Saturday, October 23, 2010

Separation of Church and State or Public Schools: Pick One

A commenter on my previous post asks what the content of a creationist course would be, readings from the book of Genesis or merely bad science, and adds that "teaching Marxist ideas of 'laws of history' is peddling a form of religious pseudo-science. Some of the environmental dogma being taught in schools is also on par with this stuff."

This suggests a more general point—is the existence of a public school system consistent with a serious commitment to the separation of church and state?

I think the answer is that it is not. While teaching a fundamentalist version of the origin of life is indeed taking a side in a religious dispute, teaching a conventional account of biology and geology is is also taking a side in that dispute, just the opposite side. I do not see how I can honestly tell a fundamentalist that it is a violation of the separation of church and state to teach children that his religious beliefs are true but not a violation to teach children that they are false.

The conventional view is, in this case, the one I believe is true. But then, if they were teaching creationism, they would be taking the side he believes is true. So what purports to be separation of church and state ends up as the opposite—the state supporting a particular view of religious questions. That comes pretty close to the established church that the First Amendment explicitly forbids.

Of course, these are not only religious questions, they are also scientific questions. But then, most religious questions are also scientific, or historical, or philosophical, questions. If the rule is that the state can teach whatever it believes is true provided that here is some basis for that belief other than religion, that leaves the state free to teach the truth or falsity of pretty nearly every religion. The doctrine of separation of church and state then becomes the doctrine that one can only teach the truth, which sounds fine as rhetoric but has some practical difficulties in a world where different people have different views of what the truth is.

So far, I have considered a case where the school teaches what I believe is true. In the real world there is no such limitation, as the quoted comment with which I started this suggests. When schools teach children that they have an obligation to take care of Mother Earth they are teaching religion, whether or not they put it in an explicitly religious form; religions are not limited to beliefs about gods. And I find it hard to draw any sharp line between religions and secular ideologies such as Marxism or libertarianism.

Eliminate all content that is in a broad sense religious and there is nothing left. Even eliminate all content that is religious in a narrow sense, where that includes claims that religions are false as well as claims that they are true, and there is not a whole lot left.

In practice, the application of separation of church and state in the American public schools usually comes down to not teaching what most of those concerned see as something that one would believe only for religious reasons. A century or more ago, that mostly meant that teaching Christianity was fine, since practically everyone took it for granted that Christianity was true. Today, insofar as matters are decided at the local level, it means that teaching things that the locals almost all agree with are fine—which can be Christian fundamentalism in some places and environmentalism and left-wing politics in others.

Problems arise when there is a conflict either between local and national views or between the views of the local parents and the views of the teachers and/or administrators running the schools. It is only at that point that what one group sees as obvious truth gets attacked by another as teaching religion.

39 Comments:

At 5:02 PM, October 23, 2010, Blogger Neolibertarian said...

I do not see how I can honestly tell a fundamentalist that it is a violation of the separation of church and state to teach children that his religious beliefs are true but not a violation to teach children that they are false.

The problem here is that this is equivalent to saying you can't teach anything except that which all religions agree upon. The set of things which all religions agree close to nil.

As clever a parsing as your interpretation is here, it is one for which you will find almost zero support from serious thinkers.

 
At 5:34 PM, October 23, 2010, Blogger sconzey said...

This is an idea Mencius Moldbug has developed quite thoroughly and calls "separation of information and state".

He argues (convincingly) that the only thing the first amendment achieves by explicitly ruling out a state church is to give adaptive advantage to non-theistic memes/kernels/religions/ideologies, many of which -- as you point out -- are taught without qualms in public schools.

@Neolibertarian; assuming the existence of the Judeo-Christian God, I can totally see how a rational, scientific individual can conclude ID.

Assuming the non-existence of the Judeo-Christian God, evolution through natural selection is the only rational explanation of the existence and diversity of life on Earth.

Whether the existence of the Judeo-Christian God is a legitimate scientific assumption or not is itself a religious question. This serious thinker's with Friedman.

 
At 8:28 PM, October 23, 2010, Blogger Kim Mosley said...

Not too long ago, a mathematician at the Univ. of Texas gave a riveting talk pointing out the fallacies in creationism. He ended with the conclusion that is should not be taught since it isn't true. I told him that his talk convinced me that it should be taught. It is an opportunity for kids to learn why it is a poor model, and also to learn a lot of science as the teacher presents its fallacies.

