of hand, which is hard to distinguish from anti-religious prejudice.

The title of Sandefur’s post is “The Paradox of Toleration”. For you, there is no paradox, because you don’t see the need to tolerate religious beliefs in the public square.

Well said, Mike S. I am about the most atheistic atheist there is, and I am very much opposed to the merging of religion and politics that Wonder complains of–indeed, I wholeheartedly endorse Dawkins’ statements. Unfortunately, Wonder goes much too far in the opposite direction, even saying once that he thinks the state should take away children from religious parents in order to teach them the values that serve the state better. This is frustrating to me, since I don’t like coming to the defense of theists. But we simply must be reasonable, and respect the rights of those who disagree with us. Wonder’s last paragraph, I think, indicates a deeper reason for his lack of balance on these issues. As Laurence Sterne wrote, “Whenever a man talks loudly against religion, always suspect that it is not his reason, but his passions, which have got the better of his Creed.”

Do parents have a right to lie to children? With apologies to Daniel Dennett, the answer is Yes, because the alternative–giving someone else the complete authority to determine what shall be taught to children–is simply too dangerous, and also because there are too many things on the margin, from the minute (“there is a Santa Claus”) to the immense (“the machinery of capitalism is oiled with the blood of the workers”). But, again, it is also possible to imagine extreme cases where others must step in to protect children against the lies taught by their parents–for instance, sexual manipulation, or even (in the cases involving sick children of Jehovah’s Witnesses) the inappropriateness of certain medical treatments.

In other words, in many cases, the state necessarily makes truth claims–as when it creates a policy which more or less requires parents to get certain medical treatments for their children, because these treatments are deemed effective. On the other hand, the state must not make other truth claims–with regard to religious doctrine, but also with regard to some political doctrines, and other things–because to do so would enhance the power of the state to a far too great degree. I entirely believe that the political economy of socialism is not only inherently flawed, but deeply evil. We know that Wonder feels quite strongly the opposite. I am entirely confident, and I assume Wonder is as well, that we are right, not just in some abstract way, but in a scientific, provable way. So which one of us should have the right to control the information given to each other’s children? That is a far more serious question even than the question of which of us is right about socialism. And that is the paradox of toleration. Learned Hand said that “The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right.” That attitude–which once went by the name “liberal”–ought to resonate deeply with any person serious about the values of science.

Again, I want most strongly to emphasize that this is not an easy question. It is not the question of whether God exists or whether evolution is true, or any of those–those questions are, in fact, easy by comparison to the question of how we should treat doctrines which we believe are untrue, or even doctrines which we can be entirely reasonably certain are untrue. I think the reason Wonder has difficulty with this issue is because he is focusing much too hard on the first question–on which he and I actually agree–rather than on the much harder second question, riddled as it is with paradoxes between liberty and safety.

So religion is not objective, and parents who teach their children religious beliefs and principles are indoctrinating or brainwashing them (with the sarcastic aside that this ‘appears’ to be the parents Constitutional right). And the names, places, and events associated with deity worship are arbitrary.

Wow, Mike, you can read and detect sarcasm. But apparently you can’t rebut my characterization of religion which is hardly controversial.

Do you mind if I ask which religion you belong to (if any) and why you believe that your religion is the best?

Perhaps you could calculate what percentage of the population reads Nature, Science, or the NYT Science section on a regular basis. I’m guessing it’s on the order of 10%.

Guess all you want. I am certain that the number of people who read those publications is greater than the number of people who read books by Dawkins or Provine. I’ll guess that it’s an order of magnitude greater, Mike, but probably it’s two orders of magnitude. I look forward to your thoughtful rejoinder.

As for Tim’s post, the most interesting paradox may be found in this sentence:

In teaching the scientific method, we are necessarily inculcating certain values in students. Doing so is essential to the survival of a free society. But in large doses, it can be deadly.

The two questions which instantly leap to mind are (1) what are the “certain values” that are “inculcated” in students who are taught the scientific method and (2) what is the evidence that “inculcating” those values “can be deadly” in “large doses”?

