Religion, Education and Morality: A Dialogue
Formerly: "Religion and the Schools: A Dialog"
(December, 2007 Revision)
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ABOUT THIS DIALOG
May 20, 2007
This dialog has its origins in the last term paper that I wrote
as a graduate student. Immediately following my work on
this dialog, I turned my full attention to
The first version of this dialog was submitted in the Summer of
1974. In the rush toward completion, it included an
unacceptable amount of block quotes, and toward the end, the
discourse tended to replace conversation. It was, in
short, an uncompleted work. Even so, it was so much more
than the professor expected or required that it earned an A.
The dialog was then set aside and forgotten until a couple of
years ago. In this revision, I have removed extensive
direct quotations from outside sources, and have put many of
these quotations in the end notes. I credit the members of
the dialog with the ability to recall brief quotations.
The one exception to this rule are quotations from the Bible,
which is assumed to be at hand during the conversation.
Because my ideas have advanced considerably in the past
thirty-four years, my first inclination was to subject the work
to a thorough revision, citing contemporary sources and events
and presenting my current thinking. Upon reflection, I
decided that it would be better to do so with an entirely new
Accordingly, the time of the dialog will remain in the
mid-seventies, with references from that date. The
location, as before, will be the University of Utah.
Because one of the three members of the dialog is a devout
Mormon, and another a disaffected Mormon, there will be numerous
references to that religion, with the expectation that these
references will apply also to traditional Christian religions.
In this revision, I have refined and expanded upon the ideas
that I presented in the original version, but have not
elaborated upon later development in my ideas.
Accordingly, the published works of John Rawls, the subject of
my doctoral dissertation, are rarely cited here.
The dialog begins with a specific issue, teaching of religion in
the public schools, and then moves on to larger issues: the
origins and validation of traditional Christianity, the adequacy
of that religious tradition as a guide to moral conduct, and
finally to the possibility of a secular morality – “ethics
Because I have several projects in front of the projected new
dialog, it is less than certain that I will complete it.
If I do, the opening topic of the current dialog, religion in
the schools, will probably be completely eliminated, as will the
references to the Mormon religion. The new dialog will be
devoted to an exposition and defense of secular morality, but
will be given a fresh approach, set at the present time, and
reflecting my current thought.
A preview of my position on these issues may be found in my book
in progress, “Conscience of a
Progressive.”. See especially, chapters 5, 6, 11, 12,
Religion Education and Morality: A Dialog
"Congress shall make no law respecting
an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free
The First Amendment of
the United States Constitution
"The 'establishment of religion' clause of the First
Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the
Federal Government can set up a church. Neither
can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions,
or prefer one religion over another. Neither can
it force nor influence a person to go to or remain away
from church against his will or force him to profess a
belief or disbelief in any religion. No tax in any
amount, large or small, can be levied to support any
religious activities or institutions, whatever they may
be called, or whatever form they may adopt to teach or
McCollum v, Board of Education
(Justice Black for the Majority)
THE MEMBERS OF THE DIALOG
Daniel Wilkes and Clark Cordrey share common origins as well as an
enduring friendship. As children, they grew up together in a
rural village in southern Utah. There they sat together in the
same classroom, attended the same church and, with scarcely a
moment's reflection or hesitation, grew easily into an acceptance of
the beliefs of the Mormon church. The routines of school, of
family, of friendship and of faith -- all were agreeably
well-ordered. So it was to continue through their first year
at Brigham Young university, where Dan chose a major in Marketing
and Clark a major in Sociology. At the beginning of their
sophomore year, however, Dan sensed a disquieting aloofness in his
friend, particularly when their conversations turned, as they so
often did, to matters of religion. At first, Clark seemed
content to listen to his friend's discourses on the subject, but
eventually he tended to avoid the topic altogether. Clearly
something was happening. Even so, Clark chose not to share his
meditations with his friend. At the close of the year, Clark
transferred to the University of California at Berkeley, and Dan
accepted a call to a mission in England. After serving his
mission, Dan returned to the university in Provo and remained there
through the successful completion of his Master's Degree in Business
Administration. He then enrolled at the Harvard Business
School, where he received his Ph.D. Following several years of
distinguished service in a brokerage firm on Wall Street, and later
at the Department of Commerce in Washington, he accepted a
professorship at the College of Business at the University of Utah.
In the meantime, Clark remained at Berkeley to complete Ph.D in
Sociology, with a minor in Philosophy. Soon thereafter, he was
appointed to the Department of Sociology at the University of Utah.
Daniel Wilkes' trim, handsome appearance belies his forty-one
years. Though he has been teaching at the University for three
years, his apparel displays Wall Street urbanity more than campus
casualness. He has attempted to adopt a scholarly bearing and
wit. However, because of his devout and uncompromising
commitment to his church and to its community of adherents, this
attempt has met with much less than total success. He is aware
of this, but not particularly troubled about it. He feels,
quite correctly, that such externalities matter little alongside his
well-deserved professional reputation in the field of personnel
management. Formerly a bishop and presently a member of his
Stake High Council, Wilkes is married and has five children.
Clark Cordrey is very much at home in the academic milieu,
which is scarcely surprising since he has rarely been away from it
in the twenty-three years since he entered BYU as a freshman.
Bearish and jovial, he is generally well regarded for his warmth and
gentleness, and for his unpunishing wit, which he often turns on
himself. An alert listener, he endeavors, a bit much perhaps,
to be fair and accommodating. His attitude toward apparel, if
indeed he ever gives it a thought, is entirely utilitarian. He
dresses casually, at times to the point of sloppiness. He is
Associate Professor of Sociology. A devoted outdoorsman, Cordrey lives in
Emigration Canyon with his wife and two sons.
Frank Weiss has the stern, intense bearing of a man who has
worked hard, diligently and at great personal sacrifice to attain a
place in his chosen profession. His is a classical, if
vanishing, American success story. The son of German-Jewish
refugees from the Nazi terror, he was born in Brooklyn during the
very month of Adolf Hitler's death. In ten consecutive years,
he slowly but steadily advanced from his freshman class at Brooklyn
College to a PhD in Philosophy at the City University of New York.
The process was protracted by the need to devote a considerable
amount of time supporting himself and supplementing his father's
income. This decade of hard and sustained work has exacted a
price. Weiss' hair is graying prematurely and his face is
creased. Though ten years younger than Wilkes and Cordrey, he
might easily be taken to be a contemporary. Although this is
only his second year at the University, Weiss' sharp intellect and
his cynical wit have attracted considerable attention among many of
the students and faculty. He has also caused some distress
among a few community conscious administrators. Having
suffered considerable deprivation in his youth, and having spent
most of his college years during the campus turmoil of the '60s,
Weiss is acutely sensitive to moral issues. He is long on
fervor for social justice and intellectual integrity and short on
tolerance for pettiness, exploitation and academic sloth.
Frank Weiss' temperament and quality of mind are matched by his
appearance: lean, alert, intense, ascetic. His academic
specialties are logic, the philosophy of science, linguistic
analysis, and meta-ethics. He is unmarried.
The dialogue takes place at the faculty room of the University
Union. It is a Friday afternoon, and Dan and Clark have just
dismissed the last of their classes for the week. Dan chooses
a table by a window which looks south over the valley. He
invites Clark to join him.
The Menace of Sects Education
CLARK: Well hello, Dan, how's the Business business?
DAN: Bullish! And how is the Education game?
CLARK: Also "bullish," but not in the same sense, I fear. You
see we are used to talking educant around the shop, which surely
must be the most bullish dialect on campus.
DAN: I agree, of course, but I value your friendship too highly to
tell you just how much.
CLARK: C'mon, take a chance! Even better, give me a f'r instance.
DAN: Well, a "bullish language," I would say, uses pretty words to
state an ugly fact. For example, calling a lazy kid an
CLARK: Or calling clear-cutting, “Healthy Forests,” or torture
“enhanced interrogation techniques.”
CLARK: Well surely your friends on Madison Avenue are the consummate
masters of that black art.
DAN: You fellows are not all that far behind. For instance,
there's this specimen which especially galls me: calling the
expulsion of religion from our public schools "a re-affirmation of
our basic American traditions." Good grief, our "basic American
traditions are, at their root, religious traditions! You don't
"affirm" them by casting them out!
CLARK: You are referring, I presume, to the recent rulings of the
Supreme Court -- particularly the rulings concerning prayers and
DAN: Of course. The rulings of the same Supreme Court whose
Chief Justice administers oaths of office over the Bible. The
same Supreme Court whose working sessions begin with the
declarations "God bless the United States and this honorable Court."
CLARK: We can't have the clerk shouting out "Let's hear it for the
DAN: I'll ignore that.
CLARK: Surely, Dan, you don't think that the exclusion of these
little ceremonies will overturn the Churches, the Schools, or the
DAN: Of course not. Still, we are, by and large, a religious
people. As such, we are entitled to have our children reminded
of their religious heritage, as they pursue their education in the
CLARK: But were they “reminded" of anything at all? I seem to recall
that some time before the prayer and bible reading cases of 1963,1
some children were asked to explain the Lord's Prayer and to write
it down. Some of the results were quite hilarious: "Harold be
Thy name, " and “Lead us not into Penn Station." “I pledge
allegiance to the flag?” C’mon! Even today, I would be bothered by
my son pledging daily “allegiance” to a piece of cloth -- a patent
absurdity — were I not comforted by the thought that he properly
pays no attention whatever to the literal significance of the
pledge. I mean, really! One proclaims “allegiance” to
institutions and ideals, and not to symbols. Respect? Of
course! But “allegiance” to a flag? Have you never wondered, Dan,
why the “Pledge of Allegiance” doesn’t read, “I pledge respect for
the flag of the United States, and allegiance to the republic for
which it stands. . . ?
DAN: Never thought of it.
CLARK: Nor did I until I was a graduate student at Berkeley.
Nor do millions of school children -- ever. They are that
insensitive to the content of what they recite by rote. But of
course, it’s just a ceremony. Could just as well be in Latin
-- or better, perhaps, Iroquois.
DAN: Are you suggesting that we throw out the Pledge of Allegiance
CLARK: Not at all -- if only to spare us the added wrath of the
true-blue patriots. Believe me, Dan, we're having troubles
enough with offended piety. But at least we might straighten
up the language a bit. Can't we at least practice some
allegiance to the mother tongue, while we pledge allegiance to the, er, Republic?
DAN: But does this bear upon the issue of Bible readings? After all,
these readings, when we were allowed to have them, varied from day
CLARK: As I recall, about ninety percent of the readings were from
the Psalms (maybe a dozen or so) with occasional bold forays into
Proverbs. But how often did we hear the exquisite
philosophical poetry of Ecclesiastes, or the drama of Job, or that
summit of Old Testament morality, the so-called "minor prophets”?
Rare indeed was the child who showed such originality. Perhaps
it was all for the better. After all, he might have chanced upon the
atrocities of Joshua and Kings, or the eroticism of the Song of
Solomon. Then watch out -- trouble!
DAN: What are you getting at?
CLARK: Just this: Bible reading in the public schools was a
meaningless chore; read without piety and heard with scant
awareness. For me, the capper came one day when I was student
The young man whose turn it was to read, marched up to the front of
the class, snapped open the Bible and commenced reading. You
know what came out? The generations of the prophets: names and “begats,”
followed by still more names and “begats.” I confess, that just
about settled the case as far as I was concerned. No, my
friend, I just can't see that the cause of religious sensitivity was
measurably harmed by the termination of these little charades.
DAN: You have apparently missed the fundamental point. It was
not the content of these ceremonies that mattered most, it was the
fact that they were observed -- that there was even the smallest
portion of the school day to give brief acknowledgment and
observance of our religious heritage. But there is an even
larger issue here. We are not dealing with an isolated case of
prayers and readings. We are dealing with a radical shift of
public policy, ideology and morality. We are dealing, in the
case of prayers and Bible readings, with two concrete manifestations
of a coherent trend toward the complete secularization of American
education, not to mention American life in general.
CLARK: You make it all sound so ominous, so sinister, so
DAN: Mind you, I am not reciting the orthodox
John Birch Society line.
No, I do not think that there is a dark conspiracy afoot. Even
so, the trends are serious. For whatever reasons, historical
amnesia, moral anesthesia, able legal maneuvering by a few
aggressive atheistic plaintiffs, or just a wide-spread
disinclination of certain judges and educators to get involved with
a sticky matter of basic principle -- it all adds up to the same
sorry result: Religion is simply being packed up and carted out of
the public schools. All this in a nation of God-fearing,
churchgoing citizens. Clark, this is not only bad for
religion; it is bad for education!
CLARK: Bad for religion? I am not so sure. But I am even more
intrigued by your suggestion that a ban against prayers and Bible
readings, and all that it allegedly entails, is bad for education.
DAN: Again, I allege that the exclusion of these ceremonies is tied
up with a growing taboo against any mention of religion in the
public schools; and that is bad for education simply because you are
left with a partial, mutilated account of human history and society
- indeed, of the universe and man's place in it
How can we properly understand European history without dealing with
the religious motivations that led to the Crusades? How can we
understand our own history, without a reference to the religious
beliefs of the Pilgrims, not to mention the whole scope of our
religious heritage? How can we comprehend the structure of modern
society without giving due acknowledgment to the function of the
church in our national life? For that matter, how can we
meaningfully interpret, without understanding Divine Law and God’s
plan, the ultimate purpose and direction of human life and history? Don't you progressives hold that "education is a preparation for
life?" And isn't religion an integral part of life and an
understanding thereof? Well, then, your own credo must necessarily
condemn the exclusion of religion from the schools!
CLARK: Are you sure that you are being quite fair to the schools or
to the courts? There is no Supreme Court ruling that bans all
mention of, or instruction about, the Crusades or the Pilgrims, or
the function of the church in society. These are not tenets of
faith; they are objective, verified events and facts. As for
"Divine Law," or "God's Plan," well that's quite another matter.
The unavoidable question, of course, is “God's Plan” according to whom? Do we present your version? The Pope’s? Or do we teach the
Jewish or Moslem versions? The answer is that we cannot teach any as
God's Truth, without offending the religious convictions of others.
So we teach none.
That the Mormons, or the Catholics, or whosoever, believe
such-and-such? This is objective, public knowledge, and thus quite
acceptable. That these claims are God's own Truth? Out of bounds!
Now if you wish to instruct your children in the tenets of your
faith, you have outstanding opportunities at home, at your church,
or at the seminaries. Judging from the Church’s membership
figures, these efforts are enjoying outstanding success.
So you see, Dan, it is not "all of a piece." There is no attempt,
deliberate or otherwise, to remove religion, root and branch, from
the schools. There is, in fact, a large, honored, and even
uncontested place for religion in the schools: as a subject of
study, along with all other aspects of human culture. We, and
our children, are quite free, even encouraged, to learn about
religion. But since one man's creed is another man's heresy, we draw
the line at the teaching of religion, either through indoctrination
or ceremonies. There are many suitable institutions for
carrying on that function. But clearly the government and its
public schools are not such institutions. The First Amendment
says so, and thus the courts say so. And I entirely concur.
DAN: You make it all sound so neat. But of course it is not.
You may call the Bible readings and the Lord's Prayer "trivial ceremonies,"
but they were deemed important by a great many citizens and found to be
offensive to very, very few. And, spoken at the beginning of the
school day, and alongside the pledge to the flag, they served as a daily
reminder that we are all God's children and that He created the earth we
live on and the heaven that we hope to attain. These truths are
devoutly believed by the vast
majority of the American people. Wasn't it Justice Douglas who
wrote, "We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a
Must we convert the last atheist or agnostic before we are allowed
to acknowledge, much less celebrate, our piety in our own schools?
CLARK: You correctly quoted Justice Douglas. But immediately
thereafter he continued: “We guarantee the freedom to worship as one
chooses We make room for as wide a variety of beliefs and creeds as
the spiritual needs of man deem necessary." You see, you have much
more than the unbelievers to contend with. For in addition to the
Moslems, the Jews, and other non-Christians, you have those liberal
Christians who regard the Bible not as God's word, but as an
imperfect record of ancient beliefs. Then there are others who do not
conceive of God as a person and do not include prayer as a form of
worship. If you make provision for this “wide variety of
beliefs and creeds” that Justice Douglas refers to, you simply will
have no place for those prayers and readings.
DAN: Then read from the Koran or the Bhagavad Gita every now and
then. Or have a period of silent prayer. Or excuse the
non-believers from the ceremonies. Surely there must be some
alternative to throwing out the whole practice. You claim,
rather magnanimously it would appear, that there is a place for
religion in the schools. Well, I just don't care much for the
place that you give it. Religion isn't merely a pack of
objective, verified facts. More significantly, religion is an
attitude, a commitment, a devotion, a living faith. Take this
away and leave only the "objective facts?" Why, all that you will
have left is the corpse of religion. A child cannot understand
religion merely by picking over "the facts."
CLARK: But the facts about religion, well some of them anyway, are
all that the public at large will allow you to teach. For once
you breath life into that corpse, once you add the commitment, the
devotion, the faith — that is to say, once you cease merely to teach
and begin to preach and to indoctrinate, then someone will become
quite properly offended. And that someone is also paying for a piece
of that school. You forget too easily, my friend, that strictly
speaking, there is no such thing as “religion,” there are only religions.
DAN: And if you take devotion and piety from the schools, you will
be left, not with no religion, but with one religion only: the
religion of secularism.
CLARK: Secularism? Is that a religion?
DAN: Sure it is, whether it's called Humanism, or Ethical Culture,
or Universalism-Unitarianism, or whatever. And its credo is concise
and straightforward: Man is self-sufficient without God, history is
intelligible without reference to a Divine Plan, moral direction is
attainable without reference to God's law. I am not aware that
we have amended the Constitution to allow the establishment of
Ethical Culture as the national religion.
CLARK: You are saying, then, that man is rudderless without some
concept of, and faith in, God?
DAN: Exactly. And unless some reference is found in the schools to a
Divine moral and spiritual order, you are just not going to produce
a well-educated person. Certainly not a well morally-educated
CLARK: How so?
