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Establishment Clause Violation for Public High School Teacher To Call Creationism "Superstitious Nonsense":

So holds C.F. v. Capistrano Unified School Dist., decided Friday. I understand the logic of the case -- the Court has repeatedly said that the government's disapproving of religion is as unconstitutional as the government's endorsing religion, and the district court decision tries to implement that. But it seems to me that this just helps illustrate the difficulties posed by the endorsement test.

To begin with, the court concludes that it "cannot discern a legitimate secular purpose in [the] statement," applying the Lemon test's "secular purpose" prong. But I would think the legitimate secular purpose is clear: The speaker is trying to get students to accept the theory of evolution, which he believes to be much more conducive to scientific thinking, and much more likely to produce useful results, than creationism. That's a perfectly secular purpose. To be sure, it's a purpose that is accomplished using the means of deriding religion. But that doesn't stop the purpose (promoting belief in a scientific theory that the speaker thinks is sound, useful, and conducive to scientific thinking) from being secular.

Nonetheless, the court also has a different argument, which strikes me as more doctrinally sound on the facts: "Corbett's statement primarily sends a message of disapproval of religion or creationism." I take it the point is that creationism is a religious claim about God's having created humans (or some similar claim that involves God acting), and that disapproving of creationism thus expresses disapproval of a certain belief about religion, just as approving of it endorses a certain belief about religion. And I stress again that this fits well with the Court's doctrine on this, and perhaps is even dictated by the Court's doctrine.

Yet how does this play out in other situations? Here's an example: When I taught criminal law one year, one of the hypotheticals involves the question whether casting a voodoo spell on someone, believing that it would cause the person to die, should count as a criminally punishable attempted murder. That's a difficult question; as I noted before, a few court opinions have considered it and quickly concluded that it shouldn't so count, but as a doctrinal matter it's not clear why -- generally speaking, trying to kill someone is attempted murder even if the attempt is clearly doomed to failure, for instance because you think your gun works but it's actually broken, or because you use a substance that you think is poison but really isn't. Why not if you use a method (voodoo) that you think works but actually doesn't?

One possible answer is offered by the Model Penal Code § 5.05, which says that "If the particular conduct ... is so inherently unlikely to result or culminate in the commission of a crime that neither such conduct nor the actor presents a public danger ...," a lower penalty may be imposed or the prosecution might be entirely dismissed. And I pointed out that, because voodoo is bunk, this section might well apply (which of course raises the question whether would-be voodoo killers are still dangerous because they might turn to non-voodoo attempts if the voodoo attempt fails, but that's a different matter).

A couple of students after class actually told me that they thought this might be offensive to people who believe in voodoo, but my view was that I can't teach my classes with an eye towards not offending people who believe in voodoo, just as I don't have to worry about people who believe in ghosts or werewolves or unicorns. But under the court's reasoning, would I have been violating the Establishment Clause? (Recall that the endorsement test isn't limited to high schools, but generally applies to public universities as well.) What if a student says that the Earth is 6000 years old because that's what the Bible says; is a public university or high school teacher constitutionally barred from dismissing that theory as "nonsense"? What if a student calls belief in astrology "nonsense," fully aware that some people (not many, but some) have a religious belief system that treats astrology as sensible and in fact as something like a sacrament?

Now I suppose it's possible for teachers, both high school and college, to carefully avoid calling anything that might possibly be linked to a religious belief system "nonsense," and instead just say "it's scientifically unfounded" or some such (though wouldn't that be disapproval, too?). But that would make the discussion pretty artificial, with the teacher being constitutionally barred from saying what is pretty obviously on his mind. Nor would it be true to the principle that schools should be forthright about what's true and what's false: Do we really want high schools and universities to be places where one can't call astrology or voodoo bunk? And while in some classes the pedagogically superior practice would be to talk about why a particular belief system is indeed unfounded, that often won't be so: My class, for instance, wasn't a class about the scientific reasons why voodoo isn't going to work.

Now of course there are plenty of good practical and institutional distinctions to be drawn here. The development of the human species is a subject that's much further from us in time than is the effectiveness or not of voodoo or astrology. There's more room for debate about whether evolution offers an adequate explanation of the origin of mankind.

And of course it's probably practically wiser to avoid calling a very common religious belief system nonsense, in order to maintaining a good working relationship with the students. On the other hand, tip-toeing around labeling as nonsense that which nearly all educated people agree is nonsense might actually interfere with a good working relationship with the students, for the reasons I mentioned above. But it's hard for me to see how these distinctions can be translated from pragmatic guidelines into constitutional rules.

I say it again: The court may have been quite right as a matter of existing doctrine, and if we are going to say that public institutions can't advocate in favor of creationism, it makes sense for the doctrine -- which has been defended by claims of symmetry, such as that the government may neither endorse nor disapprove of religion, may neither advance nor inhibit religion, and may neither show favoritism nor hostility -- to also bar statements that creationism is superstitious nonsense. But the result is either that (1) teachers can't condemn voodoo, astrology, young-Earthism, and so on as the bunk that they are, (2) courts have to draw lines between which religious beliefs may be disapproved of and which may not be, or (3) teachers are even more at see about what they are constitutionally barred from saying than we've seen from past endorsement cases.

Thanks to Religion Clause for the pointer. I should also say that I'm not at all defending the teacher in this case; some of his statements, as quoted in the opinion, strike me as hard to defend as a matter of either pedagogy or accuracy, but that's a separate question from whether they are actually unconstitutional.

ShelbyC:

But I would think the legitimate secular purpose is clear: The speaker is trying to get students to accept the theory of evolution, which he believes to be much more conducive to scientific thinking, and much more likely to produce useful results, than creationism.


Is getting students to actually believe in evolution, as opposed to presenting them with the theories and evidence, a legitimate secular purpose?
5.4.2009 8:21pm
Loophole (mail):
The next case will involve the civics teacher who "disapproves" of sharia law. We need to be very careful before allowing liability to spring from people's special sensitivities about their religious beliefs.
5.4.2009 8:33pm
J. Aldridge:

What if a student says that the Earth is 6000 years old because that's what the Bible says; is a public university or high school teacher constitutionally barred from dismissing that theory as "nonsense"? What if a student calls belief in astrology "nonsense," fully aware that some people (not many, but some) have a religious belief system that treats astrology as sensible and in fact as something like a sacrament?

I think it simply demonstrates how badly the Establishment Clause as been interpreted and applied.

Since this school district is nether Congress nor made any law respecting an establishment of religion the court just made fools of themselves.
5.4.2009 8:35pm
Gilbert (mail):
Maybe there is a kind of state action release valve on this? Presumably this is a Due Process-Establishment clause case, and the Court has held that ex post remedies can satisfy Due Process, so why can't a reprimand and/or vigilant future prevention remedy a single incident?

Just a thought.
5.4.2009 8:36pm
Loophole (mail):
One more thing: What makes "voodoo, astrology, young-Earthism" any more or less "bunk" (as you readily conclude) than the mutually-exclusive faiths of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism? There is about the same amount of evidence supporting all six belief systems.
5.4.2009 8:37pm
ShelbyC:

Do we really want high schools and universities to be places where one can't call astrology or voodoo bunk?


Well, we want high schools and universities that teach students about how the world works, and we also want a government that doesn't decide which religious beliefs are bunk. Sounds like a fundimental tension between public education and the first amendment. Just like there's a fundamental tension between public education and many other constitutional rights.
5.4.2009 8:37pm
Aguirre:
But I thought Creationism was science not religion? That's why it isn't unconstitutional to teach it in schools, or so Creationists keep saying.
5.4.2009 8:40pm
Splunge:
Seems fairly clear to me, Professor Volt. All you need to do, as a teacher, is confine yourself to empirically valid statements.

So you, discussing voodoo, can say no one has ever successfully killed someone through voodoo, and the biology teacher can say Creationism fails to explain quite a lot of data, and is anyways unfalsifiable, and you're both just fine, constitutionally speaking. Someone else can say astrology has never successfully predicted an event before it happened, and so forth.

Such factual statements are miles from a blanket expression of contempt and dismissal, like voodoo is bunk or Creationism is superstitious nonsense or only morons believe in astrology, which does indeed implicitly disrespect the believers thereof. I've got no trouble with teachers being constitutionally enjoined to stay one one side of that bright line, and I think it's a perfectly clear bright line at that.

Particularly science teachers, who damn well ought not to be making anything other than factual, focussed, empirically-validated statements in the classroom. The degree to which science in the K-12 classroom has already degenerated into a quasi-religion promulgated by apostles nearly as ignorant as those they proselytize is disgusting enough as it is (and I say that as a physicist). It does gross disservice to the whole spirit of the Enlightenment to replace one set of undebateable dogmas with another.
5.4.2009 8:41pm
bc04:
Under this judge's ruling, would a student be constitutionally protected from failing if he or she simply wrote "God did it" for every answer on a biology exam?
5.4.2009 8:44pm
ShelbyC:

like voodoo is bunk or Creationism is superstitious nonsense or only morons believe in astrology, which does indeed implicitly disrespect the believers thereof.


Hum. For constitutional purposes, is there a difference between "Creationism is superstitious nonsense" and "Creationism is false"? Does it matter that the state is disrespecting it and its followers, or that the state is claiming it's incorrect?
5.4.2009 8:47pm
More Importantly . . .:

But that would make the discussion pretty artificial, with the teacher being constitutionally barred from saying what is pretty obviously on his mind.


That, of course, cuts both ways. Take the example of a high school biology teacher who has a profound and sincerely held belief in Creationism. He or she cannot assert their personal views any more than the defendant here could say what was "obviously on his mind."
5.4.2009 8:52pm
Reader X:
Just another reason why government-run schools are unconstitutional.
5.4.2009 8:53pm
rosetta's stones:

"When I taught criminal law one year, one of the hypotheticals involves the question whether casting a voodoo spell on someone, believing that it would cause the person to die, should count as a criminally punishable attempted murder. That's a difficult question..."


It shouldn't be. And if a prosecutor ever brought such a case, he needs needles stuck in him. Hypotheticals are fine as teaching tools, but in this case, following the doctrinal exercise, maybe the ultimate outcome is to do nothing, and to make sure the students learn that lesson.

But that's separate from what you're discussing, which is conduct in the classroom, I gather. The instructor can affirmatively teach the lesson, and no need to broach voodoo, creationism, religion, or anything else not directly associated with the lesson. Maybe doing so isn't unconstitutional (although outright shots at a religion's dogma seem to edge that way), but it's not directly related to the material, either, so why not drive toward what we agree we want them to learn, and leave out the rest?

Or end public education, which works as well. ;-)
5.4.2009 8:59pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):
One of the messages that I keep trying to get across to people is that a bit more respect for differing points of view, and a bit less arrogance in how you present evolutionary theory, would go a long ways towards disarming much of the culture war about this. But asking elites to be respecting of diversity--or not being arrogant--is a bit much to expect, isn't it?
5.4.2009 9:01pm
jim47:
It strikes me that one possible response to this is to ask what is meant by the word "secular" in the American context. I would posit that as an historical matter it has been something slightly more complicated than simple neutrality with respect to religion.

This is self-evident from a sociological perspective, where secularism is clearly an idea that grows out of developments within Protestant Christianity. But even in the legal sphere, this seems to have some power, such that for a long time a general Protestant establishment was seen as being legitimately secular, while contra to this Catholic institutions were seen as sectarian.

Historically, thus, I think we see within the concept of secularism an implicit (though malleable) test of what counts as legitimate religious belief and what does not. In this regard it is like every other meta-religious system, though with a greater subset of religious beliefs counted in the legitimate category.

Obviously trying to have a court decide what is and is not a legitimate religious belief is something that is incredibly fraught. Still, unless relativism is to slip into nihilism, it seems unavoidable that at some point a distinction must be made between state actions which insist on maintaining some vision of rationality shared by the society at large and state actions which endorse positions that effectively disparage the equal citizenship of large swathes of people based on their religion(s).

Am I wrong? Is there some truly neutral legal rule able to be formulated that can allow people to dismiss far out ideas while not also allowing for establishment, and which does not make a judgment about the validity of religious belief?
5.4.2009 9:01pm
Anderson (mail):
Is getting students to actually believe in evolution, as opposed to presenting them with the theories and evidence, a legitimate secular purpose?

Is getting students to actually believe in the Big Bang, as opposed to presenting them with the theories and evidence, a legitimate secular purpose?

Is getting students to actually believe in the second law of thermodynamics, as opposed to presenting them with the theories and evidence, a legitimate secular purpose?

Is getting students to actually believe in heliocentrism, as opposed to presenting them with the theories and evidence, a legitimate secular purpose?

... I think "superstitious nonsense" is a tad aggressive, and probably does the teacher's credibility more harm than good; but when you see what cretins otherwise intelligent people can be about evolution, the teacher's frustration becomes intelligible, if not excusable.
5.4.2009 9:09pm
Fub:
Splunge wrote at 5.4.2009 8:41pm:
So you, discussing voodoo, can say no one has ever successfully killed someone through voodoo, and the biology teacher can say Creationism fails to explain quite a lot of data, and is anyways unfalsifiable, and you're both just fine, constitutionally speaking. Someone else can say astrology has never successfully predicted an event before it happened, and so forth.
Only the biology teacher would be making a scientifically accurate statement.

