“Listen to the fool’s reproach! It is a kingly title!”—William Blake
Dr. Egnor has posted a response to my comments about his blog posts. He basically makes three points: first, he accuses me of misrepresenting him by calling him a creationist; second, he claims that it is constitutional for creationists to teach religion in government schools; third, he claims I am part of a conspiracy to preach atheism to schoolkids...or something. Let’s see how much of this holds up.
He begins by ensuring us that although he believes in magic and mysticism, he isn’t exactly a young earth creationist. No, he’s an old earth creationist instead. He “respect[s] young earth creationists” and “strongly support[s] their right to participate fully in public discourse, but [he] do[es] not share some of their scientific viewpoints.” I believe that’s exactly what I said to begin with.... But obviously this is irrelevant. The point is, Egnor believes that government-funded, government-operated schools should teach other people’s children that God created life.
My point was that the phrase “participate fully in public discourse” can mean a lot of different things. It can mean the individual right of creationists like Egnor to state their beliefs in public—a right guaranteed to all individuals by the First Amendment to the Constitution. Or it can mean the purported “right” of elected officials to abuse their authority by using the government to endorse their religious views as true and to put that message into government-run schools, funded with taxpayer dollars—something that is absolutely prohibited by the Constitution of the United States. It is the latter that Dr. Egnor endorsed, and endorses again in his most recent post.
The Constitution (which Dr. Egnor can read here for free) forbids the government from anything like an establishment of religion. What that means is, it is illegal for the government to set forth a religious viewpoint as being true. To say that life was created and designed by a divine Designer is a religious belief. It is therefore unconstitutional to teach it in a government run classroom on the taxpayer’s dime to other people’s children.
The Constitution does not bar the government from making other kinds of statements—that is, it does not bar the government from making statements of fact that are supported by science. (It doesn’t even bar the government from teaching untrue facts; Egnor claims that evolution can “only” be taught “in a constitutional manner” if its “weaknesses” are taught—but in fact, the Constitution places very few limits on what government may teach in schools, and that is not one of them.) If those facts turn out to be inconsistent with Dr. Egnor’s religious views—well, that’s just too bad.
As I explained in my article, Reason And Common Ground, the government is perfectly free to teach children that the seasons are caused by the tilt of the earth’s axis, even though that conflicts with the views of Greek polytheists who think the seasons are caused by Persephone’s annual visits to her husband Hades. What the government may not do is say that the myth of Persephone is true or that it is false. It certainly can say that there is no evidence to support it, or that all the evidence points in the direction of the theory of the earth’s tilt on its axis. In exactly the same way, the state may teach students evolution, even though it conflicts with some people’s religious views.
Think what it would mean if the opposite were true: if every person claiming a mystical revelation or an insight into magical processes could wield a heckler’s veto over every expressive act by government. Government could not set up a fire department, because people would complain that fires are caused by Thor’s lightning. Government could not promote sanitation, because it might offend those who believe diseases are God’s punishment for sin. Government could not try to educate the public about violence against women, because it might offend fundamentalist Muslims. There is good reason that the Constitution allows—indeed, expects—the government to teach non-religious concepts and even concepts that are contrary to some people’s religious views, while forbidding it from making religious statements.
Egnor’s argument—that teaching good science is somehow “teaching atheism on the public dime”—is a very old, completely exhausted one, rejected time and again by the courts, most notably, in Crowley v Smithsonian Institution, 636 F.2d 738 (D.C. Cir. 1980), which I discussed here. The canard that atheism is a “religion” which cannot be taught in the schools has been adequately dealt with in many other cases, which I cite in the same post, and discuss at length in the article I mentioned.
Egnor, of course, does not pretend to be a lawyer, and he not only has no knowledge or expertise on the Constitution or on First Amendment law in general; he also hasn’t bothered to read either the cases or the secondary literature. And yet nevertheless he somehow manages to reach the conclusion that it is “obviously constitutional” to teach ID creationism in government-funded, government-run schools! What a strong legal mind he must have, this Dr. Egnor—that he is able, in one of the most complicated areas of all constitutional law, to see a conclusion as “obvious” without having read any of the relevant literature! I’m a pretty competent constitutional lawyer, and even I had to actually read the cases....
Meanwhile, he is, at the same time, complaining about scientists who rely on government funding. One might ask, who is a better custodian of the public fisc—a person who uses it to teach rigorously established, thoroughly tested, widely accepted, evidence-based science, while respecting the rights of religious dissenters to disagree with his conclusions if they want to? Or a person who wants to teach magical foofery and fairy tales to other people’s children in government-run, government-operated schools? And one might also find time to chuckle over Egnor’s statement that “most teachers don’t presently understand ID well enough to teach it accurately to students”—since they might “understand” it better if ID scientists would, you know, do some science, or publish papers, or something other than issuing press releases. But let us not judge, that we not be judged.
Instead, let’s look at the bottom line of Egnor’s claim. It’s the same hoary argument that government may teach religion in public schools—a religion he tries to disguise as “science.” Egnor also supports the purported “right” of even young-earth creationists to “participate fully in public discourse”—meaning, I guess, to teach young-earth creationism in government schools. After all, they also claim their beliefs are “science.” They, too, want to propagate their religious message—that God created the earth and living beings—through “traditional legislative and administrative processes, without undue interference by federal judges and litigious atheists.” If it’s “obviously constitutional” to teach the one, why not the other?
Egnor’s post also appears to be an attempt to extricate himself from a concession he made earlier; one which may have caused a little discomfort over at the Discovery [sic] Institute. You see, the whole key to ID creationism is to deny that it’s creationism. No, it’s a science of miracles, you see; every bit as much science as physics and geology. But when Governor Jindal signed legislation intended to promote the propagation of ID creationism in government schools, and biologists objected to this, Dr. Egnor flew to the Governor’s defense, writing,
Most Americans are creationists, in the sense that they believe that God played an important role in creating human beings and they don’t accept a strictly Darwinian explanation for life.
Under this definition, of course, it’s clear that Intelligent Design is—as scientists have said all allong; as the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania concluded—just creationism under another name. Why else would Egnor rush to the defense of “creationists of one stripe or another”? If ID isn’t creationism, surely the Discovery [sic] Institute wouldn’t have any dog in that fight. That’s why Egnor now must try to distance himself from young earth creationists. And yet he cannot, really. He claims only that he doesn’t “share some of their scientific viewpoints,” you see. Fair enough; but he still does not explicitly deny that ID is creationism, which is what I accused him of admitting in the first place.
Egnor appears to suffer a good deal of confusion, therefore: not only does he not understand what the Establishment Clause does; he does not know whether ID is science or creationism. All he knows is that it is “obviously constitutional” for the government to teach other people’s children—including the children of atheists or Buddhists or polytheists—that life was created by
God a Designer, and to pay for that project with money taken by force from people who don’t believe such things, in spite of every court decision on the subject and the plain language of the Constitution.
And he accuses me of being “illiberal”?
Dr. Egnor claims that “Sandefur wishes to exempt his own religious belief—atheism—from constitutional scrutiny.” I find this a very strange assertion coming from a man who has (falsely) accused me of misrepresenting his views. I would like him to point to a single moment in my entire career that I have ever suggested that atheism should be taught in government-run, government-funded classrooms to other people’s children, or that students should be barred from believing in religion or from expressing that belief in schools. Since I believe in the abolition of all government schools, and the end of all government funding for scientific research, I suspect it may be especially difficult for Egnor to find such evidence.
But, hey, what’s evidence when you’ve got faith?
I eagerly look forward to the “more” on my “illiberal views” that is to follow.