DAN: Quite simply, because an individual is not fully educated
unless that person has been taught values – a moral code. If
not, then that individual is worse than ill-educated, he or she is a
menace to society. And here is the crux of it: you cannot
teach values apart from religion.4
CLARK: Can there by values without religion? My friend, you have
raised a fundamental issue here, and I don't want to dodge it. But
might we set it aside for awhile and give it our full attention
later? I am concerned, at the moment, that we not lose sight of an
important charge that you raised earlier: that the exclusion of
religious observances in the schools is bad, not only for religion,
but also for education. Have you exhausted your bill of
particulars, or is there more?
DAN: Not only is there more, but it is the worst part. The
American people are not unaware of the moral and spiritual
implications of these court rulings. They resent the
secularization of the schools, and they feel powerless to change
these apparently inexorable forces. I believe that the
fashionable term for this feeling is “alienation.”
CLARK: They? Who are "they?"
DAN: "They" are the traditional foundation stones of support for the
American public schools. "They" are the people who serve on
school boards, who belong to the PTA, who send their children to
college to become teachers. "They" are middle and upper-middle
class Protestant, churchgoing, mainstream Americans. When they
were told that the schools "prepare for life," they believed it.
Now they are being told that this is to be a life without prayers
and scriptures, and they feel betrayed. This is ominous, for
without their support, the public schools will collapse as a viable
Surely you don't think that the American Humanist Association, the
American Civil Liberties Union, the Vashti McCulloms, or the Madalyn
Murrays can keep the public schools open without the support of
Middle America? If you will pardon the expression, they haven’t a
CLARK: In the abstract, you present an eloquent argument; but is it
accurate? Let's look to the facts. Just how is the public
actually responding? As I perceive the situation, there is little
evidence of impending "collapse." It seems to me that “secularism"
ranks far below tax rates and teacher militancy in the public bill
of complaints. Of course there was something of a hoopla
following the Court ruling against prayers and Bible readings.
But was this followed by a mass exodus to independent schools? Alongside the flood of students from the newly integrated schools,
the move away from the "Godless classrooms" was the merest trickle.
In short, is it really any big deal today, twelve years after Abingdon v Schempp? Seems to me that the public has become quite
used to the change. After all, whatever became of the Becker
amendment? As I recall, it was torpedoed, in no small way, by the
clergy — notably by the National Council of Churches.6
And finally, haven't you quite overlooked the accommodation that the
Supreme Court has made for religious instruction, namely Zorach v
Clausen, which made provision for released time? No, I think
that the American public is quite content to leave this issue to the
historians and to move on to more urgent matters. There is no
need, shall we say, for you to make a Federal Case out of this —
again. (Sorry about that)
DAN: It appears that we've come full circle. You see this as
an isolated issue of no great importance, while I see it as a part
of a larger and very portentous drift in our national character.
CLARK: Oh, I'll grant that there are some large issues tied into
this matter of prayers and Bible readings. We've managed to
raise a few, haven't we? Might it not be worthwhile to recapitulate
some of them?
If I might begin, I recall that we encountered the problem of
whether or not we could effectively separate the teaching of
religion from teaching about religion. My view is that we can,
and that this distinction serves as a useful guide for determining
acceptable material for instruction in the public schools
DAN: And I contend that this separation can only lead to the
teaching of the quasi-religion of secularism. Such a development, I
hold, is alien to our traditions and intolerable to the public which
supports the schools.
CLARK: Finally, we briefly touched upon the question of whether or
not a school system free of religious ceremony and indoctrination
can adequately engage in moral education . You believe that it cannot.
Well I beg to differ, and I hope that we can go further into this
question of the relationship between moral education and religious
Teaching of, and Teaching about, Religion
FRANK WEISS: Beg pardon, gentlemen, but I've been
listening to your conversation with considerable interest. As
the Irish say, may I join you or is this a private fist fight?
CLARK: By all means, Frank, jump in. We've been uncommonly
gentle with each other up to now I have no doubt that you will
remedy that forthwith.
DAN: As you noticed, I'm sure, the central issue is whether or not
there is a place for religion in the public schools. Now I
have heard some of your lectures, and I would presume that you
would. . .
FRANK: . . . That I would want religion to have a
prominent place in the schools, right?
DAN: That's not quite what I was about to say.
FRANK: But I would! By all means. Let religion pervade the
curriculum. Teach us the faiths of our various and sundry
fathers. Let it out — all of it! Let's toss the Rock of Ages
on to the laboratory table and subject it to minute quantitative and
qualitative analysis. Religion in the schools? I'm all for it.
DAN: My word, Dr. Weiss, you do come in like a lion, don't
FRANK: Well sure! I quite agree, Prof. Wilkes, that religion
is a fundamental factor in human history, and that it is also of
continuing significance in modern life. What better reason is
there to study it in our schools? But if we are to do so, as I think
we should, religion must be subject to the same rules of inquiry as
any other topic of scholarly interest.7
And when we examine religion in an honored and open manner, and
subject it to the rules of logic and empirical evidence, what do we
find? Clark, you are a student of sociology. What do the
sociologists have to say about religious belief?
CLARK: That it is, for the most part, an accident of birth.
This is hardly a startling disclosure, of course. We all know
that people generally grow up and die in the religious community
that they were born into: Mormons remain Mormons, Catholics remain
Catholics, and Protestants remain Protestant (albeit they may move
about among various denominations), I am sure that you will find
that the statistics will bear this out.
What is more interesting is the reason for this fidelity to the
religion of one's birth. Simply put, the earliest value
assumptions and religious precepts that a child acquires are those
of his immediate family and his community. These become the
permanent core of his life organization – his second nature, as it
were. Since the child never knows what it is like not to value
or believe what he was taught, and since he has no other criteria by
which to judge them, they remain secure. And since all
subsequent values and precepts are judged in terms of these core
presuppositions, the later concepts are naturally found to be
inadequate, even unintelligible, to the degree that they are variant
with the earlier presuppositions. This tendency is denoted by
that well known sociological term, ethnocentrism.
DAN: Very neat. How then do you account for
CLARK: My account is "neat" because it describes an ideal case.
Apostasy or conversion? (Sounds like the same phenomenon from
opposite points of view, doesn't it?). Such changes are often
due to an environment that is not at all "neat" from a sociological
point of view. There may be contradictions within the
values of the religious system; say, between Sunday ethics and
business ethics, or between faith and the "glory of intelligence." Or there may be contradictions
among the value systems of the
community. You will understand my allusion, Dan, if I call
this the "Lo Here!, Lo There! condition."8 Often a psychological crisis can bring these inconsistencies to a
head, thus requiring a profound reorganization of one’s
value-system. If the re-alignment is manifest by an allegiance
to a new creed, this might be termed a “conversion.” This would
account for the fact that “apostasy” occurs less often in single
faith families, in stable communities, or among well-adjusted
DAN: I am still unconvinced. Let me cite you a case that casts
doubt upon your theories. It concerns present company.
How is it, Clark, that I have remained in the faith and that you
have seen fit to leave it? Oh I realize that you are still an ethnic
Mormon, but we both know that you do not accept the Divine authority
of the Church. Why is this? We were raised like two peas in a
pod: same village, same school, same church. We are even the
CLARK: Same patch, but different pods. Your father was the
town banker, educated at BYU. Mine was the Regional Forest
Ranger, educated at Michigan State. I cannot speak for your
home, but ours was a bookish place. My father’s library was
his pride. I was constantly asking him questions, and if he
could not supply a quick answer, he would readily admit it and head
for his library. I was astonished at his ability to pull
information out of a book, and I was eager to acquire the skill to
do so myself. When I did, he encouraged me to use his library
and to collect one of my own. Yet that wasn’t all. He
taught me a healthy skepticism, even of the printed word. (Of
course, if one reads the right books, one will learn this from
reading as well). It was a habit that I learned early and, I
suspect, it was a habit that was to prove to be the undoing of my
childhood faith. So when I first gave careful study to the
concept of ethnocentrism (as a freshman at BYU, of all places), the
die was cast. I had only to sort out a few ideas and to await
the opportunity for a graceful exit.
FRANK: To cite the Apostle, "When you were a child, you thought as a
child but when you became a man, you put away childish things."
CLARK: You said it, I didn’t.
DAN: I'd prefer a different quotation from the same apostle: "The
wisdom of men is foolishness unto God."
FRANK: We'll see about that. In the meantime, I'd like to
continue this train of thought by extending it into the realm of the
psychology of adjustment. And I might be a trifle less subtle
with you, Dan, than our gentle friend here. Be that as it may,
let me point out that once a person establishes community and family
roots, as well as a comfortable system of belief, he acquires a
sizeable investment in it. So let me put it to you bluntly:
You simply cannot entertain the thought of rejecting your faith
simply because the personal cost to you would be exorbitant.
Aside from the fact that you would be cast out into an ideologically
cold and unfamiliar thought-world, truly an enormous shock, what
would your family think of it? Or your friends and associates at
church and on the Stake Council? The grief that you would cause your
loved ones would be unbearable to them, and thus to you.
DAN: Happily, I don't for a moment need to worry about that.
FRANK: How fortunate you are! But just think of it — abstractly, at
least. You have a tremendous stake in all this. Yet none
of these psychological factors have the slightest bearing upon the
question of the intelligibility or the logical cogency of your
belief system, or upon the independent evidence that sustains it.
The same factors sustain the faith of millions of people that you
are convinced are entirely misguided.
DAN: These ad hominem arguments have taken us far afield from
the subject at issue, namely, the teaching of religion in the
CLARK: Quite the contrary, Frank's argument is ad
it is directed to you, but it is germane in that it describes a
widespread psychological phenomenon. And this phenomenon,
better these phenomena — namely introjection, ethnocentrism,
status and role identification, self-image, personal "investment" —
all are proper, even important, items of academic study. And
if they are studied, as they would be if religion were to be taught
objectively, they bear serious implications for the validity and
sustenance of religious faith.
FRANK: And that's only the beginning. There is still the
matter of history. May I?
CLARK: Go right ahead,
FRANK: Well, let's start with the mystery cults that were
flourishing in the Roman Empire at the time of the birth of Christ.
First the cult of Cybele, with the myth of the risen Attis and the
rite of the baptism of blood. Or the cult of Isis and Osiris,
again featuring a resurrection myth, but this time with the bonus of
the redemption of the devout. Best of all, consider the
Mysteries of Mithra, likely of Zoroastrian origin, which taught that
Mithra would judge the souls of men either to damnation or to
salvation. Incidentally, the holiest day of the Mithraic
calender was celebrated on the day of the sun's nativity, December
And we could go on: there's the widespread belief among higher
critics that the earliest writing of the Pentateuch, the so-called
“Books of Moses,” would be the Sixth Century BC, during the
Babylonian captivity, or that the earliest likely "Gospel", the Book
of Mark — at best, a second-hand report by St. Peter's Greek
Secretary — was written sometime around 70 AD. Then there's
the problem of the highly sophisticated, Hellenistic metaphysics of
the Book of John. And so on, and on.
But the gist is this: History shows that religions are a product of
cultural forces in effect at the time of their origin, that
civilized religions often have rude beginnings, and that they
constantly change as the circumstances of their environing culture
DAN: We know about all that. We call it "The Great Apostasy,"
FRANK: You still haven't accounted for Mithra, or for the other
heathen parallels to the "True Faith." But even worse, you pretend
that your church, at this moment in history, is the one and final
exception to the rule of historical change. Sorry, I can't buy
that. Whether or not you learn from history, you are condemned
to repeat it. All religions are condemned to change as men,
their circumstances, and their institutions change.
I would submit, yours changed in 1890, when the LDS Church renounced
polygamy as a condition of Utah statehood, and changed again in
1978, when the LDS doctrine excluding negroes from the priesthood
became practically inapplicable, morally indefensible, and
I think that our friend is groggy, Clark, so I'll toss it back to
you. Do tell us about some of those fascinating disclosures of
Anthropology and Archeology.
CLARK: Dan and I have covered that ground often enough.
Perhaps too often. I have no particular inclination to invoke
the shades of Bryan and Darrow and to retry John Scopes. So
unless Dan can, at long last, cite a recent excavation in the New
World of the bones of a Pre-Columbian horse, of iron or steel
artifacts, or a chariot wheel, or
other evidence to support the Book of Mormon, I am willing to
DAN: They haven't found them yet. Doesn't mean they
FRANK: Neither have they found Lewis Carroll's Mad Hatter at the
bottom of a rabbit burrow, but that doesn't incline me to believe in
him. Good grief, man, are you reduced to an ad ignorantum
CLARK: Come now, both of you. We are certainly not going to
settle anything by picking over these trifles. The factual
claims of the faithful are not the whole of religion. They are
not even the most important part. In fact, as you both know, a
great many contemporary theologians have willingly, even gratefully,
left these matters of empirical fact wholly to the scientists.
They have chosen to build their theologies upon the best available
knowledge of the sciences.
FRANK: No doubt Paul Tillich would be little perturbed by our
treatment of the sociology, psychology, or history of religion.
Neither was he a bit troubled by the Supreme Court decisions.
But Tillich's theology is scarcely the theology of the religious
establishment. And it is even less the theology of the Middle
American churchgoer. Paul Tillich and his kind are not the
enemy. We are concerned about those believers who not only
insist that their religion be taught in the schools, but who further
demand that all scientific and scholarly embarrassments be
suppressed. Well I, for one, will have none of it! If they
want religion in the schools, they must play according to the rules,
and these rules are conceptual clarity, logical consistency and
empirical verification. And what happens when these rules are
made to apply to religion? Religion, as an institution and a belief
system, is snatched from untouchable realm of the supernatural, and
is put, where it belongs, in a context of history, sociology,
psychology, textual criticism, where it encounters huge bundles of
Now Dan may find all this intolerable. I confess that I find
it eminently satisfactory.
DAN: Can't you see what you are doing? You are arbitrarily
proclaiming your rules to be central to the curriculum and activity
of the schools, and you are interpreting religion in terms of these
so-called "objective" procedures. But you philosophers are
also creatures of faith, despite your grandiose pretensions to the
contrary. Your dogma is “reason.” And when this faith in human
reason reigns supreme, why of course religion comes in a poor
second. Well I look at it a different way. I put my
faith in God and in His prophets, and I interpret science and
scholarship in this context. Accordingly, I am quite untouched
by your arguments,
FRANK: Sure, sure! Like one preacher to the others: "You have the
right to worship God in your way, and I have the right to worship
God His way.”
CLARK: That's unworthy of you, Frank. Dan has raised a question here
that calls for a serious response. You have faith in science
and scholarship. Dan has faith in the teachings of his church.
As with Dan, your beliefs must pass through the gates of your faith
system. Why should we favor your faith over Dan's?
FRANK: Because Dan is offering us a false analogy. Science and
scholarship are not simply alternative dogmas. They are
fundamentally designed to avoid dogmatism, with procedures that are
public, replicable, always open in principle to refutation -- in
other words, “falsifiable”.11
Dan seems to regard science and scholarship as a museum of facts.
But science and scholarship are not collections of facts; confirmed
facts are the product of these enterprises. Science and
scholarship are in actuality the means for determining
intelligibility and for finding facts. Put simply, "science"
and "scholarship" are best regarded, not as nouns, but as a verbs --
"sciencing" and "scholaring." Those who engage in
these activities -- i.e., those who "science" and "scholar"-- agree to conduct open and public inquiries and to
do so in accordance with logical and empirical procedures that have
proven to be productive. Accordingly they regard everything to
be open to re-evaluation and revision, should some new discovery or
insight require it. Karl Popper put it well when he wrote that
a scientific hypothesis is a proposition that has failed to be
Now Dan chooses to begin with a body of beliefs and thereafter to
concoct arguments to justify these cherished pre-conceptions.
Quite frankly, we have found time and again that this simply is not
the way to arrive at the truth. Far better first to assemble
evidence, then formulate hypotheses, then confirm or refute them
As for reason, the demand to “justify reasoning” is absurd on its
face. As Thomas Nagel puts it, “reason is universal because no
attempted challenge to its results can avoid appealing to reason in
I well understand that Dan holds to a faith that "surpasseth
understanding," Still the plain fact of the matter is that he, like
so many of the faithful, makes fact claims that are clearly open to
scientific investigation. I mean, for instance, either the
world was created some six thousand years ago or if it was not,
either man was planted here, toenails and all, or he evolved.
And either the American Indian is of Semitic origin, or he is not.
It is a fundamental rule of science that the content of a
fact claim, not its source, is of scientific interest and a suitable
object of investigation.. We simply do not waive all rules of
intelligibility and evidence simply because someone claims that an
angel handed him an unsullied morsel of Eternal Truth. John
Dewey said it well: “Every subject, every topic, every fact, every
professed truth must submit to a certain publicity and impartiality.
All preferred samples of learning must go to the same assay-room and
be subjected to common tests.”14
So I am led to ask, quite bluntly: Why all the suspicion about
science and scholarship? Why the distrust of free and open inquiry
into your cherished beliefs? Are you maybe just a bit suspicious
that your beliefs just might not stand up?
DAN: And I'll reply, just as bluntly, that I am quite unperturbed by
honest and open inquiry. I am quite convinced that there is no
conflict between true science and true religion. Moreover, I
don't care how much free thinking my students or my children do,
provided their thinking does not conflict with revealed truth.
But I insist that no man should attempt to promote the wisdom of men
over the wisdom of God.15
FRANK: Bravo! I entirely agree!
CLARK: You what?!
DAN I smell a trap.
FRANK: I said I agree, of course. At least I agree with the
apparent explicit import of what you are saying. Who could
possibly take exception? Now let's play back the tapes.
(a) "There is no conflict between 'true science'
and 'true religion.’” Of course! Truth cannot conflict with
truth. This follows from the meaning of "truth." The
assertion is a flat-out tautology and thus is utterly without
redeeming factual importance — or content. And the
fundamental question remains untouched: how to we find, and then
verify; this "truth," be it scientific truth, or religious
truth, or gut-feeling truth, or whatever? But of course, your neat little formula was
not intended to direct us to that question. I
suspect that it was meant to disguise your essential claims "My
religion asserts God's truth, therefore any scientific
proposition that makes a contrary claim is, ergo, false." So much for that.
Moving on to your next semantic cipher: (b) "I
don't care how much free thinking my students or my children do,
provided their thinking does not conflict with revealed truth.”
Now who could possibly want their thinking to conflict with
truth, whether it be revealed truth, verified truth,
wildly-guessed-at truth, or even as-yet-totally-unknown truth?