Random chance could make some claims of voodoo killing or astrological prediction true, in the sense of post hoc. Proving or disproving propter hoc is another matter.
5.4.2009 9:10pm
Lior:
The result is a bit absurd -- the Court says "Lysenkoism is bunk" permissible while "Creationism is bunk" is not just because Christianity chooses to call itself a "religion" while Stalinism declines to do so.

Loophole: The main function of religion is to allow man to interact emotionally with the world around him. Religion is still very effective in this, and cannot be "debunked" on this ground. You (and I) may think that man should not need religion to accept his place in the universe, but that is not the point. Thus "Christianity" or "Voodoo" encompasses more than "Creationism" or "Voodoo magic rituals".

Historically, religion also included a "magical" component: it claimed to allow man to interact materially with the world around him. Omens from god allow predicting the future, prayers and invocations allow man to influence future events. This component is indeed bunk. Under double-blind conditions, Christian volunteers praying to God do not seem to be able to help others recover from heart surgery. Astrologists claim to be able to predict the future, but whenever they make verifiable claims they cannot do better than non-astrologists.
5.4.2009 9:12pm
D.O.:
I skimmed through the opinion and was surprised that phrase found offensive was not actually quoted. Only bits and pieces.

The Court turns first to Corbett's statement regarding John Peloza
("Peloza"). (Farnan's Ex. I, pp. 222-25.) This statement presents the closest
question for the Court in assessing secular purpose. Peloza apparently brought suit
against Corbett because Corbett was the advisor to a student newspaper which ran
an article suggesting that Peloza was teaching religion rather than science in his
classroom. (Id.) Corbett explained to his class that Peloza, a teacher, "was not
telling the kids [Peloza's students] the scientific truth about evolution." (Id.)
Corbett also told his students that, in response to a request to give Peloza space in
the newspaper to present his point of view, Corbett stated, "I will not leave John
Peloza alone to propagandize kids with this religious, superstitious nonsense."
(Id.) One could argue that Corbett meant that Peloza should not be presenting his
religious ideas to students or that Peloza was presenting faulty science to the
students. But there is more to the statement: Corbett states an unequivocal belief
that creationism is "superstitious nonsense." The Court cannot discern a legitimate
secular purpose in this statement, even when considered in context. The statement
therefore constitutes improper disapproval of religion in violation of the
Establishment Clause.

Other statements (clearly antirelegious, but found constitutional) were presented much better. There's also this wrinkle: the offensive comment was with regard views of another teacher. They were caracterized as "religious nonsense". There might be difference between calling some religion "nonsense" and somebodies views "religious nonsense". For example, one might think that "all Jews are going to hell" is a religious nonsense, however do not hold that all religion is nonsense.
5.4.2009 9:14pm
jim47:

And if a prosecutor ever brought such a case, he needs needles stuck in to a voodoo doll that looks like him.


There, I fixed it. :-p
5.4.2009 9:19pm
ShelbyC:
@Anderson, Are you going to answer any of those? Yes, my question is, with a constitution that prohibits government from estabilishment of religion, or secularism over religion, and probihits governemnt from infringing upon the free execise of religion, is it a legitimate secular purpose to compel students to attend school so that you can actively disuade them or their religious beliefs, as opposed to just exposing them to information? Keep in mind, this would also justify suppressing information that would tend to favor creationism over evolution.

The answer doesn't seem obvious to me. Care to explain why it is?
5.4.2009 9:21pm
Xenocles (www):
"Creation [science] is superstitious bunk."

Fixed it?
5.4.2009 9:22pm
corneille1640 (mail):

some of his statements, as quoted in the opinion, strike me as hard to defend as a matter of either pedagogy or accuracy, but that's a separate question from whether they are actually unconstitutional.

I'm not sure the question is so "separate" as Euguene suggests. (Disclosure: I have not read the opinion and I am not a lawyer.):

If it's a question of religious beliefs, isn't it plausible that the state--in this case, represented by the instructor--should have to follow a more narrowly tailored criticism of religion. In other words, if the instructor had limited himself to pointing out the reasons why evolution by natural selection, etc., undermines the explanatory value of creationism, that would not cross the line in the same manner that declaiming creationism as "superstitious nonsense" would.

Now Eugene is obviously familiar with the relevant legal rules (and I am not), but it seems that some sort of legitimate state purpose would have to be served and that the means to serve that purpose be at least rationally related to fulfill that purpose. I seriously doubt the "superstitious nonsense" comment qualifies.
5.4.2009 9:23pm
corneille1640 (mail):
Just to be clear: in my comment, I'm stating what I would like the rule to be, not my understanding of what the rule actually is.
5.4.2009 9:24pm
stombs (mail):
One more thing: What makes "voodoo, astrology, young-Earthism" any more or less "bunk" (as you readily conclude) than the mutually-exclusive faiths of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism? There is about the same amount of evidence supporting all six belief systems.

Voodoo and astrology, at least, are predictive, and thus falsifiable. (Stick pins in the doll and the target doesn't die. Hypothesis experimentally disproved.) I don't think any major religions these days make real-time predictions, or claim that their priests can pass miracles at will. They make predictions, of course, but they're either about the afterlife or without a time limit ("the world will end one of these days"), hence nondisprovable.
5.4.2009 9:31pm
cmr:

Is getting students to actually believe in evolution, as opposed to presenting them with the theories and evidence, a legitimate secular purpose?


Thank you, ShelbyC. You said what I was going to say in the very first post.
5.4.2009 9:31pm
Lior:
jim47: A simple legal rule would be to say that making statements about the physical world is never "establishment of religion" or "prohibition of free exercise thereof".

In other words, when religions make claims about the physical world, they should not be accorded any particular respect not accorded any other claimants. It should never be the case that denigrating a religious claim about the physical world is in and of itself a violation of their rights.

In my opinion science teachers should be able to opine on geocentrism, flat-Earth-beliefs and Aristotelian mechanics in the same terms -- they shouldn't care whether the particular debunked theory they are discussing is currently in vogue with some religion or not. The same rule can be applied to discussion of the biology theories of Lamarck, Lysenko and the Discovery Institute.
5.4.2009 9:32pm
Anderson (mail):
Keep in mind, this would also justify suppressing information that would tend to favor creationism over evolution.

Uh, no, it would not. Because evolution is a scientific theory (really, evolution by natural selection), so evidence against evolution is perfectly admissible, just as evidence against Newtonian physics was admissible in 1905.

As for whether heliocentrism should be presented to students as a fact, rather than as one theory among many, I will do you the credit of questioning your good faith in posing that question.
5.4.2009 9:35pm
Ricardo (mail):
What if there was a religion that said the moon landing was a fake? Wouldn't teaching about the moon landing and presenting it as historical fact in history or science class offend practitioners of this religion?

This actually isn't a hypothetical as some fundamentalist Muslims believe that since the Koran says the heavens are the exclusive domain of Allah, the moon landing could not possibly have been real.

As an example of this thinking (along with pseudo-scientific "arguments" showing the moon landing was fake) see this.

So this seems to put teachers in a real bind. They can not teach basic facts in some situations without offending religious fundamentalists of some kind or another.
5.4.2009 9:38pm
whit:

What if there was a religion that said the moon landing was a fake? Wouldn't teaching about the moon landing and presenting it as historical fact in history or science class offend practitioners of this religion?

This actually isn't a hypothetical as some fundamentalist Muslims believe that since the Koran says the heavens are the exclusive domain of Allah, the moon landing could not possibly have been real.

As an example of this thinking (along with pseudo-scientific "arguments" showing the moon landing was fake) see this.

So this seems to put teachers in a real bind. They can not teach basic facts in some situations without offending religious fundamentalists of some kind or another.



i don't buy it. the theory is that it is unconstitutional for govt. to express hostility towards religion, not that it is unconstitutional to talk about stuff that is inconsistent with religion, or various religious doctrines/theories.

iow, there is no prohibition against "offending" religious fundamentalists. there is a prohibition against anti-religious hostility.

those are different things.
5.4.2009 9:47pm
Anderson (mail):
there is a prohibition against anti-religious hostility.

Good point. "Superstitious nonsense" is not even a very effective critique of creationism. Students are much more likely to be persuaded by a scientific evaluation of creationism's claims.

As an explanation for why people believe in creationism, superstition is a plausible theory, but I think that would fall into some discipline outside biology, and probably outside the scope of most high school classes.
5.4.2009 9:50pm
Desiderius:
Just another brick in the Wall. Here's to Separation of Education and State.
5.4.2009 9:51pm
http://volokh.com/?exclude=davidb :
Clayton Cramer writes...

One of the messages that I keep trying to get across to people is that a bit more respect for differing points of view,

...and thus unintentionally wins the thread, in a sort of hopelessly ironic sense.
5.4.2009 9:53pm
whit:
as another example, i assume that if i (as a cop) were to tell a citizen that his religion was crap, that would be bad ... and unconstitutional.

if i were to tell him that the law prohibits him "physically disciplining" his wife, that might offend him and go against his religious teachings, but would NOT be unconstitutional.
5.4.2009 9:53pm
Gabriel McCall (mail):
If this is what the Establishment Clause means, then the Establishment clause is a ass.

An individual's statements of his personal religious (or non-religious) beliefs, even if that individual is a government employee, do not amount do a government established religion, unless he conditions the performance of his duties or the provision of government benefits on the public's agreement with his beliefs.

"Religion is superstitious bunk": not establishment of a religion.
"Religion is superstitious bunk, and that'll be on the test": a different story.

To hold that personal statements of belief amount to a constitutional violation means that the lady in the DMV window can't wear a visible crucifix or bindi dot. Ridiculous. As long as she processes my paperwork, it's no skin off my nose what she thinks- and if she tries to strike up a conversation about it, I may think that inappropriate and unprofessional, but I can't see it as a violation of my right to religious freedom.

There is no right not to be confronted with the fact that not everybody thinks the same way I do, just a right to go peacefully about my business even so.
5.4.2009 9:56pm
Ricardo (mail):
iow, there is no prohibition against "offending" religious fundamentalists. there is a prohibition against anti-religious hostility.

If this translates into actual rules, it seems there would be a general rule against saying any given theory or belief that is part of someone's religious belief is "nonsense." This would apply equally to the phrases "Creationism is nonsense" and "`The moon landing was staged' is nonsense" [or do we need the word "superstitious" to push the statement over the line?].
5.4.2009 10:03pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

If this is what the Establishment Clause means, then the Establishment clause is a ass.
It is what the Lemon decision thinks it means, but Lemon is an ahistorical understanding. Justice Joseph Story was quite explicit about the meaning of the establishment clause:


The real object of the amendment was not to countenance, much less to advance, Mahometanism, or Judaism, or infidelity, by prostrating Christianity; but to exclude all rivalry among Christian sects, and to prevent any national ecclesiastical establishment which should give to a hierarchy the exclusive patronage of the national government. It thus cuts off the means of religious persecution (the vice and pest of former ages), and of the subversion of the rights of conscience in matters of religion, which had been trampled upon almost from the days of the Apostles to the present age. [Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, 5th ed. (Boston: Hilliard, Gray &Co., 1833), 701]
Under this narrower understanding, the establishment clause only prohibited Congress (and through the 14th Amendment, the states) from giving legal preference or disability to a particular Christian denomination. A teacher's boorish criticism of an idea that is widely held by Christians (and Muslims, and some Jews) would not be contrary to the establishment clause, because it doesn't give any legal preference or disability to any particular Christian denomination.

For you modern intellectuals, even pretending that it meant "equality for all religions" would be closer to original intent than Lemon. But because Lemon underlies too much of the atheist efforts to get all Christian influences removed from public schools, it will be necessary to swallow a camel to reconcile this decision that clearly and correctly uses Lemon with the desire to overturn.
5.4.2009 10:10pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):


Clayton Cramer writes...

One of the messages that I keep trying to get across to people is that a bit more respect for differing points of view,


...and thus unintentionally wins the thread, in a sort of hopelessly ironic sense.
What? Because I won't smile stupidly and say that homosexuality is wonderful? I'll be respectful when homosexuals stop insisting that the government should silence those who disapprove.
5.4.2009 10:12pm
MarkField (mail):
I think whit has this one right. There are various ways to communicate the same basic point. By this decision, what the court is really saying is that the teacher's comment should have been less disdainful, perhaps something like "Creationism isn't science, and this is a science class so we won't be covering that."

