Whoa. Somehow, I think I’ve ended up in the Bizarro Universe. New Scientist reports that the Discovery Institute has a problem with the information for teachers that accompanied the recent Judgment Day documentary.
The teaching package states: “Q: Can you accept evolution and still believe in religion? A: Yes. The common view that evolution is inherently anti-religious is simply false.” According to Casey Luskin, an attorney with the Discovery Institute, this answer favours one religious viewpoint, arguably violating the US constitution. “We’re afraid that teachers might get sued,” he says.
I guess it’s the old double negative. By saying evolution is not anti-religious, the brilliant legal minds at the DI, i.e. Luskin, have determined that religion is actually pro-religion, and therefore teaching science is in violation of the separation of church and state.
So I took a look at PBS’s Briefing Packet for Educators. It says things I actually disagree with, like this:
What does science say about the
nature of religious beliefs?
By definition science cannot address supernatural causes
because its methodology is confined to the natural world.
Therefore science has nothing to say about the nature of
God or about people’s spiritual beliefs. This does not mean
science is anti-religious; rather, it means science simply
cannot engage in this level of explanation.
Science can, however, address supernatural causes that have consequences in the natural world; it’s only inconsequential supernatural processes that would be completely unapproachable. And of course scientists can study the nature of people’s spiritual beliefs — they are based on brains, which are entirely natural agents. And finally, science can be profoundly anti-religious, if the religion in question promotes ideas that can be tested and found fallacious.
We should probably make an important qualifier. Science, as taught in public schools in the US, is bent over backwards to avoid bringing up issues that might raise conflicts with religious beliefs. The undiluted science that ought to question religious assertions is scrupulously left out of our classrooms. The reason that evolution is such a lightning rod for these battles is that certain religions have made anti-evolution an important premise of their beliefs; this has made even the lightest, most delicate mention of the term contentious. This conflict is unavoidable precisely because science has revealed facts that invalidate certain superstitions that are strongly held.
That’s why the PBS statement is wrong. However, Luskin is even more wrong, because what we have here is a strong effort by the schools to avoid challenging religious beliefs as much as is possible, and Luskin is claiming that that is a religion. Nonsense. It is a constraint on the teaching of science imposed by the constitutional separation of church and state in this country. In many ways it is an unfortunate constraint — we fierce atheists might like nothing better than public school classes that forthrightly dismantle the absurd arguments of every worthless religion in the world, but we can’t have that for the same reason we can’t permit the Southern Baptists to use the schools as their pulpit: the law forbids it.
As long as religions promote silly nonsense like creationism, though, which directly contradict the evidence, we’re going to have these sore spots that need to be settled in the courts. It is the height of stupidity, though, to argue as the Discovery Institute does that respecting the limits imposed by the first amendment constitute a religion — do they think that claiming that a) obeying the law is a religion, and that b) the law forbids the state from promoting religion, and therefore c) paradox, is the kind of argument that will cause the Supreme Court to explode like a faulty computer in a bad Star Trek episode? I don’t think so. Our courts seem fairly comfortable with paradoxes, and manage to accommodate them one way or the other. It’s also simply the case that conflicts between science and religion are inevitable, so the state is of necessity going to have to favor religious beliefs that do not demand that their practitioners violate the constitution, for self-preservation’s sake — schools make a reasonable accommodation to general religious beliefs, and cannot be expected to avoid every single issue that might impinge on all possible religious ideas, which would reduce the curriculum to the null set.
I’d say that Luskin is right that teachers will be at risk for getting sued for teaching good science. Not because the science is wrong or shouldn’t be taught or because it is a religion, but because we have lunatics supported by institutions like the DI who will attack teachers for doing their jobs and obeying the law.
Of course evolution is not inherently anti-religious. It’s merely that a lot of people invented religions which disagree with that bit of reality. They didn’t have to do that. They could have made up religions which were fine about evolution but disagreed with gravity (the Earth sucks) or E-M instead (or still!).
However, the general trend of making up religions is always about being antithetical to reality in some way or other. Those few variants of religions which currently cope with the concept of evolution only do so because they’ve had the corners knocked off them (or prideful stuffing knocked out of them) over the centuries.
No One of Consequence says
In a mostly unrelated note, I wonder if anyone let Luskin know that I solved his little evolutionary word puzzle in a mere 44 generation.
Brendan S says
Actually, Casey is right, sort of. If you have reconfigured your religion so that anti-evolutoin is a tenet of your beliefs, then teaching that evolution doesn’t contradict religious beliefs is favoring religions that aren’t crazy like that.
Of course, I’ve always been in favor of religious laws that stop at solid fact. You can believe all you want that vaccinations are harmful, but that doesn’t make it fact.
