Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Does the First Amendment Ban Public Schools?

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…

In the two centuries since it was written, the original language of the First Amendment has been expanded in two directions. The Doctrine of Incorporation holds that the XVth amendment imposes the restrictions of the Bill of Rights on the states. And modern courts expand “establishment” to cover not only established churches—which existed in England and some of the states when the Constitution was drafted--but any violation of religious neutrality, giving us the doctrine of separation of church and state.

The judge who recently held it unconstitutional for public schools to be required to teach the theory of intelligent design correctly argued that doing so would be to support a particular set of religious beliefs—those that reject evolution as an explanation for the apparent design of living creatures. His mistake was not carrying the argument far enough. A school that teaches that evolution is false is taking sides in a religious dispute—but so does a school that teaches that evolution is true.

The problem is broader than evolution. In the process of educating children, one must take positions on what is true or false. Over a wide range of issues, such a claim is either the affirmation of a religious position or the denial of a religious position. Any decent scientific account of geology, paleontology, what we know about the distant past, is also a denial of the beliefs of (among others) fundamentalist Christians. To compel children to go to schools, paid for by taxes, in which they are taught that their religious beliefs are false, is not neutrality.

Or consider history. The spread of Islam in its first few decades is one of the most extraordinary historical events known to us. When Mohammed left Mecca for Medina, the Arabs were bit players in local politics, allies of one or the other of the two great powers of that part of the world. Within a generation, Muslim Arabs had conquered all of the Sassanid empire and much of the Byzantine. It is rather as if, between 1960 and 1980, Guatamala had annexed the U.S. and a considerable chunk of the USSR.

The Moorish political scientist Ibn Khaldun, writing about six hundred years ago, offered a simple explanation: The expansion of Islam was a miracle. Allah put courage in the hearts of the Arabs, fear in the hearts of their enemies. What could be more obvious? A Muslim teaching the relevant history would give that explanation; I would not. He is claiming Islam is true, I am claiming that it is false. Neither of us is, or should be, neutral.

My conclusion is that the existence of public schools is inconsistent with the First Amendment. Their purpose is, or ought to be, to educate—and one cannot, in practice, educate without either supporting or denying a wide variety of religious claims.



59 Comments:

At 9:11 AM, December 27, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you've made an overly broad interpretation of the Establishment Clause. If we were to interpret it as broadly as you suggest, almost all government actions would be "inconsistent with the First Amendment."

Fortunately, the Supreme Court has established standards for judging whether government action is consistent with the Establishment Clause. It's the Lemon Test (Lemon v. Kurtzman 403 U.S. 602).

How would one apply the three prongs of the Lemon Test to the teaching of evolution in public schools?

1. Does the action have a secular legislative purpose? Yes, the purpose is to teach science.

2. Does it have a principal effect which is to neither advance nor inhibit religion? Teaching evolution in a science class does not restrict anyone's rights under the Free Exercise clause.

3. Does teaching evolution foster an excessive government entanglement with religion? Of course not.

By the way, I think you'll find that teaching ID in a science class fails the second prong; its purpose is quite clearly the advancement of certain religious beliefs.

 
At 9:13 AM, December 27, 2005, Anonymous Gil Guillory said...

These are some of the same problems that Mises cited in Human Action. Once you get past reading, writing, basic artihmetic, and, perhaps, teaching a working knowledge of what the laws of the country are, teaching children becomes a form of indoctrination. That is, all of the good stuff is value-laden, and necessarily must advocate a worldview, which for the religious, is a religious one.

 
At 10:25 AM, December 27, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wasn't the doctrine of incorporation under the 14th amendment? Funny that you would mess that up being as you're a law professor.

 
At 11:18 AM, December 27, 2005, Anonymous Mox said...

Yes, incorporation is under the 14th amendment, but a lot of people make that mistake. The 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments were all passed at the same time, so they're easily and often confused; that's one reason why I always have my handy pocket edition of the Constitution around.

 
At 11:26 AM, December 27, 2005, Anonymous Michael M. said...

In the process of educating children, one must take positions on what is true or false. Over a wide range of issues, such a claim is either the affirmation of a religious position or the denial of a religious position.

No, it's not. Incorporating the accepted standard position on issues into curriculum is neither. If my religion teaches me that 2+2=5 and I go to school and learn that most mathematicians hold that 2+2=4, my religious position hasn't been "denied." I have been armed with accepted wisdom, which is what state-funded schooling is supposed to do. If I want to challenge that wisdom by devising mathematical proofs of my religious teachings, I can do that. Einstein overturned established wisdom about the nature of mass and energy. But until I do, it does me no good to remain ignorant of accepted standards -- indeed, it would be impossible for me to challenge received opinion if I don't understand that opinion.

If the proponents of ID can convince the scientific establishment that there is something remotely scientific about ID, then it can be taught in public school science classes, regardless of its religious underpinnings. Teaching ID under these circumstances would not be endorsing religion any more that teaching evolution is denying religion.

