The next Religious Freedom question?


Tod Kelly

Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular inactive for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter.

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148 Responses

  1. Avatar zic says:

    This is a similar story; an editorial in the NYTimes today, about East Ramapo, where 2/3 of children go to private yeshivas, and most of the public school students are black/latino, high rate of poverty. The school board has been taken over by orthodox parents, and money stripped from the public school, used to fund gender-segregated busses for the yeshivas and special ed programs in them.

    The reports on the problems are jaw dropping. I doubt we’ll see such reports on teaching evolution instead of science any time soon. Sad.

    But yes, I agree that education is going to become the next battleground in the boundaries over religious freedom.Report

    • Avatar Brooke says:

      Another situation where a well-organized group of religious people can game the system to bully a substantial portion of the population into receiving an inferior education.Report

    • Avatar zic says:

      edit: last graf; teaching creationism instead of science. Duh.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq says:

      The situation in East Rampopo is different than the one in Louisiana because they aren’t using the public schools to teach their beliefs. The East Rampopo issue is from the quirky funding and structural nature of American public education. Since funding and organization tend to get done at the local level, it makes rational sense for voters to underfund public education if they don’t have kids in the public schools in order to lower their task burden. In East Rampopo, most of the voters do not have kids in the local public schools so they voted in their self-interest for lower taxes. It sucks but it is based on a basic flaw in public education funding.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        East Rampopo’s town charter funds private schools from the public coffer; so I don’t think there’s anywhere near the difference one would typically expect.

        Such arrangements — funneling public-school money into private schools — will probably be tried more and more as people seek to indoctrinate instead of educate, as well.Report

      • Avatar Brooke says:

        LeeEsq: The East Rampopo issue is from the quirky funding and structural nature of American public education. Since funding and organization tend to get done at the local level, it makes rational sense for voters to underfund public education if they don’t have kids in the public schools in order to lower their task burden.

        This type of behavior is legal and possible because of the tax-related reasons you’ve cited, but it also strikes me as a very basic violation of the social contract. As a childless person, I understand that there is a benefit to public education for society as a whole and I do not object to the taxes that support it.

        Why should we tolerate an insular community bankrupting this system just to further its own interests?Report

        • Avatar LeeEsq says:

          At least in the United States, the idea is that every individual or community is going to pursue their own self-interest even if it is at the expense of others and it has been that way since the beginning. Social contracts work best in homogeneous societies where everybody is in agreement what the social contract entails. Heterogeneous societies can not come to agreement on what is the nature of the social contract and who gets what.Report

        • Avatar Damon says:

          There is no such thing as a social contract. Unless you can point me to the document I willing signed that specifics all the duties/obligations/benefits of the contract terms.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        @leeesq you really should have read the link before jumping here.

        This isn’t about Jewish yuppies who don’t want to pay taxes; this is about an orthodox community funneling public-school money away to private schools and gutting the public schools to the point that the state is putting together an intervention.Report

        • Avatar LeeEsq says:

          I’ve the editorial in the paper this morning. I get home delivery. The Ultra-Orthodox are the majority of East Ramapo’s population by a long shot. They pay the same taxes and have the same rights to vote in local elections. They might be acting unethically but they are acting within their rights as the majority of voters of East Ramapo by taking advantage of how America decided to fund public education.Report

          • Avatar Alan Scott says:

            Let’s be clear: They’re taking advantage of how East Ramapo funds public education. In many other states, or even other parts of the state, a majority religious population wouldn’t have the ability to take the steps that the Ultra-Orthodox citizens of East Ramapo have taken.

            To say “they’re only acting within the system” ignores the fact that the system they’re acting within in very flawed and needs fixing.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy says:

      @alan-scott @brooke

      What specifically sets East Ramapo apart in terms of how their system is structured? I haven’t read in detail, but what I have read says that the system in East Ramapo functions more or less as others do but that it is the unique demographic situation there that has led to the current issues. There are laws about public districts footing the bill for bussing to private schools… my (independent) school has many district busses that tend to our students. And there are laws about public districts providing student services to private school students… my school has many students who receive such. So, if those are the issues people are talking about, then they are not unique to East Ramapo. They intensity of those issues may be because of the specific demographics.

      The best solution I’ve seen proposed is to have school board members voted in by ward. I believe there are 7 wards in East Ramapo and the majority of the wards are non-Orthodox.

      I’m still not sure this is right. I mean, there is something a little discomforting about saying, “Hey, this religious minority has gained too much power… let’s water it down by looking at geography instead of population.” And yet, the issues in East Ramapo persist. This is easier said than done, but it would seem to me that the best response by those opposed to the school board would be to move. When the Orthodox community in East Ramapo realizes that their model is not sustainable without their non-Orthodox neighbors, they may be more willing to work collaboratively.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        There’s something a little untoward about a majority siphoning resources from minority groups and just generally failing them administratively as well, I think.Report

        • Avatar Kazzy says:


          I agree. The whole thing is really messy and framing is huge.

          As is common in these situations, you have two groups that are not particularly empowered vying for limited resources.Report

          • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

            I would also argue that “failing them adminstratively” is a rather tame way of putting it. If I recall correctly, students at the public schools there don’t have enough credits with the classes offered to meet NYS graduation requirements, let alone apply to a state college.

            There is too the issue of illegal activities. Not only the using of ER public school money to fund religious private schools, but the real estate fraud corruption scandal.

            I tend to think that ER is a pretty good example of what I mean when I talk about how we misidentify tribalism as non-tribal values in politics. I think that if you took these exact circumstances and made the religious majority Evangelical Christians in Alabama, there would be a lot of people who currently defend the ER city council who would suddenly be saying “this is what’s wrong with America and why you can’t trust a certain kind of Christian,” and a lot of other people who either currently think what’s happening in ER is terrible or no big deal who would suddenly declare religious persecution against Christians.Report

            • Avatar Kazzy says:


              Excellent point. That is why I think we need to do our best to say, “Is a system that allows for this possibility a good one?” Of course, we have to compare it to the alternatives, which might present with their own issues.

              I am dismayed at the actions of the ER school board. And the criminal actions of its members (or others in the local political scene) should absolutely be prosecuted fully.

              I just think any time we make it about damn Jews, or damn Christians, or whatever tribal group we do not identify with, we lose the forest for the trees.

              School funding is a tricky issue any way you slice it. Even here, we have disagreements over who is a stakeholder and what is permissible behavior. Is it appropriately acting in their self interest for people without kids in the public school (for whatever reason) to vote against raising taxes? Or is that violating the social contract? Is education unique? Or does the same principal hold if we are discussing libraries? Roads?Report

      • Avatar Alan Scott says:

        @kazzy ,
        It’s not that there’s something wrong with East Ramapo in particular–It’s that there’s something wrong with the state of New York and how it funds education. So much of the funds are raised locally in NY, which means poor districts are much less able to meet their funding needs than rich districts. That’s not unique to East Ramapo–it’s just that East Ramapo’s demographics means they respond to the funding crisis in unusual ways.

        According to the School Funding Fairness 2014 report, New York received an “F” in funding distribution (a measurement of whether states provide more or less funding to schools based on poverty concentration), even as it received high marks in funding level and effort (funding relative to GDP).

