MAY 12, 2009 12:25PM

St. Anselm, Creationism and the Establishment Clause

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Certain contributors to OS have recently added insult, quite literally, to the injury Mr. Corbett has recently received from the courts for deeming creationism/creation science "superstitious nonsense" in his public school classroom.    http://open.salon.com/blog/corribean/2009/05/09/dr_james_jesus_glasses_corbett One such contributor, a lawyer no less, called Corbett "arrogant," "insulting," and a "pompous dickhead." Fighting, though by no means edifying, words. Another, a self-professed logic teacher, pronounced Corbett's likening of his case to that of Socrates "a disgrace," thus bringing new standards of silliness to high moral dudgeon. Neither of these folks would be worth a second thought did they not translate their animus toward Corbett into an utterly misbegotten, yet strangely representative defense of the  soon to be reversed verdict against him.

The logic teacher, ironically, best exemplifies the fallacy of the constitutional argument most frequently levelled against Corbett. He states that the only issue is whether Corbett ridiculed the" belief of his student." Um...no, there is no constitutional mandate against such ridicule.  Corbett was rather sanctioned for expressing "hostility to religion" under the establishment clause, so the logical point at issue is,  if Corbett in fact ridiculed his student's beliefs, do those beliefs qualify as properly religious and entitled to protection against hostility. One would have thought a logic teacher could grasp this distinction when it was presented to him, but evidently not.  He responded by insisting that despite the "ambiguity" in the term creationism, the context makes clear that the relevant speech acts to be adjudicated were expressions of the student's "religious" beliefs.  Now there is no special ambiguity in the term creationism, or rather the ambiguity the logic teacher discovers is but the after effect of his own imprecision in reductively identifying creationism with the belief in divine creation ex nihilo. This is important because it is precisely this imprecision or confusion that pervades the entire  debate over this legal case. To relieve this confusion, to draw (or draw attention to) the necessary distinctions between faith in divine creation and creationism, is to make clear that the latter is not, in most any context, a properly religious belief, but is an ideological leveraging of a religious belief into a scientific truth-claim. Insofar as Corbett designated creationism, rather than faith in divine creation, "superstitious nonsense," he expressed hostility towards the scientific pretense given a religious belief rather than the belief itself and so stands clear of any establishment clause violation.

 Allow me to illustrate by way of St. Anselm. Anselm was an immensely holy fellow of the medieval church. That he believed in the existence of God is beyond dispute. Were he magically transported to a contemporary public school classroom to find his belief in a Diety mocked by the teacher, he would, and he should, have a winning lawsuit against said mocker. But St. Anselm went a step further. He articulated a metaphysical proof of the existenceof God, a deductive set of propositions intended to substantiate in strictly (onto) logical terms that for which there could and can be no certain knowledge. To whit,

  1.  
    1. God exists in our understanding. This means that the concept of God resides as an idea in our minds.
    2. God is a possible being, and might exist in reality. He is possible because the concept of God does not bear internal contradictions.
    3. If something exists exclusively in our understanding and might have existed in reality then it might have been greater. This simply means that something that exists in reality is perfect (or great). Something that is only a concept in our minds could be greater by actually existing.
    4. Suppose (theoretically) that God only exists in our understanding and not in reality.
    5. If this were true, then it would be possible for God to be greater then he is (follows from premise #3).
    6. This would mean that God is a being in which a greater is possible.
    7. This is absurd because God, a being in which none greater is possible, is a being in which a greater is possible. Herein lies the contradiction.
    8. Thus it follows that it is false for God to only exist in our understanding.
    9. Hence God exists in reality as well as our understanding


In so doing, Anselm shifted his discourse from an expression of religious faith to a philosophical defense of that faith (indeed, this is known as the philosophical proof of God). Were his followers, the Anselmites, to advance his "philosophical proof"  in the contemporary public school classroom, a teacher could denounce this Anselmism as "superstitious nonsense' with full constitutional impunity. (I happen to share Anselm's faith and find his proof intriguing rather than nonsensical, but that is as beside the point as the lawyer and logic teacher's distaste for the abrasive pedagogical method of Mr. Corbett). Insofar as the proof makes a claim upon philosophical coherence, viability, truth etc, it opens itself, constitutionally speaking, to charges of nonsense, superstition and worse. Anslem has left the building, if you will, of religiously protected belief and entered the fields of intellectual combat.

Creationism/creation science is in an analogous position to Anselm's proof. It is neither religion, nor a particular religion, nor even a particular religious belief, all of which are shielded from "hostility" by agents of the state. It is rather the mobilization of a religious belief in terms of another regime of truth, in this case science rather than philosophy or ontology. Between creationism and the religious faith in divine creation, accordingly,  there opens a whole catalogue of pertinent distinctions.

The Logical Distinction

Beleif in divine creation is a necessary but by no means sufficient condition for creationism or creation science. Many people, myself included, profess a belief in divine creation and reject creationism. This is al;so true of entire religious traditions.  For one thing, among many, a belief in ex nihilo creation is reconciliable with evolutionary theory (as in the Catholic and Anglican traditions)whereas creation science, BY DEFINITION, is not. That is because of

 The historical distinction

 The belief in divine creation extends back to the dawn of articulate speech. Creationism/creation science is of recent vintage and was designed, intelligently or otherwise, as a counter, a criticism and an alternative to evolutionary theory. The belief in divine creation has existed, and can always exist, without reference to evolution or in partnership with it. Creationism is a counterdiscourse born in a specific contestatory relation to evolutionary theory. Which brings us to

  The Discursive Distinction

Divine creation can be an article of faith requiring no supporting evidence, no principle of controvertibility etc. Creationism, by contrast, is not a discourse of faith. It is a theory. Don't take my word for it. Ask the creationists. They will tell you. It is a  cosmological theory to be set alongside and in competition with evolution, which they will hasten to tell you is likewise "just a theory." As a theory, creationist cosmology mounts truth-claims, not on a deductive basis, like our friend Anselm, but on an inductive basis, as a logical, quasi-empirical movement from the observed to the unobservable. To the extent that we credit the creationist methodology, we label the theory scientific; to the extent we don't, we label it ideology. But the claims of neither science nor ideology are immune from "hostility" under the establishment clause. 

The reason creationism is advanced as theory brings us to

The Disciplinary Distinction

It is at the core of the creationist agenda to be creation science, i.e. to demand a place in scientific, knowledge based classrooms and free themselves of the restrictions of the religious studies curriculum. As such, the renunciation of establishment clause protection might be said to be implicit in the disciplinary agenda of creationism, as implicit in fact as the claim to such protection is implicit in a religious belief in divine creation per se. On these disciplinary grounds, the lines of distinction between creationism/creation science and religious faith in divine creation become a fault line of outright opposition. When you accord creationism establishment clause protection, you actually negate creationism as a knowledge based theory; when you deny creationism such protection, you actually affirm the theoretical status to which it so vocally lays claim, you grant it, however unwittingly, the knowledge based dignity it seeks. This is a paradox that could never pertain to a strictly religious faith in divine creation.

Because creationism is not itself a religion or a strictly religious tenet, because in making scientific truth claims it courts the very "hostility" from which religion is protected, Mr. Corbett should not have suffered the injury of this court decision, irrespective of whether he merits the ensuing insults heaped upon him here at OS. Whether or not his dismissal of his student's creationist position violated the canons of good sense, good taste, good manners, good pedagogy, good intellectual practice, good citizenship, the higher good, Good with a capital G, it did not violate the establishment clause.

My father, God rest his soul, was one helluva constitutional lawyer, and he told me that the mistake lay people most often made when interpreting that  document was to substitute their sense of what is right, what is just, what is good, for what is constitutional. They aren't the same thing.

 

 

 

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libertarious, I'm rating this post for importance of subject matter & coming back to it later (am at work and this requires more brain power than I can devote)...but will be back...
A bump for the feed. 'Cause let's face it, Anselm is not exactly a popular attraction.
bump for st. anselm...
Aaron,

There is simply no way Creationism is interchangeable with the Christian faith in the US or anywhere else. Creationism disputes the validity of evolutionary theory and there are mainstream Christian traditions (noted in my post) that do not. Nor did I say that Creationism is a theory in the same way that evolution is a theory, any more for example that psychoanalysis is a theory in the same way that behavioralism is a theory. But there are no rules internal to any discourse that automatically qualifies it as a theory (which is why you can have good and bad, sound and less sound, scientifically credible and scientifically suspect theory. Psychoanalysis, a theory I much like, has no more robust a principle of controvertibility than creationism.The point is creationism presents itself as a theory and having entered into that truth-regime, where positrions must be argued rather than assumed or taken on faith, it loses its claim to establishment clause protection.

You might be right about the hoopla, but then mine is an argument about constitutional principles not political effects.
I gotta question why guesses about Reality would be protected from ridicule.

If a person makes a guess...and someone else thinks that guess is ridiculous...why would ridiculing it be prohibited??

The guess that there is a GOD...is not ridiculous to me...although the guess that there are no gods is not ridiculous either.

The guess that there is a GOD...and that the Bible tells us what that GOD is like...tells us what pleases IT and what offends IT...is so ridiculous to me, I really have lots of trouble discussing it without some measure of ridicule.

Are there circumstances where I should be punished for that?