 
At 12:21 PM, December 27, 2005, Blogger Roland Patrick said...

Since the 14th Amendment doesn't actually address the issue of 'incorporation', what harm does it do to ascribe that doctrine to the 15th? Which also doesn't address it.

And, the Lemon Test's #2 does clearly fail, regarding the teaching of evolution. It doesn't matter whether the teaching is true or false.

 
At 12:23 PM, December 27, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It would appear that the commenters have sufficiently overcome your less than stellar "logic". It reminded me of my half-butted brother-in-law, a libertarian wanna-be.

 
At 12:38 PM, December 27, 2005, Blogger Walter said...

" It would appear that the commenters have sufficiently overcome your less than stellar "logic"."

Anon - Did you even read the Prof's post?

 
At 12:39 PM, December 27, 2005, Anonymous Joshua Kronengold said...

A fair number of the comments were pretty offensive.

OTOH, so is the idea that -all- beliefs are either religious or anti-religious, which is the logical conclusion of your argument. The simple fact that a religion takes a position on an issue does not make any statement to the contrary on that issue counter-religious or similarly religous.

There are statements which are of a religous nature -- any contradition of them is a similarly religous statement, simply by definition. Statements on the existence or nature of the Ultimate, as do many others, fall into this category.

There are statements that are of a factual nature -- grounded in the here and now, or are based on said facts. Religous statements about these that that contradict the facts are still literally false (the 2+2=5 example above isn't a bad example of this), and it's entirely possible to make reasonable statements here without enroaching on the borders of religeon.

Finally, there are statements that have grounding an a-religious thought, but that can also have answers coming from non-religous bodies of thought, like law and ethics. (examples: People should not kill. Individual freedom of speach is more important than cultural identity. Drugs are a form of self-abuse and should not be consumed) These are an interesting case -- since by it's nature, a government has an interest in teaching at least some of these (for instance, understanding of the law, and in our case, the Constitution). Yet if all actions in this category are allowed, it most certainly -does- consitute an establishment of religion.

 
At 1:00 PM, December 27, 2005, Anonymous MobyDikc said...

Maybe the first amendment just bans science and history.

After all, one can successfully teach language and math without making statements about reality, which are the only ones that conflict with a religious world view.

 
At 2:46 PM, December 27, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How much leeway to we get in taking religious things out of the realm of religion and ascribing them to American culture? In other words, if we were to take religion out of public schools—which we should—how much would actually stay in just because it is a part of the fabric of everyday American life, and has been since for some time? I know the Italians are debating this now as well: some argue that the crucifix should remain in public buildings in Italy because it is as much a part of Italian culture as it is a symbol of Catholicism.

The key, I think, is having something of a pedigree and seriousness: whereas evolution has almost unanimous support in the scientific community as a general idea, and has had it for some time, Intelligent Design has none, nor does it have support in other disciplines (e.g., philosophy). There are serious and vociferous debates within the study of evolution about particular matters, whereas ID has one (old earth vs. new earth), which is not in the least scientific.

So I would argue that, yes, most education does support religion in some ways (yet these ways are hardly an “establishment” of a religion), but there is really no way around that: education will reflect the culture of its origin, and a part (or most) of that culture will be based in religion. As Samuel Huntington argues (briefly), we teach all kids to work hard and obey authority, ideas which are distinctly drawn from the Protestant approach to life. This is now a part of American culture.

So I would argue that aspects of that religion-as-culture have a long pedigree and seriousness in American intellectual life and thus should be included in the educational curriculum. This is why, I think, it would be perfectly permissible for a Thanksgiving Day class in seventh grade in San Francisco to teach that Europeans stole this land from Native Americans, whereas it Alabama or Montana the same class might teach the more traditional approach to Thanksgiving. Both of these approaches have long pedigrees in America, and both have a certain amount of intellectual seriousness behind them.

 
At 2:49 PM, December 27, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

joshua,

There are statements which are of a religous nature -- any contradition of them is a similarly religous statement, simply by definition....

There are statements that are of a factual nature -- grounded in the here and now


Into what category would you put a statement that says that facts cannot be arrived at only in the here and now - that only what is grounded in knowledge of God can be considered factual?

That is exactly the nature of the evolution/ID debate.

 
At 3:37 PM, December 27, 2005, Blogger Scott said...

One thing, Professor:

Commenters are often rude. Don't take it personally.

 
At 4:19 PM, December 27, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a very interesting idea: would it be wrong for me to sum it up as 'schools inadvertently foster a worldview upon children which effectively counts as imposing a religion'?

An interesting piece of evidence for this may be found in that the Catholics have setup an extensive alternative private educational system in the United States (from Kindergarten to Ph.D), while there is no comparable Protestant educational infrastructure (while several universities have had a Protestant affiliation in the past, most of those have secularized before the end of the nineteenth century). Why is it such? The argument is that the /public/ schools effectively imparted (mainline) protestant ideals on the pupils, so there wasn't a need for another educational system.