        The best solution isn’t to tinker around with the makeup of the East Ramapo school board–the best solution is to stop asking local school boards to be the ones to solve funding issues–The funding issues are issues that should be dealt with at the state level–and if that were the case, the East Ramapo school board wouldn’t have become the seriously screwed-up institution that it is.Report

        • Avatar Alan Scott says:

          And, in case it isn’t clear, my “other parts of the state” in my first comment were in reference to schools in NYC, which are organized very differently than schools in the rest of the state.Report

          • Avatar Kazzy says:


            I agree that local funding of schools is hugely problematic. I’m just always have my ears perked up in this situation because it is very easy to go from saying, “This particular group of religious folks are acting in a way that is detrimental to the broader community in part because of their pursuit of their faith,” and “Damn Jews!”

            And if you think I’m exaggerating, a friend in the area posted a picture of the giant Jehovah’s Witness facility they are building in the area. The first comment: “Better than Hasids.”

            This is a thorny issue, one that no doubt needs resolving. I just think there are a lot of layers to it that get in the way of resolution because they are more convenient to complain about.Report

            • Avatar Kazzy says:

              To that point, the issue is often talked about in terms of what is wrong with the Orthodox instead of what is wrong with how we fund our schools.Report

  2. Avatar Brooke says:

    The issue I have with the right wing’s use of religious liberty is that it usually comes across as code for, “I want the law to let me force my beliefs on you.” It may not always be the case, but this is the impulse I see behind the right’s recent moves on teaching creationism, denying service to same-sex couples, attempts to defend pharmacists interfering in the doctor-patient relationship, and reproductive rights.

    Science class should be a place to learn about the scientific method and the current state of scientific theory. The history of science and scientific critiques of theory have a place in that framework, while religion does not.

    The government already recognizes that parents have wide latitude to indoctrinate their children as they wish. They have options to home school or send children to parochial school if they simply cannot stand the fact that their children will receive a basic education including science.Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck says:

      “The issue I have with the right wing’s use of religious liberty is that it usually comes across as code for, “I want the law to let me force my beliefs on you.” ”

      Sort of like when business owners decide that they don’t want to provide morally-questionable services, but the law is used to force them to provide those services?Report

  3. Avatar Kolohe says:

    We haven’t had a film version of Inherit the Wind in this century. That means we’re due for a re-boot any day now, but reversing the roles of Brady and Drummond would be an interesting twist.Report

  4. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    Sometimes I feel like I grew up in a different country just by going to public schools in a NYC suburb. We did not have these culture war fights at all. There was no explosion of anger when my Junior year health teacher said that people had sex for fun.Report

    • Avatar LWA says:

      I went to high school in the permissive 1970’s of Southern California. It was more Ridgemont High than Flashdance.
      It does feel weird to have this sort of discussion.
      No, more depressing, really than weird.Report

      • Avatar aaron david says:

        I went to high school in Californian in the ’80’s. Science classes were all AIDS, population bomb and global cooling. Followed by global warming.Report

        • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

          Same here, although both of my Biology teachers (7th & 10th grades) were men of faith, and it snuck in there every now & again, but they handled evolution without bursting into flames or being struck by lightning.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe says:

        “. It was more Ridgemont High than Flashdance.”

        You smoked pot while welding in a leotard & leg warmers and then had a bucket a water dumped on you?Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq says:

      Metropolitan areas have different cultures than other areas. I’m sure these culture war fights are equally mystifying to the people who grew up in the burbs of Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Boston, and Philadelphia.Report

      • Avatar Michael Cain says:

        The really mysterious part to me is that I went to high school in two small towns (each ~5,000 people), one in Iowa and one in Nebraska, graduating in 1972, and none of this was of consequence. Everyone learned to use condoms. Evolution wasn’t controversial. Homeowners approved reasonable property tax levies because crappy public schools killed house values. We seem to have gone backwards.Report

        • Avatar LeeEsq says:

          We have. The early 1970s was just when the Evangelicals were about to re-emerge, so it was closer to the mid-20th century consensus.Report

        • Avatar LeeEsq says:

          Iowa is also not the South or West. These type of culture wars started in the South and Far West and still heavily originate from there.Report

    • Avatar morat20 says:

      Took AP Biology in Texas. I was lucky. My brother, in a regular biology class, had a teacher who ‘taught’ the Evolution section in what amounts to a highly sarcastic manner. As in “Can you believe this BS? But I have to test you on it. It’s all crap”. (That is evolution was crap, I mean).

      And this is what passes for a solid school district in Texas. From about 1984 through about 1992, we had a school board that was one vote short of teaching creationism outright — so I suppose I’m lucky my ISD isn’t memorialized in a court case.

      In AP Biology, the teacher merely had to dance on eggshells and explain that while she understood some students might have religious objections, and there was in fact a program (extra biochem learning) for those who wished to opt out, the AP test was not done by the school district and would have material on evolution in it. (It being, you know, a biology test).

      Afterwards, she taught it straight.Report

  5. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    It’s fine, in theory, to have an arena of ideas and evolution as an explanatory model for the observed phenomenon of species diversity has to compete with other models. At least, at the university level.

    It’s not quite so fine when functionally the entire scientific establishment concurs on evolution and the only people offering non-evolutionary explanatory models for this observed phenomenon are people who are explicitly doing so for the advance purpose of shoehorning in a desired explanatory phenomenon (an interventionist deity) which, in turn, is being done for the explicit advance purpose of proving that their faith is the Truth. That’s not science no matter how many initials you put after your name. Non-science shouldn’t be portrayed as science. Within the realm of science, there are no theories, models, hypotheses, or SWAGs that hold a fishing candle to the explanatory model of evolution.

    Biologists can, do, and should be expected to disagree on the finer points of how evolution works. That doesn’t mean that the basic model is wrong. Just as physicists may not know everything there is to know about gravity, and how it works and why there are variations in its function in various circumstances, so too with evolution. And just as no physicist would suggest a theory of Intelligent Falling without being expected to be laughed out of the room, so too ought any biologist worthy of the name to advance Creationism, aka Intelligent Design, aka whatever other new label has been slapped on that thoroughly vinegared wine these days. Particularly at the high school level, the disagreements over the causes, degrees, and response times in periods of phenotype punctuation are not really all that necessary to teach the broad strokes of the theory to high school students.

    What’s disturbing now is to see a generation of students brought up thinking they’ve been educated in science when all that’s really happened is the groundwork for religious indoctrination was fed to them in a public school. They’re getting good grades learning how to parrot Kent Hovind’s slogans, thinking that statements like “Show me a dog that gives birth to a cat and then I’ll believe in evolution” constitutes a scientific argument of sufficient strength that reasonable people can disagree.

    Omne vetus novum est iterum.Report

    • Avatar Kolohe says:

      Burt Likko: What’s disturbing now is to see a generation of students brought up thinking they’ve been educated in science when all that’s really happened is the groundwork for religious indoctrination was fed to them in a public school. They’re getting good grades learning how to parrot Kent Hovind’s slogans, thinking that statements like “Show me a dog that gives birth to a cat and then I’ll believe in evolution” constitutes a scientific argument of sufficient strength that reasonable people can disagree.

      Should we care? Seriously, should we?

      For the most part, knowledge of evolution doesn’t matter in people’s lives. We don’t have a heartache that most people don’t study calculus either. Or any of the names thrown down here. (heck I’ve only heard of Foucault because of the dang American History museum pendulum – no longer there, btw – and that one book by Eco who I still needed to look up the author just now)

      When it does matter, like for instance, biomedical research professionals, people without the best possible knowledge background will be selected against – not that they were applying for those jobs to begin with.