On its face the statement appears to be trivial unless, once
again, we unwrap what you seem to be trying to say namely, "I
care very much if I lose control of your 'free thinking,'
and if this thinking causes you to question what I believe to be
Finally, we come to this little maxim (c) "No
man should attempt to promote the wisdom of men over the wisdom
of God.” Again, who could possibly desire this, unless he were
in willful covenant with the Prince of Darkness? All that you
need do is to identify the putative piece of God's wisdom and
prove to us that it is from God. Once you accomplish this
we will surely desist from our attempts to promote mere human
wisdom above it. For whatever may be our frailties, I must
assure you that we are not willfully enlisted in the
service of Satan. But did I say "all that you need do?” But the identification and certification of God’s truth, apart
from some frail human’s claim that he is speaking God’s truth
is, of course, the very crux of the problem of religious
knowledge. The assertion (c), therefore, is unarguable on
its face, but it bypasses the essential issue that could give it
any useful content. The hidden meaning? "If your ideas
conflict with my conception of Divine truth, you have no right
to be heard.”
In short, I agree with the surface meaning of at you
are saying simply because I am disinclined to disagree with
tautologies or empty truisms. To put it differently, you've
offered nothing that I could conceivably disagree with. In a
word, you've explicitly said very little if anything, at all, Now
when we dig below the surface, well that's a whole 'nother story.
DAN: Your logic-chopping is insufferable! You know very well what I
mean! Human wisdom has its place — a very important place — but it
has no business undermining faith in the eternal truths revealed by
CLARK: But Dan, the question remains how do we know whether we have
"true science” or "true religion" unless we subject these claims to
objective testing? You say that you utter the revealed word of God.
But all that I hear is the familiar voice of Dan Wilkes. We
are back again to “Lo Here!, Lo There!”
DAN: You have read the promise of Moroni, Clark:
And when ye shall receive these things, I would
exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the
name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall
ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in
Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power
of the Holy Ghost. (Book of Mormon: Moroni 10-4).
CLARK: Yes, and as I have told you before, I
faithfully followed those instructions to the best of my ability and
received no answer. Perhaps the Lord has seen fit to have me
seek the answer in my own way. You are well aware of the
result. I also have a friend of impeccable integrity and of
great faith who likewise read that passage, and subsequently the
book. Do you know what he told me? "I asked God if it were
true, and He told me that it was false."16
I trust that you might find others. How do you handle them?
You make it all sound so simple, Dan. But it is anything but
simple! If, in fact, God speaks to you, He speaks to you alone, not
to me. And when you tell me that The Holy Ghost has assured
you of the truth of your faith, I hear your voice only. Just
as I hear only the voice of the Pope, or Jerry Falwell, of whomever,
when they make the same claims.17
“Lo here, Lo there!”
I confess that I can see no way out of this logical impasse.
The voice of God seems always to be hearsay from the mouths or pens
DAN: Well that's your problem. It is not mine! I bear
testimony that I have learned directly from the Holy Ghost that my
church has the sole authority to do God's work on this earth.
No hearsay! And if you humble yourself and study and pray, you can
attain the same knowledge. My faith is not subject to the same
tests of evidence and logic.
FRANK: And you think that you and your co-religionists are the only
ones who believe with this fervency? Was the faith of Joan of Arc
any less? Or of Mary Baker Eddy? From my point of view, these
protestations of faith sound remarkably alike. And yet, of
course, their claims are contradictory. So I must ask: What do
you have to back up your beliefs besides your fervor? Have you any
more justification than, say, a Jesuit scholar who has spent twelve
years of devoted and disciplined study of theology and the
scriptures, and who has emerged from his studies with a devout
belief in the truth of the Catholic Faith as expounded by the
Angelic Doctor, St. Thomas Aquinas? You believe that he is
wrong. Well I happen, in this case, to agree with you.
But is your faith any more fervent, or any more secure? Why should I
believe you, and not the Jesuit?
DAN: He believes what he has been brought up to believe,
FRANK: And you do not?
DAN: I know what I know. Now what is your advantage over me -
FRANK: My knowledge is derived from the constantly changing and
growing fund of public, verified information that has been collected
through the conjoined activity of scientists and scholars throughout
the world and down through the ages. It is a fund that is ever
open to critical examination, revision, and even refutation.
CLARK: Haven't we just been over this road? Since we are apparently
at an impasse, I propose that we move on,
FRANK: Very well. Let's turn to an issue that has been
lurking, of late, around the fringes of our conversation. It
may have escaped the notice of you gentlemen, but it seems to me
that we have recently been talking less about religion and more
about God. Now I understand what we mean be religion," but I
am not at all sure just what you mean by "God."
DAN: Oh come now, do we have to go through all that? We mean, of
course, the Creator, the Heavenly Father, the Supreme Being, etc.
You know perfectly well what we mean.
FRANK: But I don't. And I wonder if you do, or even if, in
principle, anyone can understand what is meant by the term "God "
CLARK: I suspect that I know what you are trying to lead us into:
it's what you Philosophers call "the problem of 'God Talk'." I've
read some of the writing on this question by such contemporary
Philosophers as Anthony Flew and A. J. Ayer, and I'll admit that I find it quite
FRANK: Let me give you a couple of samples – brief, since I'm sure
that neither of you would much appreciate a Philo.101 lecture.
Let's begin with the matter of God's alleged attributes.
Traditional Christianity (but not, I'll grant, your brand, Dan)
holds that God is "infinite in being and perfection, a most pure
spirit, invisible, without body parts or passions " In the
Westminster Confession of Faith of 1647, a few other attributes are
cited that are of interest to us: infinite in knowledge, absolute,
self-sufficient, "the sole foundation of all Being." To this you may
add the attribute of timelessness, a tenet argued by St.
Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, and implicit in the
Westminster Confession of Faith (1647).18
God is equally present at all places and all times: He is
everywhere and "everywhen."
But God is also said to be a compassionate
person - a loving
Father who watches over us and answers our prayers. But
"compassionate," yet “without body parts and passions?” Absolute and
self-sufficient, yet contingent enough to respond to prayer? An
Infinite Person, yet timeless and immutable? The traditional concept
of God is, logically, a hopeless muddle.
Another difficulty concerns the meaningfulness of theological
statements. We have seen that the factual claims of religion
have retreated with the advancement of science. We have given
up our earlier beliefs about the structure of the solar system, the
age of the earth and the biological antecedents of man. Well,
most of us have. Yet the faithful, while they might accept
these innovative scientific ideas, have remained steadfast in their
belief in the existence of God. In the face of such ready
accommodations, many analytic philosophers have become suspicious.
The intricate web of life is elegantly, if not entirely, explained
by new theories in molecular biology and some older aspects of the
theory of evolution. Yet the faithful believe that God created
the earth and all the creatures thereupon. Millions died in
Hitler's death camps and innocent children daily perish from
dreadful diseases. Yet the pious affirmation that God loves
His children is undiminished. And so the crucial question
arises: what conceivable set of circumstances would have to obtain
to convince the believer that God does not love His children, or
even that there is no God at all? Apparently there are none.
The verifiable existence of a loving God seems to be consistent with
any conceivable world. With this, the critic closes his trap:
if one cannot state what it would be like for his hypothesis to be
wrong, then it is devoid of cognitive meaning. If nothing is
denied, nothing is affirmed. That which denotes everything and
anything connotes nothing. In C. S. Peirce's
words: "a difference which makes no difference, is no
DAN: Am I supposed to be persuaded by that old positivistic
FRANK: Frankly, I hope that you will not be, and I am confident that
you will not disappoint me. I have presented only the barest
sketch of a subtle argument. For you to be properly moved by
it, you would have to study it minutely. I happen to find the
argument convincing, but several Philosophers that I greatly admire
CLARK: Whether or not you are convinced by Frank's analysis is quite
beside the point. Frank has given us a capable account of some
of the severe testing that religious beliefs undergo in a community
of scholars. Even more, we have encountered, at your expense
Dan, some lively samples of his philosophical criticism of religious
belief. We could extend this list to include David Hume's and
Immanuel Kant's refutations of the traditional proofs for the
existence of God. And then there's theodicy: that
profound problem of justifying the existence of natural evil in a
world allegedly created by an omnipotent, omniscient and
omnibenevolent Deity. All these problems may come up, and
quite properly so, when religion is made the subject of academic
inquiry. You should bear this in mind, Dan, when you insist
that religion be taught in the schools.
DAN: I am certainly not proposing that religion be led like Caesar
to the senate, to be dispatched by a guileful Cassius such as Frank
Weiss, or even by a well-intentioned but misguided Brutus such as
yourself, Clark. "Teach religion?" What rubbish! This isn't
teaching. You don't learn about a man's soul by hacking up
his vital organs in the anatomy lab. Neither do you learn
about religion by attacking its isolated precepts with logical
knives. Religion is an integrated, vital presence, emanating from a
Divine source, mediated by a Holy Spirit, suffusing a man's soul,
will, feelings and, yes, intellect, and manifesting itself in a
man's good works. To learn religion, you don't just examine,
or even teach its concepts, however sympathetically. You
contemplate it, celebrate it, sing of it, worship it. I know
that you don't see this, Frank, nor do you feel it. You
certainly do not understand it, for all your admitted learning —
indeed, because of your learning. Well, I can only pity
you for it.
CLARK: This is all very moving, Dan, but we seem to be encountering
a recurring problem. For isn't this “vital presence” of which
you speak not "religion," but your religion. Don't you
treat other religions as anathema: false doctrine, apostasy, or
worse – even worse, perhaps, than Frank's analytic infidelities? You
say that religion must be felt, celebrated, sung about, as well as
taught objectively. Will you then sanction in the schools a
reading of Mary Baker Eddy’s "The Science of Health?” Shall we offer
prayers to Mecca? Shall we hang up the stations of the Cross in the
school hallways? Not with your tax money we won't, nor with
mine! Nor should we teach Book of Mormon stories or collect
genealogies. That's just not the job of the public schools.
Now maybe you can identify some content to "Religion-in-General"
that we can teach in the schools and that will be acceptable and
fair to all taxpayers. I confess that I cannot.
FRANK: And I would exclude instruction in religion for a more
fundamental reason. Simply put, religion is anti-educational.21
CLARK: That strikes me as a rather broadside indictment, Professor.
Are you prepared to sustain it?
FRANK: I believe so. To begin, we need only review some of the
foregoing conversation. There we will find some vivid examples
of the subversion of educational values by religious thought and
language. For example:
Education seeks clarity and intelligibility in
discourse, yet religion offers tautologies (“true science and
true religion”), and empty verbiage ("God loves His children").
Academic tradition requires that inquiry be
open, objective, and publicly verifiable. In reply,
religion gives only its so-called "reasons of the heart," and
relies upon any available means of fallacy and special pleading
to sustain its prejudices.
Scholarship demands logical consistency, yet
religious faith is untroubled by the most blatant of
contradictions (e g "Absolute Person"). In short, whereas
sound education seeks rational, coherent and verifiable accounts
of the natural world, religion serves up unintelligible,
inconsistent, specious, untested, unverifiable, and even flatly
It is simply destructive to good education to
pretend that such exercises serve any useful explanatory function.
DAN: Clark has taken me to task for talking about "religion in
general," rather than specific religions. Yet listen to
yourself "religion this, religion that"!
FRANK: Fair enough. There is no conceptual net that will snare
all "religion" under one indictment. I should not have
suggested it. Mea Culpa. Still, I feel that my
indictment falls upon most religious advocates, with the more
orthodox and traditional the most likely to be found in the center
of the net.
CLARK: With that necessary qualification behind us, I would still
like to hear more of this alleged danger to sound educational
FRANK: Let me then suggest two of them. One comes from
attempts to explain the world in terms of what David Hume calls
"natural religion," and the other comes from alleged explanations in
terms of "super-natural religion." Both threaten the integrity of
First, “natural religion." This, you may recall, is the attempt to
prove God's existence, to predicate divine attributes, and to
determine His ways with mankind and the natural world through the
use of what St. Thomas calls "the unaided reason" --
that is, reason "unaided" by faith and the Holy Spirit. It is
thus contended that pure logic or empirical evidence convey
intelligible and useful information about God. The most
of "natural religion" is the traditional argument from design: the
contention that the apparent order and purpose manifest in the
natural world display the hand of an intelligent, purposeful and
even beneficent Creator. David Hume’s Dialogues Concerning
Natural Religion provide, in my opinion, a definitive rebuttal
to this argument. If you have not read the work, I urge you to
do so. I'll not repeat Hume's arguments here. Suffice it
to say that an easy acceptance of the design argument has allowed
too many of us to entertain the pernicious conceit that the natural
world was somehow created for us by a lavishly generous
Cosmic Benefactor - a notion buttressed, by the way, in the Book of
Genesis. As Lynn White Jr. and others have aptly
indicated, the ecological consequences of this hubris are
now-becoming all too apparent.22
Not until science and scholarship rid themselves of this
theologically-rooted vanity will mankind be able to hope for a
rational program of ecological renewal.
CLARK: You spoke also of the anti-educational implications of
FRANK: Right. The term "supernatural explanation" is another
of those theological muddles. On close analysis it turns out
to make no sense, in that the only operational meaning of
"explanation" is in terms of conceptual structures and procedures
oriented to processes in the natural world. In its most
refined form, we call this mode of explanation "science.”
DAN: But religion provides explanations of events and phenomena that
even the scientists admit are beyond their understanding.
No dice! When the chemical basis of heredity was
decoded by Crick and Watson, did we say that something super-natural
had become natural? Of course not! The advancement of science is,
quite simply, the assimilation of the unknown into the realm of
natural explanation. To suggest that the unknown can be given a
supernatural explanation is to make an unfounded leap of faith.
Worse yet, it is unintelligible, since "natural explanation” is the
only operable meaning of the term “explanation.”
CLARK: What, then, is the alleged danger to education of so-called
FRANK: Quite simply, it promotes the idea that reality consists of
two separate realms, one which is knowable by science and ordinary
experience, and the other out of reach of reason and “knowable” (if
that’s the correct word) by faith alone. The very idea of a separable,
even “superior” realm that is so detached from our experience that
reason and evidence cannot bridge the gap, is a “thought-stopper.”
“God will provide” is a pernicious sentiment, for it discourages
inquiry and, as many eco-philosophers have warned us, “relieves” us
of our responsibility to nature and thus, reciprocally, to ourselves
and future generations.23
In sum, I think that if we give religion a proper objective logical
scrutiny, we will find that it negates the very core of scholarly
values. We should therefore be quite disinclined to present
religious doctrine as an expression of eternal, immutable, "higher"
DAN: I confess that I am getting weary of all this talk about
verifiable facts, conceptual clarity and objective inquiry. As
if that were all there is to learning! I'd hate to have attended a
school subjected to a curriculum designed according to your severe
positivistic standards. I would have learned nothing of music,
of art, of literature, of poetry, or of myth -- nothing, that is, of
the creative, imaginative and emotive dimensions of humanity.
FRANK: Irrelevant, immaterial, incompetent! It is quite
permissible, even worthy, to teach that "Homer wrote that the Gods
lived atop Mt, Olympus.” It is not acceptable to teach: "The Gods
lived atop Mt. Olympus, and you’d better believe it!" I
certainly do not propose that teaching should be restricted to
mathematics, logic and the sciences – that is, to the inculcation of
formal skills and empirical truths. Of course, a balanced
education includes much more: the teaching of skills, the
development of moral sensitivity, an appreciation of the arts, to
name but a few facets. However, I most emphatically draw the
line at teaching that which lacks evidential support as fact, or
teaching myth as truth, or teaching nonsense as intelligible
CLARK: I'll accept this, Frank, but I fear that I must part company
with your wholesale exclusion of religion from the curriculum . You
simply cannot legislate religion out of existence through logical or
curricular fiat. Religion, in fact, is much older than
science, and older even than Philosophy. It is a force that
for centuries has moved men and nations I find it incomprehensible
to believe that the countless historical figures who have lived and
died for religion were, one and all, totally misguided and muddled.
Moreover, I will not discount at least the possibility that some
super-personal force, some outside reservoir of inspiration and
wisdom, however incomprehensible, has been a significant factor in
the extraordinary lives of these individuals. Sorry, Frank,
but your learned exercises in logic and concept analysis simply do
not explain away Buddha, or Jesus, or St. Thomas Aquinas, or
Albert Schweitzer. And I think that we owe it to our children
to acquaint them with the lives of these great men, so that these
children might, in whatever small part, share the greatness of their
spirit and, perchance, tune into the transcendental source thereof.
FRANK: The source of St. Thomas' genius and inspiration, like
that of a Shakespeare or a Beethoven, is something of a glorious
mystery to me. And I am quite content to have the student
encounter the greats on their own terms. That in fact, is how
I conduct my own classes. I am not willing, however that St.
Thomas have both the first and the last word. St. Thomas
responded to the issues of his time, whereupon his contributions
became the stimulus for further reflection, criticism and
elaboration. The wisdom and inspiration of the greats, and
this certainly must include the religious greats, is grist for the
academic mill. They are encountered, studied and criticized
with due respect, but not with tremulous piety – as if one feared
that he might be “smitten” by a mailed fist whistling out of the
skies, should he so much as wonder about the cogency of a piece of
CLARK: Fair enough I wish only to be assured that you will
acknowledge the significance of the history and current vitality of
religion, even if you feel that its content is of dubious validity,
and that you appreciate that religious expression is a universal
phenomenon that is profoundly rich in its cultural variety and in
the scope of human awareness that it touches.
FRANK: I believe that I can, and do, acknowledge as much.
CLARK: Beyond this, I would remind you that religion is, in fact,
studied in universities across the country and around the world, in
the spirit of open, disciplined, sustained and critical inquiry, but
at the same time, with a view toward understanding it and not
FRANK: I perceive a hint of accusation here. Be assured that I
don't deliberately seek to destroy religion. I merely seek to
examine its meaningfulness and its logical cogency. However, I
have found that when this is done, religion tends to collapse by the
weight of its own pretensions.
DAN: I'm sorry, Clark, but while I appreciate your attempt to blunt
Frank's analytic barbs, your sweet moderation just will not do.
It won't do simply because you still insist upon treating religion
as just another piece of subject-matter — as a mere collection of
data. Well that is fundamentally beside the point. Study
religion without devotion, without humility and, yes, without some
reverent ceremony? Why, you just won’t be studying religion at all.