I do have a quibble with the idea about a miracle: it is not mutually exclusive for an event to be miraculous and yet have a rational explanation. In that any historical event can be caused by several rational factors; the miracle may be in the combination in the right place and the right time of these 'accidental' factors. The correct response would be that the public school should teach the rational explanation as it constitutes mainstream, accepted historical scholarship while letting students draw (or not draw) their own conclusion about whether the conditions for a given historical event coming together the way they did constituted a miracle.

 
At 7:08 PM, December 27, 2005, Anonymous albatross said...

I don't claim any understanding of First Amendment law, but as a matter of policy, I think there's no way to avoid having schools take positions that contradict the heartfelt beliefs of many parents. That can be factual stuff like the age of the Earth or evolution, but it can also be the standard set of beliefs of the time and place. A hundred years ago, someone telling their students about the inherent superiority of the white race in a schoolroom would probably not have caused any controversy; today, they'd be run out of town on a rail. What changed there wasn't reality, or even science--what changed were widespread beliefs.

Again, I don't know what the constitution has to say about any of this. Probably whatever gets the most votes in the political body charged with interpreting it. But as a practical matter, if we want schools to teach substantially what parents believe, we probably want private or voucher-funded schools picked by parents. If we want some kind of governmental decision about what the right things are to teach, then what we have now is probably fine. But it's worth remembering that this is as likely to be in bad or silly directions as good ones.

Albatross

 
At 8:29 PM, December 27, 2005, Anonymous Greg Newburn said...

What about a public school that taught students only how to read? Or how to cut down trees? Or how to change tires?

If one can conceive of a public school whose curriculum didn't touch on any subject that could reasonably be considered either religious or anti-religious (and I think it's possible to do that, even if unlikely in practice), then it doesn't follow that just because most public schools now violate the First Amendment, that all public schools necessarily do (or would).

I think the first anonymous post gets it mostly right; given a sufficiently broad definition of "Establishment" all government activity would violate the First Amendment (i.e., "my religion requires that I can never be arrested for anything."). Then again, maybe that's where you're going with this. If it is, at least the idea would be consistent, even if it were really nothing else.

 
At 10:17 PM, December 27, 2005, Blogger John T. Kennedy said...

"So I would argue that, yes, most education does support religion in some ways (yet these ways are hardly an “establishment” of a religion), but there is really no way around that: education will reflect the culture of its origin, and a part (or most) of that culture will be based in religion."

Obviously there is a way around the problem: The separation of School and State.

Better: The separation of Man and State.

 
At 10:23 PM, December 27, 2005, Blogger John T. Kennedy said...

Albatross,

"I don't claim any understanding of First Amendment law, but as a matter of policy, I think there's no way to avoid having schools take positions that contradict the heartfelt beliefs of many parents"

But it's trivially easy to avoid compelling those parents to pay for such schools.

 
At 12:12 AM, December 28, 2005, Blogger Meaghan Walker-Williams said...

Well, my position has been, since I first heard it from Billy that when Crafting the the damn thing... that it should read...

Congress shall make no law.

(with the british full stop at the end)

 
At 6:11 AM, December 28, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One problem with such broad interpretations is that a similarly broad interpretation of, say, the "commerce clause" of the US Constitution would also make the possibility of the US going communist --including the state owning all the schools-- perfectly constitutional.

In other words, under broad interpretations, the US constitution can become contradictory, and since you can deduce anything from something contradictory, that would render the constitution virtually irrelevant.

So that seems like a good case for not stretching the interpretation of constitutional clauses.

That said, I think that your argument that many --if not most-- things taught in school have a religious or anti-religious bias is pretty good, and commentators critiquing that don't seem to have a good argument.

The issue then becomes: what is the threshold of religious or anti-religious bias that would trigger the non-constitutionality flag? Teaching that 2+2=4 seems constitutional –-I don’t know of any religion that denies that-- and teaching that God will smite one for being homosexual is unconstitutional. But beyond that it is hard to see where the line is.

Alex

 
At 7:23 AM, December 28, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

(for example only)
my religous belief is as follows:
If america exists, my god doesn't exist.

Now, in fear of proving that my religious belief is false, should america voluntarily cease to exist?

 
At 7:24 AM, December 28, 2005, Anonymous John P. said...

Prof. Friedman, belated THANK YOU for starting a blog. I read your "Law's Order" when it first came out and just recently got around to reading "The Machinery of Freedom." Great, stimulating stuff!

 
At 8:10 AM, December 28, 2005, Blogger Sub Specie AEternitatis said...

Let me add my voice to John P. Thank you, Prof. Friedman, for this blog (even though I now have to find a new candidate for Person on the Planet Who Most Should Have a Blog)!