      A general permeation of ignorance in the population is sub-optimal, but it’s also pretty standard. (otherwise lotteries wouldn’t be a thing). So again, should we care that much?Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        Allowing people to remain ignorant is one thing. Those who are ignorant and care about that will seek out education, and learn. Those who don’t care, won’t, and yeah, they’ll be just fine.

        Teaching people stuff that is obviously wrong but calling it “fact” is something else entirely. Maybe I don’t use chemistry directly all that much in my life. But that doesn’t mean it’s okay to teach me in a school that the entire universe is made up of stuff that are various combinations of earth, fire, wind, and water.Report

        • Avatar zic says:

          As I’ve been reading and researching home-school curriculum, I’ve had a first-amendment issue nagging at my thoughts, not necessarily clear yet, but I’ll give it a shot:

          The 1st grants the freedom of religion, of speech, and of assembly. Broadly, we hold these debates under freedom of religion. But I’ve read through a lot of stuff that’s taught in these home-school ‘educational’ programs, and even given that they’re taught under the guise of freedom of religion and assembly, I think the assembly part gets short shift, particularly when it comes to children.

          Like learning facts about science, there are facts about civil rights and basic freedoms that children maybe ought to learn. A son raised up to view his wife as his help meet instead of her own person, a daughter raised up to be submissive without the accompanying information that also teaches her that she has the rights to choose this, and the right to choose other things, these trouble me.

          It’s not just evolution and scientific fact on the line.

          These seem like that third, oft-ignored leg of the 1st amendment.

          I’m presuming you can talk me down, @burt-likkoReport

          • Avatar aaron david says:

            “Like learning facts about science, there are facts about civil rights and basic freedoms that children maybe ought to learn. A son raised up to view his wife as his help meet instead of her own person, a daughter raised up to be submissive without the accompanying information that also teaches her that she has the rights to choose this, and the right to choose other things, these trouble me.”

            I am not sure what your argument here is. How would assembly affect them in the slightest?Report

            • Avatar zic says:

              A girl, homeschooled all her life and taught that she’s to be submissive to her husband, and kept at home until she’s married off, is being denied her rights of assembly; potentially, even knowledge that she has that right. Just for starters.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                What would be your proposed remedy, and under what circumstances?

                A girl being married off before she’s 18 against her will does seem actionable. I’m also open to a minor having the right to petition to attend public school, maybe. Beyond that, not sure what can be done apart from “You can do what you want when you’re 18.”Report

              • Avatar zic says:

                @will-truman I think it might be best to fully formulate the problem — if there is a 1st amendment violation even — before speculating about remedies.

                It just seems a lack of some of the basics of education — including civics and science — can, in some instances, limit a person’s right to assemble simply because they’re children and there’s a presumption that they will learn these things as part of their education. I’ve got no problem with a religious education; but one that fails to note that people also have freedom to not assemble or other kinds of assembly seems troublesome.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                In the strictly Constitutional sense, I’m not really seeing much of a First Amendment argument in the depriving of students of a sufficient education to be able to associate in broader life upon entering adulthood. I think something like this has to be approached – if it is to be approached – along the lines of broader Freedom of Religion arguments are protected by the RFRA.

                But to do that, you’d have to weigh that the remedies of that act against infringements against other parties. That’s why I’m asking about remedies. Since we’re talking about statutory protections, we have to figure out either what protections we’re going to provide, or what parameters and tests we’re going to provide a general protection. (The RFRA falling into the second category, the parameters set by various standards of the law, such as least restrictive means, compelling government interest, etc.)

                All of which leads back to my wondering what we would expect the law to accomplish. Not necessarily in every conceivable realm, but at least among known issues so I know how strongly a child’s right to Freedom of Association is stacked against a parent’s right to Freedom of Religion (and possibly the child’s own, if she agrees with the parents).Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew says:

                I think maybe Zic’s concern is more embodied in the right to education that state laws (constitutions?) do establish for children. That does exist. The problem is that it doesn’t stipulate a right to be taught that you do not have to be subservient to your husband, nor that public schools have to be where that education takes place, nor etc. It’s basically riven through with holes (from perhaps Zic’s perspective). In terms of a legal rights perspective, the appropriate discussion would seem to me to be about tightening up some of those. But of course in many cases that is basically a politically impossible proposition. Which, of course, is the attraction of arguments based in fundamental, federally-guaranteed rights. But, like others, I’m not seeing it. Children are guaranteed a right to an education, but they’re done so by state laws, and those laws are a holey tapestry of arguable inadequacies. They may not even have holes; they might more often just be one felt square trying to do the job of a whole quilt.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                I was actually sort of thinking about “Right to Education” when I was pondering the difference between Constitutional, statutory, and abstract rights. RTE would generally to fall somewhere in the second two (though I guess state constitution is somewhere in between the first two).

                But I generally ask the same sorts of questions of an Assembly Freedom Restoration Act that I do of a right to education. The remedies and parameters matter, because anything along these lines are just as certain to bump in to other rights and other people’s rights as the RFRA has.Report

              • Avatar aaron david says:

                Would a boy forced to go to public school when he solely want religious instruction be denied his freedom of assembly? Would we assume he has that right? I wouldn’t. The issue is that they are minors. And unless we decided as a society that one has to have public education, I can’t see that changing.

                And if we did decide that, schools such as Sidwell Friends and every Montessori would fall under that same rule, as we would have to outlaw every private education plan or homeschools would simply adopt any rules that were provided for those institutions and you are back to square one. And in that process, others freedom of assembly has been thrown out.

                ETA – The only thing I can think of would be some sort of standardized testing, that would be applied across the board. And we know how popular that is…Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew says:

                Parents have literal legal ‘custody’ over children. On its face that is an indication that freedom of association (freedom against forced association with unwanted others) is grossly curtailed for kids viz. their legal guardians.

                There’s a whole body of law dealing with how and why children can gain emancipation from their parents. At some level, is there much we can do about the fact that a seventeen-year-old is likely to have greater awareness of that fact than a one-year-old, with a slope connecting those two? We can try to tilt the slope so that it rises faster. That’s a question of educating kids about this, but there’s always going to be some such slope, and some threshold for kids gaining independence.

                So what are you really suggesting, @zic? The closer you look at certain home-schooling regimens, especially if you seek out the ones you think you won’t like, the more stuff you’ll find that you don’t like. Do you want to go down the road of greatly further tightening the restrictions on home-schooling programs? Of looking at disallowing home-schooling? What?

                We may not like some of what gets taught in the home. There are already requirements limiting and mandating what it consists of. But what do we propose. We mandate that kids go to school unless a home-schooling exemption is received. But home-schooling to me seems like an important release valve on those requirements that help release the pressure that would come down on school systems if everyone were forced in.

                Ultimately, we can’t control what’s taught in the home. Aren’t there surely families that send their kids to public school and v\nevertheless teach their kids the kinds of attitudes about the sexes that you’re concerned about? I’m concerned that what you’re expressing here is not so much a concern about home schooling in particular, but rather a much more general impulse to simply control how children are raised. And it’s not that there aren’t reasons for such impulses. But, beyond liberty concerns, as the liberty to teach one’s kids such ideas is a dubious liberty, and moreover similar kinds of liberty claims are made to justify not allowing critical medical care for kids, the problem is really how much social pressure that injects into systems that have been designed to operate with extreme dissenters of the kind you’re looking at opting out.