It will be like trying to teach swimming without water, or trying to
teach music to the stone deaf. As I said earlier, religion
without piety, without a sense of the holy, is merely the corpse of
FRANK: Piety?! What has piety to do with religion, or at least with
the sectarian religion of the churchgoer? Not much, my friend! Piety, or reverence if you prefer, are found in abundance among
those who belong to no church and who avow no belief in a personal
DAN: Talk about contradiction!
FRANK: Not a bit I suspect that our friend Clark here feels a deeper
piety during one of his backpack trips in the Uintahs than your
Bishop does in a month of Sundays. And I doubt if any members
of your High Priests' Quorum feel more reverence for their Doctrine and Covenants than I do for Plato's
Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics, or Kant’s Critiques,
or any of a number of milestones in the magnificent journey of human
thought through the history of civilization. When one of my
students volunteers an original idea, cogently argued, I feel that I
am experiencing a sacred moment.
DAN: This is all very lovely baccalaureate rhetoric, Frank. Do
remind me to recommend you to the dean. Still, we both know
that you are playing fast and loose with ordinary language.
This is something that I have not come to expect of you.
CLARK: Oh, I don't know about that. I've stood in Chartres and
in the Sistine Chapel. And while I was deeply moved by the
experience, I find myself more in the presence of the Infinite as I
walk along Escalante Creek in Utah’s south-east desert, or drift
through the Canyon of Lodore on the Green river. Perhaps you
might take a closer look at Walden, or read the poetry of Robinson
DAN: Very well. So you find evidence of God in the splendor of His
natural Creation. Is this supposed to embarrass me?
CLARK: But it's not your God, Dan. Not remotely. You
might say that in wilderness I experience Paul Tillich’s "Ground of
Being." If, like Tillich, you wish to call this “God,.” very well.
But that's not how you use the word. That’s not what you
worship. I know that I learned little of it (not "Him") in
FRANK: And what sort of a God do we find in the churches? Too often
He is thought of a some kind of personal Cosmic bell-hop, who views
the petty concern of one's little community of believers as the
culmination of all history. A Being too busy to spare the
victims of Auschwitz, but not too pre-occupied to help manage the
local church’s charity. Talk about impiety!
CLARK: Easy now, Frank. You are wandering into the suburbs of
bigotry, you know. There are also trail bikes and snowmobiles
in the wilderness, and there are time-servers reading philosophy
papers. On the other hand, there are instances of profound
religious devotion among the churchgoers.
FRANK: All this I'll grant you. My point, however, is that
churchgoing is no guarantee of piety, nor does non-affiliation
condemn one to a life of impiety.
DAN: All this is trivial. Of course, not all believers in God
go to church. And not all churchgoers display profound
reverence. Still, you cannot convince me that piety or
reverence, the very core of the religious experience, have any
appreciable meaning apart from a belief in a supremely benevolent,
personal Being Who is the source and sustenance of one's soul and
the hope of one's salvation. I would add that piety has an
inalienably moral content as well. For it is "the personal
belief that one's most important values are sponsored by, or in
harmony with, the enduring structure of the universe, whether they
are sponsored by society or not."24
Now I well appreciate that there are unfortunate individuals who
appear to be incapable of feeling piety. But that is no reason
not to encourage piety in the schools After all, we teach the
graphic arts, even though some children are color blind, and we
teach music, even though some children are tone-deaf.
So face it, gentlemen, the religious experience is a fact.
There is overriding historical and contemporary evidence attesting
to this fact. You cannot simply rule it out by curricular
decree. Why not then accept it and cultivate it in the
FRANK: So I'll face it. But what am I to make of it? Yes, the
religious experience is a fact. I accept that. But you
are trying to sneak a base here. For while the fact of the
experience is unarguable, it is the interpretation of that
experience that divides us into sects, denominations, and various
species of non-belief. I may grant you that something
significant may have happened to Saul of Tarsus when he fell from
his mount while en route to Damascus. But I am not inclined to
accept his account, or yours, of just what took place. Nor are
you, as a faithful Mormon, moved to accept the full story that was
told by the children at Fatima. If you tell me that you have
had a vivid experience of God's presence, I may be inclined to
believe that you have had a vivid experience. That it was, in
fact, of God is quite another matter!
CLARK: Once again I find myself taking the middle ground. I
feel that there is more to the deep religious feeling than a warm
feeling in the gut or a chance secretion of psychedelic hormones by
the glands. I am, moreover, open to the belief that there is
some common, though yet unknown, source of these feelings. But
I must remind you, Dan, that these experiences are fundamentally
personal, and that once they are had, they are interpreted in the
context of a person's existing belief structure. If he is
highly individualistic, he may become a mystic. If he is
naturalistically oriented, he may build a cabin by Walden Pond.
Or if he is a devout member of an established sect, then he will
likely transfer this feeling into an allegiance to his spiritual
It is precisely because the religious experience is personal, and
because it commonly reinforces one's acquired religious adherence,
that it has no place in the public schools. There is an
appropriate manner in which to evoke religious sentiments, and this
is through religious ceremonies and observances. And there are
proper places to do so: these are churches, or perhaps, Frank,
libraries and wilderness areas.
I do not claim that the schools should be all things to all people,
albeit some professors of education have, at careless moments,
seemed to be so disposed. Do you want the schools to encourage
veneration for the Pope, or the Koran? If the evocation of religious
experience is to be the business of the school, how are you to
fairly exclude these?
DAN: Clark, you are becoming downright tedious. You seem to
keep bringing up the Pope, and the Moslems, and whoever. .
CLARK: Only because you seem to keep giving me the occasion to do
so. Don't you see, Dan, you're really in a trap. On the
one hand, you want something more than an academic, scholarly study
of religion, or better, religions. You want an
affirmation and celebration of religious traditions. But how
are you to assure this, if these "celebrations" are not administered
in the public schools by advocates of these sectarian traditions,
that is to say, the churches? But surely, that would be a clear case
of establishment. So once more we have that problem:
sponsored by which church? And what of those children who
belong to another church, or who belong to no church at all?
I should think that you would be eager that the schools
engage in the teaching of religion, simply because the schools
cannot be trusted to do so. The Protestants seem to appreciate
this. Way back in 1937, an editorial, in the Christian
Century expressed the matter quite directly: "The state must not
be allowed to put either God or metaphysical first principles at the
center of its educational system — not because God does not belong
there, but because no state can be trusted to administer that kind
of educational system.”25
DAN: Then, plainly and simply, we are to leave the schools to you
secularists, where you are to be free to foist your impieties upon
my children, and the children of other believing parents.
CLARK: Not a bit. We are simply proposing to teach
religion through the methods of open, honest and humble scholarship.
These are methods which you yourself employ in your courses on this
campus. If the religious feel that a sectarian rebuttal is
required, they have the best of opportunities. This is
especially true of you and your co-religionists. Dan you have
not only the home and the Sunday School, the LDS Seminaries, the
Institutes of Religion, ensconced adjacent to public high schools
and universities throughout the western United States. It is quite
apparent that they are more than holding their own. In fact,
recent studies show that conservative churches in general, and yours
in particular, are flourishing while the liberal churches are
scarcely able to maintain their attendance figures, or are even in
FRANK: Let's face it. You don't really want a "fair contest."
In fact, you want no contest at all! You demand that when we come to
matters of religious belief, the well-regarded and well-established
practice and tradition of scholarship simply pack up and leave!
DAN: I only ask for the right to teach the faith that is a basic
part of the culture of this community
FRANK: And once again, you have that right! You have the right to
tell your children that Darwin was a fraud, and that the Book of
Mormon was not. You may teach, as fact, your totally
unsupported claims about the authorship and dates of the books in
the Bible, or the ancestry of the American Indian. You may
even promulgate your notions of "pure race" and "tainted blood,"
heedless of the moral blindness and social chaos that this
engenders. You may do all this in your home, at your church,
or in your seminaries. I'd much prefer that you didn’t, but
the cost of preventing you is far, far, greater than that of letting
you continue. For if your freedom is diminished mine is placed
in immediate jeopardy.
I am quite content that you maintain, undisturbed and undiminished,
your right to the free practice of your religion. But, in
return, I expect the right to enjoy the free practice of my
profession and the profession of all scholars and scientists.
DAN: But did you not, only a short time ago, say that you found the
logical expression of original thought to be, in some sense,
"sacred.”? So it comes to this: you have the freedom to teach, in
the public university, that which you hold sacred, yet I am to be
forbidden the opportunity to have my beliefs taught in the same
schools. Is this your conception of "fairness” of an "open
FRANK: My friend, I would be only too happy to have your religious
beliefs brought into the schools, and dealt with there, just as
my philosophical beliefs are: logically, analytically, in
historical context, under conditions of empirical verification — in
short, in a scholarly way. But when we extend this invitation,
you withdraw in horror.
Once again, I invite you to bring your beliefs into the classroom,
but for critical examination, not blind indoctrination. No
philosophical tenet or scientific theory is allowed the privileges
that you demand for your doctrines. In fact, if they were,
they would cease to be philosophical or scientific.
It is not the
content of your beliefs that bar them from the
door of the academy. It is the manner in which you
propose to dispense them. You don't want us to sample and
digest them; you want us to mainline them, with a massive injection,
complete and whole.
CLARK: Since we seem to be picking over familiar ground, I would
judge that we've passed the point of diminishing returns.
Perhaps, then, it is time to ask just what we have accomplished by
all of this. Would you gentlemen care to summarize?
DAN: I have insisted that since religion is a fundamental part of
our national heritage and of our civilized condition, it certainly
deserves a place in the public schools of our nation.
Moreover, it deserves to be treated as a vital, integrated
institution with a living faith and direction, as well as a body of
beliefs. In the final analysis, a religion cannot be
understood unless it is understood faithfully
CLARK: For my part, I am troubled by the question of how you can
teach religion without favoring one religious faction at the
prejudice of another. Dan speaks of "religion," while I find
only religions. I see little that is common to all religions
that can be taught without violating the rights of some children,
and of their parents who pay the bill.
FRANK: The solution, I contend, is for the schools to treat religion
as they would and should treat any other social institution:
critically and objectively. If they do so, a number of
significant, if obvious, facts will surely emerge. Among them:
That there is a great diversity of religious
faiths, and that the adherents thereof believe with a fervor
that is likely to be matched by the adherents of contending
That the fact that a person holds a certain set
of religious beliefs can often, if not always, be attributed to
the circumstances of his nurture and possibly other
psychological factors that are unrelated to the specific truth
claims of the belief.
That religious movements often emerge from rude
beginnings and that, due to historical forces, they are
That religious claims have, in the past, been
revised in the face of the advancement of science and
That the most cherished beliefs of the faithful
have been subjected to careful, thoughtful, critical scrutiny,
and that many competent thinkers have judged that these beliefs
are seriously deficient in terms of clarity and consistency.
For the moment, I only cite the fact that these conclusions have
been drawn. I make no claim here for the soundness of
These general propositions are, I submit, undeniable.
While you may insist that your beliefs are exempt from the social,
historical, scientific, psychological and philosophical vicissitudes
outlined above, you can scarcely deny that these conditions apply to
virtually all religion in general. You therefore face the
problem of justifying the exception that you claim in your case.
You may elect to evade the problem by ignoring these general
propositions, but if you do so, your decision to "teach religion” in
the schools without dealing with these truths will be a betrayal of
scholarship and an educational travesty.
CLARK: We seem to be moving back to that distinction that is so
popular with many philosophers of education. This is the
distinction between the teaching of religion and teaching about
religion. On the face of it, this distinction seems to be
simple and straightforward: you don't directly teach religious
doctrine "X." But you may teach that "Religion P holds doctrine X.
Why? Because the former is an article of faith, while the latter is
an assertion of verifiable fact. To phrase it logically:
First-order religious statements are not fit subjects for public
school instruction, but second order statements are permissible.
I confess that I am somewhat less comfortable now than I was a while
ago with this distinction between "teaching of" and "teaching
about." On closer examination, the barrier appears to be leaky.
For example, Dan wonders if you can truly understand doctrine X
without sharing the experience of believing it. If not, then
unless you are a faithful member of religion P, the statement
"Religion P holds doctrine X" must forever remain, to some degree,
unintelligible to you. Now this is a perfectly respectable
position. Was it not St, Anselm who said "I believe so that I
On the other hand, Frank argues that unless the faithful enjoy the
benefit of a logical and conceptual analysis of their religious
beliefs, they are likely accepting some assertions which are
inconsistent or unintelligible
DAN: But Frank makes another claim which, I think, gives him away.
While our faction is forbidden to teach religious
tenets, his side is permitted to criticize the same tenet according
his rules: thus "X is false or inconsistent, or
unintelligible, because of Rule R."
FRANK: Not so, if "Rule R" is itself subject to criticism, review
and, if found necessary, to revision. And of course, in
scholarly discourse, this is the case.
CLARK: So we are back to my previous point: the rule, "Don't teach
religion, teach about religion," is less than an ideal compromise.
Surely we needn't get tied down with these logical minutiae to
demonstrate that. I'll be blunt about it. If both of you
gentlemen were assigned to teach about religion, and if you kept to
the rules concerning first- and second- order discourse, I believe
that your widely disparate points of view would still color the
content of your courses. Quite frankly, I'd be a bit uneasy if
my child were to register for either course, and would be inclined
to suggest that he take the other as well for balance. Or
perhaps the best type of course would be one that was team-taught by
the both of you. In a word, when it comes to teaching about
religion, few teachers can come close to satisfying the strict
requirement of second-order objectivity.
Clearly, the issue is not simply "should religion be taught in the
schools." For the devout to proclaim, without qualification, that
"religion belongs in the schools," is either naive or disingenuous.
Either they do not recognize the difficulties to be encountered once
religion is placed in the hands of such teachers as Frank here, or
else they want religion in the schools according to terms that are
contrary to the operative conditions of modern education; namely,
open, objective and critical inquiry.
On the other hand, I suspect that my Philosophical colleague here is
being more than a little bit reckless. For all his
protestations of scholarly detachment, he appears too eager to
engage religion, and the faithful, in dialectical combat. He
is likely forgetting the high stakes in this encounter. It is
easy enough, Frank, for you to talk, in the splendid isolation of
this university faculty lounge, of David Hume, A. J. Ayer and Antony Flew. But have you not noticed that we are speaking not
of the public university but of the public schools? Have you
forgotten that the brethren of Dan Wilkes sit on the school boards
of this state, and on the Education Committee of the State
Legislature. It is not politic — and fortunately it is not
even necessary — to twist the lion's tail. There is
presently an uneasy truce between the schools and the churches, and
I am content that we establish a cease-fire approximately along the
present battle lines.
FRANK: And where might these lines be drawn?
CLARK: The lines are drawn through points of common agreement.
The Supreme Court is to be the ultimate
interpreter of the law in the light of the Constitution.
If one disagrees with the Court, a patient expectation of
ultimate reversal, or diligent work toward the enactment of an
amendment are far more preferable courses of action to a
dismantling of the judicial system.
Civic peace is to be preferred to sectarian
discord — a lesson cruelly reiterated by the daily news from
Northern Ireland. The schools have been declared, by
common consent, to be off limits to religious contests.
The schools have much more than enough to do in
teaching literacy, numeracy, basic citizenship, history, general
science, health habits, and other generally accepted
information, skills, and dispositions. There is little to
be gained and much to be lost if we attempt to introduce
controversial topics, especially when there is too little time
to deal with the accepted and the commonplace. In short,
David Hume can wait until Philo 101 in college. The public
schools will have done quite well if, by then, they have taught
our freshmen the requisite skills to read Hume's Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion with interest and critical understanding.
Discretion is the supreme rule of the public
school teacher. Harmony and cooperation between the
schools and the community are precious commodities which must be
scrupulously maintained if productive work is to be achieved
therein. Excessive zeal is rarely worth the educational
price exacted thereby.
What I am suggesting, Frank, is that your battle
need not, and should not, be waged in the public schools. Let
it suffice that our children be taught a groundwork of basic
information about our history, government and culture, and that they
develop an appreciation for the arts, for literature, and for the
advancement of science. Once they bring these acquisitions to
the campus, we shall let loose your considerable analytic skills.
The university, in compliance with the finest traditions of academic
freedom, affords you that privilege provided you teach within the
bounds of fairness and scholarship. I am confident that it is
not your intention to save these student from religious
indoctrination, only to subject them to your own instead.
A Secular Religion?
DAN: My dear Professor Cordrey. It is apparent that despite all your
boundless moderation and accommodation – indeed because of it – you
are even a greater threat than our young philosopher here.
CLARK: How so?
DAN: You hold that there is no "religion-in-general" available to
the schools, only religions. Accordingly, in the spirit
of fairness and neutrality, you suggest that no religion be taught
our children, unless it is first ground through the mill of
objective scholarship. Alas, you have not banished religion
from the schools. Far worse, you have established as the
national pedagogic creed, the religion of secularism.
Not only is this religion not common to most of our native American
creeds, it is antithetical to them.
This grieves me, Clark. I recognize Frank for what he is, and I am
thus prepared to deal with him. But you? I believe your
motives to be worthy. Still, the results are most pernicious.
CLARK: If this is so, then you must warn me of it. But first,
you might tell us what you mean by "secularism." We briefly touched
upon this point before Frank joined the conversation. Would
you recapitulate for us?
DAN: As I see it, the essential tenets of secularism are:
That history is comprehensible without a
reference to God's role in creation or to his covenants with
That man is self-sufficient without God's loving
That moral behavior is meaningful, even
possible, apart from an obedience to God's commandments.
The conflict between this secularist creed and the
faith of most of our fellow citizens is fundamental. The
dispute is not merely between two separate and contending bodies of
belief; it is between two basically different modes of interpreting
what reality is, and how it is known.28
CLARK: You feel that it is not enough that the schools teach that
throughout history, and in most cultures, people have in fact
interpreted human needs, aspirations, and values with reference to
higher, usually personal, powers?
DAN: No, this is not enough; not if such "teaching about" religion
carries the implicit tag, "but we know better now." Not if science
spins out its theories with no reference to the Divine plan and
FRANK: But as Poincaré said to
Napoleon: "Nous n'avons pas de besoin de cette hypothese."
(We have no need of that hypothesis).
