Fwd: Alvin Plantinga's paper

Ted Davis (TDavis@mcis.messiah.edu)
Fri, 15 Jan 1999 12:26:58 -0500

This is a MIME message. If you are reading this text, you may want to
consider changing to a mail reader or gateway that understands how to
properly handle MIME multipart messages.

Content-Type: text/plain; charset=US-ASCII
Content-Disposition: inline

Dear ASAers,

My colleague Robin Collins, a really good philosopher of science and former
student of both John Wheeler and Al Plantinga, sent me the attached paper of
Al's, in which he defends ideas concerning evolution and education that are
so very similar to my own that I thought I would forward them to the
listserve. My own view is that it is indeed unjust (that is the correct
word, IMO) for the public schools to teach views that are highly offensive
to the families of the children who are paying for the schools. Bryan in my
view was dead right about this. To that extent I applaud Plantinga'c
courage. For my own part, I've voiced these concerns in a quasi-historical
talk I've given in three or four places, called "Whose Science? Whose
Values? Evolution and Public Education."


Ted Davis

Content-Type: message/rfc822

Date: Thu, 14 Jan 1999 19:10:33 -0500
From: "Robin Collins" <RCollins@mcis.messiah.edu>
To: <TDavis.PO-MAIN.MC-DOMAIN@mcis.messiah.edu>
Subject: Fwd: Alvin Plantinga's paper
Mime-Version: 1.0
Content-Type: multipart/mixed; boundary="=_386F9C83.B6D7BB51"

Content-Type: text/plain; charset=US-ASCII
Content-Disposition: inline


I think you would be interested in this paper by Alvin Plantinga.

Robin Collins
Content-Type: message/rfc822

Received: from mcis.messiah.edu
by gw1.messiah.edu; Thu, 14 Jan 1999 16:52:42 -0500
Received: from uclink4.berkeley.edu (uclink4.Berkeley.EDU [])
by mcis.messiah.edu (8.8.6/8.8.6) with ESMTP id QAA14047
for <rcollins@mcis.messiah.edu>; Thu, 14 Jan 1999 16:51:07 -0500 (EST)
Received: (from majordom@localhost)
by uclink4.berkeley.edu (8.8.8/8.8.8) id NAA04312
for phylogeny-outgoing; Thu, 14 Jan 1999 13:46:52 -0800 (PST)
X-Authentication-Warning: uclink4.berkeley.edu: majordom set sender to owner-phylogeny using -f
Received: from philjohn.hip.Berkeley.EDU (na434-1.Law.Berkeley.EDU [])
by uclink4.berkeley.edu (8.8.8/8.8.8) with SMTP id NAA22479
for <phylogeny@uclink4.berkeley.edu>; Thu, 14 Jan 1999 13:46:48 -0800 (PST)
Message-Id: <>
X-Sender: philjohn@uclink4.Berkeley.edu
X-Mailer: Windows Eudora Pro Version 3.0.1 (32)
Date: Thu, 14 Jan 1999 13:47:47 -0800
To: phylogeny@uclink4.berkeley.edu
From: "Phillip E. Johnson" <philjohn@uclink4.berkeley.edu>
Subject: Alvin Plantinga's paper
Mime-Version: 1.0
Content-Type: text/plain; charset="us-ascii"
Sender: owner-phylogeny@uclink4.berkeley.edu
Precedence: bulk

Phylos: Here is the paper Al Plantinga gave at the recent meeting of the
Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association. The references
to "Professor Pennock" refer to Asst. Prof. Robert Pennock of the U of
Texas, who has written a book attacking ID and defending methodological
naturalism. He's a sort of academic Eugenie Scott. Presumably Pennock
gave a paper on the same program. Al reports that

>There was general
>incredulity, but most people were polite.

