Creationist Astronomer Sues Univ. of Kentucky

Here we go again. Another disappointed academic, who sought and failed to obtain a university position, is complaining that his creationist beliefs resulted in unlawful discrimination against him.

In the Courier-Journal of Louisville, Kentucky we read Job candidate sues UK, claiming religion cost him the post. Here are some excerpts, with bold added by us:

No one denies that astronomer Martin Gaskell was the leading candidate for the founding director of a new observatory at the University of Kentucky in 2007 — until his writings on evolution came to light.

Gaskell had given lectures to campus religious groups around the country in which he said that while he has no problem reconciling the Bible with the theory of evolution, he believes the theory has major flaws. And he recommended students read theory critics in the intelligent-design movement.

Haven’t we seen this movie before? It seems like a remake of the sad tale of Expelled! star Guillermo Gonzalez, a Discoveroid “senior fellow” who failed to get tenure at Iowa State University and who now teaches at some bible college.

Here is Gaskell’s page at the University of Texas, where is is now, and here’s Gaskell’s personal website. Let’s read a bit more from the Courier-Journal:

That stance [on evolution] alarmed UK science professors and, the university acknowledges, played a role in the job going to another candidate. Now a federal judge says Gaskell has a right to a jury trial over his allegation that he lost the job because he is a Christian and “potentially evangelical.”

This case somehow escaped our notice until now. It appears that Gaskell should be going to trial on 08 February on his complaint that the University of Kentucky violated the 1964 Civil Rights Act when it refused him a job because of his religion.

The Courier-Journal story tells of many interesting allegations Gaskell has made. For example, one professor was worried about hiring a “creationist” in a state that is already home to the controversial Creation Museum. Another said that UK should no more hire an astronomer skeptical of evolution than “a biologist who believed that the sun revolved around the Earth.”

We suggest that you click over to the Courier-Journal to read their whole story. It should be remembered that they’re the same newspaper we posted about when they ran an Editorial Against Governor Beshear & Noah’s Ark.

Here’s an online copy of a court order in the case from a few weeks ago, denying both the university’s and also Gaskell’s motions for summary judgment. Lots of facts are recited there, for example:

There is no dispute that UK’s decision not to hire Gaskell was an adverse employment action.The issue, then is whether Gaskell’s religion was “a motivating factor.” As set out above, Gaskell has presented direct and other evidence which, if believed, establishes that his religion was a factor in UK’s employment decision. However, UK has also come forward with other evidence that religion was not a motivating factor in its decision to hire Knauer. … UK contends that the Search Committee did not act improperly when it considered Gaskell’s comments about evolution because Gaskell made those comments public not only during his 1997 lecture at UK, but also by posting his lecture notes on his webpage. UK also contends that it did not consider Gaskell’s religious beliefs, only his public comments that there were scientific problems with the theory of evolution.

[Addendum: We can’t find much else online, but for future reference this is: C. MARTIN GASKEL v, UNIVERSITY OF KENTUCKY, case number 09-244-KSF, filed in the United States District Court, Eastern District of Kentucky, Central Division at Lexington. That “KSF” in the case number is for Karl S. Forester, the judge to whom the case is assigned.]

[Addendum #2: Gaskell is being represented by an outfit called the American Center for Law and Justice, d/b/a Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism, Inc. They have this article about the case at their website: Christian Astronomer Facing Religious Discrimination.]

[Addendum #3: The National Center for Science Education has an archive of all the pleadings at their website, available here: C. Martin Gaskell v. University of Kentucky.]

This should be a good one to watch. It’s embarrassing that we’re just now finding out about it, but that’s probably because none of the creationist websites we track have championed Gaskell’s cause. We suspect that he has too much integrity to allow himself to become their pawn; otherwise they’d have been all over this one.

Copyright © 2010. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

add to del.icio.usAdd to Blinkslistadd to furlDigg itadd to ma.gnoliaStumble It!add to simpyseed the vineTailRankpost to facebook

. AddThis Social Bookmark Button . Permalink for this article

27 responses to “Creationist Astronomer Sues Univ. of Kentucky

  1. Rather than repeat them here, see comments from me and others on this thread at Talk.Origins. Here, I’ll address this:

    Curmudgeon: “We suspect that he has too much integrity to allow himself to become their pawn; otherwise they’d have been all over this one.”

