Sunday, July 13, 2014

Should the Establishment Clause Apply to Atheists as well?

Here. 

The majority view seems to me that it should be. If this conclusion is drawn, then what happens to Peter Boghossian, who uses his position as a professor at Portland State University, to promote atheism?

Is there a double standard in the way that academic freedom is typically understood? If I made it my stated purpose to convert my students to Christianity, and said so, (something I would never do) would I be more likely to get in trouble with administration than someone like Boghossian, who does what he does?

54 comments:

BeingItself said...

Please provide evidence that Boghossian tries to convert his students at Portland State to atheism.

Victor Reppert said...

"We need to train educators not just to teach students how to think critically, but also how to nudge attitudes about faith on their downward spiral" (p. 177).

http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2013/11/dr-peter-boghossian-seeks-to.html

Hugo said...

Victor, what you quoted doesn't indicate preaching Atheism. It's about rejecting faith-based claims.

More from what you linked to:

Educators have given faith-based claims preferential treatment. In the classrooms "It is taken for granted that faith-based claims are invulnerable to criticism and immune from further questioning" in the so-called "soft sciences" like sociology, philosophy, anthropology, etc. "This intellectual rigor mortis is not allowed to occur across all disciplines." In the hard sciences like mathematics, chemistry and biology "challenging claims and questioning reasoning processes are 'intrinsic to what it means to teach students to reason effectively'." So Boghossian says, "This needs to end" (p. 188). Educators in all disciplines of learning should grant faith based conclusions "no countenance. Do not take faith claims seriously. Let the utterer know that faith is not an acceptable basis from which to draw a conclusion that can be relied upon" (p. 189).

Hugo said...

Both Theists and Atheists can make faith based claims; both should be rejected or at least clearly identified as 'opinions'. Preaching a religion as true, without demonstration is the problem that the establishment clause attempts to address, though never perfectly...

Crude said...

Educators have given faith-based claims preferential treatment. In the classrooms "It is taken for granted that faith-based claims are invulnerable to criticism and immune from further questioning" in the so-called "soft sciences" like sociology, philosophy, anthropology, etc.

Evidence for this claim, please.

Especially evidence for Petebog's panned, inane definition of 'faith'.

Crude said...

Please provide evidence that Boghossian tries to convert his students at Portland State to atheism.

Peter Boghossian on his dedication to the cause of helping believers lose their faith:

I do this pretty much every day, for, without exaggeration, 10-12 hours every single day for the past 20 or 22 years. So, I’ve just done this so much it’s just not even second nature, it’s just interwoven into who I am.

So, do you think this overlaps with his teaching time?

Hugo said...


"Evidence for this claim, please."

He could well be wrong, the point is that he talks against faith, not for any religious position.

"So, do you think this overlaps with his teaching time?"

Perhaps, what was he talking about exactly? If it's only about talking believers into dropping faith based beliefs, this is not preaching a religion, not a problem.

John Moore said...

It depends on what kind of course it is. If I sign up for a college course called "Atheism 101," then I won't complain if the prof throws in a bunch of atheist proselytizing, because it seems fitting for such a course. Likewise, if I sign up for Christianity 101, it would be weird to get a disinterested presentation from a professor trying to hide his own beliefs.

If I sign up for Biology 101, I don't want to hear anything about "the controversy." That would mean bringing religion into a science course, which is so tiresome and bogus. If I sign up for Physics 101, I don't to end up studying Thomas Aquinas. Let's keep science and religion in their own proper spheres.

How about a course on "Debating the God Question" that's team-taught by Boghossian and Reppert? That's one I'd pay high tuition fees to attend.

B. Prokop said...

"How about a course on "Debating ..."

How about ending the sentence right there? We desperately need to reintroduce debating as a team sport in our schools and institutions of higher learning, and teach the skills to every last student. A champion debater ought to have equal status with the football star.

