The Gaskell affair

You may have heard of the Martin Gaskell case (P. Z. Myers posted a summary of the situation last week).  Gaskell, an astronomer at the University of Texas, applied for a job running the observatory at The University of Kentucky.  Questions arose about whether his evangelical Christianity, and apparent embrace of creationism, would render him unsuitable for the job.  He didn’t get it, and is suing in federal court for unlawful denial of employment based on his religious beliefs and expression thereof.  The case goes to trial in February.

An article in yesterday’s New York Times (and one in Friday’s Washington Post) summarizes the situation.  The National Center for Science Education has posted many of the legal documents, including the original complaint, depositions, and intra-department emails at Kentucky. As the NYT reports:

For the plaintiff, the smoking gun is an e-mail dated Sept. 21, 2007, from a department staff member, Sally A. Shafer, to Dr. Cavagnero and another colleague. Ms. Shafer wrote that she did an Internet search on Dr. Gaskell and found links to his notes for a lecture that explores, among other topics, how the Bible could relate to contemporary astronomy. [The email is on p. 104 of the deposition of Sally Shafer at the NCSE website].

“Clearly this man is complex and likely fascinating to talk with,” Ms. Shafer wrote, “but potentially evangelical. If we hire him, we should expect similar content to be posted on or directly linked from the department Web site.”

Shafer refers here to a summary of Gaskell’s views at one of his websites, a lecture called “Modern Astronomy, the Bible and Creation”.  It turns out that Gaskell is an old-earth creationist with significant doubts about evolution and some admiration for intelligent design, which he considers a nonreligious hypothesis.  Here’s an excerpt:

The main controversy has been between people at the two extremes (young earth creationists and humanistic evolutionists).  “Creationists” attack the science of “evolutionists”.  I believe that this sort of attack is very bad both scientifically and theologically.  The “scientific” explanations offered by “creationists” are mostly very poor science and I believe this sort of thing actually hinders some (many?) scientists becoming Christians.  It is true that there are significant scientific problems in evolutionary theory (a good thing or else many biologists and geologists would be out of a job) and that these problems are bigger than is usually made out in introductory geology/biology courses, but the real problem with humanistic evolution is in the unwarranted atheistic assumptions and extrapolations.  It is the latter that “creationists” should really be attacking (many books do, in fact, attack these unwarranted assumptions and extrapolations).

While discussing controversies and interpretations of Genesis I should mention something that has been much debated in recent years but is not an interpretation of Genesis: what is called “Intelligent Design”.  This movement, which is often erroneously confused with young-earth creationism, is just exploring the question of what evidence there is in the universe for design by an intelligence.  This is really a general, non-religious question (although with obvious religious implications), and there is no opinion on the interpretation of Genesis.

Also worth mentioning under different viewpoints is the Islamic creationist movement in the Muslim world.  The leading spokesman of this is the Turkish writer, Harun Yahya, whose work is widely read in the Moslem world.  Yahya is non-committal about the age of the earth. . .

Yet he’s not a raving “God-poofed-us-into-being” creationist, either. In fact, he suggests that although God may have created the first organism, he used evolution as his method for creating other species:

It is worth noting that Genesis does not always say “God created”.  In the case of “cattle and creeping things”, God says “Let the earth bring forth…”.  To me this implies that life has been brought forth out from the material of the earth.  Mankind is no exception to this, as in Genesis 2:7 we are explicitly told that we are formed “of the dust from the ground”.  Although this is getting outside the realm of astronomy, it should be realized that, despite some popular claims to the contrary, science has no satisfactory explanation of the origins of life yet.  Note that the question of the origin of life is a separate problem from the question of the validity of some theories of evolution.  The evidence is very good (and gets stronger every year) that all life on earth descended (i.e., evolved from) from a common origin.  There is still a problem of the ultimate origin of life.  A discussion of the current controversies over evolutionary theory and how Christians view these controversies, is beyond the scope of this handout, but the now extensive literature discussing and reviewing books such as those of Phillip E. Johnson (“Darwin on Trial”) and of biochemist Michael J. Behe (“Darwin’s Black Box”) will give you some of the flavor of the diversity of opinion of Christian biologists (and geologists).Although I’m sidestepping biology issues, I do want to give one quote.  It’s by the Nobel prize winning neuro-biologist and author of several noted books in the body-mind problem, Sir John Eccles:  “We come to exist through a divine act.  That divine guidance is a theme throughout our life; at our death the brain goes, but that divine guidance and love continues.  Each of us is a unique, conscious being, a divine creation.  It is the religious view.  It is the only view consistent with all the evidence.” [“The Intellectuals Speak Out About God”, p.  50].  This is probably a good place to state that I personally have no theological problem with the idea of God doing things in the ways described in modern theories of evolution (i.e., “theistic evolution”). [My emphasis].

I dont think this issue is as clear cut as P.Z.—and the NCSE, as expressed in an email from Eugenie Scott—seem to think.  Yes, doubts about the theory of evolution may reflect on Gaskell’s scientific acumen, and thus his fitness for the job as a scientist (particularly an “outreach” scientist, as the job at Kentucky would have been), but do Gaskell’s views, as expressed above, really put him way out of the mainstream of scientists as a whole? He seems to be a theistic evolutionist, not that far removed from, say, scientists like Kenneth Miller (who believes in divine intercession in the creation of humans), many of the writers of the Clergy Letter Project, or, indeed, the Catholic Church, which accepts evolution but believes that God interceded at least once, inserting a soul in the human lineage.  Is he so different from Owen Gingerich, an astronomer at Harvard who is also a theistic evolutionist and thinks that some mutations may have been “inspired” by God?

It’s one thing to have a university biologist espousing creationism, another to have a university astronomer espousing theistic evolution.  It’s yet a third to have a man denied a job not because his scientific views are unsound, but because those scientific views arise from his faith.  And, unfortunately, the internal documents at the U of K (I haven’t read them all) are not clear on this distinction. If Gaskell were hired, is it proper to worry about what he would say about biology on his own time? Doesn’t that violate freedom of speech?  Would it be okay if he simply kept his views on evolution as non-official, personal opinions?

After all, Gaskell would have been hired as an astronomer, not a biologist.  Would these issues have arisen if he was considered for a position in economics, sociology, or archaeology? After all, worries about scientific acumen would apply to all fields that rely on empirical research, not just science.

I tend to think that Gaskell’s scientific views should be considered when he’s being hired as a scientist, but I am not as vehement about this as, say, P.Z.  And, knowing the religious climate of Kentucky, I’d be surprised if Gaskell wasn’t hired simply because he was religious—instead of not being hired because he accepts bad science.  Still, the documents and depositions, which are what the court has to go on before trial, don’t seem clear on the point.