DAN: That remark serves only to bolster my point. Indeed, the
modern curriculum is steeped in the tradition of "objective” science
and scholarship and, as our philosophical colleague might well
attest, one of the basic operating rules of science is that its
findings are purely descriptive — that is, "value free."
FRANK: That's a deceptive half-truth, which I trust that we'll have
the chance to examine critically.
CLARK: I'll make a note of that. But do continue, Dan.
DAN: To put it bluntly, a body of knowledge that is morally neutral
is, by definition, a body of knowledge deemed to be sufficient
without reference to ultimate purposes or eternal values. Did
not Frank reject supernatural explanation with that pat formula:
“natural explanation" (for example science) "is the only operable
meaning of the term 'explanation'?" Well there you have it! What could be
more explicit! God's ways to man? “We have no need of that
hypothesis." Secularism, plain and simple!
CLARK: Well, not quite so plain and simple. First of all, I believe
that there are values inherent in the very nature of human social
arrangements, and in the operating procedures of scientific inquiry.
I hope that we will have the chance to hear some of Frank's thoughts
on this. Mine too, for that matter. Secondly, you seem
to be assuming that the schools have adopted the sort of curriculum
that you had believed Frank to prefer – a curriculum filled, from
top to bottom, with analytic philosophy and the empirical and formal
sciences. But of course that is not fair, either to Frank or
to the public schools. There is, in the schools, an honored
and active place for the study and appreciation of literature, the
arts, and the history of religious thought, all of which deal
extensively with questions of morality, even religious morality, and
do so with considerable care and sympathy.
DAN: But as objects -- objects of inquiry, if you wish, this just
will not do. Not unless values are incorporated into, and
sustained by, a living faith in the divine origin and sustenance of
the universe and in the plan of salvation for the human soul, these
values will be mere objects of quaint interest – rootless,
pointless, unsubstantiated, and ephemeral.
So you are caught in a dilemma: the courts rule that you can't teach
religious values; yet you cannot teach values at all without
reference to their Divine origin and sanction. The schools
sense this dilemma, and they have tried to avoid it. The sad
result has been the establishment of their own quasi-religion.
Some of the manifestations thereof have been downright hilarious.
For example, in 1951 the Educational Policies Committee of the NEA
tried to draw up a list of "moral and spiritual values" allegedly
"shared by the members of all religious faiths." These values, they
believed, “when applied in human behavior, exalt and refine life and
bring it into accord with the standards of conduct that are approved
in our democratic culture."29 The list of ten "moral and spiritual values" included, in part,
"human personality — the basic value, moral responsibility, devotion
to truth," and so on. Many thoughtful educators have expressed
a very proper contempt for this bland, vacuous listing of clichés.30 And well they might, for in attempting to please all factions of the
populace, religious and secular alike, they have drained their credo
of any significant content. If, on the other hand, they had
attempted to give specific import to these abstractions, or even
more to implement them, sectarian disputes would have reappeared in
all their former heat and diversity.
But all this, I suggest, matters little to the high priests of
secular education. After all, that list of "moral and
spiritual values" was meant only to serve as window dressing —
something to distract the masses while they established the religion
of secularism in the schools. Now they have well-nigh
CLARK: This is all very entertaining, if not particularly
convincing. Just who are the members of this priesthood?
DAN: Surely you are one of them, Clark.
CLARK: If so, I am not aware of it. I've been given no miter
of holy office. No hands have been laid upon my head.
DAN: Nevertheless, you serve the vital function of dispensing
treatises of casuistry and apologetics. I've heard a
formidable sample thereof this afternoon. The basic article of
secular faith, once more, is that history, society and morality have
significance without explicit reference to eternal Divine truths —
that, to paraphrase our philosopher, “natural explanation” is all
the explanation there is. To buttress this faith, this secular
Church of Moral and Spiritual Values has devised a sacred language —
educant, and has promulgated an orthodoxy — the Dogma of
Professionalism, as explicated by the National Education
Association. In short, we have established a state religion
without the consent of the American public.31
FRANK: Heavy stuff, this.
CLARK: Well at least I will credit you with a stunning imagination! But
really, Dan, what's the point of this analogy? That the
educational profession has set up procedures of training and
certification? That it has a professional association which
articulates a code of conduct for its members? That it has developed
a distinctive language? That it is systematically administered? All
this is granted. But how, then, is education distinct from
medicine, engineering, or the law? Or do you include all these as
FRANK: Going further, I find it curious to hear this recitation from
a man who earlier stated that “piety or reverence, the core of
religious experience, [has no] appreciable meaning apart from a
belief in a supremely benevolent personal being. Who is the
source and sustenance of one’s soul and the hope of one's
salvation." You are playing a semantic shell game with us, Prof.
Wilkes, and I cry "foul!”
CLARK: So what will it be, Dan? Does religion entail a belief in a
personal Supreme Being, or would you prefer to define it as a
concern for moral and professional standards? I believe that I
understand what the Supreme Court had in mind. For while it
has proscribed the teaching of sectarian religious beliefs in the
public schools, I've not heard of any decisions against the teaching
of "moral responsibility," or "devotion to truth" or "respect for
excellence," or "brotherhood," or any other items on the NEA list of
common values. Don't expect that I will, either. Are you
suggesting that the schools cease the teaching of moral and civic
responsibility on the grounds that they constitute the teaching of
secular religion? Are you, at long last, advocating a ban against
the Pledge of Allegiance?
DAN: Of course not. Those moral precepts do not subvert
the religious point of view. In fact, they may enhance it.
But even more, the religious point of view supports those moral
precepts. What I protest is the attempt to undermine my
religious perspective with secularism which, once more, is the
belief that religious doctrines are empty and superfluous, and that
men can carry on quite well without them.
FRANK: You know, if someone were to listen to Dan long enough, he
might be convinced that the schoolteachers of this realm have all
sworn never to darken the door of a church. In fact, I am not
aware that they are any less inclined to attend church than the
public at large,
CLARK: What they have agreed to is to
teach the values of our common civic covenants, as expressed in our founding
documents, which affirm such values as freedom of speech and of worship.32 Call it "religion” if you wish, but don't regard our public
philosophy as just another religious sect.
In fact, if the church or seminary is imaginative and effective in
its program of religious instruction, it will take advantage of the
groundwork prepared in the public schools. For instance, Dan,
your church believes that the Constitution is Divinely inspired.
How fortunate for your seminary and Sunday school teachers that they
can teach this doctrine without having to trouble themselves with
teaching the content of the Constitution. If you are bothered
by "Godless" history and science, then by all means inject God into
these subjects at your earliest convenience. You don't, I
presume, propose to deny that historians and scientists have
suggested theories at variance with your own. You can't
pretend that Charles Darwin never lived, or that there never was
Cult of Mithra. It would not alter these facts if you did.
What your church and seminary teachers can do, if they choose, is
supplement these courses in the public schools with the particular
perspectives of your own faith. Just don't ask me to pay for
this instruction or require my children to sit through it.
In the meantime, let our children sit together as they learn to
write and to cipher. I know of no appreciable difference
between Catholic grammar and Protestant grammar, or between Mormon
arithmetic and secular arithmetic.
In general, then, I would insist that the public schools are, and
should remain, a place where we set aside our contending dogmas and
allow our children to meet and learn on common evaluative ground,
all for the sake of the practice of the supreme educational values:
the advancement of learning and the sharing of our common cultural
heritage. This isn't an establishment of secularism —
not as atheism, or materialism, or naturalism, or Ethical Culture,
or whatever. Rather, "it is a logic and a discipline designed
to further community of thought and action within an heterogeneous
people. By means of this logic men can raise themselves above
the battle of religious sects and the conflicts of interest in all
the relationships of life."33
FRANK: I entirely agree. Moreover, this is a task that cannot
wait. If we elect to put it aside until that uncertain day
when we all agree with Dan Wilkes in every particular of his
doctrinal adherence, then we are in serious trouble, to say the
least of it.
DAN: And, of course, we won’t put learning aside, But we can
certainly do things differently.
CLARK: What do you have in mind?
DAN: Quite candidly, I am attracted to the voucher system. Let
the state return tax revenues to the parents so that these parents
might decide where to send their children to school. I would
then have the option of sending my children to a school that
teaches, throughout the curriculum, the religious faith and morality
that I cherish. And if others decided to send their children
to a secular school, then that's their choice and their
responsibility. This seems eminently fair and equitable.
It would certainly solve that "lo here, lo there" problem that you
have referred to, a few too many times, for if the parents
disapproved of the religious slant at a school, they would be free
to send their children elsewhere.34
CLARK: It sounds like a neat solution. But I wonder if you
have carefully assessed the price; not just the financial cost,
which might be considerable, but the social and cultural costs as
DAN: What costs?
CLARK: Well, for one thing, our nation would lose the considerable
advantage of a predominant educational institution through which our
children could absorb their common heritage and acquire a common set
of civic values.
DAN: I'm familiar with this argument, and I will grant that it may
have had some cogency back at the turn of the century when the
country was receiving a flood of immigrants. But now the flood
is down to a trickle. Besides, the media are doing a fine job
of maintaining a common discourse throughout the land.35
FRANK: Good Grief, man! Are you proposing that the
commercial, corporate media replace the unifying agency of
the public schools! That this is to be our shelter from the ersatz
religion of the educators? Talk about a phony religion! What shall
we call this one, "The Mother Church of Madison Avenue?" What credo? "There is no God but money, and Donald Trump is its profit?" Of
course you will need to amend the beatitudes to include "Blessed are
the stockholders, for they shall receive dividends.” A hymn? Why not
Tom Lehrer's "Angels We Have Heard on High, Tell Us to Go Out and
Disband the public schools? What then will we have to counter the
Gospel of Consumerism? Not that the schools are doing a noteworthy
job of it even now. I can imagine how this sort of proposal
might enthrall you fellows over at the College of Business, but to
my mind it would constitute the final payment in the sale of the
American public soul. Appalling!
CLARK: An impressive performance! My friend, you are not without
some considerable rhetorical gifts, you know. However, be that
as it may, you do have a valid point. I too am not content to
turn over to the commercial mass media the total responsibility for
the dissemination of our common public values and tastes. The
public schools serve a vital function here that we will abandon at
No, Dan, the public schools do not teach the religion of secularism.
They teach the common fund of our literary, artistic and scientific
cultures. They engender a responsibility for the duties of our
common citizenship. They also acquaint our children with the
rich variety of our religious heritage and teach them to respect and
to cherish this diversity. But the job of inculcating
adherence to one or another of these creeds belongs to the home and
to the church, not to the school.
Religion, Science, and Moral Education
DAN: On several occasions I have tried to raise the crucial issue of
whether or not morality can be taught apart from a religious
perspective. Each time you gentlemen have dismissed it with a
promise to return to it at a more opportune moment. Now I
insist. Let this be that opportune moment. Otherwise I
must conclude that you have merely been evasive.
CLARK: So be it. This is the moment.
FRANK: Even better, why don't you set it up for us?
DAN: With pleasure. I contend that a valid and abiding
morality is incomprehensible unless it is grounded upon a living
faith in a personal Creator, Lawgiver, and Guarantor of human
aspiration. Lacking this, morality is without objective
sanction. It is detached and subject to the whims and fashions
of cultural variety and change. The evidence for this is all
too apparent in the secular attempts to define morality without God.
The physical sciences find only mechanism and probability. The
life sciences offer us nothing better than the survival of the
fittest — the law of the Jungle. The social sciences bring us
cultural relativism: "If the Wadjacallem do it, then why can't I?",
or "If the Beri-Beri approve, who are we to say that they are
wrong?" The behavioral scientists pretend to solve the problem of
morality by assigning it to an Orwellian realm "beyond freedom and
dignity." And worst of all the philosophers, from whom we might
expect some modicum of enlightenment, proclaim that moral discourse
is purely "emotive," or “radical will” as Sartre would have it. In
either case, "non-cognitive" or otherwise devoid of objective
meaning or operational use. To them the loftiest moral
beatitudes have no more meaning than "Hooray!" or "Ugh!" or
"I want" or “I
choose.” And so, as modern thought has shifted its attention and
allegiance from revealed, eternal truths to such dubious
pronouncements as these, modern society has, quite predictably,
become stuck in this quagmire of moral confusion. Poor,
bright-eyed, Watergate loyalist Jeb Magruder said it all: "I lost my
moral compass!" Worse still, we have not "lost" our moral
compass — we have deliberately thrown it away.
CLARK: Well said! I happen to disagree, but well said all the same.
DAN: So what is your response?
CLARK: To begin, I would point out some exciting studies by Lawrence
Kohlberg at Harvard which suggest that a universal pattern of moral
development may be grounded in human nature.
FRANK: For my part, I would reject at once your facile caricature of
modern philosophy. Some of us have covered a considerable
distance from the early outrages of logical positivism. Recent
thought bearing upon the logic of moral discourse and the
preconditions of social action indicate an objective locus of
morality. We haven't the time now to develop these ideas with
any degree of adequacy. However, I’d be happy to sketch the
outline of one approach to morality that I find quite persuasive.
In addition to this, I would argue that science, far from being
"value free,” presupposes a rigorous code of morality.
CLARK: And I would add that the schools might very well be
ill-prepared to teach morality, if by this you mean the churches'
traditional methods of teaching morality; namely the constant
recitation of moral rules and maxims. But we may have found a
better way, which involves the training of moral sensitivity and
intelligence. There is much more to this sort of moral
education than the mere development of thoughtless dispositions to
apply some body else's rules of conduct.
DAN: Why trot out all these new philosophical theories and
educational procedures when we have, in fact, been given a superb
code of conduct in the scriptures. The old ways are the best.
That we have failed to live up to God's commandments speaks, not
against His moral laws, but against mankind's moral turpitude. The
answer then is for us all to strive, ever more diligently, to obey
CLARK: You have tossed out a challenge that I am only too happy to
accept. If the old ways are sufficient, then we might as well
dispense with the new. So the question before us is explicit:
How adequate are the scriptures as exemplars and instructors of
FRANK: Let’ s begin with the moral quality of God's alleged prophets
and kings in the Old Testament. There we find, deception -- as
in the case of Abraham pretending that his wife was his sister, or
Jacob stealing his brother's birthright, or God instructing Abraham
to sacrifice Isaac in a cruel test of the old man's faith.
Then there is arbitrariness - as in the case of Ham being cursed for
accidentally finding his father naked and drunk. And that’s
only the first book. Moving ahead we find genocide.
Hand me that Bible, Dan, and I’ll show you what I mean.
And Moses said unto them the officers of the
Israelite army -- Have ye saved all the women alive? Behold,
these caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of
Balaam, to commit trespass against the Lord..., and there was a
plague among the congregation of the Lord. Now therefore
kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that
hath known man by lying with him. But all the women
children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep
alive for yourselves. (Numbers, 31: 15 - 18).
Perhaps Lt. Calley took his Bible with him
into battle. Then there are these simple remedies for childish
If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son,
which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his
mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken
unto them. Then shall his father and his mother lay hold
on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto
the gate of his place. And they shall say unto the elders of his
city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey
our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard. And all the
men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall
hear, and fear. (Deuteronomy, 21s 18 - 21)
And he [Elisha] went up from thence unto Bethels
and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little
children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go
up, thou bald head; go up thou bald head. And he turned
back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the
Lord. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and
tare forty and two children of them. (II Kings, 2:23-4)
I could go on, but frankly I find it too painful
CLARK: Then I will go on, but not with this recitation of
atrocities. Let us instead turn to that summit of Old
Testament morality, the ten commandments. There you find that
eight of the ten are phrased negatively; not in terms of what a good
life is, but of what it is not. Moreover, only one
commandment, the fifth, indicates any benefit to be derived therefrom. As for the Tenth Commandment, “thou shalt not
covet,” if that were widely obeyed the American economy would
collapse. (Perhaps not a bad outcome, after all).
The trouble with this legalistic approach, apart from its tone, is
that it is vague and ambiguous and therefore insufficient to cover
most eventualities. The commandment,. "Thou shalt not kill,"
did not stay the hand of Joshua at Jericho, or for that matter the
hand of Moses in his dealings with the Mideonites. Indeed, God
commanded these massacres.
DAN: The sixth commandment forbids "murder" -- that is, unjustified
FRANK: My text reads "Thou shalt not Kill." But let me, for the sake
of argument, stipulate a re-translation, substituting, as you
suggest, “murder” for “killing.” And by "murder" I presume you
mean, "killing without justification." Then the rule “Thou shalt not
murder” might be paraphrased to read: "One is not justified in
killing without justification. This is, of course, a plain tautology. What constitutes "justification?" On this point the
commandment is mute; therefore, it is not, in fact, a moral
commandment. This indicates the basic inadequacy of this sort
of legalism. It is, in fact, morally stultifying. One is
enjoined to learn a list of rules, rather than to develop the moral
intelligence to deal with the rights and obligations that pertain to
the peculiarities of any given situation.36
DAN: I knew you'd get to that: "Situation Ethics." Don't you
understand that without prevailing codes to guide our behavior, we
are left with only our momentary whims.
FRANK: I agree that we need constant moral guides but not of the
sort that you suggest. Still, I am not so ready to reject
“situation ethics” whatever that might mean; I would only remind you
that the only kind of circumstance that calls for a moral decision
is a particular, if you wish “situational,” circumstance.
DAN: We might continue this analysis of "situation ethics," which I
hold to be a pernicious doctrine. However, if we do so, we'll
lose sight of our discussion of the morality of the scriptures.
And I don't intend to yield that contest by default. Now as to
this attack on Old Testament "legalism" as you call it, I can only
remind you that you are presuming to judge God's commandments
according to your moral perspective -- surely an uneven contest.
Very well. You shall have to answer for your hubris, not I.
CLARK: Once more, Dan, I must point out that our record of these
commandments is hearsay. These ancient pages say so, but is
that really enough? According to the Iliad, the Trojan war was
precipitated by a family quarrel among the Gods on Mount Olympus.
Now should we take this at Homer's word -- if, indeed, there ever
was a Homer?
DAN: It's hopeless, of course, to attempt to talk you two into
accepting the corroborating witness of the Holy Ghost. Either
you have it or you don't. Apparently there is no other way for
you to find justification of the Lord's way with His chosen people.
If, however, you find the Old Testament God of judgment and wrath
not to be to your liking, you might be more inclined to accept
Jesus' fulfillment of them: His gospel of love.