As to religion in the (public) classroom, we really need to lighten up a bit here in American society about this. I see no harm in students (and yes, even teachers) openly discussing matters of faith when appropriate (e.g., in a history or literature class). We so often forget that the first amendment not only prohibits the establishment of a state religion, but also prohibits state suppression of religious speech. As the text plainly says: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

Bob said...

I see no harm in students (and yes, even teachers) openly discussing matters of faith when appropriate (e.g., in a history or literature class).

Nor does anyone else. It is when faith matters intrude upon science education that I have a problem with it.

B. Prokop said...

"Nor does anyone else."

You're quite wrong there. I seems there are legions of people who go completely batshit whenever the subject is raised anywhere near to a school grounds. Note this gem of a story from Shane Shaetzel's blog:

Let me tell you a story of my own personal experience over 20 years ago in California's public schools. This was back in the late 1980s. I remember when schools had a zero-tolerance policy toward religion. I remember students being harassed by their teachers for daring to express a religious view. I remember the random locker searches for illegal drugs, wherein Bibles, crosses and rosaries were also seized as "religious paraphernalia." I remember students being sent home for wearing Christian t-shirts. I remember police showing up to a "see you at the pole" prayer meeting, and hauling kids off to the police station, where their parents were called to pick them up. Most of all, I remember a young Evangelical Christian girl who dared to organise an after-school Christian club. She was told she could not do so, and when she had the audacity to seek legal council, the school district threatened to ban all clubs on all campuses, including sports booster clubs! Once that happened, this poor girl was harassed by the high school football team, and all the school jocks. She came to me in tears, nearly hysterical, as she told me she was giving up her case because everybody hates her now, and she was in fear for her safety. That school district sure taught her a lesson! Yes, I've seen how bad it can get, so I know (first hand) where zero-tolerance of religion can lead. The only religion that was tolerated on my high school campus back then was "no religion." It was a little communist state -- literally -- and I'll never forget it. I sincerely hope things have changed since then.

Bob said...

@B. Prokop

I see nowhere in your response anything about history or literature class.

I can understand why a school district may, for practical purposes, decide that it is better to disallow overt religious activities since you if let in one, then you legally must let in all of them.

If someone can publicly pray to Jesus, why can't someone else sacrifice a chicken?





B. Prokop said...

"if you let in one, then you legally must let in all of them"

Well, according to a strict constructionist reading of the constitution, that's what we're supposed to be doing. Where does the first amendment say you must let in none? Answer: Nowhere. It actually says the reverse. "no law ... prohibiting the free exercise thereof"

As for "sacrificing a chicken", sounds like a strawman argument to me. I would imagine that'd be a concern in maybe back-country Louisiana, and probably (read: almost certainly) not even there.

Bob said...

@B. Prokop

While I understand your point, I think it might be unworkable in an environment such as a public school.

So you have Christian Club, then of course you have Muslims and Jews, oh and don't forget the Wiccans, Satanists, Rastafarians, Santaria (chickens here)- How about a Voodoo Club?

Jedi?

Norse (Valhalla anyone)?

etc, etc, etc...ad infinitum

Like I said above, I think this is more a question of practicality, but YMMV...

B. Prokop said...

I don't speak text (being in my 60's) - what does WMMV mean?

I think your worry about 10,000 religious clubs on campus is a bit overblown. You're punching at shadows. And if by chance there are Jewish, Hindu, Daoist, Zoroastrian, Buddhist, etc. clubs, where's the harm? Where's the "impracticality"?

B. Prokop said...

Typo - meant to query about YMMV (which makes no more sense than WMMV).

BenYachov said...

Other Bob

There are people who are serious and might even belong to fringe religions which pretty much all of us here would consider strange. But they are sincere and we should accommodate them in the public square.

OTOH there are anti-religious fanatics who start silly religions (i.e. Jedi) just to bust Chops.

Rather then trying to discern motives an easy test is to let some nerd start his "Jedi" religion club and when he gets bored with it and his 20 minute attention span turns to something else or Disney does an even worst job with the new sequels then Lucas did with the prequels that will be that.

