Creationism and Religious Freedom

Creationism and Religious Freedom September 21, 2013

Today my class on “Religion and Freedom of Expression” met for the first time. It is a class with a non-traditional format – we meet a few Saturday mornings for a few hours, plus also four evenings when students attend lectures in our public lecture series and have dinner and a Q&A time with the speakers beforehand.

The reading was Randall Bezanson’s book How Free Can Religion Be? which is a pretty wonderful treatment of the history of the Supreme Court’s interpretation and application of the first amendment’s establishment and free exercise clauses.

Among the topics treated is the teaching of evolution. It is easy for those of us concerned with accurate science education to ignore just how big an issue this can seem from the perspective of religious freedom – even for those of us who also value such freedom.

I am not referring here to the attempt to get young-earth creationism or Intelligent Design taught in science classes when they clearly do not belong there. What I am referring to is the fact that, by allowing the teaching of evolution in public school science classrooms, we are clearly allowing an arm of government to teach children than the religious beliefs their parents taught them are wrong.

We should not flinch at this implication. The state in a democracy has a legitimate interest in having its population be capable of distinguishing truth from falsehood, and enter adulthood with as accurate an understanding of the world as we can offer. And that social need is prioritized higher than religious freedom in this instance. It is no different, on any fundamental level, than having public schools be able to teach that the South did not win the Civil War. A parent is free to tell their children otherwise. But there is a general consensus that the rights of parents with respect to their children are not unlimited. And one could even make the case that allowing parents to indoctrinate their children with falsehoods, with little hope of exposure to contrasting perspectives, is prioritizing the freedoms of the parents at the expense of those of the children.

Bezanson’s book is a useful one for getting at these issues in a fair and even-handed way. The class also looked at how religious freedom relates to the current controversies about same-sex marriage (and its connectedness to earlier Supreme Court decisions about religious freedom and polygamy). We ran out of time before we could talk about some of the discussions that have been taking place related to Obamacare, but hopefully the conversations will continue on Moodle.

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  • Christopher R Weiss

    Home schooling and religious schools pretty much put a bow on the argument that we do have religious freedom. Home schoolers can be told by their parents that Jesus rode a dinosaur if they so choose.

    In public school as a government run entity, this argument has run its course. The fact the religious continue to try to force things like intelligent design, creationism, and other sophistry in the form of “teach the controversy” shows that many religious people are actually the enemies of freedom. Instead, they wish to create a religious hegemony where their perspective is the only one accepted as truth regardless of the facts.

    Religious freedom does not mean free of criticism.

  • I basically agree that children ought to be taught that Genesis (or at least a literal interpretation of Genesis) is scientifically completely false.

    But the problem is that Evolution is officially described as being “undirected” which is a metaphysical which should, to my mind, be left out.
    God could very well have set up all boundary conditions in such a way that the emergence of human or human-like creature would be very likely or even inevitable.

    And if they are old enough, children should be taught that Evolution is not necessarily a gradual change driven by natural selection, that factors such as genetic drifts, self-organization, evoldevo, stasis followed by catastrophes and so on. can also play an important role.

    Finally it should also be mentionned that while evolutionary biology is a science like any other, it is an historical one dealing dealing with the “deep time” so that specific theories about the evolution of a feature are tentative due to the much more limited amount on data available.

    And perhaps in course of religion it should be explained that the Bible isn’t a scientific book and that if you consider it as such, it is completely contradicted and refuted by all the findings of the last centuries.

    Lovely greetings from Europe.

    Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son

    • Christopher R Weiss

      Your classification of evolutionary biology as historical is incorrect. The historical component only applies when looking toward the evolutionary path of a particular species. When looking at the emergence of things like drug resistance, this is current science. When a naturalist finds a long tubular flower, and posits there must be pollinator with an equally long tongue or proboscis, this is current science. When looking at the impact of global warming on species, this is current science as well.

      With respect to “direction” there is no evidence that change over time is anything other than undirected. It is misleading to say otherwise. Even if “god set it up” what we observe is completely without intervention of any sort. Leaving this question open is not a scientific assertion. The evidence points the other way.