Russell Blackford says
Any finding by science is likely to be in conflict with some religious claim by someone, somewhere. If that is the definition of anti-religious, then all science is anti-religious. Obviously, that’s a ridiculous standard to adopt for the purposes of the law.
But you know … more generally … religion was supposed to soften and become more reasonable once persecution ceased. I think that that has actually happened in most parts of the Western world. Even those geriatric male virgins in Vatican more or less accept evolution. Someone obviously forgot to tell all these American fundie nutcases.
Kamehameha the Great says
MONDAY MORNING MUSIC CLUB
“That’s why the PBS statement is wrong. However, Luskin is even more wrong,”
That pretty much sums it up. Ed Brayton talked about this on Dispatches from the Culture Wars a bit last week. This complaint by the DI clearly shows what their long-term strategy is. What they want is conflict, not reasonableness. People who try to accommodate religious ideas, as PBS is doing, are attacked.
Luskin is apparently seriously arguing that all possible religious beliefs must have equal weight in schools. This notion has nothing to do with the First Amendment. He’s afraid that teachers might fear lawsuits? From whom? Why, the exact kind of people that the DI represents!
There are two clauses of the First Amendment with regard to religion. The “free exercise” clause would not appear to be relevant, since the pamphlet is not preventing anybody from practicing a religion. So, what Luskin is arguing is that this pamphlet could lead to violation of the Establishment clause, because by pointing out that many religions are capable of handling the theory of evolution without freaking out, the pamphlet is…undermining those that don’t?
Again – give ’em an inch and they take a mile.
The problem is that the opposite of what Luskin is saying would constitute a violation of the Establishment clause. But not all arguments are equal when it comes to religion, because not all teachings are inherently religious.
What’s the alternative? That any arbitrary idea that is labelled “religious” is given priority over actual science? Teaching children that this is the way to think is teaching fundamentalism, not empiricism. In this model of epistemology, the path to truth is not experimentation and validation, but rather is simple labeling. If an idea is called “religious”, then it must not be contradicted by the
Whatever that kind of thinking is, it doesn’t represent education.
Mike Haubrich, FCD says
I wonder if Luskin would consider that drug awareness programs are religious in nature because they oppose tenets of Rastafarianism and certain Native American religions which use peyote in religious rites?
Do they ever stop to think of the consequences of their statements?
“Of course evolution is not inherently anti-religious. It’s merely that a lot of people invented religions which disagree with that bit of reality.”
I would have to agree with this. Evolution or science in general does not say anything about god in the broad sense, it just contradicts some of the stories that some people have told themselves about god in the past. Some people, however, consider these particular stories to be very important and incontrovertible; their whole world-view is built around them. Too bad for them.
Whatever about the DI intentionally grabbing the wrong end of the stick, the statement that evolution is not in conflict with religion is a bit like saying eating pork is not in conflict with religious beliefs.
It depends on which beliefs you are talking about.
The framers, amongst others (such as Kenneth Miller) are always trying this evolution/religion line and it just gets on my nerves that they purposefully miss the point that some religions – and in the USA this is a very sizeable percentage, cannot accept evolution.
Why not just ask southern baptists to convert to catholicism (that is what Kenneth Miller is implying anyway isn’t it)?
Did you mean to write that evolution is actually pro-religion? It seems a bit tautological to say that religion is pro-religion :-)
Science has nothing to say about the nature of God because god has no nature to say anything about – how do you describe nothing?
If “he” turns up one day, science will have at him. Until that time, he can be safely ignored and we can urge the people who believe in something for which there is not a shred of evidence to come to their senses, give up the fantasy, and live in the 21st century.
Marcus Ranum says
By definition science cannot address supernatural causes because its methodology is confined to the natural world. Therefore science has nothing to say about the nature of God or about people’s spiritual beliefs.
Shows you how well PBS understands scientific reasoning.
Steve LaBonne says
Bring it on! I can’t wait to see the reaction when some of the NC-17-rated creation myths start being taught in schools.
Ted D says
Personally I advocate that churches should have to give equal time to Cthulunism and Intelligent Destruction in their services, as I’ve argued very badly in my blog for a couple of days now. Preach the controversy!
Peter Ashby says
It seems to me that here in the UK we largely avoid this precisely because we have an established church and every kid has to do RE, Religious Education. Both of ours report that this was where Evo/ID/creationism got hammered out. Basically by the kids arguing the toss with the xian teacher to the point that the teacher banned any such discussion (can’t have the teacher’s authority undermined, can we?). Of course my kids were very well versed with all the counter arguments. Shows they were listening for once.
So if y’all could lighten up and allow religion into the classroom you could lance this boil there.
BTW did you know that the early States in the US had established religions? I didn’t until recently. Apparently Massachusets was the last to give it up, in 1833. Their established church was the Congregationalists. I got this nugget from George Walden’s God Won’t Save America ISBN 1-903933-79-X.