    From reading Gaskell’s essay I don’t think it’s so much “integrity”, as not enough “don’t ask, don’t tell” to please the DI. He clearly disagrees with YEC (so do most “Discoveroids”, but they’re “grandfathered”), and he mentions Francis Collins and ASA without the obligatory criticism of them. Conversely, he’s too “big tent” for RTB, given how he raves about Hugh Ross and Michael Behe, knowing well that they both can’t be right.

  2. I’ve spent way too much time trying to come up with something
    clever to say about his family photo with Jiffy Johns for a background.

    He says he is okay with theistic evolution. Whatever that is.
    Rambles on about conflicts or reconciling Genesis and science.
    Then he says he is taking a position in Chile. Maybe he makes a buck or
    two shilling for the creationists.

  3. Meant to add that AIG would not of hired him, either.

  4. Charley Horse says: “AIG would not of hired him, either.”

    I donno. With his astronomical knowledge, he could be the navigator for their Noah’s Ark replica.

  5. Benjamin Franklin

    Here is a link to his essay, “MODERN ASTRONOMY, THE BIBLE, AND CREATION”

    http://incolor.inetnebr.com/gaskell/Martin_Gaskell_Bible_Astronomy.html

    From what I’ve read, there is a strong possibility that UK will lose the case.

  6. Benjamin Franklin: “From what I’ve read, there is a strong possibility that UK will lose the case.”

    I often wonder if it might just be a good idea to hire a few token pseudoscience peddlers. First it would mean fewer charges of discrimination, which, however bogus, are great at generating public sympathy. Second, when, not if, their technical sucesses plummet in direct correlation with their increased pseudoscience productivity (Behe and Gonzalez being classic examples), it gives science more ammunition to question the credibility of others who try to undermine science from within.

  7. I just added this addendum to the post: Gaskell is being represented by an outfit called the American Center for Law and Justice, d/b/a Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism, Inc. They have this article about the case at their website: Christian Astronomer Facing Religious Discrimination.

  8. The professor might have had a case, if his Creationist beliefs were grounds for turning him down for a position as an Art or Literature teacher — since those are clearly orthogonal to his religious beliefs.

    But when the position involves science, and his religiously informed views impinge on his science in a way that is contrary to how the University teaches science, it’s fair game, IMHO.

    To make the point a plain as possible, suppose the professor held to a religious belief system that subscribed to Geocentrism, or Flat Earthism — clearly his beliefs would be at odds with what the school teaches as science, and would be justified in not hiring him, notwithstanding the fact that his rejection would be based on his religious beliefs — to the extent they conflict with the science.

  9. Correct, Longie. Gaskell’s case attempts to equate creationism and Christianity. Although they’re found together in the most theologically primitive denominations, they’re very separate subjects. It’s likely that most of the university’s faculty are Christians, and it’s obviously no barrier to getting hired. But Gaskell’s situation is different — he’s a creationist scientist, which is an automatic disqualifier.

  10. Benjamin Franklin

    Longshadow said;

    …suppose the professor held to a religious belief system that subscribed to Geocentrism, or Flat Earthism — clearly his beliefs would be at odds with what the school teaches as science, and would be justified in not hiring him…

    If such were the case, as beliefs in Geocentrism and Flat Earthism clearly conflict with what the school teaches in Astronomy, I’d say you would be right. However, from what I read about Gaskel, his statements about astronomy seem to be well accepted by the scientific community.

    Of course, I personally disagree with his acceptance of ID, and am hardly impressed by his reliance on Lee Strobel and CS Lewis for justification of his theological leanings, but I’m not sure that those should serve as disqualification for the position of Observatory Director.

    But that really has little to do with the case at hand. UK screwed up when they even mentioned that his religious leanings had *anything* to do with the hiring decision.

  11. Gaskell being a Christian is irrelevant to his hiring. He certainly hasn’t let his personal beliefs smother his scientific output (as illustrated by Gonzalez, Behe, Wells, Dembski, Meyer and the other creation propagandists). He’s published regularly and has a number of papers in the pipeline.