So I throw this open for debate:  is Gaskell’s form of theistic evolutionism sufficient to disquality him from a job as an astronomer? How seriously should his views have been considered?

89 Comments

  1. Jeff D
    Posted December 19, 2010 at 8:36 am | Permalink

    I’ve looked at as much of the material I could from own (lawyer in Indiana) perspective, and based on what I’ve seen so far, I am not convinced that Dr. Gaskell’s status as a devout, evangelical Christian played any significant role in UK (the University’s) decision to not hire him. But it also seems pretty obvious to me that his old-Earth-creationist / or theistic evolution views were a proximate cause for the decision not to hire, and the University committee members and staff may not have appreciated the distinction between (1) espousing old-Earth creationism involving special, miraculous creation and (2) espoused theistic evolution. An astronomer who espoused the latter would not be “beyond the pale” as the director of a University observatory; his potential public statements, referring to his beliefs, would not create public confusion or misinformation in the same way or to the same degree as would public statements containing old-Earth creationist or YEC views.

    • abb3w
      Posted December 19, 2010 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

      My impression is that while his beliefs on evolution may have been an element, the tipping factors were over-qualification (it was a staff position, not faculty), a lack of interest in the K-12 outreach component, and reports of unwillingness to accept decisions from institutional hierarchs. (The lawsuit might arguably itself signify that the last concern was valid.)

      I’d also note that Gaskell’s position struck me as having significant “Intelligent Design” sympathy, rather than mere “Theistic Evolution”.

      • Sam
        Posted December 19, 2010 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

        I thought theistic evolution WAS just another form of intelligent design, in that it’s evolution by intelligent design instead of evolution by natural selection.

        • Ichthyic
          Posted December 19, 2010 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

          I thought theistic evolution WAS just another form of intelligent design, in that it’s evolution by intelligent design instead of evolution by natural selection.

          not exactly. supposedly, TE can include “ball roller” types that postulate that evolution works exactly as science has discovered, but that the process was designed and set in motion by some intelligence somewhere.

          philosophically? No, you really can’t separate the two ideas. You either end up with a superfluous bit of fluff, which can be cut out with Occam’s razor, or you end up with with an idea that has been repeatedly rejected by evidence.

          I like Larry Moran’s take on it, myself:

          http://bioinfo.med.utoronto.ca/Evolution_by_Accident/Theistic_Evolution.html

      • Jason A.
        Posted December 19, 2010 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

        He was the faculty advisor for the UNL IDEA club: “Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness (IDEA) Clubs are student-initiated clubs on high school and college campuses where students can promote scientific evidence that supports intelligent design.”

        • Ichthyic
          Posted December 19, 2010 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

          Someone who claimed to be a member of that club wrote to say Gaskell “Only signed the paperwork for the club”.

          …without bothering to explain why he chose Gaskell to sign the paperwork to begin with.

  2. Posted December 19, 2010 at 8:41 am | Permalink

    The “significant doubts about evolution” part is pretty creepy, considering that a search for particle stability and the Cosmological Relational Model depend on that very principle.

    Otherwise, Gaskell could be seen as a Francis Collins of celestial mechanics.

    • Sven DiMilo
      Posted December 19, 2010 at 10:02 am | Permalink

      biological evolution

      • Diane G.
        Posted December 19, 2010 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

        A vital distinction that is too often lost in these discussions.

        • Posted December 19, 2010 at 9:47 pm | Permalink

          It seems exobiology and carbon chemistry would assume terrestrial evolution. After all, organic chemistry is a subset of physics. Perhaps his “doubt” has to do with the mechanism of natural selection only?

          However, thanks for pointing this out.

          • Diane G.
            Posted December 24, 2010 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

            Isn’t it the case that it’s always the natural selection (= Darwinian) part that bothers the creationists? And that they (and too many other people) use the words synonymously, when there are in fact important distinctions to maintain?

            (Except, of course, for those cannier creowacks who glom onto the distinction so that they can say, “of course I believe in evolution–just not the Darwinian part.”)

            Thank you for pointing out that there are possible scenarios in astronomical fields that could involve biological evolution. That hadn’t occurred to me, I’m embarrassed to say. What I took Sven to be referring to (and your first comment as well) was evolution in the sense that physics & cosmology have used it, a sense which does have important differences from biological evolution, though too many people think of both of those processes as identical as well…

            • Posted December 24, 2010 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

              Oh, no. The main stumbling point for young earth creationist fundamentalists is always common descent. Remember, ~45% of the U.S. population believes that humans were created pretty much in their present form. Creationists don’t mind evolution by natural selection within “kinds,” or what they call microevolution, but they’re death on common descent.

              • Diane G.
                Posted December 24, 2010 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

                Better said, I agree. Used to be both, summed up as “Darwinism,” but then they teased out so-called “micro-evolution” to make their faux-argument look less squishy to the naive…and to thus appear to embrace some NS, as if it were a concept that could be, uh, selectively applied… :)

  3. phil simons
    Posted December 19, 2010 at 8:43 am | Permalink

    Hello
    How would it be possible to remove from a conclusion the use of core beliefs, expressed as truths in one’s everyday life? This is as false a position as a juror making a decision solely on the interpretation of the law as laid down by a judge… without using the core experience/belief that he/she functions with daily.

  4. Dan
    Posted December 19, 2010 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    I don’t know that his views “disqualify” Gaskell from the job, but they may help make him a lesser candidate for the job. It’s not like he was the only person being considered for the position.

  5. Bob Williams
    Posted December 19, 2010 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    Is there something amiss logically with the Catholic doctrine that God intervened to implant a soul in the human lineage? Doesn’t this mean that a particular offspring had a soul and its parents did not? Or is the soul (whatever that is supposed to be) a relative thing subject to gradual development?

    • Posted December 19, 2010 at 9:21 am | Permalink

      Is there something amiss logically with the Catholic doctrine that God intervened to implant a soul in the human lineage?

      Erm…yeah.

      It’s the exact same thing amiss with the doctrine that Santa Claus has a flying reindeer ranch at the North Pole. Or that Kryptonite is toxic to Superman. Or that Thor creates thunder by playing catch with Mjöllnir.

      Not only is there no evidence whatsoever for the existence of souls or any of the deities in the Catholic (or any other) pantheon, there isn’t even an internally consistent theory of how such things are supposed to work. Hell, we can’t even get a coherent definition of the terms out of believers, for that matter.

      You might as well babble about how the Heisenberg compensationalists are able interact with the Hyperdrive without a constant supply of positronium being fed into the reactor core.

      Cheers,

      b&

  6. Posted December 19, 2010 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    I’ll agree with PZ’s point, that religion just does not come up in hiring decisions, at least in the departments where I have served.

    Questions relevant to one’s personality, whether they will be an agreeable colleague, etc, do come up as hiring considerations, and things learned about a candidate’s private life could come up in that case.

