Saturday, December 31, 2005

An American Irony: Yoga, Yes; Design, No

A few years ago, the Aspen, Colorado, public schools implemented a program in their elementary schools to teach yoga. A local pastor led a fight against this and argued very wisely. He claimed that yoga is intrinsically and inextricably religious. That religion, of course, is Hinduism. The teaching of a religious practice—such as yoga or Christian prayer—in a state school is unconstitutional. Of course, the yoga proponents typically labeled him as a fearful fundamentalist who was against peaceful practices that were merely for relaxation and cultivating good health. Sadly, yoga is now a tax-supported part of elementary education in Aspen, Colorado, thus flagrantly providing state support for the religion of Hinduism. (Yoga has become so mainstream in American culture that a good number of Christians practice it, thinking they can separate the religion from the exercise. They are wrong, as I was quoted as saying in a The New York Times story this summer. See also my Christianity Today essay on this.)

Now consider the controversy over intelligent design (ID). While the theory appeals to empirical evidence and proven principles of design detection used in sciences such as archaeology, cryptography, and SETI, the critics claim that it is inherently religious and, thus, unscientific. This, of course, begs the question as to whether a religious belief might have some scientific support. Moreover, critics of ID inflate the claims of ID far beyond what ID claims for itself: namely, that some features of the natural world are better explained on the basis of intelligent causes as opposed to unintelligent causes (chance and necessity in tandem and without assistance). That is a minimal, modest, and retiring sort of claim metaphysically, since it does not specify who or what the design or designers might be. (That debate can be carried out philosophically.) Nevertheless, opponents of ID claim this violated the establishment clause of the Constitution by “establishing religion.” This is Nonsense. It attempts to disestablish the de facto religion of naturalism.

Anyway, back to yoga. Why is it that something so deeply rooted in Hinduism can be accepted in the public schools (and unopposed by the ACLU, who should have supported the pastor), while ID is considered an offense to the very marrow of the American system of law? Why this egregious double standard? Whether or not a belief is designated “religious” depends entirely on whose interests are being served by it. Yoga, it is believed, confers benefits to anyone who practices it. It can help the atheist or agnostic become relaxed and healthier. There is the payoff. And why not let the children in state schools share in yoga’s benefit? ID, however, does not serve any interest of secular people. On the contrary, it brings the secularist worldview (philosophical materialism) into question on the basis of empirical evidence. It directly challenges the stranglehold that materialism has over established science. Of course, it does serve the interests of the First Amendment (freedom of speech: in this case, the speech of those who would challenge Darwinism in tax-supported schools) and it in no way establishes any religion, since it leaves open who or what the designer might be and makes its argument not from any sacred scripture, but from nature. That is hardly an altar call. Nevertheless, ID is a direct assault on the citadel of materialism: the premise that unintelligent causes can exhaustively explain biological systems.

Now, in light of the above let us think of a new strategy. Maybe we can claim that yoga is really based on the idea of a designing intelligence that instructs us on how to use our designed bodies better. Yoga could only work if the sages who intuited it knew how to open the body to optimal function by perfecting it according to a design plan and that design plan is yoga. Then, the ACLU might come running! And perhaps we can present ID as a mental exercise that helps calm the nerves—an emotional tonic that relieves the stress of thinking that humans only happen to emerge after eons of purposeless and unguided evolution. Students could chant, “I am designed. I am designed,” over and over again—or just chant “I am D I am D” until a higher level of consciousness is achieved. No, I think the ACLU would still smell blood.

  • Douglas Groothuis


Ed Darrell said...

Your claim that the physical exercise known as yoga is religion is tantamount to claiming that, since many Christians clasp their hands together to pray, applause is many prayers.

Your argument begs the question about whether physical exercise is religion. See if you can find a court case and figure out how the law looks at such things.

Especially do this before you draw unexpected and silly analogies to a religiously-motivated school board's (". . . somebody has to stand up for Jesus!") attempt to force kids to think evolution doesn't work.

There are mental exercises and physical exercises. When done correctly, they don't involve the same muscle.

Ed Darrell said...

Oh, and you get the legal arguments in Dover backwards. ID is not unscientific because it is religious, and that's not what Judge Jones' decision says.

Instead, the finding is that ID is not good, current science. Because it is not good science, the question of why the school board ordered it into the science classes becomes salient in court. At trial the record is clear: The board failed to ask any scientists, rejected science advice from the district's teachers, but instead raised money for anti-evolution texts at churches, consulted religious groups about the issue, and made many statements making clear their religious intent (though, the record also shows they lied with abandon to cover up the religious statements once they were informed that the statements could be used as evidence).

