My article “Reason And Common Ground: A Response to the Creationists’ ‘Neutrality’ Argument” will appear in the next issue of the Chapman Law Review, which subscribers should receive in the mail in a week or so. You can download it on SSRN. The article is a reply to a creationist article that the Chapman Law Review published last year, entitled “Evolution, Science, And Ideology: Why The Establishment Clause Requires Neutrality in Science Classes,” by Stephen W. Trask.
Here’s an excerpt from the opening of my article:
In my opinion, a recent article in the Chapman Law Review, addressing the controversy over teaching evolution and/or creationism in public school classrooms, fell beneath the acceptable standard of scholarly discourse. The author, Stephen Trask, failed to address obvious objections to his thesis, cited virtually none of the scholarly literature on the subject—even the literature that might support his thesis—and found not a shred of support in the caselaw. This might be good reason simply to ignore the article, except that the argument Trask advanced appears to be growing in popularity among creationists of all stripes. Moreover, hopes that creationism, or for that matter, Postmodernism, would collapse under their own weight have so far not paid out. Sometimes it behooves us to make clear why balderdash is, indeed, balderdash.
First, we will begin with the obvious. Evolution by natural selection is a fact—a well-established, thoroughly documented, experimentally tested, observationally confirmed, real fact. Some contend that evolution need not conflict with religious belief, but for many others, it presents a real crisis. And, as might be expected of a person against whose position the evidence is so strong, Trask tries instead to question the validity of evidence, fact, and truth itself. Picking up on various Postmodernist themes, he begins with the proposition that science is simply one of many equally valid ways of knowing, and that our society’s preference for those theories that have been established by evidence, experiment, and observation is simply a prejudice, reinforced by science’s “hegemony,” which “legitimize[s] the exclusion of those who do not understand truth exclusively through empirical verification.” Science has no superior claim to truth ; relying on it instead of faith is simply a matter of subjective preference.
Further, Trask argues, the Establishment Clause requires government to remain neutral, and to treat all “ways of knowing” as equal. Science’s focus on natural causes rather than supernatural or magical causes, is itself a type of religion, and for government to endorse science, and particularly of evolution—by teaching it in schools—is “forcibly indoctrinat[ing] students into the religion of secular humanism” and compelling them to undergo “religious instruction.” Government instead ought to remain “neutral” by teaching “alternative theories” to evolution in science classes, including explicitly “supernatural” ones.
This argument is troubling for many reasons. I will begin with the epistemological claim—that science is simply one among many different but equal paths to knowledge and that its ascendancy over other methods is due to conflicts between social power structures rather than any objective superiority. I will also consider the related arguments that science’s exclusive reliance on natural causes-so called “methodological naturalism”—is an a priori assumption, and that science or secularism is a “religion” which falls under the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment. In Part II, I will address whether the First Amendment requires the government to remain “neutral” between supernatural and naturalistic worldviews. I will conclude with some observations on the conflict between science and supernaturalism in general.