Am I missing something here, Libertarius?
bump before I read b/c I have a crush on libertarius's brain.
Okay Aaron, I read your blog on Christian Science and found it fascinating. But I have to say it also convinced me even more that the folks at ICR are working within a knowledge as opposed to faith based discursive universe, where argument rather than profession is the coin of the realm. In such a universe, no protection from "hostility" is possible, since it requires a clash of ideas. The ICR might inhabit this universe badly, owing to the warping effects of their religious presuppositions. But occupy it they do and as such I don't see how a claim to religious protection can be sustained. The underlying beliefs may be sheltered by the establishment clause but the uses to which they put those beliefs are not. To the extent that a child avows his belief in the ICR program, he is liable, like the intellectual descendants of Anselm, to an inimical, even mocking response.
this is interesting. i am glad you're continuing this discussion. i have another concern i was trying to get dana to address in that thread, and you sort of hit on it tangentially. it seems to me, that if we use the establishment clause to protect religious expression wherever it happens to be, there is no way for scientists to question creation theory, let alone dispute it. this to me, implies that either the faithful functionally get extra rights i don't have or that there is actually a constitutional impediment for scientists to overcome, because their theories must be true before they can be argued, if there is a faithful person within earshot. this seems pretty problematic when you think about how science and philosophy evolve.

i am troubled by the way the first amendment is being used to silence people. i do not think this is the way it's intended to work.
Frank,

A couple of things you might be missing. One, you are not an agent of the state in a position of authority that might be understood to suppress rather than challenge belief. You can treat other people's religious belief as irreverently as you like with impunity. It is your free speech right, and because you are not an agent of the state in said position of authority, your free speech right does not come into conflict with someone else's freedom of religion right.

The other thing you might be missing when you ask if you should be punished, or a teacher like Corbett should be punished, is that the question I examine here is not what should be, but what the constitution, along with its tradition of interpretive precedent, says should be. I make no strictly moral claim when I say the teacher who mocks little contemporary Anselm for his belief in God (as opposed to his syllogistic demonstration of God's existence) should lose a lawsuit, merely a constitutional one--he will and should lose in court.
bstrangely,

Absolutely. That is why the language of faith, and I say this as a faithful person, cannot be allowed to turn itself into the language of rational, demonstrable, scientific truth and still retain constitutional protections designed for religion as a language of faith. Once faith transforms its rhetoric into one of theory, once it says "this is" rather than "I believe," then the first amendment protections it enjoys become constraints on all other languages of truth.
Lainey you say the nicest things.
Thats right Stella. What's more, once creationism claims scientific status, i.e. as creation science, it relinquishes, by logical implication, its constitutional shield. As soon as religion owns a purview beyond faith, its call for protection against the "hostility" of argument becomes an infringement on the free speech prerogatives of state agents, be they scientists or social workers. The belief statements of religions are constitutionally protected from state interference, its statements of fact, scientific, pseudo-scientfic or otherwise, are not.
I think the tipping point here is that Corbett identifies creationism as religion, his statement being:
“I will not leave John Peloza alone to propagandize kids with this religious, superstitious nonsense.”

Creationism might not stand independently as a religion, but it is based on a widely held religious belief. Corbett as much as claimed religion was superstitious nonsense. Applying it to a strict, secular declaration of disagreement with creationism is your arbitrary assertion, as English speaks for itself in his statement.

You may find distinction between creationism as a rationalization and Biblical/religious creation belief, but Corbett made no such distinction in that statement, no matter the subject being discussed.

Anslem as the basis of a Constitutional argument? Anslem's beliefs are not, to my knowledge, an element of the philosophy that is expressed in either the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution.
A proper assessment of the origination of the basis for declaring independence and the toleration of and restrictions on religion in the 1st amendment itself would track from Aristotle, through Ibn Rushd, Aquinas, Grotius, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau to Jefferson, Madison, etal.

Could Corbett say "Praying to God is superstitious nonsense." and also be in the clear, based on the fact that praying itself isn't a religion?

I see it as proper in both the spirit and letter of the law that Corbett's statement be interpreted as an improper government expression of religious intolerance.

Could it be that your zeal for declaring creationism not being a religion leads you to a hair-splitting analysis that arbitrarily finds distinction between a major element of a religion and a pseudo-science rationalization that involves that widely held Christian belief. Corbett made no such distinction.


“I will not leave John Peloza alone to advance an idea that science sees as superstitious nonsense.”

That would have played better in Peoria.
Well Mr. O'Rourke,

It is not I that deemed creationism a scientific discourse, but creationism itself. I said creationism is an attempt to leverage religious faith into a scientific truth claim. And so it is. As such, while the underlying belief is protected, the attempted leverage, which is to say creationism as such, is not. Speech announced as a theory and intended for a science classroom cannot hide under the cloak of religion, whatever it is based on.

To a mind of reasonable subtlety, the four levels of distinction I laid out between creationism/creation science are only hair-splitting in the sense that they are precise. But then precision can hardly be held against a distinction.

As for Anselm being foundational to constitutional discourse, I never suggested any such thing. I dont know where you got such an idea.What I said was that Anselm offers a clear illustration of the distinction between a religious belief and the mobilization of that belief in a truth based discourse and allows us to see how and why such a distinction needs to be drawn.
Oh, missed the snide praying comment. Praying is a religious observance and creationism is not. Therein lies the difference. If someone in a classroom were to claim a scientific basis for prayer's effiacy, then they can be accused of "superstitious nonsense" with constitutional impunity. It is, once again, the scientific or theoretical claims made for religious belief in creationism, not the religious beliefs that engage the public debate without first amendmentr protection against "hostility."
Praying as a petitioning of God is a belief, even if it is also a practice.
Again with the arbitrary assignment of language - snide?
More like relevant.

Corbett's statement stands alone, even as a statement against creationism. "religious, superstitious nonsense" infers religion is that, linking it to an opinion of creationism doesn't matter.
Yes, praying is a religious belief, which is precisely why I said you could not mock it in Corbett's situation. Creationism is not like prayer but like a claim for the scientifically demonstrable efficacy of prayer. Such a claim would not be protected from ridicule, as it makes a scientific claim. You don't seem to be reading me very closely.

As to Corbett's words, they are a pejorative description of a scientific agenda, not a slam at religion itself (which creationism is not). Heidigger frequently critiqued other philosophers for the onto-theological nature of their approaches. In so doing he was not ridiculing theology, but indicating that theological assumptions and first principles make for less than exacting philosophical discourse. Corbett likewise slams creationism qua science for clinging to anti-scientific because religious assumptions. That is not mocking religion, it is mocking creationism-as-science.
libertarius writes: "Insofar as Corbett designated creationism, rather than faith in divine creation, "superstitious nonsense," he expressed hostility towards the scientific pretense given a religious belief rather than the belief itself and so stands clear of any establishment clause violation."

stellaa writes: "Let me see if I got it, the Creationsists cannot have it both ways. They cannot purport to have be a science, then claim religious rights."

Yes, exactly. The kind of creationism typically discussed is what its advocates call "scientific creationism." It's the idea that science actually supports the literal truth of the first few chapters of Genesis, typically up to and including Noah's Ark.

In that way it's similar to Intelligent Design. Both creationism and Intelligent Design are presented as scientific theories that should be discussed in schools, either based on the idea of "equal time," or as legitimate alternative theories. The interesting thing is that when those arguments are rejected, the proponents complain that "God" is being excluded from the schools. But as stellaa says, they can't have it both ways. You can't go around talking about these theories in a religious way, and then present them as neutral science.

However emotionally attached a religious believer may be to creationism, a public criticism of creationism hardly constitutes an attack on religion. At best, one might suggest to the teacher that he handle such issues in a more sensitive manner. But that's perhaps an issue of good manners, not a legal issue.
also at work and will read at length later but I am so glad you did this. I could not believe the discussion at corbett's blog and am glad someone took the time to lay out the argument.
i think you're giving a pretty good demonstration of how religious views could be used to silence dissent, mr. o'rourke. even now you're further paring down the quote from corbett, as if he just popped into class to announce "religious, superstitious nonsense" was not tolerable.

when what he actually did, was respond to a specific question about another teacher's views. that's what "this" refers to, as in "I will not leave John Peloza alone to propagandize kids with this religious, superstitious nonsense."

now, i might not have much faith, but i do believe that the word "this" refers to something peloza had said or might say, and not the entirety of religious thought. unless you're suggesting that devout teachers speak ex cathedra?
I find the court's ruling to be quite accurate. I was grateful to Dana for posting it directly in the initial post. I find Mr. Corbett's "tone" consistently offensive, but only the Peloza statement was found to be a violation "pro forma" of the law. His other opinionated statements were held as within his rights and not violating anything other than taste. Perhaps, on appeal, the Peloza statement will not stand as a violation either, thought the court cited the Lemon test and went item by item through the complaints, of course.

I do think it makes a great difference if one is an "agent of the state" as a public school teacher is. I don't want a muzzle placed on MY words in my classroom, but I wonder if the "tone" of such statements is meant to bait parents and students and is thus counterproductive even if it isn't unlawful. It is cases such as this that tend to awaken conservative, creationist outrage, and that as a teacher in the public school classroom, is what I cringe at. I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment of the statement about creationism, but I find that when dealing with high school age students, the tone is almost always what they are hit by first. Usually a more thought provoking method than bombast tends to get the point across just as well without ruffling feathers in quite this manner.

There was a similar public outcry in Colorado in 2006 over a Social Studies teacher at Overland High School, Jay Bennish, who compared Bush's actions to Hitler. Though that was not a violation of any law either...I similarly cringed at the bombastic tone.

However I have to agree with you, libertarius...creationism cannot have it both ways...either it is "science" or not, "religion, or not". This is a really important question! I really feel for my colleagues who teach science. I hope that school boards do NOT continue to crumble to the demands of pseudo-science.
Libertarius,

Like Stellaa, I’m really appreciative that you wrote this. This is an excellent breakdown of the finer points of the entire debate about this case. I have often wondered about the double-standard expressed within the “creation science” issue. Is it science or religion? Which is it? It can’t be both. If it’s religion, then it clearly does not belong in the classroom, and definitely not in the science classroom. If it’s science, then it can’t be protected under the religious protections afforded religion in the Constitution. And as you clearly show, it is presented a “science”, which necessarily disallows any religious protections for it.

Another problem we see here is the one that occurs by perhaps reading too expansively into the original clause in the Constitution. That clause refers to passage of laws specifically, and I don’t see that expressing a viewpoint equates with passage of legislation. And in a sense, disallowing Mr. Corbett the ability to express his opinion about creationism would seemingly pass more closely for a legislative action favoring one expression over another, especially in light of the Farnan’s reference to a “secular religion” in this case. The Farnans want to have it both ways, and the court allowed it.