    I would guess that the concern was not his religion, nor his creationism, so much as his public speaking about creation, with perhaps a concern that this could come back to be an embarrassment at some future time.

    As long as personality considerations are allowed, I am not seeing why the courts have been involved in this.

    In considering Gaskell for a future appointment, the fact that he is litigious might well count against him.

  7. Posted December 19, 2010 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    See, the thing is, Dr. Gaskell is doing the worst possible kind of science.

    He’s stepping outside of his area of expertise and he’s making unevidenced claims based on the authority of a text whose accuracy has long been so thoroughly impeached it’s not even funny.

    Had he been claiming reason to believe in the Philosopher’s stone and non-nuclear transmutation of base elements, the University wouldn’t have hesitated to disqualify him. Same if he had merely expressed dissatisfaction with quantum mechanics because it can’t explain the origin of mass (while hinting that Plato had it right all along).

    The only reason he can get away with it the way he has is because of the popularity of this particular myth.

    Now, don’t get me worng. Dr. Gaskell is welcome to claim or hint that a magic sky faery blew really hard onto some dust and in so doing instantiated abiogenesis on Earth. He’s also welcome to claim that the Earth is flat and that whether or not Venus is ascending up Uranus when you’re born determines the length of…the wrinkles on your palm.

    What he can’t do is expect people to take him seriously when he does, and he also can’t expect a University to hire somebody for a science education position when nobody takes the person seriously.

    Besides, if the University can’t discriminate on the basis of the scientific positions of its candidates merely because the candidate has slapped the word, “religion,” on top of them…well, just imagine the chaos that’ll ensue.

    Cheers,

    b&

  8. qbsmd
    Posted December 19, 2010 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    “He seems to be a theistic evolutionist, not that far removed from, say, scientists like Kenneth Miller (who believes in divine intercession in the creation of humans), many of the writers of the Clergy Letter Project, or, indeed, the Catholic Church, which accepts evolution but believes that God interceded at least once, inserting a soul in the human lineage.”

    IDCs have intentionally tried to blur the line between science and religion as much as possible, and have succeeded in making the line between themselves and theistic evolutionists hard to find. The only distinction I can see is that IDCs believe there is\will be scientific evidence for the theistic parts of their beliefs, and therefore that they should be public, part of science, while other theistic evolutionists accept that the theistic part is an untestable, private belief.

    I take it from Gaskell’s actions that he is in the former group, and think that that intention to wedge religion into science should disqualify him from scientific positions.

    • Ken Pidcock
      Posted December 19, 2010 at 9:43 am | Permalink

      I’m inclined to agree with this. Gaskell makes it clear that he thinks it very, very important that a Judeo-Christian worldview of cosmology and evolution prevail. If I were looking at him as a candidate for a faculty appointment in astronomy, that would trouble me enough to recommend against hiring. Whether he could litigate that on expression grounds is something on which I am not qualified to comment.

      • Sven DiMilo
        Posted December 19, 2010 at 10:04 am | Permalink

        It was not a faculty position. It was a staff position, to run a new observatory and do “public outreach” and maybe some introductory night classes.

        • Ken Pidcock
          Posted December 19, 2010 at 10:18 am | Permalink

          I stand corrected, and embarrassed by my failure to have read more of the documentation.

          • Ichthyic
            Posted December 19, 2010 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

            it doesn’t matter, Ken.

            actually, your conclusion about hiring is even more sound given the kind of position it was (outreach).

            If it was a purely research-oriented faculty position, Gaskell would have gotten high marks from even me.

            His publication record in his own field speaks volumes.

            but, as a representative of the university science outreach program?

            hell no.

    • MadScientist
      Posted December 19, 2010 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

      The catholic church does not believe in evolution – they believe that god created all plants and animals (or their ancestors – then guided evolution and inserted a soul etc). So the catholic church has some bizarre creation story which it calls ‘evolution’ and they happily take some words from Darwin and say “see, we believe in evolution”.

      • Diane G.
        Posted December 19, 2010 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

        My (atheist) daughter graduated two years ago from a Catholic HS. Perhaps surprisingly, the evolution she got from her bio class was as good as or better than that from the local public schools of which I also have some knowledge. In any school system these days the subject seems to be treated as a hot-button issue and thus danced around and avoided as much as possible. The Catholics seem so proud of themselves for looking “progressive” on this issue that, in our experience, they go out of their way to do a good job on all the stuff that doesn’t conflict with their mythology as currently defined. The left out stuff–basically abiogenesis and human descent–is also largely left out of public school courses. (And of course rightfully so in the case of abiogenesis, at least under the heading of “evolution.”)

        (Naturally the required religion courses are more than happy to take up those areas and give the kids The Word..)

  9. Posted December 19, 2010 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    My question is, is the distinction being fudged between personally held views and those that are argued publicly? The main problem that I see with the quoted section above is that he freely mixes science with speculation, philosophy, and wishful thinking, and appears to hold them in equal light. There’s a difference between seeing vague things in genesis chapters that are supported (more or less) by scientific findings, and in openly promoting scripture because, if you look hard, two or three points can be made to fit, if you ignore the several hundred others that do not. Isn’t that called “cherry-picking your data”? I think it’s a valid concern for someone in a teaching position, as opposed to a research one where review processes are in place to call that out.

    Before hiring, there is no way of knowing exactly how well someone will fit into the job, except for evidence from past performance. That evidence, seen here, wouldn’t hold as well against someone who stuck to what science has firmly established. In this social climate, I myself would look for an astronomer that can answer religious/creationist questions with the evidence that doesn’t support it, and why we put our efforts into experiments and testing, rather than one who openly says, “Hey, we can squeeze god into the cracks if we want to.”

    I’d also be fine with saying, “Sure, there’s a bias against religion here! We teach science. There’s also a bias against astrology and pinpricks-in-the-curtain-of-the-sky. That’s our job. Want to make something of it?”

  10. Helen Wise
    Posted December 19, 2010 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    Why is this complicated?

    Dr. Gaskell is not entitled to the job.

    We commonly argue here that science, particularly the hard sciences, does not accommodate religion; likewise, we argue that scientists who put their irrationality out there in the public square may be appropriately evaluated through the filter of their beliefs. Is the case of Dr. Gaskell different? Isn’t all of Dr. Gaskell’s scientific work to be viewed with skepticism and suspicion?

    If you’re a biologist, a physicist, an astronomer, is not rationality a BFOQ for the job?

    Yes, of course, Gaskell is being discriminated against because he’s a Christian. So?

    • Sven DiMilo
      Posted December 19, 2010 at 10:06 am | Permalink

      Gaskell is being discriminated against because he’s a Christian. So?

      well, there’s the small problem that that is illegal.