                At some level, when push come to shove we’re going to end up having to let the families who are determined to do their own thing, do their own thing. They’re their kids, and there’s not enough commitment to ideas we may have about what would be better for them in the population at large to override that basic sentiment. And moreover, people would be rightly concerned about the kinds of concessions that existing (school) systems would end up having to make to people if you effectively force people who don’t want to be in it into it – even if we start out with every intention not to make those concessions.Report

              • Avatar zic says:


                First, I think you do me some great discredit when you suggest I ‘want’ something, meaning I want some particular outcome here (this sort of reeks of the presumption that whenever a liberal talks about a perceived problem, they must want a regulation.)

                So please, quit that impulse. What I want is to explore a notion that we have legal rights, amongst them, freedom to worship; but many religious traditions (biblical marriage, multiple wives, etc.) conflict with individual legal rights. In the case of biblical marriage, we would never tell a wife she must not be submissive to her husband; we leave her that choice; but we also grant her right to divorce, to leave an abusive husband, and to accuse him of marital rape even though her religious tradition might not recognize such a thing. We don’t, on the other hand, allow plural marriages though they are also a norm in some religious traditions. So I offer that to suggest there is not a one-size fits all answer here.

                I don’t have much problem with a family teaching their children ‘this is our belief, our culture, and our tradition.’ But when that tradition conflicts with the actual laws about individual rights and freedoms, it sort of matters that the child has at least some clear notion that legally, at some age (18, though earlier in some things,) they have rights denied by their family traditions. Right to consent, for instance. Right to not be assaulted by a spouse for not obeying. Right to deny consent. Right to divorce. A right to hold a job and own property.

                If you want to know what I would do, my answer, at this time, is nothing except learn more, explore the schism I see, and try to better understand how it fits into the differing frames of rights we hold. I do think if you’re going to teach your daughter that she must submit to her husband and that divorce is the thing Jesus hated most, at least telling her that the laws of her nation (while they might be evil laws,) come to a different conclusion might matter for her wellbeing. She’s free to reject those laws in her personal decisions; but that decision point is exactly where I get to a problem of freedom of association being infringed by some of the homeschool cultures I’ve been studying; hence my question to Burt.

                But @alan-scott @will-truman and you each responded with my remedy first, which strikes me as a knee-jerk reaction to a stereotype of regulating liberals, and I sincerely challenge you each to consider if you’d have responded similarly to someone not liberal.

                Forgive me if I’m wrong to think this, but it is a pattern I notice a lot, liberal sees a problem, wants to discuss it, so must want a law. That’s just silly.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                The thing about when we talk about rights being violated, that cries out for remedy. Not cause you’re liberal, but because people of all stripes want rights, as they see them, defended. Especially if we’re trying to establish a right. And if we’re talking about legal rights, we have to defend them don’t we? If we don’t defend them and are not talking about trying to defend them (proposing remedies), they’re not legal rights and won’t be.

                They might be rights in the abstract sense, which may be worth discussing and which I have mentioned on multiple occasions. But I think we agree that there is an abstract right to freedom of association. I think most of us here would agree that parents are doing their children a disservice by raising them in the way you outline.

                Is the right related to Freedom of Association specifically? I’m not sure, maybe, but not in a way that’s particularly obvious. I’m not sure how it matters… except as a springboard to action (rights that need to be defended). Now “action” doesn’t necessarily mean passing laws, but the other remedies seem like non-starters (I don’t think we can apply social pressure to people who don’t care what we think, for the most part). But even action in this direction still isn’t the establishment of a right.

                I guess I am sort of skeptical of the notion of “rights” that cannot actually be reasonably defended. I feel the same way about “natural law” rights. I might think it would be ideal if the rights existed (in this case, that nobody raised their children in such a way), and others might prefer the rights be defended (by trying to prevent people from raising their children in such a way), but unless the defense is actually in place, it’s not really a right.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                One other things… when I talk about not being sure how it matters… a part of my reasoning there is that I (and I suspect most people here) object to it whether it is or not. I object to the entire value system around it, and that’s a much bigger deal than whether it might (or might not) inhibit future association.Report

              • Avatar zic says:

                Thanks, @will-truman; when I wrote that I knew it was a sort of hair-trigger reaction, but the response (what law would you pass) is pretty common and irritating whenever there’s a conversation that happens to include a liberal.

                I do disagree with you on starting from a position of remedies; I don’t think you can get to a place of considering remedies until you’ve at least defined problems. Perhaps what concerns me isn’t really a problem; I’m willing to push hard on that notion. And I do feel (intuit) it a problem of association; one that runs through much of the religious freedom debates; sincerely held beliefs can only be sincerely held by individuals who may or may not associate with others; your father’s beliefs may be the same or similar to yours, but you each hold your own; and this is something that seems to get lost in the discussions — it remains my biggest complaint about the HL discussions and much of the SSM and abortion debates — a presumption of religious belief holding sway on other’s actions, and so forcing association on others.

                I’ve struggled how to make this point here repeatedly; I don’t know if I’m simply pushing new territory that’s not part of our lexicon or if I’m simply confused and muddled; I certainly am willing to embrace the latter, but the former won’t let go its grip on my thoughts.

                It very much goes to the heart of “are we a Christian nation” discussion; at least when it comes to the US, it’s easier to recognize the conflicts when it’s not Christianity we’re discussing. When it is; tradition horribly complicates matters.

                So I’ll flip my concerns around a bit: say we’re considering the curriculum of a madrassa or yeshiva in the US; would there be some expectation of basic civil rights that might conflict with the religious tradition should be taught because they are parts of constitutionally protected rights here, rights that each of the students holds?Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                So I’ll flip my concerns around a bit: say we’re considering the curriculum of a madrassa or yeshiva in the US; would there be some expectation of basic civil rights that might conflict with the religious tradition should be taught because they are parts of constitutionally protected rights here, rights that each of the students holds?

                It’s something I struggle with, and not just when it comes to Muslims. It’s something I do think about with some fundamentalist Christian orgs. And the FLDS, sigh.

                But on thinking about all of this, my mind does go directly to remedies. What I am and am not willing to do to address the wrongs I see. And if I’m not willing to take action, I tend to shrink away from “rights” talk. I don’t believe I can call something a right if I’m not willing to take action to defend it. For me, it’s where the rubber hits the road.

                (Which may be a disconnect between how you approach and discuss these things and how I do. Apart from ideological differences, though differences that might affect our ideological bearings.)Report

              • Avatar zic says:

                But on thinking about all of this, my mind does go directly to remedies. What I am and am not willing to do to address the wrongs I see. And if I’m not willing to take action, I tend to shrink away from “rights” talk. I don’t believe I can call something a right if I’m not willing to take action to defend it. For me, it’s where the rubber hits the road.

                Perhaps we’re not so far apart except that I don’t think I can decide if I’m willing to take action until I’ve weighed what the potential violation of basic rights is or if it even exists of if it’s an imbalance that unfairly privileges a specific group or person.Report

          • Avatar Burt Likko says:

            Here running up against an area of law that I don’t dealt with earlier in my career. You want to look at a couple of cases from the 1920s, Pierce v. society of sisters and Meyer v. Nebraska. The state that parents have the right to raise their children in the manner that they see fit. The cases dealt with teaching the children German at home, and sending the children to a Catholic private school. These rights are found in the 14th amendment, not the first.