Ha! I just wrote an argument paper concerning evolution in schools in which I sited from both that FAQ as well as your Variant Genes-in-Waiting essay/article in SEED.
Everyone here is, I think, aware of the superstitionist tactic of claiming that, because atheism is a rejection of belief, it is a religious doctrine the same as any sect, only negative. I think we are all equally aware of how fallacious such statements are. I don’t think what the DI is doing here is trying to make a cogent argument about the teaching of evolution or even express real legal concerns but conflate evolution with religious opinion the same way those like them have done with atheism so successfully down the years. Indeed, one might see this as a declaration of a new tactic on their part; 1) conflate evolution (a factual process of biology) with religious opinion, 2) sue schools to include creationism on the basis of free practice.
Considering these people aren’t that far removed politically from the anti-affirmative action movement, which did the exact same thing over the 90’s to overturn what was one of the most successful and benign educational policies of the 20th century, I wouldn’t put it past them.
Before that, the US dabbled in theocracy. One of our shining moments was when the Puritans hung 26 innocent people for witchcraft. Less well known is that the Puritans also hung several officials of another Xian sect for heresy.
I think Rhode Island state, the next one south of Massachusetts, was set up to get away from those guys.
As I understand it, this is a briefing packet for educators. Not for students. Adults can read whatever they want, without being in danger of a lawsuit.
First, how desperate must Behe et al be that they are now bringing out lawyers and radio noisemakers instead of trying to stick to the science? Of course, you have to keep in mind that the cdesign proponentists haven’t really got science to stick to, but that’s their claim.
Second: for those who do have religious faith — is your faith so weak that it cannot withstand a little science ?
Would the realization that evolution is scientifically valid so damage your faith in your deity that you must fight it at every turn, else lose all hope? If your faith truly trumps science, why are you worried ?
Oh well. back to work.
Who Cares says
PZ Myers wrote:
I always thought that if we can (reliably and repeatably) measure something, or the effects this something has, it would be upgraded from supernatural to natural. Am I wrong with that?
The DI, Ken Ham, and many cultists say that one cannot acept the fact of evolution and be a good Xian.
This is Bad Theology. Salvation is by faith, faith and good works, or good works, depending on which gospel one quote mines from the fully consistent, literally true inconsistent book. Besides which there isn’t one word about evolution and science in the bible. This is heresy, claiming the book is all literally true and then making up new parts of it and filling in the blanks.
This is also Bad Strategy. When you make up a tenet of faith that completely contradicts modern science, ultimately you will lose. Reality isn’t going away no matter how many death threats you send out.
Science contradicts scores of other religious myths. The Scientologists believe that Xenu, the galactic overlord dumped billions of Thetan ghosts on earth 70 million years ago. They are still haunting the likes of Behe, Dembski, and Luskin. Hindus and Buddhists have their own creation myths as do many other peoples everywhere. If the public schools were to accomodate all religious mythology, they wouldn’t teach science at all and wouldn’t require vaccinations. At some point, they just have to say, shut up, we are teaching science and if you don’t like it, go away. Which is the present practice although they are more tactful than myself.
Brian Rapp says
Sounds to me like the DI is equating “belief” in evolution to be like belief in a holy book. Either that, or he is going for the old, “evolution is atheistic, and atheism is a religion” bullshit. Dipshits.
Brian, a lot of people have trouble discerning inductive leap from leap of faith. The major difference between them being that one requires thought and the paying of attention..
This statement is true: ‘The common view that evolution is inherently anti-religious is simply false.”
Evolution is no more anti-religious than heliocentrism, gravity, radioactive decay or plate tectonics. However if your religion makes claims about the natural world that are inconsistent with observed reality then either reality or your religion is wrong.
That’s not “new”–nor, based on longstanding U.S. case law, will it work. Creationists have been claiming in court that evolution(“ism”) is a religion, and therefore impermissible in schools under the First Amendment, for decades; American courts have been slapping that nonsense down for nearly as long.
To my knowledge, the first U.S. court to reject overtly the “evolution is a religion” argument was the federal District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas, in a 1982 opinion in McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education:
So I don’t see them getting anywhere legally with that argument.
…Unless the federal judiciary gets a lot worse even than it is now. (Shudder.)
Bryson Brown says
I think the dividing line between the supernatural and the natural has to do with repeatability and regularity. Supernatural explanations are always one-offs, at least in principle: this is what was ‘done’ by our ghost in this case, but there are no guarantees or commitments regarding what will be done in similar cases (so when some Xian’s child survives cancer, it’s due to prayer, and when another doesn’t, so what…). Of course the supernatural talk can persist even when we have some good regularities to work with (Zeus as the thunderer consistently threw lightning around during certain kinds of storms, occasionally during volcanic eruptions, etc.). But the regularities can then be extracted from their supernatural entanglements and treated and studied naturalistically…
Am I the only one that gets the impression that the Discovery Institute is really one of those agencies set up to mainstream the mentally disabled into society and that Luskin is looking like he is going to end up being a lifer?
