Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Constitutionality and Censorship: Some Questions for Gangadean's Debunkers

I am afraid you don't understand what I have been arguing. I am a former student of Surrendra Gangadean, but not a follower in any sense. I am not, nor have I ever been, involved with Westminster Fellowship.

I have not chosen Romans over the Constitution. I am instead arguing against what I consider to be a tendentious interpretation of the Establishment Clause that I consider to be far removed from the original intent of the founders, and which has implications that I think even atheists should find objectionable.

The framers of the Constitution wanted to avoid the situation where the government had an established church, and they wanted to make sure people could practice religion any way they wanted to. That is the reason for the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause in the Constitution. I would concede a further point, that freedom of religion includes freedom from religion; that is, that a person is free to not engage in any religious practice whatsoever if they so choose.

The case against Gangadean seems to be centered around the idea that in presenting a rational argument for the existence of God, he is violating the establishment clause. In presenting the argument he does not force students to accept it, and he realizes that some may not. He doesn't say "Believe it because I say so," he asks people to consider the argument and decide for themselves if it is sound, in much the way that any teacher might present an argument for or against belief in God. (If this is not the case, then, of course, we would need evidence that he requires students to accept the argument in order to pass the course. Rumors and allegations won't do here). But, according to the case against him, he nevertheless violates the EC by even doing this.

Now, notice that the MCCCD standards for the introduction to philosophy class says that the course is supposed to cover arguments for the existence of God, as well as the problem of evil. But, of course, there are plenty of classes which cover the arguments where the teacher does not endorse the arguments, and in many cases the teacher will criticize the arguments. So, the teacher has to present arguments for the existence of God, but he can avoid violating the Constitution only by failing to endorse those arguments? That would mean that if a teacher doesn't endorse these arguments, it doesn't mean anything since he couldn't legally endorse them even if he thought they were sound?????

Of course, many teachers present the philosophy of religion section of their class with a desire to show students that their belief in God is irrational. They present the ontological, cosmological, and teleological arguments for the existence of God, usually with not much sophistication on the positive side, and then refute them with broadly Humean rebuttals. Then they will bring up the problem of evil, with the implication that failure to explain all evils refutes theism. Then they bring up Kierkegaard's Leap of Faith as proof that Christians themselves realize that their beliefs are irrational.

I have heard some of these teachers say things like "Well, I presented all the arguments for the existence of God and refuted them, and students still believe!" It is clear that in many cases they intend to impact the religious beliefs of their students, but of course, they seek to impact it negatively rather than positively. If someone were to ask them if, in presenting these arguments the way they do, they are impeding the free exercise of religion, they would probably say something like, "If people want to be irrational, I can't stop them. All I'm doing is showing them how irrational they are."

But a teacher who defends an argument in natural theology can say approximately the same thing. He can say "Yes, reason can be used to show that God exists. But I'm not forcing them to become believers in God. If people want to be irrational, I can't stop them."

Even if you accepted these arguments for belief in God, no religious act follows from that. It isn't even like the school prayer situation, where someone in school is pushed by the teacher to perform a religious act he may not believe in doing. Many students that I have encountered have a belief in the existence of God, even when they don't go to church and don't engage in religious acts. So making a case for God doesn't establish or force any religious activities, even on those students who accept those arguments.

If a teacher were to argue vigorously against the existence of God in class, and were also the faculty sponsor of the Campus Humanist Club or the school's Richard Dawkins Society, they would be doing a lot of things with which  I disagree, but the would not be engaging in any pedagogical misconduct. I've even heard students say "If you write a paper for X, and you defend the existence of God, you can't get better than a C." That kind of biased grading would, of course, be poor teaching,  whether done by a believer or an atheist. But it's a whole lot easier to assert this sort of thing than to provide real evidence that it is happening.

Of course, you can say that "Atheism isn't a religion, it's a non-religion, and so attempting to establish the truth of atheism doesn't violate the Establishment Clause, but defending it in class is." This is the "not collecting stamps" argument. But I am sure that is far from what the founders intended. And, as  Finney pointed out in the first thread, atheism has been ruled a religion for purposes of the Free Exercise clause, so it has to be treated as one when considering the Establishment Clause.

As Voltaire (hardly a defender of traditional Christianity) said, "I do not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." A college or university should be an open marketplace of ideas, and the Establishment Clause is being abused when it is used as a tool for censorship.

54 comments:

Anonymous said...

Amen.

Papalinton said...