The establishment clause has generally been interpreted to prohibit 1) the establishment of a national religion by Congress, or 2) the preference of one religion over another or the support of a religious idea with no identifiable secular purpose. The first approach is called the "separationist" or "no aid" interpretation, while the second approach is called the "non-preferentialist" or "accommodationist" interpretation. The accommodationist interpretation prohibits Congress from preferring one religion over another, but does not prohibit the government's entry into religious domain to make accommodations in order to achieve the purposes of the Free Exercise Clause.

The clause itself was seen as a reaction to the Church of England, established as the official church of England and some of the colonies, during the colonial era.

Prior to the enactment of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1868, the Supreme Court generally held that the substantive protections of the Bill of Rights did not apply to state governments. Subsequently, under the Incorporation doctrine the Bill of Rights have been broadly applied to limit state and local government as well. For example, in the Board of Education of Kiryas Joel Village School District v. Grumet (1994), the majority of the court joined Justice David Souter's opinion, which stated that "government should not prefer one religion to another, or religion to irreligion."


It is difficult to see how Corbett’s comments violated any of the above, and in any case, those comments are not legislation.
___________________

I don’t know about Anselm’s “proof”, in that I’m not sure it proves anything, which is perhaps partly why you used it, but your particular usage of it here is excellent.

RATED
___________________
I have a question. Does creationism base its primary part on faith and not on scientific theory or process? Because if it does, then it's still not science, but a pseudo-scientific thing, like dousing or something like that. From what I can see of creationism, it's just a repackaging of the tenet "God created." That's a religious belief and/or faith. I'm not sure all religious beliefs have to anchor themselves heavily to one place to be religious beliefs.

The false thing that always follows that argument is that Darwin's stuff is all theory. Not true. Actually, evolution is used pretty heavily in farming and very successfully. Boll weevils, anyone? So, the theory parts are much less theorized than they used to be. And it endeavors and succeeds in working through the scientific process.

So, that's where I'm coming from on that. But I'd be interested in your take on the faith part.

Also, I said this over there as well. This is less about religion and more about a power struggle. It has no business in a court of law, a complete waste of time. I admit, from that belief, I cannot budge.
Libertarius,
I point to the chain of philosophy that results in the 1st amendment because to understand it is to gain insight on intention. It is, in essence, about toleration, and the need for that in order to maintain peace in society.

You keep returning to the question of creationism as a science or a Rube Goldberg contraption that, after twisting knobs, raising flags, and tea kettles boiling, makes a sign reading "God did it" pop up.
That is my assessment of Creationism. A device by which religion is introduced in a secular setting by deceptive and contrived device.

However, when Corbett claims, as he does, that something religious is superstitious nonsense, it stands alone, unmitigated by previous context or intent. So, it's not the underlying issue.

Therefore, and sorry to say this after much reasoned effort, the issue of Creationism isn't relevant. He could have been talking about hot dogs and hamburgers, but once he puts "religious" together with "superstitious nonsense" he is making a stand alone assessment of religion that isn't and shouldn't be allowed in that setting. It is "so not his job."
Aaron,

libertarius has not stated that creationism is science, merely that if those who advocate for it present it as science, then they cannot be afforded religious protections for their presentation.
PS..the 1st is about religious tolerance AND the separation of religious and civil rule. Figured I better clear that before somebody jumps on me.
I have to work just now and will have to reserve most replies for later. But I did want to say to Aaron that I don't regard creationism as legitimate science, nor do I believe the IRC does science just because they say they do. What I'm trying, not always successfully I guess, is to argue that once you make scientific truth claims, whether derived from a properly scientific method or not, then you have entered the realm of argumentation, which necessarily caarries the potential for "hostility" from which faith claims are protected, at least as far as the state is concerned. That is why I said creationism was a cosmological theory, i. e. a discourse that lays claim to a certain rigor, even if it does not begin to fulfill that claim. Obviously theories can be more or less scientific, but once you've sought to appropriate the authority conferred by the standards of logical rigor, you forfeit the protections designed for discourses that are--and acknowledge themselves to be--based on faith.
@bst,

Corbett is the one who identifies Creationism as religion. Even if his comment is directed towards Peloza and Creationism it takes on two meanings. The first is as you say, the second concomitant and unavoidable assertion is something religious in nature is superstitious nonsense.

After Corbett identifies Creationism as religious, which he clearly does, he is calling both concepts superstitious nonsense

This is creationism. It is religious, superstitious nonsense.

Corbett's freedom of speech is, as it is with all of us, conditional. The ruling shows where the line was crossed.
@ paul

"Even if his comment is directed towards Peloza and Creationism it takes on two meanings. The first is as you say, the second concomitant and unavoidable assertion is something religious in nature is superstitious nonsense."

if that's the case, then freedom of speech means nothing for people with no religion. you're essentially saying that because peloza is religious, and expressed his belief, any denunciation of peloza's belief amounts to a denunciation of religion.

that's terrifying. i also think it stretches the boundaries of our language to divorce that phrase from the context it was uttered in. even worse, when you provide a ( in your view) more acceptable version of the phrase,

"“I will not leave John Peloza alone to advance an idea that science sees as superstitious nonsense.”

science doesn't see anything. you're speaking about it as if it was a god, and not a cumulative effort among thousands of individuals. this passivity is not healthy for any discussion. let me again quote the opinion, so that maybe you can comment on what actually transpired instead of rewriting it:

"As discussed above, Corbett states an unequivocal belief that creationism is “superstitious nonsense.” Corbett could have criticized Peloza for teaching religious views in class without disparaging those views."

as i keep saying, it's as though the first amendment grants additional rights to those who are willing to attribute their beliefs to some monolithic outside force, whether it be god or science. these are peloza's views, they are religious and that is why they cannot be disparaged. that is a dangerous path for our individual rights to take, and i don't think you even notice it. you and the parents who brought this suit are eroding everyone's rights. if we must be so deferential to everyone's beliefs, it makes it impossible to discuss reality. the reality is, this kid sat in silence, so he could take this person to court over beliefs he apparently doesn't even think highly enough of to defend out loud with his rights.

do you really not see a problem here?
Well, there is such a thing as "logic" and there is also something called "common sense." The latter has mostly been forgotten here.

As someone whose most meaningful high school class was an elective simply titled "philosophy" (which covered the aforementioned St. Anselm's Proslogion and also included more modern works as Thomas Kuhn's "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" -- something many here who don't see science as being based on faith might find useful reading), and in addition was a class that took place in that most “backwards” of states, Texas (as the first poster responding to teacher Corbett’s blog said was a more likely locate for such a confused ruling, not a “progressie” State like California, those of you posting here might ask yourselves this simple question: how such a class, more controversial than Mr. Corbett’s, taught in a school with weekly religious services, could have wound up not offending anyone's religious sensibilities.

The answer is not surprising. It's in the skill of the teacher.

A teacher who is primarily interested in forwarding his own view by calling something "superstitious nonsense" is first and foremost interested in his own view, not encouraging his students to think for themselves.

A teacher more interested in the latter would couch his comment is this way: "to someone of the scientific community, such a school of thought would probably be viewed as superstitious nonsense."

The way arguments are made makes all the difference in the world.

What is so objectionable about Mr. Corbett is his own closed-mindedness that goes contrary to the very concept of education. If he is so interested in forwarding his own specific philosophy, let him publish a text book and teach at a University. At the high school level it is, by any standard measure of common sense, wholly inappropriate. He also forgets that Socrates was specifically condemned for: "corrupting the young." An important distinction Corbett seems to have overlooked.

Let legal issues play out as they may. I have no interest in debating them. The law often runs contrary to common sense anyway. But don't let them cloud the real issue.

As for St. Anselm, the most important lesson to be gleamed from him is the importance of the definition of God, something posters here continue to forget. Simplified, Anselm's proof could be reduced to something like: "since God is by definition perfect, it is imperfect for God to not exist, therefore God must exist." To disagree with this (as one surely can) is to miss the point. IF God exists, God would by reason of logical definition have certain qualities. One of them would be that "nothing is greater or more perfect" than God. That means even science is not greater than God. Even time is not greater than God. If you fail to understand that God could have created the universe exactly as described in the bible yet also have made it appear to have evolved then you misunderstand the fundamental definition of the word God.

God is not lesser than time and not subject to the laws of a ticking clock.

God does not require matter to exist.

God creates these things knowing that we are in need of them. But this isn't truth any more than a special effect in a movie is truth.

God could create this moment a rock that is as many billion years old as you want it to be -- and which ironically and paradoxically has always existed.

Because God has always existed and exists beyond space and time, and neither science nor evolution is His master.
@bst,
The problem I see here is that you relate what a government agent says in a classroom to children to what an individual might say outside of those qualifying restraints. Corbett, by way of being critical of Peloza is also critical of religion in a manner that is unacceptable ***In THAT setting.***

I'm not in the least, or by any reasonable interpretation saying that denouncing by Peloza's belief Corbett HAS to essentially denounce religion. He could have well discredited creationism based on science, or it being a religious belief that shouldn't be taught in public school. I'm saying Corbett first links creationism to religion, then disparages religion - even if in "this" specific sense. I'm saying the context loses importance as soon as he links religion to superstitious nonsense.

Roadmap time. "is religious" relates to Peloza's view - creationism. Religious is then described as superstitious nonsense.To say "this" means Creationism is true, but it is also true that, once linked, "religious" is also represented by "this,." and by superstitious and nonsense. It's not within the bounds of law, as judged to this point, to make that assertion **in THAT setting.**

What's not healthy in a discussion is not having a working knowledge of what you're talking about.You do know there is a Constitution, I'm guessing. What you don't seem to recognize is from it descends case law and precedent. That, and not your independent pondering, is what the issue revolves around. I'm not an expert, but I do know where from and why we have the 1st amendment, and that it protects both sides of the issue. Does Corbett's right to free speech trump the parent's right to not have the government disparage their religious beliefs? Court says "No."

This statement of yours --" that is a dangerous path for our individual rights to take, and i don't think you even notice it. you and the parents who brought this suit are eroding everyone's rights."-- would piss me off if I thought you knew what the hell you were talking about.

Read up a bit on the 1st, the Constitution, the history of natural law, civil religion and how they relate to our rights, then tuck those claws back in and give it another shot. I'm red, white and blue, and grounded in reality.

The problem I see is you making accusations and assertions without any background other than your personal observations and beliefs.
PS - Study Liberal Philosophy, all the above is contained within. After that, liberal won't be such an ambiguous term.
The faith is that science is revealing ultimate truths.
I was raised in raised in a scientific family including a close friend who was a Nobel laureate. I have a love of science. To claim that science isn't interested in revealing ultimate truths is to engage in a semantic argument which probably isn't very useful. But I'll agree to whatever definition of that term you want.
I would rather not say.
Libertarius: I was kind of poking around in my aging gray cells about the question of how many angels could stand on the head of a pin when I was invited to read this. And while this is not nearly as clear cut an issue as the one I was perusing, this is interesting to a point. That point has been reached, and repetition seems now the order of the day. I hope that I do not contribute to that.

First, Libertarius, I think your argument very sound, especially when linked with the comments of Mishima666 and my sometimes antagonist, whom I like anyway, Rick Lucke. I find both of those sets of comments particularly lucid and helpful of drawing the discussion into a contemporary setting.

Dear St. Anselm, of whom I am fond, said many fine things, among which I think, in my paraphrase, "Religion (theology) is faith seeking understanding" to be of the highest order in briefly describing the essential nature of religion. As to what was called when I was studying him, "The Ontological Argument for the Existence of God," I give him props for trying but his arguments are basically unhelpful. In fact I think that all arguments for the belief in God or a higher power that claim to stem from "pure reason," and deductive reason at that, cannot stand up, cf: Kant.

To me Christianity stands or falls on faith, and faith is not an empirically verifiable quantity. It is more closely linked to intuition, art, beauty and love than to anything quantifiable. It is quite literally, "belief in things unseen." And unless you have it chances are that it makes no sense.

As to whether or not Mr. Corbett's case will be reversed on appeal, I think there is a better chance that it will be. In a way that is a pity, not for the nation, because reversal makes sense to me as a former graduate student of constitutional law, but because Mr. Corbett seems to be an arrogant sort of creature who shouldn't be teaching high school children at all. College students likely can better handle an attitude like his. Graduate students might likely tear him some new anatomy. But that is a value judgment made only by reading his post, so maybe I should cut him some slack.

Lest anyone wonder how a Christian can come to such outlandish positions I can only say that, in spite of what some may have told you, liberal Christianity is not quite the endangered species as many think and I am likely as far removed in my understanding of the Bible and Christianity as compared to Christian fundamentalists as Mr. Corbett is compared to his unlucky student's parents. We share the same planet and little more.

All in all, Libertarius, I complement you, again, as I have on other occasions, on your well reasoned argument. I can see the points of some of those who have taken you on and think they acquitted themselves well. However, from where I sit they have perhaps caused a few flesh wounds, but certainly hit no vital organs and you recovered nicely.

I also compliment everybody who has commented so far for keeping this discussion well within the bounds of civility, which is where such arguments can yield some actual light rather than flame.

Thanks for inviting my comments.

Monte
Those who say that science is based on faith miss two points; first, that any faith-based aspects of science are NOT the same as religiously based faith, and second; that science does not claim to reveal ultimate truths and is always looking to disprove itself, which is totally opposite from religion. Science works from the premise that an accepted theory may still someday be proven inaccurate on some level, even if it works in current application. In essence, science is based on lack of faith more than on faith, which is why testing and skepticism rule the sciences. One does not simply dream up a speculation about something and accept it as the gospel truth, which is what religion does.

To compare science to religion using the concept of “faith” is absurd, ignorant, or dishonest. It does, at least, appear to be an intentional effort to create a fallacious argument in defense of religious faith. Comparing science and religion in this manner is like comparing faith in the existence of Christmas to faith in the existence of Santa Claus. Christmas comes around every December 25th and to have faith that it will occur on the upcoming December 25th is hardly the same as having faith that Santa will scurry down the chimney and leave presents.

The idea that people have faith in proven scientific discovery and achievements does not indicate that science itself is based on faith. Science merely provides proven applications in which people often have faith based on their experiences with proven results.
Wow, so much to catch up on.

@Rick Lucke,

Thanks for stopping by. Your point, if understand it correctly, is that under any interpretation of the student's beliefs, religious or scientific, clamping down on Corbettt's response seems a pretty broad application of the establishment clause. Without endorsing Corbett's pedagogical method, an issue I've tried to stay away from, I would agree that the mere expression of disdain is hardly establishment, even in the negative sense. The standard of hostility, however, is a low bar.

@ mishima 666,

Exactly. The nature of the attachment of a person to a belief cannot be the rule whereby its religious nature is determined. That would be a pandora's box indeed.

@yekdeli, While we disagree on the validity of the verdict, I am with you on the importance of state agency in this matter. Allowing state dictation of belief systems is the royal road (literally in Henry the 8th's England) to tyranny.

@odetteroulette, I agree with you about the repackaging (and I think I agree with Mr. O'Rourke on this as well). Creationism is a repackaging of "God created." I just think the repackaging itself is incredibly important insofar as it attempts to arrogate to the authority of a faith-claim the authority of a truth or knowledge claim. And while the faith claim can and must be protected by the first amendment, lest religion come into peril from the state, the transformation to a knowledge claim cannot be protected by the establishment clause, lest every secular discourse be severely disadvantages, as bstrangely has it, by religion.

@Paul O'Rourke,

The sentiment immediately above is what I have been trying to express to you, and I'm sorry that I have synthesized only now when the question of creationism itself has ceased to matter in your eyes. I understand your position, that Corbett's words identify creationism with relgion and religion with nonsense, and I don't think it unreasonable or unintelligent, though I don't happen to agree with it. I am a big fan of baseball, but I hate when people get all misty-eyed and mystical about what is in the end a really good game. I have even said more than once that a Bart Giamatti, for example, should cut out the religious nonsense. My words were no slam on religion. I'm a big fan of religion as well. I just don't think baseball should be turned into one and when you do you have nonsense. I take Corbett, who was specifically addressing "creation science" (see his blog), top be making the same sort of assertion: a self-avowed science that proceeds on faith based premises constitutes religious nonsense. On that basis, no constitutional transgression is joined. But I can understand your dissent form this reading and I do thank you for taking the brief I set forth so seriously.

@phm, Obviously you and I are interested in very different aspects of this case, and in different aspects of St. Anselm. Which is fine.

@Monte Canfield,

Thanks so much Monte for dropping by. I never fail to be invigorated by particular take on the belief system we share. In this case,

"To me Christianity stands or falls on faith, and faith is not an empirically verifiable quantity. It is more closely linked to intuition, art, beauty and love than to anything quantifiable. It is quite literally, "belief in things unseen." And unless you have it chances are that it makes no sense."

I am totally with you here, which is why I would argue that creationism loses its status as religious discourse in refusing to rest satisfied with faith and in attempting to bootstrap its claims into the realm of the scientifically verifiable. From my standpoint not only makes for bad or psuedoscience, it vitiates what is special about religious faith.

Which brings me back to Rick Lucke, who totally nails the error in likening religious to scientific "faith." A poet once wrote,

Faith is trying to do without--
faith

I'll leave it to Rick and others to decide which faith is which in this poetic couplet, but either way they operate in entirely disparate ways.
Libertarius,

I understand your position also, and see it follows a logic as well. If the issue is Corbett being critical of religion, then the underlying issue-creationism, would have to be considered a religion.
Where I disagree has been stated.
If the decision is reversed on appeal, I may not agree, but I will accept, as that is part of my obligation, at least where my private and civic actions intersect.
I'm not religious, but I do have a bug in my butt over what I see as pointless criticism of religion. If it has no basis in the issue of religion becoming coercive in the civil sense, I don't think it is useful, except as a separate theological or academic argument. I avoid those.

But I must accept that the liberty of the religious, as defined by our contract, is the same as my own.

A great post/discussion. A real brain burner.
Hi, libertarius,

I think you read me correctly. My understanding about the concept of “hostility” in this context is that it is an especially vague concept that has never really been explained adequately. Additionally, that is not the issue raised by the First Amendment. The issue addressed in that amendment regards governmental “entanglement with religion”, passing of legislation, not individuals making statements of opinion.

“In Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971), the Supreme Court ruled that government may not ‘excessively entangle’ with religion.”

We hear elected officials constantly making statements about their religiosity and how it is their expressed opinion that religion should be involved in our governmental affairs. Why are they not brought before the courts and sued in this same manner as Corbett has been?
Interesting discussion, Libertarius, both in your post and the comments that follow. I did not read the posts that you are responding to here...would have probably exhausted my quota of OS time (not to mention brain cells) for the morning...but I think I have a general idea.

Since the teaching of creationism in public schools is permissible under the constitution ONLY if it is NOT considered to be the teaching of religion (a pretty dubious argument, if you ask me), it stands to reason that, as you and others have pointed out, the creationists cannot have it both ways. What if Mr. Peloza had called the teaching of evolution "scientific hocus-pocus" or some such thing? Obviously, he would be constitutionally free to do so. So why not the reverse?

As a personal aside, I attended a two-room Missouri Synod Lutheran school through eighth grade, where we were taught that the world was created 6,000 years ago in six days. State law mandated that an outside teacher come in once a week to teach us science, and we were warned ahead of time that we were going to hear some pretty crazy stuff. I still remember my classmates and I chortling over the Big Bang Theory. We'd been taught about Adam and Eve since earliest childhood, and they were nearly as real to us as flesh and blood people. I don't recall the precise point when I figured out that the Genesis story was a myth...you might say I simply evolved over time...

That said, like you and Monte, I believe there are mysteries to this life that are beyond scientific understanding.
The reason why scientists are quick to discount the similarities between scientific inquiry and religious inquiry is because they simply discount the evidence people of religious faith receive as proof of the truths revealed to them. That is of course their choice to do so, but understand that these truths are just as empirically evident to seekers of religious truth as any in science. To think otherwise is to misunderstand the fundamental nature of spiritual inquiry.

While the process of scientific research can be said to require skepticism and a healthy “lack of faith” in one’s theory or that one’s discovery reveals an “ultimate truth,” that is not the faith (or lack thereof) I am referring to. The required faith is in the scientific method itself. Scientists devote their lives to science not because they are interested in revealing relative truths or unimportant, insignificant truths, but because they feel their discovers contribute to some greater understanding. To claim otherwise is dishonest. So the question is do these discoveries really lead to the revealing of a meaningful, greater understanding or “ultimate truth,” however one chooses to define that term?

I would remind you that the “Higgs Boson” has not been termed “the god particle” due to its presumed insignificance, or that the theory of relativity was discounted because of it was just relative.
libertarius, thanks for posting this.

It's good to come back to this question after having a night to think things over, and to be honest I was talking it over with my 13-year-old. Nothing quite crystalizes a legal concept like explaining it to your 13-year-old.

If I were to appeal this court decision, I would argue that the statement "creationism is superstitious nonsense" does not ridicule religion. This is because "creationism" has not been put forth as a religion, it has been put forth as faux-science. The First Amendment of the United States Constitution does not insulate scientific concepts from public ridicule.

If the plaintiffs want to argue that "creationism" is religious, and therefore protected under the First Amendment? Great. Please do. I'd pay money to see this. Because, that would mean the school district would have to fire the creationist science teacher, too.
"My lack of belief in others' 'evidence' in spiritual inquiry has to do with one simple tenet. Reproducibility. If there is a casual relationship, then it should be reproducible when the cause it repeated. See how simple that is?"

That's why I said "[t]o think otherwise is to misunderstand the fundamental nature of spiritual inquiry." Spiritual inquiry is not reproducible in the sense you mean but to think that it should be is to misunderstand the nature of that inquiry.

That you are a true believer in science speaks to the fact you trust in that paradigm, and to be effective in that field obviously one must believe in it. What I'm referring to is what is outside that paradigm.

I'd refer you to "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" by T. Kuhn for further info.

"[T]here is a great deal of information that we will never have access to concerning our universe. "

Within the paradigm of Science I agree with you.
Geez, Lauren, not Laurel, from the Missouri Synod to Mootopia! You have traveled the ends of the cultural earth.
@ A. Rury:

Well Kuhn isn't meant to be useful to scientists but historians and philosophers.

In the same way it's important to be precise with terms in other disciplines so it’s the same when talking about religion, so when you say "spiritual inquiry ... is not based on reproducibility..., without going too far afield from this particular blog topic I would not agree with you. Reproducibility is exactly the way one's particular religious faith is strengthened. If you are talking specifically about reproducibility in the laboratory then I would be more in agreement, but then again that has to do as much with what one is looking for in that laboratory as anything else.

The same for the use of "empirical." If people's religious experiences aren't empirical to them then they are meaningless, empirical being "verifiable by observation or experience rather than theory or pure logic."

Science and religion don't "share" some aspect of faith, they are both equally based on faith. One perhaps doesn't fully appreciate this because within that paradigm (or world view, or realm) progress is so obvious. For example in science one is able to answer more questions more accurately than one’s predecessors, or solve problems previously unsolved. But that progress is made possible precisely because the very questions asked are deemed to be of value in the first place. Science is interested in answers the questions it sees as important and meaningful. But the other questions, the ones it doesn’t see as meaningful, are the very ones that call into question the value of the answers they reach.

Finally, it’s important to keep in mind that faith does not mean “lack of evidence.” It means the evidence sought by one inquiry is not the same as evidence that is being sought by the other.
Whew! What a fabulously thorough post! Your father would be proud. I haven't read through the comments yet. Started to but Aaron screwed me up right out of the box and I didn't want to forget my initial impressions.

First: That "disciplinary distinction" paragraph reminded me of the logic used in a pledge of allegiance case. Come to think of it, it wasn't used legally but I read it somewhere in reference to the Under God thing and it really resonated. It goes something like this: You can't have it both ways. Either "under God" is really important theologically to you and somehow bolsters people's faith, in which case it really doesn't belong as mandated--or even typical but not mandated--speech in a school classroom, or it's so watered down as to be a cultural reference that has zero religious significance. I think the point is that faithful, religious people actually had to give something up by fighting for the phrase to remain in the pledge. They had to acknowledge that it lacked any religious import whatsoever.

Which makes me ask you, libertarius: Do you feel that the whole idea behind religous belief in an ex nihilo creation is its mystery? That faith (ie, not empirical grounding) is its essence? That grounding it, containing it in some kind of knowledge-based realm is in complete contradiction to what it actually is?

Also--in the meta picture--Do you agree with the ruling that has us looking at whether the teacher was hostile to religion? I'd have to go back and look, but I think he had to be hostile to a particular religion rather than to religion in general, am I right? But I think I'm hearing you--and the Court--suggest that a teacher (as a representative of the government) can't be hostile to someone's religious beliefs. I completely understand your creationism distinction, so let's set that aside for a moment. What if the teacher had indeed indicated hostility to an actual religious belief, for example by saying it's ludicrous to think Jesus rose in three days. Although I agree (to some degree) with all those who jumped on Corbett's pedagogy, I struggle with the idea that this could be legally actionable. The words "hostile" and "religious" leave a lot of gray area, don't they? I'll say again that I don't think a teacher should be hostile toward or ridicule any belief of a student b/c it's bad practice, but what do you think of this as a legal standard?
OK, I'm only at PJO's comment, and it's driving me nuts that he thinks that you posited that the Constitution or any of our founding documents were based on Anselm! Did the man not read your post?! I assume you called him on it. I shall see in a minute.
Hi, phm,

You write, “While the process of scientific research can be said to require skepticism and a healthy “lack of faith” in one’s theory or that one’s discovery reveals an “ultimate truth,” that is not the faith (or lack thereof) I am referring to. The required faith is in the scientific method itself.”

While you like to present this as a valid distinction, it is not in the present context. What you are referring to as “faith” with regards to “the scientific method” is still the same kind of faith to which I have referred; it is not based on belief without proof, but rather belief as the result of proof. To attempt to equate this with religious faith is nonsensical.



You write, “Scientists devote their lives to science not because they are interested in revealing relative truths or unimportant, insignificant truths, but because they feel their discovers contribute to some greater understanding.”

Their discoveries frequently do contribute to a greater understanding, but sometimes that is not the goal; sometimes the goal is merely to solve a problem. Also, often the achievement of solving a problem is both, the result of an already established “greater understanding” that has come about via prior scientific endeavors, AND the contributor to still greater understanding. And again, none of this is equitable with religious faith on any level.


You also write, “So the question is do these discoveries really lead to the revealing of a meaningful, greater understanding or “ultimate truth,” however one chooses to define that term?”

That’s not “the question” at all. You’re attempting some sort of sleight of hand here, it seems.

You also state that faith does not mean “lack of evidence”. That is partially true; there is faith without evidence, and there is faith based on evidence. That is precisely one of the points I have made; scientific “faith” is based on evidence, while “religious faith” is not. Religious faith is, in fact, based on a belief that lacks evidence. Thus, to compare science to religion on the premise that both are based on “faith” is erroneous. To continue to pursue that comparison is absurd, dishonest, or ignorant.

Religion is a fabricated, imaginary explanation for “feelings” and is not based on anything evidentiary. The feelings may be real, but the explanation is not.
OK, I'm back. Whew again! Like someone said, this was a real brain burner. A few observations.
1. It's ironic that you and PJO have taken opposite sides on this, given that you're the acknowledged believer and he's not.
2. I see that you've already addressed my last point, which is that "hostile" is a low bar. I think Rick first brought it up, and you seem to agree. That's what I was getting at when I said something about its leaving things gray. But what about the word "religious" too? Couldn't someone pick at a teacher's mockery (again, a poor pedagogical style) of any belief as a "religious" one if one were inclined to give the teacher trouble?
3. Looks like Monte and you covered my middle point (3rd paragraph) about what faith is to you. That it can't really be contained, that by limiting it to something truth- or knowledge-based you're changing it by definition.
4. I'm wondering if PJO doesn't have something there when he points to the coordinate adjectives "religous" and "superstitious" as somehow conveying that Corbet was calling creationism religious and thereby demonstrating a hostility to religion. (Oh, by the way, I still wonder if this famous hostility that a teacher isn't allowed to show--if it applies to a particular religion or also to religion in general). I assume this is a direct quotation and that it was the single conviction against Corbet?

“I will not leave John Peloza alone to propagandize kids with this religious, superstitious nonsense.”

You say in your opening that Corbet called creationism "superstitious nonsense," and I trust that the context (which I didn't read closely in what Dana posted from the case) suggests his direct quotation followed some talk of creationism. But in looking at the sentence alone, it's clear that both "religious" and "superstitious" modify "nonsense." Now I'm thinking aloud so give me a moment.......OK, that they are coordinate adjectives certainly doesn't mean that they are synonymous. For example, I could say the tall, glamorous blond without meaning that tall and glamorous are the same thing. But can I say "religious nonsense" without automatically suggesting I think religion itself is nonsense? You give your baseball analogy, which is good, but let's put a different adjective/noun in there. How about American/America? Pretend I'm in France and I'm doing or saying something that prompts someone to say to me "Get out of here with your American nonsense." Is this person hostile to America? It seems like it to me. Help me out here. Is this a good analogy. I have to think it through some more.
phm writes: "The reason why scientists are quick to discount the similarities between scientific inquiry and religious inquiry is because they simply discount the evidence people of religious faith receive as proof of the truths revealed to them. That is of course their choice to do so, but understand that these truths are just as empirically evident to seekers of religious truth as any in science."

I'm not quite following you here. I don't think that anyone doubts that personal religious experiences are empirically evident to the people who have them. I suppose you could say that about any personal experience. (E.g., mentally ill people "hear" voices.)

But what is a scientist supposed to do with someone's personal religious experience? Let's say that a thousand people say that they experience Christ as the Second Person of the Trinity. Now what? What does the scientist "do" with that? What is the experiment that verifies that? What is the theoretical framework into which that experience fits?
Hey did you guys all read my post "Religion is Not a Science"? I mention there some of the same stuff you say here, Rick. But maybe you all did come to that post. I'm going back to check.
And by "Religion is Not a Science" I meant of course "Science is Not Religion." And I see none of you visited that post of mine, so you should check it out! I don't post too often, so it's not hard to find.
My case is made, but here's my opinion of the whole mess.
The parents in this case parked their kid in Corbett's class, at some point, to monitor him. I don't like this anymore than I do David Horowitz trying to attack college profs for "bias', or whatever the right wing fanatic's complaint du jour is. So, in legal terms, the parents are pricks.
Notice they threw a lot of Corbett quotes on the wall, hoping something would stick. Those arguments failed, and were absurd enough to include an insult to 'conservatives." I'd like to argue against that in court. My claim would be : How could a conservative know he's being insulted?"
The issue at hand aside, I'm betting that no matter what course Corbett is teaching, his students get this "lesson in critical thinking" that revolves around religion/state issues, or just religion-in-politics in general. His evangelism can have a place, but high school ain't that place.
So, in the end, a battle between two evangelicals, both showing signs of being insufferable pricks, and both itching for a fight.
The fact it made it to court is a shame, but it did, and Corbett did manage (no surprise, considering) to cross a line.
Mishima666: "Let's say that a thousand people say that they experience Christ as the Second Person of the Trinity. Now what? What does the scientist "do" with that? What is the experiment that verifies that? What is the theoretical framework into which that experience fits?"

A very good question that I think gets to the heart of the matter, and I don't think the scientist really can do anything with it. At least that's what someone like Stephen Gould would probably say in "Nonoverlapping Magisteria": "Gould later developed the term "Non-Overlapping Magisteria" (NOMA) to describe how, in his view, science and religion could not comment on each other's realm. "(source)

Very good point as well re. the nature of personal experience and people "hearing voices."

R. Lucke: "scientific “faith” is based on evidence, while “religious faith” is not."

Again, that is because you are willing to discount the evidence of religious faith.

Lainey: "Science is Not Religion." Well atheism is a religion, so I would think there's a very good chance that science is as well.
Okay, I'm following one of these detours...

Science and religion don't "share" some aspect of faith, they are both equally based on faith.

Can you point to any philosopher of science who makes this claim, phm? It's been a while since I've read Kuhn, but I don't think he goes that far. All I'm seeing here is this same assertion in different forms. I'll disagree. Maybe if there were a definition of faith in this discussion, one that distinguished faith from ordinary belief, it would be easier to discuss this point. Also evidence--I don't count someone else's personal revelation as evidence for anything; it's too hard to distinguish that from "believing whatever people tell me."
@ R. St. Amant:

I'm saying they are both equally based on faith if one "steps back" from within their respective paradigms. The faith is that the paradigm (the scientific method) is revealing "ultimate truths," and I've tried to point the claim that science isn't interested in ultimate truths is not accurate -- and depends on how one defines that term.

For the sake of discussion let's say that there is a “small-f” faith and “big-f” Faith.

One "faith" could be said to involve something like the belief that millions of dollars spent on the CERN accelerator will reveal worthwhile scientific data and possibly the discovery of the so-called “Higgs Boson” god particle. This is a kind of faith that exists within the paradigm of scientific investigation.

But this is not the kind of "faith" I'm talking about. I'm talking about Faith.

The "Faith" is that the discovery of something like the “Higgs Boson” particle, if found, actually is resulting in a meaningful understanding (or advancement) of our understanding of the Universe (or "ultimate truth," if you prefer).

A religious-based view would most likely say (in keeping with the original impetus of this very discussion) that such inquiry is nothing more than "superstitious nonsense."

To fully understand this requires an understanding of the concept of "God." God does not require the “Higgs Boson” particle in order to exist, as basic Anselmian logic would concur. And once found, the natural question is going to be "well, now that we've found the Higgs Boson, what is that made of? The answer to that question will no doubt require the construction of a particle accelerator circling earth's equator.

Science, like any religion, believes with a fundamentalist furor in the importance of its faith, but if you were to tell Plato (or maybe more accurately Democritus) that we'd one day be uncovering the hidden secrets of atoms by creating mile long contraptions and crashing atoms into one another he would probably think we were mad -- and not particularly wise.
Paul writes: "The fact it made it to court is a shame, but it did, and Corbett did manage (no surprise, considering) to cross a line."

But did he cross a legal line? I don't think so.

But there's something that bothers me about this situation, and I think that's summed up in the title of Corbett's post: "Teachers must challenge myths."

No, I don't believe that's the role of teachers. Teachers don't need to challenge myths. Teachers just need to educate.

Calling something "superstitious nonsense" is nothing more than a cheap way of avoiding the hard work of explaining what is science, and how science differs from religion.
Here's something interesting. From the OC Register a news story and local news video on Corbett. Looks like a nice guy.

http://www.ocregister.com/articles/corbett-religion-court-2387684-farnan-selna
Rob, et al

Regarding definitions; I think one of the problems in this discussion is that there is confusion between one individual's personal "spiritual experience" and "faith" in a religious doctrine, which is not the same thing.
After reading this, I have to admit Corbett isn't what I thought, at least as far as his attitude. For one, he's too old to have the intemperate nature younger people often display.
In this interview, he claims he wasn't talking about creationism, but how Peloza was teaching his biology class. Worth a look.

I bet he'd be an interesting person to talk to.

http://www.ocregister.com/articles/corbett-class-religion-2402308-people-kids
I wrote, Can you point to any philosopher of science who makes this claim, phm?

I take it the answer is No. To be clear, I'm not looking for some authority to believe; I'd just like to read an account in which statements like this,

Science and religion don't "share" some aspect of faith, they are both equally based on faith.

are justified at length, with all the obvious objections (and there are many obvious objections) taken care of.
"Can you point to any philosopher of science who makes this claim, phm? [that Science and religion ... are both equally based on faith. ]"

The closest I can come without looking further into it would be Kierkegaard, not specifically referencing science but by his examination of the nature of faith and that both atheism and theism are faiths, as one can neither prove the existence of God or His non-existence.
Thanks, phm; that sounds consistent with what I know of Kierkegaard (very little, as it happens, though).
From the article O'Rourke links:

"Corbett, who speaks his mind without reservation, says he's always eager to debate, clarify and defend. He waves both arms through the air when he's making an important point, and in class, he says he sometimes stands on a coffee table in the front of the room during lectures."

I'm not sure I really need to know much more than that.
Lainey,

Sorry to be so late getting back but the storms were so bad here last night I couldn't go on the computer.

Firstly, thanks for the kind words about the post.

Yes, I do believe the essence of religion lies in its absence of empirical demonstrability (which is not exactly the same thing as the absence of an empirical dimension, as phm would observe). My brief against creationism would involve a charge that in addition to being a bogus form of science, it does damage to religious thought. There is a difference in finding a reason for faith, the project of an Anselm or an Aquinas and trying to reduce faith to the operations of reason.

In this regard I think the analogy you draw to the Pledge case has relevance. but the process operates in reverse. The Pledge folks had to disavow the properly faith based element of "under God" in order to deny the state support of religion. The creationists have to disavow the scientific claims they've been making in order to garner faith based protection from state "hostility."

Rick Lucke makes the point, pretty effectively I think, that the "hostility" test, crafted to allow establishment sanctions a reverse efficacy (i. e. the state cannot institute a secular negation of religion anymore than it can affirm a particular religion), stretches the notion of establishment past the point of coherence if not recognition. But here is the irony, as my father would doubtless remark were he still with us. It is the religious conservatives who have over the last thirty years or so proclaimed their right to advance religious thought or practice in the public square so long as no as there was no promotion of particular sectarian or denominational principles. The liberal secularists have cried foul, arguing that no establishment should be understood, in modern times, o mean no advancement of the religious in general at the expense of the secular. The "hostility" test articulated by the Supreme Court actually takes the liberal secularists at their word, though from the other side of the ledger. The state needn't express disapproval of any single strain of religious expression or particular creed to violate the establishment clause, it need only take actions that seek to establish secularism to the disadvantage of religious belief in general.

Of course, the secular had in the post war years come to be understood as the default position of neutrality vis a vis competing religious creeds. This hostility standard tends to re-situate secular thought as one of the competitors for which a neutral space of adjudication is sought.
Lainey,

Picking up the thread of your commentary further on, I agree that your reading and that of PJO is a colorable one. The coordinated adjectives certainly allow and in a legal sense are liable to the charge of hostility. But I do think the adjective religious functions differently in such cases than the word American. I would liken it to adjectives like dramatic. Enough with this dramatic nonsense! When I say that, am I taking a shot at drama, the theater? No. The misappropriation of the dramatic from the stage to everyday life creates the "nonsense." I have surmised that in the context, which Corbett says was defined by the specific term"creation science," it was the smuggling of a metaphysical faith system into a scientific inquiry that constituted religious, superstitious nonsense, not religious thought itself. I didn't even understand the question of religious thought as such to be on the table.
Rick, phm, Rob, Aaron,

Is there any value in distinguishing religion and science not as discourses of faith and evidence respectively (though we will doubtless continue to do just that in the vernacular), but rather as discourses of material and metaphysical inquiry respectively, understanding that "faith" in the former is necessarily always provisional and contingent, subject to and altered by the next round of experimentation, and that "faith" in the latter ultimately subjects empirical evidence to itself, providing a frame of reference and interpretation within which experience is processed and understood. The key distinction on this reading would be in the point of explanatory regress. Science undertakes all of its projects under the operating assumption that the explanations it seeks can only be found in intra-worldy realities, which remain perpetually available to re-experimentation. Religion undertakes all of its observances under the assumption that the presiding frame or force of explanation resides in transcendent realities, which remain perpetually unavailable to experimentation. Our readiness to abandon scientific findings for new and better ones means that such findings are never the object of faith, in any robust sense, whatever faith may be required in the course of their production. Our readiness to reinterpret our experience, on an ongoing basis, to make it conform with the transcendent realities we posit as religious people, means that our beliefs can never be a matter of rational knowledge, however rigorous their logical or philosophical defense, whether in an Anselm or an Aquinas.
I find your writing on this topic very worthwhile, libertarius, though I don't understand it all. In what I can follow, I've been exposed to some distinctions I hadn't realized were there before you pointed them out. So I'm happy you're doing this.
I concur, rated for importance not necessarily for immediate "digestability".
phm writes: "The required faith is in the scientific method itself. Scientists devote their lives to science not because they are interested in revealing relative truths or unimportant, insignificant truths, but because they feel their discovers contribute to some greater understanding. To claim otherwise is dishonest. So the question is do these discoveries really lead to the revealing of a meaningful, greater understanding or “ultimate truth,” however one chooses to define that term?"

I think you're using "faith" in an unusual way here. Here's an example of what I mean.

I believe in the existence of a physical world outside of my own mind -- that there really are dogs, automobiles, pencils, persons, and trees, that these things are not merely products of my mind, and that they would continue to exist even if I did not. But there's no way to prove any of that, and if asked to do so by a skeptic, I couldn't.

In that sense, one might call that a kind of "faith" on my part. But it's not faith in the traditional sense. Rather, it's a basic belief, a kind of axiom, so to speak, that makes other beliefs possible, and that gets the entire project of living off the ground.

Likewise with science and the scientific method. Scientists don't have "faith" in the scientific method. Rather, the scientific method is what makes science possible. Without the scientific method there is no science, and nothing for scientists to do.

Also, I think many philosophers of science would reject the idea that science produces any kind of ultimate or absolute truth. This idea is typically called "scientific realism," and I don't think it's very popular today in philosophical circles.

Take, for example, Bas Van Frassen's "constructive empiricism," in which he holds that scientists need not believe in the real existence of unobservable entities postulated by scientific theories, only that the theory and its unobservable entities are adequate to explain the data. In that view a scientific theory is not a literal picture of reality, but only a model, always tentative and subject to revision.
Libertarius,

You write:
**The coordinated adjectives certainly allow and in a legal sense are liable to the charge of hostility. But I do think the adjective religious functions differently in such cases than the word American. I would liken it to adjectives like dramatic. Enough with this dramatic nonsense!**

As an adjective, in the context of Corbett's statement, religious essentially refers to religion. Retreating to an argument that applies the word in the same way one might say "I eat M&Ms religiously." takes it out of the realm of 'reasonable' in light of the overall context. Superstitious and nonsense don't relate to something that tangible.

But the real issue cannot be, in this setting, what philosophical argument might be created to mitigate Corbett's statement, because of this standard: (From the ruling)

**FN11. In Brown, the Ninth Circuit considered the “vulnerable nature” of elementary school children, finding that the appropriate test was “whether an objective observer in the position of an elementary school student would perceive a message of ... disapproval of Christianity.” **

So, can an argument that probes the depths of philosophy and intricacies of the establishment clause to arrive at a mitigation apply in this situation?
That a 14-15 year old student might not interpret it that way is no shocker.

You write:
**It is the religious conservatives who have over the last thirty years or so proclaimed their right to advance religious thought or practice in the public square so long as no as there was no promotion of particular sectarian or denominational principles.**

I relate to this statement of yours, as it is one reason I dislike pointless criticism of religion. Those religious conservatives cannot be brought around to the true American way if 'our" efforts resemble theirs, in terms of "We'll force this on you by sheer numbers, and for reasons not factually based on the Constitution."

I was in the middle of writing a post on this subject in general, prompted by the gay marriage question, when I jumped into this discussion. Now I think I'll make the post a bit more expansive, even if it's designed to be commonly understood. History simplified, for mass consumption.
Aaron,

Thank you for that last, most helpful comment. I know that I don't know enough about science to be making sweeping pronouncements, which is precisely why I began my last commnet with the question, is this distinction of any value. I see from your response that it is of value and that the value it comprises is limited. That is to say, it is of some value for speculative purposes to draw a physical-metaphysical distinction concerning science and religion but it would not be valuable, indeed it would be harmful, to sustain such a distinction beyond the initial stage of deliberation. I really liked your description of how the physical and the metaphysical might be seen to inform or inflect one another in different scientific investigations.
I do know enough, however, to be aware that measurement in quantum physics poses a real, perhaps insuperable challenge to the distinction I was elaborating. I meant to end my comment with the question, does the development of quantum physics, for example, trouble the physical-metaphysical fatally. But with extraneous interruption, it took me awhile to finish and by the time I had, I had forgotten this last query. I would have couched in terms of the histroy of science. Was there a time in the variegated develpment of the scientific knowledge and method when our approach to intra-wordly realities allowed a cordoning off of the metaphysical as outside the scientific purview? Have the advances in theoretical physics rendered such a sequestering impossible? That's how I shopuld have posed the question, and I would still like to hear your take on whether scientific progress has served to implicate the metaphysical in a way that say Bacon could not have allowed.
libertarius,

I knew I should have jumped into this discussion before theoretical physics came into play! this is a fantastic discussion, one of the best I've read on OS...but to backtrack a little.

I appreciate the distinction between creationism and religion. If there were a survey taken of religious people in this country, even christian people, I wonder the percentage who would be believers in creationism as a scientific theory. Most of the religious people I know, like you, see no contradiction between their religious belief and scientific principles and even evolutio as theory. They do not "need" to prove that the world was literally created in 7 days (or the accompanying young earth proposition) in order to add anything to their practice of religion or belief in God. I feel a sort of false and often damaging religion v. science debate has been set up in this country over the past several decades, and there are many people to blame, but it doesn't need to be that way automatically at least.

But to use a different analogy--I love your use of Anselm, but this is still a Christian analogy and I think that Christianity in this country has become almost too loaded politically to be much use as an illustration. So what about using another theory based on a religious belief, the practice (and theory) of female circumcision? If all beliefs or theories stemming from religous beliefs are also off limits under the establishment clause, then calling female circumcision "superstitious nonsense" would also be something that a teacher could get sued over.

Creationism, in terms of its specific way of looking at the earth as being much, much younger than fossil evidence suggests, is "nonsense" as a scientific theory--according to 99% of the scientific community. For a teacher to point this out, however impolitic his word choice might or might not have been, cannot be something that he is not permitted to do. I was raised in a religious community, and within this community creationism was known to be a theory that the scientific community found absurd. This is the way it is with the theory of creationism. Proponents of this theory need to be aware, and even as high school students should be aware, at how their belief is looked at in terms of the scientific community.

I will try to think of more examples, but I think that even creationists, if they were going to open the door to all theories based on religion being afforded the same protections of religion itself could run into problems.

(and yes, I realize that female circumcision is more a practice than a theory, but say if the theory of female purity, which female circumcision was designed to advance, were being pushed forward as a fully legitimate scientific theory that could not be ridiculed in any classroom, because this belief also carried the fulll protections of religion...this could be problematic....
Hi libertarius,

Thanks for the response to my comment. I'm going to continue reading here as it looks like you've all gone on to even more scintillating heights of distinction. I'm always impressed with your vocabulary as you seem to choose the precise words which you mean to say. If you think that's somehow obvious or expected, it's not at all the case for most people. I tend to be a bit circuitous, myself, coming around to what I mean. Anyway, I always need a little time to digest your thoughts as they tend to be on somewhat of a higher plane than my ordinary thinking. (You know how tennis players only want to play with people whose skills are equivalent or better, to improve their own game? Similarly, you are that most excellent thinker whom I like to hang around. You improve my thinking :)
Mishima writes:”I think you're using "faith" in an unusual way....[For example] I believe in the existence of a physical world outside of my own mind...[b]ut there's no way to prove...that,...[so i]n that sense, one might call that a kind of "faith" on my part. But it's not faith in the traditional sense.”

That’s why I tried to distinguish between small f “faith” and big F “Faith.” What you seem to be saying is that we all must have a kind of faith in our abilities to perceive in order to live in the world and of course I agree with you. But again, this is not the type of faith I am referring to.

I am specifically speaking about the Faith which involves the larger question of theism/atheism/agnosticism.

I agree that scientists don’t have “faith” specifically in the scientific method, but rather -- even if they don’t recognize it -- are acting in a way of Faith that the scientific method itself is revealing meaningful truths. I understand the word “truth” is a problem which is why I’m willing to substitute some other word or term. (As you say, ”I think many philosophers of science would reject the idea that science produces any kind of ultimate or absolute truth.”) Fine. To me this is a matter of semantics. One could use the term “meaningful truths,” or “highly likely truths,” or just “important discoveries.” That’s really beside the point. The point is that whatever it is that science is revealing, even if it turns out to be that an Easter Egg is at the center of the universe, controlling everything, this and any other scientific discovery will always exist on the fundamental foundation of aith because whatever is it that is discovered, God, by any logical definition, could always have made it otherwise.

To further illustrate what I mean you need only read a statement like this from A. Rury (bold mine): ”the fact that the earth is several billion years old....” You see, within the paradigm of science it may be an accepted fact (or “truth”) that the earth is a billion years old. But this is in actual fact making a false god out of time. In a God centered universe, God (again by definition) is not a slave to a ticking clock but exists beyond space and time -- even beyond whatever concepts we have of the Universe because God created those concepts but was not created by them.

[Reposted due to correct formatting error. Please disregard previous.]