This is the same position creationism was in after the 1981 trial in Arkansas: If only there were scientific research backing creationism, it could be put into the curriculum.

If ID advocates want to get it into high school curriculum, the easy way is to do a dozen or so experiments that produce data supporting ID, and publish the results in respected science venues. This is how all other science ideas get into the textbooks.

Is there some inherent barrier to ID advocates doing such research? I know of none.

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...

The point is that yoga is far more than exercise; it is a religious practice. Do the research. Of course, not all physical exercise is religion, nor is applauding prayer. The issue is the spiritual focus required for yoga. That makes it religion.

Susan said...

Ed Darrell, do you happen to have your own blog and address to it you can share so that others might engage in conversation with you there? One as intelligent as yourself surely is able to create, and use a blog. Or perhaps you are like my neighbors, who take their dogs out to "to their duty" on every lawn in the neighborhood....but their own?

nancy said...

Ed, clearly, you did not read the article by Dr. Chris Mucosko (prof of chemical engineering and material science) otherwise you would have noticed that according to Mucosko "intelligent design theorists haven’t been sitting around twiddling their flagella for the past nine years."

A little google time reveals that respected scientists and engineers around the world increasingly are recognizing that ID has earned a seat at the table of ideas and as such the debate between ID and evolution should be conducted with honesty and integrity.

Mike Musselman said...

Mr. Darrell appeals to legality. I find that interesting. If there is a court case that says yoga is (or isn't) religious, he's implying that actually means something. But what does it mean?

The American legal system once segregated races. In fact it once segregated them in some places, but not all. Various legal systems that exist in the U.S., in fact, did not agree. Did that make segregation right or true, Ed? No matter what side you stand on, on that or any other issue, an appeal to its legality or illegality, for purposes of establishing it as fact or truth, is insupportable. Law is often nothing more, in our system, than a codified prevailing opinion. That opinion could be correct, or in need of adjustment, or could be overturned, all of which is implicit in the way our legal system was designed. The Framers of our Consitituion recognized that law could be wrong. The American Revolution hinged on that assumption. Thererfore, if the assumptions behind segregation were true one day, then untrue the next, only because a court decision says so, we make the truth something that can be manufactured. (This "manufactured truth" assumption is what's behind pro-choice efforts to avoid an overturn of the Roe v. Wade ruling. Even though both medical science and the facts of the original case itself certainly suggest that the subject needs to be reconsidered, pro-choice folks answer all challenges with, "It's legal.")

For that reason, I think the idea of determining whether or yoga is religion or not through a court decision is the silly idea here, Ed. There are millions of people across the globe who do, in fact, claim that yoga is a religious practice. Doug is attempting to take that claim seriously. The fact that a relative handful of middle-class-to-wealthy Americans, some of whom are Christian, dabble in yoga and believe its only a physical exercise does not in itself negate that Hindu claim. I wonder how the average Hindu would feel sending his/her children to a U.S. public elementary school to learn that an important piece of their religion, in fact, is not religious, because a U.S. court ruled it so?

I think both those who believe in God and those who believe in Science could agree that truth simply is, and only waits to be discovered. They disagree about the discovery process. But scientific beliefs (theories) change regularly, and are refined over time as new information come to light. Scientists also disagree and fight amongst themselves. Scientists, of all people, ought to be able to admit that they don't yet have it all figured out. Scientists and their Creationist counterparts ought therefore to bring enough humility to the discussion to make room for other points of view.

Assuming you're right about the facts behind the court decision (and I'm not in a position to know, but let's just assume) would you then be willing, Ed, if the ID folks did the experiments and published findings that were satisfactorily "scientific," to permit ID in the schools? Would you fight for it? Be careful here. I would fight for evolution, if some creationist tried to have it ruled "bad science" in a court of law. You're implying tht you would reciprocate. Would you? Hre's your chance to be a mna of integrity.

I don't think anyone except a very vocal minority on the far right is actually suggesting that "kids be forced to think evolution doesn't work." I fail to see why giving a fair hearing in the schools for what may be an alternative to evolution, and evidence that points away from evolution could possibly have a down side. There are physicists out there who are positing some kind of intellignece behind what they observe. The textbooks have yet to catch up with them. Why does evolution have to be the only game in town? If its good science and people are taught how to honestly evaluate both ID and E, (and another other ideas that might present themselves) surely it will stand up to the challenge, if it is true. What are evolutionists so worried about, I wonder?