 
At 9:35 AM, December 28, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"(for example only)
my religous belief is as follows:
If america exists, my god doesn't exist."

How does that invalidate Friedman's point? If such a silly religious position existed, then it would be unconstitutional for state schools to teach that america exists.

That supports the point that most education has a pro or anti religious bias -- and hence that good education by _state_ schools is of dubious constitutionality.

Alex

 
At 9:51 AM, December 28, 2005, Anonymous nick said...

Alex:

The Constitution itself tells us when to interpret the Constitution broadly and when not to.

Under the Ninth Amendment, personal rights are to be construed broadly. This is reinforced by the broad language used for rights other clauses ("life, liberty, and property," "equal protection of the laws,", etc.)

By contrast, under the Necessary and Proper Clause and under the Tenth amendment, federal government powers are to be construed narrowly.

 
At 11:25 AM, December 28, 2005, Blogger Ryan said...

Scott:

Commenters being rude? Surely you jest.

 
At 12:18 PM, December 28, 2005, Blogger John T. Kennedy said...

"In other words, under broad interpretations, the US constitution can become contradictory, and since you can deduce anything from something contradictory, that would render the constitution virtually irrelevant.

So that seems like a good case for not stretching the interpretation of constitutional clauses."


The constitution is irrelevant regardless of any interpretation.

 
At 12:44 PM, December 28, 2005, Blogger David Friedman said...

Scott writes:

"One thing, Professor:

Commenters are often rude. Don't take it personally."

Don't worry. I've been active on Usenet for something close to twenty years. So far this is mild in comparison.

Nobody yet has claimed here that the reason I support anarcho-capitalism is that I know it would lead to a system of competing warlords, and I expect to be one of them.

 
At 12:49 PM, December 28, 2005, Blogger David Friedman said...

Several posters have defended teaching something because it is "mainstream, accepted scholarship" or "the accepted standard position." If that is the criterion, then teaching Protestant Christianity in the schools wasn't a violation of the First Amendment in most of the U.S. during most of the 19th century. Is that really the position people want to defend?

A better defense would be that teaching evolution isn't imposing religion because what you are teaching is true.

The problem, of course, is that both sides of such disputes think their views are true.

 
At 1:18 PM, December 28, 2005, Anonymous Greg Newburn said...

What of the idea that there is the possibility in principle that a publicly funded school could teach something that couldn't reasonably be interpreted as either religious or anti-religious? Does that make your argument fail?

And the critique that given a sufficiently broad definition of religion, all government activity could violate the First Amendment?

 
At 1:31 PM, December 28, 2005, Blogger Vache Folle said...

Just a query. How widely distributed would a religious proposition have to be before its existence would have to be taken into account? If I claim that gravity is an illusion and that it is the hand of God that draws matter together, would I have standing to challenge the teaching of any physics that mentioned gravity?

I would be willing to bring such an action just for kicks.

 
At 2:08 PM, December 28, 2005, Anonymous Lynette Warren said...

To compel children to go to schools, paid for by taxes, in which they are taught that their religious beliefs are false, is not neutrality.

By your reasoning, wouldn't the First Amendment also provide a strong argument against legalizing gay marriage?

For example, if my religion defines marriage as strictly between a man and a woman and the State legalizes gay marriages, compelling me to recognize and subsidize same sex marriages, that would be a clear violation of my First Amendment right, wouldn't it?

 
At 2:35 PM, December 28, 2005, Blogger Roland Patrick said...

I think almost everyone is missing David Friedman's point (but maybe, having participated in some of those usenet debates alongside him--and at least one on this very topic--I'm at an advantage).

Secularism, agnosticism, atheism, are not 'neutrality' toward religion. Yet we're establishing (I use the word deliberately) something like a mixture of those isms as the default mode of public schools. It seems pretty obvious that that violates the rights of the majority of Americans.

The only remedy being getting governments out of the business of operating schools (they could still fund them from tax revenues if they did not discriminate between St John the Baptist High and the Madelyn Murray O'Hare School)

That said, as a matter of history, the people who wrote and ratified the 1st Amendment wouldn't have taken modern day 1st Amendment jurisprudence seriously.

The purpose of the establishment of public schools was specifically to inculcate vanilla Protestantism in American youth. Horace Mann being particularly open about his motivations. That led to riots over whose bible was going to get read in public schools. Particularly deadly ones in Philadelphia and New York. The Catholics eventually conceding defeat, and starting their own schools.

 
At 3:56 PM, December 28, 2005, Blogger John T. Kennedy said...

David,

Does the first amendment ban school vouchers?

"To compel children to go to schools, paid for by taxes, in which they are taught that their religious beliefs are false, is not neutrality."