      • Helen Wise
        Posted December 19, 2010 at 10:09 am | Permalink

        Yes, I was afraid someone was going to come back with that.

        • Nick Matzke
          Posted December 19, 2010 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

          I doubt Gaskell’s case will qualify as religious discrimination, but surely you realize that laws against religious discrimination in employment protect everyone, atheists as well as theists?

          It always amazes me that a few atheists get so wrapped up in atheism=science=rationality that they are willing to through civil liberties under the bus. I’m glad that most are not in that category.

          • Nick Matzke
            Posted December 19, 2010 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

            through–>throw

            • Ichthyic
              Posted December 19, 2010 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

              it’s not really part of the general debate about whether beliefs are important in the interview process, but in this specific case, I think one of the letters from a person named Mike on the committee really summarizes what was going on, and that the problem really wasn’t an issue of religion, but behavior.

              I posted it, word for word, on the Pharyngula thread:

              http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2010/12/martin_gaskell_was_not_expelle.php#comment-3004269

              I’ll put a copy here, too.

              • Diane G.
                Posted December 19, 2010 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

                That was well worth reading! Thanks for going through the effort to retype it!

              • Ichthyic
                Posted December 19, 2010 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

                your welcome.

                It was one of the ones that was just in image form, and it seemed a really good one to try and reproduce.

                It’s amazing how much back-and-forth emailing there was between committee members on this.

                …and a lot of very inappropriate emails from the head of the committee to Gaskell.

                This thing is a clusterfuck all the way around.

                one, Gaskell has been publishing interesting papers on Quasars and Pulsars in the lit for almost 20 years. This case will surely hang around his neck like a lead weight. What sane university is going to hire him to fund his research now? No matter what, we probably have lost a significant contributor to our understanding of stellar phenomena. You simply can’t force unis to hire you, nor can you force grant agencies to fund you.

                two, it sheds an unsavory light on the university hiring process. Not that there is discrimination; far from it! Instead, it will eventually become obvious that some University faculty see no problems with inappropriate communications with potential hirees, and hanging their own universities out to dry in a civil suit, simply out of petty revenge.

                Oh, and in the extremely unlikely event Gaskell wins this case, it will dramatically interfere with the hiring process at every uni in the US.

                I can fucking imagine the nightmarish levels of new rules of conduct, etc, that really have no place in the hiring process, but will be insisted upon by uni lawyers for liability reasons.

                *ugh*

              • Nick (Matzke)
                Posted December 19, 2010 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

                Yeah, that is useful. Re: research, it might be the case that taking this job means moving away from research, anyway, so it might be the case that research experience wasn’t the dominant factor in the hiring.

              • Microraptor
                Posted December 20, 2010 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

                Hey, can you direct me to where you originally got that? I’d like to use it in an argument I’m making on another site.

              • Ichthyic
                Posted December 20, 2010 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

                I grabbed it from one of the court exhibits posted at NCSE.

                It was one of the Tom Troland exhibits, IIRC

                http://ncse.com/webfm_send/1460

                scroll down to entry# 1254

              • Ichthyic
                Posted December 20, 2010 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

                …yes, it’s the link in the list of exhibits on NCSE labelled:

                3/12/10: Deposition of Tom Troland – 4

              • Microraptor
                Posted December 20, 2010 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

                Thanks.

    • Tim Martin
      Posted December 19, 2010 at 10:39 am | Permalink

      Yes, of course, Gaskell is being discriminated against because he’s a Christian.

      Not really. His beliefs are to some extent anti-scientific. That could have significant negative effects on his teaching and his science. He is being discriminated against because of that, and there is nothing wrong with discrimination when it is for a good reason. Would you hire a doctor who’s never gone to med school? No. Yet that is also discrimination.

      It’s not that he’s Christian – plenty of Christians hold academic positions in science. It’s that he is, arguably, not scientifically-minded enough.

    • MadScientist
      Posted December 19, 2010 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

      But he’s not being discriminated against because he’s a christian – that’s his own claim and it is not true.

      • Ichthyic
        Posted December 19, 2010 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

        It wasn’t even HIS claim to begin with!

        he was goaded into filing suit by the only person who wanted him there, Tom Troland, and a couple of other faculty members (who weren’t even on the committee) who thought it “outrageous” that the committee didn’t think him the best person for the job.

    • abb3w
      Posted December 19, 2010 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

      More exactly, he’s being discriminated against because he’s the kind of Christian who espouses beliefs, within the sciences but outside his professional expertise, that significantly conflict with scientific consensus; not that he’s a Christian, but because he’s a kooky Christian.

      And even that’s overstating it, since that doesn’t seem to be the core reason he wasn’t hired. From the defense exhibits, the reasons for the non-hire boil down to “plays badly with others”.

  11. Posted December 19, 2010 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    Gaskell’s citation of Johnson and Behe reflects some sheer ignorance that’s problematic. He wrote:

    Phillip E. Johnson (“Darwin on Trial”) and of biochemist Michael J. Behe (“Darwin’s Black Box”) will give you some of the flavor of the diversity of opinion of Christian biologists (and geologists).

    Well, not, it doesn’t give one that ‘flavor.’ Johnson was a law professor and Behe is (or at least was) a biochemist. I’d have reservations about hiring him for a position that apparently involves science outreach on that ground alone.

    • Divalent
      Posted December 19, 2010 at 10:25 am | Permalink

      Sheeze. You ‘quote-mined’ him! Please reread the phrase that preceded what you quoted.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted December 19, 2010 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

        In full then:

        “Although this is getting outside the realm of astronomy, it should be realized that, despite some popular claims to the contrary, science has no satisfactory explanation of the origins of life yet. Note that the question of the origin of life is a separate problem from the question of the validity of some theories of evolution. The evidence is very good (and gets stronger every year) that all life on earth descended (i.e., evolved from) from a common origin. There is still a problem of the ultimate origin of life. A discussion of the current controversies over evolutionary theory and how Christians view these controversies, is beyond the scope of this handout, but the now extensive literature discussing and reviewing books such as those of Phillip E. Johnson (“Darwin on Trial”) and of biochemist Michael J. Behe (“Darwin’s Black Box”) will give you some of the flavor of the diversity of opinion of Christian biologists (and geologists).”

        a) Gaskell claims that there is a problem for “some” or most theories of evolution, and that this problem is OOL.

        b) See RBH.

        • MadScientist
          Posted December 19, 2010 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

          Ah, the usual “no one knows exactly how life started, so goddidit”.

        • Microraptor
          Posted December 19, 2010 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

          The fact that he gave a positive nod to Discovery Institute publications ought to be enough to disqualify him from being hired by any serious university in the country by itself.

