Essay / Education

Do motives count?

Groups favoring traditional science, like Panda’s Thumb, often argue that the motives behind ID actions like the Cobb County warning sticker matter. The courts also ruled that this is the case.Should motives be considered in the academy? One reason I support ID is that it coheres with my religious worldview. Let us leave aside any “secular” reasons I might have for supporting ID. (My Platonism is at least as powerful a motive for being an ID person as favoring a particular version of Christianity. Lest I be misunderstood: Christianity qua Christianity is more important to me than Platonism, but not all forms of Christianity are incompatible with Darwinism, including versions I have practiced.) Should religious motivation cause an idea, otherwise harmless, to be ruled out in science class or in law?Let us assume for the sake of argument that all lawmakers supporting the “critical thinking” sticker are young earth creationists and Baptists. They passed the law only to promote the Baptist faith. Let us also assume that ID is simply a version of religious belief pretending to be science. I think neither of these assumptions is true, but the decision is still a bad one despite them.First, the sticker asked for critical thinking about evolution. Whatever the motive behind the lawmakers, the thing suggested was harmless. Without getting into motives behind the action, there is nothing on its face that could be declared harmful in the wording of the sticker. As a reminder the sticker says:This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered.Second, the board will not teach the classes. Unless, they (wrongly) hire only Baptist teachers, their motives could not be enforced in class. An atheist Biology teacher can handle the sticker policy as he or she deems fit. The sticker asks for an open mind on the part of the student. Since there are more Baptist students in Georgia than atheist students, the call to keep an open mind helps atheism more than theism. Since the sticker does not ask for any religious teaching on the part of the teacher, then it seems that the motives of the people passing it will not be able to be enforced. Instead, the judge has enforced secularism as the only acceptable form of knowledge in science or government. Religious people cannot tolerate this.Of course, there will almost certainly be comments to this post using the world “Taliban.” The fact that some religious people abuse their power to do evil does not mean that religion itself is harmful or must be excluded as a motive or as knowledge. Secularism has produced horrid states, such as communist Albania, but it need not. Just as all forms of secularism do not hate liberty, so all forms of religion do not hate liberty.What should be done? People should vote and makes decisions based on the will of the people. Minority groups should be protected from being forced to practice the point of view of the majority. However, as was the case before the 1960’s this protection should not prevent the majority from being able to practice a “public square” faith. People interested in more sustained thinking in this area should visit First Things. No secular person in Texas should be forced to pray. However, being forced to hear others pray simply is not harmful enough to justify limiting the liberty of the people.Third, most people in support of the decision assume an ability to create a clear demarcation between religion and science. What is religious and what is science? Where can you find such definitions accepted by most philosophers of science? The decision also assumes that in our culture only secular motives can count in law. Since most people in the USA are religious, Christian, and religion deeply impacts our actions, no area in a democratic culture can be purely secular. To pretend it can be is to create an unsustainable fiction that leads to most people despising the law. Many of our laws, including criminal laws, were voted into place by legislators whose private motives could easily be shown to be forms of Christianity. To assume a law has to also have a secular motive to cleanse it from religious taint is simply a legal insult.Finally, judging motives is a tricky business. I can imagine situations where it would be appropriate, but not this one. The schools were not being asked to promote religion. What is next? Will we throw out laws protecting homosexual persons, because the critical votes were made by legislators protecting their own private practices? Will we get rid of the death penalty, because most Southern lawmakers support it privately for religious reasons?The judge did not attack freedom of thought or critical thinker per se. No one would do that. However, he did limit it. Evidently, a closed philosophy of science is not mandated by judicial fiat in Georgia. The good news is that the internet is not limited by law. Go read the middle-brow arguments at groups like Panda’s Thumb. Make sure you look up all the references. Do the journal articles actual argue for what the site claims or do they not? Note the comments section. Ask yourself: Is there an overwhelming secular motive for this site? Where there is a religious motive (theistic evolution) is it in the service of one sectarian version of Christianity? In short, how sophisticated is the philosophy of science there, since this is a philosophy of science issue? Go read Christianity and the Nature of Science. See if those arguments are carefully addressed or addressed at all.The religion and science argument is mostly not about details of science. It is mostly about philosopher of science. Clever people can make the details work in any system. As the dominant view, with thousands of scientists making careers of it, Darwinism can save itself from almost any “small scale” finding. It is a matter of belief, but then asks if an alternative point of view, that like Plato in Laws X, allows for agency in Biology should be allowed? Should people be able to keep their jobs who consider it? Should publicly funded schools discriminate against their point of view? Should the people who pay the bills, overwhelmingly in favor of this point of view, be able to get the schools they want?

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