Freshwater: Ohio Supreme Court accepts F’water’s appeal on two Propositions of Law

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The Ohio Supreme Court has accepted John Freshwater’s appeal of his termination as a middle school science teacher in the Mt. Vernon, Ohio, City Schools. The appeal was accepted on two Propositions of Law asserted in Freshwater’s Memorandum in Support (large-ish pdf).

The first Proposition of Law in the appeal claims that

The termination of a public school teacher’s employment contract based on the teacher’s use of academic freedom where the school board has not provided any clear indication as to the kinds of materials or teaching methods which are unacceptable cannot be legally justified, as it constitutes an impermissible violation of the rights of the teacher and his students to free speech and academic freedom under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and a manifestation of hostility toward religion in violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.

The second Proposition of Law claims that

The termination of a public school teacher’s employment contract based on the mere presence of religious texts from the school’s library and/or the display of a patriotic poster cannot be legally justified, as it constitutes an impermissible violation of the rights of a teacher and his students to free speech and academic freedom under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and a manifestation of hostility toward religion in violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.

More below the fold (if my power stays on!)

Of the two, the first is the most dangerous for science education in general. It would empower a science teacher to teach any damn fool thing he or she wanted to teach unless the Board of Education has provided a “clear indication” otherwise. It is the Discovery Institute’s newest tactic–see here for an overview. Want to teach geocentrism? Sure, unless the school board has specifically prohibited it. Want to teach phlogiston heat theory? Go right ahead, unless the school board has specifically prohibited it.

Freshwater’s argument has been radically transformed over the years in a manner reminiscent of the transformation of his claims about the marks left by the Tesla coil. Initially, in testimony in the administrative hearing on his termination, Freshwater denied under oath that he taught creationism and/or intelligent design. From my summary of Day 3 testimony in the hearing:

Freshwater testified that there are three categories: evolution, creationism, and intelligent design. He said that he teaches evolution and not the other two, and that’s been true through his (24-year) career.

That later evolved into his claim in a radio interview with David Barton that he taught “robust evolution,” by which he meant the creationists’ “evidence for and against” evolution:

Freshwater: I teach what I … actually, I call it a robust evolution. I showed what was the evidence for evolution, I showed evidence that was opposed to evolution. I showed all sides.

Interviewer: And let the kids decide?

Freshwater: Yes. Let the kids decide. I stayed neutral on it, and let the kids make a decision on it.

Freshwater: Absolutely. You need to study it all, especially in a public school. You need to see all the evidence. And there’s some great evidence for, and there’s some great evidence that goes against it. And I think the kids need to see all evidence rather than indoctrinating them only on one side or the other.

Now in his claims to the Ohio Supreme Court, Freshwater says that he taught “competing academic theories” (p. 1) or “alternative theories” that just coincidentally happen to be consistent with the claims of particular religious traditions. Nowhere does that document tell us what those “alternative theories” actually were; the document is amazingly coy about their actual content.

Somewhere in that sequence of claims there have to be plain falsehoods: Freshwater cannot have (a) never in 24 years taught creationism or intelligent design or young earthism, whilst he simultaneously (b) taught “robust evolution” (the creationist evidence for and against evolution) and (c) taught “competing academic theories” in science when the only so-called alternative theories mentioned in any testimony or document in the case were creationist anti-evolution arguments. In his sworn testimony Freshwater said that he taught “hydrosphere theory” in the context of teaching about the Big Bang. Expert witness Patricia Princehouse identified “hydrosphere theory” as a young earth creationism notion.

So the only alternative theories mentioned in the record are creationist anti-evolution arguments. They are not “competing academic theories.” That’s a flat falsehood–a lie–offered to the Ohio Supreme Court as justification for granting any teacher the freedom to teach whatever damfool trash that takes his fancy.

142 Comments

”…where the school board has not provided any clear indication as to the kinds of materials or teaching methods which are unacceptable cannot be legally justified…”

IIRC Freshwater suggested an ID unit to his administration several years before the incident. He presented to them on a model unit. They told him no, he couldn’t teach it. How much clearer does the school need to be?

Now granted, his claim during the administrative hearing to have complied with the admin’s order and dropped ID after that is going to complicate things. But entirely apart from the did-he-or-didn’t-he issue of teaching some alternative, I don’t see how he’s going to make the claim stick that administative guidance on teaching alternatives was unclear.

It would seem that the matter is unclear to him and/or his lawyer.

So what does it matter if it’s not unclear to anybody else? :p

(Apologies if this is a repeat).

Here’s the info I was recalling. From the administrator’s report:

In 2003, John Freshwater [the teacher] petitioned the Board asking for the implementation of a new Board policy. His proposed policy was titled “Objective Origins Science Policy”. He advised the Board (through the proposal)… “much of the evidence that supports the Darwinian Evolution Theory which is taught in our public schools is controversial”. His proposed solution was the addition of a Board policy “that allows teachers/students to critically examine the evidence both for and against evolution”. John Freshwater’s proposal was rejected and his suggested policy not adopted. Nonetheless, he undertook the instruction of these eighth graders as if the suggested policy had been implemented.

That section then goes on to detail how several parents complained about what Freshwater was teaching. Also how his administration told him vocally, in writing, and on his evaluations to stick to the curriculum, going so far as to staple a copy of the school’s policy to one of his evaluations.

Yeah, that administation’s guidance was not clear at all.