  12. Sven DiMilo
    Posted December 19, 2010 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    A few points that might influence the judge (or jury, or whatever):
    Gaskell was extremely well (if not over-) qualified for the position, having demonstrable experience in all aspects, required and desired, of the job. There are also statements from colleagues at Nebraska (where he got all this experience) to the effect that he never let his religious (or biological) views affect his professional activities, even in public outreach. He is also an accomplished research scientist (though this was explicitly not a research position, some advising of student research was envisioned if they hired a PhD). Instead of him, they hired an inside candidate with no relevant experience and no PhD. Although some members of the Physics/Astronomy search committee had qualms about his perceived creationist tendencies, he really got blackballed when the Biology Dept. was consulted and they replied that they would refuse to work with him if hired (on a long-planned joint science outreach team). At that point the Dean and Provost apparently nixed his candidacy from on high.

    Like Dr. Coyne, I really don’t think a Kentucky court is going to see this in the same cut-&-dried light as the more vehement outposts of the science-blogosphere. I think it will be easy for his lawyers to point out that his views are indistinguishable from those of respected professional biologists like Miller and Collins.

    Should be an interesting case to watch.

    • Ken Pidcock
      Posted December 19, 2010 at 11:06 am | Permalink

      I think it will be easy for his lawyers to point out that his views are indistinguishable from those of respected professional biologists like Miller and Collins.

      The distinction is that Gaskell posits naturalism as a threat to humanity. (I don’t think that these questions about the origin…)

      That may not be relevant to whether he was discriminated against, and I agree that he makes an interesting case.

    • MadScientist
      Posted December 19, 2010 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

      But (depending on his claims in the court documents) Gaskell will probably have to convince a jury that:

      a. He was the best qualified
      b. It was his religion that got him dropped

      Now if the person who was offered the post happens to be a christian then Gaskell should have even more fun convincing people that the decision not to hire him was based on religious discrimination.

    • Ichthyic
      Posted December 19, 2010 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

      Sven selectively ignores much of the content of the published emails of what is normally supposed to, with good reason, be a private review process.

      I highly recommend anyone who is not only interested in this specific case, but how reviews are conducted in general, take a gander at those emails.

      I’m posting one that contains a decent summary of a lot of the thinking that was going on at the bottom of this thread.

  13. steve oberski
    Posted December 19, 2010 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    to have a man denied a job not because his scientific views are unsound, but because those scientific views arise from his faith.

    I fail to see any distinction here.

    If his scientific views are not based on evidence (i.e. based on faith) then they are unsound. Even if they happen to be agree with current evidence based views, which does not seem to be the case with Gaskell.

    It may well be that the laying on of hands has some therapeutic value due to a placebo effect but if my doctor thinks he is channelling the power of jebus then I’m out the door.

  14. Max
    Posted December 19, 2010 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    Why is it OK to deny a scientist a job if he thinks the ocean is made of orange juice, but not OK if that belief is part of his religion? It’s crazy. It means that you could claim any negative aspect of yourself is religiously founded and therefore a company is not allowed to deny you a job because of it. “Sorry sir, my pedophilia and neo-Nazi tendencies are part of my religion, you can’t hold those against me in considering me for this job. And your daughter is cute.”

    The reason *why* someone thinks something is, or should be, irrelevant. And that’s what UK should say in court. “No, he wasn’t denied because he’s religious, he was denied because he’s scientifically wrong, and that’s not what we look for in candidates for a scientific job.”

    Also, can a person be legally denied a job as a pastor if he doesn’t believe in God?

    • tomh
      Posted December 19, 2010 at 11:22 am | Permalink

      can a person be legally denied a job as a pastor if he doesn’t believe in God?

      Religions and churches are exempted from anti-discrimination laws that apply to everyone else.

      • Jeff D
        Posted December 19, 2010 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

        I don’t practice employment discrimination law but I have colleagues who do. In the U.S., both private and public employers are required to provide “reasonable accommodations” to employees’ private religious beliefs and practices, but the employer’s obligation ends when / where the employee’s beliefs and practices prevent or interfere with the competent performance of the employee’s duties. The Free Exercise Clause does not give a religious employee an unlimited license to express religious views or to engage in religious practices on “company time” and “company premises.”

        So if Dr. Gaskell had already been hired as the observatory administrator when his religious beliefs came to light, there could be legitimate grounds to fire or disclipline him if he repeatedly expressed religious beliefs / views on theistic evolution / Book of Genesis on the premises during working hours and if this alienated, angered or confused visitors and donors to the university observatory, etc. He wouldn’t need to mention Genesis at all in order to perform his job as director of the observatory.

      • MadScientist
        Posted December 19, 2010 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

        Not quite – where they’re allowed to discriminate does have its bounds. For example, if they hire a second party to mow the lawn they can’t dismiss a bid because the guy who’ll do the mowing is godless. They could probably argue a case for not hiring a godless janitor to clean the floors inside the church though. However, in practice they’re rarely challenged.

        • Jeff D
          Posted December 19, 2010 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

          I agree; I was writing about the limits on the accommodations that employers must give to employees with respect to personal religious expression. When we examine the legal constraints on employers with respect to hiring and promotion, there definitely are limits on when and on what basis an employer may “discriminate,” that is, to treat a difference as making a difference.

          I can’t recall any specific cases where plaintiff employees won on claims of religious-based discrimination against them. Here is one where the employee lost: Peterson v. Hewlett-Packard Co., 358 F.3d 599 (9th Cir. 2004).

          And here is a case where an employer was found to have engaged in religiously-based workplace harassment: Millazzo v. Universal Traffic Service, 289 F.Supp.2d 1251 (D. Colo. 2003).

  15. Gareth Price
    Posted December 19, 2010 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    I don’t have much sympathy with Gaskell’s religious views and the case raises some interesting questions about whether these views disqualify him from the job.

    However, isn’t a court going to decided whether he was discriminated against illegally? I suspect that illegal discrimination happens at lot but it is much easier to discriminate against somebody illegally and make out that there was some other, legitimate, reason why he or she didn’t get the job than it is to prove that you were illegally discriminated against. So I have a certain admiration for people who fight in these situations.

    Time will tell whether or not he has a case, I guess.

  16. Kevin
    Posted December 19, 2010 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    If the man’s religion or religious beliefs were likely to interfere with the discharge of his professional duties, that’s an issue.

    If not, then not.

    What he does on his own time is, of course, his own business.

    I suspect that the issue is not as cut and dried as it is made out to be. The qualifications of the other candidates, including the one who actually got the job, are also at play.

    And though that person is under absolutely no obligation to do so, if they turned out to be a believer it would make the lawsuit moot.

  17. Thanny
    Posted December 19, 2010 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    The question is, was he not hired because of his religion, or because of the batshit ideas he believes on account of said religion? The law says you can’t discriminate against the former. It does not say you can’t make sensible judgments on the latter.