            How that fits in with homeschooling today is a little bit unclear. But they will come into play if you proceed to indicate a high degree of civics sophistication as part of mandatory homeschooling education. You see, you can require that homeschooled students demonstrate proficiency in a wide variety of subjects, by changing the curriculum standards. So if you wanted to require homeschool students to learn this information, it could be done. But what you can’t require is that parents teach their homeschooled children that these rights were good things, or that it is morally appropriate for the children to exercise those rights.

            My guess is that this probably frustrate you more, rather than talk you off the ledge. Sorry.Report

            • Avatar zic says:

              Thank you, @burt-likko that’s very helpful.

              It also helps clarify something that I’d picked up on the fringes of my reading study — a lot of effort from the home-schooling groups combating Common Core. There’s obviously some fear that they will be required to meet common core standards, and particularly the fringe Christian groups I’m looking at do not want that.

              Right now, like health-insurance pre-ACA, this is regulated at the state level, and home-school requirements are all over the board, from none (other than stating the intent to home school,) to some basic requirements and oversight by a certified teacher.

              But none of it goes to my question about rights of association for children, and since children are pretty much viewed as property of parents so long as they don’t neglect or physically abuse them, I doubt we’ll get to a child’s rights any time soon.

              But I am growing more and more convinced that the right of association both matters and is given little attention compared to religion and speech; it’s a third leg of the 1st, and right now, it’s the short leg and the stools rocky.Report

      • Avatar Troublesome Frog says:

        Fighting ignorance under every rock and behind every tree is probably a losing battle, but it would be better if we could make sure it was just ignorance and not belief in outright nonsense. It’s one thing to not know calculus. It’s another to really believe that calculus is nonsense and the people who use it are dupes or charlatans who shouldn’t be allowed to spread their lies.

        I suppose we should just be thankful that this sort of aggressive movement toward anti-knowledge is mostly restricted to biology, geology and really abstract physics instead of being directed at Newtonian mechanics and basic arithmetic.Report

        • Avatar El Muneco says:

          And epidemiology – never forget that one. That particular woo has adherents on both sides of the culture war.Report

      • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

        I think Chris was talking about the other Foucault.Report

  6. Avatar Jaybird says:

    The Science Wars rear their ugly head once again.

    Personally, I think that if we’re not going to be teaching Science! but teaching kids to meaninglessly regurgitate trivia for multiple choice tests, it matters little what we teach them.

    For some reason, it seems very, very important to a certain subset of society that we have children who “believe in evolution” who cannot explain the difference between punctuated equilibrium and phyletic gradualism.Report

  7. Avatar Dave says:

    The Religious Freedom argument seems to have a momentum of its own within the Right’s base now, and is being used as a rallying cry for almost any battle they’ve lost in courts, elections, or mainstream public opinion.

    While there’s truth to this, the evolution-creation battle that has played itself out in courts since the 1960’s has been fought not on religious freedom grounds but rather on Establishment Clause grounds, and rightly so. Introducing religiously-based “alternatives” to evolution have revolved around a single alternative rooted in a single faith. It’s the clear sort of favoritism towards religion that triggers Establishment Clause concerns. There’s no religious liberty argument at all. Setting aside whether or not the Hobby Lobby decision was correct or the science vs. religion component of it (pretty please), in that specific situation, the owners of the company believed that they were being compelled to act in a way that would force it to violate its beliefs. At least there’s some (debatable) connection to the practice of religion.

    Under no circumstances is religious liberty threatened by having to sit in a science classroom and learn about a subject that has nothing at all to do with religion. What the students choose to believe is their own decision.

    Maybe this conversation is coming up again because it’s the last time a notable case involving religion in the science classroom came up, it was 10 years ago. If there’s one thing people need to remember about the decision in Kitzmiller v Dover, it’s not the fact that proponents of religion in the public schools lost. It’s how badly they were beaten.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew says:

      This points to where my mind went with the exercise/establishment point. Administration-dictated teaching of evolution is a battle that has largely been fought out. But what about choices of individual teachers about how to teach evolution/creationism/the controversy, etc. Will a teacher ever claim the “right” to, say, teach the controversy notwithstanding district guidelines that only evolution be taught? Presumably(!) such claims would be laughed out of court, but that doesn’t mean it’s not the next skirmish in the cultural battles around such legal fights.

      There is also a potentially interesting tie-in with attitudes about teacher autonomy (as the left might have it) versus curriculum control (i.e. Common Core, as the right might have it). Should teachers in public schools be free to design their lessons within broad curriculum standards? How free? Should those standards explicitly ban teaching the controversy, or even presenting alternatives to evolution? Is that itself potentially an Establishment problem?

      These are largely policy not legal debates, but they tend to slide pretty freely from one to the other. In any case, even just on the policy side they still constitute part of the broad “religious freedom” debate that’s ongoing.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:

        ..>To be clear, I’m talking about top-down district curriculum control of all kinds, not just Common Core. Just saying that the right has trained its concern about that on Common Core in particular – that’s what’s top of mind on the subject for them at the moment.Report

        • Avatar morat20 says:

          “Top down” flows from the state mostly (there is no real federal education policy, hence Common Core — a group of states trying to create one) and from the local school board even more so.

          Schools are about as locally controlled as you can get, the most local politics you can get — which is why you get crazy, crazy stuff happening. A lot of it flies under the radar, because people watch the federal government and people watch the state government and it tends to make the papers…

          But what the local school board’s up to? Unless it involves a tax hike, nobody really cares until something really, really weird pops up.Report

          • Avatar Michael Drew says:

            Right, that’s why I clarified – I’m mostly not talking about federal control. I’m talking about local administrative control. I’m also talking about teacher autonomy versus top-down control of any kind, which right now in the conservative imagination means Common Core.

            As for local district actions not mattering, I mean, local school administrative decisions are what all the big religion-in-school legal precedents regard. States fund local ed. (as do the feds through Title I); 14th Amendment; bingo bango. However weird anything going on there is or isn’t, local public education administration is locus of these debates.Report

            • Avatar morat20 says:

              I never said local school districts didn’t matter. Quite the opposite — a local school board is as close to tin-plated dictatorship as you can get in America. 🙂

              I’ve watched 6 or so people utterly destroy years of a kid’s education, destroy whole districts. You don’t get much more important than that.

              They’re just not monitored. People don’t pay attention, they don’t even tend to bother to vote for school board positions much less care what they’re doing. Not until the the metaphorical explosions start.

              Administrative control…varies. Each school district is fairly unique. In my experience, on average, how heavy handed the state is with mandated and standardized tests often have more effect than most administrators. But then, my experience has been with school districts that value having a hands-off administration. They’ll dictate curriculum, yes, and mandate best practices and the like — but the nuts and bolts of lesson planning and how to go about teaching it is left as much in the teacher’s hands as possible.

              Lately there’s been a bit of a tussle in my district because the new Texas state tests (so awful that emergency legislation was passed to change graduation requirements before a large chunk of the state’s seniors abruptly didn’t graduate) has had administration and department heads and curriculum folks inside classrooms more often, forcing some teachers to change their standard practices.

              Mixed bag, really. A few dinosaurs got rooted out and forced into modern pedagogy, a few innovators had to cut a few things out because if it’s a choice between a optional unit and passing those stupid tests to graduate, well — graduation comes first.

              Luckily, with the changes, the innovators are gonna have a bit more time — but the dinosaurs are stuck shaping up or quitting.Report

      • Avatar Dave says:


        But what about choices of individual teachers about how to teach evolution/creationism/the controversy, etc.

