Redefining Religion

Mike Appleton, Guest Blogger

“Blessed be you, mighty matter, irresistible march of evolution, reality ever newborn; you who, by constantly shattering our mental categories, force us to go ever further in the pursuit of the truth.”

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, “Hymn of the Universe,” (Harper and Row, 1961).

It took the jury fewer than fifteen minutes to convict substitute teacher John Scopes of the crime of teaching evolution to Tennessee public school students in 1925.  It was the last victory of Christian fundamentalists in their war against the disciples of Darwin, and a hollow one at that.  Although the Tennessee Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the law, it reversed the verdict because the trial judge had imposed a $100.00 fine on Mr. Scopes, contrary to a provision in the Tennessee constitution requiring a jury to assess fines exceeding $50.00.  In sending the case back, however, the court made the unusual suggestion that further prosecution not be pursued.  Scopes v. State, 154 Tenn. 105, 289 SW 363 (1927).  It was not.

Fundamentalists were emboldened by the Scopes verdict.  In 1928 Mississippi and Arkansas adopted similar laws and in the ensuing years, the subject of evolution was effectively dropped as a topic in many high school science courses, a trend that was not reversed until the Sputnik scare in 1958 led to a revamping of science curricula.  It was not until 1968 that the Supreme Court decreed that laws forbidding the teaching of evolution in public schools violated the Establishment Clause.  Epperson v. Arkansas, 397 U.S. 97 (1968).

With direct bans no longer available, fundamentalists pursued a new strategy, the adoption of “balanced treatment” legislation requiring that teachers provide time for the exploration of the Genesis story of creation as an alternative explanation of biological origins.  In 1983 a federal district judge threw out Arkansas’ balanced treatment statute, concluding that creationism is “not science because it depends upon a supernatural intervention which is not guided by natural law.  It is not explanatory by reference to natural law, is not testable and is not falsifiable.” McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education, 529 F. Supp. 1255, 1267 (E.D. Ark. 1982).  Several years later, Louisiana’s balanced treatment statute was also found to violate the Establishment Clause under the Lemon test.  Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U.S. 578 (1987).

Efforts to recast creationism as science under the name “intelligent design” were rebuffed in the now famous case of Fitzmiller v. Dover Area School District,  400 F. Supp.2d 707 (E.D. Pa. 2005), in which the court succinctly stated that “[intelligent design] cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents.” 400 F. Supp.2d at 765.

But the war is far from over.  Creationists are once again in court, and this time they are urging that the teaching of evolution in the public schools is itself a violation of, inter alia, the Establishment and Free Exercise clauses because evolution theory incorporates the “core tenets of Religious (‘secular’) Humanism.”

Cope (a/k/a Citizens for Objective Public Education, Inc.), et al., v. Kansas State Board of Education was filed on September 26th in the United States District Court for the District of Kansas.  The case seeks to enjoin implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards adopted by the Kansas Board of Education in June of this year.  Those standards are objectionable under the First and Fourteenth Amendment, according to the plaintiffs, because they endorse the “orthodoxy” of scientific materialism, which “holds that explanations of the cause and nature of natural phenomena may only use natural, material or mechanistic causes, and must assume that, supernatural and teleological or design conceptions of nature are invalid.” (Complaint, para. 8)  Plaintiffs contend that teleological and materialistic explanations of the natural world create “competing religious beliefs.” (Complaint, para. 75).

The allegations are absurd on a number of levels.  First, Plaintiffs have adopted a definition of religion which eliminates any requirement for belief in a supernatural entity.  Second, Plaintiffs’ reasoning, if pursued to its logical conclusion, would virtually preclude the teaching of science in the public schools because their objections go to the basis of what we understand as the scientific method.  Third, Plaintiffs rely upon the same flawed dualism that taints most fundamentalist arguments, the false assumption that acceptance of the findings of evolutionary biology are incompatible with religious belief in general and Christian belief in particular.  The great paleontologist and theologian Teilhard de Chardin, for example, who is quoted above, regarded evolution itself as part of the process of divine creation.