We here at PT all know Freshwater was teaching lies and then lying about it. But what will the Ohio Supreme Court be looking at / listening to when they hear the case? Will they only be reviewing past Freshwater court case(s) material? Or can the NCSE or somebody come in with new material showing what Freshwater was lying about doing? They aren’t even supposed to know about the not actually a Tesla coil, are they?

It seems pretty clear that whoever is backing Freshwater wants this to go all the way to the US Supreme Court. The political winds appear to be in the right direction for him at the moment.

Just hypothetically, if the motivation of the Ohio Supreme Court was to attempt to weed creationist crap out of public schools altogether, would this case serve as a suitable vehicle? My understanding is that there are pretty clear precedents that First Amendment freedoms are not being abridged by requiring public school teachers to follow an accepted curriculum. Maybe the second part could be used to discourage excessive religious displays as an implicit endorsement of a specific religion by an agent of the government?

I don’t know enough about the Ohio Court to know whether they’d wish to encourage or discourage creationism in science class. I’d wonder why they even accepted this case if they didn’t want to do one or the other.

Flint said:

Just hypothetically, if the motivation of the Ohio Supreme Court was to attempt to weed creationist crap out of public schools altogether, would this case serve as a suitable vehicle? My understanding is that there are pretty clear precedents that First Amendment freedoms are not being abridged by requiring public school teachers to follow an accepted curriculum. Maybe the second part could be used to discourage excessive religious displays as an implicit endorsement of a specific religion by an agent of the government?

I don’t know enough about the Ohio Court to know whether they’d wish to encourage or discourage creationism in science class. I’d wonder why they even accepted this case if they didn’t want to do one or the other.

Perhaps they are hoping Ken Ham will build a Creation Museum annex in Mount Vernon so the economically depressed area can get some tourism money. Would a lawyer (or otherwise knowledgeable person) in the group know what his options are if the Ohio Supreme Court upholds his firing? Can he appeal that too, or is it over at that point? This drama is getting real old.

Freshwater: I teach what I … actually, I call it a robust evolution. I showed what was the evidence for evolution, I showed evidence that was opposed to evolution. I showed all sides.

When only one side has what Pope John Paul II called “convergence, neither sought nor fabricated” of evidence, and thus has earned the right to be taught, there is at a minimum 3 sides. Freshwater hints that he teaches 2 sides, despite his careless use of the word “all.” That minimum 3 are, (1) evidence for, (2) “evidence against” (invariably taken out of context or downright fabricated), and (3) the refutations of (2). No anti-evolution activist to my knowledge has ever mentioned (3) let alone demanded it be taught. That alone demolishes any pretense of “fairness.”

This being a state Supreme Court, is it supposed to confine itself to procedural and constitutional issues, and avoid drawing any new conclusions of its own about the facts?

If so, how does that constrain the case once the Supreme Court has agreed to hear it?

When I saw this I looked up the Ohio Supreme Court. These judges are elected. Have served as Ohio legislators and Lt. Governor. A very politically connected bunch. Reason I mention that is their decision will likely be mentioned when next they stand for election. That’s what I think. They could of already felt the pressure to hear this case. After all, they had very good reason not to. Looks to me they are really reaching to find cause.

Mike Elzinga said:

It seems pretty clear that whoever is backing Freshwater wants this to go all the way to the US Supreme Court. The political winds appear to be in the right direction for him at the moment.

If this happens sooner rather than later, it would be well before the retirement of conservative SCOTUS justices like Scalia, Kennedy and especially Thomas. As we know, Scalia was one of only two SCOTUS justices to dissent in Edwards v. Aguillard.

Needless to say, any change in who occupies the White House after this year’s election could make a big difference on filling any SCOTUS vacancies that do occur. Especially considering moderate justice Ginsburg with her already-frail health.

True, any SCOTUS justice - or any judge for that matter - can pull surprises. A conservative can uphold a more liberal case and vice versa. To the surprise of many, Chief Justice Roberts recently ruled with the majority in support of President Obama’s healthcare plan. Of course, Judge John Jones (a Republican) handed down his strong 2005 decision against ID in the Dover case. Still, it’s somewhat unsettling how the current SCOTUS would handle Freshwater.

IANAlaywer, so do the legal experts here feel the SCOTUS could find Freshwater having US Constitutional issues (thus would SCOTUS likely accept a Freshwater appeal)? There seemed to be slight optimism that the Ohio Supreme Court would not accept the Freshwater appeal, but that obviously had gone out the window.

Perhaps this really shouldn’t come as a surprise as creationists have been browbeating legislatures and school districts in Ohio to include creationism in their curriculums. A simple search of the PT archives shows a number of instances where the legislature, proded by the dishonesty institute among others, has encouraged a drop in science standards to teach creationism. And very likely too this SCOTSOO membership is probably pretty right-wing leanind, particularly since they’ve accepted this case.

The Mount Vernon school board requested that the SCOTSOO refuse to accept the case. “The board’s attorneys assert in the memorandum that the case does “not involve matters of public or great general interest, and this case does not present a substantial constitutional question. Therefore, the Board respectfully requests this Court decline jurisdiction of the appeal.”

Here’s an “unbiased” article from a MV creationist writer. http://www.accountabilityinthemedia[…]shwater.html

Charley Horse said:

When I saw this I looked up the Ohio Supreme Court. These judges are elected. Have served as Ohio legislators and Lt. Governor. A very politically connected bunch. Reason I mention that is their decision will likely be mentioned when next they stand for election. That’s what I think. They could of already felt the pressure to hear this case. After all, they had very good reason not to. Looks to me they are really reaching to find cause.