Creation and Evolution: a Modest Proposal
The topic of our meeting is the question should Creationism be
taught in the (public) schools? That is an excellent question, and
Professor Pennock has interesting things to say about it. I want to begin,
however, by asking a complementary question, after which I shall return to
this one: should evolution be taught in the public schools? I'm not asking
whether it is legally permissible to teach evolution in the public schools;
that matter has been long settled. I'm asking instead whether it should be
taught. Given that it is permissible, is it also the right thing to do?
But why should that even be a question? Daniel Dennett thinks it is a
foolish question: "Should evolution be taught in the schools?" he asks?
Well, "Should arithmetic? Should history?" Isn't it utterly obvious that
evolution should be taught in public schools? I don't think so; the answer
isn't nearly so simple. But we must initially specify the question a bit
more closely. First, I am asking whether evolution should be taught in the
public schools of a country like the United States, one that displays the
pluralism and diversity of opinion our country presently displays. And
secondly, I am asking whether evolution should be taught as the sober truth
of the matter, rather than as, e.g., the best current scientific
hypothesis, or what accords best or is most probable (epistemically
probable) with respect to the appropriate scientific evidence base. The
question is whether evolution should be taught in the way arithmetic and
chemistry and geography are taught: as the settled truth.
Still another need for specification: the term 'evolution' can
expand and contract upon demand: it covers a multitude of sins, as some
might put it. First, there is the idea that at least some evolution has
occurred, that there have been changes in gene frequencies in populations.
I suppose everyone accepts this, so we can put it to one side. Secondly,
there is the claim that the earth is very old--billions of years old, and
that life has been present on earth for billions of years. Third, there is
the progress thesis, as we humans like to think of it: first there were
prokaryotes, then single-celled eukaryotes, then increasingly more complex
forms of life of great diversity, achieving a contemporary maximum in us.
Fourth, there is the claim of universal common ancestry: the claim that any
two living things you pick, you and the poison ivy in your backyard, for
example, share a common ancestor. Fifth, there is what I will call
'Darwinism', the thesis that the cause of the diversity of forms of life is
natural selection working on a source of genetic variation like random
genetic mutation. Sixth and finally, there is the idea that life itself
arose by way of purely natural means, just by way of the workings of the
laws of physics and chemistry on some set of initial conditions, or just by
way of the workings of those laws together with what supervenes on their
workings; this thesis is part of the contemporary scientific picture of the
origin of life, although at present all such accounts of the origin of life
are at best enormously problematic.1 Since the first thesis is accepted by
everyone, we can set it aside, and use the term 'evolution' or 'the theory
of evolution' to refer to the conjunction of the remaining five theses, or
occasionally to the conjunction of the first four.
So why is there a question as to whether evolution should be taught
in the public schools? And if there is such question, what sort of
question is it? I believe there is a question here, and it is a question
of justice or fairness. First, our society is radically pluralistic; and
here I am thinking in particular of the plurality of religious and
quasi-religious views our citizenry displays. I say 'quasi-religious':
that is because I mean the term to cover, not only religious belief, as in
Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and the like, but also
other deep ways of understanding ourselves and our world, other deep ways
of interpreting ourselves and our world to ourselves. Thus consider
philosophical naturalism, the idea that there is no such person as God or
anything or anyone at all like him: on this use, naturalism is or can be a
quasi-religious view. Following John Rawls, let's call beliefs of this
sort 'comprehensive' beliefs. Now for many, perhaps most citizens, these
comprehensive beliefs are of enormous importance; for some they are the
most important beliefs of all. And it is natural for these citizens to
want their children to be educated into what they take to be the true and
correct comprehensive beliefs; they think it is a matter of great
importance which comprehensive beliefs their children adopt, some even
thinking that one's eternal welfare depends upon their accepting the true
comprehensive beliefs.
Next, we must think for a moment about the purpose of public
schools. This purpose is somehow determined by or supervenes upon the
purposes of the citizens who support and employ these schools. It is as if
we are all party to a sort of implicit contract: we recognize the need to
train and educate our children, but don't have the time or competence to do
it individually. We therefore get together to hire teachers to help
instruct and educate our children, and together we pay for this service by
way of tax money. But what should we tell these teachers to teach? Of
course all the citizens party to the contract would prefer that their
children be educated into their own comprehensive beliefs--be taught that
those comprehensive beliefs are the sober truth. But that isn't feasible,
because of the plurality of comprehensive beliefs. It would clearly be
unfair, unjust, for the school, which we all support, to teach one set of
religious beliefs as opposed to another--to teach that evangelical