This latest assault on science is not the first time that creationists have relied on the Secular Humanism argument  In Crowley v. Smithsonian Institution, 636 F.2d 738 (D.C. Cir. 1980), the court rejected the claim that a museum exhibit of evolutionary processes constituted a governmental endorsement of Secular Humanism.  The court held that the Establishment Clause does not prohibit a science display which may happen to be in agreement with a tenet of a particular religion.  And in McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education, supra, the court observed, “Yet it is clearly established in the case law, and perhaps also in common sense, that evolution is not a religion and that teaching evolution does not violate the Establishment Clause.” 529 F.Supp. at 1274.

Fundamentalists have failed in their attempts to create science out of religion.  There is no doubt that they will also fail in their attempts to create religion out of science.  The only serious remaining question is why we must continue to have the discussion.




141 thoughts on “Redefining Religion”

  1. Gene H. 1, October 28, 2013 at 7:15 pm

    Oh, it’s not “junk science” that is the problem here, Dredd.

    It’s you not understanding what you read except in your confabulated Midicholrian fantasy context.

    “Coherently”? That word does not mean what you seem to think it means, especially in physics. It means the light is harvested in a way that maintains a constant phase state. Not that algae are coherently (which you seem to mistake for “cogently”) using quantum mechanics as a directed tool controlled by a consciousness. Even the non-physics meaning of “coherent” doesn’t comply with your wishes. It just means logical or consistent. It says nothing about intelligent control.
    Since my reply to you was absorbed by Zorba the Word Press censor, I reply again.
    Your magic “one true scientific method” of the “one true science” misses the mark once again.

    The peer reviewed expert scientists I quoted were not talking about what you say. You just made that up as a rank and obvious diversion away from your “man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still” rut.

    Idealist007 and I discussed quantum dynamics and its impact on machine evolution as well as its impact on biological evolution prior to his unfortunate passing.

    I mentioned a Swedish scientist to him, since he tended to trust them, and since that scientist was the only one to have hypothesized on the issue in peer reviewed journals.

    Recently his paper was taken note of in the context of quantum mechanical induced genetic mutation (The Uncertain Gene).

    The wave properties of light quanta as well as non-light quanta such as protons “behaving as waves” is a source of abiotic as well as biotic mutation.

    Coherence is not limited to photons.

  2. I’ll reply quickly to your post right now and get to the rest of the diatribe later when I’m off work because I’m lazy (sarcasm implied). You show me notarized birth certificates linking Jesus back to Abraham and I’ll wear a set of mouse ears for a day and skipe it for you. My guess is that the the Apostles created such a lineage for Jesus to lend him legitimacy in the eyes of the religious hierarchy.

    I did not read the wikipedia entry on this topic, but John Dominic Crossan, author of “The Historical Jesus” fails to mention this important connection. But, as a priest in the Catholic church, I suppose that’s to be expected.

    Your flailing like the Wizard of Oz after he was exposed, with all the geologic studies you throw around. Essentially, you’re saying whatever the phenomena, study further, look at it closer, and you’ll find it’s all the result of some Intelligent Designer. That’s the all-purpose trump card. That’s lazy.

    Another strategy of yours appears to be to accuse the unbelieving of laziness, like we’re just not willing to look at the evidence closely enough, and if we did, surely we’d be convinced, if only we had a brain.

    You may be a great fisherman, but you’re able to exploit the fishes’ weakness for feeding. You might find it a little more difficult if you were trying to catch from the same perspective of their natural waterborne predators. Of course, you’d have an advantage over swordfish and dolphin with your more highly evolved depth perception. Next, I suppose you’ll tell me you’re an excellent spear fisherman. You and Nick.

    Actually, I have a fine mind with a rockin’ GPA of my own. I mostly limit my intensive studying to information I can use professionally. At any rate, I have an open mind, which is more than I can say for you. You see no fact that doesn’t support your view as valid, and as I said, there’s no study or discovery that you won’t simply claim as proof of ID. It’s sort of like saying, “I know you are but what am I.”