That has been my concern all along.

That seems to have clearly been the objective of the Rutherford Institute, whatever its merits in other arenas such as opposing the Patriot Act, and of Freshwater.

Get Freshwater in front of a group of judges who will say anything to support his case for political reasons.

Up to this point in time, creationism in schools has always lost in court and/or at the ballot box, including in Ohio.

However, whenever right wing authoritarian are elected or appointed, right wing authoritarian policy or legal decisions will result.

Tenncrain Wrote:

If this happens sooner rather than later, it would be well before the retirement of conservative SCOTUS justices like Scalia, Kennedy and especially Thomas. As we know, Scalia was one of only two SCOTUS justices to dissent in Edwards v. Aguillard.

Scalis has had 25 years to think about it, and 6.5 years to contrast it with Judge Jones’ decision. Has anyone tried to get him on record? I have not seen one word among the 1000s “assuming” that he must be a “creationist.” I realize that one does not have to agree with something to declare it legal. Nothing makes that more clear than the recent “Obamacare” decision. But I’m not interested in their legal arguments. Rather I’m interested in how they answer hard questions about what they think the evidence supports, starting with the basic “what happened when” question. And whether it’s fair to teach, on the taxpayer’s dime, what has, by any reasonable measure, not earned the right to be taught.

I bet that 25 minutes will be enough to get Scalia to admit that he’s either a “Darwinist” or an Omphalist (YE or OE version). We’ve had 25 years.

Flint said: Just hypothetically, if the motivation of the Ohio Supreme Court was to attempt to weed creationist crap out of public schools altogether, would this case serve as a suitable vehicle?

…I don’t know enough about the Ohio Court to know whether they’d wish to encourage or discourage creationism in science class. I’d wonder why they even accepted this case if they didn’t want to do one or the other.

I don’t know much about them either, and IANAL, but it seems to me this case would be a very poor vehicle for either side. Freshwater’s Knox County legal case was primarily a demand for a more comprehensive administrative hearing. The entire judicial decision was only a page and a half, and it basically said the review was comprehensive enough and the district cited good and just causes for firing him.

So, some thoughts based on that.

(1) A “standard” higher court response that I’d expect would focus on the adequacy (or inadequacy) of the review process, not about bibles on desks or creationism at all. Which is why I say its a bad case for either side.

(2) I have a hard time imagining a conservative court siding with a teacher over an administration by ruling that the 2-year, multi-million firing process was not comprehensive enough. If anything, I would think they’d be naturally inclined to rule the other way, and use this case to give Ohio administrations greater leeway to fire teachers.

(3) I suppose nothing stops the Ohio supremes from reaching down into the substance of the case and ruling that teaching creationism is not ‘good and just cause’, but that would be a stretch. It would also probably result in an order to redo the administrative hearing, NOT a complete reinstatement of Freshwater. I can’t imagine a do-over would be very popular with many Ohio voters, conservative or liberal.

(4) I don’t think this is election politics. Wikipedia tells me that the next Ohio supreme court election is in 2006. That seems a bit far off for it to be the impetus for the case.

Errr…2016.

eric Wrote:

(2) I have a hard time imagining a conservative court siding with a teacher over an administration by ruling that the 2-year, multi-million firing process was not comprehensive enough. If anything, I would think they’d be naturally inclined to rule the other way, and use this case to give Ohio administrations greater leeway to fire teachers.

I’m less of a lawyer than anyone, but this is more about ideology than law. I think you are right if the court it truly conservative. Even an authoritarian court might side with administration, finding them more “important” than teachers. But radical theocrats will stop at nothing to defend the lies of “Expelled,” to “save the world.”

BTW, since everyone insists on referring to the teaching any anti-evolution scam as “teaching creationism” it behooves us to be crystal clear that we define “creationism” as any scam that promotes unreasonable doubt of evolution, whether or not it mentions a Creator or designer.

The impression that I have about Scalia’s decision in the Edwards case is that he was using the case as an occasion to overturn the Lemon test for 1st amendment violation. IANAL, but my guess is that he doesn’t care about creationism or evolution, but he doesn’t like the Lemon decision, in particular that a law must have a secular purpose. As long as a decision does not rely on the “secular purpose prong” it is relatively safe from Scalia et al.

Frank J said: BTW, since everyone insists on referring to the teaching any anti-evolution scam as “teaching creationism” it behooves us to be crystal clear that we define “creationism” as any scam that promotes unreasonable doubt of evolution, whether or not it mentions a Creator or designer.

Um, okay, but in Freshwater’s case I think that at different times he tried both types of music, country and western, so to speak.

Eric…There are two justices whose terms expire at the end of this year… Robert R. Cupp and Terrence O’Donnell.

Info from website: http://www.supremecourt.ohio.gov/SCO/justices/

I’ve learned from a science teacher in the Mt. Vernon City schools that after the rejection of his 2003 proposal to adopt the Intelligent Design Network’s Objective Origins Science Policy, the science department organized a workshop on teaching evolution properly and also covering what is unacceptable. It was led by the Chair of the high school science department and was intended to address Freshwater’s confusions and issues about evolution. He was specifically invited to it. However, he failed to attend. If he lacked guidance about materials and acceptable science teaching methods, it was due to his own damned intransigence.

the science department organized a workshop on teaching evolution properly and also covering what is unacceptable. It was led by the Chair of the high school science department and was intended to address Freshwater’s confusions and issues about evolution. He was specifically invited to it. However, he failed to attend

How quintessentially creationist! Do they take secret lessons on this stuff?