Christianity, for example, is the truth. This would be unfair to those
citizens who are party to the contract and whose comprehensive
beliefs--Judaism, naturalism, Islam, whatever--are incompatible with
evangelical Christianity. The teacher can't teach all or even more than
one of these conflicting sets of beliefs as the truth; therefore it would
be unfair to select any particular one and teach that one as the truth.
More generally, fairness dictates that no belief be taught as the settled
truth that conflicts with the comprehensive beliefs of some group of
citizens party to the contract. We can put this in terms of what I'll call
"the basic right":
(BR) Each of the citizens party to the contract has the right not to have
comprehensive beliefs taught to her children that contradict her own
comprehensive beliefs.
Our society is a pluralistic society; there are many mutually
inconsistent sets of comprehensive beliefs. But then no particular set of
comprehensive beliefs can be taught without infringing on the basic right.
It is therefore unfair and unjust to teach one religious belief as opposed
to others in the schools; it is improper and unjust to teach, e.g.,
Protestant beliefs, as opposed to Catholic, or Christian as opposed to
Jewish or Hindu, or religious beliefs as opposed to naturalism and atheism.
More generally, take any group of citizens who are party to the contract:
it would be unfair for the public schools to teach beliefs inconsistent
with their religious or comprehensive beliefs: unfair, because it would go
against (BR). Of course (BR) is a prima facie right. It is at least
possible that special circumstances should arise, perhaps as in wartime, in
which this right would be overridden by other desiderata, for example
national security. The majority might also insist on teaching the denial
of certain comprehensive views, Naziism, for example, in which case the
fair thing to do would be to exclude the Nazis from the contract (and also
exclude them from the tax liability).
But then it is also easy to see how an issue of justice or fairness
can arise with respect to the teaching of evolution. As Professor Pennock
points out, many American Indian tribes, for example, "have origin stories
that, on their face, are antithetical to evolutionary theory and other
scientific findings" (5). Now consider a public school in an Indian
village of this sort, one where many or most of the citizens hold and are
deeply committed to comprehensive beliefs that are contradicted by
contemporary evolutionary theory. Perhaps they believe that the first
human beings were specially created by God a hundred miles or so from their
village, some thousands of years ago. Would it be fair or just to teach
their children, in this public school, that these religious accounts of
human origins are false? Would it be right to teach their children that
their ancestors emerged on the plains of Serengetti more than a million
years ago, and that they were not specially created at all, but descended
from earlier, non human forms of life? Would it be just to teach their
children accounts of human origins that contradict their religious
accounts? I think we can see that this would be unfair and unjust. These
citizens are party to the implicit contract by which public education is
founded; they support and help finance these schools. By virtue of (BR),
then, they have a right not to have their children taught, in public
schools, the denials of their cherished religious beliefs. If their
children are taught the denials of these beliefs, these citizens' rights
are being violated. They are being violated just as surely as if their
children were taught, for example, that their religion is merely
superstition and evangelical Christianity is the truth of the matter.
Now the fact is there is a substantial segment of the population,
at least in certain states and certain parts of our country, whose
comprehensive beliefs are indeed contradicted by the theory of evolution.
There are fundamentalist Christian, Jewish and Muslim parents, and quite a
few of them, who think the earth is very young, perhaps only 10,000 years
old. This is not a casual opinion with them, as might be their opinion
that there are mountains on the far side of the moon. It is a part of
their comprehensive belief: it is one of their religious beliefs that the
Bible (or the Koran) contains the truth on all the matters on which it
speaks, and on this matter what it says is that the earth is young. There
are others who believe that the first human beings were created specially
by God, so that the theory of universal common ancestry is false. We may
disagree with their beliefs here, or even think them irrational; but that
doesn't change matters. Even if their beliefs are irrational from our
point of view, (BR) still applies: they have the right to require that
public schools not teach as the settled truths beliefs that are
incompatible with their comprehensive beliefs.2
So there is therefore a clear prima facie question of justice
here: these citizens are party to the implicit contract; they pay their
taxes; they support these schools, and send their children to them. But
then they have a prima facie right to have their children taught, as
settled fact, only what is consistent with their comprehensive beliefs.
And this means that it is unfair or unjust to teach evolution--universal
common ancestry, for example--in the public schools, at any rate where
there is a substantial segment of the population whose comprehensive
beliefs are incompatible with evolution. In the very same way, of course,
it would be unjust to teach creationism as the settled truth. Both
doctrines conflict with the comprehensive beliefs of some of the parties to
the contract.
But now for a reply, a reply suggested by some of Professor