Did you mean “evolution is actually pro-religion” when you said “Luskin, have determined that religion is actually pro-religion, and therefore teaching science is in violation of the separation of church and state.”?
The sentence makes more sense this way given the context.
Steve LaBonne says
I’ve argued before that the concept of the “supernatural” is incoherent and the apparent semantic content carried by that word is an illusion. If you can detect “x” using your senses (augmented as necessary by scientific instruments), it’s part of nature and can be studied by the methods of science. If you claim that in principle as well as in practice “x” can’t be so detected, you’re merely stating that it doesn’t exist.
I’m going to start a new religion that says that 2+2=12. Dodecanism, I’ll call it. Any school system that dares to contradict my religious belief will feel my litigious wrath. How dare they take sides in the sectarian conflict between the Dodecanists and the Duoists!
Odd Jack says
I was worried that this was an explicit threat by the DI about looming lawsuits. So can we consider McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education established. Or is there an opening for DI to try some new angle to try and push the matter forward in court?
PZ Myers says
I wouldn’t worry. Maybe it is a new threat, but it’s from Casey Luskin.
So far, our greatest friend in the legal battles with creationism have been the awesome stupidity of the creationists.
The United States did not dabble in theocracy. There were Puritan theocratic colonies in Mass. and Conn. founded 150 years before the United States was declared, and they did hang Quakers and supposed witches in the 1600s. The Puritans evolved into the Congregational church, and one Congo faction became the Unitarian church (at least). The plethora of sects in the early 1800s was among the reasons for the disestablishment of the Congo church in Mass. On the other hand, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and Maryland were founded with principles of relative religious freedom.
Joshua Zelinsky says
“have determined that religion is actually pro-religion, and therefore teaching science is in violation of the separation of church and state” I think I missing something here. Is the first “religion” supposed to be another word?
When reading the frantic scribblings of Luskin, I always hear the voice of a conductor inside my head.
“Choo-choo, all aboard the train to crazytown!”
He even seems incapable of coming up with new permutations of his drivel, yet still expecting a different result.
Norman Doering says
Is the word “religion” singular or plural? It should be plural, in which case the teaching package forgot a word, this: “Q: Can you accept evolution and still believe in religion? A: Yes.”
Should be: “Q: Can you accept evolution and still believe in _a_ religion? A: Yes.”
If they do that, then how can the DI complain? If they insist religion is a singular thing, then they are dictating what that singular religion is and the DI is right.
Richard Harris says
Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection simply explains how the common ancestor’s descendants evolved over billions of years into the present diversity of life, by natural rather than supernatural means. The role of any putative Creator is therefore restricted to events occurring before the first biological organism reproduced itself.
However, maybe the bad-ass mother-fucker waited three & a half billion years for us to evolve so it could play mind games with us, & torture those of us who are free thinkers, for infinity.
Shawn Wilkinson says
To be fair, brains are very hard to study let alone teach the necessary prerequisites (biochemistry, mostly, and cell biology) that are necessary in order to explain fully the elucidations from neuroscience.
Besides, that’s what will occur to students who enter college and become something other than rote zombies ala business majors, engineers, and certain humanities.
Brian Rapp says
For some strange reason, many religious types seem to believe that scientists simply make up shit out of thin air just to try to harm their religion. What they can’t wrap their heads around is that many claims made by their holy books (or claims that they derive through creative interpretations of their holy books) are simply collateral damage in the quest for understanding of the natural world. I do find it particularly amusing that many Christians argue that the Big Bang never happened (because they think the idea runs counter to what is stated in their bibles), while many others claim that scientists are afraid of the Big Bang theory because it proves the biblical account of creation was correct! Of course, given that there are some 34,000+ versions of Christianity, it’s not at all surprising that they can’t even decide amongst themselves what their religion really is. Thus discussing Christianity with a Christian turns into a game of 20 questions until you figure out what that particular individual’s whacked-out ideas are.
PBS: Therefore science has nothing to say about the nature of God or about people’s spiritual beliefs. This does not mean science is antireligious; rather, it means science simply cannot engage in this level of explanation.
Science can’t engage in God reaserch (because there is nothing to study) but it can and does have something to say about the nature of people’s spiritual beliefs.
Blackwell publishes something called:
Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion
The Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, the quarterly publication of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, has published provocative research for over forty years. Drawing on a rich interdisciplinary cross-section of scholarship — including religion, sociology, political science, and psychology — the journal offers perspectives on national and international issues such as brainwashing and cults, religious persecution, and right wing authoritarianism. The journal is an exciting and timely publication to keep readers current with the role and impact of religion in today’s world.
