We need a Constitutional Amendment Keeping Religion Out of Science

The difficulty, of course, is that what the Constitution regulates is the relationship between government and the people, and the relationship between one part of the government and another. We don’t really have constitutional provisions that regulate the relationships between people, for the most part, apart from some really basic things like “people can’t own people,” but even that is basically a restriction on government: states cannot create such legal statuses as slavery, or enforce them.

So, what would a constitutional amendment keeping religion out of science look like? It’s not easy to imagine.

What we do have, of course, is a First Amendment which should suffice for keeping religion out of publicly-funded science. But right now we have a Supreme Court that is breaking down the barrier between church and state big-time, and the weaknesses in developing First Amendment doctrine that apply to football coaches coercing public participation in prayer will, sadly, also apply to other matters.

What we need, I think, is a renewed and strengthened commitment to secular government. There’s very little sign, though, that we’ll get that in the near term.


Two main questions: 1) Was that a serious proposal or a joke? 2) What problem was it intended to address?


I’m not sure what the proposal even is. Religion already can’t be taught in public school science classrooms, that’s why ID was shot down several times. So is this saying that religion should be kept out of all science whatsoever, even in non-public forms of education? How would that even be enforced? Is it saying that religious people should be kept from becoming scientists? That wouldn’t be secularism, it would be enforced state atheism, and very few people would want that.


Yeah, I’m not sure exactly what the author wants to accomplish. By definition (i.e., the definitions used in the academy) science and religion are clearly very different things. I don’t know how one could devise a Constitutional amendment that would somehow stop the efforts of uninformed (and/or dishonest) people from obfuscating the meanings of science and religion.

I read a lot of scientific papers in all sorts of peer-reviewed journals—mostly medical journals----and I can’t think of even one paper where religion plays any role or even gets a vague mention. There will always be uninformed (and/or dishonest) people who will play games with scientific topics and craft some sort of pseudo-scientific religious argument. (As Forest Gump said, “Stupid is as stupid does.”) But I don’t know how one could legislate or Constitutionally prohibit that sort of thing.

Here’s a case in point that really gets-my-goat whenever I hear it (such as just yesterday.) I cringe at so many of the silly pseudo-exegesis arguments concerning scientific topics that one can find on “Christian radio,” especially the ubiquitous “reasoning” that “Climate change claims by scientists are bogus because the Bible says there will ALWAYS be springtime and harvest (Genesis 8:22).” Arghhhh! I don’t know of any peer-reviewed paper from climatologists which claims that climate change is going to eliminate all seasonal distinctions on planet earth. (Indeed, it is hard to imagine how solar radiation angles on the surface of the earth would cease their annual patterns.) And I don’t see how a Constitutional amendment can stop people from making illogical arguments which misrepresent both science and the Biblical text. (Indeed, you can’t blame the Bible for that one. Bad reading comprehension? Wishful thinking? Or just really bad logic??)

I suppose the “easy” answer is “fund better science education.” But easier said than done. People often choose to claim illogical/bogus things even when they actually do have the appropriate factual information available to them. (Just look at the present national political scene. I seriously doubt that all of the political leaders who claim “the election was stolen!” really believe that. They know that there is no evidence to support their claim.)


I know you didn’t mean to claim that it doesn’t happen… but that sentence is sadly untrue, and this is why a constitutional amendment wouldn’t save science from religion. (I hope Coyne wasn’t serious but I don’t read him and don’t intend to do that today.)

Here in Arizona, vast sums are being siphoned from public school budgets and sent to charter schools, where it is even more likely that religion (guess which one?) will be in classrooms than it already is in some standard public school districts. Even aside from this dangerous backsliding, there is the fact that saying it is illegal to do something (teach religion in a public school) is utterly different from saying it “can’t happen.” There is blatant disregard for such laws in Arizona and surely in other Christian nationalism-infested places. (Ooh here’s a fun one: there’s a Phoenix megachurch that openly promotes Trump and hosted him at a service. Brazen defiance of the law.)

Constitutional amendments can’t help us. Religious nationalism – and its thirst for lies and violence – will have to be stopped some other way. Or we can all just pretend that Christianity is okay and then live in a theocratic autocracy.


We enjoy freedom of thought and speech because we recognize the rights of those who misuse such liberties. No right is absolute, which is why there are civil and criminal guardrail laws of libel and sedition. History suggests that it is better to tolerate fanatics with whacked out ideas of science, and counter with the slow grind of persuasion and education, than to set up tribunals empowered to adjudicate any such amendment.

So speaking freely, is Coyne out of his mind?


Well, the post isn’t all that coherent. He proposes an amendment to the Constitution, but never says what it might look like. Then he goes off on the claim (which is likely true) that prominence in science is negatively correlated with religiosity. But what does that have to do with a constitutional amendment? What would putting religion in science — by which he means, apparently, into its practice rather than science education — even look like? ID, I suppose. But that sort of thing is vanishingly small among scientists and even smaller among published science. It hardly seems like something that needs to be fixed.


I’d bet that r^2 is pretty small.

I dunno. We would of course need a large, random sample and objective indices of both religiosity and prominence. What Coyne offers is only suggestive: comparisons between scientists and the general public, between the general population of scientists and NAS members. I would presume that scientists are more scientifically prominent than the general public, and NAS members more prominent in the main than other scientists. But of course we can’t derive anything quantitative from that.