Remember: it is the GCECCs (group of conservative evangelical Christian creationsists), spearheaded by scientifically-ignorant fundamentalists like Philip “Turn the Train Around” Johnson, who are fanning the flames of this controversy. The vast majority of scientists are entirely unaware or are entirely uninterested in this bogus “conflict” between the “worldview” of the GCECCs and “philosophic naturalistic materialism” which is allegedly inherent to “Darwinism.”

Mike, who do you guess first told me that my “philosophic naturalistic materialist worldview” meant that my life was meaningless and left me without any moral foundation? Was it a scientist or an evangelical Christian who threw that smear in my face in the context of a discussion about evolutionary biology?

Suicide is the third leading cause of death among teenagers in the United States. Do you suppose that children of scientists kill themselves more or less often than children of evangelicals? This is an interesting and relevant question, I think, if we are discussing whether the “values” that accompany the teaching of the scientific method in schools are “deadly.”

Note: I’m ignoring the fact that the scientific method and the “philosphy” associated with its use is ubiquitous and relied on every day by 99.999% of Christians and atheists, alike. This fact alone is sufficient to obliterate any silly arguments about the dangers of “worldview indoctrination” by science lecturers, in my opinion. To the extent it fails to win the day, that is only because some people are too stupid and too brainwashed to recognize it.

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“The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right.”

As I was walking one day with Dr. R., a good math professor here, we walked past Gary, the brickyard preacher. Crazy guy who stands in the brickyard (which is sort of NCSU’s Quad), and argues and preaches some strain of christianity, like he’s done for years and years. (sample excerpt: “Women who wear pants are lesbians.”) Dr. R says to me, “What scares me about people like this, is they’re absolutely certain. They have no doubt.”

There’s a classic scientific essay in the same class as Garrett Hardin’s “Tragedy of the Commons” waiting to be written about tolerance. The true “paradox of a tolerant society” is that tolerant ideologies are inevitably displaced by intolerant ones. That is, unlimited tolerance is not an evolutionarily stable strategy. Unless the society is intolerant on one singular fixed point: it must not tolerate intolerance.

Most religions are fundamentally intolerant (with the notable exception of Buddhism): they assert that “our way is the only true way”. All other believers are sinners or infidels who must be converted or exterminated.

If a government wishes to avoid ultimate destruction in civil war or devolution into theocracy, it must prohibit many forms of religious expression, specifically those expressing claims of exclusive status.

To preserve freedom we don’t need to prohibit anybody from expressing their ideas. We have to keep the zealots from getting control of the government and prohibiting us from expressing our ideas. The fundamentalists do not want equality and freedom. They want control. It is not intolerance to prevent them from getting what they want. There is no paradox about it.

We should never forget that Christianity triumphed in the first place through the coercive power of the State. Without Constantine, the Christians would have remained a mere sect like many other would-be world religions that failed to find a convenient thug to enforce their outlook on the world. Similarly, in the current situation, the fundamentalists and ID folks don’t stand a chance of dominating the sciences without political power.

GWW Wrote:

But apparently you can’t rebut my characterization of religion which is hardly controversial.

The fact that you don’t see it as controversial only highlights how limited your view is. That view is ‘controversial’ (not to say insulting) to at least half of the US population, and much more than half of the global population. The question of whether it is accurate is a separate question from whether it is offensive. You take it as a given, and thus dismiss any objections to it as being inherently unworthy of your respect. But this is precisely the question that Timothy is getting at: how to we, as a society, respect diverse viewpoints and conflicting fundamental truth claims? Your answer seems to be: “easy, everyone should just adopt my version of the truth, and those who don’t are not even worth listening to.”

Fourmyle Wrote:

Unless the society is intolerant on one singular fixed point: it must not tolerate intolerance.

This is a preposterous statement. Taken at face value, it says that we must tolerate murder, pedophilia, people yelling ‘fire’ in crowded theaters, people blowing up buses, etc., etc., etc. There are all kinds of things that society cannot tolerate - it, in fact, cannot survive unless it is intolerant of some behaviors. There’s a lot of complex questions Timothy raised in this post, which I think so far most of the commenters are not getting at (as he says, it’s a hard problem, which can’t really be addressed very well in a few comments on a blog). One of the questions is, what does one mean by ‘tolerance’? Usually it means that while one may not approve of particular behavior or customs of someone else, one doesn’t attempt to interfere with what they are doing - i.e. they tolerate the behavior, presumably because tolerating distasteful behavior is better than the alternative (either fighting about it, or bringing the power of the state to bear on it, either via legislation or litigation). But obviously there are limits to what one can tolerate - at some point, the costs of tolerating the behavior becomes too high.