Mishima writes:”I think you're using "faith" in an unusual way....[For example] I believe in the existence of a physical world outside of my own mind...[b]ut there's no way to prove...that,...[so i]n that sense, one might call that a kind of "faith" on my part. But it's not faith in the traditional sense.”

That’s why I tried to distinguish between small f “faith” and big F “Faith.” What you seem to be saying is that we all must have a kind of faith in our abilities to perceive in order to live in the world and of course I agree with you. But again, this is not the type of faith I am referring to.

I am specifically speaking about the Faith which involves the larger question of theism/atheism/agnosticism.

I agree that scientists don’t have “faith” specifically in the scientific method, but rather -- even if they don’t recognize it -- are acting in a way of Faith that the scientific method itself is revealing meaningful truths. I understand the word “truth” is a problem which is why I’m willing to substitute some other word or term. (As you say, ”I think many philosophers of science would reject the idea that science produces any kind of ultimate or absolute truth.”) Fine. To me this is a matter of semantics. One could use the term “meaningful truths,” or “highly likely truths,” or just “important discoveries.” That’s really beside the point. The point is that whatever it is that science is revealing, even if it turns out to be that an Easter Egg is at the center of the universe, controlling everything, this and any other scientific discovery will always exist on the fundamental foundation of aith because whatever is it that is discovered, God, by any logical definition, could always have made it otherwise.

To further illustrate what I mean you need only read a statement like this from A. Rury (bold mine): ”the fact that the earth is several billion years old....” You see, within the paradigm of science it may be an accepted fact (or “truth”) that the earth is a billion years old. But this is in actual fact making a false god out of time. In a God centered universe, God (again by definition) is not a slave to a ticking clock but exists beyond space and time -- even beyond whatever concepts we have of the Universe because God created those concepts but was not created by them.
phm,

the problem with your argument though is that I don't believe the establishment clause was created to defend the basis or the theory of religious belief. The establishment clause has to do with the practice of religion as a religion, and not the practice of relgion as a science.

Science has it's own emirical rules for how "facts" are established. If you want to argue that all facts are based on faith (is this what you're arguing) and that all religions (you can't discriminate against any) are on an equal par with science, you are arguing for something beyond what is established in the constitution.

On a certain level, I understand the anarchy of ideas and the idea that all facts (via Kierkegaard) come out of belief, but in practice, would you be willing to allow that all religuous belief ALL religious belief have equal protections as beliefs under the law to be not called "ridiculous nonsense" in a classroom of ideas?...even if I started a religion that involved wearing a pair of panties on my head and throwing rocks at cars? Could you not say that my religious beliefs, were, at that point, "superstitious nonsense"? (I would hope that you could, to be honest =).

Classrooms, or some at least, are based around the freedom to poke holes in ideas that don't hold water empirically. This isn't the same thing as persecuting or ridiculing someone for being a person of faith per se.

p.s. scientists/writers like Paul Davies have no problem using the scientific method (that there is order in the universe that we can find) to even establish a possible reason to believe in God. There doesn't have to be an antagonism between faith and science; I think a lot of this antagonism tends to be political rather than religious in nature.
phm,

I apologize for all of the spelling mistakes of that last post. Please, if you can, disregard them!
You see, within the paradigm of science it may be an accepted fact (or “truth”) that the earth is a billion years old. But this is in actual fact making a false god out of time.

This is gibberish, phm. The age of the earth can be determined by a set of inferences based on a set of observations. (The Earth is about 4.5 billion years old, by the way.) These inferences have built-in assumptions that can be made as explicit as we like, and there's no qualitative difference from the inferences we carry out in everyday life. If you were to figure out how old your grandparents were at the time of some historical event, would you "in actual fact" be making a false god out of time? I don't think so.
even if I started a religion that involved wearing a pair of panties on my head and throwing rocks at cars?

Well, I must say that was worth the price of admission right there =) and reason enough for libertarius to consider this post a rousing success!
R. Amant asks: "If you were to figure out how old your grandparents were at the time of some historical event, would you "in actual fact" be making a false god out of time? I don't think so."

I think the best way to understand what I am getting at is by way of analogy. Temporal beings living in a temporal world, as we are, means that time seems like an absolute. After all, forget about grandparents or planets, it’s obvious you are reading this word before you have read this one.

So it’s easier to forget time for a moment and consider instead space which is less an abstract concept to us and easier to consider (and why we can conjure things such as four dimensional space which are three dimensional beings).

If I were to ask you which was is up and which is down, you’d probably have no problem answering that, at least where you are now. But as you move further away from space you are familiar with that question becomes more difficult to answer. What if you are floating somewhere in outer space? Is up where your head is pointing or is there some other determinate?

In other words, it’s not that the concepts of up or down no longer exist -- it’s that they no longer have any real, absolute meaning.

It’s the same with time, even though it’s much harder for us to consider it. It’s not that time doesn’t exist, it’s that it is really meaningless when one realizes that it can not be, logically, the greatest power in the universe.
Edit:
(and why we can conjure things such as four dimensional space when we are three dimensional beings).
dolores,

you raise excellent points -- I just don't feel at all qualified to comment on any of the legal issues. The best I can offer is my personal feeling that using a high school class to further the teacher's own personal beliefs is not to me what good teaching at that level is all about.

By your post and your comments you have already demonstrated that you would be a much better and more interesting teacher in such a class than Corbett because you are show an ability to consider points of view other than your own.
By way of responding to PJO and Dolores,

I'd like to consider in conjunction the salient points each makes (no, not the panty-crowned rock thrower, as provocative as that image is).

"In Brown, the Ninth Circuit considered the “vulnerable nature” of elementary school children, finding that the appropriate test was “whether an objective observer in the position of an elementary school student would perceive a message of ... disapproval of Christianity.” **

"and yes, I realize that female circumcision is more a practice than a theory, but say if the theory of female purity, which female circumcision was designed to advance, were being pushed forward as a fully legitimate scientific theory that could not be ridiculed in any classroom, because this belief also carried the fulll protections of religion...this could be problematic...."

Paul suggests that the courts have employed a reasonable child standard for interpreting remarks of the sort Corbett uttered, and since students are indeed his target audience, that standard strikes me as entirely reasonable. And I will concede for purposes of discussion that the prima facia meaning of Corbett's words can be seen as hostile not only to the scientific claims of the religious discourse of creationism but to any religion that would promulgate such a speciously scientific claim.

At what point then--and it is a difficult question--does a religious belief lose the protection against "hostility" on the grounds that it violates the parameters of acceptable speech that a society has erected over time for its own protection and that of its citizens.
Dolores brings up the question of female circumcision. Placed in the language of belief, female circumcision implies that the state of female purity is so sacred, so precarious, so threatened by female sexuality itself, and so in need of male superintendence that physical mutilation is an appropriate and indeed a necessary means for safeguarding it. If a student advances such a position in a public school classroom, is the teacher prevented from expressing disapproval or even hostility to such a sentiment. What about religiously sanctioned hate speech, such as that of posse comitatus, to the effect that certain races or ethncities are inferior or even damned. If such speech is couched in religious rhetoric, is it protected from pedagogical hostility in our public schools?

Allow me to anticipate a possible rejoinder. The teacher might reproach such sentiments in the strongest possible terms but s/he must not express hostility to religion per se in doing so. (Much as Corbett could have denounced creationism so long as he didn't imply the "religious" was "nonsense.")
But a significant paradox follows. The establishment clause was meant in the first instance to indemnify against government promotion or disparagement of particular sects or denominations, to prevent the state from favoring one form of religious expression, one "church," over another. The anxiety of (dis) establishing religious thought as a whole came much later. But the rejoinder I have anticipated would in fact allow hostility toward, a disestablishment of, specific religious beliefs that we find noxious, so long as the disapproval expressed did not affect religion generally. The establishment clause would thus be turned on its head.
Libertarius,
Your question-

At what point then--and it is a difficult question--does a religious belief lose the protection against "hostility" on the grounds that it violates the parameters of acceptable speech that a society has erected over time for its own protection and that of its citizens.

This seems to be answered with "reasonable standard", and that can be a difficult question. Tracking the shifting meaning of the establishment clause based on ruling and precedent is more complex than understanding the original intent, at least how Madison and Jefferson would have had it.
Madison presented it to committee as:

“The civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be established, nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience be in any manner, or on any pretence, infringed.”

In that, the liberal philosophy that influenced the Constitution is more evident.
It's about the separation of church and state in the ways you mention, but it's also about tolerance between the different religions. It's also very much about laws being created on a foundation of reason independent of religion - "or on any pretence, infringed."
What the philosophers dreamed up, the politicians had to, to some degree, tippy-toe around to turn into consensus.
Madison's version satisfies the philosophy much more implicitly than what became the establishment clause after the House version, the Senate version, then the conference committee of the two that ended up with:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

I think the "no law respecting an establishment" ambiguity, whether intentional or otherwise, is what leads to the differing interpretations that give us the Lemmon Test, the Coercion Test, and others. Too late to look 'em up.

As to your last scenario, I would point to simple politics. If the belief is bizarre to a "reasonable observer", then I would expect that to weight heavily. To become a case, somebody has to complain.as it would have to potentially infringe on a person/people's rights in order to become an action that would be litigated.
I'm sure there's a case somewhere that would illustrate that, but I don't know about it.
That's my assessment of the issue, so, pure opinion.
A further paradox emerges, I think., around the issue of state disapproval. If we rely, as perhaps we must, on various forms of social consensus, such as those which crystallized in any standard of the reasonable, that will inevitably mean that more popular or accepted forms of religious expression will enjoy robust protection from state hostility, while what we might call fringe forms will enjoy only attenuated protection and perhaps none at all. This disproportion will mean that certain religious beliefs are "established" in their immunity to state sponsored ridicule or denunciation by comparison to other religious beliefs. Approved religions cannot be mocked by state agents; less or disapproved strains can. And the establishment clause serves a purpose opposed to its stated intent. No?