CLARK: And I am -- much more inclined.
DAN: I should devoutly hope so!
CLARK: To be sure, if we agree to "love others as ourselves," then
we are beholden to understand their desires and interests, both
objectively and empathetically. But I am not so sure that we
should "Do unto others as we would have them do unto us" -- at least
not in every case. I might end up legislating my preferences,
tastes and habits upon some unwilling recipients. Might it not
be better to accept the formulation that I once heard from an
anthropologist: "Do unto others as they would have you do unto
DAN: Not if the others are drug addicts or extortionists.
CLARK: Fair enough! So I'd conclude that neither formulation
constitutes the final moral word; rather they are both useful
guidelines. As such, as means for fostering sympathy,
understanding, empathy, tolerance and justice, I find these "Golden
Rules to be valuable ingredients in a sound moral education.
DAN: I am content if you accept the ethics of Jesus as the supreme
guide to moral conduct, and by implication, of moral education.
Where, then, is our dispute?
CLARK: Our dispute is that I do not accept Jesus' morality, as
articulated in the received record, entirely and without
qualification. Nor do you, nor does any practicing Christian
community, to my knowledge. The closest exemplars, I would
imagine, would be certain monastic orders.
DAN: Of course. As we all know too well, nobody is perfect.
CLARK: I did not say that Christians do not entirely
Christian ethics, which is true enough. I said that they don't
entirely accept Christian ethics. Christians to not emulate
the lilies of the field and give no thought for the morrow -- not if
we are to believe the financial reports of the insurance companies.
Moreover, Christians are not inclined to forgive seventy times seven
times. They do not sell all they have and give to the poor.
Nor should they -- they have families to support. I hold Jesus of Nazareth to be one of the
supreme moral teachers of history. But I do not believe that
he said the last word in morality. I find, for example, no
instructions concerning birth control, or abortion, or communism,
and he said not one recorded word about homosexuality.
Moreover, I do not find everything that he is recorded to have
uttered to be beyond dispute. That we should love our fellow
men, even our enemies; that we should be humble gentle, generous,
merciful and forgiving: All this I accept with little qualification.
But that we should not forcefully resist evil, that we should never
judge others, that we should be undeterred by the disapproval of
others? Such a policy would quickly unravel the very fabric of
society, should we be so foolish as to effectively adopt it.
Christians have, throughout history, been very wise to reject these
maxims, however disinclined they might be to admit their rejection.37
FRANK: And you have left out the most troublesome feature of
Christian morality: that it attaches virtually no value to
intelligence and reason. All that suffices is the faith of a
mustard seed or the simplicity of a child. This is not only
wrong, it is dangerous. If we are to solve the moral
challenges of our time, we will require all the practical management
experience of a Dan Wilkes and-all the abundant behavioral insight
of a Clark Cordrey.
CLARK: Permit me: "and all the acute critical, yet humane,
intelligence of a Frank Weiss."
DAN: You are both exceedingly generous. Especially to each
other! Still, I insist that without the organized communities of
believers, without the reverent worship of a Divine Lawgiver and
Redeemer, there is little hope that people will make any significant
effort to improve the moral climate of the nation or the world.
FRANK: You really believe this?! From whence have come the most
significant recent remedies against poverty, ignorance and racism? Not from the churches, but from the legislatures and the courts.
Oh, I'll grant you that many estimable clerics have tried to preach
the "social gospel" of love, tolerance, social action, justice and
ecumenism. But as several studies have revealed, the most
successful churches do not sell this sort of morality. Rather,
they prefer exclusiveness, doctrinal orthodoxy, conformity and
evangelism. There is no healthy "high demand religious
movement devoted to justice, freedom, beauty and respect for
Just consider the crucial moral confrontations of our time.
Were the peace marches or the civil rights demonstrations drawn
along the lines of orthodoxy versus secularism? Of course not! For
every Philip and Dan Berigan there are several Cardinal Spellmans or
Father McLaughlins. For every William Sloan Coffin, there are
several Billy Grahams or Norman Vincent Peales. Were there no
pious, Bible-reading churchgoers among those who spat upon the
marchers at Selma? Was the Unitarian minister James Reeb, murdered
at Selma, the only secular humanist to die for social justice?
DAN: I will testify to your rhetorical gifts, Professor Weiss, but
not to the validity of your method of citing individual cases.
CLARK: Then perhaps I can offer something a bit more substantial.
Dr Victor Cline, a member of the Psychology Department of this
university, has conducted an in-depth study of the religious beliefs
and behavior and the moral attitudes of one hundred and sixty
randomly selected Salt Lake City residents. He found the
“irreligious” to be approximately as virtuous as the devoutly
religious: virtuous, that is in the sense of “being a good
Samaritan, having love and compassion for their fellow man, and
It is noteworthy, Dan, that seventy-two percent of the sample were
of your religious faith. Similar results were found by Hartshorne and
May way back in the late twenties.40
I would suspect, therefore, that by insisting upon returning prayers
and Bible readings to the schools, you are trying to foist upon the
schools the very sort of moral education that has failed so
spectacularly in the churches and in the homes. I must assure
you that there are better methods of teaching moral behavior than
these "drill it into their little ears" tactics.
FRANK: The crux of the problem, it seems to me, is that the pious
have learned, well enough, how to utter moral beatitudes or to
recite well-worn parables. Unfortunately, they have neglected
to learn even the rudiments of making moral judgments in the conduct
of their daily private and public lives. Hence Watergate, and
other dubious gifts from the sanctimonious. Rules are safe and
pristine. Practical moral dilemmas are not. Learning to
think morally is something quite different from the mere
memorization of Divine precepts.
CLARK: Let me consider a case-in-point: the Parable of the Good
Samaritan. Now I think that this is a magnificent story with a
profound moral message. But even if Jesus told the story
exactly as written (but in Aramaic, of course), how closely does it
touch us today? Have you ever met a Samaritan, Dan? I mean a real
one -- from Samaria.
DAN: Can't say that I have.
CLARK: Well, do you suppose that if Jesus were to tell this parable
today that it would deal with a Samaritan? Of course not. He
would be telling the Parable of, well . . .
FRANK: "The Parable of the Good Nigger:" .
CLARK: That's not the word that I would have chosen, but of course
that’s precisely my point. Surely the Samaritans were the
Negroes of Jesus' time. Put Jesus in the South today and
history would soon repeat itself. In fact, put one of his
surrogates in the south today, say the Rev, Martin Luther King.
But why pick on the South?
FRANK: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be indicted, or
perchance 'preventively detained'."
CLARK: The point of all this is that unless your moral training is
oriented toward practical action and commitment, your moral code is
nothing but a collection of dead letters serving only as an excuse
for self-congratulation. You might say "sounding brass and
DAN: I agree that moral training must have practical application to
be worthy of its name, but I am not convinced that the sort of
training that I offer fails this test. Moreover, I see nothing
whatever that you two, from your secularist position, can offer in
its place. What, in fact is your alternative? Science? Whatever could science have to do with values? After all, don't
scientists pride themselves that their investigations
FRANK: You mean to say that they value their non-involvement in
DAN: Exactly! And isn't this just the sort of contradiction
that you philosophers so delight in uncovering?
FRANK: Not at all. But let's take a closer look: Yes, (a) science, by
its very rules, makes non-evaluative assertions, and yes, (b)
scientists "value" the value-free quality of their discoveries. But no,
there is no contradiction here.
DAN: I don't see this
FRANK: There is no contradiction simply because we are talking about
two different classes of things. On the one hand (a) we refer
to the content of science which is, in fact, ethically neutral by
design, while on the other hand (b) we speak of the activity of
science, its preconditions, and the appropriate attitude of its
practitioners, all of which are deeply involved in moral commitment
DAN: All this is terribly abstract.
FRANK: Then let me cite an example: When Gregor Mendel published his
studies of the genetic properties of sweet peas, he apparently gave
a scrupulously factual account. Moreover, his failures and
unanswered questions were reported alongside his verified
hypotheses. Very often this sort of disclosure proves to be
more valuable than the reports of success. Had Mendel not been
impeccably honest, humble, and open with his work, his report thereof
would have been, scientifically speaking, far less valuable.
In short, the moral quality of the researcher gave explicit value to
the findings thereof. Yet Mendel's scientific papers
themselves have not a bit of moral evaluation within them: no
prescriptions, no exhortations, no "shoulds" or "oughts" -- only the
straightforward exposition of observations and hypotheses. The
accounts were value-free; but the conditions required to produce
these documents and to give them scientific importance were
profoundly moral. In contrast, consider the case of
Stalin's favorite agronomist, Lysenko, who
displayed neither honesty, candor, tolerance or modesty.
Because of these very failings his work was scientifically
worthless. Once more: the primary findings of science, and the
language that reports it, are value free; but the conditions that
permit scientific work and the attitudes of the scientists toward
their work are deeply involved in morality.
In his little book,
Science and Human Values, which I highly
recommend to both of you, Jacob Bronowski gives a masterful
exposition of the moral pre-conditions of science. The
fundamental moral premise, says Bronowski, is "the habit of truth:”
the collective decision by the body of science that "We ought to act
in such a way that what is true can be verified to be so.” This
habit, this decision, gives a moral tone to the entire scientific
enterprise, and gives rise to an impressive array of virtues.
Accordingly, in their working lives, scientists “do not make wild
claims, they do not cheat, they do not try to persuade at any cost,
they appeal neither to prejudice nor to authority, they are often
frank about their ignorance, their disputes are fairly decorous,
they do not confuse what is being argued with race, politics, sex or
age.” These virtues, Bronowski points out, are “the inalienable
conditions” of the practice of science.41
DAN: You speak of "tolerance. " I have not found scientists to
be particularly "tolerant." In fact, I've found many of them to be
FRANK: In their dealings with their non-scientific critics, this may
well be so. I can well imagine that you might, at times, be
the victim of some scientist's intolerance. However, when it concerns
the conditions of their work, scientists are thoroughly tolerant.
They must be, if the advancement of science is to continue.42
If Bronowski's analysis is correct, as I believe it is, then the
very existence of the scientific enterprise requires the tacit
acceptance of a rich array of virtues.
DAN: These virtues are quite cold and austere; very much like
science itself. I do not find in this list such humane virtues
as tenderness, gentleness, friendship, kindness and love. I
wonder if any list of virtues that leaves these out is worth having
FRANK: Bronowski did not suggest that science would generate
the full range of human virtues.43
In order to extend the list, we may have to go beyond an acceptance
of scientific morality. But surely a commitment and
discipline that offers so much in moral dividends should not be
disqualified for not delivering everything.
DAN: You convey the impression that scientists must obey these
so-called "moral pre-conditions" or be ignored by their colleagues.
That's a rather over-whelming sanction! But even if this list of
virtues is imposed upon the scientist by professional necessity, and
I am not all that ready to admit this. There remain some
serious questions. For example: what guarantee have we that
the scientist will maintain his cloak of "morality" after he hangs
up his lab coat at the end of the working day and steps into the
world of us ordinary mortals? Didn’t you, or rather Bronowski, admit
that “individually, scientists no doubt have human weaknesses?" Of
course they do!
CLARK: Something else troubles me, Frank. Once the scientists
accept these stern, unyielding moral shop rules, they often act as
if there wasn’t a single morally active neuron in their
magnificently pre-occupied heads. They offer up their
detachable talents to the highest corporate bidder, be he a
motivational researcher for an advertising firm or one of those
wilderness wrecking energy companies. Or, if he remains in academia,
the scientist is more likely than not to choose a "safe" research
problem of profound insignificance, while socially important
research goes begging for attention. Or, if some scientific
information is distorted or otherwise put to pernicious use by some
individual, governmental agency or corporate interest, the scientist
rarely feels that he has any responsibility to use his skills,
knowledge and prestige to help effect a remedy.44
Of course, not all scientists fall under this indictment George Wald,
Linus Pauling, Barry Commoner, Rene Dubos, Paul Ehrlich and Garret
Hardin have all
generously paid their dues to civilization. But they are more the
exception than the rule. In short, there is a great deal of evidence
about that too many scientists accept only the wrong half of that
pernicious half-truth that "science is morally neutral."
FRANK: I must regretfully concur with you. There are too many
scientists who are totally engrossed in the infinitesimal minutiae
of their chosen professional niches. Thus we must have better
humanely educated scientists – scientists who are more familiar with
human values, with social problems and forces, and with the
conditions and implications of the scientific enterprise in general.
DAN: I would judge, then, that while you may have scored a few
points, you have yet to capture the prize. At the most, you
have shown that scientists have accepted some rigorous rules of
conduct, call it "morality" if you wish, but that it is an
inadequate list. It is inadequate in that this list of
so-called "scientific virtues" leave out some crucially important
human values, and in that it has little reach into those areas of
private life, or even professional practice, that are not directly
subsumed under these rules. Sorry, you'll have to do much
better than that if you are to convince me to give up the enduring
precepts of my religion and to rely upon the frail reed of human
CLARK: Then allow me to have a go at it. I would like to refer
you both to some astonishing and profoundly hopeful studies by
Lawrence Kohlberg at Harvard which suggest, contrary to the
relativism that you deplore, that the higher orders of moral
judgment are invariable, universal and the result of a natural
sequence of growth and development.
DAN: How then does he account for the great diversity of moral
behavior in different cultures -- the sort of thing that so excites
the curiosity and imagination of undergraduates when they take their
first course in anthropology?
CLARK: He manages this by distinguishing "moral content" from "moral
structure." Moral content consists of first-order moral
precepts and injunctions, as well as the particular behavior
patterns that result therefrom. Moral structure or form
concerns the general rationale, or underlying formulae, that
coordinate or articulate the content. Briefly, content refers
to knowledge of rules and to behavioral dispositions; structure
refers to the judgment that is brought to bear to solve moral
dilemmas or to justify one's course of action. Kohlberg argues
that "a culturally universal definition of morality can be arrived
at if morality is thought of as the form of moral judgments instead
of the content of specific moral beliefs."45
Moral judgments, he believes, "tend to be universal, inclusive,
consistent, and to be grounded on objective, impersonal, or ideal
FRANK: Now that is a startling claim. But what is the nature of this
allegedly universal pattern of moral judgment?
CLARK: Kohlberg believes that the basic principal of mature moral
judgment is "justice"; that is, the personal right to equality and
DAN: Surely you are not taken in by this high-toned, liberal treacle.
"Justice" indeed! After all that civilized humanity has endured: the
inquisition, the Salem witch trials, the slave trade, Auschwitz --
you talk about a universal code of justice!
CLARK: We all know that throughout history, men have acted cruelly
toward their fellows. In truth, homo homini lupus. But
man's admitted inhumanity does not, in itself invalidate Kohlberg's
theory which, I must insist, I have scarcely begun to outline.
Part of Kohlberg's reply to your criticism, I believe, would be that
moral atrocities are commonly committed in the name of some
misconceived "higher' moral law -- as in the case of the inquisition
and the witch trials "God's justice"), the slave trade ("natural
justice"), or the Nazi death camps ("they had it coming” --
"justice" again). Remember, it is not the moral content that
is universal. What is universal is the tendency of moral judgments to
be founded upon a concept of justice. The word "tendency" is
the key here.
The central motif of Kohlberg's theory is
development -- the
development of the individual from moral (as well as cognitive and
emotional) infancy, through adolescence to maturity. In the
course of his maturation, says Kohlberg, a person's moral
development passes through a series of three levels, sub-divided
into six "stages." These stages are fixed, invariant, and
irreversible: that is, they are reached and surpassed step-by-step,
in order, and without retrogression, albeit it is quite possible for
a person to become stalled, or ''fixated', at a lower level.
Here, now is that sequence, starting with the earliest stage:
I -- The Preconventional Level": Stage 1:
"Orientation toward punishment and unquestioning deference to
superior power." Stage 2: "Right action consists of that which
instrumentally satisfies one's own needs and occasionally the
needs of others "
II -- "The Conventional Level": Stage 3: “Good-boy -- Good-girl”
orientation. Good behavior is that which pleases or helps
others and is approved by them. Stage 4: "Orientation
towards authority, fixed rules and the maintenance of social
III -- “The Postconventional Level": Stage 5: A social-contract
orientation, generally with legalistic and utilitarian
overtones. Right action tends to be defined in terms of
general rights and in terms of standards which have been
critically examined and agreed upon by the whole society.
Stage 6: “Orientation toward the decisions of conscience and
toward self-chosen ethical principles appealing to logical
comprehensiveness, universality and consistency. These
principles are universal principles of justice, of the
reciprocity and equality of human rights as individual persons.47
Kohlberg makes the bold claim that this sequence
bridges the notorious “is-ought gap” that bedevils analytic
philosophers – the problem of deriving a valid normative (“ought”)
conclusion from factual (“is”) premises.48 This “is-ought gap” opens the door for pious folks like Dan here to
claim that the natural world (i.e. science) can never validate
morality, and thus that we must instead rely upon the supernatural –
i.e., the Word of God.
DAN: So noted. And how does Kohlberg propose to close “the
CLARK: He does so by demonstrating that “higher levels” of moral
insight and behavior are attained by natural cognitive growth and
development -- increased “cognitive adequacy,” as he calls it.
And by this he means, that as the individual matures, he or she
attains an ever-expanding ability to solve moral problems. For
example, applying abstract rules to particular situations, choosing
among competing “goods” or “necessary evils,” and resolving
conflicts among moral imperatives (e.g., determining when killing or
lying in particular circumstances is or is not justified).
Accordingly, if Kohlberg is correct, the criteria of social morality
are not merely a matter of cultural accident, nor are they merely
the enforced whims of the clique in power. There is, he
believes, a nexus of moral development, through ordered stages,
toward a concept of justice.
FRANK: But what is the basis -- that is, the locus or source -- of
this development toward an autonomous morality of justice. Is
it logic? Social structure? Human nature?
CLARK: In a sense, it is all of these factors combined in the human
being's constant striving for higher degrees of conceptual control
and of cognitive adequacy, wherein one’s moral judgment becomes
“more differentiated, more integrated and more general or
universal,” and whereby each step of development is a better
cognitive organization than the one before it.” In this sense, the
development of moral judgment is significantly analogous to the
growth of science.49
And significantly, says Kohlberg, once an individual achieves a
higher stage of moral development, there is no “going back.”50
FRANK: In contrast to the positivists, then. Kohlberg
perceives moral judgment to be woven deeply and inextricably into
the fabric of the real world of social order, interpersonal behavior
FRANK: Furthermore, Kohlberg seems to suggest that moral
development is an actualization of the higher potentialities of the
human intellect as it perceives and integrates the interests and
responsibilities of the individual in one's social milieu.