I don't remember a lot of teachers indicating "this is true" and "this is false." Often I didn't know what the teacher personally believed. We studied what people believed. Their thoughts were important from an historical perspective. It wasn't as big of an issue whether they were "right."

 
At 8:49 PM, October 23, 2010, Blogger David Friedman said...

Neolibertarian writes:

"The problem here is that this is equivalent to saying you can't teach anything except that which all religions agree upon."

Only if you assume that the only place it is possible to teach anything is in a public school. Separation of church and state is a restriction on governments. It doesn't prevent me from teaching my children about evolution, or sending them to a private school that does so.

I don't think it even prevents me from sending them to a private school supported partly or entirely by educational vouchers, so long as the vouchers are available to schools of all varieties of religious belief.

 
At 8:51 PM, October 23, 2010, Blogger David Friedman said...

With regard to Kim's point. I have argued in the past that covering both creationism and evolution in school might be a good thing, educationally speaking, since it would get the kids intellectually involved, with some arguing one side and some the other, and a better chance of actually learning something than in a class where all they are doing is memorizing what their teacher tells them are the right answers.

 
At 11:00 PM, October 23, 2010, Blogger Neolibertarian said...

David,

You're making no sense here at all. Your contrived parsing of the meaning of separation of church and state is nothing more than that, a contrived parsing.

Separation of church and state does not prevent public schools from teaching reality. In fact, it doesn't prevent schools from teaching creationism. What it does do is prevent them from teaching creationism as if it were fact.

 
At 11:01 PM, October 23, 2010, Blogger Jehu said...

Frankly, public education funded and controlled by the government is inherently incompatible with the notion of a democratic society. Does not education inevitably teach people WHAT to think (or at least, the permissible boundaries for 'polite company')? It seems an inherent contradiction for the government, which is nominally the servant of the people, to have any say whatsoever in what they believe, which drives how they vote. Even if religion were totally off the table, I would support the separation of school and state.

 
At 11:11 PM, October 23, 2010, Blogger Human Ape said...

"I do not see how I can honestly tell a fundamentalist that it is a violation of the separation of church and state to teach children that his religious beliefs are true but not a violation to teach children that they are false."

Biology teachers don't tell their students that magical creationism is false. They just explain why the evidence shows evolution to be true and they explain how evolution works. If some drooling moron has a problem with evolutionary biology for religious reasons, that's his problem.

http://darwin-killed-god.blogspot.com/

 
At 3:27 AM, October 24, 2010, Blogger sconzey said...

@Jehu: I'm afraid I completely disagree. Democracy is unstable without a responsible media and respected public school system.

If you want a free press and no public schools; it's democracy that should be your first target.

 
At 3:38 AM, October 24, 2010, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The separation of church and state has been poorly construed and employed.

A limited view would hold that the government cannot establish a particulart religion as the state religion (i.e., no theocracy). Our present view: the government will allow little or nothing religious. (I hope that we understand that the secular state sees and always has seen religion as its competitor.)

Why is it that the "barrier" separates the citizen from "religion" but does not separate the citizen from the glorification (and utter foolishness)of the state?

One could write a very interesting history looking simply at the conflict between the secular and the sacred, at least in the post-"Enlightenment" world.

Any look at psychology, by the way, would lead you to conclude that a balance between the two (the interior v. exterior, the emotional v. the rational, the subjective v. objective, etc.) leads to good mental, social health and maturity - and an imbalance creates great personal and social problems.

Brief Bio - I am a lawyer, trained in both economics and foreign policy, and theology with particular education in spirituality and pastoral psychotherapy.

Son of Notre Dame

 
At 3:38 AM, October 24, 2010, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The separation of church and state has been poorly construed and employed.

A limited view would hold that the government cannot establish a particulart religion as the state religion (i.e., no theocracy). Our present view: the government will allow little or nothing religious. (I hope that we understand that the secular state sees and always has seen religion as its competitor.)

Why is it that the "barrier" separates the citizen from "religion" but does not separate the citizen from the glorification (and utter foolishness)of the state?

One could write a very interesting history looking simply at the conflict between the secular and the sacred, at least in the post-"Enlightenment" world.

Any look at psychology, by the way, would lead you to conclude that a balance between the two (the interior v. exterior, the emotional v. the rational, the subjective v. objective, etc.) leads to good mental, social health and maturity - and an imbalance creates great personal and social problems.