    However, let’s substitute Behe for Gaskell for the sake of argument. I’ll even give Behe a bunch of publications. In addition to teaching and research Behe is out there in the community actively attacking science education, pushing intelligent design creationism and openly supporting the efforts of the DI propagandists. All this as a representative of the University.

    (Although there is a departmental disclaimer that says Behe’s opinions are his own, he still is known as professor of chemistry, Lehigh University.)

    I don’t think the university screwed up by mentioning his religious leanings, as it appears that his religious leanings affect his ability to fulfill the role of a scientist and university representative.

  12. Longshadow: “To make the point a plain as possible, suppose the professor held to a religious belief system that subscribed to Geocentrism, or Flat Earthism — clearly his beliefs would be at odds with what the school teaches as science, and would be justified in not hiring him, notwithstanding the fact that his rejection would be based on his religious beliefs — to the extent they conflict with the science.”

    Pardon the hypothetical, but what if he or someone merely stated that they “believe” Flat-Earthism or geocentrism (or heliocentric YEC or OEC for that matter), but didn’t attempt to misrepresent mainstream science and reinforce public misconceptions. IOW they were sufficiently compartmentalized that they would still do their job as if they agreed with mainstream science? (IIRC Kurt Wise fits that description) Would that be a better or worse legal justification to not hire him?

    As I mentioned on TO, speaking only for myself, and legal issues aside, I would much rather see someone like I just described hired than someone who goes out of his way to misrepresent science (as Gaskell does, if not as egregiously as “Discoveroids” do). And as I said in the earlier comment, there might even be some advantages to hiring (if legal) an occasional token sell-out to pseudoscience. I wonder if Lehigh’s science faculty would have been as committed to defending science if they didn’t have Behe around.

  13. Benjamin Franklin

    OK,
    I read the Court’s ruling on the summary judgment, and, yes unless the UK legal staff can accomplish some juris wizardry, Gaskell looks poised to win his discrimination suit.

    The Court has accepted into evidence, that which clearly supports his claim.

    The smoking gun is the correspondence that the chairman of the search committee sent (titled “The Gaskell Affair”, in which he stated that he saw discrimination based on religion taking place in the hiring process.

    Again, I don’t agree with Gaskell’s religion, or thoughts on biology, but it does appear that he was discriminated against because of his religion.

  14. retiredsciguy

    If Gaskell could cite compelling scientific evidence as his basis for questioning evolution, Then imo UK would have no basis for not hiring him.

    On the other hand, if he is willing to “question” an entire branch of well-supported science just on the basis of his conflicting religious views, then he is not acting as a scientist, and UK should have every right not to hire him for a scientific position.

  15. retiredsciguy

    Curmudgeon: “But Gaskell’s situation is different — he’s a creationist scientist, which is an automatic disqualifier.”

    “Creationist scientist”? What’s the matter — did your computer’s oxymoron checker stop working?

  16. retiredsciguy

    Curmy: “I donno. With his astronomical knowledge, he could be the navigator for their Noah’s Ark replica.”

    That’s a good line — but he wouldn’t have much to do. The ark had no sails or rudder. Supposedly, it was designed to just float around ’til the water went down. (Btw, I’ve been meaning to ask Ken Ham where the water went down TO. Wonder if he has an answer for that.)

  17. retiredsciguy says: “but he wouldn’t have much to do [as navigator for Noah’s Ark]”

    Then he’s perfectly qualified for the job.

  18. retiredsciguy: While you’re asking Ken Ham about where the water went to, ask him why did god do the flood in the first place. Why not just cause all the bad guys to simply die, and spare all the collateral damage? Were those animals and plants sinners too? Ya got to wonder about the logic behind some of those decisions.

  19. The smoking gun is the correspondence that the chairman of the search committee sent (titled “The Gaskell Affair”, in which he stated that he saw discrimination based on religion taking place in the hiring process.

    IANAL, but what does the chairman’s opinion have to do with whether or not discrimination took place? If the chairman had written to the committee, “Qualifications schmalifications, we are not going to hire this guy because he’s a Methodist,” then UK would have a problem.

    He sees discrimination, someone else sees a fair process and I see unicorns. Soon, though, it will all get argued in court and we’ll find out who has the best argument!

    From his website Gaskell seems like a very interesting, intelligent and talented guy and I hope he does well in Chile.