In the case of Fundamentalist Christians (here’s another area where definitions matter, but I don’t have time to go into all the distinctions), the typical attitude, referred to by Timothy, is that they should be free to preach what they believe in their churches free from the influence of the state, and to teach their children what they believe. Where the toleration line is crossed is when they try to enforce that their religious doctrines should be taught in public schools. Then tolerating their beliefs impinges on the beliefs and rights of others.

A large part of how one views this problem obviously depends upon where you sit: if you are a secularist, you will understandably view attempts to bring religious beliefs into public schools with more alarm than a religious believer will. Likewise, if you are a conservative Christian, you will view such things as the Roe v. Wade decision, for example, as an grossly unfair implementation of an unjust law by judges who are unaccountable to the people who have to live with the law. The question Timothy raises is how these and other diverse viewpoints can be adequately respected and represented in the public square, given that someone’s views are always going to be abrogated.

I don’t expect this discussion to really go anywhere here on PT, since its a much broader question that evolution and science education (and because I, at least, don’t have the time or inclination to carry on an extended discussion), but I’ll state my view on the problem. I basically agree with the quote from Learned Hand, but in my view the problem is, again, one of balance: it is problematic if one is too certain that one’s view of the truth is correct, but it is equally problematic if one has no certainty that universal truth exists*, and that human beings can access this truth in a manner such that widespread agreement can be achieved (i.e. it doesn’t do any good to claim that universal truth can be found only through mystical visions that one cannot articulate to another person, since then there is no basis upon with to order society). I view the latter situation to be at least as big a problem as the fundamentalist religious views in our modern Western societies. If we can’t agree on a collective understanding of what the good is, how do we make decisions that affect society? Even the process one thinks should be used to arrive at these decisions depends upon one’s view of what the truth is.

Timothy Sandefur Wrote:

It is not the question of whether God exists or whether evolution is true, or any of those—those questions are, in fact, easy by comparison to the question of how we should treat doctrines which we believe are untrue, or even doctrines which we can be entirely reasonably certain are untrue.

I guess I would argue that you can’t really disentangle the two - how you answer the question of tolerance depends upon how you answer the questions of truth (i.e. whether God exists or not, what moral principles we should live by, etc.)

*note that science can address what the universal truth is (within the bounds of scientific uncertainty) for how the natural world works, but it cannot address universal truths in philosophy, theology, and morality. This is why I try to keep pointing out that the Creation/Evolution debates are really debates about the latter truths - it’s just that people on both sides confuse where the science ends and the philosophy/theology/morality begins.

Tolerance, like all values, is prone to opposition with other values. Frequently it’s not clear which value to prefer. An example: The brickyard preacher Gary I mentioned somewhere on TPT earlier, stands in the brickyard nearly every day (including holidays) and preaches, poorly and loudly. (Doing, I might add, the public service of showing what happens when you take religion too seriously.) Adjacent to the brickyard are several nice grassy areas with shade and benches. On a nice day, they’re great places to sit and read. But it’s impossible to enjoy with a guy shouting Leviticus nearby. So two values are in conflict–Gary’s free speech, and my enjoyment of public park areas. In this case, society has decided that Gary wins. Now imagine Gary’s part of a group of 30 fundies who decide to post members at every park in Raleigh and scream from the bible. Suddenly it’s not just a few people the Garys are annoying, it’s thousands of citizens who’ve paid for the park. At what point does it become too much of a burden on everyone else, and Gary’s free speech has to be curtailed a bit?