No doubt there are other journals like it out there.
Tony Jeremiah says
It’s possible to argue that Creationism is anti-religious.
Religions (especially Christianity) depend on the faith of its followers to survive. The Biblical definition of faith is, “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”(Hebrews 11:1-2). Since creationism relies on a comparison between qualitative evidence (in the written form of the BIble) and empirical evidence (in natural form) to support the existence of “things not seen” (i.e., God), Creationism is anti-religious in the sense that it is fundamentally anti-faith.
To protect its faith foundations, creationism should be kept out of science classrooms (which emphasize evidence of things that can be seen) and within religious classrooms (which emphasize things not seen).
John Pieret says
The reason that Judge Jones made this point in his decision (which PBS is merely repeating) is that there might be a higher standard of evidence required to demonstrate that teaching evolutionary theory didn’t violate the Establishment clause if it could be said that evolutionary theory was inherently anti-theism and/or pro-atheism. In other words, the fact that many theists and religions accept evolution tends to establish its religious neutrality.
Mentioning this fact in class out of the blue for no reason at all might pose some constitutional problem (though I tend to doubt it). But the PBS “teaching package” (actually only supposed to be background information for educators) would, at worst, be discussed in class in the context of showing the program and teaching about the trial (which is clearly a permissible activity). The DI itself has admitted that the school board had religious motives for its actions in connection with science education. Pointing out that not all religions share the board members religious opposition to evolution is clearly a neutral act of teaching involving an empiric fact.
Sastra, OM says
Norman Doering (#37) wrote:
I think Normal nailed it there. “The common view that evolution is inherently anti-religious is simply false” is uncontroversial and factually correct only as long as you’re willing to take the word “religion” as meaning supernatural belief systems in general, and not equivalent to specifying the “true intention of God.”
Want to see the shit really hit the fan? Instead of “religion,” substitute the word “Christian.” Can you accept evolution and still be a Christian? Again, clearly the answer is yes — from the secular vantage point, which would lump all the sects together. Some do, some don’t. But too many fundamentalists read the word as meaning “real Christian” — meaning them. No, you can’t be a Real Christian and accept evolution. Anything else is endorsing the views of false Christians, who of course aren’t Christians at all.
You know, it’s a bit hard to tell if they’re trying to sneak in the idea that the PBS teacher’s guide intends to tell the kids what TRUE religions believe when they know it doesn’t do that at all — or if they’re honestly confused because they can’t think the word ‘religion’ without referencing their own True Version, and no other.
John Huey says
Pascal Boyer in his book _Religion Explained_ put forth the speculation that for a magical (ie religious) idea to be really memorable (and hence repeated and passed on) it has to have an element of the counter-intuitive – mundane ideas don’t get repeated as the basis of magical thoughts. That is to capture the imagination the idea has to run against common sense and observation. If his conjecture is correct then it seems to me that all of those ideas will most likely be counter to science and thus science will be anti-religious to at least that degree.
Steve LaBonne says
Sastra’s comment makes a very important point. In the US, the questions of whether one can be a religionist, or a Christian, and accept evoution (to which the answers are of course “yes” in both cases), is constantly being confused with the question of whether one can be a TrueChristianTM and accept evolution, to which the answer probably is “no”. In fact, nearly all discussions of Christianity in the US have become badly confused by the effrontery of the nuttier evangelicals in declaring themselves the only real “Christians”. (Ironic given the that Jesus’s denunciations of the Pharisees fit most of them to a T.)
Ferrous Patella says
Sastra, OM (#44):
I think it’s important to point out (also re Steve LaBonne @ 46) that liberal Christians do exactly this same thing, except that they flip it in the other direction. On their account, “fundamentalists” are obviously not Real Christians, because they fail to recognize [X, Y, Z, etc.]–which are obvious indications that Jesus was a liberal, there is no Hell, every questionable statement in the Bible is a metaphor, science is reliable as long as it doesn’t conflict with liberal Christianity, and so on. Therefore, “you can’t be a Real Christian and deny evolution. Anything else is endorsing the views of false Christians, who of course aren’t Christians at all.”
Some guy on the Internets gave that argument a title with the word “Courtier” in it, but the details have temporarily escaped my mind.
In the end, there just seem to be very few True Scotsmen to be found.
Sastra @45: I think it has to be the latter case, considering that they never make a case for teaching, say, Hindu creation myths, or Inuit, or any of the hundreds (thousands?) of interesting stories there are in the world.
SEF (#1) said: “However, the general trend of making up religions is always about being antithetical to reality in some way or other.”