The Ohio Supreme Court is composed of 6 Republicans and one Democrat (with the Democrat appointed by former Governor Ted Strickland). As far as I know, the Republicans, while conservative, are not crazy/creationist conservative.

My far-out prediction (far-out: if I’m right, it’ll make me look like a genius; if I’m wrong, nobody expected it anyways) is that the case will be dismissed as improvidently accepted. As the briefs come it, they will see that the case really isn’t about the propositions of law as stated, and decide not to take the case after all.

In my opinion the Ohio Supreme COurt should have not bothered with this case. I believe the school board clearly deliniated what materials were permissible and what were not. I think their direction concerning Intelligent Design was clear as day and Freshwater took it upon himself to ignore it. Even implying that if something isn’t specifically prohibited is a dangerous course to take!

On the second point I do not believe his firing was upheld simply due to religious material a posters. I think a great deal went into the decision including his burning of kids arms with crosses, his lying to investigators, his request that his students lie for him, AND his blantant disregard for school policy. Add in the fact that his students had to be retaught basic science in later grades adds up to a failure to me. He should have been fired years before he was.

Ted Herrlich

Frank J said:

Tenncrain Wrote:

If this happens sooner rather than later, it would be well before the retirement of conservative SCOTUS justices like Scalia, Kennedy and especially Thomas. As we know, Scalia was one of only two SCOTUS justices to dissent in Edwards v. Aguillard.

Scalis has had 25 years to think about it, and 6.5 years to contrast it with Judge Jones’ decision. Has anyone tried to get him on record? I have not seen one word among the 1000s “assuming” that he must be a “creationist.” I realize that one does not have to agree with something to declare it legal. Nothing makes that more clear than the recent “Obamacare” decision. But I’m not interested in their legal arguments. Rather I’m interested in how they answer hard questions about what they think the evidence supports, starting with the basic “what happened when” question. And whether it’s fair to teach, on the taxpayer’s dime, what has, by any reasonable measure, not earned the right to be taught.

I bet that 25 minutes will be enough to get Scalia to admit that he’s either a “Darwinist” or an Omphalist (YE or OE version). We’ve had 25 years.

This wasn’t directed at me, but since neither I nor anyone else has ever suggested that Scalia is “a creationist”.

It is impossible to know, does not matter, and is intensely unlikely that he is privately “a creationist”.

For all we know, one of the majority justices in Edwards v. Aguillard might have privately been a creationist, but voted the right way because they understood that the constitution doesn’t permit teaching narrow sectarian science denial as “science” at taxpayer expense in public schools.

What we unequivocally do know as a matter of unassailable fact is that…

1) He wrote a very strong dissent in Edwards V. Aguillard saying that he thinks teaching outright YEC “creation science”, as science, in public schools, is constitutional.

2) As you mention, he has not said anything else in 25 years. Why you conclude from this that he has been soul-searching and has decided that his original dissent was wrong is beyond me. Actually it isn’t beyond me, I know exactly why it is. You voted for the politicians who put him there and you want to downplay the unanticipated (by you) consequences of doing that.

Seriously, we usually agree, but this is over the top. The best predictor of behavior is past behavior. Scalia has made decisions on hundreds and hundreds of cases since then. None of them have been on creationism, but that’s because seven other justices blew up creation science in Edwards and Judge Jones shot down ID in Dover. Scalia, however, has continued his pattern of always choosing the most right wing authoritarian side in every case and then making convoluted arguments to justify it after the fact. Although he “could have” changed his mind, there is no reason to think that he has.

Eric said -

I have a hard time imagining a conservative court siding with a teacher over an administration by ruling that the 2-year, multi-million firing process was not comprehensive enough. If anything, I would think they’d be naturally inclined to rule the other way, and use this case to give Ohio administrations greater leeway to fire teachers.

In evolutionary terms, this is the equivalent of saying that you have a hard time believing that the influenza virus would be hypocritical enough to alter surface molecules to trick the human immune system.

Why is it hard to understand?

If the teacher were standing up for decent labor conditions or doing something else that was perceived as “liberal”, i.e. something other than rushing in to defend the strong and attack the weak, opportunistic right wing ideologues would uphold a firing, however poorly done or arbitrary.

If the teacher is using right wing fundamentalist religion to create a bullying atmosphere and compromise the science education of a generation of students, or otherwise doing something that would fit with the contemporary (not traditional) definition of the word “conservative”, opportunistic right wing ideologues would overturn a firing, no matter how humanely done, no matter how many efforts to rehabilitate, no matter how well documented.

Period.

I am not saying that the Supreme Court of the State of Ohio is dominated by right wing ideologues. The evidence we have so far points in that direction, but the evidence so far consists only of their puzzling decision to hear the appeal.

Neither am I saying, of course, that opportunistic left wing authoritarian ideologues might not exist and use similar tactics somewhere else. Arguably, if the government of China is to be considered left wing, they obviously do.

However, I am explaining how right wing ideologues behave, and that explanation correctly predicts what happens when people vote right wing ideologues into public office.

harold Wrote:

This wasn’t directed at me, but since neither I nor anyone else has ever suggested that Scalia is “a creationist”.

It is impossible to know, does not matter, and is intensely unlikely that he is privately “a creationist”.