CLARK: The language may be a bit alien to Kohlberg's preferred
vocabulary. But the general import appears to be consistent.
FRANK: The language, of course, is Aristotelian. I have been
struck by the similarities here between Kohlberg and the
Nichomachean Ethics of Aristotle. Kohlberg's ideas also tie in
neatly with some recent developments in moral philosophy which I
would like to discuss presently.
CLARK: I am sure that Kohlberg is aware of these parallels, and that
he would be delighted at your recognizing them. But he would
also likely remind you, as I shall in his absence, that his findings
are based upon extensive longitudinal empirical studies of moral
judgment, both in this country and abroad.
FRANK: I sense that you are about ready to apply all this to the
question of moral education. Well, ready or not, will you do
CLARK: Happily. First of all, we may conclude that the
inculcation of "situation specific" rules of conduct ("moral
content"), will not be very effective, nor will appeals to authority
or peer pressure. For while all this might induce what
Kohlberg call "nice boy" (i.e., conventional) behavior, it is hardly
conducive to the development of moral judgment. Furthermore,
Kohlberg advises against attempts to speed up the pace of maturation
by jumping beyond the next stage of development. Moral
reasoning beyond the stage immediately following will likely be
unintelligible to the youngster. Moral education, then should
be devised to stimulate the natural process of moral development.
This is accomplished best by inviting children to discuss and
formulate solutions to morally problematic situations. Story
telling, parables and role-playing are effective devices for doing
this. The operating rationale here is to induce a controlled
cognitive dissonance within the child's present stage of development
and at the same time to invite him to seek a resolution in terms of
the next stage beyond. The guiding purpose, of course, is to
lead to an active and autonomous (“post-conventional”) moral
DAN: Sorry fellas, but I’ll have to break into this love-in between
you and, in absentia, Professor Kohlberg. You have all labored
diligently to bring forth the obvious: that there is indeed a
universal moral sense. Those of us familiar with our religious
traditions are well aware of this "sense.” Freud chooses to call it
the “super ego," while Kohlberg calls it post-conventional moral
judgment." Well, we call it conscience, and we have a
distinct advantage over the rest of you. We know the source of
conscience. It is the light of Divine wisdom, manifest to all
those willing to believe and to partake of it. So, for all
your elegant secular argumentation and exposition, you have at
length succeeded in providing us with still firmer evidence for the
existence of a universally manifest sense of conscience and, by
implication, a Divine source thereof.
CLARK: It would therefore follow that those who believe in God and
who are active in religious observances would be all the more
attuned to the voice of conscience. Correct?
DAN: Certainly. And conversely, without a belief in a Divine
source of conscience, this moral sense would be uprooted and thus
CLARK: Sad to say, for your position at least, the facts do not
appear to bear this out. Kohlberg, reports that “religion is not a
necessary or highly important condition for the development of moral
judgment and conduct.”51
He is not suggesting that “religious education may not be capable of
playing a role in moral development." Rather, he argues that formal
religious education has no specifically important or unique role to
play in moral development as opposed to the role of the public
school and family in this area. The primary purpose of
religious education in our society is not to develop moral character
but rather to develop religious beliefs and sentiments.
FRANK: I suppose that we can tie up that morsel and place it in the
scale of evidence alongside Prof, Cline's study.
CLARK: I so move. However, I trust that you have more than a
quip to add to this account.
FRANK: Indeed I do! If I correctly understand your account of
Kohlberg, his empirical studies in moral development and judgment
are fundamentally supportive of my position in moral philosophy.
We appear to be in the same camp. If so, he is very welcome
CLARK: So what is your position?
FRANK: It has been called by some “the good reasons approach" to
moral philosophy, and by others, "moral rationalism." Some of the leading contemporary exponents are
Stephen Toulmin, Kurt Baier, Henry Aiken, Marcus Singer and Kai
Nielsen.52 It is an eclectic position, to be sure, including elements of
Aristotle, rule utilitarianism, and the insights of the later
philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein. Following Aristotle, the
advocates of this approach argue that moral discourse is not
theoretical, like science, or emotive, as the positivists would
urge, but practical. That is to say, moral discourse is
concerned with the problem of what to do, or how to act. As
such it is basically context-dependent; that is, it is oriented to
choices of action and to expectations of the practical results
thereof. From the utilitarians, we adopt the question of what
course or rule of conduct is likely to insure the maximum amount of
happiness or, at least, lead to the least amount of suffering.
Finally, from the later Wittgenstein we accept a willingness to
encounter moral discourse "on its own terms," so to speak, without
attempting to “construct” morality out of simple, irreducible
(“atomic”) parts, as the earlier Wittgenstein or the “emotivists”
(positivists) would do. Accordingly, it is our task to attempt
to understand the basic rationale of morality: what role does it
play in society? What is the point of moral behavior? Why have an
ethics at all? Once we have figured that out, we are prepared
to address the question, "What is a 'Good Reason' in ethics?"
To illustrate just what I mean by that, let's begin with some
analogous questions: What is a good play in basketball? What is a
good legal maneuver? What is a good move in chess? What is a good
explanation in science? These questions all defy resolution unless
we first attempt to understand the basic rationale of the activity
in question: that is, what one is trying to accomplish, and what
rules pertain thereto.
DAN: Well then, just what is the rationale of "doing morality?"
FRANK: We begin with some foundational conditions -- "ground rules"
if you wish. First of all, people normally prefer to live
together in society. For the most part, human beings agree,
with Hobbes, that living apart from society is intolerable.
Secondly, even though people prefer social life, they nonetheless
have diverse personal needs and desires that often conflict, one
person with another. Thirdly, among these desires are the
desires for security and happiness. It follows from all this that
there is a need to establish social controls and a means to
adjudicate conflicting personal interests.53
DAN: But there are many kinds of social control. What, from
this point of view, is distinctive about morality as a means of
FRANK: Morality is that type of control that is designed “to
adjudicate and harmonize between conflicting and divergent desires
and interests, so as to give each one as much as possible of
whatever it is that, on rational reflection, each person wants, when
each person's wants are constrained by a willingness to treat the
wants of other human beings in the same way.”54 And so, while there are many ways of effecting social control, the
moral way is through a reasoned and cooperative attempt to make a
fulfilling social life possible, tolerable, and perchance even
pleasant. This, in brief, is the basic rationale of
CLARK: “Rationality,” “equality,” "reciprocity." Clearly, you are
describing Kohlberg's concept of "post-conventional justice."
FRANK: I find this convergence to be significant and, I might add,
May we now, for a moment, pause to make some meta-ethical
assessments of all of this? First, you will notice that the
"good reasons approach" claims that moral assertions are cognitive;
that is, objective and oriented to facts, both in their implications
and in their justifications. Second, the context
of this approach and morality is inalienably social. This, by
the way, provides our rebuttal to the positivists' charge that moral
statements are merely emotive assertions, lacking cognitive meaning.
We reply that the positivists reach this conclusion by
inappropriately applying to moral discourse the radical empiricists'
practice of reducing meaning to personal data of experience.
The same objection applies to the existentialist’s reduction of
morality to acts of radical will. Such tactics, we argue,
rule out the very context that provides objective and cognitive
meaning to moral judgments, namely, society or community. In
short, the positivists and the existentialists both commit the
fallacy of division -- searching among the parts, properties of
the whole. A final point is of particular interest to us, namely, if we assume
that moral discourse is objective, fact-oriented and social, it then
follows that skill at the "game of morality is knowledge contingent.
This suggests that one can improve his moral skills through a
cultivation of social relationships and through a growing
understanding of human nature in oneself and others, of the
consequences of one's actions, of the rules of society, and of a
myriad of relevant facts about the physical world. In short,
it follows that moral judgment can be taught.
CLARK: This “game" analogy suggests a solution to that perplexing
problem of moral philosophy that we have touched upon earlier.
I speak of the apparent disunion of abstract moral law, on the one
hand, and the necessary particularity of moral deliberation, on the
other – that is to say, the division between “legalism” and
“situation ethics." As I understand your position, while "good
reasons" for moral behavior are universal and objective, the
application of these "reasons" to specific moral situations requires
creative intelligence. This is analogous, say, to a chess game
for which the rules are explicit and invariant, while each
particular move must be carefully analyzed in terms of its specific
FRANK: You are picking up the game with remarkable facility, my
CLARK: I like to believe that I've had some practice at it.
FRANK: Now I do not wish to pretend that the Good Reasons Approach
hasn't been subjected to some hard philosophical criticism. It
most assuredly has. Still, I feel that the criticisms that I
have heard have been adequately countered, often with the result of
strengthening the position. But I'll leave that decision to
you in the hope that you will carefully study the matter for
CLARK: And I shall! You have persuaded me of that much at least, and
probably a great deal more. But I must further point out that
much of what you have said has, in my case at least, been a sermon
to the converted. I have not read Baier, Nielsen, Scriven or
Rawls – an oversight that I shall shortly remedy.
DAN: Ho Hum! So you two have managed to gather together a bunch of
educators and philosophers who happen to agree with you. If I
had enjoyed the luxury of sharing this conversation with like-minded
brethren to spell me off, I could have done as much. What is
all this supposed to prove?
FRANK: It proves that these scholars, from several separate
disciplines, have independently arrived at this significant ground
of agreement -- a ground which, I am pleased to report, controverts
your earlier charges against secular morality. To
You charged that the physical sciences are
morally neutral, Bronowski has capably answered this half-truth.
Yes, the content of science is value-free. But not the
You charged that the social sciences lead only
to cultural relativism. Kohlberg has given us encouraging
evidence to believe that this is not the case.
And you have charged that philosophy dismisses
moral discourse as cognitively meaningless utterances of emotion
or radical will.
I trust that we have disabused you of that slander.
So what do we have, at length? We have a system of
moral philosophy that is based upon enduring and objective facts of
human nature and society, a system that is universal, practical, and
open to factual testing and verification. It is a system that
provides for workable and productive methods of moral education.
And all this without religion. It is all neatly, elegantly
secular. It is a human achievement and a human triumph.
DAN: And it is most profoundly significant for what it
understandably leaves out: our obligations to God. I feel that
I must remind you gentlemen, however little it may be worth to you,
that Jesus gave us two great commandments.
Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all they
heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This
is the first and great commandment. And the second is like
unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.
(Matthew: 22 - 37-9)
At the very best, you have provided secular support
for the lesser commandment. But the greater commandment is
untouched. You have made no case whatever for the sacred
virtues: faith, piety, prayer, chastity, and obedience to God's
commandments and to the word of His prophets. Without
provision for these virtues, your entire effort must count for
CLARK: Justice, kindness, charity, honesty, count for little? Did
not Jesus say that “even as ye have done it unto the least of these,
my brethren, ye have done it unto me?" Must moral education count
for everything, if it is to count for anything? If your child were
to return from school a bit less inclined to obey slavishly the
conventions of his peers, and a bit more inclined to judge his
behavior in terms of universal criteria of justice, would you resent
this? Would you conclude that this moral growth "counted for little"
simply because it was accomplished in school, rather than in church?
FRANK: I would carry the matter further. Tell me, Dan, do you
object to a system of social morality based upon autonomy, justice,
equality, and reciprocity? Do you find these central values of our
Constitution to be in conflict with your religious convictions?
DAN: Certainly not! Among my religious convictions is that the
Constitution of the United States is a divinely inspired document.
CLARK: Then surely you should have no objection to the schools
teaching values that all of us cherish. You should be
particularly happy to have our common fundamental civic virtues
taught to your children in the company of those very children,
whatever their races or creeds, with whom your children will have to
share the responsibilities of citizenship.
DAN: But these virtues are not enough!
CLARK: Then supplement them in your own home and in your church.
But please forebear from forcing your private religious morality
upon my children.
FRANK: You see, Dan, not all of us share your tender concern for
what David Hume called "the monkish virtues" of faith, poverty,
chastity, obedience, piety, humility or whatever. Come to
think of it, you are not exactly overly committed to poverty
yourself! Now if you choose to indoctrinate your children with these
"virtues" by means of those discredited methods of scaring Hell out
of them" or "promising Heaven into them,” well go right ahead.
I may not like it, but it is still a free country.
DAN: But if I am expected to have no objection to your secular
morality, why then should you object to mine?
FRANK: I do not object to your right to a free conscience. I
cherish your freedom, even though I deplore the results of your
exercise of this conscience.
DAN: Now just what do you mean by that!
CLARK: For a starter, let's consider your belief that homo
sapiens is somehow God’s pet creation; that the earth is
mankind's private playground; and that your particular tribe, at
this moment in history, is the focus of that history. What
this sort of conscience, or rather lack of same, has done to our
precious earth and to our brother creatures is beyond calculation.
Your "piety" is but a disguise for cosmic arrogance. Forgive
me, Dan I am not singling you out, or even your co-religionists.
This aberration is spread throughout Christendom.
FRANK: And my complaint is that your "obedience" to the folkways of
some ancient, nomadic, Middle-Eastern tribes blinds you to the
compelling moral necessities of the modern world. And "faith,"
far from being a virtue, is ritualized obstinacy -- so decreed by
common tribal consent. No, I don't hold "obedience" or "faith"
of this sort to be virtuous. They are the cultural sins of our
fathers, visited upon us and binding us at the crucial moment in
history when we are most in need of free, trained, critical and
DAN: Once more I am called upon to defend my cherished
faith and to bear witness to Divine truth and benevolence. But I
confess that I am growing weary of a dialogue that is becoming less
a conversation and more a verbal shooting match with myself as the
common target. I see little purpose, this late in the
afternoon, in continuing this contest, so I'll close with one final
testimony and witness. Yes, gentlemen, I have a faith in my
God, in my scriptures, in my prophet and in my church. Because
I have this faith, I am blessed with a knowledge, a peace, and a
justification that you, Clark, have lost and that you, Frank, may
never know. The gift of my faith affords me a confidence and a
certainty that far exceeds any assurance that I have ever gained
from any discipline of human knowledge. It is a pearl of the
greatest price, but it will never be found along the road of
learning upon which you gentlemen are embarked. To find it,
you must humble yourselves before God and pray that He will see fit
to show his mercy and bestow it upon you. And so, in
retrospect, I must conclude that our fundamental convictions have
not been significantly altered by this encounter, albeit they may
have been clarified somewhat and put into more coherent order.
Still, I think that I am now much better able to cope with you
gentlemen and with your heresies. Perhaps I am thus better
prepared to find my way through this baffling secular and
pluralistic society of ours.
CLARK: So if I may, I too would like to close with a “testimony” –
an affirmation of the possibility, indeed the necessity, of human
beings formulating and validating their morality out of the
universal experience of living, surviving and flourishing amongst
each other -- in communities.
You see, Dan, what troubles me most about your moral perspective is
precisely what you value most about it: it’s alleged divine origin.
This means it is not human, and since it issues from The Almighty,
it is absolute and unyielding. Well, a workable morality
simply can not be like that.
DAN: So, at long last, you confess to being a moral relativist?
CLARK: In the sense that I believe that all abstract moral precepts
must be applied and adapted to specific and unique situations, then
I suppose that I am a relativist – an unashamed relativist at that.
But please understand that I don’t admit to the “moral relativism”
denounced in the fundamentalist pulpits – the accusation that the
“relativist” is devoid of ethical principles. For in fact, I
emphatically believe that there is a clear and demonstrable
distinction between virtue and vice, and between justice and
If there are universal (“absolute”) ethical precepts, they are more
likely to be found, not in commandments of the form, “thou shalt”
and “thou shalt not,” but rather in the psychological and logical
foundations of ethics – what moral philosophers call “meta-ethics.”55
I believe, along with Lawrence Kohlberg, that fundamental to the
moral life is a disposition to think and act morally, a disposition
that is derived from social living. This disposition issues
from what David Hume and Adam Smith called “the moral sentiments” of
empathy and benevolence. By empathy is meant the
ability to recognize in others, the felt experience of pleasures and
pains of which one is familiar in one’s own life. By
benevolence is meant a personal desire for the well-being of others,
and a motivation to mitigate the misfortune of others.
Empathy and benevolence give rise to an acknowledgment that others
have rights and duties equal to one’s own, and thus are entitled to
equal respect. This acknowledgment provides the basis of “the
Golden Rule” – a moral precept found in all the great world
religions. When we see ourselves as equals in a community of
equals, with basic rights no greater or less than those of the
others, we are able to assume the perspective of a benevolent but
unbiased observer of that community – what philosophers call “the
moral point of view.” From this perspective, moral quandaries may be
readily resolved – the same quandaries that are insoluble from the
egocentric point of view – a lower “Kohlbergian” stage of moral
DAN: I take it, then, that to acquire this “moral point of view,” I
must take an ethics class from Frank Weiss or one of his colleagues.
If so, then we are in for hard times, since there are not nearly
enough philosophy professors to set us all on the straight and
narrow. Even if there were, they are not prepared to offer us
clear guidance, but instead they will set before us a menu of
conflicting theories of moral philosophy.
CLARK: Fortunately, that’s not the insoluble problem faced by
humanity, for moral intelligence is not confined to moral
philosophers. One need not “know what and why” in order to
“know how” to lead a moral life. While I have found among my
philosophical colleagues, numerous individuals of excellent moral
quality, I have regrettably encountered amongst them a few
scoundrels. Conversely, profound moral wisdom and exceptional
virtue can be found among individuals who have never heard of, much
less read, Aristotle, Kant or Mill. Just as someone can
acquire a correct “grammatical sense” by using one’s native language
without knowing the difference between a noun and a verb, one can
have a finely-tuned “moral sense” without being able to produce the
kind of elaborately structured arguments that delight philosophy
professors. This “naive wisdom,” as I call it, is acquired by
individuals who are endowed with the requisite moral sentiments of
empathy, benevolence and respect, who adopt a moral point of view,
and who encounter, in a varied and abundant life, a myriad of moral
puzzles and conflicts. As they face and deal with these
issues, their moral intelligence increases in scope, coherence,
subtlety and sophistication. They improve their ability to
deal with and to solve moral problems – they improve what Kohlberg
calls their “cognitive adequacy.” And as they do so, they learn that
morality is systemic and that the virtues are inter-related –
impoverished in isolation and separated from the context of
practical application. In other words, morality and virtue are
And so, my answer to Socrates’ enduring question, “can virtue be
taught?,” is a qualified “yes.” Provided that fortunate individual
is provided with a culture, a family upbringing, and an immediate
community that is conducive to a moral life. Thus moral
education must be approached at both an individual and a community
level. “It takes a village to raise a child.”