Weird how quoting breaks the equation.

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All kidding aside, it wouldn’t surprise me if an amendment vote went the other direction, i.e., requiring the teaching of religious tenets as scientific laws. Just as the Christian right was able to torpedo the equal rights amendment through an elaborate and well financed disinformation campaign, one doesn’t want to open a can of worms that leads to exactly the wrong result. Freedom from Christian sectarianism currently rests on a razors edge called the US Supreme Court and that edge, as Puck points out, does not cut In favor off secular interpretations of the constitution.


It drives me nuts when I hear some Christians blame “the separation of Church and State” on "atheists, and secularists, and humanists. I suppose nobody ever bothered to teach them that the history of Europe convinced lots of Christians in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries that religion-related wars (fought over which particular religious group would control the government and daily life) were bad for everyone—including the “winners”. The British colonies in America were a place of escape from the mixing of church and state which was so common in Europe.

Many of my friends also don’t understand that many of those refugees nevertheless set about creating their own little kingdom where their particular religious tradition (i.e., the best one) forced their doctrines and favorite pieties on everyone living there. Yes, they came to America for “religious freedom” and yet did not necessarily support it for others. They did not tolerate religious dissent—and expected them to move out of their community or face punishment. (How ironic that so many Baptists I know revere the Pilgrims without any awareness that they banished Roger Williams, who was among the first Baptists in the colonies.)

[In fairness to those non-tolerant colonialists, it is worth mentioning that many sincerely believed that having Roman Catholics living next door to Protestants—or even a Calvinist residing next to an Arminian—was a sure recipe for strife and even violence. So they saw their intolerance as both fair and peace-preserving. And those who refused banishment and later returned in order to proselytize were warned and threated with death. Indeed, some of those “missionaries” were eventually hanged.]

I have yet to see a public school history book accurately describe and emphasize what I’ve summarized here. (I’m not claiming that none tell of this history. I just haven’t personally come upon such a textbook. Admittedly, I’ve not done intensive research. So perhaps some participant here on PS will tell me that their high school American history class covered this topic well. I’d love to hear about it.)

I am all for everyone in American society participating in political discourse, including those who base their opinions and values on the ethics of their religious traditions. (And non-religious traditions.) But surely a basic understanding of both European and American history leads to the conclusion that mixing of church and state has been bad for the church and bad for the state. Thomas Jefferson’s famous letter mentioned the separation of church and state so that he could reassure less powerful Baptist groups that they would not be bulldozed by the “religious elite” who controlled Virginia at that time. I find that most Baptists today don’t understand that the separation of church and state was important to their early history in America.

Surely it would not be difficult to cover this fundamental topic in every public school American history class.


That sort of teaching would be banned in Florida and several other states.


True. It is amazing that telling the truth about American history is considered “unpatriotic” and “woke” in many right-wing circles.


FFRF is suing the State of Louisiana over the 10 commandments in public schools. FFRF, coalition to file lawsuit against new Louisiana 10 Commandments law — Freedom From Religion Foundation


I haven’t yet had an opportunity to read this new law but my first reactions to the news were:

(1) There are two listings of the Ten Commandments in Exodus and one in Deuteronomy. So which one of the three is to be printed on the classroom posters?

(2) I heard that the new law requires a “Protestant version” and not the Catholic version. (Officially there is just one Roman Catholic version but I think it is rendered differently in minor details in RC catechisms versus some other RC editions. Not sure on this one.) Why not let the “donors” choose? After all, don’t we want to be inclusive? [Yeah. I’m being tongue-in-cheek.]

(3) Which Bible translation? Or are simplified paraphrases of the commandments OK?

(4) Of course, there aren’t actually ten commandments numbered one through ten in the Bible. The ten in this context in Hebrew is more the idea of “completeness” than a literal number. And that helps explain why different versions group the commandments in different ways as they try to “force” the list of commandments into a “standard” ten.

(5) Will students exposed to the Ten Commandments in their public school classrooms go home and argue with their Christian parents that the family must start keeping the Jewish Sabbath day holy by not working, playing sports, shopping for food, etc. etc. on Saturdays? (“Dad, I can’t mow the law today because the Ten Commandments tell me that I must observe the Sabbath by resting/ceasing from all labor.”)

[Why would a Christian legislature promote Judaism?]

Anyway, the list of questions goes on.

POSTSCRIPT: I do nevertheless like the educational value of classroom posters. I would suggest posters which summarize the seven articles of the U.S. Constitution and at least the first TEN amendments (aka the Bill of Rights.) Long ago when I was bored in grade school staring at the walls, such posters would have given me something to read and I would have inevitably memorized the basics of Constitutional law. (As it is, I find myself having to look up the amendments now and then to recall which one is which.)

In the states of the former Confederacy, I would suggest posters of the respective state’s declaration of secession where they explicitly spell out the undeniable fact that the defense of slavery was the primary reason for secession and the basis of their declaration of war. (And Texas made clear that it was about the inferiority of “the African race.”) Yes, posters could be a good idea if the teachers are forbidden from telling the truth about the Civil War. [I’m in grumpy old man mode here.]


Louisiana House Bill 71

EDIT: link corrected, now goes to text of legislation.

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“Because if you want to respect the rule of law, you gotta start from the original law giver which was Moses,” said Landry.

Poor Hammurabi, always forgotten :cry:


When it comes to the Louisianna law, there one poster in particular that comes to mind.