FWIW, I recall him, and practically anyone who uttered any statement against evolution, being called that. You are absolutely right that it’s impossible to know what they privately believe. I mentioned “Omphalist” because I have personally experienced people taking that loophole when they have to admit that the evidence simply does not support a YEC chronology. While others, which I call “pseudoskeptics-in-training,” take the other loophole with statements like “they both take faith.”

harold Wrote:

2) As you mention, he has not said anything else in 25 years. Why you conclude from this that he has been soul-searching and has decided that his original dissent was wrong is beyond me.

You read me wrong. I doubt that he has given much thought about the decision, much less whether he regrets it. But he might have, had the subject been brought up to him on occasion. That he made it clear that teaching YEC was unconstitutional doesn’t surprise me at all. The DI discourages teaching it too, but for the least noble of reasons. They don’t want students to critically analyze its easily falsified claims (the “what happened when” not the Creator stuff), or see that they contradict the claims of other creationist positions. Scalia’s reason was almost certainly less dishonest, but we’ll probably never know.

Frank J said: I have not seen one word among the 1000s “assuming” that he must be a “creationist.”

Scalia may not come out and said he’s a creationist, but he has made it clear that he thinks the Court has gone way too far in trying to separate church and state. He’s perfectly happy with religion in the public square, 10 commandments on every wall, and prayer in school (see his dissent in Lee v. Weisman , for his views on prayer in school). I see no reason Scalia wouldn’t be perfectly happy to extend that to science classes, no doubt under the guise of “academic freedom.” He stops just short of Thomas, but then Thomas’s view of the Establishment Clause is, “the establishment clause restrains only the federal government, and that, even if incorporated [i.e., applied to the states], the clause only prohibits actual legal coercion.”

Roberts and Alito are on board with Scalia’s line of thinking on this - one or two more votes and the banner of “academic freedom” will carry the day.

I have to say I agree with Harold (and Orwell) about ideologists. Ideology corrupts the soul, after which everything else is cosmetic. In nearly every important case over the last decade the SCOTUS has voted 5-4 along straight party lines. Polls indicate they are now seen as even more politically partisan than Congress. People understand that neither the facts nor the law are important to ANY of them anymore.

Which makes this a great time to hustle creationism as the Official American State Religion to the Supreme Court to be rubber-stamped as “fairness” (enforced unfairness) or “academic freedom” (to teach creationism OR ELSE.) Orwell must be cackling with well-justified glee.

In nearly every important case over the last decade the SCOTUS has voted 5-4 along straight party lines. Polls indicate they are now seen as even more politically partisan than Congress. People understand that neither the facts nor the law are important to ANY of them anymore.

Actually, Breyer, Sotomayor, Ginsberg, Kagan, and even Kennedy (although he is far more predictable than the others) are not party line ideologues, and many cases have larger margins than 5-4.

However, what virtually never happens is any break in the Scalia/Thomas/Alito/Roberts ideological bloc, and Kennedy is, if not a 100% member of that club, biased toward joining them.

In the recent ACA decision, Roberts left the bloc (while Kennedy joined it, as he so often does). He did so only to weakly support a pro-corporate law idea that originated with the Heritage Foundation. The others voted against it because it was now associated with Obama. He did not deviate far from them, and offered a tortured reasoning for doing so at all. Nevertheless, this was referred to as “betrayal” or in similar terms by right wing commentators. The undeniable fact that the news about the decision was dominated by the shock that Roberts took even one step away from his “four horsemen” clique reveals the public understanding of what is going on.

The reason many cases are decided 5-4 is because in many cases, the right wing side is stupid, and deserves to lose by a much wider margin. But it can’t, because it always has four or five solid votes.

I would speculate that if Romney is elected, one of the ways he could endear himself to the religious right wing of his party, which hasn’t been any too enthusiastic about him yet, is to nominate another Scalia. It’s not inconceivable that he’d have the opportunity to nominate two of them, AND have a Republican majority to approve them in the Senate. And if that should happen, I imagine we would see an avalanche of creationist litigation, because we’d have a high court disposed to both hear and agree with the creationists. Not to mention a wholesale rollback of individual liberties.

I forsee the end of a long swing away from the law as protection from ideology, and toward the law as a means of enforcing ideology. Praise Jesus, of course.

phhht said:

It will be useful in taking a second look at science and religion to understand the true nature of the search for objective truth. Science is not just another enterprise like medicine or enginerering or theology. It is the wellspring of all the knowledge we have of the real world that can be tested and fitted to preexisting knowledge. It is the arsenal of technologies and inferential mathematics needed to distinguish the true from the false. It formulates the principles and formulas that tie all this knowledge together. Science belongs to everybody. Its constituent parts can be challenged by anybody in the world who has sufficient information to do so. It is not just ‘another way of knowing’ as often claimed, making it coequal with religious faith. The conflict between scientific knowledge and the teachings of organized religions is irreconcilable. The chasm will continue to widen and cause no end of trouble as long as religious leaders go on making unsupportable claims about supernatural causes of reality.

– E. O. Wilson

Why did you evade the questions? If your answers are “yes”, say “yes”. Questions - Suppose a science teacher did a good job teaching students the scientific paradigm, but was privately a moderate, liberal Christian. 1) Do you believe that the teacher’s employer should be allowed to question them about religious beliefs? 2) Would you support firing the teacher solely for not being an atheist? These are serious questions, please answer them is a serious, non-ambiguous manner.

And then after you say yes, answer these questions - 1) Under such a system, couldn’t an employer fire YOU solely for being an atheist? 2) Wouldn’t it be, in addition to ethically repellent, exquisitely, almost cosmically stupid, for a small, politically weak group to advocate for legal discrimination?