The trouble is Victor, when does one know what are just arguments put where the teacher does not endorse the them, and when does proselytization kick in? Christianity by its own admission is an aggressively active proselytizing belief system. It has never hidden from that fact and indeed there are innumerable instances where christians have sought to push for conversion and even confession when people are at their most vulnerable and defenseless. Hardly a dignified history on that call. The christian mythos has soiled its own nest when one considers the history of the movement.

Even in Africa, through the benevolent work missionaries do, this work comes at a cost; flogging off hundreds of millions of bibles and the opportunity to proselytize. It seems doing good work is just not enough for its own sake. While christian theism's notorious modus operandi is open for all to see, its methods have been deeply suspect and clandestine. There is always the ulterior motive, the catch, hidden among the bags of wheat.

So I am of the view, the use of Gangadean's book and the manner it was presented had overstepped the mark and those undertaking the lawsuit have erred on the side of caution in exercising their right to having it tested in court. There are many, many other proselytizers who have not been sued. They can consider themselves fortunate to live within a benign and tolerant community.

Victor Reppert said...

And atheists don't proselytize? GMAB.

Papalinton said...

"And atheists don't proselytize? "

Point to the history of the atheist proselytization movement over the last couple millennia.

Victor Reppert said...

Mental hospitals for religious believers in Russia? Atheism hasn't been that prevalent until a couple of centuries ago.

The New Atheism is a proselytizing philosophy. Loftus proselytizes for his beliefs a lot more aggressively than I do for mine.

Heuristics said...

Someone wanted an example of an atheistic proselytization movement?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/League_of_Militant_Atheists

(actually, most marxist-leninist governments would do since they have an atheistic ideology)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Persecution_of_Christians_in_the_Soviet_Union
"Soviet policy toward religion was based on the ideology of Marxism-Leninism, which made atheism the official doctrine of the Soviet Union. Marxism-Leninism has consistently advocated the control, suppression, and, ultimately, the elimination of religious beliefs.[1]"

Papalinton said...

"Mental hospitals for religious believers in Russia? Atheism hasn't been that prevalent until a couple of centuries ago."

First part - Godwin's Law

Second part - What an egregious polemical and Apologetical spin of history that is. Even Spinoza knew he had to be extraordinarily careful of the existential dangers he faced should he ruffle the powerful religious feathers of the various sectional interests of catholic hegemony. Up to a century or so ago atheists were the main act at any public catholic auto-da-fé barbeque. Catholic clergy actively participated with fanatical glee in putting 'right', under their contrived god-given moral and ethical code, the heretical and blasphemous thoughts of atheists. And they relished in that role. It is only since the golden period of the Enlightenment, that wonderful interlude when the masses awoke as if from a nightmare to the realization of the parlous nature of christianity as a worldview, a time when reasonable people were unafraid to question the tripe that constituted christian thought.

"The New Atheism is a proselytizing philosophy"

New atheism isn't a proselytizing philosophy. Atheism is about fighting back against the ignorance of mythology, a self- defensive reaction against an ideology that seeks to suppress and dominate the egalitarian and diverse nature of communities, homologous to the superintendence of a beehive under the imposed rule of the supernatural.

Heuristics said...

"Up to a century or so ago atheists were the main act at any public catholic auto-da-fé barbeque."

I call bullshit. Source?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Auto-da-f%C3%A9 makes no such mention of it and according to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atheism#Early_modern_period

there was no such thing as we now think of as atheism until 1674: " The first known explicit atheist was the German critic of religion Matthias Knutzen in his three writings of 1674."

Papalinton said...

Heuristic

Another contribution under Godwin's Law.
Atheism wasn't the central issue under the aegis of the League of Militant Atheists, you silly sausage. It was a movement through the Society of the Godless (SoG) to entrench Communism. The Russian Orthodox was clearly seen as a monumental threat to communism for the hearts and minds of the people. Atheism was only a vehicle to suppress religiosity within the context of wiping away any active threat of the church that might mount a counteroffensive against Communism, not atheism. Heuristic, you only had to read down a little further [quote from Wiki]:

"The extreme character of the line to be taken against religion is described:

All religions, no matter how much they 'renovate' and cleanse themselves, are systems of idea... profoundly hostile to the ideology of... socialism... Religious organizations... are in reality political agencies... of class groupings hostile to the proletariat inside the country and of the international bourgeoisie... Special attention must be paid to the renovationist currents in Orthodoxy, Islam, Lamaism and other religions... These currents are but the disguises for more effective struggle against the Soviet power. By comparing ancient Buddhism, and ancient Christianity to communism, the Renovationists are essentially trying to replace the communist theory by a cleansed form of religion, which therefore becomes more dangerous."