Whether this extreme of political correctness is a good thing, I leave to others to judge.
5.4.2009 10:16pm
Allan Walstad (mail):
These kinds of contentious issues are the inevitable fallout of socialized education.
5.4.2009 10:18pm
cognitis:
Blogger's own words indicate his confusion about the matter. Blogger, before dissenting with the Court's opinion, accepts SCOTUS' Establishment Clause (EC)interpretation pursuant below:
the Court has repeatedly said that the government's disapproving of religion is as unconstitutional as the government's endorsing religion [italics inserted]
Blogger first indicates dissent from the Court's opinion below:
To begin with, the court concludes that it "cannot discern a legitimate secular purpose in [the] statement," applying the Lemon test's "secular purpose" prong. But I would think the legitimate secular purpose is clear: The speaker is trying to get students to accept the theory of evolution, which he believes to be much more conducive to scientific thinking, and much more likely to produce useful results, than creationism.
Blogger then describes the "speaker's" medium of "get[ting] [sic] students to accept the theory of evolution (secular purpose)" pursuant:
To be sure, it's a purpose that is accomplished using the means of deriding[italics inserted] religion.
Blogger next justifies the derision thusly:
But that doesn't stop the purpose (promoting [italics inserted] belief in a scientific theory that the speaker thinks is sound, useful, and conducive to scientific thinking) from being secular.
Blogger has consented with "not disapproving" unless "promoting secular purpose"; but, while "deride" could convey "disapprove", it doesn't convey "promote". In fact, all who deride intend to injure another. Extricating words from a confused jumble solves the matter: for a various and disparate People, moderate and rational dispute fortifies the State while insults injure it.
5.4.2009 10:22pm
Ben P:
Analyzing the case this way is certainly the logical way to do it, but I think it misses the broader context that more than likely was the real source of the courts opinion. That doesn't make the courts ultimate holding any less problematic, but it aids in understanding it.

This suit was brought because of a whole host of statements this science teacher made relating another science teacher in the same school who he viewed as introducing his own religion into the science class.

When taken together, these statements do show a relatively clear hostility to religion. So the court set out to analyze each statement and whether it had a legitimate secular purpose. They somehow found that saying religion was "superstitious nonsense" had no secular purpose where some other statements did have such a purpose. For example in the course of a lecture Corbitt stated "When you put on your jesus glasses you can't see the truth." and in another referencing mark twain's statement that "religious started when the first con man met the first fool." THe court found he had a legitimate secular purpose in saying both of those (in both referencing "historical conflicts apparently) but not in saying religious is "superstitious nonsense."
5.4.2009 10:33pm
Intersted Party:
Is anyone really all that suprised that perhaps judicial protection is beginning to swing the other way?

It seems clear that most believe evolution, and atheis (anti-religous) views are firmly planted in society as a matter of fact. Why then, is anyone shocked that "nonsense" religious viewpoints are in need of judicial protection?
5.4.2009 10:35pm
Arturito:
@Aguirre:

But I thought Creationism was science not religion? That's why it isn't unconstitutional to teach it in schools, or so Creationists keep saying.

Creationism is religion, which is why creationists invented the pseudoscience of Intelligent Design and have been trying to cover their own tracks ever since.

What if the the teacher had said, "Inteligent Design is supersticious nonsense"? Then, since ID is just as much bunk as Lysenkoism, and since both are obstensibly (but not really) outside the domain of religion, would it have been ok according to the court?

@Lior: There is a big difference between Lamarckism and Lysenkoism. Lamarck was a serious scientist who proposed a serious theory that was an innovation over the thinking of the time because it did not postulate a divine agent. It was science, not religion. Lysenko was a charlatan whose nonsense was useful to the political ideology of his time and place. ID is like Lysenkoism, not like Lamarckism.
5.4.2009 10:46pm
Vermando (mail) (www):
Professor,

I fail to see how you don't answer your own question.

Do we really want high schools and universities to be places where one can't call astrology or voodoo bunk?

Isn't the answer to this obviously yes? Put differently, most people in my area consider it an unquestionable fact that Jesus rose from the dead and that Jews are in serious trouble for not acknowledging this. Isn't the entire point of the establishment clause that the minority religion is free to hold its beliefs, regardless of their being held to utter ridicule by the majority?

Or, to choose something more analogous because of the scientific conflict, should teachers be permitted to proclaim that the claims of the Bible or the Catholic Church are bunk? Jesus resurrected a dead guy and rose from the dead himself, Mary ascended into heaven (reconcile that one with modern cosmology why don't ya), Moses parted the Red Sea and Sara conceived. Transubstantiation! To the extent that none of this can be supported by science, our science teachers shouldn't have to shill for it and may even feel compelled to say that it can't be supported by science. But would it be appropriate for them to say that it's bunk or nonsense? No, and how could they know that anyway!?!

I don't see why it's an unreasonable line for the Court to draw. Indeed, you reach this conclusion yourself and only offer against it:

But that would make the discussion pretty artificial, with the teacher being constitutionally barred from saying what is pretty obviously on his mind. Nor would it be true to the principle that schools should be forthright about what's true and what's false ... And while in some classes the pedagogically superior practice would be to talk about why a particular belief system is indeed unfounded, that often won't be so...

I don't see how any of those reasons - the artificiality of the discussion, the school's principle of forthrightness, and the difficulty of applying this principle in context - prevail.

The third I just don't see as such a big deal, though correct me if I'm wrong. The first and second seem simply a consequence of living in a pluralistic society and, ultimately, they affirm the entire point of the establishment clause. Our government officials aren't supposed to say what is or is not right with regards to religion. The teacher who really wants to say how ridiculous transubstantiation is given contemporary molecular theory needs to learn to control himself, and perhaps learn a bit of humility. These arrangements do make a lot of civic society artificial - taking a "moment of silence" instead of a prayer so that the Jews and atheists don't have to pray to Christ is an exceedingly unfulfilling way to begin a football game. However, that does seem to be what is constitutionally mandated.

Am I wrong? I'm sure I miss something, so please let me know. Many thanks.
5.4.2009 10:55pm
Anon Y. Mous:
Splunge:

Seems fairly clear to me, Professor Volt. All you need to do, as a teacher, is confine yourself to empirically valid statements.

So you, discussing voodoo, can say no one has ever successfully killed someone through voodoo

Actually, that would be a very unscientific thing to say, since obviously, no one has ever proven that negative. All that science can say is that in order for it to be accepted, verifiable evidence would be needed.

, and the biology teacher can say Creationism fails to explain quite a lot of data, and is anyways unfalsifiable,

Of course, the same can be said about the Theory of Evolution.

Someone else can say astrology has never successfully predicted an event before it happened, and so forth.

There you go again. Are you familiar with every astrological prediction ever made? If not, you have no scientific basis for your sweeping claim. Again, you could say that in order for the theory to gain acceptance in the scintific community, evidence would need to be presented.

Such factual statements are miles from a blanket expression of contempt and dismissal, like voodoo is bunk or Creationism is superstitious nonsense or only morons believe in astrology, which does indeed implicitly disrespect the believers thereof. I've got no trouble with teachers being constitutionally enjoined to stay one one side of that bright line, and I think it's a perfectly clear bright line at that.

Your "factual" statements are all blanket dismissals. They may not be phrased in contemptuous terms, but they are dismissive nonetheless.

The degree to which science in the K-12 classroom has already degenerated into a quasi-religion promulgated by apostles nearly as ignorant as those they proselytize is disgusting enough as it is (and I say that as a physicist). It does gross disservice to the whole spirit of the Enlightenment to replace one set of undebateable dogmas with another.

Is that last part in reference to the Theory of Evolution absolutists, or the Global Warming hoaxsters?
5.4.2009 10:56pm
Waldo (mail):
Teachers should be expected to navigate the difference between presenting scientific evidence/theory and expressing opinions on religious belief.

Now I suppose it's possible for teachers, both high school and college, to carefully avoid calling anything that might possibly be linked to a religious belief system "nonsense," and instead just say "it's scientifically unfounded" or some such

It actually doesn't require being that careful. Having taught Muslim officers at a war college and dealt with religious sensitivities, the way to deal with it is to simply argue the evidence. Don't argue religion. Religion is a matter of faith and is separate from scientific or historical data. Any competent teacher should be able to explain the evidence supporting evolution without framing religious belief as superstitious nonsense.

Regardless of any constitutional argument, critiqueing religious belief as bunk is simply bad teaching. It makes students defensive and less receptive to the ideas teachers are trying to convey. It's certainly possible to teach evolution without deriding religion. Teaching evolution is a secular end, which is certainly constitutional. Doing so through the means of deriding religion, is not.
5.4.2009 10:59pm
J. Aldridge:
Under this narrower understanding, the establishment clause only prohibited Congress (and through the 14th Amendment, the states)

If that were REALLY true then there would not have been seven attempts between 1871 and 1890 to amend the Constitution in prohibiting the States from respecting religion in one form or another.
5.4.2009 10:59pm
Lucius Cornelius:
Ahhhh, this discussion takes me back to a great day in my life: the day I was sworn in as a member of the Bar of the Supreme Court of the United States. The case being argued that day was Good News Club v. Milford Central School. Counsel barely started his argument when Justice Scalia jumped in with a question:


Justice Scalia: Mr. Marcelle, did you cite Lamb's Chapel to the Second Circuit?

Mr. Marcelle: Yes, Your Honor, quite extensively, and dissent as well said, Judge Jacobs said the case couldn't be squared with Lamb's Chapel.

Justice Scalia: Lamb's Chapel, if I'm correct, is not even cited in the Second Circuit's opinion, is that right?

Mr. Marcelle: That's correct, Your Honor.

Justice Scalia: Isn't even mentioned?

Mr. Marcelle: Isn't even mentioned.

And I think the way they got around Lamb's Chapel, Your Honor, was really by embracing a distinction that this Court rejected in Rosenberger, a distinction—

Justice Scalia: I assume that the judge who wrote the opinion for the Second Circuit was aware of Lamb's Chapel, not just because you cited it, but because it had reversed an earlier decision of his, isn't that right?



The whole courtroom broke up laughing at that point. You can listen to the oral argument here:

Good News Club
5.4.2009 11:01pm
Brett S. (mail):
The line this court is going down seems doomed (judging only by the summary presented above).

So long as religions make empirical statements that conflict with empirical statements made by scientists, science teachers cannot help but "disapprove" of religion by disagreeing with it. Arguing about the tone or manner in which the teacher expresses such disagreement doesn't seem like a sustainable way of avoiding this conflict.

If we want to be able to teach kids science (which is necessary to better control and predict empirical reality - something all but the most extreme fundamentalists want to do), courts should just accept that some denigration of religions that make empirically false statements is inevitable.
5.4.2009 11:01pm
ReaderY:
Professor Volokh,

The answer strikes me as obvious given current establishment clause doctrine which has remained consistent for nearly half a century despite big differences over other matters. The establishment clause prohibits state action involving a very narrow class of statements: statements specifically about a Divine being or beings. It does not prohibit statements about the earth or other natural phenomena.

The statement "Creationism is superstitious nonsense" is a statement about a divine being or beings. Hence, teaching it in school implicates the Establishment Clause under current doctrine. (It is precisely because Creationism has been found to be a religious doctrine that a statement about its validity is a religious assessment)

But the statements like "The earth is 6,000 years old" or "the earth originated 6,000 years ago" are not statement about a Divine being or beings, It is a statement about the earth. So it doesn't implicate the Establishment clause. It simply doesn't matter whether or not statement may also happen to be a religious doctrine.

The difference betweeen these two statements ought to be clear, and Professor Volokh, I am honestly surprised that you would think the two comparable. (Note that a statement like "the earth was created" unqualified is a religious statement, but a statement about its age or history is not. The two issues have to be teased apart for a proper analysis.)

The situation works similarly to the role of the Establishmnent clause in addressing the motivation for legislation: the statement "racial discrimination is wrong" is a statement about human behavior and ethics, not a statement about a Divine being or beings, hence it does implicate the Establishment Clause even though the statement may also be made as a matter of religious doctrine by ministers in churches. The statement "racial discrimination is a sin against God" is a similarly mixed statement, but the fact that such statements are made doesn't turn the purely ethical aspect into religious doctrine; one need merely tease the two issues apart. Teaching "racial discrimination is a sin against God" in public school would violate the establishment clause. But one need merely substitute ethical for religious language and one has a completely secular statement. So here: one need merely substitute "the earth originated" for "the earth was created" and get a completely secular statement.

The Establishment clause implicates a very narrow class of state action, much narrower than is often realized. Only those actions involving statements and doctrines about specifically about a Divine being or beings are implicated. Religious beliefs about all other matters, even though they may warrant Free Exercise protection (under a separate analysis rubric), simply do not implicate the Establishment Clause.

As but one example of many cases where "religion" has a much narrower scope under the Establishment Clause than it does under the Free Exercise Clause, the Amish belief that their children shouldn't attend secular high schools was found to implicate the Free Exercise Clause in Yoder (a pre-Smith case), but nonetheless a debate over the proper age at which state-sponsored education should end would never implicate the Establishment Clause even if some people's views on the subject might be influenced by religious traditions or customs.
5.4.2009 11:09pm
Neo (mail):
It one thing to refer to "creationism" as "nonsense" but completely another to call it "Superstitious Nonsense".

The use of the adjective "Superstitious" clearly could be applied to the underlying religion that supports the view of "creationism".
5.4.2009 11:29pm
Xenocles (www):
", and the biology teacher can say Creationism fails to explain quite a lot of data, and is anyways unfalsifiable,

Of course, the same can be said about the Theory of Evolution."

You're either being sloppy, or you're unaware that the Theory of Evolution is quite falsifiable.
5.5.2009 12:14am
John Moore (www):
I am surprised that nowhere in this discussion is the mention that the most important part of science education is the teaching of the scientific method. I don't care how many of what facts get crammed into the minds of students, if they don't understand how science works in theory and in practice, they have not been prepared to deal with the modern world.