      The original observations that Darwin made were around living species and not some long backward looking examination of fossils.

      I think you understand modern evolutionary biology far less well than you believe.

      • Dear Christopher, thanks for your answer!

        “I think you understand modern evolutionary biology far less well than you believe.”

        I’ve one question: do you dispose of some psychic power to know everything about me?

        If not, you should refrain from drawing far-reaching conclusions by reading one comment. :=)

        It is not a personal criticism for this a constant temptation for every blogger (also me).

        Okay I should not have written “evolutionary biology” in general but the study of evolutionary path in the distant past. It was my sin.

        Of course; I’m all too aware of the experimental work taking place in the PRESENT.

        But applying results from such works to the distant past will always remain speculative, tough this is certainly a fascinating undertaking.

        ” Even if “god set it up” what we observe is completely without
        intervention of any sort. Leaving this question open is not a
        scientific assertion. The evidence points the other way.”

        The problem is that I reject the epistemological application of
        Occam’s Razor:

        And if God had reasons to use an evolutionary process to bring us about, science should be silent about that.

        Friendly greetings from continental Europe.

        Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son

        • Christopher R Weiss

          I base my conclusions on evidence. Your evidence about the backward looking nature of evolution is clearly incorrect:

          “it is an historical one dealing dealing with the “deep time” so that specific theories about the evolution of a feature are tentative due to the much more limited amount on data available.”

          You attempted to create a box around evolution which was not only incorrect but deeply ignorant. This is the classical attack by creationists and ID proponents. They claim evolution is wrong or at best a hypothesis because of gaps in the evidence. However, the theory is not backward looking. The only thing historical is the attempt to create an evolutionary tree. The paucity of data means that there will always be gaps and working hypotheses later shown to be incorrect. These hypotheses are working factual statements and are not part of the theory itself.

          I stand by my judgment. You are welcome to provide other evidence that I am incorrect.

          With respect to metaphysical assertions, there are none that have withstood examination. People like the Amazing Randi and Harry Houdini spent a significant portion of their lives debunking such claims. The correct answer to how did life emerge on earth is “We don’t know, but we have some plausible models.” Evolution also does not depend on life’s origins or the boundary conditions you mentioned. Pointing to a gap in human knowledge and saying “there’s god” is dishonest. The best answer is and remains “we don’t know” to many questions.

          Evolution is a model of how life changes. I suggest you do a little more study to enhance your understanding of what this means.

    • Maxximiliann

      If I may query, based on what evidence do you assert Genesis “is scientifically completely false”?

      • IF the text was intended to convey scientific facts, it is wrong because:
        1) the most likely interpretation is that it teaches a young earth (as Ken Ham argues) and we know it is utterly, infinitely wrong

        2) it teaches special creation whereas common descent is a fact

        3) the order of the days contradicts many things we know

        But, if it was intended allegorically, my critiques kind of dissolve. This is not, however, a route that many American Evangelicals are willing to take.


        2013/10/3 Disqus

        • Maxximiliann

          i. Why?

          ii. Based on what evidence do you make such an assumption?

          iii. Such as?

          Warm regards!

          • Since you shared a link to a post that starts with the assumption that Moses wrote the creation account, even though Genesis in its present form clearly comes from a time later than Moses as anyone who has studied it must agree, perhaps you can explain why you shared such a post and then went on to stress the need to examine our assumptions?

          • Maxximiliann

            You’re right! Therefore, his accurate recording of events no one could have witnessed is proof positive of it’s preternatural inspiration by God.

          • No, that isn’t what I meant. When the author explains “at that time the Canaanites were in the land,” it can’t be Moses saying that. It isn’t either an explanatory comment that would make sense from his perspective, when the Canaanites were in the land and the Israelites were not yet, nor a prediction of the future. It is an explanation by someone living in a later time, when the Canaanites were no longer in the land.

          • Maxximiliann

            How, then, do you account for Moses’ accuracy regarding the beginning of the universe and the order of events leading up to the appearance of life on Earth?

          • Why do you attribute it to Moses? And what leads you to conclude that the order of events is accurate?