A sincere Christian club or even an Atheist one will be around at least a year where as the joke "religions" their followers will become bored.

@Hugo

>He could well be wrong, the point is that he talks against faith, not for any religious position.

How is talking against Faith not a religious position? It is clearly a negative religious position & thus a religious position.

Why can' t religious positions be negative and who gets to decide?

Bob said...

@B. Prokop

YMMV means "your mileage may vary".

I think your worry about 10,000 religious clubs on campus is a bit overblown. You're punching at shadows. And if by chance there are Jewish, Hindu, Daoist, Zoroastrian, Buddhist, etc. clubs, where's the harm? Where's the "impracticality"?

I really don't think that you are actually considering all of the ramifications.

Bob said...

@Ben

You might be surprised at just how dumb teenagers can be, especially when given the chance to be so...

B. Prokop said...

"I really don't think that you are actually considering all of the ramifications."

That could very well be the case. Enlighten me. What are some of these (presumably negative) ramifications? Do you have any real world examples, or are they all hypothetical?

Bob said...

@B. Prokop

Would you be averse to children, in your local schools wearing a necklace depicting an erect penis, for instance?

grodrigues said...

@Bob:

"Would you be averse to children, in your local schools wearing a necklace depicting an erect penis, for instance?"

We already have to suffer moronic atheists, so why not allow the public space to degrade even more and suffer this too? Seems fair.

B. Prokop said...

Bob,

Is that a real world example or a hypothetical? (I.e., has anyone actually tried to do that?)

Greg said...

It should be understand that the original intent of the 1st amendment was that it only applied to the Federal government (i.e. Congress). Established state churches existed at the time of ratification, and most state constitutions appeal to God as the ultimate sovereign. Under this political philosophy, it becomes clear why it wasn't considered a violation of the first amendment for local town councils to hold prayer or public educators teach religious material in schools.

Of course today the courts have turned the constitution into a convoluted and incoherent mess. And once you rule against school prayer, creationism, etc. via Establishment Clause grounds you have to protect religious views which are "violated" by said establishments. Thus if, say, evolution were being taught to establish atheism (and this isn't much of a stretch) then it too would be (a)religious and a violation of the EC. What's good for the goose...

B. Prokop said...

"it only applied to the Federal government"

Not true, not true at all. Under the US federal system of government, no lesser authority may act contrary to a greater. So a city government cannot go against its county, nor the county against its state, nor any state against the federal government. Whatever applies at the federal level is applicable all the way down.

For instance, if the 13th Amendment bans slavery at the federal level, no state may decide to make it legal within its own, lesser jurisdiction. In the same manner, if congress is prohibited from "prohibiting the free exercise [of religion]", then so are states, counties, and municipalities.

Crude said...

Hugo,

He could well be wrong, the point is that he talks against faith, not for any religious position.

Sure, and ID proponents only talk about design in the abstract, not God. Oh, and the Kalam Cosmological Argument and Aquinas' Five Ways don't in and of themselves promote revelation, but logical argument. In fact, even denial of evolution isn't religious in natural - it's mere criticism of a scientific theory.

Really, don't play this horseshit game. Petebog connects 'faith' with religion, explicitly, which is precisely why his book is 'A Manual for Creating Atheists'.

He's violating the establishment clause if he's teaching at a public university, and he should be fired.

Hal said...

Has a philosophy professor in a public university ever been fired for teaching Intelligent Design, or for promoting the Kalam Cosmological Argument or for claiming that Aquinas' Five Ways proves that God exists?

If people here really believe that Boghossian has violated the Establishment Clause it would be very easy for them to place a call with the ACLU and have the matter investigated.

Crude said...

If people here really believe that Boghossian has violated the Establishment Clause it would be very easy for them to place a call with the ACLU and have the matter investigated.

Yeah, I know. It's just that easy. You call the ACLU and WHAM they sue whoever you like, and if they don't it's because there has not been a violation of the establishment clause. That's how it works.