        In the Dover, PA case, they were ignored considering that they opposed the change in curriculum. Those decisions are driven by the school boards.

        Presumably(!) such claims would be laughed out of court, but that doesn’t mean it’s not the next skirmish in the cultural battles around such legal fights.

        It could be that the reason why I don’t think it’s a skirmish is because the chances of a teacher successfully making that claim is so low is that it’s a skirmish in name only. It’s nothing to take seriously.

        Should those standards explicitly ban teaching the controversy, or even presenting alternatives to evolution? Is that itself potentially an Establishment problem?

        In short, because every “alternative” to evolution that has been put forth in an attempt to “teach the controversy” has been the same alternative dressed up in different ways either by design (“intelligent” design) or practice (i.e. equal teaching time, student presentations or vague statutes like the idiocy in LA), it will always run up against the Establishment Clause. Hell, it shouldn’t even be a controversy.

        That we’re spending time having this discussion says more about the persistence of the people stupid enough to treat religious dogma as science than the non-existent strength of their arguments.

        If I sound like an asshole about this subject, it’s probably because it makes me want to be one, but don’t take that as me attacking you or anyone for wanting to discuss it.Report

        • Avatar Kim says:

          The Dover Decision beggared the school district, and the people who started the whole thing were left relatively unscathed. Poor learning experience, if you don’t want it happening again.Report

  8. either a woman’s choice to engage in sex for non-procreational reasons, or a person’s sexual orientation.

    With the latter implying that all (or at least much) of the sex they engage in is non-procreative.Report

  9. Avatar aaron david says:

    As the son of a scientist, as someone brought up in the scientific method, as someone who cannot give a crap whether god exists or not… I could give a shit if some schools teach creationism vs. evolution. I find this debate, either the religious demand to have its ideas heard, or the pearl clutching that someone might be taught bad information, tedious.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko says:

      I’m probably one of the pearl-clutchers in that equation. To my way of thinking, this is more than a handful of kids getting taught bad information. It’s the door opening on a great many kids getting taught that information as a matter of policy. It’s that generation of kids growing up to become daughters voters and policymakers themselves. It’s an erosion in our ideal of a government dispensing services with neutrality to religion.

      Perhaps you could elaborate as to why my concerns are overblown, why you believe this is a matter of indifference.Report

      • Avatar aaron david says:

        Well, two things mostly:

        1. The single most important thing about science as I was taught it, is skepticism. From watching my son go through high school, and from listening to my father all of these years, that is one thing that is really not being taught. Science is never really settled, as new information is constantly being found, recorded and applied. Evolution itself is not as settled as we are taught, with this being a good representation of differences. The point being, are kids being taught the “correct” version of evolution, or does it matter, as long as they are getting put on the “right” track? Wrong info is wrong info in my book. That isn’t to say evolution shouldn’t be taught, or that creationism should be taught. I would prefer both were taught, and used as a lesson in the scientific method, and also a good exploratory lesson in what faith is, as it moves so many of the people on this planet.

        2. I am sorry if I wasn’t clear, but I am simply saying that I don’t care, not how anyone else should think. As a libertarian, I would never tell you what to do or think. You are an exceptionally bright man Burt, and I feel that whatever conclusion you came too would be well reasoned and thoughtful.Report

        • The single most important thing about science as I was taught it, is skepticism.

          I don’t believe that.Report

          • Avatar aaron david says:

            I don’t believe you.Report

            • Science is a couple things:

              1. A methodology for discovering and verifying truths (AKA scientific method).
              2. A collection of truths, some accepted, some provisional, arising from 1.

              It’s important to understand both. It’s likewise important to distinguish the accepted from the still provisional. Skepticism about the accepted ones is not particularly useful unless it leads you to attempt to verify them or find alternatives, and no one has the time to do that for more than a tiny subset.Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck says:

        “To my way of thinking, this is more than a handful of kids getting taught bad information. It’s the door opening on a great many kids getting taught that information as a matter of policy. ”

        There are some who would suggest that this goes much further than just evolution.Report

      • Avatar Switters says:

        OT – but@aaron-david , why would enter a discussion/debate just to tell the participants you are notinterested and find the debate tedious? maybe sit it out if that’s really how you feel.Report

        • Avatar DensityDuck says:

          His point is that nobody should be talking about it.Report

        • Avatar aaron david says:

          My opinion is my opinion. I will share it as I see fit, thank you.

          And it seems to have generated a bit more discussion, no?Report

          • Avatar switters says:

            I wasn’t commenting on what is or isn’t your right. Don’t think i took issue with that. Of course you know that though.

            And you’re right, it did generate a bit more discussion, precisely the kind you described as tedious, one which you could give a shit about. And one which, despite those opinions, you continue to participate in.

            So feel free to engage in discussions at the same time you describe them as tedious. I’ll draw my conclusions accordingly.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew says:

      I take a lightly different approach to Burt’s, though share his concerns in theory. (Though I think the broad societal shift he envisions is pretty much a figment of theory at present.)

      aaron, don’t you see how that’s a bit of a solipsistic position? If instead of being the son of a scientist you were the son of a preacher-man, and your only chance to learn of the scientific method was your local public school (if you could manage to enroll rather than be sent to religious school, which, okay, in my example seems unlikely, so just make it you’re the son of a religious man), wouldn’t you regard the question as slightly more urgent; slightly less tedious?Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck says:

        “The scientific method” and “evolution” aren’t the same thing.Report

        • Avatar Michael Drew says:

          I take the point. I was taking him as saying that teaching “creationism vs. evolution” rather than, “the consensus is that evolution is correct and creationism is wrong as a scientific theory” would be to fail to teach the scientific method, inasmuch as the scientific method writ large has yielded that consensus. I.e., I read him as saying that because he was steeped in the scientific method, he doesn’t really care if a kid or two aren’t.

          But his subsequent comment shows he views teaching them as (equal?) competitors can/does teach the scientific method. I don’t categorically disagree with that.

          I would note, however, that aaron employs a rhetorical tactic that is a mainstay of deniers of the fact of the scientific consensus for evolution, namely pointing to debates among evolutionary theorists and researchers as evidence that somehow the fundamental idea does not enjoy scientific consensus. This does force me to wonder about the background scientific views he has that inform the view of pedagogy he advances.Report

          • Avatar DensityDuck says:

            ” pointing to debates among evolutionary theorists and researchers as evidence that somehow the fundamental idea does not enjoy scientific consensus.”

            We’re invariably told that religion is stupid because everyone agrees that evolution totally happens.

            And then it turns out that not everyone agrees about how evolution happens. Which leaves people thinking “huh, one of their primary arguments turns out to be wrong, what does that say about the rest of it?”Report

            • Since not all economists agree about the multiplier effect, clearly communism works just as well as capitalism.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                To put the YEC cloak on again (it doesn’t fit as well as it used to), the points that we always looked at were things like how science saw itself vs. how it really acted.

                Sure, Science *SAYS* that it’s about dispassionate Popperian falsificationism… but why are the scientists acting like they’re cheering for a sports team instead of dispassionately falsifying? What’s really going on here?

                Take, for example, the Nebraska Man. Even more egregious than Piltdown (an elaborate hoax is an elaborate hoax, after all), this was a single tooth (A SINGLE TOOTH) that was found in a river bed and, from there, an entire mockery of those silly Biblical Creationists was constructed. Of course the tooth was found to not have belonged to a human ancestor but to an extinct pig.