          • Maxximiliann

            i. ““The book of the law of Moses” and similar references to the first five books of the Bible, of which Genesis is one, are to be found often from the time of Moses’ successor, Joshua, onward. In fact, there are some 200 references to Moses in 27 of the later Bible books. Moses’ writership has never been questioned by the Jews.”

            ii. The Earth didn’t begin to exist before the universe did it?

            “If I as a geologist were called upon to explain briefly our modern ideas of the origin of the earth and the development of life on it to a simple, pastoral people, such as the tribes to whom the Book of Genesis was addressed, I could hardly do better than follow rather closely much of the language of the first chapter of Genesis.”—Geologist Wallace Pratt.

            “A direct look at the fossil record would lead one to conclude that animals reproduced after their kind as Genesis states. They did not change from one kind into another. The evidence now, as in Darwin’s day, is in agreement with the Genesis record of direct creation. Animals and plants continue to reproduce after their kind. In fact, the conflict between paleontology (study of fossils) and Darwinism is so strong that some scientists are beginning to believe that the in-between forms will never be found.” -Donald E. Chittick

            “The Bible relates in thirty-one verses, in a few hundred words, events spanning sixteen billion years. These are events about which scientists have written literally millions of words. The entire development of animal life is summarized in eight biblical sentences. Considering the brevity of the biblical narrative, the match between the statements and timing in Genesis 1 and the discoveries of modern science is phenomenal, especially when we realize that all biblical interpretation used here was recorded centuries, even millennia, in the past and so was not in any way influenced by the discoveries of modern science. It is modern science that has come to match the biblical account of our genesis.”—THE SCIENCE OF GOD—THE CONVERGENCE OF SCIENTIFIC AND BIBLICAL WISDOM, Gerald Schroeder

            “I do not think that it can be made plausible, that in any race fables and myths came in the course of time more and more to be accepted as actual facts, so that perchance we should now be willing to accept as historical truths the stories of the Nibelungenlied or Red Riding Hood. But this, according to the critics, must have been the case in Israel.” (The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, edited by J. Orr, 1960, Vol. II, p. 1209)

          • Quote mining is really not helpful. If you think that the fossil record does anything other than support the evidence now provided so decisively by genetics for the evolution and interrelatedness of all living things, then you have been reading propaganda, and I recommend that you try reading books by mainstream scientists instead. If you think that more people assume these ancient texts to be factual now than did so in the past, you are misinformed. And that people traditionally attributed a text to a particular person is irrelevant if the text itself provides clear evidence to the contrary.

          • Maxximiliann

            i. As far as any supposed genetic evidence that purportedly shows common descent, drawing dogmatic conclusions based on just an estimated 0.0025% of all available genetic evidence is a grossly fallacious A Dicto Simpliciter. It’s poor reasoning like this which drove sooooo many scientists in the past to arrogantly proclaim canards as truth. (

            Think Alchemy, Neptunism, the geocentric universe, Spontaneous Generation, Lamarckism, Emication, the existence of the planet Vulcan, Lysenkoism, Gradualism, Trepanation, Miasma theory of disease, Telegony, the expanding earth, the existence of Phlogiston, martian canals, Luminiferous Aether, the Steady State Theory, Cold Fusion, Hollow Earth Theory, Gradualism and Phrenology.

            Just another case of the blind leading the blind …

            ii. Argumentum ignoratio elenchi. Reality is not established by consensus.

            iii. Which brings us back to the question, where did Moses get such precise information from? After all, what human witnessed the birth of the universe and all creation? Your thoughts?

          • What precise information? And why do you care so little about what Genesis actually says that you continue to attribute it to Moses?

            The consensus of experts is sometimes wrong, but if it is ever replaced by something better, it is because of the work of those same experts in the field, and not armchair critics who actually want to move back to an older understanding, and not forward to an improved one.

          • Maxximiliann

            i. This precise information:

            ii. I see what you’re saying because Science is infallible and omniscient …

          • Do you really think that troll-like behavior will persuade anyone of anything other than that you do not take this subject seriously?

          • Maxximiliann

            Since when is challenging the Gnostic Atheist’s scientismic worldview troll-like behavior?