So tell me - is actively trying to make students lose their religious faith while you are teaching them a violation of the establishment clause?

And if not, is actively trying to make students gain religious faith while teaching them a violation?

Hugo said...

Crude said...
don't play this horseshit game

FYI, I stopped paying attention there.

B. Prokop said...

I don't see how either of them is a violation. How is attempting to sway the opinion of another "establishing a religion", which is what is prohibited by the First Amendment? In fact, the amendment's very next clause prohibits "abridging the freedom of speech". Seems to me that denying a person the right to proselytize is such an abridgment.

Now what would be a serious issue (and, in my opinion, grounds for firing, or at the very least for censure) would be if a student were somehow punished or ridiculed or made to feel unwelcome if they resisted such proselytism.

Victor Reppert said...

I'd rather not see the EC used in these contests. But I REALLY don't want it used one-sidedly.

Jeffery Jay Lowder said...

I'm not a lawyer, much less a constitutional lawyer, but I thought I heard once that the courts make a big difference between children and adults. In other words, what may be prohibited in elementary schools may be permitted in colleges and universities. But I don't know if this is true.

In any case, I don't think that having a university professor promote theism or atheism violates the establishment clause, especially in a class on the philosophy of religion. We expect philosophers to discuss arguments and we expect them to have opinions about the arguments.

Hal said...

"In any case, I don't think that having a university professor promote theism or atheism violates the establishment clause, especially in a class on the philosophy of religion. We expect philosophers to discuss arguments and we expect them to have opinions about the arguments."

Exactly. All sorts of positions are argued for in a philosophy class at the university level.

Quite different from a high school science teacher telling her students that ID disproves evolution. Or a grade school teacher telling his students how irrational religious people are.

B. Prokop said...

Hal,

On the surface, your posting sounds so reasonable. After all, who is against protecting children from situations that adults routinely handle?

Unfortunately, hidden within the lines is the inevitable snake in the garden - the always assumed but seldom acknowledged "default position". Who is to decide what is reasonable (and customary) to expose children to?

Don't get me wrong. I'm not (at the moment) arguing that there shouldn't be a default position. I'm just saying we ought to be explicit about it.

Hal said...

"I'd rather not see the EC used in these contests. But I REALLY don't want it used one-sidedly.

I can't recall it ever being used in this situation. University level philosophy professors have been fired for a variety of reasons. For example, Colin McGinn was forced to resign over sexual harassment charges. Have any been fired for violating the Establishment Clause?

This seems like a non-issue to me.

Hal said...

"Unfortunately, hidden within the lines is the inevitable snake in the garden - the always assumed but seldom acknowledged "default position". Who is to decide what is reasonable (and customary) to expose children to?

We generally give parents a great deal of say regarding that decision.

Ilíon said...

Wow, just wow.

Just this thread alone so easily (and so quickly) demonstrates the shameless intellectual dishonesty of most so-called atheists.

And it also demonstrates that when people (especially 'atheists') demand "evidence" (even when they say "please"), mostly they don't mean "What's the evidence for that?" but rather "Shut up! I don't want people to think about that."

Ilíon said...

B.Pushin' Atheist-Leftist Lies: "Not true, not true at all. [blah-dishonest-blah]"

Also, leftists have as creative a relationship with truth as atheists do. Even when the leftist calls himself a Christian.

B. Prokop said...

Ilion,

Where was I wrong? I was just citing straight constitutional law 101.

Jeffery Jay Lowder said...

Just this thread alone so easily (and so quickly) demonstrates the shameless intellectual dishonesty of most so-called atheists.

Questions:

(1) What have atheists been dishonest about?
(2) How does this thread alone demonstrate (1)?
(3) Why do you write "so-called atheists" instead of "atheists"? Are you doubting that they are atheists?

Jeffery Jay Lowder said...

I can't recall it ever being used in this situation. University level philosophy professors have been fired for a variety of reasons. For example, Colin McGinn was forced to resign over sexual harassment charges. Have any been fired for violating the Establishment Clause?