Brief Bio - I am a lawyer, trained in both economics and foreign policy, and theology with particular education in spirituality and pastoral psychotherapy.

Son of Notre Dame

 
At 7:38 AM, October 24, 2010, Blogger Dr. Sparky said...

Here's the thing. If you're going to teach about one religion's view of creation, then, in order for the State to not be promoting one religion, the school must teach ALL views. This would solve the issue.

If a school teaches only the Judeo-Christian belief and no other religious belief, then, in my view, they are being biased and promoting one religion.

Present ALL theories of creation and the pros and cons of each and let the student decide for themselves. Don't tell them that one theory is correct or incorrect.

 
At 9:37 AM, October 24, 2010, Anonymous Nathan said...

Neolibertarian wrote:
Separation of church and state does not prevent public schools from teaching reality.

Except that no one can agree on what constitutes reality. Teaching "reality" as determined by you, or the school board, or the courts, or whoever, necessarily means teaching lies according to someone else.

Human Ape:
Biology teachers don't tell their students that magical creationism is false. They just explain why the evidence shows evolution to be true and they explain how evolution works.

I really have trouble understanding how you can not see the inherent contradiction in what you just wrote. You're basically saying: "Schools aren't teaching that X is false; they're teaching that not-X is true." Excuse me if I see that as a distinction without a difference.

 
At 10:29 AM, October 24, 2010, Anonymous Andy Hallman said...

I really have trouble understanding how you can not see the inherent contradiction in what you just wrote. You're basically saying: "Schools aren't teaching that X is false; they're teaching that not-X is true." Excuse me if I see that as a distinction without a difference.

Why do you call it not-X? Don't most Catholics think the two are compatible?

I think what he's saying is that biology teachers are unconcerned with how evolution fits into religious theories of the world. And why should they care?

 
At 10:58 AM, October 24, 2010, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David is just making a contrived argument for giving social conservatives a heckler's veto over public education.

In fact, I do agree with a large part of his unstated (at least here) goal of dismantling the extant public school system - it needs a serious revamp, in that we're no longer a society that needs to produce large numbers of clock-synchronized industrial hive-bees. And if social conservatives want to cripple their kids' intellectual development, well, I think that's sad, but it really isn't my place to tell them they can't. (Although it really does underline the absurdity of, for instance, licensing driving but not breeding. In terms of damage done, bad drivers do far less.)

But frankly, this is just a silly argument that misconstrues a semantic argument about the nature of human belief as an effective weapon against the notion that groups can form some baseline coherence on beliefs about the nature of reality.

To the extent that he's an anarchist, he's just being consistent. To the extent that he's attempting to convince those who do accept the notion of social democratic institutions, he's playing with words.

 
At 11:16 AM, October 24, 2010, Blogger Gary Chartier said...

I'm genuinely puzzled by the claims that David's argument here is trivially semantic. The question is: does it make sense for tax funds to be used to support the propagation of a particular, contested ideology? If the answer is "yes," then it's hard to understand what limits there might be on official endorsement of religious or quasi-religious beliefs and practices, a fact which disposes me to think that the answer ought not to be "yes." (This has nothing to do with whether all views are equally good, or whether reasonable people can manage to approximate the truth about disputed questions. The principle that church and state ought to be separated isn't honored by ensuring that the putatively correct religion is established.) But if the answer is "no," then, given that almost anything of interest implicates contested ideological questions, it seems difficult to see how the institution of the public school can be treated as legitimate. That's not semantic quibbling; it's a way of spelling out the implications of an only moderately robust reading of the idea of church-state separation.

 
At 11:39 AM, October 24, 2010, Anonymous macon school said...

We should privatize and get the govt out of as much as possible. The idea of sending my kid to be educated by the govt is why I home school

 
At 11:42 AM, October 24, 2010, Blogger Neolibertarian said...

Nathan: Except that no one can agree on what constitutes reality.

It appears that you're having episemological problems that need to be worked out before you tackle the issue of what the separation of church and state means.

Gary Chartier: The question is: does it make sense for tax funds to be used to support the propagation of a particular, contested ideology?

Actually, the question is "what does separation of church and state mean." There is no church of science, and the idea that scientific understanding is a "particular, contested ideology" indicates a lack of understanding of what science is.

 
At 12:26 PM, October 24, 2010, Blogger jimbino said...