Pennock's comments. Doesn't truth have any rights here? Perhaps (BR) is a
prima facie right, so runs the reply, but this right is overridden by the
demands of truth. Pennock "takes it for granted that one of the goals of
education is to provide students a true picture of the natural world we
share" (17), which seems fair enough; he also takes it for granted that
evolutionary theory is true (12); but then he concludes that evolutionary
theory ought to be taught in the public schools. "Matters of empirical
fact," he says, "are not appropriately decided by majority rule, nor is it
unfair to teach what is true, even though many people don't want to hear
it" (00). That seems to suggest that if a proposition is true, then it is
fair to teach it in public schools, even if it goes contrary to the
comprehensive beliefs of the citizens who are party to the contract and
support the public schools. But the reasoning seems deeply flawed.
Suppose Christianity is in fact true, as indeed I believe it is: would that
mean that it is fair to teach it in public schools where most of the
citizens, citizens who support those schools, are not Christians and reject
Christian comprehensive beliefs? I should think not; that would clearly be
unfair, and the fact that the system of beliefs in question are true would
not override the unfairness. We can't sensibly just insist that what is
true can properly be taught, even if it contradicts the comprehensive
beliefs of others party to the contract. After all, they also believe that
their comprehensive beliefs are true: that is why they hold them.3
But other things he says suggests a different objection. According
to Stephen J. Gould, there is the realm of values, and there is the realm
of fact; religion and comprehensive beliefs occupy the realm of values
(hence the expression 'religious values'); science occupies the realm of
fact. Hence when things are done properly there can be no conflict. There
are no properly religious beliefs on matters of fact. Of course this is
much too strong: clearly most religions make factual claims: that there is
such a person as God, that the world was created, that Mohammed was God's
prophet and spokesman. A slightly (but only slightly) more nuanced view,
one that seems to me to be suggested by some of the things Pennock says (p.
12) can be put as follows: when it comes to matters of empirical fact,
(however, precisely, that phrase is to be understood) scientific consensus
trumps comprehensive belief. These questions of the origin of human beings
and of life are factual questions, questions of empirical fact. The proper
way to deal with them, then, is by way of science; it is simply a matter of
trespass for someone in the name of religion to propose an answer to these
factual questions. And this fact of trespass means that (BR) is overridden
in some cases. If it's a factual question that's at issue, then the way to
deal with it is by way of science. If you happen to have mistaken opinions
about algebra or prime numbers (perhaps it is part of your comprehensive
belief, somehow, that there is a greatest prime) that is your problem; you
can't require the public schools to respect your comprehensive opinion
here, and refrain from demonstrating to your children that in fact there is
no greatest prime. Citizens do not have the right to object, on the ground
of religious or comprehensive beliefs, to any scientific teaching. When
it comes to issues that are dealt with by science, the prima facie claims
of (BR) are overridden, and it is entirely right to teach the denials of
comprehensive beliefs in the public schools, if those comprehensive beliefs
are in fact contrary to contemporary scientific consensus.
But again, this seems entirely mistaken. First, why should we
think scientific consensus overrides (BR)? Perhaps because we think
science is our best bet with respect to the discovery of the truth or the
approximate truth on the subjects on which it speaks. But if it is the
truth we want taught to our children, then it's far from clear that current
science should be treated with this much deference. We all know how often
scientific opinion has changed over the years; there is little reason to
think that now it has finally arrived at the unrevisable truth, so that its
current proposals are like the claim that there is no greatest prime.
According to Bryan Appleyard, "At Harvard University in the 1880's John
Trowbridge, head of the physics department, was telling his students that
it was not worthwhile to major in physics, since all the very important
discoveries in the subject had now been made. All that remained was a
routine tidying up of loose ends, hardly a heroic task worthy of a Harvard
graduate."4 Twenty years later the same opinion seemed dominant: for
example, in 1902 Albert Michelson, of Michelson-Morley fame declared that
"the most important fundamental laws and facts of physical science have all
been discovered and these are now so firmly established that the
possibility of their ever being supplanted on consequences of new
discoveries is remote."5 And of course we all know of the scientific
theories that once enjoyed consensus but are now discarded: caloric
theories of heat, effluvial theories of electricity and magnetism, theories
involving the existence of phlogiston, vital forces in physiology, theories
of spontaneous generation of life, the luminiferous ether, and so on.
But there is another and even more important consideration.
Pennock, we are supposing, thinks the way to approach questions of
empirical fact is by way of science, not by way of religion; thus
scientific consensus trumps religious or comprehensive belief in such a way
that the prima facie requirements of (BR) are overridden; and hence it is
fair to teach evolution as settled fact, even if it does conflict with the