Nothing about atheism here; it's all about Communism, vis-a-vis religion. And Heuristic, you would have read also that it was a total and miserable failure as a policy, starting in about 1929 and finishing in 1941, a mere 12 years, about the same life span as the great 1,000 year Third Reich, run by another baptised Catholic. A policy created by communists and ended by Communists.

Interestingly enough, "Yaroslavsky, in 1941 warned against condemning all religious believers, but said that there were many loyal Soviet citizens still possessing religious beliefs. He called for patient and tactful individual work without offending the believers, but re-educating them. He claimed that religion had disappeared in some parts of the country but in other parts (especially in the newly annexed territories) it was strong, and he warned against starting a brutal offensives in those areas."

And what is so ironic in this whole debacle, "...... when the Nazis invaded in 1941, and churches were re-opened under the German occupation, while believers flocked to them in the millions."

Such strange bedfellows, communism, nazism, German occupation opening up the churches, and millions flocking to them.

On the strength of your example of an atheistic proselytization movement, Heuristic, it is pretty bloody pissweak in comparison to 2 millennia of metstatic christian dogma.

Papalinton said...

Heuristic
I can understand why you would think there was no mention of an 'auto-da-fe barbeque' mentioned on the Wiki site you quoted, because perhaps you have read my comment too literally, coming as you do from Sweden.

On the matter of the second Wiki entry relating to, "there was no such thing as we now think of as atheism until 1674: " The first known explicit atheist was the German critic of religion Matthias Knutzen in his three writings of 1674.""

From Wiki's 'History of Atheism', "Although the term atheism originated in the 16th century—based on Ancient Greek ἄθεος "godless, denying the gods, ungodly"[1]—and open admission to positive atheism in modern times was not made earlier than in the late 18th century, atheistic ideas and beliefs, as well as their political influence, have a more expansive history.
The spontaneous proposition that there may be no gods after all is logically as old as theism itself (and the proposition that there may be no God as old as the beginnings of monotheism or henotheism). Philosophical atheist thought appears in Europe and Asia from the 6th or 5th century BCE."

Jake Elwood XVI said...

It would be nice if we could get back to the original topic, that is "Constitutionality and Censorship".

What I am amused by is Papalinton personal atestation as to the double standard that Victor is commenting on. That being one party has the right to argue for their point of view and another does not, or more correctly just the ability to present arguments in favour of a certain position.

The interesting thing is for all the complaints of proselytising from Papalinton he is doing a lot of it himself. Though without the personal charm you would think needed to be a proselytiser. So his proselytising is just in the sense of promotion and advocation.

Jake Elwood XVI said...

"So I am of the view, the use of Gangadean's book and the manner it was presented had overstepped the mark and those undertaking the lawsuit have erred on the side of caution in exercising their right to having it tested in court. There are many, many other proselytizers who have not been sued. They can consider themselves fortunate to live within a benign and tolerant community."

This is pure gold, Papa. The most lustrous is the "erred on the side of caution" part.

What was the manner and use of Gangadean's book? How did this overstep the mark?

How do you know, this? How did you personally verify this? What personal credence do you give to the testimony of Christians?

When did Godwin's Law apply to the Soviets?

Dustin Crummett said...

PL, first of all, Godwin's Law applies to the Nazis, not the Soviets; second, the point of invoking Godwin's Law is to prohibit bad *comparisons*. It's not to prohibit mentioning things that these people actually did...

Mike Darus said...

The cynic concludes that "History is the propaganda of the victors." ~Ernst Toller The same cynic could say, "Teaching proselytizes in the guess of course content." Just as all history is told with an underlying agenda, all teachers have an agenda to their teaching.

But this is not a bad thing. What teacher with integrity would not seek to convince others of what they held to be true? Even those who hold that truth is personal and relative will adamate about that value.

Proselytizing is unfairly demonized. It is actually a virtue to convince others of what you believe to be true. We do not question it in engineering or chemistry. Why should the principle be different in the humanities?

It makes sense to limit teachers of younger grades from exerting undue influence both for and against religion and other viewpoints. But by the time a student is in college, the gloves are off.

Victor Reppert said...

I gave evidence in my original post for the claim that people on the side of atheism sometimes aggressively use their classes to win people over to atheism.

And, let's not forget what we are talking about. We are talking about people who want to use the law to prevent believers who teach classes in philosophy from endorsing theistic arguments while presumably, at the same time, allowing and even encouraging atheists to argue for atheism. What this does is effectively prevent free and open dialogue on the question of belief in God, in spite of the fact that that is a required topic in introductory philosophy classes in the Maricopa County district. Are atheists so afraid of theistic arguments that they want to prevent anybody in a public college who thinks the arguments are good from saying so?