                The counter-argument that it was science that hammered out the pigness of the tooth rather than its humanity is a good point and we wish that there was more such sober, dispassionate Popperian science going on in the debate.

                As it is, it is merely Team Tooth wearing the sheep’s clothing of Dispassionate Popperian Falsificationism mocking Team Biblical Creation for being on a team in the first place.

                Worse than that, the children these Toothers indoctrinate are so poorly indoctrinated that they cannot argue against a reasonable defense of Creationism, are ignorant of the errors of carbon dating (let alone defend them), are ignorant of scientific misconduct, and cannot explain the ideas they claim to believe in such as the difference between Darwin’s Evolution and Lysenko’s.

                Would that these children were being taught Popper!

                Would that these children were being taught anything at all!

                As it is, they’re trained to parrot what they are told, informed that this is part of their identity and told to look down on people who do not agree with these ideas that they themselves cannot explain, and then not miss a step when science comes up and says “looks like we were wrong about the stuff we made you memorize when you were a child, please memorize this” and we get back to always having been at war with Eurasia.

                Perhaps it would be possible to work with a dispassionate follower of Popper on these topics. If, however, we’re told to merely memorize statements in the service of picking a side, why should we pick the side that resulted in Abortion, Buck v. Bell, Communism, Doctor-assisted suicide, and Eugenics?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                It’s like riding a bike.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

                Jaybird: these Toothers indoctrinate

                I see what you did there. Kudos for the elaborate setup as well!Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                I was always impressed that my YEC friends knew more about evolutionary theory (though their knowledge was always dated, mostly to some point before 1950) and its history than just about any non-creationists I knew who weren’t actually biologists.

                You can trace the origins of “New Atheism” straight back to the creationist vs. “evolutionist” debates of the early 90s, mostly on BBS’s and listserv, and I think part of the reason those debates went on so long and became so important in the lives of many scientists and pro-science folk is that the creationists were intelligent enough to keep them interested.

                The unfortunate results, of course, was that people, even some non-biologists, started to think that YEC was an attack on science generally, and were in turn responsible for blowing it up as a social and cultural issue as much if not more than the YECs themselves.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                One of the things we were taught was that our opponents would inevitably bring up Inherit the Wind. At that point, you’ve got them exactly where you want them.

                Piltdown Man, Nebraska Man, Java Man… Keep the arguments around that time frame and make them defend the arguments from that time frame.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                Right. I always thought “Darwinist” was clever, because “Darwinism” is an antiquated theory.

                I also remember that the Manchester moths were a frequent gotcha moment.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                I believe in *MICRO* evolution! Otherwise antibiotics wouldn’t work! It’s a strawman to imply that I should be against antibiotics!

                But those things you’re killing wouldn’t ever turn into a KANGAROO!!!! Not in a million years!Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                Oh man, the “I believe in microevolution” thing. That was always awesome.

                Arguments about speciation were just… bizarre. Man, I wonder where some of my old Nazarene and Southern Baptists friends are these days. I wonder if they’re still YECs. I wonder if their children are YECs.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                I have a handful of friends of friends on my facebook that go back to my YEC days.

                I imagine that the Armenians would see me as having lost my salvation and feel sorry for me. The Calvinists would feel sorry for what I’m going to have to go through before I come back to The Lord.

                So I don’t really interact with them much.

                But I like that they’re smiling in their pictures.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                I only have one on my Facebook. She was an Olivet student back then, and when I last knew her she was losing her religion. Now she posts Bible quotes all of the time, so I guess she got it back. She lives outside of Miami and posts pictures of the iguanas and parrots in her back yard too.Report

              • an extinct pig.

                And how long has it been extinct, Mr. Yec?Report

            • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

              There is (believe it or not) an actual debate amongst fluid dynamicists about the actual mechanism of aerodynamic lift, and yet planes do not fall out of the sky or refuse to take off because we don’t fully understand how lift works.Report

      • Avatar aaron david says:

        And at the same time, my school completely failed at other forms of education. I had to learn what faith is on my own. And while I do not have it, understanding what it means to others has helped me more than evolution has.Report

        • Avatar Michael Drew says:

          I would be interested in @burt-likko ‘s and others’ views as to whether it is ultimately appropriate for public schools to teach students “what faith is.” I am not sure that it is.Report

          • Avatar Burt Likko says:

            In my opinion, a school can no more teach a student what faith is than it can teach a student about the sensation of sex or the taste of beer. It must be experienced to be understood. And like sex or beer, one’s appreciation for that experience changes as one ages.

            I hasten to add, a school can certainly provide definitions, and guidance about how to deal with these experiences those things are knowledge. The experience is something else.Report

            • Avatar aaron david says:

              Absolutely to the first part, and the second was more of what I was talking about. Furthered by saying that teaching the concept of faith (not trying to get everyone all Mariette In Extacy,)how it affects some people and how it can be a major driver in global current events.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew says:

                I guess I’m not clear what exactly it is you’re saying your school did or didn’t do by saying that you had to learn what faith is elsewhere.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck says:

                I think what he’s saying is that they taught people about religion with the same attitude you’d have describing character classes in D&D, and the idea of “this is a very subtle and powerful thing that can explain a lot of human history” was just totally glossed over as “welp religion sometimes makes people weird, crazy stuff huh? And now on to World War II.”Report

    • Avatar James K says:


      The issue is less the bad facts they are being taught than the bad epistemology that is needed to support those bad facts. Creationists promote creationism by misrepresenting the nature of evolutionary theory and the nature of science itself.

      Teaching creationism in schools doesn’t just mislead children, it undermines their ability to think about science.Report

      • Avatar Murali says:

        How important is it really, that people be able to think well about science. Sure, for some people for whom its their job to do science, we might want them to think well about science, but I’m beginning to be convinced that the notion that people ought to know how to think well/ think critically etc is just another ideology/ conception of the good (that not everyone may necessarily share and also not one that can be demonstrated to be normative for everyone) and we should be careful before we use coercion to impose it on others.

        I’ve found that lot’s of people who cheerlead critical thinking never think critically about their belief that people ought to think critically. (I’m not aware of a successful argument in favour of not thinking critically). Sure, a failure to think critically is one sort of failure of epistemic rationality, but as I have mentioned before (in the paper that I linked to but which apparently nobody read) there are good reasons to regard epistemic rationality as purely descriptive concept rather than a normative one.Report

        • Avatar James K says:

          I’ve found that lot’s of people who cheerlead critical thinking never think critically about their belief that people ought to think critically.

          Or maybe we have examined it critically, concluded very quickly it was a good thing, and then moved on with our lives.

          As you yourself note, there is no available argument against critical thinking and yet there is at least one good argument in favour of it – it improves your ability to understand the world. And as a general matter it is better for people to be good at things than bad at them. Not to mention that in a democratic society, the ability of the general public to think effectively is of public interest – fools also get to vote.Report

          • Avatar Murali says:


            And as a general matter it is better for people to be good at things than bad at them

            It is better for people to be better (at the current margin) at any given thing only if being better at that given thing improves performance sufficiently to make an appreciable difference to them and being good at that thing is important to their interests. In particular, thinking critically about a given subject is good only if the amount of additional critical thinking that is devoted to that subject yields appreciably more true beliefs about that subject and having true beliefs about that subject has a high expected likelihood of improving your life.

            The beautiful thing about technology is that it works even if the user does not believe in the scientific claims that underpin its functioning. Imagine a butcher named Bruce. Bruce’s interests are the following:
            1. He needs to feed his family (some money)
            2. He wants some creature comforts (more money)
            3. He wants some peace of mind
            4. He wants some friendly social interaction with the people he has grown up with and known (e.g. his church group)

            In order to satisfy his monetary interests, he just needs to do his job well (and save wisely). Perhaps, at his current margin*, he can do better by thinking more critically about tasks related to his job and his investment options. He has no need to think well about whether God exists or whether humans and chimpanzees had a (geologically) recent common ancestor. In fact, it would be better for him to just think the same things as what his friends think. After all, if he openly believed differently from his friends, his friends may make fun of him, they may stop going out with him. There may be no more poker nights. If he believed differently but hid the fact, he would lack peace of mind.

            Even the very act of engaging in critical thinking requires immense mental effort. At the margins along which most people seem to be operating at, it does not seem to be worth the mental discomfort that is involved in thinking critically about something to increase your chances of obtaining the marginal true belief. Moreover, once you start questioning your beliefs, you start unsettling yourself even more. You have to learn how to distinguish between actual truthmakers and convenient excuses for belief. You start discovering that many of your beliefs actually conflict with one another. But, the ironic thing is, you were doing just fine before when you were not questioning your beliefs (generally).

            As long as people don’t think too hard about it, they can compartmentalise. They can, if necessary, think critically about things that directly practically affect them. And they can be happy as long as they just go with the flow for everything else.

            to mention that in a democratic society, the ability of the general public to think effectively is of public interest – fools also get to vote.

            If a given voter thinks critically about policy and therefore votes well, but nobody else does (or only a minority of voters do), voter A is worse off. After all, he gets bad policy, is not blissfully ignorant about that fact, and expended enormous mental effort anyway. He would have been better off not thinking critically about politics. Suppose instead that everyone else (or enough others) think critically too. Then sure, he gets the benefits of good policy. But he would get those same benefits even if he didn’t think well about policy since everyone else already voted well. Also, he would not have expended significant mental resources he otherwise did. So, even then he is better off if he does not think critically.**

            Maybe he has some moral obligation to think critically about politics. But even that is not clear. Firstly, while we can safely presume that once we have questioned all assumptions, gathered all the data and thought carefully about the implications, we will have the right view about politics, it may very well be the case that the small amounts of critical thinking that most people have the time and resources to engage in would lead them further away from the truth.

            Or alternatively, even if critical thinking is the sort of the thing that could only improve your set of beliefs, critical thinking could nevertheless be so hard to do that lots of people who think that they are engaging in critical thinking are not doing any such thing and merely finding convenient excuses for their beliefs.

            The second reason for thinking that there is no moral obligation per se to think critically about politics is that all there is (or at least there is also) an obligation to avoid voting badly. But this latter duty can be effectively fulfilled by not voting at all. Suppose you have a duty. There are two courses of action that could accomplish that duty. One course puts you at great risk of violating that duty. The other course is a much surer and easier path to the fulfilment of that duty. Now, since thinking critically about politics does not guarantee (or even give a reasonably high probability) that you will vote adequately well, trying to avoid voting badly by attempting to vote well instead is extremely risky for most people. Thus, even if there was a further positive prima facie duty to vote well, since attempting to vote well will tend to lead to a violation of both duties, the average person fulfils his duties better by not voting at all instead of attempting to vote well.

            But maybe you need to think critically in order to understand that you should refrain from voting. Even if this were the case, it may still be (and very likely is) that attempts to think critically about politics just make you more interested in politics and more likely to vote. What we should be doing is inducing political apathy in the populace at large. But, it is unlikely that critical thinking will aid in that. Instead, we should numb people’s minds with recreational drugs and reality TV.

            *If butchery is more of an art than a science, then thinking critically about it will be counterproductive. A necessary condition of the efficacy of critical thinking in a given subject is that the subject be the sort of thing which has relatively easily expressible propositional truths.

            **Dammit James, you should know this.Report

      • Avatar aaron david says:

        James, as I am sure you are aware, the US is a massively multi-ethnic, multi-opinion and multi-tribal nation. Just as we have people who will raise their children in the Waldorf tradition, we have people who will raise children in a fundamentalist environment. As I said, I am not religious. And as I also said, I am the son of a scientist. And as such, I do believe that science and its teaching is very important. But, and this is a huge but, when you run smack dab into someones religion and the core beliefs therein, all the forcing of new ideas that you feel are absolute truths will come across as trying to destroy that culture. Much as the US did with various native tribes, and the Australians did with the Koori.

        One of the most important goals of education is critical thinking, I am sure you agree. As opposed to forcing a culture to accept something that their religion teaches them is false, we need to impart the skills to get around that, and have them be functioning members of society, both secular and religious. Instead, we are punishing groups for having beliefs that run counter to our ideas of enlightenment. And at the same time we are being given standardized testing, to which educators complain that they can only teach to the test.

        I believe in the scientific method. I don’t feel that it is being taught.Report

  10. Avatar Damon says:

    Burt had some good points that I’d like to dove tail off of…

    I’m all for presenting all the theories and the supporting evidence, or samples of it, to kids. They don’t get enough critical thinking anyway. But let’s be clear. BOTH are theories. Nothing has been definitively proved. One’s got a lot of evidence and is very convincing. The other, well, it relies on a lot of belief. But one of the problems I have with evolutionists is that oftentimes act like religious zealots. How DARE they think something else when it’s obvious that what I think (and by we I mean the scientific community) is the truth.

    But let me throw a wrinkle into this. At least with public schools, the schools get their money primarily from the local tax payers…the homeowners…the ones with their kids in their schools. Since america is a democracy, if those taxpayers, through their elections and the democratic process, decide that the schools should teach creationism, DEMOCRACY HAS SPOKEN. You got a problem with that? If you do, don’t you have a problem with democracy?Report

  11. Avatar Michael Cain says:

    When Darwin and Wallace published in 1858, they had a concept based on observation, but no idea of what the underlying mechanisms were for how the concept was implemented.

    Today, we have a pretty good understanding of the underlying mechanisms, and a rapidly increasing collection of “gengineering” techniques based on that understanding. Simple gene-splicing so that we can use bacteria to produce useful proteins on a large scale. Gene therapy using designer viruses that introduce enough active genetic material into enough cells of people with certain defects to cure, or at least reduce the severity, of their problem. Tools like CRISPR/Cas9.

    There’s a lot more exchange of genetic material going on “in the wild” than we used to think happened. The typical genome appears to have a significant amount of accumulated cruft. Taken together, it seems to me that it’s hard to argue that evolution can’t be happening — that the cruft isn’t indicative of anything, that the exchanges don’t ever have any meaningful effect. In one way, it’s putting the burden on the other side. Given the mechanisms that we now know about, how can evolution not be happening? Not as quickly as it does when humans start tinkering intentionally, but happening nevertheless.

    Humans create new widgets — some of us are well and truly driven to do so. Some kinds of new widgets probably shouldn’t be built. There are certainly applications that some new widgets shouldn’t be used for. Widgets for gene transfers and assembly almost certainly fall into that class. I admit that I’m torn about letting people who deny the effects of accidental gene transfer sit at the table when the ethics of intentional transfer are being discussed.Report