Public schooling in Amerika was started as a misguided attempt to turn our new Roman Catholic immigrants into Amerikanized Protestants. Either that or they would have to pay a tax penalty for sending their own kids to Catholic schools, which is what lots of them ended up doing.

Abolishing public education would, of course, best serve kids, but whether it would serve the public is another question.

Replacing it with a voucher system would moot worlds of controversy over teaching of evolution, Bibles, Scientology, Books of Mormon & Korans, prayer, compulsory patriotic recitations and moments of silence.

But it would no doubt lead to a "failed experiment in multiculturalism," as Merkel describes the German experience of the last 40 years.

It is more than evident that prohibiting breeding altogether would solve this problem as well as all those others: energy, environment and war. That's not likely to happen, of course, until someone comes up with a way to put birth control in the world's water.

The problem, which probably only the libertarian recognizes, is that there is no consensus on the rights of kids. They are either wards of the state, property of their parents, or individual persons with serious rights. When it comes to sex, pornography and education, we treat them as wards of the state. When it comes to circumcision and religious indoctrination, we treat them as property of their parents. We don't treat them as individual persons until they turn 21, except for punishing them if they smoke dope.

 
At 2:45 PM, October 24, 2010, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The question is: does it make sense for tax funds to be used to support the propagation of a particular, contested ideology?

Well, no. You're making a category error in placing science and religion on opposite sides of an ideological contest.

The question, as it ever is on this topic, is, "do you wish to dismantle the public school system?" If the answer is yes, there's a good chance you'll cling to incoherent arguments like this to advance your goal. (To be fair, if the answer is no, there's a good chance you'll cling to incoherent arguments about why a union-dominated tenure scheme is the natural order of things.)

If I understand David's underlying ideology, he's happy to let parents miseducate thier kids about the flat earth, intelligent design, astrology orany other foolish superstition they want. I differ with him there - I'm willing to let them, but I'm not happy about it. I also think the positive externalities generated by a population educated to a baseline literacy far outweigh the costs of pissing off people who insist on using religion to deny reality. (Or phrased differently, I believe the political economic externalities of a moderately educated population greatly outweigh the costs in loss of freedom.) But, hey, some people apparently like the idea of turning the country into something somewhere between Bosnia and Somalia. It isn't the first time that supposed freedom lovers disagreed with Thomas Jefferson.

 
At 3:45 PM, October 24, 2010, Blogger Jehu said...

Sconzey,
I don't think we've ever had a respected school system or a responsible media---at least not in my lifetime. What we have is a media and school system that gives massive advantages to certain political views in the public arena. In this I agree fairly completely with Mencius' position.

 
At 4:58 PM, October 24, 2010, Blogger James Leroy Wilson said...

Gil Guillory left a comment here five years ago that nails it:

"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 5:46 PM, October 24, 2010, Anonymous Anonymous 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."

If you believe that antibiotic-resistant staph is either a theory or a gift of god, then you can support that notion. If not, then you're accepting at least the fruits of modern biology, should you be unfortunate enough to contract it. Now, if you accept that multispectrum, high potency antibiotics are required to kill a bug that used to be handled by plain ole' pennecillin, but you don't accept that the bug in question is undergoing changes modeled by the same science that your life is dependent on in that situation, you're suffering from a cognitive issue that is clouding your thinking.

Sometimes, comics make the point in much less verbose ways.

 
At 12:44 AM, October 25, 2010, Blogger Garg the Unzola said...

I feel that creationism is invaluable as a teaching aid and it should be part of the curriculum. The main reason is that creationism/intelligent design dogma makes the difference between a hypothesis and a scientific theory like the theory of evolution abundantly clear. In South Africa's case, we have virtually no private educational institutes as all education - from primary to tertiary level - rely heavily on state funding. It's not viable for an alternative means due to labour laws and startup costs. We also don't have a separation of the church and state idea enshrined in our constitution, but the ideal is practised regardless.

 
At 6:17 AM, October 25, 2010, Blogger Doc Merlin said...

I agree with you, David. Ultimately freedom of religion is another way of saying freedom of thought, conscience, and organization of such into social structures. This is inherently incompatible with state run schooling.

 
At 8:25 AM, October 25, 2010, Blogger Neolibertarian said...

Doc wrote: Ultimately freedom of religion is another way of saying freedom of thought, conscience, and organization of such into social structures.

Actually it's not.

This is inherently incompatible with state run schooling.

If this is true of state run schooling, it is true of all schooling, including home schooling.