Mr. Harrison says that “We have to keep the zealots from getting control of the government and prohibiting us from expressing our ideas. The fundamentalists do not want equality and freedom. They want control. It is not intolerance to prevent them from getting what they want. There is no paradox about it.” Okay, but what about the parent who says that his religion forbids him from allowing his child to get a blood transfusion? We might say–and I think this is ultimately the right answer–that the government must step in and protect the child, by forcing the parent to step aside in that case. But if we do that, the parent is going to say that we’re “getting control of the government,” and excercising “conrol,” and “getting what we want.” And he’d be right! As a libertarian, I think we should prevent just about everybody “from getting control of the government and prohibiting us from expressing our ideas,” or from doing just about anything else. But to be honest, we have to admit that sometimes, the question is not that easy; as Fourmyle says, we must be “intolerant on one singular fixed point: [we] must not tolerate intolerance.”

Wonder asks “(1)what are the ‘certain values’ that are ‘inculcated’ in students who are taught the scientific method and (2) what is the evidence that ‘inculcating’ those values ‘can be deadly’ in ‘large doses’?” I think the values that are inculcated by the scientific method include skepticism, a tendency to demand evidence instead of arguments from authority, a willingness to distrust previously held views, and so forth. But as for question (2), perhaps I was unclear. I do not think that these values are dangerous–I think the willingness to use the power of the state to control the moral and intellectual development of students is dangerous in large doses. Give the state the power of education, and it is inevitable that that power will be subject to the public choice effect. Parents will want their values inculcated in students. And if the statistics are to believed, there’s a heck of a lot more of our opponents out there than there are of us. If we declare that it is okay to inculcate the values of skepticism in students, then the next time around, conservatives will declare that we must teach the “faith of our fathers,” and so on.

As Garnett says,

the trend among liberal political theorists seems to be toward “thicker,” more perfectionist notions of democracy. It seems to be to acknowledge, and also to insist, that the health of democratic societies depends crucially on the character, dispositions, habits, and premises of their citizens. We appear to be entering what Professor Smith might call a “fourth stage of liberalism,” and emerging from the “[l]iberalism of [n]eutrality and [e]quality,” which “eschews not only repression but also the very notion of an official orthodoxy.” This civic-virtues brand of liberalism, while generally not “repressi[ve],” is nonetheless aggressive, and perhaps more confident, in endorsing and attempting to inculcate its orthodoxy.

Garnett, supra at 1694. Now, again, I think we do need to inculcate the foundations of American freedom in students. But every time we allow government to “inculcate its orthodoxy,” we’re inviting the public to determine what “its orthodoxy” is, and, again, we freethinkers are in the tiny minority here. Moreover, we very much hold that government should not inculcate orthodoxy, if it’s possible to avoid it, because we believe in the freedom of the mind. You see my point? Garnett says it somewhat clearer:

The government could say, if called to account, “We are not declaring religious truth. You are right–that is not our business. We are simply trying, through policy and lawmaking, to get this religious group to conform the content of its religious doctrine to public values, and to our (entirely secular) orthodoxy.”

“Orthodoxy”? The game is up! Justice Jackson, remember, conceded in the flag-salute case that “[n]ational unity [is] an end which officials may foster by persuasion and example,” but nonetheless warned that “[c]ompulsory unification of opinion achieves only the unanimity of the graveyard.” He went on to proclaim, in ringing terms and with characteristic flair: “[F]reedom to differ is not limited to things that do not matter much. That would be a mere shadow of freedom. The test of its substance is the right to differ as to things that touch the heart of the existing order.… If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.” These words, widely thought to belong “among the great paeans to human liberty,” might seem to set our Constitution irrevocably against any ambitious doctrine-revision agenda. “There is,” after all, “no mysticism in the American concept of the State”; “[a]uthority here,” Justice Jackson insisted, “is to be controlled by public opinion, not public opinion by authority.” In the end, however, Barnette’s sweeping “no orthodoxy” proclamation can hardly be taken seriously as a description of how our government actually acts. Indeed, Professor Smith has written that Jackson’s words “committed [us] to a course of massive collective delusion,” “one that requires us to pretend … that … government cannot and therefore does not prescribe–does not officially stand for–any ‘right opinions.”’ Of course governments–even liberal, constitutional governments–“prescribe” orthodoxy.

Id. at 1688-89.

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This page contains a single entry by Timothy Sandefur published on September 10, 2004 7:27 PM.

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