To sum up: The Good Lord has not given us clear, simple, unambiguous
and absolute rules to live by. A pure will to be good and to do
good will not suffice the ensure a good life. Instead, we are called upon to
develop both the moral stamina to choose good over evil, and the
moral intelligence to choose wisely when confronted with competing
goods, or with competing unavoidable evils. This is an
enterprise that requires virtues that are more ennobling than
simple, blind obedience. It also requires courage, wisdom, and
benevolence. Following the teaching and example of Jesus of
Nazareth, and in our time, of Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther
King, this concept of morality supplants the ancient legalisms of
the Old Testament with an ethic of love, available and appealing to
men and women of good will everywhere, of whatever religious
tradition or of no religious tradition.
Moral absolutism, on the other hand, in its naiveté, simplicity, and
abstraction, separates us from the complexities, ambiguities and
conflicts of authentic life experience -- in short, from our
humanity. And such a separation can lead to morally horrendous
consequences, such as inquisitions and holy wars.
I’ll let the esteemed Jacob Bronowski have the final word. In
his BBC television series, "The Ascent of Man," Bronowski stood at
the site of the crematorium at Auschwitz and reflected:
Into this pond were flushed the ashes of
some four million people. And that was done not by
gas. It was done by arrogance. It was done by
dogma. It was done by ignorance. When people
believe that they have absolute knowledge, with no test in
reality, this is how they behave.56
NOTES AND REFERENCES
1. The cases were Abington
v Schempp and Murray v. Curlett. The Court ruled on both cases in a
single decision on the grounds that they both involved the same
issue. The Court ruled eight to one for the plaintiffs with Justice
Stewart dissenting. The decision was handed down on June 17, 1973.
2. Personal experience. The
incident occurred while the I was teaching in a public school in New
Jersey in 1961. Following that incident, I included among the Bible
readings, passages from the Qu’ran, the Bagavad Gita, the Sermons of
Buddha, and other world scriptures. The school principal was not
3. Justice William O.
Douglas, Zorach v, Clausen (1952).
4. “It is naive to
think that one can possibly teach values without moving into the
realm of religion. Upon examination every value statement assumes
beliefs about the nature of man, history, life, death, virtue and
evil; in short, the classic subjects of religious teaching. Values
imply religion, and yet, if education is presumably to prepare
children to understand and participate in life, "life” can hardly be
discussed meaningfully apart from values.” (Richard John Neuhaus,
"No More Bootleg Religion in the Classroom,” Philosophy of
Education, 1971. The Philosophy of Education Society, 1971 p
5. Ibid p
6. James E. Loder,
Religion and the Public Schools, New York Association Press,
1965. Pages 111-2. The Becker amendment read, in parts “Nothing in
this Constitution shall be deemed to prohibit the offering, reading
from, or listening to prayers or biblical scriptures, if
participation therein is on a voluntary basis in any governmental or
public school, institution, or place "
7. “The only appropriate
way of teaching religion is as a discipline to be approached
objectively, with due regard for the canons of public inquiry...
This is the way it should be taught not only in public schools but
also in schools under non-public auspices. Non-objective
indoctrination in religion is simply inferior education, in that it
does not meet the standards expected of scholarly endeavor and
teaching in any.” (Philip H. Phenix, "Response to Richard John
Neuhaus," Philosophy of Education, 1971. The Philosophy of
Education Society, 1971, p. 1147).
8. "... [G]reat
multitudes united themselves to the different religious parties,
which created no small stir and division amongst the people, some
crying 'Lo, here!' and others, Lo, there!' Some were contending for
the Methodist faith, some for the Presbyterian, and some for the
Baptist." Joseph Smith, Pearl of Great Price, (Mormon Scripture).
9. W. T Jones,
A History of Western Philosophy, (Part II; The Medieval
Mind), Second Edition. Harcourt Brace and World, Inc New York) 1969,
10. Sterling M.
McMurrin, "Religion and the Denial of History." (Great Issues
Forum, Series 2, March 23, 1955). University of Utah, Extension
Division Pamphlets, 1955. The reader may recognize in this
paragraph, a paraphrase of a famous quotation by George Santayana.
The reference to the 1978 declaration regarding the status of the
negro, while slightly anachronistic to this dialog, is irresistible.
11. See my “Is
Science Another Dogma,” in my book in progress, Conscience of a
12. Karl R, Popper,
The Logic of Scientific Discovery, New York, Science
Editions, Inc., 1961. Chapters IV & X.
13. Thomas Nagel:
Other Minds: Critical Essays, 1969-1994, Oxford Univ. Press,
14. John Dewey,
"Religion and Our Schools," Hibbert Journal, 6:804-5, July, 1908.
15. Delbert L.
Stapely, "Revealed Truth - Basis of Wisdom," (An Address to the
Brigham Young University Student body, May 11, 1954), BYU Extension
Division, 1954. The exact quotations from Stapely are: "I do not
care how much free thinking you students do as long as your thinking
does not conflict with, nor attempt to destroy, revealed truth;" and
"no teacher should attempt to promote the wisdom of men over the
wisdom of God.” The assertion concerning "True Science and True
Religion” is a commonplace. In my youth it seemed that scarcely a
month passed that I didn't hear the remark in church.
16. A personal
experience of the author.
17. “Your knowledge
is your knowledge, and you have no way to get outside your own
understanding to determine whether what you say are God's ideas
really are His ideas... This means, then, that your own claims are in a most precarious
position. If you insist that your ideas are the same as God’s ideas,
you are putting your own understanding on a par with God, thereby
making yourself subject to the most grievous of all sins: pride. But
worse still, you are saying God thinks as you do, and hence you are
making Him in you image. If, on the other hand, you admit God's
knowledge might be different from your understanding of it, you
must abandon all claims to the certain belief that your knowledge is
identical to God’s, admitting even that it might possibly be
mistaken. So, the religious position results either in pride,
dogmatism, and anthropomorphism, or uncertainty, tentativeness, and
even the admission of error.” (Charles H. Monson, Jr , Philosophy, Religion and Science, New York, Charles Scribner’s
Sons, 1963. Pages 381-2).
18. See my “Do You
Believe in God?”
www.igc.org/gadfly/eds/philo/god.htm. The Westminster
Confession of Faith: “There is but one only living and true God, who
is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure sprit, invisible,
without body, parts, or passions, immutable, immense, eternal,
incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most
absolute... Nothing is to him contingent or uncertain.”
19. Antony G. N.
Flew, "Theology and Falsification," New Essays in Philosophical
Theology, Edited by Antony Flew and Alasdair MacIntyre, New
York, The MacMillan, Co. 1964. Page 96.
20. See, for
example, the replies of R. M. Hare and Basil Mitchell which follow
Flew's statement of the argument, Flew, op. cit.
21. This is the
essential argument of C. D. Hardie in "Religion and Education,"
Educational Theory, Summer, 1968. Page 199.
historically, modern science is an extrapolation of natural
theology. Modern technology is at least partly to be explained as an
occidental voluntaristic realization of the Christian dogma of man’s
transcendence of, and rightful mastery over, nature. But, as we now
recognize, somewhat over a century ago science and technology –
hitherto quite separate activities – joined to give mankind powers
which, to judge by many of the ecologic effects, are out of control.
If so, Christianity bears a huge burden of guilt. We [feel] superior
to nature, contemptuous of it, willing to use it for our slightest
whim. (Lynn White, Jr , "The Historical Roots of our Ecological
Crisis," reprinted in The Environmental Handbook, New York:
Ballantine/FOE, 1970, p. 23).
23. “Positive harm
will accrue if religious education is planned on such a basis. For
it is almost inevitable that children will be left with the idea
that there are two distinct realms, the natural and the
supernatural, and that whereas the former may not transgress into
the latter, the latter can on occasions intrude on the former.
Moreover, while the former is available for exploration both
intellectually and experimentally, the latter is beyond exploration,
and when known, is known by faith, revelation, insight, etc., all of
which are processes of which no intelligible account has been given.
The harm that this can do, and has done, to children is immense. For
it encourages them to remove certain experiences from the field of
publicly testable knowledge and this prevents the rational and
consequently peaceful solution of many conflicts. The tragic history
of religions, and particularly of Christianity, bears ample
testimony to this It is for this reason that I have called religion
anti-educational.” Hardie, op. cit., page 205.
24. Peter A Bertocci, Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion, Englewood Cliffs,
N, J, Prentice-Hall, Inc , 1951, page 9.
Education," editorial in Christian Century, 54:543, April,
26. Dean M. Kelley,
Why Conservative Churches are Growing, New York, Harper and Row,
27. St. Anselm,
Proslogium, trans S. N. Deane, Chicago, Open Court, 1903.
28. Stanley M. Honer
and Thomas C. Hunt, Invitation to Philosophy, Belmont,
California: Wadsworth Publishing Co , Inc , 1969, page 115.
29. Carl S. Meyer,
"Religion in the Public Schools," Concordia Theological Monthly,
XXVII-2, Feb 1957, page 84.
30. Notably Philip
Phenix (“Response to Richard John Neuhaus”) and Seymour W. Itzkoff,
("No More Bootleg Religion: A Response”') in two papers following
Neuhaus' "No More Bootleg Religion in the Classroom," in
Philosophy of Education 1971, Philosophy of Education Society,
1971, pages 111 and 116. The fortunately brief "Values
Clarification" movement deserves mention here and may be added in a
later revision. Simply put, the movement held that a teacher
has no right to "impose" values on a child. Instead, it is the
task of the teacher to "bring out" and "clarify" values implicit
within the child. This would presumably include a
clarification of the implicit "values" of a sociopathic or sadistic
child. Of course, a responsible teacher would not do this.
But it is unclear how, according to the rules "value clarification,"
the teacher would distinguish between "worthy" and "unworthy"
implicit values without violating the "no-imposition" rule.
See Raths, Harmin and Simon, Values and Teaching, Merrill,
31. "The educational
establishment has its rites of initiation. Its rites of passage, its
sacraments, interdicts, excommunications, and offices of the Holy
Inquisition. And it has its dogmas, albeit disguised in the language
of secularity and objectivity. Just as other religious movements
finally find their institutional expression, so American Moral and
Spiritual Values has found its church in the public school system.
The NEA is combined curia and ecumenical council, district
(diocesan) superintendents are its bishops, principals are the
pastors, and the numerous schools of education are its seminaries."
(Richard John Neuhaus, "No More Bootleg Religion in the Classroom,"
loc. cit., pages 105-6).
32. "It is not
unreasonable to conclude ... that implicit in these values are
unrestricted inquiry and freedom of the mind to explore and openly
discuss alternative commitments. In other words, Americans as a
people are committed to the values of openness to inquiry into
alternative commitments. It follows that there are certain
fundamental values to which the American people are dedicated. If we
choose to designate these values by the term 'religion' or, as Dewey
called it, a 'common faith,' then there is a sense in which we
affirm a religious establishment, or an American public philosophy
(to use Walter Lippmann's phrase).” (Philip H. Phenix, "Response to
Richard John Neuhaus," loc. cit., page 113).
33. Vivian T Thayer,
"Sectarian Attacks on Public Education," Educational Theory,
3:l25, April, 1953.
34. This is Neuhaus’
suggestion, op. cit., p. 109.
35. Neuhaus argues
this also. Op. cit,, 110.
36. Charles H
Monson, Jr , Philosophy, Religion and Science, New York:
Charles Scribner's Sons, 1963, pp 365-6. For an elaboration of this
"critical moral relativism," see the first section of my
"A Progressive Moral
Philosophy," Chapter 14 of Conscience
of a Progressive, this site.
37. C. D. Hardie,
"Religion and Education," Educational Theory, Summer, 1968,
38. Dean M, Kelley,
Why Conservative Churches are Growing, New York: Harper and Row,
1972. See also Edward B Fiske, "The Appeal of 'That Old Time
Religion'," The New York Times, August 6, 1972, page E-8.
"irreligious" in our sample are nearly as frequently rated as being
a good Samaritan, having love and compassion for their fellow man,
and being humble as the most devout and religious of our group
studied Or to put it another way, there are a lot of devout,
religious, churchgoing "non-Christians" in the sample studied if the
Sermon on the Mount and the Four Gospels are to be considered
relevant to Christian belief and practice. Thus it would appear that
the churches (primarily the Christian denominations) while being
able to have considerable impact on their membership, seem limited
to inducing frequent prayer, high attendance, the giving of money,
and concern about personal salvation -- but somehow have apparently
failed to induce much sense of responsibility toward one’s fellow
man. (Victor B Cline and James M, Richards, Jr,, "A Factor-Analytic
Study of Religious Belief and Behavior," Journal of Personality
and Social Psychology, Vol. I, No 6, page 577).
40. H. Hartshorne
and M A May, Studies in the Nature of Character, MacMillan, 1928-30.
Cited by Kohlberg in "Moral and Religious Education and the Public
Schools: A Developmental View "
“By the worldly standards of public life, all scholars in their work
are of course oddly virtuous They do not make wild claims, they do
not cheat, they do not try to persuade at any cost, they appeal
neither to prejudice nor to authority, they are often frank about
their ignorance, their disputes are fairly decorous, they do not
confuse what is being argued with race, politics, sex or age, they
listen patiently to the young and to the old who both know
everything. These are the general virtues of scholarship, and they
are peculiarly the virtues of science. Individually, scientists no
doubt have human weaknesses But in a world in which state and dogma
seem always either to threaten or to cajole, the body of scientists
is trained to avoid and organized to resist every form of persuasion
but the fact. A scientist who breaks this rule, as Lysenko has done,
is ignored... The values of science derive neither from the virtues
of its members, nor from the finger-wagging codes of conduct by
which every profession reminds itself to be good. They have grown
out of the practice of science, because they are the inescapable
conditions for its practice. And this is but the beginning, For if
truth claims are to be freely tested by the community of scientists
then this community must encourage and protect independence and
originality, and it must tolerate dissent.” (Jacob Bronowski, Science and Human Values, New York: Harper Torchbooks, pages
42. “Tolerance among
scientists cannot be based on indifference, it must be based on
respect. Science confronts the work of one man with that of another,
and grafts each on each; and it cannot survive without justice and
honor and respect between man and man. Only by these means can
science pursue its steadfast object, to explore truth If these
values did not exist, then the society of scientists would have to
invent them to make the practice of science possible In societies
where these value did not exist, science has had to create them.” (Ibid.,
44. I have argued
this at some length in my paper "Are Science
and Scholarship 'Value Neutral'?" (Unpublished), 1971, 2001
(this site). Similar arguments are to be found in The
Dissenting Academy, edited by Theodore Roszak, New York: Vintage
Kohlberg, "Moral and Religious Education and the Public Schools: A
Developmental View," T, Sizer (ed), Religion and Public Education,
New York: Houghton-Mifflin Co , 1967, page 178.
Kohlberg, "The Child as a Moral Philosopher," Chazan and Soltis (ed
), Moral Education, New York: Teachers College Press, 1973,
pages 133-4. The paper originally appeared in the September, 1968
issue of Psychology Today Magazine.
Kohlberg: “From Is to Ought: How to Commit the Naturalistic Fallacy
and Get Away with It in the Study of Moral Development.” In T.
Mischel, ed., Cognitive Development and Epistemology, (New
York: Academic Press, 1971).
49. “Moral thought,
then, seems to behave like all other kinds of thought Progress
through the moral levels and stages is characterized by increasing
differentiation and increasing integration, and hence is the same
kind of progress that scientific theory represents.” (Kohlberg, "The
Child as a Moral Philosopher," loc. cit., page 142).
50. “At each stage,
the same basic moral concept of aspect is defined, but at each
higher stage this definition is more differentiated, more integrated
and more general or universal. Each step of development is a better
cognitive organization than the one before it, one which takes
account of everything present in the previous stage, but making new
distinctions and organizing them into a more comprehensive and more
“The fact that this is the case has been demonstrated by a series of
studies indicating that children and adolescents comprehend all
stages up to their own, but not more than one stage beyond their own
And importantly, they prefer this next stage.” (Ibid.).
52. The material for
this exposition is drawn from Kai Nielsen's portion of the entry
"History of Ethics," in The Encyclopedia of Philosophy,
edited by Paul Edwards, New York: The Macmillan Co, and The Free
Press, 1967, Vol, III, pages 110-3, Other material is taken from a
tape recording of a "Sunrise Semester" lecture by Prof, Nielsen
entitled. “The Good Reasons Approach -- The Objectivist Rebuttal to
Non-Cognitivism.” (Not “objectivism” in Ayn Rand’s sense). The date
is uncertain -- presumably Autumn, 1966. In addition, much of the
exposition and analysis herein is original with this writer.
“Although a society is a cooperative venture for mutual advantage,
it is typically marked by a conflict as well as by an identity of
interests. There is an identity of interests since social
cooperation makes possible a better life for all than any would have
if each were to live solely by his own efforts. There is a conflict
of interests since persons are not indifferent as to how the greater
benefits produced by their collaboration are distributed, for in
order to pursue their ends... A set of principles is required for
choosing among the various social arrangement which determine this
division of advantage and for underwriting an agreement on the
proper distributive shares. These principles are the principles of
social justice.” John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, Harvard,
1971, p. 4.
Nielsen, "The Good Reasons Approach, , , ," (Tape), loc, cit.
55. For an extended
defense of this “critical moral relativism,” see Chapter 15 of Conscience of a Progressive, the section titled “In Defense of
Moral Relativism.” My ideas regarding "the psychological and logical
foundations of ethics" (metaethics), may be found in Chapter 12,
"How is Morality Possible?" of Conscience of a Progressive.
This closing summation by “Clark” is adapted from the final pages of
Chapter 14 of Conscience of a Progressive.
56. Jacob Bronowski, The Ascent of Man, (Text Edition), Little Brown, 1973,