Monday, August 10, 2009

The Absurdity of Government Religious Neutrality

In my recent series of posts on the Des Moines atheist sign issue, a member of the studio audience wrote to say,

An agent of the state should keep their damn mouth shut on any matter that veers close to religion…[B]efore you scream about my post limiting the Governor's [Freedom of Speech], he's a public figure in a role where anything he says is going to be taken as a view of the state. When a politician is asked any question that concerns religion, the only answer they should be able to give is "No Comment".

This is quite impossible.

This means that a governor cannot make any statement on gay marriage, even in a state where gay marriage is legal, because it veers close to religion.

What is this public official supposed to say about blood transfusions? If he says anything about blood transfusions being acceptable then he is making a statement that “veers close to religion” – in light of the fact that there are religions that object to blood transfusions.

He would have to give an answer to 'no comment' on just about any matter of morality or what the government ought to do based on the fact that a great many people hold that morality is intimately tied to the wishes of a God.

Even being an advocate of freedom of speech is a position that 'veers close to religion', since some religions call for the punishment, even the execution, of anybody who denies the 'truths' of that religion. A religiously neutral politician would have to answer 'no comment' to the question of whether such people should, in fact, be executed.

This is a policy that would ban any teacher from giving an answer other than “no comment” when it comes to any aspect of human history that is also discussed in some religious text somewhere, effectively banning history courses as well as any science course that mentions any event more than 6,000 years in the past.

One of the absurdities we get from a lot of atheists is the irrational claim that if we can find a religious person somewhere who believes in God and accepts evolution, that teaching evolution in the public schools is neutral with respect to religion. It is a classic example of one of the favorite fallacies of atheists, the unjustified leap from a premise that is true of "a religion" (or "a religious person") to conclusions about "religion" or "theists".

The fact of the matter is that there are some sets of religious beliefs that are compatible with evolution, and there are some sets of religious beliefs that are not. When the government teaches evolution in a public school it is necessarily favoring those religious compatible with the theory of evolution.

Of course, one of the sets of beliefs compatible with evolution is the set that says that there probably is not a God.

Those who adhere to religious doctrines that are not compatible with evolution recognize this fact. They recognize this, they point it out to their followers, and it is so obviously true that one has to be in a state of absolute denial to fail to recognize that fact.

And we are the ones who simply cannot see a truth so obvious that only the most despirate willful blindness can get in the way of seeing it.

Teaching evolution in the public schools is a government act that favors those religions that are compatible with evolution over those that do not. Can anything be so obviously true? Is it not the most blatant act of willful ignorance to deny this?It tells them something of our character that we (and, of course, I use the term loosely to refer to a substantial majority of those on this side of the debate) so blatantly deny what is so obvious.

To maintain this absurdity we perform a piece of mental gymnastics as twisted and convoluted as any that we see on in any religion. We base the claim that the teaching of evolution is neutral with respect to religion by pointing out that there are some people who are religious also accept evolution, then make the wholly unwarranted leap of logic (a favorite among irrational atheists) that what is true of a specific set of religious beliefs is true of religion.

The fact that there are religions compatible with evolution does not even begin to touch the fact that teaching evolution in public schools favors religions compatible with evolution over those that are not, and does so using government money and before a captive audience of children whose parents may not subscribe to those beliefs.

The idea that we can have education policy in specific, or public policy in general, that is religiously neutral is absurd. It is one of those things that cannot happen in the real world and is not something to be argued for. Politicians have to take sides on several matters of religion. In fact, they must do so any time they make a statement where at least one religion somewhere holds that the statement is false. Which applies to almost any statement a public official can make.

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