Essay on Documents: Religion and Intelligent Design

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Review Essay
Science, Intelligent Design, and the Constitution

Tyll van Geel, University of Rochester
Kent Greenawalt asks, “Does God belong in public schools?” But the more specific question he addresses should be reformulated as follows: Taking as given that (a) religion has been and remains important in the lives of most people, (b) religion may be the basis upon which citizens make decisions in a democracy,
(c) “any absolute priority for parental judgment is not a political tenet of modern liberal democracies” (33), (d ) a person cannot be fully educated without understanding the place of religion in human life, (e) the public schools have gone too far in ignoring religion (81), and ( f ) schools should (for philosophical and especially legal reasons) be neutral about religion, what would a person who believes these points say about the constitutionally permissible place of religion in the schools? In order to answer that question, Greenawalt discusses educational issues, political philosophy, and, most centrally, the First Amendment to the Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech.” His answer, in brief, is that religion should, and constitutionally may have, a more prominent place in the public school curriculum than is currently the case in most public schools, but whatever public schools do, they may not teach “religious propositions” as true or have students participate in religious activities. Greenawalt thus stakes out a position in the culture war that falls between the extremes. Whether his is a wholly coherent position is a central topic of this review.
Greenawalt’s reasons for wanting to expand references to religion in the public school’s curriculum are scattered throughout the book: first, “if students are to receive a full liberal education, they should understand major religious
Kent Greenawalt, Does God Belong in Public Schools? (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University
Press, 2005), xϩ261 pp., notes, indexes, $29.95 (cloth).
Electronically published June 06, 2006
American Journal of Education 112 (August 2006)
᭧ 2006 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved.
0195-6744/2006/11204-0007$05.00

AUGUST 2006

589

Review Essay ideas” (149); second, “religion should be presented as an important subject for individuals deciding how to live” (28); third, “one will develop a better sense of how to treat others and make political choices if one grasps how people who do care about religion see themselves and the wider society” (27); fourth, there are limits to what the properly dominant theory of evolution can explain, and hence nonscientific teaching has a place (discussed more fully later) in the curriculum; fifth, there are unavoidable “spillover effects” of a purely secular educational program of which educators should take note. When a school “teaches as true what religion asserts is false—say, the Darwinian theory of evolution—that can undercut belief in the religion, for better or worse” (29). Further, the overall effect of a secular education implies “that religious understanding is not at the center of human understanding, but rather at its periphery. This message implicitly rejects traditional religious views, and thus fails to treat those religious views fairly and neutrally” (83). And, when subjects are presented without the reference of religion, “the irresistible implication is that these subjects can be well understood on their own without being placed in a religious perspective. . . . The approach also suggests (less strongly) that a relatively full life can be lived without involvement in religious practice” (84). In making the case for increased attention to religion, Greenawalt does not rely upon arguments based on a principle of fairness or based on the supposed academic freedom rights of teachers.
In calling for increased…