religious beliefs of some of the citizens party to that implicit contract.
But now consider this claim, i.e.,
(PC) The right way to answer questions of empirical fact--for example
questions about the origin of life, the age of the earth, whether human
beings have evolved from earlier forms of life--is by way of science, or
scientific method.
Note first that (PC) is not, of course, itself a question of
empirical fact. Science itself does not decide between (PC) and other
possibilities--for example, the claim that the right way to approach
certain empirical questions is not by way of scientific inquiry but by way
of consulting the Bible, or the elders of the tribe. The question whether
the scientific epistemic or evidential base is the right way to settle
these issues is not itself to be settled with respect to the scientific
epistemic base; this dispute is philosophical or religious rather than
scientific. Note second that there are many others, of course, who do not
share Pennock's opinion: they do not accept (PC). Indeed, there are many
others such that a proposition incompatible with this opinion is part of
their religious or comprehensive beliefs. Perhaps (PC) is part of
Pennock's comprehensive beliefs; but its denial is part of the
comprehensive beliefs of others who are party to the contract. But then
clearly it would be unfair to act on (PC), as opposed to these other
comprehensive beliefs that are incompatible with it. Suppose in fact
fundamentalists are right: the truth is the correct way to determine the
age of the earth is by way of consulting Scripture under a certain literal
construal of early Genesis: would it follow that it was right in public
schools to teach as the settled truth that the age of the earth is some
10,000 years or so? I should think not; and the same goes with respect to
(PC). (PC) may be true and (more likely, in my opinion) it may be false;
either way it is just one comprehensive belief among others. It would be
unfair to teach comprehensive beliefs that entailed the denial of (PC); but
by the same token, it would also be unfair to teach (PC).
What we have seen so far, therefore, is that it is improper,
unfair, to teach either creationism or evolution in the schools--that is
so, at any rate for areas where a substantial proportion of the parents
hold religious or comprehensive beliefs incompatible with either. But then
what can be taught, in public schools, about this crucial topic of origins,
a topic deeply connected with our sense of ourselves, our sense of where we
come from, what our prospects are, what is the good for us, and the like?
If we can't teach either Creationism or evolutionism, what can we teach in
the public schools?
Well, possibly nothing. One answer is to say: in a pluralistic
society like ours, there is no fair way to teach anything about origins;
hence public schools ought not to teach anything on that subject. They
should instead stick to subjects where there isn't disagreement at the
level of religious or comprehensive beliefs. This would be just a
reflection of a more general difficulty in having public schools of our
sort in a pluralistic society. Perhaps, when the citizens get together to
found a system of education, what they discover is that there is too much
diversity of opinion to make it feasible. But this is a counsel of
dispair; I think perhaps we can do better.
We can see a bit more deeply into this question by turning to a bit
of epistemology. We have already noted that different people accept
different religious or comprehensive beliefs. More generally, for each
person P there is an epistemic base, EBP, with respect to which the
probability or acceptability of proposed beliefs is to be evaluated. This
epistemic base includes, first, S's current beliefs. Since some beliefs
are held more strongly than others, it includes, secondly, an index of
degree of belief. Some beliefs, furthermore, are of the form probably P.
An epistemic base also includes, thirdly, prescriptions as to how to
conduct inquiry, how to learn more about the world, under what conditions
to change belief, and the like. And finally, an epistemic base includes
comprehensive beliefs. These comprehensive beliefs are not, of course,
frozen in stone; nor are they impervious to argument and reasoning; nor are
they irrational just as such, or held in an irrational way. A person's
epistemic base is not static, of course; it constantly changes under the
pressure of experience, what we are told by others, and the like. An
epistemic base can also undergo sudden and drastic revision, as in a
religious conversion, for example. A proper characterization of the notion
of an epistemic base would take us far afield, and would certainly require
an entire paper on its own. But I think the basic idea is fairly clear.
Now what parents want, presumably, is that their children be taught
the truth--which, of course, they take to be what is in accord with their
own epistemic bases. What is in accord with their own epistemic bases, of
course, is not just the propositions they themselves happen to accept. I
may know or believe that there are people who hold lots of beliefs I don't
hold--about, e.g., mathematics; I may also believe that their beliefs,
whatever they are, are true, or likely to be true, or more likely to be
true than the beliefs I actually hold; and I may therefore want my children
taught those beliefs, even though they are not parts of my own epistemic
base, and even though some may conflict with beliefs in my own epistemic
base. These beliefs, we may say, are in accord with my epistemic base,
although not contained in it. This can happen with respect to religious or
comprehensive beliefs too: I may be an American Indian who holds that the
tribal elders know the truth about important matters of origin, or
