Egnor’s pseudo-logical pseudo-reply

| 18 Comments

Dr. Egnor has half-heartedly responded to my post (without mentioning it) in a post in which he rightly condemns the attempt by Oklahoma Representative Todd Thomsen to express legislative disapproval of the University of Oklahoma’s invitation to Richard Dawkins. (Egnor is wrong to describe this as censorship–it would be dumb and embarrassing, but not censorship, for the legislature to express this opinion–but we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume his heart’s in the right place.) But, unsurprisingly, he goes on to employ sloppy language to mask what is either ignorance or an intentional effort of distortion regarding the Constitutional issues I mentioned in my previous post.

18 Comments

You make excellent points at Freespace, Tim. What irritates me is that you have the article there, where you have no comment section.

I have been trying to explain this to several people, that a teacher (as interpreted by incorporation,) while in front of a class teaching according to the curriculum is the “state” and not in a citizen’s role. I have always thought this was an elementary concept but I haven’t done as good a job at articulating it in your post.

One needs sound bites to get it across The phrase I’ve used locally to some effect (in the sense that it’s been repeated a couple of times on a local AM radio talk show and on local web boards) is “Not on the government’s time and not on the government’s dime.” That gets the core message across succinctly and understandably.

So Egnor, who “support[s] academic freedom” suggests a resolution which “could request that the Darwin 2009 events include speakers (in addition to Dawkins) representing different viewpoints in the ID/Darwinsim debate”. So he wants to put pressure on the University of Oklahoma to do what he wants, rather than giving them the freedom to take their own decisions.

RBH said:

One needs sound bites to get it across The phrase I’ve used locally to some effect (in the sense that it’s been repeated a couple of times on a local AM radio talk show and on local web boards) is “Not on the government’s time and not on the government’s dime.” That gets the core message across succinctly and understandably.

I often bring up a related fact that is sadly still a well-kept secret among the general public. Given the few hours that public school students spend learning evolution, a rough estimate is that the activists are already free to spread their propaganda for ~99.9% of the student’s waking hours. Even if there are some outlets denied to them for spreading their propaganda to adults and private school students, they have the freedom to pollute minds ~99.9% of the time there too. Yet that’s not enough for them! Even if they did have a legal right to the other ~0.1% any reasonable person would see their demand as extremely unreasonable.

As for their charges of “censorship” I think it is long overdue to go on offense.

I agree with your point, but through a different path of reasoning.

You state that the government has no First Ammendment guarantee of freedom of religion or freedom of speech. I disagree with that. The Supreme Court is constitutionally our arbiter of what the constitution says. In the Summum case from Utah, just decided this past week, the Supreme Court decided against Summum precisely because they stated the state has a right to freedom of speech and religion- and they built this on other cases they’ve decided in the past.

However, I am totally against what Egnor and others are trying to do, not because of the Establishment Clause, but because of the Free Exercise Clause. Any time my religion is supported in a classroom, it interferes with the free exercise of someone else in the classroom who doesn’t support my religion. This would be easy for the Christian Fundies to see if they ever considered if Islam were taught in the classroom instead, or the Islamic viewpoint of creation. (And if they had their way, with majority rule, in parts of Detroit and Dearborn, it would be taught.) Having to learn the Islamic perspective, of having my kids taught it, would interfere with the free exercise of their religious beliefs, one of which is that they don’t believe in Islam. The same holds true for other religious pursuits like Literal Creationism or ID. I don’t want my kids learning that, because, even if I’m a Christian, that doesn’t express my religious beliefs, and therefore is a violation of the Free Exercise Clause.

Frank j wrote:

“… they have the freedom to pollute minds ~99.9% of the time there too. Yet that’s not enough for them! Even if they did have a legal right to the other ~0.1% any reasonable person would see their demand as extremely unreasonable.”

Well that’s like saying that you only want to be protected from a deadly virus 99.9% of the time. Everyone knows that it only takes one exposure and then you are infected and then the infection will quickly spread to everyone else and everyone will die.

Of course that type of contageous spread only works with ideas that are supported by evidence. So I have to wonder if creationists are ignorant, deceitful, or both. Either way, if you had the evidence on your side, then 0.1% would be enough (at least to convince anyone with an open mind). So why would anyone complain about having only 99.9%?