          • You were not interacting with a Gnostic Atheist, or a Gnostic, or an Atheist, but with me, a Christian, and you have done so merely by copying and pasting what others have said, ignoring things that I have said, and repeating a phrase which the comments here made clear neither of us espouses. Ignoring the Golden Rule while depicting yourself as a defender of Christianity makes me suspect that you are just here trying to make Christianity look bad. But if that is not your aim, then you really need to reflect on your behavior and the impression it makes.

          • Maxximiliann

            So sorry. I mistook your contempt for God’s Holy Inspired Word and your fervid defense of the heresy of Macroevolution as the asseverations of an antichrist Gnostic Atheist … I won’t let it happen again …

          • futurePrimitive

            lol. You’ve quite the penchant for flowery language.

            I have no contempt — nothing but fascination, Joseph, I promise.

          • Maxximiliann

            Hang on a sec. Are you and McGrath one and the same?

          • futurePrimitive

            No, sir. That, I promise as well.

          • Maxximiliann

            Oh, ok. I ask because I was replying to him …

          • futurePrimitive

            Ah, comment mix up, then. It happens now and then. Carry on!

          • You elevate traditions about authorship above the evidence within the text itself, you treat acceptance of the evidence from God’s creation as heresy, and you speak with arrogance, and yet you really think it is plausible to claim that you are a Christian while those who disagree with you are not?!

          • Maxximiliann

            What you casually refer to as tradition is, in fact, historical evidence, there is no evidence from creation that either negates God’s existence nor his creative acts and I speak with conviction and zest, not arrogance, just as Christ Jesus did.

            Finally, anyone who gainsays Christ Jesus is antichrist. He glorified his Creator for the existence of all creation and never attributed it to just dumb luck. (Mark 10:6)

          • You are not interacting with what I actually wrote. This is your last warning. Cease behaving like a troll or be banned. This is a place for serious discussion, and ignoring what others wrote while repeating your favorite talking points even though they don’t address the subject either of the original post of of comments made subsequently diminishes the serious level and tone of discussion this blog holds its commenters to, and this will simply not be allowed. There are plenty of other places on the internet when one can troll. If you want to comment here, you must actually interact with human beings as a human being.

          • Andy_Schueler

            Hi Joseph, remember when you asked me what I meant by the ridiculous lies that you spam all over the place? I meant lies like this one here.
            Funny that you not only ignore all refutations, you even ignore advice like “it might be wise to fix the random capitalization and “Gradualism” is in the list twice.”
            But I guess we can never expect anything more than Ctr+C – Ctr+V from Joseph Copypasta Polanco.

          • Maxximiliann

            Argumentum assertio. “That which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.” Prove your claim. Prove it’s not a dicto simpliciter.

          • Andy_Schueler

            Refuted many times already, always ignored by you.
            Or, in words you might understand better:
            Argumentum ad nauseam. Try again.

          • Maxximiliann

            If you recall, we were interrupted and never settled the matter so here’s your chance.

            The floor is yours …

          • Andy_Schueler

            If you recall, you always simply change the subject whenever your copy-pasted BS is refuted and just copy-paste the same lies into fresh threads or simply start spamming other blogs.
            Argumentum ad nauseam. Try again.

  • What I am referring to is the fact that, by allowing the teaching of
    evolution in public school science classrooms, we are clearly allowing
    an arm of government to teach children than the religious beliefs their
    parents taught them are wrong.

    -Very true. Today YECism, tomorrow theism, the day after tomorrow, free will.

    • Christopher R Weiss

      Asserting scientific positions is not directly contradicting religion. Many rational people have reconciled religion and science. The problem is that when religion clashes with science, such as the YEC point of view, the science teacher does not explicitly state “genesis is wrong,” but this is the consequence.

      We have to differentiate between deliberate refutation from consequential. Intentional trashing of religion is just as unconstitutional as the insertion of creationism.

      • We have to differentiate between deliberate refutation from consequential.

        -No, we don’t. Refutation is refutation, no matter the motives behind it.

        • Christopher R Weiss

          From a legal point of view, it matters. Teachers are not citing the bible and saying where it is wrong. Someone who interprets genesis as allegory will not have his or her views refuted through teaching of evolutionary biology.