It doesn't seem to me that honest debate on the question of the existence of God is even possible if it is supposed that, if you think the argument goes one of the ways it can go, you are prevented by law from saying so.

On these fundamental positions concerning the nature of reality, what position we adopt matters to us. We care, and we argue passionately. We want others to think as we do. I do, Papalinton does, Bill Craig, does, John Loftus does.

Atheists will sometimes respond that, for Christians, the possibility of eternity in hell for those who reject Christ is a possibility, while for atheism, there is no hell to save people from. But first, some Christians who defend theistic arguments are universalists, and others are inclusivists. Second, theists are accused of impeding the advance of science and civilization.

Generally, I find internet atheists to be more zealous on behalf of atheism than internet Christians. Of course we can't physically torture one another through our computers.

If you are defending an argument for your beliefs, then you are not using force. If you believe you are right, you should have nothing to fear from open debate on the existence of God. No one is forcing anyone in these classes to accept the arguments.

Victor Reppert said...

If you really think that, in every Christian, there beats the heart of a Grand Inquisitor, then I'm sorry, but you've been drinking Kool-Aid.

shiningwhiffle said...

Mike Darus:

"Proselytizing is unfairly demonized. It is actually a virtue to convince others of what you believe to be true. We do not question it in engineering or chemistry. Why should the principle be different in the humanities?"

Quite right. My personal experiences have shown me the real issue at hand is persuasion vs. coercion.

I once got cornered by a group of teenagers in a mall who were proselytizing. They literally formed a semi-circle around me, with my back to the wall. It was quite rude, and I'm still annoyed when I think about it.

But they're the exception. Most of my experience with proselytization is with decent human beings who were genuinely concerned for my eternal wellbeing.

So my biggest, biggest gripe with the Cult of Gnu, as it's called around here, is their push to mainstream intimidation and ridicule as weapons against religion.

I am really starting to think that the constant accusation that theists are delusional or otherwise insane should be seen as a form of gaslighting, albeit a spontaneous, systemic form rather than a conscious attempt.

Papalinton said...

Jake Elwood XVI
"This is pure gold, Papa. The most lustrous is the "erred on the side of caution" part."

Yeah. i liked it my self. Pretty good, Eh?

"What was the manner and use of Gangadean's book? How did this overstep the mark?"

There is a lawsuit.

"When did Godwin's Law apply to the Soviets?"

More broadly, about the nonsense of incongruous and infelicitous comparisons.

Papalinton said...

Dustin Crommett
" ... the point of invoking Godwin's Law is to prohibit bad *comparisons*"

Exactly.

Papalinton said...

Mike Darus
"It makes sense to limit teachers of younger grades from exerting undue influence both for and against religion and other viewpoints. But by the time a student is in college, the gloves are off."

I am very much in favour of the first part of your comment.

For the 'gloves are off' perspective, that is why it is perfectly within the rights of others to challenge the pernicious nature of proselytizing through a lawsuit, when due diligence is overstepped.

Papalinton said...

Victor
"And, let's not forget what we are talking about. We are talking about people who want to use the law to prevent believers who teach classes in philosophy from endorsing theistic arguments while presumably, at the same time, allowing and even encouraging atheists to argue for atheism."

Oh please Victor don't get all cutesy about playing the victim and not having a fair go. You are in the field of public opinion. Christians have had over 2000 years of opportunity to stake their claim , even using religious murder for thought crimes to quell dissent. How selective and forgetful your memory of christian strategies for 'towing the line on catholic orthodoxy'. It simply beggars belief. If a lawsuit has been lodged it is probably because whatever proselytizing has overstepped the bounds of convention.

"Are atheists so afraid of theistic arguments that they want to prevent anybody in a public college who thinks the arguments are good from saying so?"

Absolutely not. Finally, after millennia of suppression, usually under pain of death, atheists are able to challenge the status quo, supported increasingly by the social and hard sciences the paucity of the 'factual' arguments for theism.

An appeal to emotion, ".. honest debate on the question of the existence of God .." doesn't have much currency, Victor, considering the historical treatment of those who held opposing and often-times reasonable alternative perspectives to christianity. Christians have largely soiled their own nest in this respect. And the Hams and the Robertsons and the Mohler's continue to do so.

But then I mellow. The balance of your commentary is fair and balanced [and certainly not in the FauxNews sense. And that is very much appreciated.