 
At 11:22 AM, October 25, 2010, Anonymous RKN said...

If you believe that antibiotic-resistant staph is either a theory or a gift of god, then you can support that notion. If not, then you're accepting at least the fruits of modern biology, should you be unfortunate enough to contract it. Now, if you accept that multispectrum, high potency antibiotics are required to kill a bug that used to be handled by plain ole' pennecillin, but you don't accept that the bug in question is undergoing changes modeled by the same science that your life is dependent on in that situation, you're suffering from a cognitive issue that is clouding your thinking.

I don't necessarily agree with that. The efficacy of Augmentin in treating an individual's infection is independent of their understanding or acceptance of modern molecular biology, or how the drug works to relieve their infection. It therefore doesn't follow that the creationist who benefits from antibiotic treatment must necessarily be a victim of clouded thinking.

I would even go so far as to say that one does not necessarily need to accept the theory of evolution as true in order to be a productive member of a modern drug discovery team.

 
At 11:26 AM, October 25, 2010, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ultimately freedom of religion is another way of saying freedom of thought, conscience, and organization of such into social structures.

This is only true insofar as religion (or any school of thought) accepts the notion that freedom of thought is a positive ideal to be embraced.

The current supreme patriarch of the Catholic Church, as one example, does not support such a notion. Some Islamic leaders don't, either, nor do some of the Christian leaders in the U.S.

I find it fascinating that many of the same people who think that "communism" in the current form of China must be fought against because it is a suppressive, unfree nation, while at the same time holding illiberal asps to their breast because they happen to be co-religionists.

*Scare quotes about communism only because the real communists of history would find little to like in the current market-oligarchy that is China.

 
At 11:49 AM, October 25, 2010, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't necessarily agree with that. The efficacy of Augmentin in treating an individual's infection is independent of their understanding or acceptance of modern molecular biology, or how the drug works to relieve their infection. It therefore doesn't follow that the creationist who benefits from antibiotic treatment must necessarily be a victim of clouded thinking.

I agree that one could believe that we are ruled by lizard people from another planet, and still cast votes.

I do not agree that this is not an example of clouded thinking.

One way to tell the difference between an explanation of reality and fiction is to look at the predictions of future reality derived from each. If the lizard people from outer space don't, in fact, eat people or invade the planet, it casts doubt on the theory.

Of course, people are nothing but determined. There are still people who deny that gravity works the way it does, as are there people who believe in sky daddy. I'm not obligated to indulge them, and I don't see why they should get a heckler's veto over the rest of people who want the world to accept reality.

Of course, anrcho-capitalists who believe that feudalism is a desireable outcome feel differently.

 
At 2:11 PM, October 25, 2010, Anonymous RKN said...

I agree that one could believe that we are ruled by lizard people from another planet, and still cast votes.

I do not agree that this is not an example of clouded thinking.


I think you're right, that is an example of clouded thinking, or what I would prefer to call cognitive dissonance - simultaneously holding contradictory beliefs. But I don't find it all analogous to the creationist who benefits from antibiotic therapy.

There is no contradiction involved in 1) believing that bacteria were created supernaturally and 2) that antibiotics are useful for killing them.

There are still people who deny that gravity works the way it does, as are there people who believe in sky daddy. I'm not obligated to indulge them, and I don't see why they should get a heckler's veto over the rest of people who want the world to accept reality.

I don't think you should indulge them and I don't think they necessarily deserve any "veto". But I also don't think they categorically deserve the smear of being cognitively impaired.

 
At 5:03 PM, October 25, 2010, Blogger Jehu said...

Even young-earth creationists believe in animal husbandry--a less fancy name for artificial selection, which is orders of magnitude faster and more powerful than natural selection. A worldview based on TENS is not necessary to get to vaccines or to explain why antibiotics get less useful as they're used over time. What TENS IS used for is a social class marker.

 
At 9:32 PM, October 25, 2010, Blogger Malcolm Kirkpatrick said...

(Sconzy): "Democracy is unstable without a responsible media and respected public school system."
And democracy is unstable with these institutions.
"Whenever is found what is called a paternal government, there is found state education. It has been discovered that the best way to insure implicit obedience is to commence tyranny in the nursery.--(1874) Benjamin Disraeli

 
At 9:45 PM, October 25, 2010, Anonymous Peter A. Taylor said...