Mr. Palosaari points to the Summum case as holding that the government has a First Amendment free speech right. I don’t think that’s an accurate reading of that decision. The Court did say that government has the authority to propagate messages, which it does, but it doesn’t have a First Amendment right to do so. That may be a subtle distinction, but it’s important, because what government has isn’t so much a right to speak as the discretion to speak, a discretion that is neither conferred by nor protected by the First Amendment’s expression clauses. As Justice Alito writes, “it is not easy to imagine how government could function if it lacked this freedom. ‘If every citizen were to have a right to insist that no one paid by public funds express a view with which he disagreed, debate over is-sues of great concern to the public would be limited to those in the private sector, and the process of government as we know it radically transformed.’” So the “right” of government to speak is more of a discretion to speak, or a perogative to speak, than a constitutional right. Certainly the government could not assert constitutional protections for expressive conduct against…well, against whom? Against the people? Of course not. Government may “speak,” yes, but it is not protected in doing so by the First Amendment, and Summum does not say otherwise.

However, Summum does employ some very confusing language on this score, and I’m wary of the “government speech” doctrine in general, becuase it does seem to imply that the government has some sort of First Amendment right valid against the people. That would be a very bad development, in my opinion–and in Justice Stevens’ opinion. He complains in his concurrence about the “recently minted government speech doctrine,” which he considers “of doubtful merit.” The Summum decision, howver, “signals no expansion of that doctrine.…”

Justice Souter, whose writing on Establishment Clause matters I respect very much, makes the following point about the idea that the government has a constitutionally protected speech right:

“the government could well argue, as a development of government speech doctrine, that when it expresses its own views, it is free of the Establishment Clause’s stricture against discriminating among religious sects or groups. Under this view of the relationship between the two doctrines, it would be easy for agovernment to favor some private religious speakers over others by its choice of monuments to accept. Whether that view turns out to be sound is more than I can say at this point. It is simply unclear how the rela-tively new category of government speech will relate to the more traditional categories of Establishment Clause analysis, and this case is not an occasion to speculate. It is an occasion, however, to try to keep the inevitable issues open, and as simple as they can be.”

In short, it’s obviously the case that government may express messages; it cannot avoid doing so. But characterizing that as a right is confusing because it suggests that it has a constitutionally protected right to do so, and this would be a perversion of the Constitution. The Constitution exists to protect individual rights against the government, not to protect the government against individuals.

In my view, people have rights and governments have powers.

The Constitution exists to protect individual rights against the government, not to protect the government against individuals.

Actually, the Constitution exists to protect individual rights against any violator of those rights.

In the overwhelming majority of cases, private individuals violate one anothers’ rights and some element of the representative government - usually including some combination of publicly funded law enforcement and publicly funded courts of law - is the ultimate advocate for the party whose rights were violated.

When a teacher preaches creationism in a public school, for example, this is an example of a private individual (who should be acting as a public servant but is irresponsibly acting differently) violating the rights of other private citizens. It is ultimately in the “government” courts that a public servant, for example Judge Jones, will adjudicate the matter.

When one branch of the government violates the rights of an individual, the only way that this can actually be legally improved is if another branch of the government with greater authority ultimately defends the individual.

Right wing fantasies of armed uprisings are actually specifically forbidden by the constitution and would be almost certain to produce results that almost all people would see as unjust at any rate.

I don’t disagree with any of the rest of Timothy Sandefur’s comment, but I do think that this part is very telling.

DS Wrote:

So I have to wonder if creationists are ignorant, deceitful, or both. Either way, if you had the evidence on your side, then 0.1% would be enough (at least to convince anyone with an open mind). So why would anyone complain about having only 99.9%?

The activists, especially of the ID variety, know enough of the science to know that their claims do not hold up to real critical analysis. So I think it’s more deceit than ignorance with them, if not for the school boards and politicians they have in their pocket. So they are probably keenly aware that that particular ~0.1% would give them the most bang for their buck. It gives them a captive audience, one that is young enough to be molded into not questioning - in this case, not questioning the “questioning” of evolution. But even it didn’t give them the most bang for their buck, they seem addicted to “handouts” - whatever they get will never be enough.

Jedidiah Palosaari Wrote:

However, I am totally against what Egnor and others are trying to do, not because of the Establishment Clause, but because of the Free Exercise Clause. Any time my religion is supported in a classroom, it interferes with the free exercise of someone else in the classroom who doesn’t support my religion.

It’s refreshing to hear someone else say that! Teaching any anti-evolution pseudoscience, with or without “creation” or “design” language, interferes with the free exercise of any religion that commands us not to bear false witness.

