Saturday, April 23, 2016

Can atheist advocacy be limited by the Establishment Clause.

The question is whether open or implied atheist advocacy in public school can violate the establishment clause. The whole basis for the Dover decision was the idea that ID content has to be kept out of the public school classroom because those who supported it were motivated by a desire to promote religious belief. In a court case it was successfully argued that you atheism is protected by the free exercise clause, in a case where an atheist prisoner was granted access to atheist materials. 

http://www.atheist-community.org/library/articles/read.php?id=742

Now, in the Constitution, the free exercise clause and the establishment clause go together. Heck, they're in the same sentence. Atheists can't help themselves to the free exercise clause, but when accused of violating the Establishment Clause on behalf of atheism, fall back on the "not collecting stamps" argument. That's cheating. 

So, as I keep saying, the main argument in the Dover case, which was an Establishment Clause case, only works if you assume the religious neutrality of evolutionary biology. That is the official NCSE position on the compatibility of religion and evolutionary biology that people like Dawkins, Myers, and Coyne are hell-bent on attacking. 

Given the constitutional context here, the fact that atheism is not a religion in the popular sense is irrelevant. If you want Free Exercise protections, you have to live with Establishment Clause limitations. It's the American way.

11 comments:

Angra Mainyu said...

Victor,

I have a question about your statement that "the main argument in the Dover case, which was an Establishment Clause case, only works if you assume the religious neutrality of evolutionary biology."
Regardless of whether Dawkins, etc., are right about the compatibility of evolutionary biology and religion in general, it is clear that several courses in present-day science (e.g., biology, geology, etc.) taught in public schools (and universities, etc.) are incompatible with at least some religious beliefs.
For example, they're incompatible with all religions committed to YEC.
Also, some archeology courses are incompatible with some Mormon beliefs, etc.
So, my question is: what do you think counts are "religious neutrality"?

Hal said...

Excellent question, Angra.

Many varieties of Christianity are quite accepting of the theory of Evolution. Does that entail the notion that the teaching of Evolution in Public Schools is an 'implied advocacy' of theism?

William said...

I think that the moral relativism specifically advocated by the common core curriculum is far more anti-religious. But nobody seems to be blogging complaining that it's anti-theistic. I'm not saying that atheism implies moral relativism, since it does not, but most types of theism contradict moral relativism.

Cal Metzger said...

Reality has this nasty way of taking sides when religious belief takes up arms against it.

That's why I have always been an ally of reality.

Victor Reppert said...

The question here has to do with what is built into evolution. As a theist I have zero problems with most of evolutionary theory. This is especially true if you make a distinction, as I am inclined to, between the nonaffirmation of design on the one hand, and its denial on the other.

There are a million ways to teach evolutionary theory without violating the Establishment Clause. One is simply to say that this is the theory as currently understood by the scientific community, and if you want to reject it or even attack it, you should at least be able to represent it accurately.

I actually think the Dover School Board did violate the Establishment Clause with the way in which they presented ID.

Cal Metzger said...

VR: "There are a million ways to teach evolutionary theory without violating the Establishment Clause."

Since Evolutionary Theory isn't a religion, I think the only way to violate the Establishment Clause while teaching it is to, well, not teach Evolutionary Theory.


Victor Reppert said...

Since intelligent design isn't a religion, the only way to violate the Establishment Clause while teaching it is to not teach intelligent design.

Victor Reppert said...

I went back to an post from a couple of years back asking the question of what is mean when people say that ID is really creationism. What this is supposed to amount to is not that the propositions affirmed by intelligent design are the same propositions as those affirmed by creationism. (Plato argued for intelligent design but denied creationism.)No, what people do at this point is pull out the Wedge Document and other stuff that indicates that the PEOPLE who advocate ID do so for religious reasons. But, plenty of people do evolutionary biology who have religious motives, or rather, antireligious motives.

If people have to have perfectly religiously neutral motives to teach science, then you can't teach science.

Cal Metzger said...

VR: "Since intelligent design isn't a religion, the only way to violate the Establishment Clause while teaching it is to not teach intelligent design."

Evolutionary biology is science, and the motivation to teach it is the same as the motivation to teach science.

ID is not science. So why should it be taught in science class?

Cal Metzger said...

VR: "But, plenty of people do evolutionary biology who have religious motives, or rather, antireligious motives."

Of course, that anti-religious bent couldn't possibly have anything whatsoever to do with the fact that religious beliefs interfere with the teaching of science. No, that couldn't be it.

VR: "If people have to have perfectly religiously neutral motives to teach science, then you can't teach science. "

If you want to teach science, you can teach science.

If you want to teach something other than science, and it can be shown that your really trying to promote your religion (and trying to pass that off as science), then you will be violating the Establishment Clause. This is pretty straightforward stuff.

John Moore said...

Here's this news update: "Court tosses Kansas case that tried to challenge science education guidelines - Group claimed new science education violated separation of church and state"

Via ArsTechnica