  3. David, there are many, many Muslims who are nothing like the Taliban.There are many, many Christians right here in this country who have much in common with the Taliban,

    Before I go any further, let me point out that my daughter’s are Jewish. They value their heritage while declining a rigid adherence to religious dogma. I consider my self extraordinarily spiritual, yet the bible means nothing to me. I don’t believe one word of it came from god. It was written by overactive imaginations. I believe Jesus was an historical figure, a political figure, who benefited from a remarkable PR campaign.

    You said, “If I saw any religion actually practicing the teachings taught in the Bible, I would join it. Thus far, I have never seen it. So I am a man of faith without a religion.”

    The bible is a religious text and serves as the basis for all the Christian religions. You can say you’re not religious, until you discover a worthy religion all you want; it’s disingenuous. It’s dishonest.

    It’s also interesting that of all the religions out there, which have subjected these religious texts to so much scrutiny, you can’t find one, not one, that actually adheres to what’s in the bible. They must not understand it as well as DavidM of 2575 My World Dr.

    That’s also a little insight into your PhD. If you studied all those years and don’t want to pursue the degree, that’s your business, of course. And I fully agree that a PhD will not make you a better person. But I get the sense that you may have been attending studies with the intention of finding nothing but flaws. That can be a good thing, unless your refutation boils down to, “Can’t be. That’s not in the bible.”

    You made a point about Gould and Punctuated Equilibrium and Intelligent Design. The problem with ID is that it’s a trump card you can slap down on any scientific statement. Sun rising in the East? Somebody or something had to cause that. Theory of Relativity? Sounds like a plan. Life on Earth could not have just been a random occurrence. It’s all been designed for us, if only we were smart enough to realize it.

    The problem I have with that is it’s a trump card that, all too often, serves as a Get Out Of Jail card for those who want to use it. Global warming is god’s gift that keeps on giving; it’s part of his plan. Would god let a species go extinct if he didn’t want it around. I think not. Poor people are just experiencing god’s wrath. Thing’s will pick up when they get in tune. I’m sure. Just as soon as we get rid of this anti-creationing, god-hatin’, brutalitarian gubmint. Praise the Lord of the Everlasting Church of TBD!

    1. RTC wrote: ” I consider my self [sic] extraordinarily spiritual, yet the bible [sic] means nothing to me. I don’t believe one word of it came from god [sic]. It was written by overactive imaginations. I believe Jesus was an historical figure, a political figure, who benefited from a remarkable PR campaign.”

      Oh, so you believe Jesus was a historical figure, but you think it very unlikely that Abraham was? Why?

      Matthew traces the patriarchal lineage of Jesus back to Abraham. Luke traces the matriarchal lineage of Jesus back to Abraham and then to the alleged very first man Adam. Exactly where in these lineages do you think the overactive imaginations took over to lead us to this so-called fictional Abraham person? Do you believe that Joseph was the father of Jesus? Do you believe that Mary was the mother of Jesus? What about Eli, Mary’s grandfather, or Jacob, Joseph’s grandfather? Were they real people or not? At what point, and on what basis of reasoning, do you believe the historical genealogy started becoming imagination?

      My guess is that you don’t have a good answer. I think you are a lazy thinker. It is just convenient for you to say that the Bible is all made up by people with an overactive imagination. That way you don’t have to consider anything in it seriously. The truth is, if Jesus really was a real person, and Mary was his mother, what are you going to do with his recorded ancestry? At what point do the people become imaginary people, and on what basis of logic do you argue that point? Occam’s Razor leads us to conclude that the genealogies are the best historical records provided to us. Could they be wrong? Could they contain a mistake? Sure, of course, but to just blurt out that Abraham was probably a fictional person is among the most foolish academic blunders I have ever heard. I just can’t perceive you to be a serious thinker when you argue this way.

      RTC wrote: “The problem with ID is that it’s a trump card you can slap down on any scientific statement. Sun rising in the East? Somebody or something had to cause that. Theory of Relativity? Sounds like a plan. Life on Earth could not have just been a random occurrence. It’s all been designed for us, if only we were smart enough to realize it.”