Oh, he just wants then to teach creationism in public schools, that’s all. He’ll make up any dumb old excuse he can think of. (He doesn’t like “Darwin’s theory” because he doesn’t want to come from no stinkin monkeys or whatever). He sure does say “Darwin” a lot though. Darwin this… and Darwin that… Darwin Darwin Darwin Darwin…

He sure does say “Darwin” a lot though. Darwin this… and Darwin that… Darwin Darwin Darwin Darwin…

It’s almost as though he’s still stuck way back in the 19th century, along with the rest of the creationists! Nawwwwww…

386sx Wrote:

(He doesn’t like “Darwin’s theory” because he doesn’t want to come from no stinkin monkeys or whatever).

If so, he’s got just as much a problem with Behe, Behe, Behe. But either he agrees with Behe or the “pseudoscience code of silence” precludes him from challenging him. These days the DI will throw out anything that can stick to the intended audience, however inconsistent, so I’m not as surprised as I would have been a few years ago that Egnor actually used the word “creationism.”

Egnor’s particular shtick has been to whine that students don’t need to learn “Darwinism” to be an effective MD. That already contrasts with the DI’s position to teach “evolution plus” (the “plus” being their style of misrepresentation). If talk radio is any indication, however, when the the topic is not specifically evolution, the religious right’s recommendations for improvement of education always concerns history (particularly American history) and literature (the “classics”), never science. Any bets that Egnor will complain that those students don’t need to learn history and literature either?

In my view, people have rights and governments have powers.

agreed.

If only Tim could have been so succinct.

It’s very much like the argument as to whether corporations have rights in the same fashion individuals do.

Fortunately, medical education is moving in the opposite direction from what Egnor wants.

Medical schools are beginning to incorporate some direct coverage of evolution in their curriculum.

My personal opinion of cases of legislators and teachers spouting their religion in their place of work is: if you can’t even talk the (impartial) talk, how can I, as citizen, ever expect you to walk the (impartial) walk? If a judge uses the phrase “praise Jesus” every second sentence, you bet I’m going to use it on the stand too. I can’t reasonably expect that judge to put aside his religion in his judgement if he’s already shown he’s unwilling to put it aside in his speech. Similarly, how could any non-christian student ever reasonably expect to receive a fair grade from a teacher who quotes the bible all the time?

You’re a public servant. If you can’t demonstrate to the public that you can control your speech, which is easy, then it is perfectly legitimate for the public to question whether you can control your biases, which is hard.

Jedidiah Palosaari said: I am totally against what Egnor and others are trying to do, not because of the Establishment Clause, but because of the Free Exercise Clause. Any time my religion is supported in a classroom, it interferes with the free exercise of someone else in the classroom who doesn’t support my religion.

I don’t think that’s really the proper tack to take. Free speech and free exercise of religion are severely constrained (if not curtailed) in the classroom. This is because the government is forcing your attendence at a function. Forced attendence opens the potential for abuse, either by the government itself or by a private citizen acting with the government’s power. So, the government rightly attempts to limit activity during your forced attendence to only what is absolutely necessary to acheive the government purpose, i.e. education. Egnor’s mistake is NOT that you have the right to exercise your religion in the classroom and he is trampling on that right by teaching creationism. Egnor’s mistake is that no one has the right to any exercise of their religion in the classroom if it is in any way disruptive to the educational purpose.

I agree, Eric, though I don’t really see what you said as opposed to my Free Exercise argument. And I think we have to acknowledge limits. A student has a constitutional right to bow his head and pray briefly before a test. Another student could argue that they are offended by that, and therefore it is discrupting them. They need to get over it and focus on the test. It’s not. Second, religion can be much broader than how we often determine it. Cheating is wrong, and is universally condemned- but in some religions, more strongly than others. It happens that our Judeo-Christian background (as a nation) is one of those that strongly condemns. Boys and girls being treated equally is a belief that some religions hold and others don’t (or some segments of some religions). Certainly I don’t argue that we should then teach the religious foundations of these moral principles in class, or even that we are today advocating these principles because of their religious foundation. Rather, for many, beliefs like that are an exercise of their religion, are intimately tied to it- and therefore I think fall under what you stated as “absolutely necessary to achieve the government purpose”- albeit the government purpose of education as defined popularily today.