Yep, key point. How do entities in various religious scriptures prove themselves to be gods? By having the capability to make up the rules of Nature (creation), or violate the usually prevailing ones (miracles and wonders), rather than being subject to them. A “God” who wasn’t reputed to be beyond the rules of Nature – “supernatural” – wouldn’t be worthy of the name.
fardels bear says
Clearly one can be a Christian and not believe in the literal 6 day creation, etc. One merely believes that the bible is not describing reality but us using metaphoric language. Since Jesus often taught in parables, it would seem that scripture even licenses such a move. He wasn’t just telling story about a merchant who got robbed and then was helped by a hated Samaritan. This is why fundamentalists are, it seems to me, so screwed up. They reject the very mode in which the scripture is written.
Warning, warning! DI Concern Troll!
Sastra, OM says
Rieux (#48) wrote:
Right — at least, some of them do, which is probably what Luskin is worried about. He’s afraid the teacher’s guide is implying that fundamentalists are not REAL Christians and/or they don’t have a REAL religion (which is their own modus operandi). And although I think it’s unfounded in this particular case, I have seen plenty of liberal and moderate Christians who try this. In supporting evolution, they go beyond pointing out that many versions of Christianity are compatible with science, and run with the claim that hey, nobody who seriously studies the Bible and understands Jesus could possibly see a conflict. No, the teachers better not say that, it’s really is getting into recommending one sect over another.
I don’t think it an example of the Courtier’s Reply (one must study all of theology before getting to the question of whether or not God exists) — but it is a common rebuttal to Dawkins and other critics of religion: the “oh, that’s just those loony straw-man extremists who don’t really count — real Christianity is nothing like that, as any objective, unbiased, disinterested searching of the Mind of God will reveal” defense.
Shawn Wilkinson: “Besides, that’s what will occur to students who enter college and become something other than rote zombies ala business majors, engineers, and certain humanities.”
Trying to be funny, and failing miserably! Every field is composed mostly of rote zombies – hasn’t Shawn been paying attention in most biology classes (including some at the graduate level)? The only place you escape that is in fields that are so small and elite, that no dish-washing monkeys are accepted. But in popular fields, say chemistry or biology or economics or business or engineering or…, most people accepted at all levels, all the way to graduate school (and beyond at many universities), are there as support staff, not as creative researchers. People who help pay the bills.
Read your Kuhn, Shawn, before you start getting all uppity about who are the zombies, and who are deep-thinkers. Most folks aren’t Feynmann, or even good enough to be assistant to his graduate assistant’s third-cousin.
@ Shawn Wilkinson
What exactly is that supposed to mean, Shawn?
-Berlzebub (Atheist Engineer)
Indeed (the same is even more true in the UK, what with us having no written constitution at all, except that part of it is stipulated in various widely-respected books which often go to some lengths to say that they are not in fact part of the constitution that they are generally regarded as part of).
The canonical work on this subject, at least with respect to laws that modify and invalidate themselves, is probably Peter Suber’s excellent The Paradox of Self-Amendment: A Study of Law, Logic, Omnipotence, and Change. (You may already know of this work if you’ve ever had your mind exploded by the meta-game Nomic, the rules of which appear as appendix 3 of this book.)
Scott Hatfield, OM says
First of all, congratulations to Sastra for being named this month’s Molly winner!
Secondly, to everyone discussing the ‘true Scotsman’ rhetoric of the DI: I know this trope strikes you as interesting, but from where I sit it’s counter-productive. Obviously, public school teachers risk flouting the Establishment Clause if they use the bully pulpit of the classroom to advance their own version of faith. It doesn’t matter whether the Scotsman is true or not, all that matters from that perspective is whether or not the teacher is attempting to privilege some version of the Scotsman.
Could this happen in a public school science classroom with respect to religion? Of course, and in fact it has happened, and (while in fact not all that common) it is routinely perceived as happening by many of the faithful. But this sort of skirting the Constitution is not confined to science classes, as the David Paszkiewicz case shows. We give the DI’s rhetoric entirely too much credit if we pretend that the potential constitutional problem is either widespread, or confined to science classes. In fact, I would hazard a guess that science teachers are far from the worse offenders!
Instead, we should see this rhetoric for what it is: an empty positioning statement from the lawyers and politicians who make up the bulk of the DI. They don’t really buy the argument they’re making, either, or else they would been bringing litigation against teachers like myself who are actively promoting the teaching of evolution in the public schools. Their history suggests that, should a constitutional question emerge, they will run and hide and pretend they have nothing to do with the question.
So my recommendation: in any responses to the DI, don’t waste time on the question of which Scotsman is true, or whether or not some teacher, somewhere, is treading on the Establishment Clause. Instead, call the DI’s bluff, for reasons that I lay out here.
It does seem odd to me that there’s an argument which runs, “Not believing in superstitions is in itself a superstition,” therefore you’re no better than us who throw stones at black cats nyah nyah!”
