Tuesday, December 28, 2010
In Support of Public Schools Teaching Intelligent Design and Other Nonsense II
Baruch Pelta has responded to my earlier post. I think it is important to note that he is unwilling to openly come out and support the legitimacy of public schools; essentially he is "agnostic" in regards to this issue. He does raise two arguments. One, allowing the teaching of creationism and intelligent design would violate the separation of Church and State. Two, it is possible to make a distinction between religion and other ideas as demonstrated by the fact that we have a separation of Church and State. Finally Baruch asks that I define what I mean by "liberty."
If we are going to have public schools, I do not object to these schools teaching children, as a historical fact, that Jesus is their Savior as long as this directive does not come from the government itself and no public funds are specifically earmarked for this purpose. The reason for this is rooted in how, as a libertarian, I understand the role of government. Government only has a legitimate interest in protecting people from direct physical harm. A teacher, even one working in a government funded school, standing up and trying to convince students to accept Jesus causes no physical harm. Therefore it is of no interest to the government. (If the teacher were to hand out bonus points to those who accepted Jesus then that would be a different matter.) The fact that non-Christian students might be uncomfortable in such a situation and feel left out is irrelevant. This is what it means to live in a free society. You open yourself up to every manner of non-physical torment and you must learn to live with that and accept that the government cannot in any way be used to help you in this matter.
As to the issue of Church and State, it is important to keep in mind that it is not a legitimate legal concept, but a letter from Thomas Jefferson, wrongfully brought into play in the twentieth century. Regardless of that matter, I understand the Constitution's establishment clause to apply to all ideas. Outside of a belief in the legitimacy of the legal system itself, the government has no businesses declaring any idea to be true or false. This goes for Jesus dying for the sins of the world, evolution and the holocaust. I am even willing to go so far as to argue against tolerance education. The government may tell white supremacists that they need to follow the law and not murder blacks and Jews, but the government has no business telling these people that they should support a multicultural society as something positive.
As to the definition of liberty and how it might apply to children; I understand liberty as the ability to pursue your own good in your own way as long as you do not cause direct physical harm to others. As J. S. Mill pointed out, this concept does not apply to children as they are deemed as lacking the mental capacity to engage in the give and take of ideas. Children are placed under the control of guardians who therefore also take up the liberty that the child would have exercised if it were an adult. The only limit on this is that the guardian cannot cause direct physical harm to the child. That would bring the attention of the government which would have the right to step in and remove the child and place it in an environment where it would be less likely to suffer direct physical harm. (Think of the libertarian government as a deadly trip-wire alarm system. As long as no one is being physically harmed, the government is silent to the extent that you should not even realize that it is there. The moment that someone steps on the wire and causes direct physical harm to someone else, all of a sudden the government springs into existence and takes out the offender, with physical violence if necessary.) Part of the social contract we sign is that we allow people to come to harm through their ideas. This includes their children, whom they have the right to raise according to these ideas. If someone thinks that sweatshops or even brothels are good places for a child to receive an education then so be it.
This might sound funny coming from an Asperger, but I see Baruch as suffering from a lack of a theory of mind. (See Neurotypical Mental and Emotional Handicaps.) This goes back to our original discussion about parents raising their children. At a physiological level Baruch simply does not get that there are other people out there who believe differently from him and are equally convinced of their beliefs as he is. Baruch thinks that it is so obvious that he is right that if he repeats his arguments or has the government step in and support him as being right, those other people will eventually come to their senses; that the Christians, Haredim and white supremacists will suddenly realize that they are superstitious intolerant bigots, apologize to Baruch for being such naughty children and go home. Of course when those people follow this same line of thinking and try to use government to support their ideas against Baruch then that is them being intolerant and trying to impose their values. In the real world there are true and false beliefs (gravity being a good example) and those beliefs have consequences. In the politics of a free society there is no true and false. There are just people's opinions and a system designed so that these differing opinions do not turn into people killing each other over them.
On a final note, let me give a shout out to Baruch Spinoza, a fellow opponent of public schools, who has joined in on the debate.