Thursday, December 21, 2006

New Cosmology Think Tank: What's the Point of Science Itself?

I thought some of my readers might be interested in this item about a new cosmology think tank headed by Paul Davies. After quoting the physicist Steven Weinberg ("The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it seems pointless."), the article goes on:
But then, retorts Paul Davies, the scientist and author of more than 20 books on cosmology, what's the point of science itself?

Davies, who has spent his career asking variations on this question, will now be in a position to look for answers as the head of a new cosmology think tank, provisionally named Beyond, at Arizona State University. The outfit, part of an ambitious effort by ASU president Michael Crow to stake out new intellectual territory for his young institution, will ask no easy questions, only deep ones like "Why are the laws of nature mathematical?"—something that's been gnawing at scientists for about 2,500 years. Davies says he wants to look into "the origin of the universe, life, consciousness and the emergence of humanity." . . .

Regarding a priori presuppositions:
. . . "Scientists proceed on the assumption that there is a coherent scheme to the universe to be uncovered," he said last month at a conference on belief and reason at the Salk Institute that brought together many prominent atheists, including Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. "That's also an act of faith." Davies then gave his own version of Weinberg's formula. "The more the universe seems pointless," he said, staring down his audience of hardened skeptics, "the more it is incomprehensible."



For other posts dealing with metaphysical presuppositions, see here and here.

Thanks to a comment, the link to a press release on the Davies think tank is here.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Judge Jones: Copying True Religion and Pasting It Into the US Constitution?

The Evo News blog has yet more evidence of, um, shall we say "borrowing," done by Judge John Jones. What makes this especially noteworthy is that part of the language apparently borrowed without attribution is the key statement in a speech in which Judge Jones asserts a highly unorthodox view of what should guide interpretation of the religion clauses of the First Amendment.

Judge Jones suggests that the belief held by some of the founding fathers that "true religion was not something handed down by a church or contained in a Bible, but was to be found through free, rational inquiry" somehow should guide decisions involving the religion clauses of the First Amendment. The full quote from the speech is:
Ironically, but perhaps fittingly for my purposes today, we see the Founders' ideals quite clearly, among many places, in the Establishment Clause within the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. This of course was the clause that I determined the school board had violated in the Kitzmiller v. Dover case. While legal scholars will continue to debate the appropriate application of that clause to particular facts in individual cases, this much is very clear. The Founders believed that true religion was not something handed down by a church or contained in a Bible, but was to be found through free, rational inquiry. At bottom then, this core set of beliefs led the Founders, who constantly engaged and questioned things, to secure their idea of religious freedom by barring any alliance between church and state. As I hope that you can see, these precepts and beliefs, grounded in my liberal arts education, guide me each day as a federal trial judge.

Legal scholars would agree that the the First Amendment does not endorse any personal beliefs about the validity or invalidity of divine revelation or personal beliefs about the nature of "true religion." In fact, such endorsement would run directly contrary to what the Establishment Clause is trying to do. What the founders personally believed about religion and revelation has nothing to do with the meaning of the First Amendment. These statements indicate that not only did the judge not understand Intelligent Design, he apparently did not understand certain basic principles for interpreting the Establishment Clause.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Selman Case Settles

The Cobb County School District has issued this press release, which reads in part:

“We are very pleased to reach this agreement and end the lawsuit,” said Cobb County Board of Education Chair Dr. Teresa Plenge. “After the 11th Circuit Court vacated the decision, we faced the distraction and expense of starting all over with more legal actions and another trial. With this agreement, it is done, and we now have a clean slate going into the New Year.”

Under the agreement, the District will not attempt to place the same, or similar, stickers in textbooks again. In return, plaintiffs have agreed to end all legal action against the school district. In a separate agreement, the District has agreed to pay $166,659, which represents a portion of the plaintiff’s legal fees.

“Appealing the lower court ruling was the right decision by the school board because that ruling was incorrect,” said Dr. Plenge. “The Board maintains that the stickers were constitutional, but, at the same time, the Board clearly sees the need to put this divisive issue behind us. There will be no stickers in textbooks, and, as always, we will continue to provide Cobb County students a curriculum that follows national and state standards in teaching science and the theory of evolution.”

The Washington Post article is here.

The Americans United for Separation of Church and State press release is here.