The teacher, instead of demeaning the student, could have used this a teaching moment, exploring how the scientific method could be used to examine this issue. He even could have offered up an alternate hypothesis to evolution that would meet the evidence but fail the scientific method: "God created the earth 6000 years ago with all the signs and evidence of evolution, for his own purposes."

Ultimately, Clayton Cramer has it right, though. People should control their inner frustration and stop putting down religious beliefs of others.

BTW... a similar thing to this happened to my favorite and best high school teacher. He was removed from his teaching job, one year from retirement, for his treatment of a creationist (Lawrence, KS).
5.5.2009 1:02am
John Moore (www):
Xenocles:

You're either being sloppy, or you're unaware that the Theory of Evolution is quite falsifiable.

In a scientific context, a theory which is not falsifiable is also not a scientific theory.

Falsifiable means that it makes predictions which can be tested. The theory of evolution makes a lot of predictions which have been tested (and some were right and some were wrong, because it is a very complex area).

How do you test a theory of what happened in the past? The theory of evolution predicts what one should find in the future (more fossils, or these days more importantly, genetic and biochemical data). Furthermore, the theory of natural selection is easily falsifiable with bacterial and viral models, where evolution can be speeded up and observed.
5.5.2009 1:05am
Lior:
Arturito: Indeed there is a big difference between Lamarck's theory and Lysenko's quasi-science. A similar gap lies between between Aristotle's heliocentrism and the Vatican's. We expect the teacher to teach that Lamarck was wrong. We also expect the teacher to explain that Lysenko was bunk ("not even wrong"). ID belongs in the same discussion as Lysenkoism, and should not be excluded from it merely because some of its adherents include it in their religious beliefs.
5.5.2009 1:36am
djf (mail):
Creationists can't have it both ways. If it's religion, then it doesn't belong in public schools. If it's science, then it doesn't trigger the Establishment Clause.
5.5.2009 2:00am
Larry Fafarman (mail) (www):
In Selman v. Cobb County, the following statement that appeared on biology-text evolution-disclaimer stickers was struck down by a federal district court judge:

This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered.

If a court could strike down that neutral statement, then why can't a court strike down this teacher's statement that creationism is "religious, superstitious nonsense"?

BTW, an appeals court panel indicated in an oral hearing that it was leaning towards reversal of Selman but then vacated and remanded the decision because of missing evidence, and the school board then took a dive by settling out of court.

Eugene Volokh said,
The speaker is trying to get students to accept the theory of evolution

It is not his job to get students to accept the theory of evolution.
5.5.2009 2:24am
Roger Schlafly (www):
But I thought Creationism was science not religion? That's why it isn't unconstitutional to teach it in schools, or so Creationists keep saying.
It doesn't matter what the Creationists say. The courts say that Creationism is religion. The teacher who attacked Creationism also said that it was religion. The teacher was attacking religion as well as Creationism.
5.5.2009 2:31am
David Schwartz (mail):
The proof that the law is an ass is that his claim that when "you put on your Jesus glasses, you can't see the truth" was fine, but calling creationism "superstitious nonsense" was not.

Creationism is a purported scientific doctrine. It is an obvious factual claim that, qua scientific doctrine, it is nonsense since it makes no testable claims or predictions. It is also similarly obvious that it is superstitious (since it makes claims of causality outside the normal laws of cause and effect).

The obvious secular purpose is to separate actual scientific theories from non-scientific theories that masquerade as such. The giveaway is the element of superstition which renders them nonsense as scientific theories.
5.5.2009 3:10am
ShelbyC:

It is an obvious factual claim that, qua scientific doctrine, it is nonsense since it makes no testable claims or predictions.


How is "God created the world" lest testable than "people evolved from apes?
5.5.2009 4:18am
David Schwartz (mail):
"God created the world" is not testable because the word 'god' has no cognitive content. It is, itself, untestable and anything about it is equally untestable. To see why, imagine if we had something that could be evidence that god created the world. We look at this evidence about the creation of the world and say, okay, is that god? And the problem is, there is no conceivable test that could determine if the evidence is about god or not. (Since god's only claimed properties are themselves incoherent, such as holy, omnipotent, ineffable, and so on.)

"People evolved from apes" is testable because we know what people are, we know what apes are, and we know what "evolved" means in that context. For example, genetic similarity is evidence that people evolved from apes. Intermediate forms are evidence.

As far as I know, this isn't even a generally-contested point. If the claim that god create the world was testable, there would be no need for faith. And I've yet to hear any coherent argument that evolutionary theory is untestable.
5.5.2009 5:13am
Johan:
Creationism is a pseudoscientific doctrine. It claims that we can prove the young earth theory scientifically so it is quite distinct from just the claim that a god created the universe. It should be fine to call it superstious nonsense.

That said, calling it religious nonsense is probably over the line. Of course, I think it is sad that a Establishment clause is needed but now it is in your constitution and I understand the reasons.
5.5.2009 6:02am
ShelbyC:

"God created the world" is not testable because the word 'god' has no cognitive content.


It sounds like your saying that there is no cognizable difference between creationism and not-creationism, i.e. That there's no difference between believing that god created the world and that no god created the world
5.5.2009 6:03am
David Schwartz (mail):
ShelbyC: That's not exactly what I'm saying. But if that were true, it would also mean that the claim is untestable.

What I'm saying is that "god created the world" is not testable as a scientific theory because the word "god" does not have enough meaning in a scientific context to be testable. There is no way to tell if something is a god or not, so no way to tell if evidence qualifies.

Now if you want to argue it has non-scientific meaning in a religious context or that it can gain meaning on the basis of faith, knock yourself out. But that will not make a scientifically-testable claim.
5.5.2009 6:20am
Owen Hutchins (mail):

"Creation [science] is superstitious bunk."

Fixed it?


No, you didn't. Calling it science is what is bunk, which has nothing to do with whether or not we were in fact created by a Higher Power.
5.5.2009 7:10am
Owen Hutchins (mail):
But the decision does tend to reinforce the view that the teaching of "Creation Science" is in fact teaching a religious viewpoint.
5.5.2009 7:12am
stombs (mail):

Larry Farfarman wrote:
"It is not his job to get students to accept the theory of evolution."



I'm trying to figure out what this sentence means. Would you also argue that it is not the job of a physics teacher to get students to accept the Theory of Gravitation or the Second Law of Thermodynamics? Or that it is not the job of an astronomy teacher to get students to accept the Heliocentric Theory? Or that it's not the job of a chemistry teacher to get students to accept the Combustion Theory instead of the Phlogiston Theory?
5.5.2009 7:34am
cboldt (mail):
-- Would you also argue that it is not the job of a physics teacher to get students to accept the Theory of Gravitation --
.
Heavy boots!
.
I think Clayton E. Cramer is right. The problem in this case arises under the Lemon test. "[the law/state action] principal or primary effect must be one that neither advances nor inhibits religion" That provides plenty of room for analytical bunk, around the terms "principal or primary," "advances" and "inhibits."
.
In the general, I see no way for the state (in its conduct of providing a general education) to avoid intersection with religion. A purely secular society, one void of all religion, would not have this issue.
5.5.2009 7:47am
David Schwartz (mail):
I find his "Jesus glasses" comment to be highly inappropriate for a public school teacher.

I suppose I could see contexts in which it could be reasonable. Just as saying "Jesus died for your sins" seems inappropriate, but suppose it was correcting an erroneous factual claim about the beliefs of Christians, then it's just missing the implied "most Christians believe" part.

I suspect he used it to respond to someone saying that the Bible disagreed with something he said. In that kind of context, it's highly inappropriate. Though it is a tricky job to find precisely the right reply, that seems way over the line.

You can't mock people's religious beliefs, and you certainly can't mock *them* for their religious beliefs. Truth-hiding "Jesus glasses" sound to be like outright mockery. And I do expect a public school teacher to know they're supposed to be walking a fine line, especially one who seems to like to bring these kinds of things up.
5.5.2009 8:38am
pintler:

How is "God created the world" lest testable than "people evolved from apes?


Hypothesis: If Homo sapiens and Gorilla gorilla (favorite scientific name ever!) have diverged more recently from each other than either diverged from, say, Lumbricus terrestris, they will share more DNA base pair sequences than either shares with L. terrestris.

That's a testable hypothesis - you can see whether it is true or not.

Hypothesis: God created the world. You can test that hypothesis by .....?????
5.5.2009 8:55am
rosetta's stones:

"I'm trying to figure out what this sentence means. Would you also argue that it is not the job of a physics teacher to get students to accept the Theory of Gravitation or the Second Law of Thermodynamics?"


Yes, I'd argue that. It's the teacher's job to present these theories or laws, as appropriate, in context with a discussion about the scientific method, which as somebody mentioned above is the most important part of the lesson.

Among other things, the scientific method is about minimizing bias in our analysis. Judging from the biased comments made in that classroom, this teacher knows d!ck about the scientific method, or at least that's the hypothesis I'll present as of now.

Either that, or the teacher was really talking religion, and not science. Take your pick.
5.5.2009 9:23am
David Chesler (mail) (www):
Stephen Jay Gould, teaching at an elite, private, and nominally religious institution, introduced the topic like this: Some people believe that G-d created the world, literally as described in the Bible. That's fine, but that's not science. In this class I teach science.
5.5.2009 9:30am
nbdy (mail):
I still do not understand why this debate contiues as secular vs. religous.

The best arguements against creationists has always been that they seem to be unable to read and competently understand their own source material. Most Catholic and especially Jesuit biblical scholars have been pointing out the flaws of this type of biblical interpretation for centuries. It is also why one is taught evolution at a catholic schools. Best way to flush this out of a creationist is just ask them them a few questions. How many different creation stories exist in the bible, which group of biblical authors is each story associted it, and which polytheistic creation myth is each story meant to supplant.

That is why debating this in a science class room anywhere is ridiculous. It does make for a great debate, but that debate belongs in a theology class in order to discuss the differening interpretations of these passages.

That should be most people's objection to this stuff, its not just teaching of religion in a science class, it is teaching poor reading comprehension, critical thinking, and ignorance of the history of the bible.
5.5.2009 9:33am
cmr:
I'm not for creationism, per se, but there are some things evolution cannot answer for, namely infinite regress and the idea that a long, long time ago, from nothing, stuff just started exploding and exploding and then billions of years later, we're here. Evolution and creationism don't have to step on the other's toes. But alas, that's what happens.
5.5.2009 9:41am
Kirk:
Eugene,

You have a homophone typo in the penultimate paragraph. There, "teachers are even more at see" should obviously end "at sea".
5.5.2009 9:50am
geokstr (mail):

Larry Fafarman:
In Selman v. Cobb County, the following statement that appeared on biology-text evolution-disclaimer stickers was struck down by a federal district court judge:

"This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered."

If a court could strike down that neutral statement, then why can't a court strike down this teacher's statement that creationism is "religious, superstitious nonsense"?

This is incorrect. Both evolution and gravity are both theory and fact.

Gravity exists, that is a fact, easily observable. What exactly it is, and why it does what it does, that's where theory comes in. Same for evolution - it happens. It is commonly defined as "...evolution can be precisely defined as any change in the frequency of alleles within a gene pool from one generation to the next." This is testable and falsifiable.

The mechanism, or more precisely, the exact combination of mechanisms, is what is still unclear, and that is the theory part.

Larry Fafarman:
In Selman v. Cobb County, the following statement that appeared on biology-text evolution-disclaimer stickers was struck down by a federal district court judge:

This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered.


And rightly so. It is couched in weasly legal terminology:

"Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things."

Evolution is about the changes in life forms that already exist. A common misdirection is used here, in that the "origin of living things" is totally outside the theory of evolution. "Abiogenesis" is the theory of the origin of life, and there is nothing but theory to go on so far (but lots of interesting research is being done.) However, creationists use this as a strawman to claim that evolution is "superstitious nonsense".
5.5.2009 9:53am
Xenocles (www):
Owen:
"No, you didn't. Calling it science is what is bunk, which has nothing to do with whether or not we were in fact created by a Higher Power."

This of course was my point. Adding the "science" (as many creationism advocates do) and removing the "superstitious" were meant to make it an entirely scientific critique. So, to rephrase my original question a bit more clearly, is my amended sentence legally acceptable for a public school teacher?
5.5.2009 10:08am
AKS:
Eugene: "that which nearly all educated people agree is nonsense"

Count me as one of the educated people in the minority, I guess. Funny how I happen to know a lot of other educated people who believe the same way I do. Huh. I wasn't aware that intelligence and faith were mutually exclusive.

I think science and religion should just leave each other alone. Science can't really disprove religion anyway. The fact that Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead or Moses parting the Red Sea can't be explained by science is exactly the point. That's what makes it a miracle, and it takes faith to believe it.

I have no problem with the teaching of evolution in school, and I'm not one of those who thinks that creationism should be taught in school. All I know is that I believe God created the earth. I don't know how He did it, so who am I to insist that evolution is bunk?

The teacher was way out of line. You don't have to endorse religious views, but mocking them in a public classroom is unacceptable. There were a number of other ways it could have been handled.
5.5.2009 10:09am
geokstr (mail):
As a life-long science buff, I followed this controvery closely for several years. There is a huge website devoted to this that some of you may find interesting:
Talk Origins

It covers every aspect of the creationism/evolution conflict, including debunking every one of the creationist "arguments", and in-depth discussion of all the major legal cases, just in case there is a lawyer or two on this site.

