One of the central parts of Michael Egnor's argument (if such it can be called) for sneaking religion into science classes in violation of the First Amendment is to argue that restricting science classes to science is a form of censorship: that is, that the prohibition on putting a government imprimatur on a religious claim (i.e., Establishment Clause) is a violation of the principle of free speech.
You’ll remember that he started all of this with his claim that
people in public schools have a constitutional right, under the First Amendment, to freedom of speech regarding Darwin's theory. That right is held by the citizens in a school district, acting through their elected school boards and other representatives.... [T]he First Amendment guarantees the right to freedom of speech. The citizens in a school district have the right to exercise these rights through the normal process of curriculum development.... Darwinists’ efforts to enforce censorship of questions about evolution in schools are, in my view, without Constitutional warrant and are inconsistent with a commitment to freedom of speech....
Dr. Egnor not having even a passing acquaintance with First Amendment law, was perhaps unaware that the First Amendment does not protect “citizens...acting through their elected representatives,” but protects only persons—individuals and corporations. It is therefore not possible to “censor” government: government has no expressive “rights” valid against the people who delegate authority to the government. Thus to speak of the Establishment Clause as “censorship” is inaccurate and misleading—par for the course for ID creationists.
Yes, the Establishment Clause forbids government officials, including teachers, from taking a position on the truth of a religious statement, including the statement that
God The Designer created life and divided it into species. If you want to teach that, you can teach it in your private school, in your Sunday School—but you can’t use the government to teach it.
The Big Lie of Intelligent Design is that it’s science. It’s not, of course: it’s a religious viewpoint. It’s an effort to say that there are such-and-such problems with the scientific explanation of the origin of species and therefore,
God The Designer must have put these things together. (This is called “strengths and weaknesses”.) It’s an effort to say that critters are just too complicated to have evolved, therefore God The Designer must have intentionally devised them. (This is called “irreducible complexity.”) But it’s religion masquerading as science. Once we pierce that veil, we can easily see through Egnor’s claim that he’s just advocating scientific openness. He’s not; science is open already—to scientific explanations. What he’s trying to do is use scientific openness as a trick to get religion into government schools, in direct violation of the First Amendment.
If Egnor really were advocating nothing more than scientific openness, obviously we’d have no disagreement. If there were a scientific critique of evolution, it would be perfectly constitutional and entirely sensible to teach it to schoolkids in government schools. Something similar happens all the time. Stephen Jay Gould’s famous “punctuated equilibrium” critique of the standard gradualist evolutionary model is a scientific one. And obviously that can be taught, and should be taught, in government schools. That’s a genuine scientific dispute about the mechanisms of evolution, and it belongs in a science classroom. Obviously nothing in the First Amendment bars government funding research into actual scientific critiques of standard evolutionary models.
What does not belong in a government-run science classroom is teaching kids that
God The Designer did it—even if you dress that claim up in a lab coat and pretend that you’re doing science. Mules in horses harness.
So what are we to make of Egnor’s position? He states his view succinctly so that even I can grasp it: “We should teach and study the strengths and weaknesses of evolution, with public funds, without hindrance. We need more academic freedom, and more teaching and research on evolution, not less.”
The problem here is in his misleading terms. When he says “strengths and weaknesses,” what he really means is: teach kids that science can’t account for the origin of species, so therefore
God The Designer did it. When he says “academic freedom,” what he really means is the “freedom” to use taxpayer money to teach other people’s children that such-and-such a religious viewpoint is true, in direct violation of the Establishment Clause of the Constitution.
Scientists and teachers already have freedom to teach kids actual scientific critiques of evolutionary models. Nothing whatsoever in the Constitution forbids research or teaching into scientific theories that conflict with the consensus view on evolution (or on anything else). Any teacher, any professor, any researcher, is free to use government money to study where exactly H. Neandertalensis stands in relation to modern human beings. Any teacher, any professor, any researcher, is free to use government money to argue for or against the molecular clock hypothesis. Any teacher, any professor, any researcher is free to use government funding to research for and advocate any actual scientific position. Nobody is censored; nobody is legally denied funding. But what nobody may do is what ID creationists like Michael Egnor want to see done: to use scientific freedom as a trick for teaching kids that
God The Designer created and designed living things, or that some supernatural cause interceded to fill alleged “gaps” in the fossil record. That violates the First Amendment. Call that censorship if you like, Dr. Egnor—but it’s “censorship” that I, like James Madison, am happy to practice.
One final point. If Dr. Egnor is so concerned about an open scientific debate, why are his efforts not directed at university research departments? Why is it that he and his colleagues are not out there doing the science? Publishing their results? Performing experiments? Demonstrating the truth of their arguments? Why is it that instead their efforts are directed at elementary and secondary school children? Scientific innovation and discovery is not conducted in high school intro-to-science classrooms; it’s done in the laboratories and in the field by top science researchers at America’s great universities. But Dr. Egnor and his DI friends focus their efforts instead at getting this stuff into school textbooks and in front of teenagers. If there really were a significant scientific, non-religious debate over evolution, that debate would be taking place in scientific fora. Nothing in the Constitution prevents it, and nobody in the scientific world opposes it. Similar debates are already going on in every area of scientific research, where actual scientific controversies on matters of enormous import are going on as we speak. But those debates do not take place in front of groups of teenagers who are busy staring at bra straps and learning how to pronounce the word “chromosome.”
Of course, Egnor would probably claim that the poor, oppressed Cdesign propentists are stifled by The Man, so they can’t get into scientific fora; that vast conspiracy of atheists again. But the real reason ID creationists focus on elementary and secondary schools becomes clear when we look at Dr. Egnor’s previous comments: “The philosophical and theological illiteracy of public school graduates is a scandal,” he wrote. Ah. Methinks I spy a hint here of the good doctor’s true intentions. And before that he wrote, “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. And they think that they ought to be able to ask questions about evolution in their own public schools.” Oh, but of course he isn’t trying to get creationism into government schools; no, he just wants a scientific debate. Yeah, right!
The bottom line is: Dr. Egnor is speaking for a religious viewpoint—he is speaking on behalf of miracles and divine intervention—which he wants to disguise as a scientific viewpoint in order to sneak it past the Establishment Clause. He has every right to believe in miracles and such, and even to try to convince others to believe in such things, on his own dime. But he may not use my money, taken from me by force, to advocate it as being true and to teach it to other people’s children.
Thank God for the First Amendment.