And finally, "No one is forcing anyone in these classes to accept the arguments.' and that is why we can rest comfortably that the rule of law will prevail and is there to adjudicate.

Victor Reppert said...

I don't know what the laws are like where you are, but in our country we have both an establishment clause and a free exercise clause when it comes to religion. It is not illegal for me to come to your door and share the Four Spiritual Laws with you, in hopes that you will become a Christian. If you tell me to go away and I keep harassing you, that's another matter.

Last time I read the history of the Spanish Inquisition, they didn't use theistic arguments. The rack, the thumbscrew, the comfy chair, but not the Thomistic Cosmological Argument. No one is required to accept Gangadean's argument in order to pass the course.

If a lawsuit of this kind is successful, do you think for one moment that Christian students who are subjected to the atheistic animadversions of their professors will refrain from suing their colleges, either on the grounds that the atheistic professor is establishing the religion of atheism (which, I contend, in a legal context is reasonable), or that they are hindering the right of Christian students to engage in the free exercise of religion, on the grounds that they have to right to practice their religion without being exposed to ridicule from authority figures in their classroom? If you open this gate, there's no way to close it. Nothing is to be gained, and much is to be lost, by dragging the debate in philosophy of religion from the classroom to the courtroom.

It doesn't follow from the fact that a teacher presents a theistic argument in class, and says that that is, in his view, a good argument, that that person is proselytizing. There are people who accept theistic arguments who accept no version of revealed religion. C. S. Lewis was a convinced theist for a couple of years before he made the final step and became a Christian. He believed that there were good reasons to believe in God, but he did not then immediately make the step of believing that Christianity was true.

Many Christians consider it part of their religion that they have an obligation to share their beliefs with others, in hopes that those others will accept those beliefs. If we outlawed that, you would effectively compromise freedom of religion. Now, those unwilling to listen to those solicitations have rights, too, but I can't call the cops because my door has been rung by a Jehovah's Witness.

Papalinton said...

"If you really think that, in every Christian, there beats the heart of a Grand Inquisitor, then I'm sorry, but you've been drinking Kool-Aid."

No. Not at all. Christians run the full gamut of personality types as do atheists. It is the contest of ideas that is important. Religion has had a very good run for a couple of millennia, and humanity needs to look to a different form of perspective, a perspective more in keeping with and inclusive of that which will sustain us as a species going forward, more mindful of and sensitive to our relationships with each other, with the rest of the animal kingdom and our planet more widely. Religion is increasingly showing to be less capable of sustaining that requirement simply because it is rooted and constrained in thought patterns that were the product of the deep past and a vastly different world than is lived today.

Religion is constrained by geography, it's strength only able to reach to the limits of its regions. We still speak, even in the 3rd Millennium, the 21st C CE of the christian world, the muslim world, the buddhist regions, the Hindu world. Humanity requires something much more universal. The current batch of religions have not, and seem likely never to meet that need. Modern atheism is a reflection of the dissatisfaction of this somewhat limited worldview.

Jake Elwood XVI said...

Victor in our country we have started to develop a propensity to think that not being offending is great morality. So Papa who is offending by Christianity and its history, see the people who promote as being immoral and committing a crime.

Papalinton said...

"I don't know what the laws are like where you are, but in our country ...

It is not illegal for me to come to your door and share the Four Spiritual Laws with you, ...

If you tell me to go away and I keep harassing you, that's another matter.

Last time I read the history of the Spanish Inquisition, they didn't use theistic arguments.

If a lawsuit of this kind is successful, ... If you open this gate ..."


Victor, you're talking dimes and quarters, small stuff and your thinking is rooted in the past, and your continued appeal to the Establishment Clause does not an argument make. This kind of stuff is not philosophical in nature, it is menial, small talk. The question that must be addressed is how does a society seek to resolve these issues in a way that steps beyond the parochial or the regional, with wider universal application?

I am prepared for mud wrestling, and the level of commentary many times dictates that I do. And contrary to popular characterization it is the broader questions and perspectives that motivate me. I am sure the Anons and the Yachovs of the site will relish the thought of disagreeing with me.

Jake Elwood XVI said...

"What was the manner and use of Gangadean's book? How did this overstep the mark?"

There is a lawsuit.


How is that even a response. The question I would like asked is how have you verified the claims, that the manner and use of Gangadean's book were inappropriate. Your such confident assertion about its inappropriate use, is attestation to your personal bias in regards to religion.

Papa, I am putting 1/4 chance that you are one brilliant parody, and as such I dip my lid to who ever is responsible.