This seems like a non-issue to me.


If I had a way to "like" this comment, I would.

Unless there is a precedent for a public university or college professor being fired for an establishment clause violation, I don't see the reason to worry about "one-sided" enforcement of the EC.

B. Prokop said...

"If I had a way to "like" this comment, I would."

"Luke, come to the dark side!"

Greg said...

"Not true, not true at all. Under the US federal system of government, no lesser authority may act contrary to a greater. So a city government cannot go against its county, nor the county against its state, nor any state against the federal government. Whatever applies at the federal level is applicable all the way down."

I literally gave evidence which contrasts this naïve view, namely the established state churches at the time of ratification and religiously-themed curriculum at schools. Did this escape you?

The 13th amendment did apply to the states because it says just that "[no] slavery...shall be permitted in the United States." But this is a completely different topic than the 1st amendment and Establishment Clause and thus your point is a red herring.

B. Prokop said...

"Did this escape you?"

No, it did not. But you have to keep in mind that it took generations for many of the implications of the Constitution to sink in country-wide, and even then these understandings continually changed (sometimes even by 180 degrees) over time. For instance, it was perfectly constitutional (and quite widespread) for municipalities to ban all firearms in the 19th Century, whereas the recent Supreme Court decision in the D.C. govt case overturned all such practices. "Separate but Equal" was a settled constitutional principle for generations after Plessy v. Ferguson, but then completely reversed after Brown v. Board of Education.

The reason states were allowed established churches in the republic's early years was not because such were constitutional - they never really were - but rather because no one had (successfully) challenged them.

No red herrings here. I stand by what I wrote.

And I also maintain that religiously-themed curriculum at state run schools is not a violation of the First Amendment. How can such be considered as "establishing a religion"? Beats me!

Greg said...

But you have to keep in mind that it took generations for many of the implications of the Constitution to sink in country-wide, and even then these understandings continually changed (sometimes even by 180 degrees) over time.

So you agree with me. The original intent has been reinterpreted as legal opinions changed. But there still was an original intent which applied the EC only to Congress/Federal government.

The reason states were allowed established churches in the republic's early years was not because such were constitutional - they never really were - but rather because no one had (successfully) challenged them.

This is revisionism and shows a lack of understanding regarding the political philosophy of the Founders. Given the existence of the established churches already in the colonies (which would ratify the constitution and become states), in what way was the EC originally said to be applied to the states? It can only be that this interpretation came later (i.e. after the 14th).

And I also maintain that religiously-themed curriculum at state run schools is not a violation of the First Amendment. How can such be considered as "establishing a religion"? Beats me!

I agree, but how do you defend this view? You can't ground it in the original intent or clear meaning of the EC language in the 1st, because you've already allowed for later judicial reinterpretation to trump the original meaning. And given the propensity of liberal judges reinterpreting constitutional language, a small public schoolhouse teaching the theory of creationism morphs into "Congress establishing a religion" and thus violation of the 1st amendment.

Victor Reppert said...

I went back and looked at this, and Jerry Coyne actually recommended that use of the Establishment Clause to stop Eric Hedin's Boundaries of Science course, which presented a pro-ID position. So the move has been made at the higher education level.

The other establishment clause case was the case made in court against my former teacher Surrendra Gangadean, which I discussion some here in 2011.

But I think there has to be a distinction drawn between presenting arguments and reasoning on the one hand, and proselytizing on the other. I am pretty convinced that if I were as aggressive in pushing Christianity as Boghossian is in pushing atheism, I would be called upon by the institutions that I teach at to stop it. I could be wrong, but I think I would get in real trouble if I did that.

Victor Reppert said...

Here is what a student wrote on a paper in Boghossian's class.

"I wrote what I had to ‘agree’ with what was said in class, but in truth I believe ABSOLUTELY that there is an amazing, savior GOD, who created the universe, lives among us, and loves us more than anything. That is my ABSOLUTE, and no amount of ‘philosophy’ will change that."