When it comes right down to it, there simply is no "theory of creationism" that is not based on the Bible. Unlike the scientific method which uses observations of the real world to arrive at "theories" and facts, creationism starts with the exact wording of the Bible and then tries (hopelessly) to shoe horn in the evidence to "prove" the Word of God, and they do a horribly dishonest job of it too.

Two examples (of many possible) will suffice to illustrate:

Creationists claim to have never lost a debate with an "evilutionist" (TM). In a sense they are correct. Using a debate tactic named after an infamous proponent known as the "Gish Gallop", regardless of the agreed upon topic of the debate, the creationist will refuse to defend creationism, but instead throws out endless lists of one-line criticisms of science, all of which have been thoroughly debunked, most of which have nothing to do with the topic. Rebutting each one requires the scientist to spend more time than alloted for the entire debate. And all debates are carefully staged in venues packed with creationist supporters.

Creationists use a technique known as "quote-mining", wherein they scour every writing of legitimate scientists to find any phrase they can pull out of context to support their case. There is a famous one where Darwin himself posits a hypothetical question that evolution can't be proven, and then goes on to demolish the hypothetical. Creationsists use the hypothetical question only to prove that even Darwin didn't believe in evolution.

In short, there is zero, zip, nada, zilch, no evidence whatsoever to support creationism. Despite generous offers of grants from the Orwellian named "Discovery Institute" to do actual research, they have had no takers in the years that they have been available.

I think one needs to be aware of the absolutely dishonest campaign that "teaching the controversy" (the new name for the issue, because both "creationism" and "Intelligent Design" have been so thoroughly discredited) is based on, before one can even address the legal issues involved.
5.5.2009 10:24am
Kirk:
J. Aldridge,
I think it simply demonstrates how badly the Establishment Clause as been interpreted and applied.
Isn't it rather incorporation that you're arguing against here? I.e. your beef is really with how the 14th Amendment has been applied, not the 1st?

rosetta's stone,
"... one of the hypotheticals involves the question whether casting a voodoo spell on someone, believing that it would cause the person to die, should count as a criminally punishable attempted murder. That's a difficult question..."
It shouldn't be.
Rather than just stating your disagreement, how about spending a few moments explaining why--how in fact would you distinguish the different cases Eugene cited? You've already claimed it was easy, so it should take you too long to do so.

Lior,
You (and I) may think that man should not need religion to accept his place in the universe
Nay, rather, the whole concept of "place" goes away without religion or something like it, or at least the meaning becomes so different that it borders on deception to use the same term w/o going out of your way to stress the change in meaning.
5.5.2009 10:29am
Xenocles (www):
"I'm not for creationism, per se, but there are some things evolution cannot answer for, namely infinite regress and the idea that a long, long time ago, from nothing, stuff just started exploding and exploding and then billions of years later, we're here."

Since evolution doesn't claim to answer these things, I fail to see the problem.
5.5.2009 10:29am
rosetta's stones:

The fact that Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead or Moses parting the Red Sea can't be explained by science is exactly the point. That's what makes it a miracle, and it takes faith to believe it.


Actually, I've heard religious types providing "scientific" explanations for these 2 cases, and others. In these talks, they claim that the miracle is that it happened when it happened, not that they were scientifically impossible. Heck, they go down the list... frogs... locusts... all of it. Can't remember how they handled the first born male children gettin' offed...

Like other water bodies, given certain wind and seasonal conditions, the Red Sea could have gone dry in certain shallow spots, and a sudden wind shift might have brought down the water on Pharoah's army trudging miles offshore. And they used to hold wakes not just to pound a shot of scotch for the deceased, but to make sure he was really gone. The religionists aren't all a bunch of dummies, are they?
5.5.2009 10:31am
ShelbyC:

I'm trying to figure out what this sentence means. Would you also argue that it is not the job of a physics teacher to get students to accept the Theory of Gravitation or the Second Law of Thermodynamics? Or that it is not the job of an astronomy teacher to get students to accept the Heliocentric Theory? Or that it's not the job of a chemistry teacher to get students to accept the Combustion Theory instead of the Phlogiston Theory?



I'd sure argue that. Heck, who's the better teacher, the one whose students understand the ins and outs of all these theories but reject them for religious or other reasons, or the one whose students believe that they're true but don't understand them?
5.5.2009 10:33am
MarkField (mail):
Since this will never happen on a political issue, I want to take this opportunity to agree with geokstr's last two posts.
5.5.2009 10:34am
geokstr (mail):

cmr:
I'm not for creationism, per se, but there are some things evolution cannot answer for, namely infinite regress and the idea that a long, long time ago, from nothing, stuff just started exploding and exploding and then billions of years later, we're here. Evolution and creationism don't have to step on the other's toes. But alas, that's what happens.

Creationism has no choice but to step on everyone else's toes, because it has no legs of its own to stand on.

Science can not prove or disprove the a god or gods exists, that is simply outside the realm of science. If it can't be tested or falsified, science will not address it. It's known as the scientific method. Young Earth Creationism (YEC) can thoroughly be disproven, but Old Earth Creationism is generally an acceptance of scientific discovery with a bone tossed to the Mighty Unknown. And evolution is accepted as god's method of achieving his plans. No conflict there, but no proof either.

YECism is where all the conflict is coming from, and it is totally absurd.

Perhaps something did initiate the beginning of the universe. My contention would be that this alone does not mean whatever it was is worthy of total devotion. Maybe it was a failed high school science experiment by a nerdy inhabitant of another universe.

Whoever it was though, although the holy books claim he did all sorts of miracles 2,000 ago like blotting out the sun, suddenly disappears when we can prove it was just a parlor trick like an eclipse.
5.5.2009 10:43am
geokstr (mail):

MarkField:
Since this will never happen on a political issue, I want to take this opportunity to agree with geokstr's last two posts.

This is in fact a political issue, in many ways. But politics does indeed make for strange bedfellows sometimes, non?

:-)
5.5.2009 10:47am
Hans Bader:
This is a scary assault on teachers' free speech rights.

But then, so, too are some of the lawsuits brought by the ACLU on behalf of secular students over things like teachers keeping a couple of the Bible in their classroom (which was one of the "violations" found by an Establishment Clause ruling in a case brought by the ACLU in the Tenth Circuit).

It may be a case of the proverbial chickens coming home to roost, but it's still wrong.
5.5.2009 10:50am
rosetta's stones:
Kirk, the question whether casting a voodoo spell should count as a criminally punishable attempted murder isn't a difficult question, simply because it isn't a difficult question. And yes, any prosecutor giving the wrong answer to it needs to be removed.

A voodoo spell is uncharitable, it may be a lot of things, but if it's anything, it's a thought and belief. The law shouldn't acknowledge it as more than a thought, a thought certainly decoupled from the prosecutable action of attempted murder.

This is not a difficult question, the blogger merely used imprecise phrasing, which I deviously picked through to make my point. As we see in the scientific method, hypotheticals are learning tools, and not the ends themselves. And on some things, after we're done learning, the law can just be... silent.
5.5.2009 10:51am
ShelbyC:

A voodoo spell is uncharitable, it may be a lot of things, but if it's anything, it's a thought and belief.


Isn't it also an action? One that the actor believes will result in someone's death?
5.5.2009 10:56am
rosetta's stones:
Now, you are establishing religion, aren't you?
5.5.2009 10:57am
rosetta's stones:
I gotta get out of this lawyer talk... it's gonna poison my mind.

Any prosecutor that goes after a voodoo speller is gonna be mercilessly pilloried by me and every other taxpayer, how about that. And let's make sure every law student understands this. That goes for wrong voodoo spells and spelling voodoo wrong, just to make sure it complies with equal protection requirements.
5.5.2009 11:03am
denisemz (mail):
Because this teacher was commenting on evolution vs. creationism, people here (including Prof. Volokh) seem to assume he was teaching a science class. In fact, the only mention in the opinion is an AP European History class.

This guy used his classroom as a bully pulpit to talk about the Boy Scouts ("a racist and homophobic organization"), birth control, the academic inadequacy of an area bible college, ... He did not seem to feel confined to discussing the subject he was teaching, so the fact that he was discussing evolution in class does not suggest he is a science teacher.

All this is to say that I think the court's holding that the "superstitious nonsense" statement has no legitimate secular purpose is correct, if, as it appears, the guy is a history teacher.
5.5.2009 11:09am
David Drake:
When I was at a large public university years ago, one of my professors--I believe in anthropology but it might have been psychology--told us that voodoo worked if you believed in it: that "Papa Doc" Duvalier in Haiti, who had a rep as a voodoo priet, would let it me know that he had put a spell on someone specific and that person would die. The professor was obviously not prosletyzing for voodoo but merely describing the power of the human mind.
5.5.2009 11:23am
Joseph Slater (mail):
Gosh, not only am in in rare complete agreement with Geokstr, but I also agree at in part with Hans Bader, which is more than I usually do.

Given how many folks on this blog regularly complain that western society in general is bending over backwards too much / threatening free speech to avoid any possible "offense to Islam," I was curious if anyone would worry about threatening free speech values of this teacher in the name of avoiding "offense to Christianity." Hans was the only one who picked up on that (although his gratuitous slams at the ACLU reminds me of why we are normally on different sides of things).
5.5.2009 11:36am
Joseph Slater (mail):
not only am I in rare complete agreement. . . .
5.5.2009 11:37am
ShelbyC:

I was curious if anyone would worry about threatening free speech values of this teacher in the name of avoiding "offense to Christianity."


His speech isn't free, he's billing the taxpayers for it. He can have all the free speech he wants on his own time, when he's not a state actor with an audience that's compelled to hear his message.
5.5.2009 11:42am
zuch (mail) (www):
Prof. Volokh:
I understand the logic of the case -- the Court has repeatedly said that the government's disapproving of religion is as unconstitutional as the government's endorsing religion,...
What about science "disapproving of religion" (or at least specific claims of religious derivation)? And if said scientists (or educators?) are employees of the government, must they restrict any pronouncements they make in their public employee role to those that don't step on any religious toes? That would seem to be a silly if not absurd take....

Cheers,
5.5.2009 11:44am
Joseph Slater (mail):
ShelbyC:

Public employees have free speech rights. Now, I agree that the teacher is less sympathetic if he's pontificating in class about non-class-related subjects. But in my public school experience, that would hardly make him unique. Nor would that fact alone take away his free speech protection. In fact, under the _Garcetti_ case, it's basically the opposite: public workers have no free speech rights in speech made as part of their job duties.
5.5.2009 11:45am
a non:
cboldt: the real problem is some religious people have chosen to include beliefs about the physical world in their religion and then insist that disagreeing with these beliefs infringes on their rights.

Would it offend the Establishment Clause to call "superstitious religious nonsense" the following beliefs (since repudiated) of the Catholic Church?

1. The Earth is Flat (since God will gather the Sons of Israel from its "four corners")
2. The Sun goes around the Earth (since the Earth is the center of creation, Joshua commanded it to stop in the sky, and other scriptural evidence).

If not, why is it wrong to have the same approach to claims made by current religions such as:

3. The world was created about 6000 years ago (adding up the genealogies in the Bible).
4. God designed every species separately during creation; new species don't haven't about since.

No-one complains when we denigrate Einstein for his emotional opposition to the statistical nature of quantum mechanics -- even as we recognize his contribution to the study of this very question by proposing the EPR experiment.

Similarly we recognize Newton as the one of the greatest scientists of all time (the Principia is surely the most important book written in Europe) -- and still dismiss as "religious nonsense" his objection to Cartesian co-ordinates (which was that by reaching all of space, they left no room for god, heaven or hell).

To the best of our ability to measure, the world is probabilistic, we share a relatively recent common ancestor with our fellow primates, and it is well-described by the FRW co-ordinate system (the latter may be subject to revision as we go to smaller scales). If high-school science teachers cannot take a clear stand on the side of science, what are they for?
5.5.2009 11:56am
Tony Tutins (mail):
Talk of voodoo spells reminds me my Crim prof talked very disparagingly about the JW prohibition of blood transfusion, in a lesson about causation (stabbing victim would likely have survived had he been tranfused). Luckily this was a private school.
5.5.2009 12:01pm
Anderson (mail):
Would it offend the Establishment Clause to call "superstitious religious nonsense" the following beliefs

Don't forget the classic: pi = 3.
5.5.2009 12:30pm
Tom Jones (mail):
The Establishment Clause is violated when Creationism is brought into the school in any way. But to call it nonsense does not violate anything.
5.5.2009 12:35pm
David Drake:
a non:

While I think I agree with your conclusions, your statements about what the Catholic Church purported to teach and believe are misleading:

1. Intelligent humans, including most churchmen, have known since at least the time of Thales that the earth was round. Some early writers may have talked about a flat earth, but this was never a church teaching, let alone a majority opinion.

2. Conversely, most if not all intelligent humans, including churchmen, believed that the earth was the center of the solar system. And why shouldn't they? That's how it appears. This was the Ptlomaic theory and was scientific orthodoxy as well as religious orthodoxy well after Copernicus published his theory in the 16th Century and Galileo his in the 17th. Interestingly, Galileo's "proofs" of the theory were erroneous, and the Copernican theory was not finally proved until 18th Century when Halley's Comet returned a predicted.