The fact that a great many children attend private schools demonstrates that they are not compelled to go to public schools. There are two primary types of compulsion here:

1. Students are compelled to attend schools which meet certain standards.

2. Citizens are compelled to pay for some schools.

You don't seem to be arguing that the first amendment bans all compulsory schooling(1), you seem to be arguing only that the first amendment bans government run (or government financed?) schools. But if your argument is applied consistently I think it effectively leads to a first amendment ban on any education requirements, since any standards applied to schools cannot be religion neutral.

And part of your first amendment argument seems to be that parents ought not be compelled to pay for any instruction that contradicts their religious beliefs. But then to be consistent we must say that the first amendment bans all public funding of schools, even by vouchers, since those schools cannot be religion neutral.

 
At 4:16 PM, December 28, 2005, Anonymous Corwyn said...

A school that teaches that evolution is false is taking sides in a religious dispute—but so does a school that teaches that evolution is true.

I agree. However, I would say that a school which is teaching that evolution is the current best scientific theory is NOT. Anymore than a school teaching that 2+2=4 is entering into a religious debate with the twoplustwoequalsfivians.

The problem with your argument is encapsulated in "In the process of educating children, one must take positions on what is true or false." I don't see teaching a a process of drilling true and false into children, but rather in providing them with tools with which to examine their world. Science is one such tool, but science isn't physics, chemistry, etc. Those are products of science.

 
At 5:12 PM, December 28, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous: >I think you've made an overly broad interpretation of the Establishment Clause. If we were to interpret it as broadly as you suggest, almost all government actions would be "inconsistent with the First Amendment."

Well, the majority of the government IS outside the Constitution. So if it's not inconsistent with the First, it's inconsistent with some other part of the Constitution (e.g., the part that allows the government to COIN money...)

 
At 11:15 PM, December 28, 2005, Anonymous thesolidsurfer said...

It is the teaching of science that is at issue. Whether the science supports or rejects religious dogma is irrelevant. The support or rejection of the dogma is therefore coincidental and unintentional.

 
At 5:10 AM, December 29, 2005, Anonymous Famousringo said...

All I can say is: Thank goodness the British commonlaw tradition allows judges to interpret the spirit of the law rather than forcing government to be crippled with only literal interpretations of the statutes.

Just to be perfectly clear, which are you suggesting is broken, the presence of a public school system or the American constitution?

 
At 7:19 AM, December 29, 2005, Anonymous albatross said...

Corwyn,

The question of which methods to use to determine truth is pretty fundamental to the debate. How do you resolve disagreements between your best read of the current evidence and the core beliefs of your religion or society?

 
At 10:16 AM, December 29, 2005, Blogger David Friedman said...

FamousRingo asks:

"Just to be perfectly clear, which are you suggesting is broken, the presence of a public school system or the American constitution?"

A perceptive question.

I wasn't taking either side in this essay, merely pointing out the conflict. As it happens, I think having a public school system is a mistake--but that conclusion doesn't follow from the argument made here.

I also think the Fundamentalists have a better case than generally recognized--not for the truth of their beliefs but for the view that keeping religion out of the public schools means, in practice, keeping out those religious beliefs that those making the decisions disagree with. But I think environmentalism provides a better example than evolution.

 
At 10:26 AM, December 29, 2005, Anonymous Corwyn said...

Albatross,

The question of which methods to use to determine truth is pretty fundamental to the debate.

Well, that science class should use scientific method, seems pretty obvious to me. Religion class can use religious methods.

How do you resolve disagreements between your best read of the current evidence and the core beliefs of your religion or society?

At worst, just teach both, and a good method of examining evidence.

 
At 12:06 PM, December 29, 2005, Blogger John T. Kennedy said...

David,

"I think having a public school system is a mistake--but that conclusion doesn't follow from the argument made here."

You explicitly concluded that it is a mistake:

"The judge who recently held it unconstitutional for public schools to be required to teach the theory of intelligent design correctly argued that doing so would be to support a particular set of religious beliefs—those that reject evolution as an explanation for the apparent design of living creatures. His mistake was not carrying the argument far enough. A school that teaches that evolution is false is taking sides in a religious dispute—but so does a school that teaches that evolution is true."

 
At 8:59 AM, December 30, 2005, Blogger David Friedman said...

John T. Kennedy quotes me:

"I think having a public school system is a mistake--but that conclusion doesn't follow from the argument made here."

and responds

"You explicitly concluded that it is a mistake:

"The judge who recently held it unconstitutional ... . His mistake ..." "

His mistake was concluding that one option violated the separation of church and state and the other didn't. That says nothing at all about whether the conflict should be resolved by changing the public schools or the Constitution.

 
At 2:44 PM, December 30, 2005, Blogger John T. Kennedy said...

Seems to me you effectively asked if public shools were a mistake under the constitution and concluded that they were.

They are a mistake in the context invoked in your post.

 
At 9:37 AM, January 01, 2006, Blogger Brian Macker said...

