Thursday, March 16, 2006

Court dismisses lawsuit targeting evolution website

Court dismisses lawsuit targeting evolution website, UC Berkeley News, Robert Sanders, 15 March 2006 BERKELEY - A lawsuit by a Santa Rosa couple who claimed that a University of California, Berkeley, website used evolution to promote religion was dismissed Monday, March 13, in San Francisco federal court. "Understanding Evolution" website at Without ruling on the merits of the suit, Judge Phyllis J. Hamilton of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California granted the University of California's motion to dismiss the case on the grounds that the plaintiffs lacked standing - that is, they did not have a sufficiently strong personal interest in the outcome of the case. "We are very pleased with the judge’s decision and are hopeful that the defendants can now concentrate on helping to educate students about science," said Christopher M. Patti, university counsel with the UC Office of the President. The lawsuit named not only two UC Berkeley professors, but also an administrator at the National Science Foundation (NSF), which partly funded the website. Judge Hamilton has yet to rule on NSF's motion to dismiss. "The lawsuit cost us a lot of time, in terms of preparation and reviewing and Xeroxing a lot of paper, plus the legal fees," said Roy Caldwell, one of the UC Berkeley professors named in the suit. "I'm glad the court saw that the case should be dismissed." Larry Caldwell, who is no relation to Roy Caldwell, filed the lawsuit on Oct. 14, 2005, on behalf of his wife, Jeanne, claiming that several pages of a website called "Understanding Evolution," created by UC Berkeley's Museum of Paleontology two years ago, "impermissibly endorse, advance and proselytize certain religious beliefs." Larry Caldwell is with an organization called Quality Science Education for All, dedicated, in its own words, to "science education that exposes students to the scientific strengths and weaknesses of evolutionary theory." The "Understanding Evolution" website is intended as a resource for teaching evolution. Larry and Jeanne Caldwell took issue specifically with one web page that says it's a misconception that science and religion are incompatible. "Basically, what we have is a page that deals with the misconceptions and challenges to the teaching of evolution, and we provided resources to teachers to answer them," said Roy Caldwell. "One of those questions is, 'Aren't religion and evolution incompatible?' and we say, 'no,' and point to a number of sites by clerics and others who make that point." The plaintiffs alleged that these statements constituted a preference for certain religious viewpoints in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The suit singled out Roy Caldwell and David Lindberg, both UC Berkeley professors of integrative biology, as the principle investigators on the NSF grant that funded the website. While UC's Patti and lawyer William Carroll of the firm Morgenstein & Jubelirer argued that the website does not violate the Constitution's First Amendment, they also filed a motion to dismiss for lack of standing. The judge chose to rule on the latter, dismissing the Caldwells' claim that accessing the website offended their religious beliefs enough to constitute an injury, thus allowing them to sue in federal court. Roy Caldwell noted that the evolution website becomes more popular every day, drawing nearly 2 million hits per month from a range of users, from "third graders to college students. Ninety-nine point nine percent of the comments we get are positive or glowing." ... [I notice that on this Berkeley website there are attacks on both creationism and ID (which the recent Dover ruling has held to be a religious position). If evolutionists use taxpayer's funds to argue any religious position, including: 1) attacking religious positions; 2) preferring one religious position over another; and/or 3) stating or implying that there is no God who intervenes in nature (which Darwinism does), then to be consistent with court rulings, that should also be prohibited under the USA's First Amendment. This is the thrust of Darwinist philosopher Michael Ruse's argument that, "if evolution did disprove the existence of God, it shouldn't be taught in US schools since that would mean teaching atheism, which would infringe the constitutional separation of church and state":

"Hell hath no fury like a philosopher scorned - even one who doesn't believe in hell. Two of the leading philosophers of evolution have been caught in an email slanging match that has been printed on the blog of their mutual enemy William Dembski, a supporter of the rebranded creationism known as intelligent design. There is a poetic justice to this, since the row started with an argument over how to combat creationism. In one camp is the British-born philosopher Michael Ruse, who testified against creationism in an important trial in Arkansas in 1989, but who has always argued that evolution, though true, does not compel atheism. In his last and most controversial book, The Evolution-Creation Struggle, he argued that if evolution did disprove the existence of God, it shouldn't be taught in US schools since that would mean teaching atheism, which would infringe the constitutional separation of church and state. Ruse distinguishes between evolution as a scientific theory that contradicts some religious doctrines and `evolutionism', which is a philosophy that claims that evolution has made religion obsolete. On the other side is Darwinian Daniel Dennett, philosopher and friend of Richard Dawkins. Dennett's latest book, Breaking the Spell, is a vigorous attempt to preach atheism to the unconverted. When a long piece about the struggle against creationism in the New York Times Book Review suggested there was some truth to Ruse's belief that `evolutionism' is being pushed by people like Dennett as a substitute for religion, Dennett was aggrieved, denouncing Ruse's ideas as `a transparent example of a well-known cheap trick'.' (Brown A., `When evolutionists attack,' The Guardian, March 6, 2006)

The "motion to dismiss for lack of standing" should not hold water because Berkeley University (not to mention the NSF) is a taxpayer-funded institution and the website is public, "drawing nearly 2 million hits per month from a range of users " and by their own admission, 200 per month (0.1% of 2 million - and I bet it is a lot more than that) find the site objectionable, presumably mostly because it "offended their religious beliefs". I hope this ruling will be appealed all the way to the Supreme Court and eventually a ruling is obtained that: 1) either science says (or implies) nothing about religion; or 2) it is not unconstitutional to argue/defend a religious position in the public square, including taxpayer-funded schools and universities.]

Stephen E. Jones, BSc (Biol).
"Problems of Evolution"

"At one point in his autobiography Darwin objected to the criticism that he was a good observer but a poor reasoner. The Origin, he protested with justice, was "one long argument from the beginning to the end" and could only have been written by one with "some power of reasoning." [Darwin F., Life and Letters, 1887, I, p.103] He also remarked that he had a "fair share of inventiveness"-which erred only in being too modest. For his essential method was neither observing nor the more prosaic mode of scientific reasoning, but a peculiarly imaginative, inventive mode of argument. It was this that Whewell objected to in the Origin: `For it is assumed that the mere possibility of imagining a series of steps of transition from one condition of organs to another, is to be accepted as a reason for believing that such transition has taken place. And next, that such a possibility being thus imagined, we may assume an unlimited number of generations for the transition to take place in, and that this indefinite time may extinguish all doubt that the transitions really have taken place.' [Whewell W., Astronomy and General Physics, 1864 pp.xvii-xviii] What Darwin was doing, in effect, was creating a 'logic of possibility.' Unlike conventional logic, where the compound of possibilities results not in a greater possibility, or probability, but in a lesser one, the logic of the Origin was one in which possibilities were assumed to add up to probability." (Himmelfarb G., "Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution," [1959], Elephant Paperbacks: Chicago IL, 1996, reprint, pp.332-333)

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