      This does not describe any kind of ID or creationism that I have ever heard of. Where did you learn about ID? Was it from an atheist article? What you described is not even the way that theology approaches questions. The best way to label what you just described is not even religion, but rather it is superstition. Completely lazy thinking.

      What ID does is more along the lines of how Gentry discovered polonium halos with a 3 minute half life. How did they get inside rocks that are suppose to have taken millions of years to cool? So he tests secondary intrusion as a hypothesis and falsifies it. Could it really be a fingerprint of the creation event? Could the rocks have been created through a process we have yet to discover where the rock formed nearly instantaneously? That will require more research. So let’s do more testing. Or it is like Austin’s work. How exactly do sedimentary rocks form? Does it really take millions of years of being laid down without evidence of erosion, or could they have formed rapidly through a catastrophic event? We have a natural catastrophic event with Mt. St. Helen’s, so let’s go over there and document the sedimentary deposition carefully. Let’s measure the rocks as they are being formed, take pictures, and learn exactly how the hydrogeologic sorting works. Does something like the Grand Canyon show evidence of having formed in the same way? Perhaps studying Mt. St. Helen’s eruption will give us clues about catastrophic events producing sedimentary rocks and the timeframes required. ID also is about not ignoring polystrate fossils that project directly through sedimentary rocks supposedly laid down over millions of years. Turns out that Mt. St. Helen studies by ID researches give us information about that as well. ID considers empirical evidence like spectacled radioactive halos in the Colorado plateau that indicate a compression time of about 20 years rather than the millions of years that published radiometric dating has suggested. So ID says, let’s study and research and work through these problems. Establishment science says it is a waste of time, we already know that ID is false and evolutionary processes are the only thing to consider.

      Let me give you another example where the possibility of an ID model might be interesting if establishment science would only allow it. Consider the phenomena of schooling fish. Various evolutionary hypotheses are put forward for the evolutionary advantage that such behavior offers. One common idea deals with how it might protect them from predators by causing confusion to the predator. Being a fisherman myself, I am skeptical about this idea. Why? Because when I go fishing, I am a predator and I love to look for and find schools of fish. The bigger the school, the better! A nice school of fish means I’m going to catch more fish, not less. Evolutionary theory encourages a biologist to say that schooling might help the fish survive better against predators, but they never really test this idea. They just keep repeating it so often that everybody assumes it must be true. The lack of research about the question perpetuates because evolutionary theory is declared to be the only valid idea. What if a researcher came along who was open to an ID theory, one that hypothesized that maybe the Creator long ago programmed fish to school for the benefit of the predator, to make it easier for the predator to find them. Clearly evolution would never select for such a trait, but perhaps the DNA coding was sufficient to benefit the predator mildly enough that the fish populations are never deplenished completely through the process of Natural Selection that we know has been operating for many thousands of years. Well, the ID researcher would be laughed to scorn to suggest such a thing. So the question never gets answered. The research is never done. On the other hand, if we would tolerate the idea of an ID model of origins, more research and study would be done and our knowledge would be increased. Even if all the ID predictions were falsified, it would be a good thing because it would confirm beyond doubt for everyone that ID theory is false. I think the more research that attempts to falsify predictions from ID models of origins, the better for our knowledge of the world around us.

  4. Since you’re a fine for quibbling about words, I said “Probably” didn’t exist. Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. But a creation MYTH has grown up around the actual man, if he existed.

    Religious texts subjected to critical peer review? No wonder you didn’t get a PhD. Those religious texts are little more than superstitions codified.

    “Hey Hiram, what do you think of this…?”
    “Sounds good to me, Schmuel. Write it up and we’ll teach it to our kids. Listen, I had an uncle named Jacob. Do you think we could work him in there somehow”

    1. RTC wrote: ““Hey Hiram, what do you think of this…?”
      “Sounds good to me, Schmuel. Write it up and we’ll teach it to our kids. Listen, I had an uncle named Jacob. Do you think we could work him in there somehow”

      LOL. You have quite an active imagination. I suggest you visit a yeshiva sometime to see how the real world works.

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