whatever; then I may want my children taught what these elders believe,
even if I don't myself know precisely what it is that they do believe.
We must note next that science has its own epistemic base. This
base is presumably not identical with that of any of the citizens, although
it overlaps in complex ways with those of some of the citizens. It is not
important, here, to say precisely what goes into the scientific epistemic
base (or how it is related to those of the citizens); presumably logic goes
into it, together with prescriptions as to how to conduct various kinds of
inquiry, together with a host of common sense beliefs, together with a good
bit of firmly established current science. But it is important to note
certain beliefs that do not go into EBS, at least with respect to science
as currently practiced. Among these would be the belief that there is such
a person as God, that God has created the world, and that God has created
certain forms of life specially--human beings, perhaps, or the original
forms of life, or for that matter sparrows and horses. That is because
science commonly respects what is often called 'methodological naturalism',
the policy of avoiding hypotheses that mention or refer to God or special
acts on the part of God, or other supernatural phenomena, or hypotheses
whose only support is the Bible, or some other alleged divine revelation.
There is dispute as to whether science by its very nature involves
methodological naturalism, and there is also dispute as to whether science
has a nature. But as commonly practiced, science does seem to involve
methodological naturalism. This means that EBS does not include any
propositions of the above sort. It is not entirely clear whether EBS
includes the denials of some propositions about God, or rather just fails
to include those propositions. It is also worth noting that a person could
think that EBS is the proper epistemic base from which to conduct
scientific inquiry, even if her own epistemic base contains some of those
propositions excluded from EBS by methodological naturalism. Indeed she
might hold that a given proposition is a good scientific hypothesis even if
it conflicts with one of her comprehensive beliefs and is therefore, as she
sees it, false. Thus someone might think that a given scientific
hypothesis--Darwinism, for example--is in fact false, but nevertheless a
source of fertile and useful hypotheses.
To return to our subject, then: we can't in fairness teach
evolution as the settled truth in public schools in a pluralistic society
like ours, and of course we can't in fairness teach Creationism either.
But there is something else we can do: we can teach evolution
conditionally. That is, we can teach, as the sober truth, that from the
vantage point of EBS the most satisfactory hypothesis is the ancient earth
thesis, or universal common ancestry, or Darwinism, or even some hypothesis
entailing naturalistic origins. We can also distinguish between the
likelihoods of these hypotheses, on EBS; the ancient earth thesis is very
nearly certain on this basis, universal common ancestry much less certain,
but still a very good bet, Darwinism still less certain, and naturalistic
origins, or rather any particular current theory of naturalistic origins
unlikely, at least with respect to the current EBS. There is one further
complication we must note: given plausible views about EBS, it might be
that a hypothesis is the best scientific hypothesis from the point of view
of EBS, even though it is not, from that point of view, more probable than
not. This might be first just because there are several conflicting
hypotheses in the field, all of which enjoy substantial probability with
respect to EBS, but none of which enjoys a probability as great as 1/2. But
second, it might be that a conjecture is a fine, fertile hypothesis such
that inquiry pursued under its aegis is fruitful and successful, even
though the hypothesis in question is unlikely with respect to EBS. Many
more questions arise about EBS; there is no time to explore them now.
Now consider the claim that evolution is the best hypothesis (the
one most likely to be true), or even that it is much more likely than not
with respect to EBS: that claim, I take it, will be compatible with
everyone's religious and comprehensive beliefs. There would then be no
objection from the point of view of fairness to teaching this claim as the
settled truth--while refraining, of course, from teaching evolution itself
as the settled truth. Perhaps this is something like what the court had in
mind in Segraves v. California when it declared that "any speculative
statements concerning origins, both in texts and in classes, should be
presented conditionally, not dogmatically" (8). And the same would go for
Creationism: with respect to certain widely shared epistemic bases, the
most likely or satisfactory hypothesis will be the claim that God created
human beings specially, or even the claim that the earth is only 10,000
years old. Of course the public schools will not, under this proposal,
teach that one epistemic base--either that of evangelical Christianity, for
example, or scientific naturalism--is in fact the correct or right or true
epistemic base. The question which epistemic base is the correct one is
not a question on which public schools should pronounce, at least in areas
where there is relevant religious disagreement. What the public schools
should teach as the sober truth is what is in accord with all the relevant
epistemic bases; this is what should be taught unconditionally.
To return to our original question then: should Creationism be
taught in the public schools? Should evolution? The answer is in each
case the same: no, neither should be taught unconditionally; but yes, each
should be taught conditionally.6