Flint said:

Totally false. Scientific ideas are not religious ideas.

This sounds like a misunderstanding. Religions and scientific ideas can overlap to the point where neary ANY idea is both scientific and religious. I think the teacher’s goal is to make it clear (by focusing on the science) that these ideas are not entirely and exclusively religious.

No-one recommended anything like this. It is perfectly possible to teach science, in a responsive way, without discussing religious dogma.

No, of course it isn’t. When the student comes in convinced that the science is actually religion, any discussion of science no matter how determinedly scientific, is going to be heard and interpreted as religious commentary. Not the teacher’s fault, but still unavoidable. Galileo wasn’t punished for focusing strictly on the science, even though that’s what he did.

Questions - Suppose a science teacher did a good job teaching students the scientific paradigm, but was privately a moderate, liberal Christian. 1) Do you believe that the teacher’s employer should be allowed to question them about religious beliefs? 2) Would you support firing the teacher solely for not being an atheist? These are serious questions, please answer them is a serious, non-ambiguous manner.

In a private parochial school, yes. In a public school, no. I think this is an important distinction, because it highlights the organizational and administrative importance of the teaching environment. Parochial school teachers are ALSO hired to teach science. The slant they put on it matters.

We have one profound disagreement, and no resolution is possible, as far as I can see. However, there is also substantial agreement.

Neither Galileo’s scientific ideas, nor any other scientific ideas, are religious in nature.

Simply because some fool claims that some aspect of scientific reality contradicts their arbitrary religious beliefs, does not make the scientific idea religious.

If it does, all scientific ideas are simultaneously religious, because some jackass could always come along and invent a religious belief that contradicts any scientific idea.

Neither Galileo’s scientific ideas, nor any other scientific ideas, are religious in nature.

Which explains why the Church was indifferent to them, and took no notice of them. I guess I didn’t understand that part.

Simply because some fool claims that some aspect of scientific reality contradicts their arbitrary religious beliefs, does not make the scientific idea religious.

Whihch explains why the fool made that claim in the first place. He THINKS it’s a religious claim, his entire honking denomination might think it’s a religious claim, but they’re all fools so it isn’t. Magic, I guess.

If it does, all scientific ideas are simultaneously religious, because some jackass could always come along and invent a religious belief that contradicts any scientific idea.

But that isn’t necessarily true. There are those who are convinced that their personal god is using evolution as His mechanism for achieving His will. Unless people like Francis Collins and Ken Miller are jackasses, of course. They sincerely believe that the reality science investigates runs as it does because their god wills it that way, and for no other reason.

You should at least wonder what any religion might have to offer anyone, if it’s not allowed to say anything about the universe around us. And why the vast majority of people in all history have believed in one or more gods who actually DO things in that universe. My take is that if science should vanish overnight it wouldn’t affect most religions very much, and if all religions vanished overnight it wouldn’t affect science very much either. In this way, science and religion are distinct kind of like water and waves are distinct.

harold said:

Neither Galileo’s scientific ideas, nor any other scientific ideas, are religious in nature.

Simply because some fool claims that some aspect of scientific reality contradicts their arbitrary religious beliefs, does not make the scientific idea religious.

If it does, all scientific ideas are simultaneously religious, because some jackass could always come along and invent a religious belief that contradicts any scientific idea.

I don’t have any disagreement with your general thesis. I’m not an historian, so I may have this wrong, but my understanding (recently augmented through various popular science media) is that Galileo did not just stick to the science, but very specifically was trying to stick the Catholic Church in the eye, by drawing explicit boundaries between religious teachings and observations of the real world: “The Bible shows the way to go to heaven, not how the heavens go”. Obviously no one can know for sure, but my guess is that if Galileo really had stuck to the science as Copernicus had, then he wouldn’t have drawn the ire of the Church any more than Copernicus had. But we also wouldn’t still be talking about him today in the way that we are, which (if I understand correctly) was his point. Galileo was trying to make a name for himself. And he did.

A recently viewed National Geographic show pointed out (to the effect that), when Galileo’s book was banned by the Church, it became an instant hit and a must-read for the intelligentsia of the day.

While Galileo’s ideas are primarily scientific, his expression of them was not. Picking Galileo as a poster boy for sticking to scientific ideas and avoiding controversy with religion is, perhaps, a poor choice of historic figure.

Why… Europe had to wait nineteen centuries for actual calculus, differential geometry, and analysis is a very long story… The most efficient cause, though, was Aristotle, whose influence of course not only survived Rome but also reached new heights with the spread of Christianity and the Church from like 500-1300CE. To boil it all the way down, Aristotelian doctrine became Church dogma, and part of Aristotelian doctrine was the dismissal of Inf as only potential, an abstract fiction, and sower of confusion, to apieron, the province of God alone, etc. This basic view predominated up to the Elizabethan era.

– David Foster Wallace (where Inf is the infinity symbol)

Scott F said:

harold said:

Neither Galileo’s scientific ideas, nor any other scientific ideas, are religious in nature.

Simply because some fool claims that some aspect of scientific reality contradicts their arbitrary religious beliefs, does not make the scientific idea religious.

If it does, all scientific ideas are simultaneously religious, because some jackass could always come along and invent a religious belief that contradicts any scientific idea.

