Friday, December 07, 2007

Mitt Romney on Religious Liberty

Questions about religion and evolution continue to come up in the debates between the Republican candidates for the presidency. Mike Huckabee has said that he rejects the Darwinian theory of evolution as contrary to his belief in the Biblical account of creation. But in a recent response to a question, Huckabee said that he does not know how God carried out his creative plan. He adds some dismissive remarks about people who believe they are descended from primates. In contrast to Huckabee, Mitt Romney has defended theistic evolution--the idea that there is no necessary conflict between Biblcial creation and the theory of evolution. In a previous post, I commented on Romney's endorsement of theistic evolution.

Evangelical Christians are uneasy with Romney's Mormonism. Romney's recent speech at Texas A & M University was his attempt to lay out his position on the political role of religion. It is a remarkably reasonable statement on the American tradition of religious liberty. He endorses Abraham Lincoln's declaration in his Lyceum speech that obedience to law and the Constitution is the "political religion" of the nation. Romney goes on to argue that the Constitution's provision for "no religious test" for public office shows that there must be no political imposition of any particular religious beliefs.

Romney rightly embraces the understanding of the constitutional founders that differences in theology could be tolerated as long as all religions share a common understanding of morality. This conforms to what I have argued as to the need for a natural moral sense (such as Darwin stresses) that stands on its own natural ground regardless of differing religious beliefs.

Romney correctly observes that the separation of church and state should not be interpreted to mean an establishment of "the religion of secularism." Religious belief is important for American public life insofar as it reinforces the principles of the Declaration of Independence--the self-evident principles of human equality under God. Here, again, Romney follows Lincoln.

In the tradition of John Locke's argument for religious toleration, Romney understands that there can be no toleration for "theocratic tyranny" such as that threatened by "radical Islamists." Like the American founders, Romney rejects any theocratic interpretation of Biblical religion, and here he follows in the tradition of Locke and Roger Williams that treats religious belief as a matter of individual liberty of conscience that cannot properly be enforced by law or coercion.

To mandate by law that a literal reading of the Biblical account of creation should be taught in public schools as science would be an exercise in theocracy. If we wish to defend religious liberty against theocracy, we must agree with decisions like that rendered by Judge Jones in the Dover school case that would forbid public schools from teaching Biblical creationism (even under the guise of "intelligent design theory") as science.


Anonymous said...

It was a historic speech. One we will tell our grand children about.

Anonymous said...

"If we wish to defend religious liberty against theocracy, we must agree with decisions like that rendered by Judge Jones in the Dover school case that would forbid public schools from teaching Biblical creationism (even under the guise of "intelligent design theory") as science."

I thought you said a while ago that the federal courts shouldn't interfere with decisions of local schools boards?

Larry Arnhart said...

No, I have argued that there's nothing wrong with public high school biology students studying scientific criticisms of Darwinian science. But teaching the Bible as if it were biological science in public schools would be a theocratic violation of religious liberty. After all, even the Discovery Institute rejects the teaching of "creation science." That's why the Discovery Institute pulled out of the Dover case and criticized the policy of the Dover school board.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand the preoccupation with Darwin and the reference to everything as Darwinian. We simply use the term biology. In physics, we don't refer to Einstein-ists or anything as Einstein-ian. It is all physics. Same for electromagnetism. I have never heard anyone called a Maxwellian. The use of the term Darwinian in this fashion appears pejorative perhaps as a way to create a figure head that may potentially be dismissed. There have been many thousands of papers written to both support and expand on what was learned over 100 years ago when Darwin and Alfred Wallace published their original papers. Any competing theories on evolution such as the one put forward by Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (Soft-inheritance) were considered, research done, and dismissed as not supported by evidence over time. Much the same fate as intelligent design is suffering. In science it is not about what you say, it is what you can demonstrate, and what someone else can repeat.
Perhaps the biggest challenge to natural selection occurred when we first did work bacterial evolution. Rather than refute the observations of biologists on larger organisms, it supported the findings. Intelligent design appears to be more of a notion than science and does not belong anywhere near a classroom unless you also teach Lamarck’s soft-inheritance theory and other widely rejected theories.