Stephen Jay Gould, the author of the "punctuated equilibria" theory of evolution, which posits both slow and fast evolution to explain problems with classic Darwinian theory, was highly critical of biology textbooks in the public school. They were, for one, about 15 years behind, and two, talked about steady macro-evolution as if it were a fact. He said that micro-evolution was the only portion of the theory that had approached the point where it was reliable enough to be considered a fact, and he cautioned care there, even so. He saw many fascinating problems with macro-evolution, and talked abut them in in celebrated series of books on the subject. (He also talked aobut many fascinating problems with a created order that was "good" as well). He was not afraid to rock the boat. He was not afraid to see evolution as a theory challenged. In fact, he lead a serious challenge to Darwinism. I spent many weeks reading his work, and respect him tremendously for his integrity, though we would disagree about much. But I bet I could have a civil conversation with him.

By contrast, Ed, your fears show through pretty plainly. Why don't we talk about what's really bothering you?

Mike Musselman said...

Lest I appear to be a bit one sided, I'd like to add that I think evolutionists come by some of their fears of creationist activity honestly. Not so long ago, we must remember, that "very vocal minority" I talked about had a growing foothold in the U.S. political process, and some of them made no secret of their desire to create a theocracy in the U.S. I don't blame people for being a little worried and worked up about that. I think most of us have learned from our histroy that God cannot be crammed down someone's throat. Those theocracy folks scared me to death, and I'm a believer.

I think that the majority of people on both sides of this issue could make a more productive discussion out of this by being willing to disown their respective lunatic fringes, examine and admit the fears that underlie their responses, and then, with confidence in the ability of the right and true to prevail, permit the presentation of competing points of view in some way agreeable to both sides.

Ed Darrell said...

Judge Overton invited IDists to do the research and publish it, in 1982. He noted that if they were to actually do research and publish it, it would be in the textbooks and in the high school classrooms without any need for legislation from a state legislature, or a school board.

Still waiting. Every ID article ever submitted to a science journal has been published. Neither of them makes a case for intelligent design as hypothesis (and, consequently, no case for theory, either).

Design theorists have, indeed, been twiddling their flaggella all these years. There is not a single laboratory on Earth right now where there is any ID work going on. That has been true since 1982. I don't know what Mucosko regards as research, but even in his engineering field there is no work on intelligent design in biology.

Thank you, Susan. Our dogs have their area in our yard. They don't blog yet, nor do I.

Ed Darrell said...


You may want to hurry over to the NY Times site and read this opinion piece before it goes behind the pay-for-view veil, "Why I'm Happy I Evolved," by Olivia Judson:

nancy said...

Ed, I'm not sure what you expected me to glean from the article. I'm rather surprised that the musings of the evolutionary biologist did not answer the "how" question either.

Also, she does make a mistake when she claims that believing in special creation implies that humans "are separate from other living things." She's glad that as an evolutionist she's thankful that "the same forces that produced me also produced bees.."

Hmm...I seem to recall that creationists (not to be confused with the ID movement) do believe that the "same forces that produced" man also produced bees. Her issue with the problem of evil in a theist worldview is another discussion for another post.

Ed Darrell said...

Mr. Musselman said: I fail to see why giving a fair hearing in the schools for what may be an alternative to evolution, and evidence that points away from evolution could possibly have a down side. There are physicists out there who are positing some kind of intellignece behind what they observe. The textbooks have yet to catch up with them. Why does evolution have to be the only game in town? If its good science and people are taught how to honestly evaluate both ID and E, (and another other ideas that might present themselves) surely it will stand up to the challenge, if it is true. What are evolutionists so worried about, I wonder?

1. ID shouldn't get a "fair hearing" in schools until it is developed to the point that it's got something to hear. Before it goes into school books, for example, it should have a fair hearing in the laboratory -- that hasn't happened yet -- and a fair hearing in the science journals -- advocates have not yet found it possible to make a case for other scientists to evaluate -- and a fair hearing in graduate seminars in biology, and a fair hearing in college courses.

Until such time as there is anything to hear, it's pedagogically wrong to try to teach something that does not exist, as fact. Especially that is wrong when it requires the denigration of workable theory that gives us good medical care.

I fail to see why ID should get special rights to school books that we don't grant Pythagoras, or Newton, or Pasteur, or Lord Kelvin, etc., etc.

2. Texas textbooks are up to speed on the consensus of physicists on what they see. But physics isn't biology. I don't see why ID should get a pass in biology that it doesn't get in physics.

