Sunday, May 04, 2008


Decisions, Decisions ...

There has been some concern expressed that the recent decision (pdf file) in Sklar v. Clough will support the Nondiscovery Institute's claim that merely stating that some religions have accepted evolution is an unconstitutional preference of one religious denomination over others.

The situation in Sklar involved a program set up by Georgia Tech to provide support for and tolerance of homosexual students. For many complex reasons, not relevant to the DI's claim, the Georgia Tech program was deemed to be action by the state. The program included a "handout" that discussed various responses to the theological positions of some sects that homosexuality is a sin and an abomination. The handout was found to constitute an unconstitutional endorsement of some denominations over others.

The heart of the decision, as far as it concerns the DI's claim, is the following (from p. 34 with citations omitted):

The handouts on Religion and Homosexuality: Some Facts to Ponder, clearly take the position that churches that condemn homosexuality do so on theologically flawed grounds. For example, the handout states: "Much to the embarrassment of the Vatican, the Catholic theologian Boswell has uncovered proof that, up until the fourteenth century, the church was routinely performing wedding ceremonies for same-sex couples." One of the questions listed under "What does the Bible Say about Homosexuality" contains the question: "Many Fundamentalists suggest that women should remain in the home, submitting to their husbands. Does the Bible especially condemn lesbianism?" And "Some TV Evangelists act as if homosexuality among men were the worst sin. What Biblical texts do they base this on? Is their approach legitimate? The supposedly sweeping Biblical condemnation of homosexuality rests almost exclusively on only eight (brief) passages in the Bible."

As further evidence of criticism of certain religious beliefs, the training manual states, "Many religious traditions have taught, and some continue to teach, that homosexuality is immoral. These condemnations are based primarily on a few isolated passages from the Bible. Historically, Biblical passages taken out of context have been used to justify such things as slavery, the inferior status of women, and the persecution of religious minorities."

Contrast that with the language in the "Briefing Packet for Educators" (pdf file), from the PBS program Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial, that the DI alleges is unconstitutional:

Q: Can you accept evolution and still believe in religion?

A: Yes. The common view that evolution is inherently antireligious is simply false. All that evolution tells us is that life on this planet could have arisen by natural processes. For many people of various faiths, showing that something is due to a natural process doesn't take it outside the realm of the divine. Religious thinkers across the ages have written that merely showing that something is natural puts it within the influence of God, the creator of all nature. By definition science cannot address supernatural causes because its methodology is confined to the natural world. Therefore science has nothing to say about the nature of God or about people's spiritual beliefs. This does not mean science is antireligious; rather, it means science simply cannot engage in this level of explanation.
Here there is no contentious discussion of any particular denomination's theology. Instead, there is only an exposition of the indubitable fact that some theologies accept evolution. This is merely presenting facts, not disputing theology.

This decision in no way supports the DI's contention ... though they will probably claim it does. But we know their record for truthfulness, don't we?

I have to say, the language in the "Briefing Packet" does not sound neutral -- so if neutrality is the aim, then it's a bit short of the mark.

I would regard as neutral something more like this:

"It is a matter of intense and active debate whether or not modern evolutionary theory is inherently antireligious. There are some scientists and some theologians who argue that it is; there are many other scientists and theologians who argue that it is not. There are scientists who are people of deep and committed faith, just as there are scientists who are atheists. There are theologians and clergy who accept modern evolutionary theory as the currently best explanation of the history of life, and there are others who do not. However, many scientists, theologians, and philosophers hold that since science is restricted to the natural world, religious claims can be neither confirmed nor refuted by scientific methods."

Is that better?
Any statement can be "improved" (if that is what yours has done) but that is not the standard. If you want to discuss what about the original wasn't neutral ...
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