    In other words, it doesn’t matter where his unscientific views come from, only that they exist. We cannot have laws which protect any and all consequences of religious belief from scrutiny, and indeed we do not – you cannot get away with murder by citing the dictates of your religious beliefs.

    • Nick Matzke
      Posted December 19, 2010 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

      This is pretty much the key distinction which some people are missing. The government can/does/should act on scientific ideas (e.g. the ancient earth), despite the fact that they are against some people’s religions, because government policies which have a predominant secular purpose & effect are constitutional.

      However, the Constitution also mandates religious tolerance and governmental non-discrimination. So if there is no predominant secular purpose/effect for some action, instead the policy has a predominantly religious/antireligious purpose & effect, then it is (supposed to be) banned.

      Some might think this is irrational, and the government should just impose whatever seems most rational to whoever is in power at the time, but, as the Founding Fathers realized, this gives the government too much power, and even if you like what that power is doing at the moment, you might well not like it in the future when someone else gets on top.

      It bears pointing out that the “accomodationist” position is difficult to understand without understanding the strong commitment to the civil liberties principles outlined above, and to the underlying philosophy (religious tolerance) that is behind it. The distinction between science and religion is a key part of the whole machinery which allows government to act on science but keeps government out of religion/antireligion. Undermining that distinction, i.e. by declaring that religion is just really bad science and deserves to be treated as such, is hazardous — as we’ve seen in this thread, where one or two people are arguing that government discrimination against religion is a great idea, employment law and the explicit Constitutional prohibition against religious tests for office be damned.

      • Ichthyic
        Posted December 19, 2010 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

        It bears pointing out that the “accomodationist” position is difficult to understand without understanding the strong commitment to the civil liberties principles outlined above

        I quote the person you are responding to:

        it doesn’t matter where his unscientific views come from, only that they exist.

        the key question for accomodationists then, is where do YOU draw the line?

        If the line is drawn at the expression of obviously wrong and misleading representations of science theory or practice, then how is accommodating Gaskell’s religious beliefs going to address it?

        If Gaskell’s religious beliefs were so unimportant to him that he wouldn’t consider them in conflict with anything, then there’s nothing to accomodate.

        OTOH, if they ARE important to him, as seems reasonable, then how is a hiring committee, who has clear evidence of exactly HOW those beliefs affect his understanding of the very field they are being interviewed for, supposed to deal with it?

        answer:

        if Gaskell is successful, you can’t.

        science suffers.

        this is the fail of accomodationism.

        • Nick (Matzke)
          Posted December 19, 2010 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

          It’s the difference between:

          1. let’s not hire this guy because he has nutty, incorrect ideas about the well-established, mainstream theory of evolution

          …and…

          2. let’s not hire this guy because he is a member of religion X

          I have not read everything about the case but it looks like most of concern expressed by the hiring committee (regarding evolution/religion, it sounds like there were other issues) was regarding #1 instead of #2. Which is good because #2 is illegal, and rightly so IMHO.

  18. MadScientist
    Posted December 19, 2010 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    He obviously idolizes the con artist Harun Yahya as well. I would certainly have concerns about him teaching astronomy since logic is apparently alien to him.

    I hope he loses the lawsuit. It’s a bit tricky arguing the difference between beliefs originating from a religion and discrimination according to religion. However, I would think that his case is obviously not one of descrimination based on religion and he has quite a task ahead to convince a sensible jury (unless they’re all christians with a persecution complex) that he was not hired for other reasons.

  19. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted December 19, 2010 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

    On the scientist, not the case [too much to read, too little time], I have to agree with Ben Goren when he notes that Gaskell does the worst kind of science.

    Moreover, he does a hatchet job on science, portraying evolution as “an extreme” when it is the factual middle ground by definition. The fuzzified slippery slope argument of internet science as “the issue of science dominates attacks on belief in God” can be lumped with this. As can the characterization of evolution as “humanistic” and the discussion about its relevance for religious texts and reliance on “atheistic assumptions”.

    I feel the readers of his evangelical texts would find themselves as confused about science as Gaskell himself. And it would not be something you would want to associate, or worse see, from a person which would do public outreach. It definitely looks like the university took the right decision, and one can but hope they found a better candidate.

    [Gaskell being litigious on loose grounds instead of accepting a procedure involving precisely choice for the best candidate says pretty much the same thing. Not a good employee on any position!

    It is somewhat ironic that the law suit likely follows from his religiously based and openly displayed persecution complex being triggered, he could easily feel himself a victim of “attacks on belief in God”.]

  20. Ken Pidcock
    Posted December 19, 2010 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been reading the memoranda supporting summary judgment, along with the replies thereto. They’re quite fascinating, and, in part, entertaining; regardless the merits of his case, Gaskell has attorneys who are quite gifted in snark.

    As a biologist, I was kind of embarrassed to see the evidence that the UK biologists consulted by Cavagnero passed judgment on Gaskell’s views on evolution without really looking into them. It seemed a sad confirmation of the charge that too many biologists hold the view that Scientist + Bible = Creationist.

    • Ichthyic
      Posted December 19, 2010 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

      passed judgment on Gaskell’s views on evolution without really looking into them

      OTOH, it only takes five minutes of reading his stated positions (TAUGHT AS A CLASS LECTURE, BTW), to see that his views on evolution are entirely unfounded and unscientific, regardless of whatever his religious beliefs are.

      • Ichthyic
        Posted December 19, 2010 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

        too many biologists hold the view that Scientist + Bible = Creationist.

        Then defend the converse, philosophically.

        It is not enough to give examples of people who claim religion and are biologists; that’s just compartmentalization at work.

        no, you have to show that, based on what is written in the bible, and based on any given common religion, there is no conflict between that and science.

        hell, man. The entire book is about a deity creating the universe and acting on it.

        that, by definition, means anyone purporting to believe in it IS a creationist.

        they may not be someone who claims to think the bible says who old the earth is, but the single, key point to the whole thing, that there IS a creator, cannot be rejected for the sake of trying to force compliance with science.

        so, you may call it “a sad confirmation”, but I call it: a logical, natural response that is inevitable based on the facts.

        • Nick (Matzke)
          Posted December 19, 2010 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

          This is a pretty tenditious use of the word “creationist”. It is well-known that the main meaning of the word, going back basically to Darwin (who invented this meaning of it, I think), refers to anti-evolutionists. It is also reasonably well-known that there is a (very) minority usage where theists or atheists talk say that anyone who believes God created reality is a “creationist”.

          When someone clearly is making use of the dominant usage of the term “creationist”, it is illegitimate to argue with them on the basis of switching the word’s meaning to the minority usage and pretending that they meant that instead.

