I really ought to check my e-mail more frequently. Blogger Blue Gal has been hosting a blogswarm against theocracy for the past few days, and I almost missed it. If you are a blogger, you can find out how to participate here.
What to say? Recent years have seen a powerful effort by members of the Religious Right to erase the line between church and state at all levels of government. We have also seen certain politicians use religion as a tool to manipulate voters. Both of these movements are very troubling.
While I will defend until death the right of all Americans to hold those religious beliefs that they may choose, I would remind them that the right to hold those religious beliefs is rather related to the right to swing your fist — it ends at my nose. Believe whatever you want, believe in God, or Jesus, or Allah, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster if you prefer (I’m actually rather fond of the Pastafarians), but don’t try to force your beliefs down my throat.
And I know there are those who try to assert that science is a form of religion, and that if you are going to teach scientific theories like evolution in schools, you ought to teach other theories, like creationism — sorry, intelligent design — alongside it. I reject that argument. Scientists talk about theories and the scientific evidence supporting those theories as such because they recognize that further evidence may be discovered at a future date that forces a revision of those theories. What is taught as science is always our current understanding based on the best evidence currently available. Nothing more, and nothing less.
Thus calling evolution a theory is not an admission that there is no evidence to support it (there is, in fact, a wealth of such evidence, and we know for a fact that evolution and natural selection take place in modern times because we have documented evidence of the process occurring — that is what Darwin was writing about, after all, when he was in the Galapagos studying finches), but merely a recognition that at some point there may be a scientific discovery that forces us to reconsider and revise the theory of evolution in some respects. In other words, scientists (unlike many religious leaders) try to remain open to the possibility that they may be wrong about things.
Creationism or intelligent design, in contrast, is merely looking at everything and saying, gee, it’s all really detailed and complicated, therefore there must be some designer or intelligence behind it, which is god — and is thus a way of introducing religion into classrooms.
Now, there may very well be some intelligence at work in the universe, in the way that physics and genetics and evolution and other similar forces work. That intelligence could even be the god that various religions speak of. There is certainly plenty of room at the edges of what we know about science and astrophysics for such a god. Or it could be the Flying Spaghetti Monster. The point is, that whatever it is that is out there beyond the edge of scientific knowledge is, by definition, not science, and it should thus not be taught as science in our public schools. It is something more properly belonging in the realm of faith, until such time as proof becomes available, and thus best left for individuals to seek in houses of worship, not in public schools.
But enough of my intelligent design rant. On this, the anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, I would call on all Americans to remember that many of our founding fathers came to this country to escape religious oppression in their countries of origin. In the years since our country’s founding, many others have come here for the same reason — my own family tree is riddled with such individuals. But the only way to ensure that America remains a land where people can escape the horrors of religious intolerance as our forefathers intended is by ensuring that we maintain some separation between church and state.
That is what the framers intended by the First Amendment to our Constitution: that America would remain a place where the government neither interfered with the free practice of religion (including the right to practice no religion), nor became the instrument of any religion or religious organization.
And although it has nothing to do with the rest of this post, and despite the fact that I have already said it twice today in this blog, I really think that Bush and Cheney ought to be impeached.