If not can you just get back to the original post. And can you clarify if in how you understand Gangadean's book to have been used, is such behaviour also not appropriate for an atheist who does the same but with an atheist book?

shiningwhiffle said...

Papalinton:

tl;dr: You're mixing some good points in with some howlers and winding implying a non-sequiter.

Religion has had a very good run for a couple of millennia,

Just a couple of millenia? Surely you're not suggesting that Christianity was the first religion?

and humanity needs to look to a different form of perspective, a perspective more in keeping with...

I agree, but in my opinion atheism isn't that new perspective, nor will it support such a new perspective. Atheism in its intellectually-consistent forms (the forms that don't sneak a more-than-naturalist belief-system in the back door) fundamentally gives up on those goals by rejecting the idea of objective values.

Religion is increasingly showing to be less capable of sustaining that requirement simply because it is rooted and constrained in thought patterns that were the product of the deep past and a vastly different world than is lived today.

This is just chronological snobbery. The world today and the world of yesterday aren't as different as they seem. People still are born, live, work, eat, make love, get sick, get better, face tough moral choices, grow old, and die. Those were the issues religions evolved to deal with, and they haven't been fundamentally changed by technology.

Moreover, from what I can see, the world of the future will be even more like the past if we don't find some sustainable replacement for oil. And I'm not holding my breath.

Religion is constrained by geography, it's strength only able to reach to the limits of its regions.

By this logic, resistance to biological evolution by fundamentalists should count at least somewhat against it.

Humanity requires something much more universal. The current batch of religions have not, and seem likely never to meet that need.

Maybe, maybe not. Time will tell. What I am seeing, though, are many atheists trying to make sure they never get the chance to prove themselves.

Modern atheism is a reflection of the dissatisfaction of this somewhat limited worldview.

Here we're very much agreed. Atheism represents in many cases a genuine, authentic, honorable disgust with corrupt traditions and institutions.

None of which shows that atheism, science, secular humanism, etc. are the answers. In fact, I think the net effect of the present fundie Christian vs. fundie atheist flamewar is to frame the debate so that other, better options are effectively excluded from consideration. The only thing the two sides seem to agree on is that everyone else is even crazier.

Victor Reppert said...

Papalinton: Have your read the lawsuit? It is based, entirely, on the Establishment Clause. By their own account, that's what it's all about.

Karl Grant said...

If you open this gate, there's no way to close it. Nothing is to be gained, and much is to be lost, by dragging the debate in philosophy of religion from the classroom to the courtroom.

I doubt most of the people going against Gangadean have given much thought as to how this little episode could backfire drastically on them. I doubt most of them understand the concepts of 'strategy' or 'unintended consequences.'

One Brow said...

shiningwhiffle said...
So my biggest, biggest gripe with the Cult of Gnu, as it's called around here, is their push to mainstream intimidation and ridicule as weapons against religion.

By the broadest possible definition, the non-religious are about 20% of the population, and "Cult of Gnu" would be much smaller. How is a small minority supposed to mainstream intimidation?

One Brow said...

The primary basis for the lawsuit seems to be deviation from the course description in the course content, due to religious motivaitons. It occurs to me that had the course been titled "Christian Moral Law" and had a descripiton to match, there would have been no complaint.

It seems odd this would come to a lawsuit. You would think the department head/provost would have offered some sort of compensation (such as free tuition in the same class with a different instructor) as well as making sure that the class content fits the course description. It's not good for the university.

It's one think to present all the content of a course description with a slant. It's another thing to ignore the course description entirely, which is what the lawsuit alleges.

In Finite Math, we teach simplexes, basic interest formulas, and some probability. If I spend the semester discussing set theory, infinite cardinals, etc., then I would fully expect the students to complain and the department head to intervene.

B. Prokop said...

There are at least three Big Problems here.

The first I've already dealt with in a previous posting (that we as a society are way too quick to take matters to the courts that should be dealt with on a person-to-person basis).

The second is the utterly inappropriate use of the Establishment Clause in this case. Arguing for or against a particular belief can not really be thought of as "establishment" of that belief in the absence of coercion. (It would be an Entirely Different Matter if there were provable evidence that Gangadean allowed a student's grades to be influenced by his beliefs.)

But the third problem is the biggest, and I think the real Heart of the Matter. And that is the problem of closed minds and dogmatic fundamentalism.

It is true that there are easy targets on the "believing side" (to call it such for convenience), such as young Earth creationists or Biblical literalists for people to take pot shots at, and accuse with a broad brush all believers with the irrationality and closed mindedness of a few. But we really need to call out the dogmatists and narrowmindedness of the "atheist side" (I really hate these terms) as well.

