At long last, Michael Egnor has posted his explanation of how I am “illiberal” in wanting to see the Constitution’s First Amendment enforced. It’s a typically delightful example of the good doctor’s logic.
First, he begins by complaining about my referring to him as a creationist. The reason for this is that “The term creationist in this debate refers to young earth creationism,” so that when I call him a creationist, I’m misrepresenting him. This is nonsense. There’s no reason that “creationism” necessarily refers to a person who believes that the earth is about 10,000 years old. Such people are one variety of creationist, but they are hardly the only variety. Dr. Egnor is a creationist also, as he believes that species did not evolve through a process of natural selection but were “created” by a “Creator.” He is a creationist who thinks the earth is a bit older; that’s all.
Second, Egnor tries to back down from his earlier claim that it is constitutional to teach creationism in taxpayer-funded schools. Earlier, he said that it was “obviously constitutional” to teach creationism in government schools, and 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.” In other words, it’s not free speech by individuals that he’s talking about—he’s talking about the “right” of the collective to use taxpayer funded schools to propagate as true the majority’s belief that living things were created by a Creator (just...don’t call it creationism). And notwithstanding the Constitution’s prohibition against establishments of religion, he considers this to be “obviously constitutional.” However, in his latest post, he backs away from this by saying “I don’t believe that it is constitutional for creationists (or anyone else) to advocate creationism in public schools.” Well, I’m glad to hear he has changed his mind. Go and sin no more.
Actually, what’s going on is the typical ID creationist dodge. As we all know too well by now, creationists concocted ID as a fancy way to teach creationism. It has no scientific content, no scientific record, nothing but press releases and fancy-sounding phrases for “God did it.” It is creationism masquerading as science. And the reason for this masquerade is that the Supreme Court’s First Amendment decisions have so resoundingly rejected previous attempts to teach “God did it” in government schools, that only by dressing up creationism as a science (
God The Creator did it) can they hope to sneak past the Establishment Clause. There is no “scientific critique” of evolution in the sense that Egnor claims; certainly there is no “scientific critique” that points toward living beings having been “intelligently designed” by a Creator. There are no “weaknesses” in evolutionary science; certainly none that suggest that the evolutionary explanation is untrue. To introduce William Paley’s watch argument into science classes, or to assert that the lack of one fossil or another is proof that some miracle occurred between two species, isn’t science; it’s an attempt to ignore science, to obfuscate science, to teach religion as true in government-run classrooms on the taxpayer dime to other people’s children.
If anything is illiberal, it is this attempt to evade the command of the First Amendment.
Dr. Egnor goes on to complain about the “philosophical and theological illiteracy of public school graduates.” What relevance does this have, if ID is just a dispute among scientists? The (exhaustively documented) fact is, however, that ID is not a dispute among scientists. It is a religious viewpoint that Dr. Egnor wants to sneak into the classroom and get a government seal-of-approval on. Anything less than that he considers “censorship.” He believes that getting government schools to teach children that creationism is a scientifically valid alternative will help to remedy this “theological illiteracy.”
If Dr. Egnor believes that public school kids are ignorant of philosophy and theology, then by all means he should advocate for teaching kids about philosophy and theology. Teaching about religion in a class devoted to religion or to history or to philosophy or literature—even teaching about religion in a science class—is perfectly constitutional (and a good idea). What government may not do is teach a religious viewpoint as true. It is perfectly constitutional for a teacher to explain that in Copernicus’ day the church held that the sun orbited the earth. It is perfectly constitutional for a teacher to explain that many people today believe that God created mankind 10,000 years ago. It is even constitutional for a teacher to convene a student discussion about the eucharist or total immersion. What a government school may never do, and what Dr. Egnor wants them to do, is to teach students that a religious viewpoint is true. It may not teach students that
God The Creator created animals, or that the sun orbits the earth or that man is 10,000 years old or that the wine magically becomes the blood of God The Creator.
Finally, Egnor claims that I want “to indoctrinate students” in atheism. This is nothing short of an outright lie. Dr. Egnor can produce absolutely no evidence whatsoever to support the charge that I believe in propagating atheism to students in government-run classrooms. Put up or shut up, Doctor. Sadly, lying is really a common tactic for this man.
Because he lacks such evidence, he uses another typical dodge: science “has profound metaphysical implications,” and therefore by teaching science in government schools, the state is promoting atheism. As I have explained elsewhere, this is an incoherent position. Everything has metaphysical implications. Nothing in the Constitution forbids the government from taking a position or endorsing a viewpoint that has metaphysical implications. Such a ban would give anyone with a metaphysical axe to grind a veto over the content of any curriculum in any school. After all, teaching students that the seasons are caused by the tilt of the earth’s axis also has “metaphysical implications”—and it seriously undermines the faith of those who believe in the “theory” of Persephone (a theory that has every bit as much scientific validity as ID creationism). By refusing to teach that myth, therefore, schools are censoring Greek polytheism and teaching atheism! This is obviously untenable. To teach students that the seasons are caused by the tilt of the earth’s axis is good science; let students draw what metaphysical conclusions they may. It might make their parents uncomfortable; it might even shake a student’s faith in Persephone. But nothing in the Constitution forbids the government from teaching as true a scientific viewpoint that is true.
I’m disappointed that Egnor has just whipped out these old, repeatedly refuted arguments. I’d hoped for something original from the good doctor. What we get instead are the same old canards: ID isn’t creationism—just a “science” of miracles that studies the creative acts of a Creator—and teaching science in schools is atheist propaganda.... Yawn.
Update: More at Neurologica, by my hero Steve Novella, host of the best podcast there is, The Skeptic's Guide to The Universe.