So the end of it is I would say we all have a right to exercise our religion in the classroom, as long as it does not infringe on the exercise of others. In many cases, especially coming from the teacher in authority, it does. And likewise, we have a right to freedom of speech in the classroom, as long as it does not infringe on the exercise of that same right by others, which is necessary for the class to run, as you pointed out. A class where all the kids are shouting out is an infringement on the free exercise of speech by the teacher, and the freedom of the students to hear that teacher speak.

Secondly, I would more strongly disagree with your first statement. A strong belief, and the exercise of that belief, does not imply a lack of impartiality. Rev. MLK was anti-poverty, anti-war, and for civil rights, all because of his very vocal religious beliefs. Few accuse him of being impartial. A scientist has learned to separate what he does in the lab from what he does in church or Bible study, if he is of a religious bent. We don’t question his methods and abilities even if he’s written vocal famous books about religion and science (e.g. Miller), as long as his methodology is sound. I’ve lived in a Muslim country, where everyone from the king to the judges to the street sweeper are constantly saying “Praise God”, “If God wills”, “May God heal you”, etc. For some, I agree, they would be favor a Muslim over me and other non-Muslims; for others they wouldn’t. My point is that it wouldn’t be inherently because of those statements that they would. Were that so, we would have to question the basis of our court system here in the U.S., which in some states is constantly asking people to swear on a Bible and say “So help me God”, and is stated by all judges being sworn in, except those annoying Quaker judges who don’t do the oath thing. ;-)

Jedidiah Palosaari said: A student has a constitutional right to bow his head and pray briefly before a test. Another student could argue that they are offended by that, and therefore it is discrupting them.

Um, AFAIK, no. The courts have ruled that the schoolroom is a place where there is a specific, necessary, and narrow exception to your constitutional rights. Including speech, assembly, religion and carrying arms. You have no constitutional right to pray in school, if doing so is deemed disruptive. Just as you have no constitutional right to bear arms in school.

What I think you mean to say is, because religious practices like praying are specifically protected by the 1st amendment, any school rule against it going to get very close scrutiny. Much closer than, say, a school rule against juggling. The school is going to need a much stronger case to justify eliminating prayer than to eliminate juggling because as a nation, we look skeptically at any rule that seeks to limit religion. I’d agree with that.

Secondly, I would more strongly disagree with your first statement. A strong belief, and the exercise of that belief, does not imply a lack of impartiality…A scientist has learned to separate what he does in the lab from what he does in church or Bible study, if he is of a religious bent.

But the point is, if a civil servant cannot separate church speech from job speech, then we have no reason to believe he can use secular ethics or secular methodology in his job when those ethics differ from his religious tradition.

I absolutely think that strongly religious people can act in unbiased fashions. But I think one indication that they are being unbiased is when they put the church speech away. Can they, to use a metaphor, put on a different hat, or do they wear the church hat everywhere they go?

We don’t question his [Miller’s] methods and abilities even if he’s written vocal famous books about religion and science (e.g. Miller), as long as his methodology is sound.

I totally agree. Ken Miller is an excellent example of the point I’m trying to make. Miller clearly puts on a different hat when doing science: his scientific journal articles are written in the language of science. They don’t invoke prayer, consider divine revelation to be evidence, reference the bible, etc… Miller may agree with all these religious activities in other parts of his life, but he successfully puts them away when doing science. Strongly religious teachers, judges, etc… need to be able to do the same: when in a secular court, speak the language of law. When in a secular classroom, speak the language of the classroom. Just as Miller speaks the secular language of science when doing science.

I’ve lived in a Muslim country, where everyone from the king to the judges to the street sweeper are constantly saying “Praise God”, “If God wills”, “May God heal you”, etc.

Okay…so my contention that bias in speech gives an indication of bias in action may not hold when walking down the streets of Jeddah. But the U.S. is not Jeddah.

Look, I’m not arguing that swearing on a bible in court gives the game away - I’m arguing that excessive religious references may be an indication of bias, and I’m arguing that what counts as “excessive references” for a U.S. public servant on the job is much closer to “any references” than it is for a Saudi judge in a Sharia court. A few literary references or a three-hundred year old cultural practice is not a sign of bias, but IMO a public servant going out of their way to inject *more* religious speech into their job can be.

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This page contains a single entry by Timothy Sandefur published on March 6, 2009 6:39 PM.

Is That A Beam in Egnor’s Eye? Or Two? was the previous entry in this blog.

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