You sound like a creationist. The fact that religions take positions that are contrary to science do not make those scientific positions religious. What the hell makes religious beliefs so special anyway. Like some of the other commenters pointed out what if my religious beliefs were incompatible with your libertarian or anarchist society. What if I was a Muslim and believed it was my holy duty to slaughter all the other non-Abrahamic believers and turn the Jews and Christians into Dhimmis?

BTW, the reason that Islam spread so fast is that the Muslims were willing to take measures that were so beyond the ethical norms of the era that the other more peaceful communities had no strategy to respond. They really could not comprehend what was happening to them.

Muhammed hit on the formula of rewarding the most base members of society with free license to violate rights of any and all who did not obey. They used surprise attacks and slaughtered their male opponents only to turn the females into baby factories to produce new muslim fanatics.

Muslim societies were not the libertarian utopias that Rose Wilder imagined. Non-Muslims were treated as less than second class citizens in the most "enlightened" of Muslim societies. The Sarecens enslaved and stole their way to cultural significance but when their consumption of other great cultures came to a halt they collapsed in stagnation.

 
At 11:49 AM, January 03, 2006, Blogger David Friedman said...

Brian writes:

"Muslim societies were not the libertarian utopias that Rose Wilder imagined. "

True.

"BTW, the reason that Islam spread so fast is that the Muslims were willing to take measures that were so beyond the ethical norms of the era that the other more peaceful communities had no strategy to respond."

Nonsense. The Muslim conquests, both the original ones and the later expansion of the Ottomans, were well within the norms of the era. If anything, the Muslims treated those they conquered rather well by contemporary standards--which may have been one reason for their success.

You will note that, after four centuries of Ottoman rule, there were still quite a lot of Christians in the Balkans. After well over a millenium of Muslim rule, there were quite a lot of Christians in the Middle East.

Non-Muslim peoples of the book were indeed treated as second class citizens--but, unlike Jews and Muslims in Spain after the reconquista and in various other Christian areas at various other times, they were tolerated and protected, not forced to convert or leave.

Or in other words, your view of the history is as far off in one direction as Rose Wilder Lane's was in the other.

 
At 5:22 PM, January 03, 2006, Anonymous Leonard A. Doty said...

How can you all get it so wrong? Schools teach! They do not take sides. If they take sides they are NOT schools, they are brain washing factories. Schools, real schools, can teach intelligent design as simply another theory, without taking sides. why do you, and so many others, not see the obvious? Sometimes I think all of you so-called intellectuals are just plain stupid. (By the way, I have a Ph.D. so maybe I'm just another one of those stupid intellectuals.) Len

 
At 9:11 PM, January 03, 2006, Anonymous Freder Frederson said...

But I think environmentalism provides a better example than evolution.

Are you saying that environmentalism or evolution are religions? Because neither is? I'm not even sure what you mean by "environmentalism". Are you making some derisive statement about tree-hugging, birkenstock wearing, tofu-eating hippies who want us all to drive 1968 VW buses? Or don't you like the idea of industries being forced to treat their waste before they dump it in the Cuyahouga River so it doesn't catch on fire like it used to back in the sixties?

 
At 9:17 PM, January 03, 2006, Blogger Freder Frederson said...

Schools, real schools, can teach intelligent design as simply another theory, without taking sides.

The problem is that ID is not a scientific theory so no school has any business teaching it as a scientific theory in a science class.

Science classes are for teaching science. ID is not science (because it does make any verifiable or testable predictions). Therefore ID, should not be taught in science class. (That is simple logic by the way).

 
At 2:58 PM, January 04, 2006, Blogger David Friedman said...

Freder writes:

"Science classes are for teaching science. ID is not science (because it does make any verifiable or testable predictions). Therefore ID, should not be taught in science class."

As I argued in a different post on this blog, I think ID does make testable predictions--some of which turn out to be false, such as the prediction that humans don't have an appendix.

Any serious presentation of evolution has to deal with Design, because it's the obvious alternative hypothesis, and the one that was widely accepted until evolution came along. Unless you are going to treat evolution as an a priori truth, part of your basis for believing it ought to be that it does a better job of expaining the data than alternative theories.

 
At 5:48 AM, January 05, 2006, Anonymous Freder Frederson said...

As I argued in a different post on this blog, I think ID does make testable predictions--some of which turn out to be false, such as the prediction that humans don't have an appendix.

Umm, that is not a testable prediction of ID. That is an assertion that proves ID is not a valid scientific theory. If ID were a valid theory, it would be able to explain why we have an appendix, not be stymied by the existence thereof. Fully developed scientific theories will not have unexplainable phenomena. If something is unexplained then you work on the theory to explain the phenomena. That is why ID will never be a scientific theory. ID proponets, when faced with unexplained phenomena or anything that is too hard for them to figure out, throw up their hands in frustration and say "the designer did it". That is not science, that is faith.