Note Rationality and the Religious Mind, by Iannaccone, Stark, and Finke, p. 23:

"We are inclined therefore to side with the sociologist Robert Wuthnow (1985: 197), who argues that the social sciences lean toward irreligion precisely because they are 'the least scientific disciplines.' Their semi-religious reliance on nontestable claims about the nature of humans and human society puts them in direct competition with traditional religions (something Comte explicitly acknowledged when he coined the word 'sociology' more than 150 years ago)."

 
At 9:52 PM, October 25, 2010, Blogger Malcolm Kirkpatrick said...

(Doc): "Ultimately freedom of religion is another way of saying freedom of thought, conscience, and organization of such into social structures."
(Neolib): "Actually it's not.
Actually, it is. So there too.
(Doc): "This is inherently incompatible with state run schooling."
(Neolib): "If this is true of state run schooling, it is true of all schooling, including home schooling.

Not at all. "Freedom of religion" refers to State policy. The State cannot operate schools or subsidize education without a definition of "school" or "education". Years ago Ivan Illich wrote that a compassionate society would have in its constitution a clause, like the First Amendment to the US Constitution, which would read: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of education." Freedom of thought (separation of school and State) codifies official indifference to instruction of children.

"Freedom" refers to the space between legally mandated and legally proscribed.

 
At 9:56 PM, October 25, 2010, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Man Who Is Thursday has a nice post on this topic called Supernaturalism, Tradition and the Law.

"Ever notice how weird it is that you can believe any crazy shit you want, implement it as government policy, teach it in public schools or whatever, so long as you scrupulously avoid referring to a supernatural being. Such a belief doesn't have to actually be rational or scientific, so long as you claim that you arrived at it through purely rational or scientific means. Conversely, if you want to enact a sensible policy, but make your appeal to the people on the basis of traditional attachment to some supernatural entity, you are an enemy of peace, order, and good government."

 
At 11:49 PM, October 25, 2010, Blogger Neolibertarian said...

@Malcolm

If you're shooting for the incoherent non-sequitur, you hit a home run.

 
At 8:58 AM, October 26, 2010, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David Friedman doesn't see how he can tell a fundamentalist how failure to teach creationism doesn't violate the separation of church and state. Perhaps it would help if he read the 1971 Supreme Court case of Lemon v. Kurtzman. It suggests a straightforward answer.

1. The first prong of Lemon requires that any government action have a secular legislative purpose. The legislative purpose of teaching creationism is to tell students the facts of biological history, as best we know them through evidence. Teaching creationism, by contrast, has no comparable secular purpose, because it doesn't put forward any refutable theories and isn't supported by any evidence. The only purpose in teaching it would be religious.

2. Under Lemon, the government's action must not have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion. When it comes to teaching evolution, the government's primary action is to teach the facts. (See #1.) This happens to be consistent with atheism, agnosticism, catholicism, and mainline protestantism, and inconsistent with evangelical fundamentalism. But then again, geography teachers contradict Joshua every time they say the Earth rotates around itself, and that the Sun doesn't rotate around the Earth. Should public schools stop teaching that, too?

3. Under the third prong of Lemon, the government action must not create excessive government entanglement with religion. That's itself an interpretable phrase, but I don't see how teaching evolution entangles the government with religion (or irreligion) at all.

Perhaps Lemon v. Kurtzman doesn't define a platonic ideal of separating church and state, as dreamt by a libertarian utopist. But courts deal in real life conflicts, not platonic ideals. And by that measure, Lemon v. Kurtzman sets a fair and practicable standard--one David Friedman shouldn't have any trouble communicating to a fundamentalist.

 
At 7:57 PM, October 26, 2010, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David: to hear from a trained physicist that the scientific picture of the world we teach in our schools is a form of religion is ... eerie. Should you change your PhD to Divinity?

 
At 6:57 PM, November 01, 2010, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Much of what today's schools teach as "science" is hardly deserving of the name. The same is doubly true with respect to "history" and "economics".

What is the Scientific Method? Is it a political method? Do scientists periodically take votes and toss out bad ideas every four years, provided that at least 50% oppose that bad idea? Why do use such a crazy tool as politics to decide what is scientifically valid in schools? The same criticism applies even more strongly to deciding what to teach about economics; it is well-known to economists that politicians are singularly inept at economics; why then should the decision of "what to teach" about economics be made by politicians?

We'd do far better to separate government and education, for the same reason that we separate government and churches. As Lord Acton put it, power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Children in a free society should not be taught be the government.

 

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