I don’t have any disagreement with your general thesis. I’m not an historian, so I may have this wrong, but my understanding (recently augmented through various popular science media) is that Galileo did not just stick to the science, but very specifically was trying to stick the Catholic Church in the eye, by drawing explicit boundaries between religious teachings and observations of the real world: “The Bible shows the way to go to heaven, not how the heavens go”. Obviously no one can know for sure, but my guess is that if Galileo really had stuck to the science as Copernicus had, then he wouldn’t have drawn the ire of the Church any more than Copernicus had. But we also wouldn’t still be talking about him today in the way that we are, which (if I understand correctly) was his point. Galileo was trying to make a name for himself. And he did.

A recently viewed National Geographic show pointed out (to the effect that), when Galileo’s book was banned by the Church, it became an instant hit and a must-read for the intelligentsia of the day.

While Galileo’s ideas are primarily scientific, his expression of them was not. Picking Galileo as a poster boy for sticking to scientific ideas and avoiding controversy with religion is, perhaps, a poor choice of historic figure.

I didn’t “pick him as a poster boy” or even bring him up at all (someone else did).

However, you don’t seem to disagree with my central points. Scientific ideas are not religious ideas. Some fanatic can and probably will claim that any given scientific idea contradicts his religion. There are fanatics who insist on flat earth, geocentric universe (in other words, implicitly contradicting Galileo and Newton), who deny germ theory, relativity, evolution, immunity. Our very own Robert Byers denies that the brain has anything to do with intelligence, and denies the existence of emotions. And that’s just off the top of my head.

Irrelevantly, I don’t think Galileo wanted trouble with the church. He did everything to minimize it. He could have gotten himself burned; he wasn’t even ex-communicated. Galileo was simply such a visionary genius, so far ahead of his time, with such an intuitive quantitative grasp of the physical universe that it’s hard to understand. He lived in a time that was able to understand him, but just barely.

The thing that impressed me the most about Galileo was his totally failed efforts to measure the velocity of light (it’s much too fast for the methods he used). Just the fact that there was a guy in those times who even had the idea of trying to measure the speed of light is incredible to me.

However, in the United States, Catholics pay taxes like everyone else. When we teach human genetics, we teach that humans are diploid, and that humans, unlike turkeys, can reproduce parthogenetically. We don’t have to stop and say “And boy, does that shove a pie in the face of the Catholic doctrine of the Immaculate Conception”. We can just teach the science. Religious Catholics can and will find a way to deal with it. Most of them graduate from public high schools.

Damn, thought I read that - humans CANNOT reproduce via parthogenesis. Turkeys do.

Galileo’s Two New Sciences was in certain respects one long raspberry at the Inquisition, whose treatment of G.G. is infamous. Part of this agenda was to have the dialogue’s straight man act as a spokesman for Aristotelian metaphysics and Church credenda and to have his more enlightened partner slap him around intellectually. One of the main targets is Aristotle’s ontological division of Inf into actual and potential, which the Church has morphed into the doctrine that only God is Actually Infinite and nothing else in His creation can be.

– David Foster Wallace (where Inf is the infinity symbol)

I know what Edmund O Wilson thought, and I’m aware of the history regarding Galileo. What do you think, phhht? Can a religious theist successfully teach science, specifically a biology class, or not?

Empedocles claimed that light had a finite speed ca. 490 BCE. In 1629, Isaac Beeckman proposed an experiment to measure the speed of light. By 1638, the time of Galileo’s experiment, the idea of measuring the speed of light was in wide circulation. It was not original with Galileo.

Dave Luckett said:

What do you think, phhht? Can a religious theist successfully teach science, specifically a biology class, or not?

And if phhht’s answer is no, then how are more moderate parochial schools seemly able to teach sound science?

At least from what those that attended moderate Christian schools have told me, there are at most only a few peripheral mentions of theology in science classes. Otherwise the focus is strongly on science (including evolution in biology class). Theology is generally left for discussion in classes outside the science classroom.

Dave Luckett said:

Can a religious theist successfully teach science, specifically a biology class, or not?

Does your religious theist contend that all modern human beings are descended from a single man and woman, within the last ten thousand years?

Does your religious theist say that demons cause disease, and that gods cure them, miraculously?

Does your religious theist seriously assert the biological possibility that a man, dead three days, could rise from the grave to live again?

phhht said:

Dave Luckett said:

Can a religious theist successfully teach science, specifically a biology class, or not?

Does your religious theist contend that all modern human beings are descended from a single man and woman, within the last ten thousand years?

Does your religious theist say that demons cause disease, and that gods cure them, miraculously?

Does your religious theist seriously assert the biological possibility that a man, dead three days, could rise from the grave to live again?

No, generally no, and yes.

I answered your questions. Do you think you might return the favour?

Dave Luckett said:

Dave Luckett said:

Can a religious theist successfully teach science, specifically a biology class, or not?

phhht said:

Does your religious theist contend that all modern human beings are descended from a single man and woman, within the last ten thousand years?

Does your religious theist say that demons cause disease, and that gods cure them, miraculously?

Does your religious theist seriously assert the biological possibility that a man, dead three days, could rise from the grave to live again?

No, generally no, and yes.

I answered your questions. Do you think you might return the favour?

So when that smart-alecky little Johnny in the center rear desk says “Do you believe in zombies, Mr Theist?”, what does your religious theist answer?

He equivocates. He dodges. He says “My beliefs don’t matter; this is a science class.” In essence, he lies.

So yes, Dave Luckett, I think a religious theist with conter-factual convictions could teach science. But only at the cost of hypocrisy, of evasion, of dishonesty.

And in my view, that price means he cannot teach successfully.