          There is a big difference between active refutation and consequential refutation. The first is illegal or unconstitutional.

          • Someone who interprets genesis as allegory will not have his or her views refuted through teaching of evolutionary biology.

            -An allegory for the Industrial Revolution? Sure.

            From a legal point of view, it matters.

            -If you’re correct here, then I firmly disagree with the law on this issue. However, I do think that “consequential refutation” may yield more fruit than “active refutation” -the former uses broader strokes.

          • Christopher R Weiss

            In this we agree. I think YEC will die because eventually people will realize its just absurd. However, it has held on stubbornly. Ironically, the internet has made this worse as frauds like Ken Ham and Ray Comfort get a broader audience.

            Public schools cannot actively tell students YEC is wrong. However, by not discussing it and showing what science says, the conclusion should be more obvious as time goes on. The challenge is getting public schools focused on science rather than this fake “teach the controversy” approach, which leaves children with the false impression that the support for evolution is open to interpretation. The goal of the YEC folks and the “teach the controversy argument” is to give children the impression that evolution a hypothesis rather than a theory in the minds of these kids. This needs to stop.

    • Richard Forrest

      No, what we are doing by teaching evolution in schools is to show that the claims of creationists for the scientific validity of their dogma is based on misrepresentation, distortion and outright falsehoods. This is not about religious belief. It is about science, and the dishonest way in which creationists promote their claims.

      • This is not about religious belief.

        -You’ve heard of a YEC atheist?

        • Richard Forrest

          No, but that is not the issue: Creationists claim that their religious dogma is supported by science, and should therefore be taught as science in science classes. If they were not making this demand, this would not be an issue. This is an issue of science not because scientists say so, but because that is what creationists claim,

          The fact that they are incapable of promoting their demands honestly casts more doubt on their moral values than it challenges the science they so ignorantly attack.

          • If they were not making this demand, this would not be an issue.

            -Aah. Now I see your point.

      • Maxximiliann

        Because science is infallible and all-knowing!! Hear!! Hear!!

        • No, it is just the use of the best methods and tools for correcting for our own fallibility and limited perspective.

          • Maxximiliann

            And “if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” -Maslow

            That is to say, your Scientism or Radical Positivism is too parochial and small-minded a theory of knowledge. After all, on this view there is nothing good or evil, right or wrong, beautiful or ugly. But is it tenable to think that scientific truth is the only truth there is? That no aesthetic, moral, metaphysical or otherwise putative truths exist?

            On this view, for instance, there’s nothing wrong with raping a little girl to death. Why should we accept such a conclusion simply because of an epistemological constraint? Isn’t this a signal that you need to open up the ambit of your theory so as to assimilate other categories of truth?

            Withal, the principles of Gödel’s Second Incompleteness Theorem absolutely gainsays Radical Positivism’s fundamental philosophy. After all, Science is suffused with suppositions that cannot be scientifically substantiated. The epistemology of radical positivism, thus, abrogates science itself. For instance, the principle of induction cannot be scientifically justified. Trying to provide a good inductive argument for radical positivism is hopeless since it necessarily begs the question by presupposing the validity of inductive reasoning in the first place!

            Even more fatal is that radical positivism is self-refuting. At its heart, this pernicious philosophy tells us that we should not accept any proposition that cannot be scientifically proven. But what about that very premise? It cannot itself be scientifically tested much less corroborated. Therefore we should not believe it. Your Radical Positivism thus asphyxiates itself.

            Or, as Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem revealed, ‘Whatsoever can be bounded cannot explain itself without referring to that which is without itself – some postulate whose certainty is unobtainable.’

            This is what renowned Physicist and Mathematician James Clerk Maxwell alluded to when he concluded, “Science is incompetent to reason upon the creation of matter itself out of nothing. We have reached the utmost limit of our thinking faculties when we have admitted that because matter cannot be eternal and self-existent it must have been created.”

          • Who is a radical positivist? As far as I know, today is the first time you commented on this blog. Why not actually read some posts here, understand what sort of viewpoint(s) are being expressed, and then write comments that are relevant?

