Irrelevant by Association
It occurs to me, while reading through the comments to last week’s post on religion and evolution, that a bit of common, subconscious legerdemain infects those making the secularist argument. By way of context, here is my lone statement of intentions with respect to my own voting intentions:
I’ll vote every time for children to have at least the sense that such a reality is plausible, and I submit that a society that insists that children receive only the cold, hard lessons of the skeptics would be doomed.
That statement bears on my own community. Elsewhere, I hold that, down to the community level, regions ought to have a wide degree of latitude to shape the education that their children receive. Yes, the United States needs well educated scientists, but who am I, as an overeducated New England carpenter to judge for a town in rural Mississippi that the utility of scientific knowledge outweighs the utility of religious faith — even if we exclude spiritual well-being from the judgment. A person who believes that there is no child in the country who would not be better served by an accurate, if rudimentary, understanding of evolution than by an affirmation of some particular religious worldview is a prima facie zealot and, unless claiming to know every American child, ought to cede stronger authority to those closer to them.
Beyond those civic principles, my writing on this topic presents merely my own view of God, offered with the intention of honestly conveying the personal intellectual foundations on which I construct my specific policy suggestions and illustrating what I feel to be at stake. I’m not, in other words, presenting Bible passages to be included in public policy or in classroom instruction.
Unfortunately, discussion of religion has worn deep ruts into our society’s intellectual habits. For example, the statement is commonly made (often with strains of condescension) that humanity has manifold understandings of God, creating a necessity to exclude Him from public discourse. It is inappropriate — the case in point argument goes — to mention God in the context of evolution because various religions have offered various competitive explanations for the development of the universe, which, being of a religious nature, are beyond our ability to judge.
This is a clear non sequitur — one directly related to a process whereby many people wrongly conclude that God does not exist. Having once labeled something as “religion,” which requires some degree of faith, the person asserts the assumption that all such thinking must be wholly based on relativistic “myths” and therefore tainted by indecipherable criteria. One needn’t possess much faculty for reason to spot the faith-based taint in such a conclusion: namely, the underlying belief that there is no God and, therefore, no more or less accurate understanding of Him.
Ported to discussion of public school curricula, it can seem as if the secularists are arguing that government schools cannot suggest the compatibility of God with evolution for the reason that some religions are clearly not compatible with it, thus triggering a violation of church/state separation. The consequence becomes that the lessons develop a decidedly atheistic tone, given the impression that no theology can account for the mechanical process. It becomes science versus religion because we lack the cultural confidence to stand our religious traditions beside our scientific accomplishments.
The only constitutionally reasonable way to address this sort of conundrum is to allow maximum freedom across the nation. As may be inferred from my willingness to make suggestions about societal doom, I’m of the opinion that a society that allows intellectual progress fully in a reciprocal relationship with theological development is most likely to prove successful in every way about which we should be concerned. Allow people to hone their local societies according to their beliefs and some will thrive while others languish, providing valuable lessons for our broader collective as we move forward.