1. See, e.g., Origins by Robert Shapiro (New York: Summit Books, 1986).

2. A slightly different issue: there are still others who believe, as part
of their comprehensive belief, that God created the world and humankind one
way or another, where one possibility is that he did it by way of an
evolutionary process. These parents may very well believe that it is
possible (epistemically possible) that human beings are geneologically
related to earlier forms of life, but that this suggestion is far from
certain. They may therefore quite properly resist having it taught as
settled truth, on a par with arithmetic and the proposition that there has
been an American Civil War.

3. In the same vein, Pennock also holds that, "parents certainly don't have
a right to demand that teachers teach what is false"(00). But this too
seems to me mistaken: didn't parents at the end of the last century have
the right to demand that science teachers teach, e.g., Newtonian mechanics,
even though as a matter of fact it is false? They also had a right to
demand that science teachers teach that there is such a thing as the
luminiferous ether, although that too is false, at least by our current
lights. Earlier parents had a similar right to demand that science
teachers teach the caloric theory of heat, that there is such a thing as
phlogiston, that electricity is a kind of fluid, that the sun goes around
the earth, and so on.

4. Understanding the Present (New York: Doubleday, 1992), p. 110.

5. Quoted in Hanbury Brown, The Wisdom of Science: Its Relevance to Culture
and Religion (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), p. 66.

6. I'm grateful to Tom Crisp, Marie Pannier, and David VanderLaan for
comments and criticism.