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,
- God exists in our understanding. This means that the concept of God resides as an idea in our minds.
- God is a possible being, and might exist in reality. He is possible because the concept of God does not bear internal contradictions.
- 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.
- Suppose (theoretically) that God only exists in our understanding and not in reality.
- If this were true, then it would be possible for God to be greater then he is (follows from premise #3).
- This would mean that God is a being in which a greater is possible.
- 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.
- Thus it follows that it is false for God to only exist in our understanding.
- 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.