As I understand it, the argument for the supernatural would be that the effect is observable, but that there is no observable cause, because the cause is produced by the “will” of the supernatural entity. In other words, if I can see that loaves and fishes are popping into existence, but can detect no process by which such thing could be happening, then that would be a supernatural act. If water that is truly completely isolated from other substances (and other physical processes) turns into wine, that would be a good candidate for a supernatural act. The supernatural is an unobservable cause for an observable effect.
Science rejects such causes in principle, and there is no evidence for such causes, but the above would be one way of parsing “supernatural” that would not make it necessarily part of the natural world.
Sastra, OM says
Good point. The supernatural is not just “unobservable,” but, as you say, it involves “will” as an actual force. Or, in some cases, not thoughts or intentions, but values — an effect is caused by Goodness or Love, or the requirement that moral forces are “balanced” or harmonized. Suddenly, the cosmos has an attitude or a desire — hey, just like a person.
I think the “inside/outside nature” distinction is a distraction, because literally anything at all can just by fiat be included in the universe and labeled “natural” (ghosts are natural, God is natural, the magic powers of crystals are natural, etc.) The testable/non-testable distinction is also a distraction, an attempt to protect supernatural claims from being treated like other claims.
But what distinguishes String Theory from the Theory of Chi Energy, so that both may be untestable, or outside the universe, or wrong — but only one of them is “supernatural?” How do you divide woo from non-woo?
One group attributes magical causal power to an invisible force of life, thoughts and emotions; and the other one doesn’t.
bad Jim says
As far as we know, supernatural events don’t actually happen, at least not in a repeatable, testable fashion. The naturalism of the universe is an observed fact, not a premise of scientific theory.
From the beginning, scientists have investigated supernatural claims and uniformly found them unsupported, so that we now routinely ignore supernatural explanations.
The common view that evolution is inherently anti-religious is simply false
On its face, only, the statement is correct. Science in general and evolution in particular do not openly criticize religion. It is not its intention but its unavoidable consequence, i.e. inherent. Every success of science, explaining something previously not understood, diminishes the realm of religion. It eats away its very foundation. Religious fundamentalists understand this intuitively.
This is, of course, true for every new discovery of science. Quantum field theory, for example, is as guilty as evolution. Quantum field theory, however, is sufficiently detached from every day experience and expertise to not be a target of religious fundamentalists. Evolution is in the line of fire, because it appears to be dealing with something everybody can have an opinion about and, more importantly, it directly undermines the superior position of humans in a religiously inspired world view (at least in their opinion). If, say, neuro science were to devise a theory explaining the free will and how humans arrive at moral judgments, this theory would come under attack as ferociously as evolution since it again would give a naturalistic explanation for something perceived as distinctively human. This conflict will persist as long as religion has not vanished from this world.
This odd ‘argument’ is essentially an appeal to the sense of justice of the person forced to listen to this nonsense in order to pull him over to their site in spite of the utter lack of evidence on the part of the ID proponent. It basically is the same as demanding ‘balanced’ reporting. It appeals to people because it sounds democratic and fair. The argument shows considerable confusion about what the definition of superstition is and the inherent relativism – all opinions are somehow equally valid – is, of course, nonsense.
Well, personally, I think PBS screwed up royally in the “A” part of the above (perhaps in a perpetual, pointless, attempt to just help people get along). Anyway, they left themselves wide-open for the ID jokers to make a point. Of course their lawsuit will be thrown out of court but Faux News will have a heyday making a big point of this, now that!Jebuseason has arrived.
How about this as an answer, with repeat of question:
Q: Can you accept evolution and still believe in religion?
A. It is observable that some people can and some people cannot.
Sastra, OM says
Futility (#62) wrote:
Also, evolution is taught to children. I think that’s a huge reason it’s under popular political attack and quantum field theory and neurology are not. Even as it stands today, the implications of mind-brain dependency and the rejection of dualism probably undermine theism as much if not more than evolution — but most people don’t bother with the nitty gritty of science in their daily lives once they leave school. They deal with technology. If it’s not in public schools, it’s under the radar and they don’t feel threatened.
What will threaten them directly is the sense that “scientific materialists” are going after their BABIES…!! That sets off a very primitive instinct, there.
If you follow any science theory all the way down, inserting magic at any point — even the “end” — is incongruent and pointless. That’s why liberal and moderate apologetics religiously insist you can’t treat religious claims like other claims, and apply scientific methods. “Science has nothing to say about the nature of God” … unless some strong piece of evidence suddenly pops up or pans out and now it suddenly CAN. And could have all along. Those artificial separate compartments were pragmatic, not inherent.
The conservatives see the inconsistency here, but don’t understand the science well enough to see why they better damn well start being inconsistent.
