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My Reply to Timothy Sandefur: The teaching of only the strengths of Darwinism in public schools is inherently the propagation of atheist belief.

Michael Egnor

Timothy Sandefur, a Panda’s Thumb contributor and an atheist, is a leader in the Darwinist crusade to censor balanced discussion of evolutionary theory in science classrooms. Mr Sandefur responded to my open letter to the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology, a Darwinist organization that lobbies for censorship of discussion of the weaknesses of evolution in public schools and has boycotted the citizens of Louisiana because they recently passed legislation protecting academic freedom in public schools.
Mr. Sandefur begins his post with a sneer:

With the possible exception of Casey Luskin, no Discovery Institute fellow seems more eager to embarrass himself in public than Michael Egnor…

I always strive to be more embarrassing than Casey, but now it seems I’ll have to try harder. Here goes.
Mr. Sandefur asserts:

The problem with creationism is precisely that creationists like Dr. Egnor want their religion to be taught in government classrooms.

Mr. Sandefur misrepresents my views, which I have explained at length on this blog for several years and will now explain again.
This is my viewpoint on evolution:
I am a Christian and I believe that God created man and the universe. The Bible isn’t a science textbook, although it does offer insight into truth about the natural world. Reason, one form of which is science, can lead us to important truths about nature. I believe that faith and reason cannot ultimately be in conflict, because God is the source of both.
I believe that the earth is ~4.5 billion years old, and the universe is ~14 billion years old. Universal common ancestry is a reasonable inference from the evidence, and life evolved over several billion years. Some aspects of life arose by random variation and natural selection, and some aspects of life (e.g. the genetic code, molecular nanotechnology) show evidence for design by intelligent agency.

I’m not a young earth creationist. I respect young earth creationists and I strongly support their right to participate fully in public discourse, but I do not share some of their scientific viewpoints.
I believe that teaching public schoolchildren that the first two chapters of Genesis are literally true as science is unconstitutional, because it would constitute teaching a particular form of theistic religion on the public dime.
I also believe that teaching public schoolchildren and students that

The diversity of life [all life] on earth is the outcome of evolution: an unsupervised, impersonal, unpredictable and natural process of temporal descent with genetic modification that is affected by natural selection, chance, historical contingencies and changing environments…


By coupling undirected, purposeless variation to the blind, uncaring process of natural selection, Darwin made theological or spiritual explanations of life superfluous. … Darwin’s theory of evolution, followed by Marx’s materialistic (even if inadequate or wrong) theory of history and society and Freud’s attribution of human behavior to influences over which we have little control, that provided a crucial plank to the platform of mechanism and materialism–in short, to much of science–that has since been the stage of most Western thought.


Darwin knew that accepting his theory required believing in philosophical materialism, the conviction that matter is the stuff of all existence and that all mental and spiritual phenomena are its by-products.

is unconstitutional, because it is teaching atheism on the public dime.
I believe that teaching schoolchildren about intelligent design (which is not young earth creationism) is constitutional, because it is intrinsically part of the scientific debate about biological origins. It is part of the debate because intelligent design and Darwinism are affirmative and negative answers to the same scientific question: is there teleology in biology? The Darwinian assertion of unguided processes is meaningless unless lack of unguidedness — design — can be tested scientifically. If a scientific question can meaningfully be answered in the negative, then there must be the logical possibility of answering the question in the affirmative. If intelligent design isn’t science, then Darwinism can’t be tested empirically, and is merely dogma.
I do not advocate teaching intelligent design in public schools, even though it is obviously constitutional to do so. The reason I don’t is that most teachers don’t presently understand ID well enough to teach it accurately to students, and mandating ID tends to politicize the debate. As a scientist, I want to see intelligent design be developed as a science, not as political tool, and thus, like Discovery Institute, I oppose forcing it into public school curricula. Hopefully this approach will cut down on the Expelled effect while allowing ID to progress as a science.
I advocate teaching the strengths and weaknesses of Darwinian theory in public schools, and I believe that such an evolutionary curricula should be implemented by states and local school boards, using traditional legislative and administrative processes, without undue interference by federal judges and litigious atheists. I believe in the democratic process, and I believe in freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and academic freedom. I abhor censorship.
My views accord with those of the Discovery Institute and the views of most intelligent design proponents. Mr. Sandefur may continue to misrepresent my views and the views of my colleagues, but he cannot do so honestly.
Mr. Sandefur insists:

[The Constitution] absolutely forbids the spending of taxpayer money for… the propagation of…religious viewpoints…

The teaching of public schoolchildren that evolution — “an unsupervised, impersonal, unpredictable and natural process” is a ‘fact’ and not a theory, is the propagation of a religious viewpoint.The teaching of only the strengths of evolutionary theory, and the censorship of discussion of the weaknesses, inherently employs censorship. Evolution can be taught in a constitutional manner — and a scientifically honest manner — only when its strengths and weaknesses are taught.
Mr. Sandefur wishes to exempt his own religious belief — atheism — from constitutional scrutiny.
More on Mr. Sandefur’s illiberal views to follow.

Michael Egnor

Senior Fellow, Center for Natural & Artificial Intelligence
Michael R. Egnor, MD, is a Professor of Neurosurgery and Pediatrics at State University of New York, Stony Brook, has served as the Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery, and award-winning brain surgeon. He was named one of New York’s best doctors by the New York Magazine in 2005. He received his medical education at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and completed his residency at Jackson Memorial Hospital. His research on hydrocephalus has been published in journals including Journal of Neurosurgery, Pediatrics, and Cerebrospinal Fluid Research. He is on the Scientific Advisory Board of the Hydrocephalus Association in the United States and has lectured extensively throughout the United States and Europe.