Before these threads on this site, I had never heard of Gangadean, so I cannot speak to his actions or lack of them. But whatever the case might be along those lines, it is surely no crime to hold strong beliefs or to profess them passionately. What is wrong is to have a closed, sealed-off, thought-proof, evidence-ignoring mind that cannot contemplate the thought of being wrong, or the need to take mid-course corrections when necessary. (Read the quote at the top of my Google profile. It's not there as a joke.)

From what I've read on this website (and only here), the person or people bringing up this complaint are afraid to even hear any idea that might contradict their settled (un)beliefs or tempt them to re-evaluate what they think is True. This is indeed the case with most of the atheists I know personally (one in my own family). They figuratively stick their fingers in their ears, close their eyes, and chant "La la la la) as loud as they can to drown out any and all sound, so as to not be exposed to a thought from outside their tightly closed little world between their own two ears.

(This is most certainly the case with the majority of the prolific atheist posters on this site.)

Victor Reppert said...

One Brow: I have information from a source on this matter. If my source is right, then the material used in the course did correspond with the requirements of an ethics course, at least when this was reviewed not only by the college administration, but also by the Maricopa County Community College district.

Yes, in an ethics class, your students are supposed to learn what utilitarianism is, what the Kantian theory is, etc. If you lean the course toward religion in a way that excludes the study of these theories, then that would be a problem.

In the courses I taught in a different college in the same district, the department would require people to take a test over the whole course material at the end of it, to see if people in fact learned what they should have learned. Of course, some students will flush stuff from previous weeks, but it does show that the course actually teaches what it was supposed to teach. This was reviewed thoroughly by the district in response to the student complaints, and the district concluded that the complaints were without foundation.

Actually, Gangadean's book was designed for classroom use as the project of a sabbatical, the project had to be cleared by the district in order to justify the sabbatical.

Anonymous said...

"How is a small minority supposed to mainstream intimidation?"

There are only a handful of oil executives versus the entire country. Surely they can't have much influence.

There are only a handful of Iraqi dissidents claiming Saddam has WMDs. Surely they can't have much influence.

There are only a handful of media owners in a sea of people. Surely they can't have much influence.

One Brow said...

Victor,

If everything is as you say, and the class was actually taught the various ethical systems, then the lawyer who filed the suit was an idiot, and it will likely be slapped down, or at least result in a ruling for the defendants. Idiot lawyers do exist.

One Brow said...

Anonymous said...
"How is a small minority supposed to mainstream intimidation?"

There are only a handful of oil executives versus the entire country. Surely they can't have much influence.


Is there a comparison being made to the "Cult of Gnu" here? Are they wealthy captians of industry?

There are only a handful of Iraqi dissidents claiming Saddam has WMDs. Surely they can't have much influence.

Does the "Cult of Gnu" support postions that are politically convenient for the President?

There are only a handful of media owners in a sea of people. Surely they can't have much influence.

Any of them members of the "Cult of Gnu"?

Victor Reppert said...

I understand that there is a motion to dismiss. Th district that I have worked for for 20 years has various faults. Pro-evangelical bias is not one of them. If they support Gangadean's book, and class, it's foolish to go beyond them to the court system.

Anonymous said...

"Is there a comparison being made to the "Cult of Gnu" here? Are they wealthy captians of industry?"

The comparison is that there isn't a one to one correspondence between numbers and influence. They can be out of whack. The more populous can be marginalized. The minority can be powerful.

Duh.

Mike Darus said...

Here is a link:

http://www.pvc.maricopa.edu/puma/puma-new/fall_2011_pages/lawsuit505101.html

B. Prokop said...

Thanks, Mike, for the link. I note that the complaint specifies "potentially unacceptable grades due to a student’s disagreement with the course material and exposure to unwanted religious endorsements" (emphasis mine).

Good grief! These people need to get a grip. Or else they need to find a different field of study. If they wish to study ethics or philosophy, they're going to come across religion!

(So I won't have to repeat myself, I'll refer here to my own words approximately eight postings above this one.)

Papalinton said...

"I understand that there is a motion to dismiss."

If there is no case to answer, excellent. The rule of law works.

Anonymous said...

I am not following this in any g a detail, so maybe I am missing something. How can a prof be challenged for advocating a aview in class? How is this not an outrageous attack on academic freedom?a

It does not matter what the view is, religious, political, philosophical.. advocacy is not a crime!
As long as student's are treated with respect(along with whatever views they hold), I don't see how there could be a case.