On the substance of the post, I think Clayton Cramer is most correct. There are ways of teaching the truths of modern science without bringing religious questions into play.
5.5.2009 12:42pm
David Drake:
a non:

While I think I agree with your conclusions, your statements about what the Catholic Church purported to teach and believe are misleading:

1. Intelligent humans, including most churchmen, have known since at least the time of Thales that the earth was round. Some early writers may have talked about a flat earth, but this was never a church teaching, let alone a majority opinion.

2. Conversely, most if not all intelligent humans, including churchmen, believed that the earth was the center of the solar system. And why shouldn't they? That's how it appears. This was the Ptlomaic theory and was scientific orthodoxy as well as religious orthodoxy well after Copernicus published his theory in the 16th Century and Galileo his in the 17th. Interestingly, Galileo's "proofs" of the theory were erroneous, and the Copernican theory was not finally proved until 18th Century when Halley's Comet returned a predicted.


On the substance of the post, I think Clayton Cramer is most correct. There are ways of teaching the truths of modern science without bringing religious questions into play.
5.5.2009 12:42pm
ShelbyC:
@Joseph Slater, I'm not sure I follow. You say that the fact that he is delivering a public message doesn't take away his free speech rights, but then you correctly point out that the Garcetti says that statements made as part of official duties have no protection. I would agree with the latter, and it would seem that the "creationism is superstitious nonsense" speech is analogous to the speech about the warrent affidavit.
5.5.2009 12:43pm
ray_g:
Not trying to be a wise guy here, but what if the statement was "all religion is superstitious nonsense." It isn't favoring (or disfavoring) any particular religion over any others. Would that be considered unconstitutional?
5.5.2009 12:53pm
rosetta's stones:
Not sure, but if you make that statement, there's a few sects lumped into that bunch you might wanna stay clear of. ;-)
5.5.2009 1:25pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

Under this narrower understanding, the establishment clause only prohibited Congress (and through the 14th Amendment, the states)

If that were REALLY true then there would not have been seven attempts between 1871 and 1890 to amend the Constitution in prohibiting the States from respecting religion in one form or another.
The difficulty here is that the Supreme Court has decided that the First Amendment applies to the states, through the Fourteenth Amendment, in that mysterious, mystical manner now known as selective incorporation. The Court just refused to admit that in the nineteenth century.
5.5.2009 1:29pm
Joseph Slater (mail):
ShelbyC:

I was really just responding to the general idea that public workers don't have First Amendment rights because they are working on the taxpayers dime. Although I haven't followed the facts of this case closely (read: I only know what's in this blog post), I agree with you that if he said these things while teaching a class, there would be a plausible argument that his statements were made pursuant to his job duties and thus not protected by _Garcetti_. I think _Garcetti_ was wrongly decided, but of course that doesn't mean much for the litigants here.
5.5.2009 1:34pm
Vermando (mail) (www):
Let's give it up to denisemz for reading the opinion! Hooray.

That's pretty amazing, actually - guy was just a history teaching giving his views on the world to his captive audience. Gee whiz.
5.5.2009 1:49pm
ShelbyC:

I think _Garcetti_ was wrongly decided


Huh. Applied to this case, you think he has free speech rights when he is not only being paid by the taxpayers, but the students are being compelled by the state to come to his class for the purpose of hearing a message delivered by him on behalf of the state?
5.5.2009 1:57pm
whit:

What about science "disapproving of religion" (or at least specific claims of religious derivation)? And if said scientists (or educators?) are employees of the government, must they restrict any pronouncements they make in their public employee role to those that don't step on any religious toes? That would seem to be a silly if not absurd take....




this has already been addressed, but those are not the same things.

if you are teaching a class on (for example) the law, there is no violation if you say "it's illegal to physically discipline your wife" (even though many theists could point to physical discipline of wives as a right under their religion).

there is no violation if you say "the earth is millions of years old"

even though some theists...

there is no violation if you talk about science, law, history, etc. that conflicts with (some or all) religious ideas.

there IS a violation if you ridicule religion.

can you grok the difference?
5.5.2009 1:59pm
Joseph Slater (mail):
ShelbyC:

You are misreading me. I specifically said I'm not familiar with the facts in this case, and I specifically said that if the teacher was pontificating on a subject outside of the subject he was ostensibly teaching, he would be "less sympathetic." My view on _Garcetti_ is independent of this case.
5.5.2009 2:09pm
geokstr (mail):
MarkField and Joseph Slater:

Are you two trying to tarnish my street cred with the rest of the rightwing extremist troglydites or what? If you don't cut it out, I'm gonna go on HuffPo, DU and Kos and shout out that you agree with me.

So there.

It's just that me and the other two conservative atheists in the known universe think you guys on the left are like the famous stopped clocks.

:-)
5.5.2009 2:13pm
ShelbyC:

ShelbyC:

You are misreading me.


Sorry.
5.5.2009 2:21pm
Joseph Slater (mail):
No problem, I've certainly been guilty of that before myself.
5.5.2009 2:33pm
Larry Fafarman (mail) (www):
After the Darwinists applauded three decisions that struck down evolution-disclaimer statements in the public schools -- Kitzmiller v. Dover, Selman v. Cobb County, and Freiler v. Tangipahoa Parish -- it is the height of hypocrisy for the Darwinists to now claim that the courts should have no control over what teachers say in public-school classrooms. Note that the issue of what is actually taught in public-school science classes was not an issue in these lawsuits, since these evolution-disclaimer statements did not actually teach creationism or criticisms of evolution. Nor did these statements -- with the possible exception of the statement in Kitzmiller -- endorse creationism or criticisms of evolution.
5.5.2009 3:02pm
nbdy (mail):

2. Conversely, most if not all intelligent humans, including churchmen, believed that the earth was the center of the solar system. And why shouldn't they? That's how it appears. This was the Ptlomaic theory and was scientific orthodoxy as well as religious orthodoxy well after Copernicus published his theory in the 16th Century and Galileo his in the 17th. Interestingly, Galileo's "proofs" of the theory were erroneous, and the Copernican theory was not finally proved until 18th Century when Halley's Comet returned a predicted.


Actually most people didnt think the earth was the center of the universe because it appears that way. Idiots did. Most learned people thought the earth was the center because they could not observe stellar parralax. Unfortunatley they never realized just how far away stars were. And it wasnt the Ptolmeic theory, Ptolmeic astronomy was a system of models to predict planetary positions, he didnt come up with the idea of an earth centered cosmos.

And actually hailey's comet has nothing to do with it. People that needed actual proof (other than the math working correctly) stellar parralax was finally observed in 1838.

Why in the world would acurate models predicting planetary movements, including retrograde motion, not be enough to prove a heliocentric model, but predicting something as trivial hailey's comet would, that makes no sense at all.
5.5.2009 3:24pm
CJColucci:
This is a bizarre case factually and procedurally. It does not involve the school district disciplining a teacher guilty of bad manners in class, or even a school district gun-shy of Establishment Clause issues that disciplined the teacher for statements that, so the teacher would say, did not, in fact, violate the Establishment Clause. Instead, a student offended by certain imprudent statements that brush up against the student's religious beliefs sued. And for what, exactly? As I read the case, the statements the judge held not to be Establishment Clause violations were more problematic than the one he held was one. I suspect that the offended student found them the more offensive statements as well. What conceivable practical relief could be ordered? Given the very fine lines drawn by the judge in deciding which statements were Establishment Clause violations and which weren't, no injunction could possibly be drafted that would stand a moment's due process scrutiny. There's no reasonable prospect of damages. The old $1.00 and fees case is a rare bird after Farrar. This is a Seinfeldian case about nothing.
5.5.2009 3:24pm
Larry Fafarman (mail) (www):
geokstr said (5.5.2009 9:53am) --
This is incorrect. Both evolution and gravity are both theory and fact.

Since part of evolution is a theory, the whole thing is a theory. Global warming theory is part fact -- it is a fact that atmospheric CO-2 levels are rising -- but the whole thing is a theory.

This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered.

. . It is couched in weasly legal terminology

That is not "weasely legal terminology" -- that is plain English.
5.5.2009 3:37pm
zuch (mail) (www):
Larry Fafarman:
Since part of evolution is a theory, the whole thing is a theory.
No. A theory is a scientific explanation. Facts are (scientific) observations of sufficient reliability. Evolution is a fact in that we see that it has happened. The theory of evolution (the explanation for the facts we observe) is generally Darwin's descent with modification through natural selection. The facts may be disproved through challenge of the evidentiary validity. The theory is disproved by proposal of alternative theories that better fit the known facts.

Science 101.

Cheers,
5.5.2009 4:21pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Splunge wrote:

So you, discussing voodoo, can say no one has ever successfully killed someone through voodoo...


Not quite correct. There have been several anthropological studies of folks being cursed to death. There are open questions of mechanism (it could be a matter of suggestion, not so far removed from various effects documented from hypnosis).
5.5.2009 4:45pm
trad and anon (mail):
I'm not for creationism, per se, but there are some things evolution cannot answer for, namely infinite regress and the idea that a long, long time ago, from nothing, stuff just started exploding and exploding and then billions of years later, we're here. Evolution and creationism don't have to step on the other's toes. But alas, that's what happens.

I think you don't understand the theory of evolution very well. What you're criticizing is materialism, or the Big Bang theory, or something along those lines.
5.5.2009 5:18pm
Larry Fafarman (mail) (www):
zuch said (5.5.2009 4:21pm) --
Since part of evolution is a theory, the whole thing is a theory.

No. A theory is a scientific explanation. Facts are (scientific) observations of sufficient reliability. Evolution is a fact in that we see that it has happened.

Microevolution -- the adaptation of organisms to their environments without changing species -- is a fact because it has been actually observed in progress. Macroevolution -- the change of one species into another -- is not a fact because it has not been observed in progress. We can only infer -- from evidence -- that macroevolution occurred. Also, the mechanisms of macroevolution -- natural genetic variation and natural selection -- are not known to be facts.

Also, I gave the example of global warming theory. The rise in atmospheric CO-2 levels is a fact, but no one says that global warming theory is both a theory and a fact.
5.5.2009 5:58pm
Owen Hutchins (mail):


How is "God created the world" lest testable than "people evolved from apes?


Technically, modern man and modern apes both evolved from a common ancestor. The test of this is the fossil record, showing the development and divergence of species.
5.5.2009 6:23pm
Randy R. (mail):
Larry: "it is the height of hypocrisy for the Darwinists to now claim that the courts should have no control over what teachers say in public-school classrooms. "

Not at all. Darwinists, like all scientists, merely want the best science taught in public schools. Currently, evolution is the best science. If you have better science, then by all means, bring it in. Science has never held that evolution is true, because it always holds out the possibility that it may be disproved at some point. Rather, it says that, given the observable record, this is the best explanation.

Religious beliefs can be terrific, as Gould said, but they are not science. If you want your kids to learn science, then they have to learn it. If you don't want your kids to learn science, then you should petition your state to eliminate science from the curriculum.

If you want to find a way to disprove evolution, the only way you will do so successfully is to do it in a scientific way. Therefore, you have to learn the scientific method (and the difference between theory as a layman understands it and theory as a scientist understands it).
5.5.2009 6:40pm
cboldt (mail):
a non --the real problem is some religious people have chosen to include beliefs about the physical world in their religion and then insist that disagreeing with these beliefs infringes on their rights. --
.
That's just an embodiment of the Lemon test. My point was that as long as science and religion exist, there will be points where teachers will find or fabricate points of disagreement between them. The Lemon test appeared in reaction to perceived advocacy/establishment of religion, but the test swings both ways. Larry Fafarman has a fair point, the Lemon test also results in shutting down "disrespecting" religion (whatever that is). It's no surprise that "secularists" are pissed off about it. Tough. It's the law. Comply, or suffer the consequences.
.
I think the Lemon test is flawed, but that is THE tool to apply in Establishment clause cases. So says the almighty SCOTUS.
5.5.2009 6:41pm
John Moore (www):

How is "God created the world" lest testable than "people evolved from apes?

The only way it is testable is predictions which can be made from it, not observations that fit the evidence (fossil records, genome similarities observed post facto).

Strictly speaking, evolution predicts (and evolutionists predicted) that the genomes of evolutionary descendants would be close. subsequent measurement showed this to be not false.

Likewise, evolution predicted intermediate fossil forms which were subsequently found.

It also predicts forms which have not been found, but the absence of evidence in this case is not proof of absence.

There are many, many holes in both the theory of evolution. In other words, there are mechanisms not yet known and data not ever to be available. It is the congruence of the predictions of evolution with observation and experiment in almost every case where we do have information that lead us to presume, with high probability (theory, NOT fact), that evolution is the explanation for speciation, among other things.

Intelligent Design advocates (not to be confused with Creationists) have provided science-based challenges to the theory of evolution. I am confident that these challenges will either proven to be false, or will never be provable/falsifiable.

However, they are interesting as these enterprising folks have found some of the best puzzles (evolution of the eye, etc). Many ID advocates are well educated in biology and related sciences, and are not young earth Creationists. Their methods are somewhat like those of many scientists - in that they have an idea and they set out to "prove" their idea correct (scientists often do this way beyond the ideals of science, since they are human).

