Saturday, December 18, 2010

Astronomer discriminated against because he is an evolution skeptic

C. Martin Gaskell, who currently teaches at the University of Texas, says he is not a creationist but he does see problems with the theory of evolution. His belief regarding evolution was enough to alarm professors three years ago at the University of Kentucky.

In 2007, Gaskell was an astronomer at the University of Nebraska and was also a leading candidate uniquely qualified for the position of director at the University of Kentucky's MacAdam Student Observatory. In fact, he was at the top of a list of applicants considered by the search committee, one member of the committee calling him "breathtakingly above the other applicants."

However, he was not selected. Gaskell believes it is because of his religious faith and because they found statements of his that were perceived to make him a non-believer in the theory of evolution. Therefore, Gaskell has sued the university, claiming lost income and emotional distress, and he feels "one should not allow universities to get away with religious discrimination."

The story behind the non-selection of Gaskell

It seems after being passed over for the position, Gaskell later learned that professors had discussed his purported religious views during the search process. Some expressed that his Christian faith could conflict with his duties as a scientist, calling him "something close to a creationist" and "potentially evangelical." According to court records, they wrote each other in internal e-mails about Gaskell's faith and that it might affect the job, part of which is lecturing publicly on science.

The e-mails indicated the professors were on edge about hiring a Christian, partly because around this time a Bible-based museum in Kentucky had just opened. The museum asserted the authenticity of the Bible's creation story and was getting national attention. Biology professor James Krupa wrote to a colleague in an October 2007 e-mail, "We might as well have the Creation Museum set up an outreach office in biology."

In 1997, Gaskell, by invitation from the UK, had given a lecture called "Modern Astronomy, the Bible and Creation," which he developed for "Christians and others interested in Bible and science questions..." It outlined men of historical scientific significance and their interpretations of the creation story in the Bible. In his notes, Gaskell mentions evolution, saying the theory has "significant scientific problems" and includes "unwarranted atheistic assumptions and extrapolations."

Gaskell was asked about the lecture during his job interview and felt that the questions related to religion were "inappropriate." "I think that if I had a document like this and I was advocating atheism ... I don't think it would be an issue."

Maintaining a certain scientific image was also important to the professors at UK, and they didn't want that image damaged by Gaskell. An astrophysics professor, Moshe Elitzur, told the chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy, Michael Cavagnero, in an e-mail that hiring Gaskell would be a "huge public relations mistake." He feared what the newspapers would print about hiring a creationist.

The case will go to trial

Once again, Gaskell said he is not a "creationist" and his views on evolution are in line with other biological scientists. In his lecture notes, Gaskell explains that Christians who believe the earth is a few thousand years old are basing their belief on "mostly very poor science."

Last month a judge rejected a motion from the university and allowed it to go to trial Feb. 8. U.S. District Judge Karl S. Forester wrote in the ruling, "There is no dispute that based on his application, Gaskell was a leading candidate for the position."

For original article with references, click here.

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