          • Maxximiliann

            You lost me. How are you not a radical positivist?

  • Paul Burnett

    The question really comes down to “Does the government have the Constitutional right to counteract the ritual psychological child abuse to which religionists subject their children?” The mythology of Genesis cannot be reconciled with the observed facts of biology, paleontology, astronomy, geology, physics and every other branch of science. Does this mean that no science that contradicts the Bible should be taught in public schools? Is it Constitutrional to mention that Adam and Eve did not exist, and that there is therefore no such thing as Original Sin, and that therefore Jesus (if he existed) died for a fairy tale? It’s easy to see why the fundagelicals are so opposed to the public school system, and why they want to return to the Dark Ages of ignorance.

  • Jay Lake

    Religious freedom does not require willful ignorance. That is a social and political choice made by conservative American Christians, which causes lasting harm to their children, and to everyone else’s when one sect imposes its values on public education. Young Earth Creationism is a cultural signifier for this form of child abuse and socially destructive behavior masquerading as sincerely held faith. (Cross posting from Slacktivist because I accidentally posted this comment there, first.)

    • Maxximiliann

      Correct me if I’m wrong but weren’t Danton, Lenin, Sanger, Than Shwe, Stalin, Mengele, Mao, Kim Il Sung, Ceausescu, Honecker, Castro, Pol Pot, Broz Tito, Milosevic, Bonaparte and Mussolini oppressive, sadistic, democidal atheists who, collectively, butchered ***hundreds of millions*** of innocent men, women and children?

      “If atheism were such a blessing for humanity, Mao’s China would have been an empire of sunshine, rainbows and frolicking bunnies, instead of a countryside of cadavers.” – Anonymous

      • I don’t think that there is anything to be gained by comparing numbers on whether religious or atheist leaders have killed more people. Both statistics will show what we’re capable of as human beings, and hopefully lead us to not think that our own particular affiliation is with a group that always draws logical, moral, and otherwise correct conclusions.

        • Maxximiliann

          The facts presented do, though, impugn the claim that atheists are more moral than theists.

          More importantly, they show that the point of contention is not with all religions but atheism and false religion. True religion has always been nothing but a blessing for all of mankind. Why, then, throw the baby out with the bathwater?

          • futurePrimitive

            Not really, Joseph (hi again).
            All of those examples you cite are examples of totalitarian rule based on dogma supporting the leader’s cult of personality. The substitution of one type of dogma (ie cult dogma) for another (ie faith based religious belief) doesn’t not mean that atheism –the absence of faith based belief — is at fault. Rather, unquestioning adherence to dogma is the issue — this is contrary to the worldview of most atheists in modern secular society.

            Is it really that difficult to believe that had the Crusaders or Saladin’s forces had access to modern weaponry that they would not have unleashed them upon their opponents?

          • Maxximiliann

            Most atheists? Not according to recent statistics:

          • futurePrimitive

            It’s unclear from your reply what exactly it is you want me to see.

          • Maxximiliann

            Would you say China is a country where its atheists display “unquestioning adherence to dogma”?

          • futurePrimitive

            You would qualify China, over the past several decades, as a “modern secular society” ?

            You might want to double check what I wrote.

          • Maxximiliann

            Did you see the map I linked you to? They have the highest number of flaming atheists per capita. Are you uncomfortable with the company you’re in?

          • futurePrimitive

            Even if we make the reckless assumption that a poll of 50,000 people from 40 countries provides an accurate representation of per-nation worldview — so what about China?

            Political oppression of faith-based belief in favor of the reigning power’s dogma is exactly my point (I assume you’ve heard of Chairman Mao, since you’ve already mentioned him).

            Should we be surprised that a population that has experienced what the people of China experienced over the past century would self-report as being largely atheist?

            And again, since you missed it the first time, would you actually qualify China over the past several decades — the formative years of the Communist Revolution and onwards that define China to this day– as being a “modern secular society” as I originally qualified my statement?

            C’mon, Joseph…

          • Maxximiliann

            Why not?

          • futurePrimitive

            ‘Why not” to what? Both questions?

          • Maxximiliann

            To your last question.