Read more: http://www.insidehighered.com/views/2011/07/192/boghossian#ixzz37ffInOeL
Inside Higher Ed

Now think about this. A student feels she has to write certain things to pass a course which are contrary to what she believes. As teachers we have the power of the grade. I would certainly feel I had done something wrong if a student felt she had to take certain positions she did not believe in because she was afraid of flunking if she disagreed with me.

oozzielionel said...

Given this definition: "convert or attempt to convert (someone) from one religion, belief, or opinion to another.", teachers are expected to change students' opinions about every course of study. They should at least change from "I have no clue about Philosophy" to "I now have a clue." The danger is that materialists are so dogmatic that they do not admit that they are proselytizing children in college into a new world view. They don't know how to draw a line between the facts and the interpretation; between the science and the scientism. They are now in the position where Christianity was not too long ago. The majority religion is seldom challenged or questioned. Its dogmatism is mistaken for settled truth.

oozzielionel said...

Victor:
I read the article from the link. It is interesting that he talked a lot about the relationship between facts and beliefs in the physical sciences but little to counter the student's statement or to explain how it related to the course he taught. Did he mark down the test? Did he disallow her answers to questions that agreed with the course content by contradicted her statement? Was belief in God included in the course as an example of pseudoscience?

Hal said...

" went back and looked at this, and Jerry Coyne actually recommended that use of the Establishment Clause to stop Eric Hedin's Boundaries of Science course, which presented a pro-ID position. So the move has been made at the higher education level."

That was a science course taught by a physicist.

Eric Hedin doesn't appear to have suffered greatly from the controversy:
http://www.indystar.com/story/news/education/2014/05/08/ball-state-promotes-intelligent-design-professor/8842277/

"The other establishment clause case was the case made in court against my former teacher Surrendra Gangadean, which I discussion some here in 2011.

Whatever happened with this case? As best I can tell from googling, this professor is still teaching at Paradise Valley Community College.

Hal said...

"It is interesting that he talked a lot about the relationship between facts and beliefs in the physical sciences but little to counter the student's statement or to explain how it related to the course he taught. Did he mark down the test? Did he disallow her answers to questions that agreed with the course content by contradicted her statement? Was belief in God included in the course as an example of pseudoscience?"

Good questions.
Unfortunately we don't know what it was that caused the student to add those remarks to her paper.

Ilíon said...

VR: "Here is what a student wrote on a paper in Boghossian's class."

When I was a freshman (lo! many moons ago) sociology-and-psychology student (*), one of my profs was a Marxist athiest -- and not at all shy about using his authority to promote both. At the end of one term, we were assigned to write a short essay about what we thought would make the world "a perfect place".

Now, clearly, we were supposed to rhapsodize about some secularist and/or socialistic (and preferably, Marxist) utopia. Instead, said that I thought the world would be "a perfect place" if everyone were a sincere Christian.

Anyway, the next year, for whatever reason, he learned that one of his other students was my roommate ... and his response to the roomie was, "Oh. That religious nut."


(*) I changed my major to computer "science" as a junior

B. Prokop said...

""Oh. That religious nut.""

See, one year later and he's still praising you highly. Badge of Honor, Ilion, Badge of Honor. Wear it proudly!

Ilíon said...

"Badge of Honor. Wear it proudly!"

But, of course. After all, I was raised to understand that "the world" is going to hate me if I love Christ. And this Marxist atheist just provided more verification: for my answer to that "test" question -- mild as mt response was -- was the *only* "challenge" I had ever raised to either his transparent (*) "atheism" or his (oh-so-typically) hypocritical Marxism.

(*) Even at the age of 17 or 18, I understood -- He had once been a "minister" in one of the "liberal" pseudo-Protestant denomination (I *think* he got into that mostly to avoid the Vietnam draft). Then, his subsequent "conversion" to "atheism" was what he needed to do to deny the immorality of dumping the wife of his youth (he "stayed in academia and continued to grow", but she "stagnated" by birthing and rearing his children) to take up with a student half his age.