Isn't this just a matter of academic freedom?

Victor Reppert said...

I'm going to once again make the main point that I have been making all along. You can't say it's against the Establishment Clause to endorse a theistic argument in class, and a the same time say it's OK to argue for atheism in class. Plenty of college professors do that, and no one has sued them. But if this kind of a case is successful, then anyone who doesn't like what their teachers say, so long as it is related to religion, can file a lawsuit.

One Brow said...

Anonymous said...
The comparison is that there isn't a one to one correspondence between numbers and influence.

So, you weren't trying to support the idea that the "Cult of Gnu" had influence greater than its numbers. Works for me.

Mike Darus said...

You can get the case here:
http://www.scribd.com/mobile/documents/60821478

A law student I know provided this analysis:

1) There may be a breach of contract if the class did not fullfil the course description. (see p.5 #32, p.6 #38; Count 3)
2) Additionally, a state's action may violate the establishment clause when the action is coercive (conservative view) or when the action is a symbolic endorsement of religion (liberal view). If the teacher taught the philosophy class in a way that the only correct philosophy is Christianity then this is probably coercive and it also is an endorsement ( see p 6,#37; p. 7 #40-44; count 1).
3) The Supreme Court's rule on curriculum has generally been that it is unconstitutional to make curriculum decisions that are motivated by religious purpose. Ther may be a case against the school if they permited the teacher to promote a religion. This depends upon the facts of the case ( p. 8 #48-50; Count 2).

Victor Reppert said...

Are you promoting the religion of atheism if you argue, in class, that God does not exist?

B. Prokop said...

As they say,, "What's sauce for the goose..."

Victor Reppert said...

Further, I think it's a huge stretch to say that arguing for or against the existence of God promotes any religion. Believing in the existence of God, or for that matter, believing in the resurrection of Jesus, doesn't logically entail the performance of any religious act whatsoever. Even if I persuaded Papalinton that the Argument from Reason was a sound argument for theism, I wouldn't expect him to participate in any religious activities.

Papalinton said...

Victor
"Even if I persuaded Papalinton that the Argument from Reason was a sound argument for theism, I wouldn't expect him to participate in any religious activities.'

Thanks for your decency and thoughts.

And I agree with your statement: "Believing in the existence of God, or for that matter, believing in the resurrection of Jesus, doesn't logically entail the performance of any religious act whatsoever. "
But I respectfully differ in interpretation, in that, "Believing in the existence of God, or for that matter, believing in the resurrection of Jesus, doesn't logically entail anything.

Life goes on normally regardless of the held belief, irrespective of whether theism or atheism. Indeed had there been no theism, there would be no atheism.

Anonymous said...

"So, you weren't trying to support the idea that the "Cult of Gnu" had influence greater than its numbers. Works for me."

You are so slow. :)

One Brow said...

Anonymous said...
You are so slow. :)

I am. I thought you were trying to argue, not demagogue.

Ilíon said...

VR: "The framers of the Constitution wanted to avoid the situation where the government had an established church, ..."

"Government" is not co-extensive and exclusive with the federal government established and justified by the US Constitution.

The specific men who wrote -- and, more importantly, the myriads who ratified -- the US Constitution didn't have any objection to a "situation where the government had an established church"; rather, most men at that time still believed that such was a legitimate function of government. What they *did* object to was the idea that the federal government established and justified by the US Constitution might *either* establish nation-wide religion or disestablish a State established religion.

Dr. Evangelicus said...

A clear case of proselytization that went on for decades:

"My father was the philosopher and political polemicist David Stove. During his undergraduate years, he fell under the spell of the militantly atheistic guru John Anderson of the University of Sydney's philosophy department. Except that "fell under" seems a much too gentle phrase to describe what my father and thousands like him experienced at Anderson's none-too-scrupulous—and, where females were concerned, lecherous—hands.

To those who, like myself, are too young to have known Anderson (he died in 1962, the year after my birth), the mystery of his charm to hordes of students will always be impenetrable. Certainly nothing in Anderson's viscous prose explains his charismatic appeal."

-- R.J. Stove
http://whyimcatholic.com/index.php/conversion-stories/atheist-converts/item/96-atheist-convert-rj-stove

Of course, when a Christian philosopher shares his ideas in a much milder (and unlecherous) form, the atheists can't take it and run to the courts and human rights commissions . . .

Ilíon said...

Dr.E, thank you for that link.

I don't recall that I'd read, and am saddened to learn, that the elder Stove committed suicide. Yet, I rejoice to learn that his son has become a Christian.