Monday, June 03, 2013

A debate between Dan Barker and Casey Luskin on the Medved Show, regarding the academic legitimacy of an elective seminar by Eric Hedin, a PhD Astronomer of Ball State University, on "The Boundaries of Science" which engages science, worldviews, design thought, issues regarding God and religion, evidently taught from a generally ID-sympathetic perspective (rather than the usual aggressively hostile one)

Recently, Eric Hedin of Ball State University in Indiana has recently taught what seems to be a generally well-received elective seminar on the boundaries of science that uses people and resources from diverse perspectives and engages what the heading lists:   science, worldviews, design thought, issues regarding God and religion. The professor's perspective has been generally sympathetic to Intelligent Design.

However, once word got out that such a course existed with the professor's balance coming from such a perspective (instead of the party-line aggressive hostility to ID) there have been calls coming from Jerry Coyne, Dan Barker and co, to intervene harshly on grounds of alleged violation of separation of church and state, because the professor is alleged to be presenting the "discredited" ideas of "Creationism" and "Intelligent Design" as though they may have some scientific merits.

(NB: Translating, probably this means little more than that Hedin is openly somewhat sympathetic to Design Thought, which in line with common accusations -- of patently little merit -- in which ID is routinely (and inaccurately) equated to Bible-based Creationism. [As came out in the podcast debate below, in any number of cases across a wide range of subjects, a great many professors are openly or even aggressively on one side or the other of many contentious issues, and Mr Hedin is regarded as being scrupulously fair in grading in the elective seminar. In many cases this notoriously  includes aggressive proselytising of a priori materialist, scientistic, evolutionary materialist secular humanism, often presented as being "Science." Those who are unfamiliar with the design theory claims may want to read here for a shortish and fairly simple summary backgrounder and here on for more details, with here on giving the cosmological design theory points that would be especially relevant to an astronomer. It is worth noting on fair comment, that evolutionary materialism is too often imposed on science today as a controlling ideology, that despite scientific pretentions it is self-referentially incoherent and thus necessarily false, and that it undermines the basis for rights, morality and justice,  easily ending up in the nihilist's "might and manipulation make 'right' ." As Plato warned against long ago in The Laws Bk X.] 
In turn, Creationism has been held by US courts to be a violation of "separation of church and state" and is commonly -- in the main, plainly falsely -- accused of being part of a right-wing conspiracy to establish a theocratic "Christo-Fascist" dictatorship that would effectively bring back the inquisition, the torture chambers and the crusades. In further turn, it is imagined that "separation of church and state" in this sense is the principal meaning of the clause in the first amendment to the US Constitution.
However, the text of the actual amendment actually only declares:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." 
 This plainly means in its late C18 context of a Church of England, etc, that there will be no Church of the United States, and the Federal Congress has no jurisdiction to legislate on the subject; making the issue of an established church a local state and community matter, while protecting the rights of dissenters. It then associates with this first freedom the classic cluster of freedoms of expression, association and petition for redress of grievance.
Such is clearly an extension, correction of and adaptation to republican circumstances of the Westphalia settlement of 1648 concept of locality and non-interference. This settlement brought the bloody wars over confessions to a close in Europe, by inter alia establishing that there would be no overall dominant established church in the German states, and that in localities the religion of the sovereign would be the locally established one, but there would be toleration of the main "acceptable" non-established confessions.
An historically informed understanding of the intended meaning of the amendment, then, is that
I: freedom of conscience, association and expression (including by publication) -- first and foremost in religious matters, including freedom of worship -- is preserved, and
II: otherwise there is no covering constitutional law for federal courts or for executive action to formally or informally/ de facto set up such a church of the USA, or -- more relevant today -- the secularist substantial equivalent, radical scientistic, evolutionary materialist secular humanism. Also,
III: in the locality, the rights of dissenters were to be protected -- as opposed to censored and trammelled -- by the full weight of the federal government if necessary.
However, from the late 1940's on, that has not prevented the gradual emergence of the current de facto Courts-based establishment of such secular humanism as the default state anti-religion, in the main through judicial activism.)
It is also worth pausing to excerpt the syllabus for the course, as further background to listening to the podcast to follow:
I. Course Description

In this course, we will examine the nature of the physical and the living world with the goal of increasing our appreciation of the scope, wonder, and complexity of physical reality. We will also investigate physical reality and the boundaries of science for any hidden wisdom within this reality which may illuminate the central questions of the purpose of our existence and the meaning of life.

II. Course objectives

The objectives are to give a scientifically accurate introduction to the origin and development of the physical universe (cosmology) which has led up to the formation of Earth as a uniquely suitable environment to support life. The complexity of physical life (on the molecular level) and the mystery of human consciousness will also be briefly examined. These and other topics will provide examples of features of our existence which may lie outside the naturalistic boundaries of science. These will then be considered for their implications relating to the significance and value of human life, and as possible indications of the nature and existence of God.
A useful focus for an elective, one I would have loved to take as an undergraduate.

Against that backdrop [HT, WK], it would be a good idea to take 38 minutes and listen to the debate and onward call-in segment. Link:

(Please use the link if the podcast does not come up. Blogger is giving me "a warm time" this morning.)

So, we need to ask ourselves some serious questions about trends in the academy and wider culture as aggressive secular humanists seek to dominate key institutions and the public square, too often also seeking to denigrate, caricature, margnialise and dismiss any other views. END