ID arguments are usually based on compound probabilities (the odds of X happening by random are x, of Y are y and we need X and Y, so the odds are x*y). The absence of a visible mechanism to get to XY without going through X then Y is where most of their challenges come. But again, absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence.
5.5.2009 7:01pm
ChrisTS (mail):
Dr V: "When I taught criminal law one year, one of the hypotheticals involves the question whether casting a voodoo spell on someone, believing that it would cause the person to die, should count as a criminally punishable attempted murder.

Fub: "Random chance could make some claims of voodoo killing or astrological prediction true, in the sense of post hoc."

When working on my dissertation eons ago, I came across an odd feature of Australian law: that it was considered attempted murder for one aboriginal person to "shake the bone" at another - the bone ususally being a finger bone or a whole hand from a human skeleton. Indeed, if the 'vicxtim' died within some number of weeks after the shaking of the bone in his/her direction from heart attack, suicide or self-created accidents, this was grounds for a kind of manslaughter liability. The rationale was that this technique was causally efficacious in scaring aboriginal people into heart attacks, suicide, or accidents following from their own nervousness.

I do not know if Aussie law has changed or not.
5.5.2009 7:01pm
David Schwartz (mail):
Microevolution -- the adaptation of organisms to their environments without changing species -- is a fact because it has been actually observed in progress. Macroevolution -- the change of one species into another -- is not a fact because it has not been observed in progress. We can only infer -- from evidence -- that macroevolution occurred. Also, the mechanisms of macroevolution -- natural genetic variation and natural selection -- are not known to be facts.
This is a distinction without a difference. There is no such category as "actually observed" versus "infer from evidence". What you call actually observing something is in fact inferring what happened based on evidence about what happened. For example, when I actually look at my computer, I am in fact inferring that there's a computer from the evidence of the photons it emitted. (Which photons I also infer from the signals they produce when they impact my retina, and so on.)

If you try to make this distinction rigorous, you will find that it is impossible. If you are lucky, you can perhaps make it borderline coherent.
5.5.2009 7:40pm
geokstr (mail):

Larry Fafarman:

geokstr said (5.5.2009 9:53am) --
This is incorrect. Both evolution and gravity are both theory and fact.

Since part of evolution is a theory, the whole thing is a theory.

Yes, I can see that makes a lot of sense. And since almost everything about what exactly gravity is and how it works is just a theory, it can't be a fact either. Let me know how that works for you the next time you try sky diving without a parachute.

This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered.

. . It is couched in weasly legal terminology

That is not "weasely legal terminology" -- that is plain English.

I guess reading comprehension is not high on your list of skills. To say that "Evolution is a theory...regarding the origin of living things" is an absolutely bogus statement.

Creationists use this phony argument no matter how many times you correct them. I said it above in the comment it looks like you didn't read so I'll repeat: Abiogenesis is the theory of the origin of life, not evolution. There is not one legitimate scientist anywhere who claims that evolution can tell you anything about how life first came about.

To keep saying this over and over and over again is totally dishonest and akin to covering your ears and saying "Nah Nah I can't hear you!"

I really suggest that those who think I exaggerate or who want to see some truly astonishing affronts to intelligence go to the site I linked to earlier to see exactly how dishonest the creationist arguments are:
Talk Origins

I especially recommend the section on the "Age of the Earth" and how creationists claim that the reason we can see galaxies billions of light years away in a 6,000 year old universe is because god created it with the light already in transit (IOW, it's really young but the all-honest god tried to trick us by making it look old to test our faith) or if you don't buy that, then how about light used to travel millions of times faster than it does now.

Or the section on "Flood Geology" with its talk of "water canopies" above the atmosphere, and re-defining species as "kinds" (i.e., all felines from sabertooths down to tabbies were the cat kind) in order to figure out how to fit several million species on the ark, including baby tyrannosaurs and brontasauri, and how 8 people managed to feed them all and clean up their crap for over a year, and how kangaroos managed to get to Australia and nowhere else, and how they managed to feed the carnivores without making countless other "kinds" extinct, and on and on and on and on and on...

Be prepared to spew coffee out your nostrils and hurl your dinner. It's truly that bad.
5.5.2009 7:44pm
Roger Schlafly (www):
This court case was not about whether there are some creationists who make bad arguments. It was about whether a teacher can make anti-religious comments.
5.5.2009 7:59pm
geokstr (mail):
(This is truly a day that will live in infamy. I not only have Joseph Slater and MarkField agreeing with me, but I have to also take one of my favorite commenters to task. Sorry, John.)

John Moore:

Intelligent Design advocates (not to be confused with Creationists) have provided science-based challenges to the theory of evolution.

They have done no such thing. None of their "challenges" are science-based whatsoever; in fact, they are all based on circular arguments from incredulity, i.e., because it's so complicated, I can't believe it could have happened without a god, therefore, goddidit. End of "science-based" argument. (also see below)

...some of the best puzzles (evolution of the eye, etc).

Examples of every kind of eye pretty much possible are already found in nature, from mere light-sensitive cells all the way up to the complex eye, which has evolved more than once (the eye of the squid is very much like our own.)
Claim CB301: The eye is too complex to have evolved.

ID arguments are usually based on compound probabilities (the odds of X happening by random are x, of Y are y and we need X and Y, so the odds are x*y). .

Sure, the most famous and fatuous being, "what are the odds of a tornado whipping through a junkyard and creating a fully operational jetliner?".

Intelligent Design advocates (not to be confused with Creationists)...

Creationisist "science" was a bogus non-theory designed solely for the purpose of getting religion's nose under the tent so it could be taught in public schools until that was defeated in court. Then it magically and deliberately morphed into ID:

"The "intelligent design" strategy evolved from creationism. A main textbook for intelligent design, Of Pandas and People, was in draft stage in 1987 when the Edwards v. Aguillard decision made teach "creation science" unconstitutional. Early drafts of the book show that it was a creationism book, using the word "creation" and cognates throughout. Drafts made after the Edwards decision show that the authors simply substituted the term "intelligent design" for "creation" (Kitzmiller v. Dover, 2005)."

Claim CI001.2:
Intelligent design (ID) is quite different from creationism, because...


And for the first time ever, this non-lawyer gets to cite a court case on this legal blog. One in a row, a personal best.
5.5.2009 8:39pm
whit:

Not at all. Darwinists, like all scientists, merely want the best science taught in public schools. Currently, evolution is the best science. If you have better science, then by all means, bring it in. Science has never held that evolution is true, because it always holds out the possibility that it may be disproved at some point. Rather, it says that, given the observable record, this is the best explanation.

Religious beliefs can be terrific, as Gould said, but they are not science. If you want your kids to learn science, then they have to learn it. If you don't want your kids to learn science, then you should petition your state to eliminate science from the curriculum.




exactly. the point is NOT are darwinists right and/or are creationists wrong.

darwinism may very well be wrong.

the issue is that we don't teach creationism in schools (public) because it is based on religious faith.

darwinism is taught because it is scientific theory.

saying something is scientific theory does NOT mean it is correct.

LOTs of scientific theories have turned out to be wrong.
5.5.2009 8:55pm
John Moore (www):
Geokster..

Oh no! well, here we go...


Intelligent Design advocates (not to be confused with Creationists) have provided science-based challenges to the theory of evolution.


They have done no such thing. None of their "challenges" are science-based whatsoever; in fact, they are all based on circular arguments from incredulity, i.e., because it's so complicated, I can't believe it could have happened without a god, therefore, goddidit. End of "science-based" argument. (also see below)

Their motivation is indeed religious. However, they are employing science to pry into the cracks in evolution. Of course, some of them are using silly arguments, but some, not so silly. They're wrong, I believe, but the serious ones (including a co-worker with a masters in biology/genetics) are not always out to lunch.




...some of the best puzzles (evolution of the eye, etc).
Examples of every kind of eye pretty much possible are already found in nature, from mere light-sensitive cells all the way up to the complex eye, which has evolved more than once (the eye of the squid is very much like our own.)
Claim CB301: The eye is too complex to have evolved.


Eye was afraid that would happen ;-) They do have examples for which no explanation exists. I couldn't reproduce the good ones because I am not that interested. The fact that we have no explanation does not, as I pointed out, mean that ID is the only possible one - just that we haven't figured it out.





ID arguments are usually based on compound probabilities (the odds of X happening by random are x, of Y are y and we need X and Y, so the odds are x*y).

.
Sure, the most famous and fatuous being, "what are the odds of a tornado whipping through a junkyard and creating a fully operational jetliner?".

That is a reasonable metaphorical description of the probabilistic issue. It is not, however, the actual argument. The arguments are based on the not unreasonable problem of not seeing how one can get from A to C without passing through B, where B is lethal or non-favored.




Intelligent Design advocates (not to be confused with Creationists)...


Creationisist "science" was a bogus non-theory designed solely for the purpose of getting religion's nose under the tent so it could be taught in public schools until that was defeated in court. Then it magically and deliberately morphed into ID:



And, along the way, it stopped being just creationism, and started to use more reasonable arguments. IDers (not their fans) are people with advanced degrees in science who use that knowledge to challenge evolution.

And guess what... that's how science is supposed to work - even if their motivations are not normal and their preferred alternate theory doesn't fit into the realm of science. I don't care *who* pokes a whole in a theory, just that they do so. I also don't believe for a second that ID is (1) correct, and (2) an allowable scientific hypothesis.

Science used to be called "natural philosophy." There is no room in it for the super-natural.


"The "intelligent design" strategy evolved from creationism. A main textbook for intelligent design, Of Pandas and People, was in draft stage in 1987 when the Edwards v. Aguillard decision made teach "creation science" unconstitutional. Early drafts of the book show that it was a creationism book, using the word "creation" and cognates throughout. Drafts made after the Edwards decision show that the authors simply substituted the term "intelligent design" for "creation" (Kitzmiller v. Dover, 2005)."


Claim CI001.2:
Intelligent design (ID) is quite different from creationism, because...

And for the first time ever, this non-lawyer gets to cite a court case on this legal blog. One in a row, a personal best.
5.5.2009 8:57pm
John Moore (www):
err... sorry for the dangling include
5.5.2009 8:59pm
John Moore (www):

the issue is that we don't teach creationism in schools (public) because it is based on religious faith.


Unfortunately, some prominent evolutionary theorists have also left the realm of science - Dawkins, for example. Rather than sticking to science, they publicly ridicule anyone with religion (anyone, not just creationists) and use their authority to assert the equally unprovable and unscientific belief of athiesm.

It is that sort of scorn, praised by our elites, which probably led this idiot teacher astray.
5.5.2009 9:02pm
Owen Hutchins (mail):
I'm just waiting for the Creation Scientists to realize that they have proved God exists, and that since proof denies faith, and without faith God is nothing, they have made Him disappear in a puff of logic. After that, they will all be run over at the next zebra crossing, and we can get back to more important issues than them.
5.5.2009 10:12pm
Owen Hutchins (mail):


the issue is that we don't teach creationism in schools (public) because it is based on religious faith.


Nope. We don't teach it in public schools because it isn't science. ID is no better, they just use the jargon better. But it still isn't science, because they can't present any evidence at all, just assumptions and faulty logic.
5.5.2009 10:15pm
ChrisTS (mail):
Um: sorry, it's "pointing the bone," not 'shaking.' I guess they are equally suggestive.
5.5.2009 10:17pm
whit:

Nope. We don't teach it in public schools because it isn't science.


um, no

it is true that we don't (in public schools) teach religious faith principles.

we teach all sorts of stuff that isn't science.

art, music, history, etc.

so, sorry. my statement is more correct.

it would be correct to say that we don't teach creationism in SCIENCE CLASS because it isn't science.

i didn't say science class.

i said PUBLIC SCHOOLS

hth
5.5.2009 10:21pm
Larry Fafarman (mail) (www):
Randy R. said (5.5.2009 6:40pm) --
Larry: "it is the height of hypocrisy for the Darwinists to now claim that the courts should have no control over what teachers say in public-school classrooms. "

Not at all. Darwinists, like all scientists, merely want the best science taught in public schools.

Irrelevant! I was only pointing out that in other court cases, the courts believed that they have the power to control what teachers say -- and not just what teachers actually teach -- in public-school classrooms.

David Schwartz (5.5.2009 7:40pm) --
This is a distinction without a difference. There is no such category as "actually observed" versus "infer from evidence". What you call actually observing something is in fact inferring what happened based on evidence about what happened.

The courts make BIG distinctions in the amount of weight given to different kinds of evidence. To the courts, there are BIG differences between first-hand direct evidence and circumstantial and hearsay evidence.

geokstr said (5.5.2009 7:44pm) --
And since almost everything about what exactly gravity is and how it works is just a theory, it can't be a fact either. Let me know how that works for you the next time you try sky diving without a parachute.

OK, macroevolution is a theory and microevolution is a fact. But the vague general statement that evolution is both a fact and a theory makes no sense. A lot of theories are associated with facts -- for example, global warming theory is associated with the fact that atmospheric CO-2 levels have been rising.

geokstr said (5.5.2009 8:39pm) --
John Moore:
Intelligent Design advocates (not to be confused with Creationists) have provided science-based challenges to the theory of evolution.