3. Evolution is the only game that has withstood rigorous testing. It's the theory behind infectious disease control, crop development, animal husbandry, cancer treatments and cures, diabetes diagnoses, treatment and hope for cure, treatments for cystic fibrosis, the fight against crop pests (notably cotton boll weevils, wheat smut and wheat aphids, and imported Argentine fire ants), wildlife management, and flower development. Now, perhaps somebody has the research to indicate that evolution is actually in error in some or all of those fields. If you find those people, encourage them to publish their results in the proper journals, and without any schoolboard acting, without any change in legislation, the stuff will be in the next edition of the school books.

3. "If it's good science" is a good criterion. ID doesn't meet it. Please take a look at the transcripts from the Dover trial. Even the ID advocates argue that ID is not good science.

On the basis of the testimony of the ID advocates alone, we could reasonably conclude that ID is not yet ready for prime time.

That courts once paid deference to badly-based notions of race differences does not negate our legal process and its ability to determine fact from non-fact. Segregation laws were never based on solid science indicating differences in race -- Darwin noted the error of such claims as early as 1835; had courts used science in the 19th century as they do now, slavery and segregation would have had a much tougher go. So the valid complaint that the courts were slow on segregation does not make the case that courts are always wrong, or that they are wrong on any particular science issue today.

To try to get back to the topic, I wonder how a law such as Georgia's moment of silence, which allows kids to pray if they choose, could withstand scrutiny under a view that yoga is non-Christian religious exercise. I think we run a risk of ascribing to Eastern religions too many things that are simply good health practices. When good health practices are outlawed, only outlaws will have good health, to borrow a phrase.

Ed Darrell said...


Judge Jones' decision stands on its own. The fact that intelligent design is motivated purely by religion is only a factor if it has no science behind it. If there were science, there would be valid secular purpose to the board's actions, and whether or not the actions tended to support religion would not be an issue the court had to get to at all. Consider a separate example: That germ theory of disease tends to contradict Christian Science does not make the teaching of germ theory a violation of the First Amendment, since there is a substantial body of science behind it.

As Francis Beckwith points out repeatedly, if there is science in intelligent design, philosophically, it is constitutional to teach it.

But -- alas for ID! -- there is no science there.

Judge Jones' decision points the way to get ID into school curricula: ID advocates should do some research to back the idea and publish the work.

But then, that was the same course Judge William Overton pointed out in 1982 in the Arkansas decision. Instead of going into the laboratory, anti-evolution advocates held a series of conferences on how to find legal loopholes in the decision, decided to call "creationism" something else, and started pushing "intelligent design."

Robert Frost once asked how many times an apple had to hit Newton before Newton took the hint. Poets often have a good pipeline on truth, beauty, and the psychology of those who lose in court.

Ed Darrell said...

By the way, if you want to make a legal claim that yoga is religion, you're going to need to hope that the courts don't get hold of the substantial body of research that tends to indicate that yoga provides real health benefits.

For example, yoga can help with low back pain:

Yoga provides psychological and modest health benefits to breast cancer survivors:

And the European Journal of Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehabilitation finds that forms of yoga are good therapy for patients recovering from cardio events: Yoga in cardiac health (a review).

Jayasinghe SR.

Continuum Heart Institute, Beth Israel Medical Center, First Avenue at 16th Street, New York 10010, USA.

This review studies the efficacy of yoga in the primary and secondary prevention of ischaemic heart disease and post-myocardial infarction patient rehabilitation. Yoga is an unconventional form of physical exercise that has been practised over a long period of time in the Indian sub-continent. It has gained immense popularity as a form of recreational activity all over the world. Its possible contributions to healthy living have been studied and many interesting revelations have been made. Benefits of yoga in the modification of cardiovascular risk factors and in the rehabilitation of the post-myocardial infarction patient are areas of significant importance. It is important to assess the practical significance and the suitability of incorporating yoga into the comprehensive cardiac rehabilitation programme. Majority of the rehabilitation workers believes that incorporating nonconventional forms of physical exercise such as yoga definitely would enhance efficacy and add value. This article attempts to study the history and the science of yoga and evaluate its effects on cardiovascular health.

There are 35 articles on the topic that pop up in a PubMed search. That's about 17 times the number of articles that support intelligent design in biology journals.

If intelligent design had half so much support as yoga as science, in science, ID would be in the U.S. high school textbooks today.

Ed Darrell said...

Meditation from a Christian perspective: