Skepfeeds-The Best Skeptical blogs of the day

Michael Egnor tries again

Posted in Freespace by Skepdude on April 14, 2009

“Listen to the fool’s reproach! It is a kingly title!”—William Blake

Dr. Egnor has posted a response to <=”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.

READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY AT “FREESPACE”

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