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December 30, 2004

Teaching Evolution in Schools: A Comment on Posner on Democracy

Here's a post that I've also put as a comment on Brian Leiter's website, whereJudge Posner raises the question, as a guest blogger,
"4. May a state ban the teaching of evolution, or require teaching of "creation science," in its public schools."
" the state is being asked to enact, in effect, a religious dogma", which he seems to think is bad (whether the Constitution really bans states from establishing religions or, as I think, *protects* those establishments is a question for another time).
Judge Posner also writes the following, the best paragraph of the post:
"Rawls and others have thought that religious beliefs shouldn’t be allowed to influence public policy, precisely because they are nondiscussable. But this view rests on a misunderstanding of democracy. Modern representative democracy isn’t about making law the outcome of discussion. It is not about modeling politics on the academic seminar. It is about forcing officials to stand for election at short intervals, and about letting ordinary people express their political preferences without having to defend them in debate with their intellectual superiors."
And in a later post he is sympathetic to the idea that ethical beliefs should not be disallowed merely because they are affected by religious beliefs.

I don't see that banning the teaching of evolution or requiring creationism to be taught because of religious beliefs is any different from making murder illegal because of religious beliefs. In all three cases, the voter's opinion is based on his religion, and other voters' opinions are based on their own background beliefs. Person A believes that the Bible is inerrant, and based on this believes that evolution is a mistaken theory. Persons B and C believe the Bible is errant, or that inerrancy does not imply that evolution is wrong. I don't see why B's opinion should be privileged over the others. From the point of view of A, B wants to teach a false theory, and exclude the teaching of competing theories. Shouldn't we be "lettng ordinary people express their political preferences"? Consider the following question:

4a. May a state ban the teaching of astrology, or require teaching of astrology in its public schools.
Surely both of these are in the power of the state, despite the lack of scientific support for astrology. But why should astrologers be privileged over Fundamentalists?

In general, we do not let experts overturn voter preferences. If voters want a minimum wage or sugar import quotas, we do not cite the mass of hostile expert opinion as a reason to thwart them. Legislatures do silly things all the time. If we let public schools teach that recycling helps the environment and saves resources, both clearly false, why should we not let them teach creationism?

Posted by erasmuse at December 30, 2004 10:28 AM

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