Evolution, on the other hand, can easily explain the existence of the appendix as it exists as a functional organ in other mammals that aids in the digestion of fiberous plants. Over millions of years of evolution as our diet changed our appendix became unneccesary and atrophied.

 
At 8:15 AM, January 05, 2006, Blogger David Friedman said...

I wrote:

"As I argued in a different post on this blog, I think ID does make testable predictions--some of which turn out to be false, such as the prediction that humans don't have an appendix."

Freder replied:

"Umm, that is not a testable prediction of ID. That is an assertion that proves ID is not a valid scientific theory."

Scientific theories make predictions. Sometimes the predictions turn out to be false. when they do, that is evidence that the theory is wrong--but not evidence that it isn't a scientific theory.

Whether something is a scientific theory and whether it is true are entirely different questions. Ptolemaic astronomy was a scientific theory. So was Aristotelian physics.

 
At 8:58 AM, January 06, 2006, Blogger markm said...

Religions do make testable predictions all the time. What distinguishes them from science is what they do when the predictions don't work out. E.g., the Jehovah's Witnesses repeatedly predicted the imminent end of the world. Each time a predicted date came and went, they reworked their calculations without ever considering that their basic premise might need revision.

 
At 9:25 AM, January 06, 2006, Blogger markm said...

The issue is not whether there are some things schools can teach that do not impact upon religion, but that avoiding everything that could conflict with someone's religion does not allow for anything at all like a sound and complete education.

Someone cited non-conflicting subjects as languages and mathematics, but a proper education needs far more than that. And even if you could restrict school to those subjects, you still would have problems. Mathematics does not claim to say anything about the real world, but is simply about the logical derivation of results from arbitrary premises. If it happens that 2 apples plus 2 apples equals 4 apples, that makes math useful in the real world, but math itself makes no claim that it applies to apples, or to any other real object. So you could teach math in such a way that it does not conflict with a religion that claims that 2 apples plus 2 apples make 5 apples. Or, to take an example that's actually in the Bible, you can teach that in geometry pi = 3.14... without ever using a ruler and without asserting that a bowl with a diameter of 10 cubits and a circumference of 30 cubits is impossible.

However, it wouldn't be very useful to teach math to elementary school students that way. They have enough difficulty understanding it with real world examples and without deep philosophy intruding, not to mention the trouble their graduates could get into by building something using pi=3 or putting two apples and two apples in a bag and selling it as five apples.

That Biblical pi=3 bowl might actually be useful in math class - to launch a discussion of measurement accuracy. But if I were a public school teacher, I would be afraid to use it, as it could get me caught in a crossfire between Christian fundamentalists and anti-religious fundamentalists.

 
At 9:54 AM, January 06, 2006, Blogger markm said...

Finally, it's very hard to run a school without a shared system of values. American public schools once ran well with values that were explicitly based on the Judeo-Christian tradition, and often specifically on trinitarian Protestant Christianity. The 1st Amendment originally restricted only the federal government, and the federal government didn't run any schools, so this was not a constitutional violation for the first 80 years - and it took nearly a century after the 14th Amendment for the courts to recognize the full implications. Partly this was because there was almost no one that disagreed with the values by which public schools were run until the 1960's.

I'm an atheist. I see philosophical and practical reasons to maintain a value system quite similar to what our ancestors derived from Protestantism, but I have no more right to impose those values upon (say) Muslim schoolchildren than the Reverend Billy Graham does.

However, the "multicultural" attempt to run schools without much of any value system has been an abject failure. By contrast, Catholic schools (with an strong and explicit value sytem) have been outperforming public schools while spending substantially less per pupil. It is far better to give parents with different values vouchers to go find a school that fits them, than to try to compromise the school's values and culture to fit everybody. It's good policy whether or not this is also the only way to really respect the establishment clause.

 
At 10:01 AM, January 06, 2006, Anonymous Freder Frederson said...

Scientific theories make predictions. Sometimes the predictions turn out to be false. when they do, that is evidence that the theory is wrong--but not evidence that it isn't a scientific theory.

And where does ID, ptolemaic astronomy or Arstotlean physics predict anything. They just sought to explain existing physical phenomena using the limited knowledge available to their founders. Neither had any concept of a scientific method and used observation and philosophy, not experimentation to develop their theories, which is why they were inadequate, and cannot be called scientific theories by any stretch of the imagination.

Likewise, ID has no predictive value. It makes no predictive statements nor is it experimental verifiable. It merely seeks to explain why things are the way they are and offers no explanation other than "that's the way the designer did it" as an explanation. How is this a scientific theory? It explains nothing, and has no predictive or expositive value.

 
At 11:01 AM, January 07, 2006, Blogger Brian Macker said...

Dr. Friedman,

I knew about all the things you responded with, I just don't think they count.

I don't think the norms of an era should be set by the worst elements as you do. If I thought that then the norms of the 20th century would be better defined by Communism, Nazism, and Islamitism.