          • Ichthyic
            Posted December 19, 2010 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

            This is a pretty tenditious use of the word “creationist”. It is well-known that the main meaning of the word, going back basically to Darwin (who invented this meaning of it, I think), refers to anti-evolutionists.

            entirely irrelevant.

            If someone believes the world was created, they are a creationist.

            please tell me how that is incorrect, from a philosophical standpoint instead of a semantic one.

            what’s illegitimate is accomodationists playing this game of semantics.

            • Nick (Matzke)
              Posted December 19, 2010 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

              If someone supported the French Republic, they were “Republicans”, but that doesn’t mean it’s fair to associate them with the modern American version.

              • Ichthyic
                Posted December 19, 2010 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

                you’ve got why that is exactly backwards though.

                go on Nick, keep playing semantic games and avoid the actual question I put to you.

                here, try again:

                Is someone who believes the world was created a creationist?

  21. Andy Dufresne
    Posted December 19, 2010 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    I’m not seeing a whole lot of evidence demonstrating that Gaskell’s religious beliefs were inappropriately discussed or considered by those doing the hiring—which is what he’d have to prove. I do see evidence that his publicly advocated scientific views were discussed and considered, along with other factors.

    Shafer’s e-mail is hardly a smoking gun, but it does sound like one. Her use of the word “evangelical” was misplaced and unfortunate—especially since her concern was clearly not Gaskell’s religion per se (i.e. his privately held beliefs), but his unsound and publicly advocated scientific views.

    I guess no one wants to put the Behe Disclaimer on their department website if they don’t have to…

    • Ken Pidcock
      Posted December 19, 2010 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

      I do see evidence that his publicly advocated scientific views were discussed and considered, along with other factors.

      One of UK’s problems is that the principals’ discussion of those views can seem a bit incoherent. Gaskell can easily defend against a claim that he is a strict creationist and, while he suggests that ID is not religiously founded, he doesn’t himself identify with the movement. What you’re left with is his insistence on theism, and philosophical objection to naturalism, and I would not want to go into court claiming that disqualifies him as a scientist. (What I think doesn’t matter.)

      • Ichthyic
        Posted December 19, 2010 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

        I’m not seeing a whole lot of evidence demonstrating that Gaskell’s religious beliefs were inappropriately discussed or considered by those doing the hiring

        actually, if you read the letters by Tom Troland (the head of the committee) to Gaskell, it was Troland who was engaging in entirely inappropriate discussion!

        This whole civil case wasn’t really Gaskell’s idea! It was Troland’s!

        seriously, Troland and a couple of other faculty invited Gaskell to speak on religious issues ten years earlier. They liked what he had to say, and got extremely pissy when the committee, except for Troland, voted unanimously against hiring Gaskell.

        Gaskell is a frustrated pawn of some childish profs who didn’t get their way.

      • Andy Dufresne
        Posted December 19, 2010 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

        The e-mails—especially the last ten or so pages of the Shafer deposition—are indeed fascinating.

        The original complaint says that the folks at UK “investigated Dr. Gaskell’s religious beleifs.” It says that over and over. Has anyone read anything in the record that demonstrates this? It seems to me they “investigated”—which is to say, Googled—the scientific viewpoints Gaskell expressed in public and advertised on his own websites. Then, they candidly discussed the pros and cons of hiring someone who publicly advocates those scientific viewpoints. Is this just a language game the lawyers are playing? Did someone at UK actually investigate Gaskell’s privately held religious beliefs (as opposed to his publicly expressed views on scientific matters of fact)?

        • Ichthyic
          Posted December 21, 2010 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

          Is this just a language game the lawyers are playing?/i>

          yes.

          Did someone at UK actually investigate Gaskell’s privately held religious beliefs (as opposed to his publicly expressed views on scientific matters of fact)?

          no.

          In fact, what really happened is that several faculty members, including the head of the committee already KNEW gaskell’s religious beliefs, since they had invited him to speak on them 10 years before.

          These are the same people, btw, who encouraged Gaskell to file suit against the very university they were supposed to be representing!

          just goes to show how religion indeed can make a fuckwit out of anyone.

          • Andy Dufresne
            Posted December 21, 2010 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

            That’s what I gathered, thanks. (I didn’t read all the court documents, but I’ve read most of them. And I can’t see where the folks at UK did anything that merits this kind of lawsuit.)

  22. Anonym
    Posted December 19, 2010 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

    So, it’s not a good idea to hire a fox to mind the chickens?

  23. The Swede
    Posted December 19, 2010 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    He clearly has no business at all in a position of influence regarding science. Acceptance of dogmatic thought in non-controversial scientific subjects is a direct disqualifier on the individuals ability to consider evidence and refrain from bias.

    Such views as expressed on his site would immediately disqualify him from any serious position of science in most western countries. I don’t see why it should be any different in the US just because the norm there is to pussyfoot around religion.

  24. Ichthyic
    Posted December 19, 2010 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

    For those that haven’t read the actual emails posted at NCSE, it’s a fascinating glimpse into the hiring/review process.

    This is a response (typed word for word) to the criticisms of the person in charge of the committee, who, with a couple of other people who had actually invited Gaskell to speak on religion 10 years before at UK, are the ones who so flagrantly violated standard policy on how to deal with interviewees:

    ____________________________________________

    I also feel badly about the way things have developed, though I’m not sure that all the committee members share your certainty that Martin is the right guy for the job, irrespective of his religious beliefs. I am also not sure Martin is the best candidate; though I acknowledge he is easily the best astronomer. Because of this, I think you may be a bit unfair in accusing your fellow committee members of being swayed by the evolution debate.

    Here is my best guess (lets get to the committee meeting and see if I’m right). Please don’t spread it around.

    Sally, I think, would not put Martin first, because she felt he was not a good listener, and would not be able to develop good rapport with school teachers (who need a lot of hand-holding). Of course, it is difficult to know how much of Sally’s feelings are due to this or due to what she sees as problems likely to arise from Martin’s rejection of evolution. But, I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t put him first. (I also think this is a disappointment to her, since she may have held some hope that a Ph.D. director could work (as PI) with her in developing funding sources that could support her as an outreach consultant.)

    Steve, I think, would also not put Martin first, because Martin is essentially a faculty member, and so, in Steve’s mind, will be perennially unhappy with a staff job. Also, I think Steve worries about having a staff member who is a cut above other staff members in the eyes of the faculty. I wouldn’t blame him for thinking this way, if he actually does. And it is something for a chair to worry about.

    Isaac, of course, is one of the people who first raised the alarm about Martin, not out of a lack of respect for Martin’s religious freedom, but because of what he saw as the inevitable consequences that we are now experiencing. Obviously, he was quite right to warn us that this was going to be a problem. I suspect that Isaac thinks there is no point in even considering Martin, and so won’t want us to waste our time by considering him.