Since creationism relies on a comparison between qualitative evidence (in the written form of the BIble) and empirical evidence (in natural form) to support the existence of “things not seen” (i.e., God), Creationism is anti-religious in the sense that it is fundamentally anti-faith.
Also known as the argumentum ad Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.
It does seem odd to me that there’s an argument which runs, “Not believing in superstitions is in itself a superstition,” therefore you’re no better than us who throw stones at black cats nyah nyah!”.
Someone far cleverer than me said: “Atheism is a religion like not collecting stamps is a hobby”
Sastra, OM wrote:
Also, evolution is taught to children.
That’s far too optimistic. It’s a rare child, in the US anyway, that has heard of evolution in school. Even by high school many teachers and schools stay far from the subject, just to avoid confrontation.
Ken MacLeod says
I think the logic of the DI argument is that by saying evolution is compatible with religion, the schools would be privileging the religious factions (i.e. the major Christian denominations) that accept this, thus violating the establishment clause. There’s a certain Zen-like neatness about this …
Ginger Yellow says
I think PBS’s definition is fair, if a tad misleading. Supernatural [i]causes[/i] are beyond the realm of science, because by definition they are not subject to regularities and are not bound by existing physical laws. Ostensibly supernatural [i]effects[/i] on the other hand are absolutely accessible to science, which has always so far discovered natural causes for them. Science doesn’t have anything to say about (the truth of) people’s spiritual beliefs, in so far as those beliefs are about causes rather than effects.
Sastra wrote: “The testable/non-testable distinction is also a distraction….”
Don’t know if we should be so quick to abandon that distinction. We had to wait until we could make careful observations of exploding galaxies to test the existence of dark energy. String theory short of the “landscape” is at least in principle testable, but we haven’t figured out any way to do so yet. (There are real concerns in the physics community that any variant of string theory which is not testable even in principle – a state of affairs sometimes derided as “not even wrong” – would not be science at all.)
OTOH, miracles and wonders – loaves and fishes, walking on water, water into wine, splitting of the Red Sea, God inserting little motors into bacterial butts – are by definition non-repeatable and therefore untestable.
If some religion wants to go around claiming that light travels not in straight lines but in gentle left-hand curves (in the Northern hemisphere; or gentle right-hand curves in the Southern hemisphere), then they shouldn’t be surprised when they get called out on it in a science class.
Evolution is absolutely not compatible with the most literal interpretation of the Jewish creation myth (which teaches that each species was created separately). Nonetheless, it has been observed to happen. When observed reality conflicts with dogma, one or the other must be wrong …..
Norman Doering says
Ummmm… doesn’t Einstein’s Relativity say that light travels along the shortest path between two points in spacetime (a geodesic) and if the geodesic is curved, then the path of light is curved — and it is curved, everywhere, by gravity.
Isn’t that why gravitational lensing in astronomy works?
Sastra (#64) wrote:
tomh (#66) wrote:
Both of you are correct. It threatens them because a substantial fraction of religious people believe because they were taught to do so in their childhood. Religion is an acquired taste, or rather an acquired bad habit. If the seed of doubt is planted early in children, it might very well entail that religion will be much less important to them later in their life.
The fact that in actuality evolution is taught very seldom in school demonstrates the success the campaigns of the ID crowd has had in the past. It does not really matter that they didn’t win in court or that ID is not considered science (as if they care what some judge, even when appointed by Bush, has to say!). Evolution is de facto not taught in US schools, thus preventing the seed of doubt to take root.
what ever says
I did not read all the comments and I didn’t see that PBS show. I used to believe in evolution, but not anymore. It is fractured just like religion. The most extreme type of evolution lacks many proofs. Some scientists are worse than theologians. They have a theory and do experiments to prove it. The entire fossil record is distorted, flat, and twisted. No one can make COMPLETE facts frome fossils. I believe in change within a species but lady bugs cannot turn into turtles. That would require NEW DNA. In mutations there is less DNA not more. Science does not prove evolution but de-evolution. Carbon dating is flawed, artiacts are leftovers, and written history is written by the victors. Ofcorse the Egyptians wouldn’t write about their most humiliating loss ever. Now I read that scientist claim to create life OOOOHHHHH! They just took apart an ALREADY EXISTANT CREATURE and put back the needed parts. What is that all about. Sure it can be useful, but why claim to have created life? And now they say a man is not needed for impregnation, why? Their are many important things the bible teaches that science can’t touch. If we evolved from monkies our future is bleek. The most inmportant law ever made is the seperation between church and state. But it is used the wrong way. Why shouldn’t religious schools get state aid. In the town i grew up in, the ONLY school was catholic. I don’t agree with their traditions, but without it I would have no education at all. They should get funding for the education side of it. Plus everyone here has to admit the disfunction of our society since this all started.