“She said we could give ourselves airs and get ourselves all rigged up and we were like race horses and we were just mules in horse harness and we didn’t fool anybody.”–Scarlett O’Hara
Not content with his outright lie in his previous post, to the effect that I believe schoolchildren in government schools ought to be taught that there is no God—something I do not believe and have never advocated—Dr. Egnor has now moved on to argue that the Establishment Clause forbids the government from funding research in evolutionary biology.
His latest post is really a scattershot of typical religious right stuff that I’ll get to in a second, but the overall point appears to be that my interpretation of the Establishment Clause (which he calls “angst” for some reason I can’t cipher out) is inconsistent because I believe that the government may conduct research on evolutionary biology but may not teach religion in schools. Or, rather, as he puts it, scientists may receive government funds to go dig up transitional fossils, but cannot “teach those same questions to students.” This assertion is typical of the distortion, vagueness, and rhetorical manipulation which is Dr. Egnor’s stock in trade.
Obviously the Establishment Clause does not forbid federal funding of scientific research of any sort, including research which seeks to uncover transitional fossils or to more thoroughly describe evolutionary history (what Dr. Egnor, like all creationists, is pleased to call “gaps”). The Establishment Clause does not forbid science teachers from teaching about transitional fossils—those that have been discovered, including tiktaalik or Archaeopteryx or Ambulocetus—and those that have yet to be discovered. Indeed, a good science teacher will tell students that there are still transitional fossils to be discovered.
What the Establishment Clause forbids is the next step that ID creationism takes: that is, to say that because there is a so-called “gap,” therefore
God The Designer did it. To put a government seal of approval on a religious claim is an establishment of religion and therefore illegal.
I’ve made it pretty clear already, but let me clarify again: government schools may teach about religion. Both students and teachers have individual rights under the Free Exercise and Free Speech Clauses to express their own personal religious beliefs in a government classroom. What may never occur is for a taxpayer-funded school to take a position on the truth or falsity of a religious belief; a teacher in a government school may not say that God exists or does not exist; that He created the universe and life, or that the universe and life was sneezed out of the nose of the Great Green Arkleseizure; that the Bible or the Koran or the Book of Mormon or Dianetics is the Word of God, or that they are frauds. Government schools may teach about the historical research done on these books—they may teach students that there are no historical or scientific bases for any of these claims—and if that leads a student to reject his religious views, then that’s just too bad. And the First Amendment does not forbid government from funding scientific research into evolutionary history or anything else. It doesn’t forbid research into ESP. It doesn’t forbid research into the history of the Bible or the Book of Mormon. It doesn’t even forbid teaching students bad science or untrue facts! But it does forbid the government from taking a position on the truth of a religious claim. It may teach any and all facts that might lead a student to conclude that there is no God; the only thing it may not do is actually teach that there is no God. Is that clear enough for you, Doctor?
By the way, Egnor claims that “Mr. Sandefur does not infer that the publicly-funded research on the weaknesses of evolutionary theory is unconstitutional.” Well, in fact I have written about the unconstitutionality of government support for the Institute for Creation Research, a so-called research institution devoted to attacking evolution. See Timothy Sandefur, Note: Dinosaur TRACS: The Approaching Conflict Between Establishment Clause Jurisprudence and College Accreditation Procedures, 7 Nexus J. Op. 79 (2002). Government may fund scientific research on evolution; what it may not do is fund a church that pretends to be a scientific institution.
So when Egnor says “Taken together, Mr. Sandefur’s constitutional ‘interpretations’ advance Darwinism at public expense,” he’s right—where “Darwinism” is understood to refer to the thoroughly established, scientifically supported, empirically tested, overwhelmingly accepted principle of evolution by natural selection. Government funded science classes exist to advance science at public expense. I actually think that’s a bad idea—but nothing in the First Amendment forbids it.
As to his variety of other statements.
1) Although Dr. Egnor claims to be doing nothing more than advancing scientific openness, he can’t stop himself from coming back to religious issues. If all he’s trying to do is promote a scientific debate, what relevance would these religious matters have? Nevertheless, he goes on to reveal his complete ignorance of Establishment Clause law when he says,
The government funds all kinds of “religious activities” and routinely funds “the propagation of such religious viewpoints as creationism,” and always has. Churches, synagogues, and mosques are effectively subsidized by tax exemptions. “In God We Trust” adorns our money. School children pledge allegiance to “One Nation, under God.” Military cemeteries plant crosses and Stars of David on soldiers’ graves. Presidents invoke God in speeches. Legislative bodies routinely open with prayers. Presidents and witnesses in court are sworn on Bibles. Military and police chaplains are paid by the government to carry out their religious duties. Atheist ideology is propagated in public school biology classes at public expense. (Mr. Sandefur will no doubt disagree with the last example).
I believe tax exemptions for churches are unconstitutional violations of the Establishment Clause—a well-respected position in First Amendment law, although not one the Supreme Court has endorsed. I believe “In God We Trust” on the currency is an unconstitutional violation of the Establishment Clause—a position shared by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and many respected First Amendment scholars, and one the Supreme Court chickened out of addressing. Presidents invoking God in speeches is troubling from a First Amendment perspective, but it’s widely understood that they’re speaking only of their own religious views, something a President, like any other citizen, has a right to do. I believe military chaplains are also a violation of the First Amendment—an extreme position, but one I’m proud to say James Madison himself, author of the First Amendment, also held. And if it were true that “atheist ideology” were being taught in government schools, that too would be unconstitutional. It happens not to be true.
Dr. Egnor, who is not a lawyer, may think that my understanding of the Establishment Clause is “idiosyncratic,” but his saying so simply proves that he is as ignorant of the law as he is about either biology or the basic principles of fair intellectual discourse.
2) Egnor employs the Declaration canard: government schools teach the Declaration of Independence which refers to “the Creator,” and that would be forbidden by the Establishment Clause, too! Well, of course, the Declaration is taught in civics and history classes, and no student is ever required to actually believe that we are endowed with rights by a Creator. There is no irony whatsoever in holding that schools may teach students that America’s founders believed so-and-so, while not actually teaching that so-and-so is true or false. It’s a pretty simple distinction that the good Doctor is either incapable of making or, more likely, wilfully ignoring.
3) Finally, he returns to the claim that I want to use government schools to teach “[my] own personal religious belief.” This is obviously untrue. First, as a libertarian, I don’t think government schools should exist in the first place, so I can hardly desire that they teach a religious belief. If they do exist, then I do think they ought to teach real science and true facts, regardless of the “metaphysical implications.” But they are under no constitutional obligation even to teach true facts, or good ideas. Government schools are constitutionally free even to teach falsehoods and pseudoscience (which they very often do). They can teach Marxism, or Keynesianism, or the “Out of Africa” theories of Martin Bernal or that secession is constitutional or that Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States—they can teach all of these things if they want to. The only thing may not do is teach students that God exists or that He did such-and-such. ID creationists may dress God up as The Designer, and they may dress up their religious assertions (animals are too complex to have originated except by God’s act) as a scientific claim (animals are too complex to have originated except by The Designer’s act). But they aren’t fooling anyone—least of all the First Amendment.