No, phhht. He says, “No, I don’t believe in zombies,” and he says that with complete truth and conviction. He also honestly says, “I do believe that it is possible for a God to suspend natural law and raise a man from the dead by a miracle. But we are here to study natural law, not what God can do. Let’s get on with it.”

He does this without evasion, hypocrisy or dishonesty, and may go on to teach science successfully.

Well, technically he believes that his god (NT version) raised a demigod from the dead. Whether this requires a miracle depends on the operational definition of demigods.

Dave Luckett said:

No, phhht. He says, “No, I don’t believe in zombies,” and he says that with complete truth and conviction. He also honestly says, “I do believe that it is possible for a God to suspend natural law and raise a man from the dead by a miracle. But we are here to study natural law, not what God can do. Let’s get on with it.”

He does this without evasion, hypocrisy or dishonesty, and may go on to teach science successfully.

Nasty little Johnny will laugh at that one! Of course Mr Theist believes in zombies. Your answer to that question was “yes,” remember? Your religious theist seriously believes that a man, dead three days, can rise to life again. Sorry, but that’s belief in zombies. Zombie don’t care ‘bout natural law and science! Zombie want brains!

If your Mr. Theist says “No, I don’t believe in zombies,” he lies. We already established that. It’s why I asked the question the way I did.

No, phhht. The definition of “zombie” is “dead body reanimated”, not “living person”. We have established only that you think that the imputation of a word is the same as arguing against a concept. The concept is that Jesus was resurrected from the dead by divine Will, through a miracle. Argue against the concept all you like, but please don’t try to make out that calling an idea by a disagreeable name is an argument against it. “Zombie” is only a word; your word.

Look, I’ll help you out. Here’s an actual argument against the concept:

Technically, Christians (well, mostly) say that Jesus was God in person, not a demigod, which of course involves an obvious logical bind. If he was God, then by definition he can’t die, and therefore can’t have been raised, and the whole idea of vicarious atonement by his sacrifice goes down the tubes. The religion long ago gave up trying to explain this, and retreated into a series of flat assertions about the nature of Christ that are internally inconsistent, and then insisting that God can do whatever he wants.

So I reject that concept, on the grounds of its internal inconsistency. But to reject the idea that the dead can be fully resurrected to life by divine miracle, I’d have to demonstrate that there is no divinity and no miracles. I can’t do that, even if I don’t actually believe it, citing lack of objective, empirical evidence. But I don’t know everything, and neither does anyone else, and I could be wrong.

What I do say is what is actually attested by empirical evidence, from ASAT scores: it is possible for theists, and for mainstream orthodox Christian theists, successfully to teach science.

So Mr Theist says to Johnny, “I don’t believe in zombies because zombies are dead bodies reanimated, and Christ was - well yes, he was dead, bodily, and reanimated - but he was living! Not like all those other zombies!”

See why I say this guy can’t teach science?

No.

phhht said:

Dave Luckett said:

Can a religious theist successfully teach science, specifically a biology class, or not?

Does your religious theist contend that all modern human beings are descended from a single man and woman, within the last ten thousand years?

Does your religious theist say that demons cause disease, and that gods cure them, miraculously?

Does your religious theist seriously assert the biological possibility that a man, dead three days, could rise from the grave to live again?

Dishonest, dissembling, irrelevant answer. I already said “moderate, liberal Christian”, which rules out the first two.

But let’s try again and pretend that there are two public school teachers. Let’s pretend that they work for the state of California.

They both teach science 100% correctly and effectively.

One of them is a privately a moderate Christian who doesn’t believe the first two things on your list but does believe that Jesus rose from the dead via a miracle. The other is an atheist.

Should the Board of Education of the State of California be allowed to question them about their private religious beliefs? Should it be allowed to fire the moderate Christian for not being an atheist? Should the Board of Education be allowed to fire people for privately belonging to some religions, but not others?

What if there are two teachers - an atheist and a moderate Christian, as I described above. The moderate Christian teaches science correctly. The atheist believes that the earth is visited by UFO’s that exceed the velocity of light during their journey from other planets - perfectly acceptable as a private belief; but the atheist teaches students in science class that Einstein’s theory of relativity is false, and spends the time that should be spent on evolution showing videos about alleged UFO abductions. She also directly confronts religious students; for example, when teaching radioactive decay/dating, she asks if any students have the religious belief that the earth is less the 4 billion years old, and then states “radioactive dating proves your religion to be a false, primitive superstition” before beginning the lesson.

Should the Christian teacher be fired for being Christian? Should the atheist teacher be required to change any of these behaviors?

phhht said:

Dave Luckett said:

Can a religious theist successfully teach science, specifically a biology class, or not?

Does your religious theist contend that all modern human beings are descended from a single man and woman, within the last ten thousand years?

Does your religious theist say that demons cause disease, and that gods cure them, miraculously?

Does your religious theist seriously assert the biological possibility that a man, dead three days, could rise from the grave to live again?

It depends: is the religious theist in question inserting these religious claims into the curriculum, or not?

If yes, then no, he/she/it can not teach science competently.

If no, then he/she/it has a headstart on teaching science competently.

phhht said:

So Mr Theist says to Johnny, “I don’t believe in zombies because zombies are dead bodies reanimated, and Christ was - well yes, he was dead, bodily, and reanimated - but he was living! Not like all those other zombies!”

See why I say this guy can’t teach science?

Was the topic of that day’s class “Origin of the Universe,” or “zombies”?

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This page contains a single entry by Richard B. Hoppe published on July 5, 2012 11:36 AM.

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