    The GA’s also put Martin last in their list, you told us they did not find him as easy to talk with as the other two candidates. And that is also something to think about.

    That leaves you, Nancy, and Gary (if he’s voting) supporting Martin on the strength of his experience and the quality of his research.

    I don’t want to say what Keith thinks about all this, because he told me in confidence, and I think he will tell everyone else at the committee meeting.

    As for me, I was all for Martin at the start, even since I spoke with him in Nebraska, and even after I learned of his website and learned of his talk on our campus ten years ago. As I said in my earlier email, nobody’s perfect. But I also think he is not a great listener, that he probably doesn’t suffer fools (like me) gladly, and that he might be difficult for a chair to manage (which was the case with the last two chairs in NE). Also, taking nothing away from Martin, I was really impressed by how much Tim Knauer wants this job… he has been hustling everybody… even people like Straley who were not in the loop. And Tim had at least 10 ideas that none of the other candidates had; and which had not occurred to any of us. In some sense, Tim is closer to the level of the potential users of the facility than Martin is, and so may be more persuasive in enlisting people’s interest and support.

    And, to be honest, there is a part of me that, as Chair, will be worried about every time Martin steps in front of a TV camera, has a radio interview, or judges biology projects at a science fair. And, as Director, he will do all three.

    I feel like I have contributed to making a big mess out of this situation, and yet I’m not sure what I’ve done wrong. Worst of all, I genuinely like Martin, and if there is no chance we will hire him, then I feel badly for leading him even this far down the path.

    In any event, you should not remain silent. Nor should you divorce yourself from the Observatory, whomever we hire. We are not doing this for ourselves, we are doing it for UK, and for the kids we teach; and they are the ones who will be let down if any of us bows out.

    Mike

    ____________________________________

  25. David Milne
    Posted December 19, 2010 at 10:21 pm | Permalink

    For me, this issue should be considered at the same level as most atheists like myself would consider religion per se. People are entitled to think and believe in whatever nonsense they want to within the privacy of their own minds and places of worship. If however, they bring their religious views into the public domain in order to proslelytise on behalf of those views, opponents have a perfect right to attack those views, or to be significantly concerned if those views impinge on the education of young people in such a way as to denigrate the scientific approach and to ignore or badly argue against any scientific evidence. One answer might be to put certain restrictions and clauses into any employment contract, and if those are deviated from, then people like Gaskell could be warned and then eventually fired if need be. If Gaskell is the fair-minded individual that he seems to be, he would welcome such restrictions. David Milne in the UK.

  26. Marshall
    Posted December 20, 2010 at 1:06 am | Permalink

    I suppose it depends on whether the top of your agenda is pro-science or anti-religion. If the former, then this accomodationist scientist would seem to be a good fit for a public outreach program in Kentucky. I suppose this public university values public contact.

    I think objecting to him as a “potential” evangelical who couldn’t be restrained from posting offensive material is not nice; discriminatory in a bad way. And that’s anti-accomodationism for you.

    …nb, the above is about what I read in the papers which is probably quite free from empirical ‘fact’.

    • Ichthyic
      Posted December 20, 2010 at 1:30 am | Permalink

      highly suggest you read the post just above yours.

  27. Posted December 20, 2010 at 5:20 am | Permalink

    Excellent post, Jerry.

    As you know, I’ve been interviewing 37 diverse Christian leaders (mostly theologians, pastors, and scientists) who embrace a mainstream view of evolution, reject ID, yet remain committed Christians of one sort or another: http:http://evolutionarychristianity.com/blog/our-diversity/
    So far I’ve interviewed 20 and I’m always a little amazed at how much woo some of these folk can hold while still claiming to have (and do, for the most part) an evidential approach to reality. But given that the brains of most people seem predisposed to accept at least a little bit (if not a truckload of) magic/woo, we should not be surprised.

    My atheist science writer wife, Connie Barlow, who is spending 6-8 hours editing each conversation, and I both hope this series can make a difference with young people, especially. By “make a difference”, I mean help them move beyond, or bypass, or throw off altogether a biblical literalist interpretation of their faith. But, of course, only time will tell.

    Even though I’m also a non-theist, a naturalist, I fully realize that many, perhaps most, of my guests are “theistic evolutionists” or “evolutionary creationists”. I’m trying to gently nudge them and my listening audience (already approaching 15,000 and the press release hasn’t even gone out yet) in the direction of naturalism. But I’m also a pragmatist.

    As I’ve said on your blog before, so long as people have “evidential deep-time eyes” and “a global heart and commitment”, I frankly don’t care what their theology or metaphysics may be. I can grant them whatever woo they want as long as they have deep-time values and a commitment to the health and wellbeing of the larger body of life, rather than just their own “soul’s” salvation.

    It’s those with short-term vision and a narrow self-interest view of reality that I worry about. Those are the ones I’d really rather not steer the ship of civilization.

    Given that currently 56% of humanity self-identifies as Christian and Muslim and this number is expected to rise to 60% or more throughout this century, if we don’t see the emergence of decidedly naturalist (NON-supernaturalst) versions of these two faiths over the next 50-100 years, it seems to me that we may all be fucked.

    In any event, given that most readers here are coming from a humanist/atheist/non-believer point of view, if you want to see where (I hope!) millions of Christians are evolving toward, the interviews I’d most recommend are the following:
    Bruce Sanguin
    John Shelby Spong
    Ian Lawton
    Jim Burklo
    Brian McLaren
    Michael Morwood
    You can access them directly here: http://evolutionarychristianity.com/blog/audio-downloads/

    More to come…

    • Posted December 20, 2010 at 8:23 am | Permalink

      As I’ve said on your blog before, so long as people have “evidential deep-time eyes” and “a global heart and commitment”, I frankly don’t care what their theology or metaphysics may be. I can grant them whatever woo they want as long as they have deep-time values and a commitment to the health and wellbeing of the larger body of life, rather than just their own “soul’s” salvation.

      Michael, can you define “deep-time values” and describe the “health and wellbeing of the larger body of life”? You might need to define the “larger body of life” too. Thanks.

    • Ken Pidcock
      Posted December 20, 2010 at 9:09 am | Permalink

      Michael, you know that your work is welcome, but I fear that it’s futile. The market for Christianity, if I may use so crude a phrase, has never been in moral philosophy. It’s been in shelter from the absurd. Remove the supernatural, the hope that immaterial meaning is somehow more than immaterial, and you might as well fold up the tent. I wish it were otherwise, and suspect that many clergy do as well, but I just can’t see it. Anyway, thanks for the link to your site.


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  2. […] on Evolutionary Creation (latest post) and addressed the Gaskell discrimination story, as did Jerry Coyne, who’s position surprised […]

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