They have done no such thing. None of their "challenges" are science-based whatsoever; in fact, they are all based on circular arguments from incredulity, i.e., because it's so complicated, I can't believe it could have happened without a god, therefore, goddidit. End of "science-based" argument.

That statement shows that you know nothing about ID. Many ID arguments are very technically sophisticated -- they don't just say "goddidit."

"The "intelligent design" strategy evolved from creationism.

You Darwinists say that humans evolved from protozoa -- does that mean that humans are no different from protozoa?

A main textbook for intelligent design, Of Pandas and People, was in draft stage in 1987 when the Edwards v. Aguillard decision made teach "creation science" unconstitutional. Early drafts of the book show that it was a creationism book, using the word "creation" and cognates throughout. Drafts made after the Edwards decision show that the authors simply substituted the term "intelligent design" for "creation"

One book's substitution of the term "intelligent design" for "creationism" does not prove that ID is the same as creationism or that ID is part of creationism. In fact, if ID and creationism were synonymous or if ID were just part of creationism, there would be no point in making such a substitution in an attempt to evade Edwards, would there be?

And for the first time ever, this non-lawyer gets to cite a court case on this legal blog. One in a row, a personal best.

Well, I'm a non-lawyer too and I am constantly citing court cases on this blog. And many of my citations are original citations, whereas you merely copied your citation from the TalkOrigins website.
5.5.2009 10:31pm
MarkField (mail):

MarkField and Joseph Slater:

Are you two trying to tarnish my street cred with the rest of the rightwing extremist troglydites or what? If you don't cut it out, I'm gonna go on HuffPo, DU and Kos and shout out that you agree with me.

So there.

It's just that me and the other two conservative atheists in the known universe think you guys on the left are like the famous stopped clocks.


It's a biiiiiig internet. I may have to re-think this strategy.
5.5.2009 10:51pm
Owen Hutchins (mail):
whit- what other class might it go in? It doesn't purport to be math, nor social studies, it isn't English or some other language, and it isn't gym.

In any case, creationism and ID are the same thing, with the rough edges of creationism smoothed over, new paint and a slick new marketing campaign.
5.5.2009 10:52pm
whit:
owen, don't backpedal.

you tried to "correct" me with a distinction that was in fact, incorrect.

i made the point that we don't teach creationism in public school because creationism is religious faith.

thus, it is not...

science.

it is also not

art, business, social studies, gym, etc.

but contrary to what you said the reason we don't teach it is not merely because it isn't science. MOST of the things we teach in school aren't science.

hth
5.5.2009 11:31pm
zuch (mail) (www):
Larry Fafarman:
Microevolution -- the adaptation of organisms to their environments without changing species -- is a fact because it has been actually observed in progress. Macroevolution -- the change of one species into another -- is not a fact because it has not been observed in progress.
You're a couple of centuries behind in your epistemology if you think the only things that can be facts are the things that we can "observe". No one has ever seen an electron. I guess my computer (and yours, even more so) works solely on conjecture.... ;-)

Cheers,
5.6.2009 12:00am
zuch (mail) (www):
Larrt Fafarman:
Also, the mechanisms of macroevolution -- natural genetic variation and natural selection -- are not known to be facts.
This is even more absurd. These things can be readily (and repeatably) demonstrated even in a lab. These indisputable processes are thought to be the main mechanisms of evolution (albeit there's some debate as to the relative importance of such). But to say they don't exist as facts is just silly.

Cheers,
5.6.2009 12:05am
zuch (mail) (www):
John Moore:
Intelligent Design advocates (not to be confused with Creationists) have provided science-based challenges to the theory of evolution. I am confident that these challenges will either proven to be false, or will never be provable/falsifiable.

However, they are interesting as these enterprising folks have found some of the best puzzles (evolution of the eye, etc).
The eye as an example of "ID" is a very poor one. The eye is in many respects ad hoc and imperfect (and thus not particularly "intelligent"), and there's plenty of evidence for the development of the various component parts independently and piecemeal. Not to mention parallel development of (different) eyes in various different phyla.

Cheers,
5.6.2009 12:13am
zuch (mail) (www):
ChrisTS
:When working on my dissertation eons ago, I came across an odd feature of Australian law: that it was considered attempted murder for one aboriginal person to "shake the bone" at another - the bone ususally being a finger bone or a whole hand from a human skeleton. Indeed, if the 'vicxtim' died within some number of weeks after the shaking of the bone in his/her direction from heart attack, suicide or self-created accidents, this was grounds for a kind of manslaughter liability. The rationale was that this technique was causally efficacious in scaring aboriginal people into heart attacks, suicide, or accidents following from their own nervousness.
See Peter Weir's treatment of this in the movie, "The Last Wave".

Cheers,
5.6.2009 12:17am
John Moore (www):
zuch :




However, they are interesting as these enterprising folks have found some of the best puzzles (evolution of the eye, etc).



The eye as an example of "ID" is a very poor one

Yeah, I knew that when I wrote it, but I didn't have the better ones at hand.
5.6.2009 12:31am
Larry Fafarman (mail) (www):
Zuch says,
You're a couple of centuries behind in your epistemology if you think the only things that can be facts are the things that we can "observe". No one has ever seen an electron.

We have directly observed the effects of electrons. We have never directly observed the evolution of one species into another.
Also, the mechanisms of macroevolution -- natural genetic variation and natural selection -- are not known to be facts.
This is even more absurd. These things can be readily (and repeatably) demonstrated even in a lab.

Do you know what macroevolution is? It is the natural evolution of one species into another. It has never been observed in a lab -- or directly observed in the field.
5.6.2009 4:29am
zuch (mail) (www):
Larry Fafarman:
[zuch]: You're a couple of centuries behind in your epistemology if you think the only things that can be facts are the things that we can "observe". No one has ever seen an electron.
We have directly observed the effects of electrons. We have never directly observed the evolution of one species into another.
No. We haven't "directly observed" the effects of electrons either (which is shifting the goalposts a bit), much less directly observed them ourselves. But I for one am confident they exist ... until and unless we find out differently.
[LF]: Also, the mechanisms of macroevolution -- natural genetic variation and natural selection -- are not known to be facts.
[zuch]: This is even more absurd. These things can be readily (and repeatably) demonstrated even in a lab.
Do you know what macroevolution is? It is the natural evolution of one species into another. It has never been observed in a lab -- or directly observed in the field.
I was talking about "natural genetic variation" and "natural selection" (which is what you stated as "not [being] known [as] facts"). But FWIW, macroevolution is as much "direct[ly]" evident in the record as is the existence of electrons.

Cheers,
5.6.2009 7:41am
Joseph Slater (mail):
Geokstr writes:

(This is truly a day that will live in infamy. I not only have Joseph Slater and MarkField agreeing with me,

Think of it like a professional wrestling story line. Every so often, as a plot twist, a "good guy" and a "bad guy" will actually team up together for some reason. I'm sure we can both agree that on the VC, one of us is generally a good guy and the other one of us is generally a bad guy.

More seriously and on the merits, I continue to agree with all geokstr says on this issue, and would not even think of hitting him from behind with a steel chair . . . on this thread . . .
5.6.2009 10:28am
fishbane (mail):
What? Because I won't smile stupidly and say that homosexuality is wonderful? I'll be respectful when homosexuals stop insisting that the government should silence those who disapprove.

Similarly, I'll be respectful when xians stop trying to force their creationism down my children's throats.

My, a broad brush spreads a lot of paint, doesn't it?
5.6.2009 10:57am
MarkField (mail):
I tag Joseph Slater.
5.6.2009 11:29am
einhverfr (mail) (www):

Voodoo and astrology, at least, are predictive, and thus falsifiable. (Stick pins in the doll and the target doesn't die. Hypothesis experimentally disproved.) I don't think any major religions these days make real-time predictions, or claim that their priests can pass miracles at will. They make predictions, of course, but they're either about the afterlife or without a time limit ("the world will end one of these days"), hence nondisprovable.


Not necessarily. As I said, there are a number of fairly good anthropological studies about curses in tribal societies which result consistently in the deaths of their targets. The cause of death is usually natural, accidental, or self-inflicted.

So we have evidence that IN SOME CONTEXTS, "voodoo spells" and various equivalents in other cultures can be quite effective.

Also falsifying astrology is fairly difficult because most of the history of astrology has seen the signs which are sufficiently abstract as to be changeable. Thus if a prediction doesn't come true, either the astrologer misread the chart or the impulses manifested in a different way.

I have my own thoughts on both of these in that I think that religion, astrology, and magic are all byproducts of ways in which we have evolved to process information, but which we have somewhat suppressed from conscious thought due to how literacy affects our thought processes.

However, putting a voodoo curse on someone is no more attempted murder than praying for someone to die.
5.6.2009 1:00pm
David Schwartz (mail):
If things that appear well-designed are evidence of ID, thinks that appear poorly-designed are evidence against it. The reason evolution is so important to understand all of biology is because biology is full of awkward contrivances that work just barely and, sometimes, in horribly ugly ways. If one could imagine a scientific form of ID, it would feature a very foolish and occasionally malicious designed.
5.6.2009 1:19pm
geokstr (mail):

Larry Fafarman:

geokstr said (5.5.2009 8:39pm) --
They have done no such thing. None of their "challenges" are science-based whatsoever; in fact, they are all based on circular arguments from incredulity, i.e., because it's so complicated, I can't believe it could have happened without a god, therefore, goddidit. End of "science-based" argument.

That statement shows that you know nothing about ID. Many ID arguments are very technically sophisticated -- they don't just say "goddidit."


I beg your pardon sir.

I followed this controversy very closely for a number of years, even reading much of the baloney that passes for ID "science" on the Discovery Institute site. In many cases it is EXACTLY, word for word the same garbage as that first proposed by creation "science" including the footprints of dinos along side those of men (probably kept them as pets in the Garden), the "discovery" of the Ark at Mt Ararat by a known con man, the speed of light being millions of times faster 6,000 years ago, the tectonic plates moving at speeds that would have melted the crust in order to get the kangaroos all the way to Australia before they could spread to anywhere else, and so much other insane nonsense.

Not only that, but how can you account for the fact that the same exact people who were pushing creation "science" are now firm believers in ID?

I've also read a lot of the babblings of the two main stars of ID, William Dembski and Michael Behe, who actually had to admit under oath in Kitzmiller that there was at present no actual real scientific research that had been done that could support ID. This despite generous grants being made available by the Institute for years.

If this was a post on the actual merits, or more specifically, the lack of merits, of ID, I'd be happy to demonstrate who knows very little about it.

I will ask you this though, are you a YEC or an OEC? If you're a YEC and you can actually make this micro/macro argument with a straight face, then if you're right about it, you're also disproving the Bible's account of the flood.

That's just a small example of how internally contradictory the "science" you're supporting is.
5.6.2009 2:20pm
geokstr (mail):

Joseph Slater:

Think of it like a professional wrestling story line. Every so often, as a plot twist, a "good guy" and a "bad guy" will actually team up together for some reason. I'm sure we can both agree that on the VC, one of us is generally a good guy and the other one of us is generally a bad guy.

More seriously and on the merits, I continue to agree with all geokstr says on this issue, and would not even think of hitting him from behind with a steel chair . . . on this thread . . .

MarkField:

I tag Joseph Slater.


Yeah right.

What do you take me for, Mark, a fool? Not only have I seen how this BS works on occasion in the WWE, but my old man was a part-time pro wrestler "heavy" back in the days when it didn't pay anything and was on black and white TV.

Next, Joseph distracts the ref while YOU hit me with the steel chair on another thread.
5.6.2009 2:36pm
eddie (mail):
What struck me about this decision is that the statement taken at its worst was a general "derogation" of religion and not of a religion. How are any individual's rights diminished by such a general statement? Where is the standing?

More frightening about this decision are two things:

If this was simply an opinion, does this mean that a public servant must check his opinions at the door (seems a bit over broad)?

If not an opinion, then has this judge created a strict liability case of "religious libel" (what I mean by this is-- let's assume that creationism is "supersticious nonsense" is a true statement (not a big stretch because by its very terms creationism requires belief and not reason). Can the First Amendment really stand for the proposition that making a true statement in some instances constitutes an illegal act (and please don't counter with examples re national security)? Was it the tone? What if the teacher had been a bit more judicious and said "Creationism is based on accounts in the the Bible and certain other beliefs that cannot not be proven and do not make any rational sense when compared with the fossil record and other scientific discoveries."

Does saying it nicely remove it from illicit behavior? And if so, why is this a constitutional matter?
5.6.2009 3:19pm
David Schwartz (mail):
The courts make BIG distinctions in the amount of weight given to different kinds of evidence. To the courts, there are BIG differences between first-hand direct evidence and circumstantial and hearsay evidence.
This distinction does not exist in science. Scientists do not distinguish between "direct" and "indirect" evidence. All scientific evidence consists of acquiring something through your senses and inferring what in the outside world caused it.
In general, circumstantial evidence, written evidence, and other kinds of evidence are treated the same as direct evidence, and all evidence is given the amount of weight considered appropriate based on how reliable it's likely to be.
5.6.2009 6:09pm

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