A California school teacher, James Corbett, called creationism “superstitious nonsense”, and was dragged into court by a student claiming that was a violation of the separation of church and state. The verdict from an appeals court has come down and they disagree — they sidestepped the whole constitutionality question, and instead made the reasonable decision that it is the teacher’s job to question dogma.
“In broaching controversial issues like religion, teachers must be sensitive to students’ personal beliefs and take care not to abuse their positions of authority,” Judge Fisher wrote.
“But teachers must also be given leeway to challenge students to foster critical thinking skills and develop their analytical abilities,” he said. “This balance is hard to achieve, and we must be careful not to curb intellectual freedom by imposing dogmatic restrictions.”
Here are the kinds of things Corbett was saying in class:
“Aristotle … argued, you know, there sort of has to be a God. Of course that’s nonsense,” Corbett said according to a transcript of his lecture. “I mean, that’s what you call deductive reasoning, you know. And you hear it all the time with people who say, ‘Well, if all this stuff that makes up the universe is here, something must have created it.’ Faulty logic. Very faulty logic.”
He continued: “The other possibility is, it’s always been there.… Your call as to which one of those notions is scientific and which one is magic.”
“All I’m saying is that, you know, the people who want to make the argument that God did it, there is as much evidence that God did it as there is that there is a giant spaghetti monster living behind the moon who did it,” the transcript says.
Corbett told his students that “real” scientists try to disprove the theory of evolution. “Contrast that with creationists,” he told his students. “They never try to disprove creationism. They’re all running around trying to prove it. That’s deduction. It’s not science. Scientifically, it’s nonsense.”
I’m on record saying that teachers should not use the public school classroom to proselytize for atheism, any more than they should be proselytizing for Christianity. But that’s not what Corbett was doing: he was doing something that a science teacher must do, assessing hypotheses against the observable facts and in the context of reason. When people use their religious ideology to make counterfactual claims, a teacher should be able to point out that those claims are wrong.
I am very glad that the court came down on the side of allowing science teachers to teach science, even when it exposes the fallacies of religious claims.