By what methodology do you consider the spread of Islam to be within the norms of the peaceful cultures that the Muslims conquired? As a specific example the various Jewish tribes of Medina took Muhammed and his followers in after they rejected their own tribe. They granted him sancuary. How were they repaid? After the Muslims became strong enough they were slaughtered.

You are comparing the very best of Muslim behavior to the very worst of non-Muslim behavior. This is not valid. There are plenty of examples of Christians allowing non-christians into their communities at the time. The reason there were so many non-muslims in muslim societies was because they were conquired societies and not because the muslims somehow let non-muslims migrate in.

The way I see it the forced mass conversion of a populous was actually a preferable, if not profitable mechanism. In doing so you do not end up with a society where the conquerors are in a state of permanent mastery over their subjects. The muslims were in fact not allowing conversion to Islam in many instances. The fact that the Jizya have an incentive for Muslim rulers to keep non-muslims as tax slaves is not a sign of tolerance. In fact many Christian countries had to suffer from Muslims slavers making slaving raids into their countries well into near modern times. Hard to keep muslims in the majority when you are importing christian slaves.

You also ignore the Muhammeds (supposedly Allah's) call to spread terror through the land prior to allowing conversion.

You also flip the chronology of the incidents. If Muslims swarm into an area and treat the locals horribly, do you think when they throw off the yolk they are going to tolerate any Muslims hanging around after what they did? Just because the Spanish were not very tolerant of the Muslims and Jews after their experience does not mean this is the normal "Christian" behavior.

There were a hell of a lot of blacks in Haiti before they overthrew their masters. This was not a sign of tolerance. To interpret mere numbers as tolerance is just plain ridiculous. When the Hatians overthrew their masters they had a flag that bore a white baby on a spike. This is hardly a symbol of tolerance, but it also does not put the white slavers in a better light.

The other problem with Islam is that once they had conquired there was a slow an inevitable drive towards less and less tolerance towards the second class citizens, and a big incentive for them to convert, regardless of the quite obvious evil nature of the religion.

BTW, I am an atheist and I would agree that Christianity was also an intolerant religion, in most countries. I do point this out. I do not however make the mistake of thinking that Islam is the more tolerant of the two. It isn't. The proof is in the fact that it is that christian countries are now the tolerant ones, whereas Muslim ones are still stuck in the 7th century mindset. The christians may have been taken there kicking and screaming but they eventually got there by Deists amoung others.

I can see why this is but frankly don't have time to extensively debate it.

I will state a few reasons however. Christianity specifically rejected those ancient beliefs contained in the old testament, with the new covenent with Christ. This was done philosophically if not in practice. Islam did the opposite. If you read the Quran you will see that philosophically it is a religion based on a kind of criminals pact. It has sections titled "The ranks [of war]" and "The spoils [of conquest]".

Because Christianity was philosophically a more peaceful religion it was possible for it to evolve more naturally in that direction. Islam on the other hand does so only insofar as the intolerance it preaches is contrary to the natural incentives one encounters when one is so intolerant. Should one listen to the Quran and slaughter you non-people of the book captives or would it be better to ransom them for the cash.

Empirically, it's the Christians that are tolerant. So I think it is up to you to explain why Islam ended up where it is if it was the more tolerant religion.

Doesn't seem to me that the Crusades are the reason, nor the breakup of the Ottoman empire. Both were founded on conquest of Christian lands. With the Ottoman empire in a constant state of friction with the Christian world, slave raiding and all that.
If the Muslims can claim they became intolerant because of the Crusades then it seems to me that opens up the same excuse for the Christians. After all it was the Muslims who raided Christian lands first.

So I don't think I am taking such a onesided view. Muslims claim to be the more tolerant. The fact is they are not. They only appear so when comparing their best behavior (letting non-muslims live as slaves and second class citizens in their societies) with the worse of Christian behavior. Also, since when is Christian behavior the norm by which we should live our lives?

 
At 11:57 AM, January 07, 2006, Blogger Brian Macker said...

I found myself agreeing with alot of what MarkM had to say.

I wrote an article on why ID is not scientific and put it on my blog. I could not get your trackbacks to work so you can find it here.

 
At 7:37 PM, January 07, 2006, Anonymous Cstraus said...

If this is legal reasoning heaven help this country!

Tghese poets seem to elide belif with the right not to ever be contradicted or challnegbed ir simply not agreed with!

Some peole belive that the folow THEIR particular religion it is necessary to suspend reasoning, and the beloive the bible is a historical document devoid of metaphor or contradiction. (It clealry is nnot-- there are 2 separate versions of the creation on man in Genesis!) to be taught that science, a branch of human in quiry that looks at the physical world and attetps to explain it a particlar way "contradict" a religion because adherants to that particlar religion wish to belief in their world view is absurd. that is individuals disagreeing one with another.

not establishing a religion.

 

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home