  20. As I read the court’s summary judgment opinion, religion has to be “a motivating factor.” That’s more than merely being one among many factors. It seems crazy, but it looks as if the trial is going to hinge on that.

  21. “retired science guy” et al.: Have any of you actually read the lecture notes that were the apparent source of UK’s concerns about Gaskell? He says he has no problems with “modern theories of evolution,” he thinks creationists’ attacks on evolution “are very bad scientifically and theologically,” he says that the “evidence is very strong and gets stronger every year that all life on earth descended from, i.e., evolved from a common origin.” If this guy’s a “creationist” or someone who questions evolution, then I’m Babe Ruth. Also, don’t forget that, according to the court’s opinion, it was other UK astronomy professors who blew the whistle on the process. Read the opinion. Are they all “creationists?” What really happened here is what one of the UK profs called a “McCarthyism of the Left.” Those in the search process who (like many commenters on this blog apparently) simply can’t accept the idea that one can be both a religious believer and a full-fledged “evolutionist” freaked out because Gaskell was “potentially evangelical,” too religious for their taste. That’s discrimination. Sorry. It’s illegal in this country.

  22. Hot news — the National Center for Science Education has an archive of all the pleadings at their website, available here: C. Martin Gaskell v. University of Kentucky.

  23. Sorry, SC, but you’re 100% wrong on this one. I know Martin Gaskell. He’s a very good astrophysicist, an inspiring teacher, and founded and ran our student observatory here at UNL. He is no discoveroid or creationist. Not only does he not dispute the age of the universe, he did some of the measurements that our current values for the age of the universe rely on. Check your facts, and in particular the documents on the case on the NCSE website. BTW, Martin tells me Eugenie Scott has testified she does not consider him a creationist.

    This is that rare beast, a clear cut case of religious discrimination. In fact, I strongly suspect the only reason UK hasn’t settled is that Martin wants to win this one on principle. And he will.

  24. RWP says: “Sorry, SC, but you’re 100% wrong on this one.”

    Well, you know him, and I’ve known you long enough to have confidence in your judgment. You say “He is no discoveroid or creationist,” and I don’t doubt you. Nevertheless, UK decided not to hire him, and I think it was for a legally permissible reason — not wanting the negative publicity that would result from hiring an evolution critic, which to some degree Gaskell certainly is. I realize that his evolution criticism isn’t classic creationism, so it’s wrong of me to label him a creationist. I don’t know what he is. I’ve said earlier that I think he’s an original, not a follower of any group. But UK thought it was risky to hire him, so they didn’t. Tough call, and maybe unfair. But was it illegal? It shouldn’t be.

  25. At a public university, avoiding embarassment is not a legally permissible reason if it abridges freedom of religion. And what we’re seeing here is really an ignorant, knee-jerk and hysterical reaction on the part of UK faculty. Gaskell has preached — to audiences where he might make a difference — against the Ken Hams and the creation museum types. He is a theistic evolutionist, IMO hardly distinguishable in his views from Pope Benedict or Francis Collins. What he believes is not what I believe, but if we’re going to exclude theistic evolutionists from even non-biological areas of science, we just lost 80% of the American public.

  26. RWP says:

    At a public university, avoiding embarrassment is not a legally permissible reason if it abridges freedom of religion.

    Right. But that’s a big “if” there. As I said, UK was very clumsy in their questioning and in their email. If they really were bigots they’d know to be a lot more closeted in hiding their motives. I don’t think they had anti-religion motives; they were just unsophisticated in how they expressed themselves. That’s a big problem, because it may be that their emails and such will win the case for Gaskell.

    But I can’t help thinking that UK was far less concerned with his religion than they were about his scientific opinions and judgment — resulting from religion or from whatever cause. I don’t disagree with your opinion that Gaskell is a good man, and he’s probably a fine astronomer. But I don’t think this is a case of religious discrimination. (But then, I always separate religion — which doesn’t bother me — from creationism, which does.)

  27. Leaving aside whether their awareness of bigotry really has any bearing on whether they ‘re bigots or not, their motivations are of no significance. It’s a civil suit. Whether anyone wanted to discriminate based on religion is irrelevant. The only question is, whether his loss of the job was fully, or in part, a result of discrimination based on religion. Doesn’t matter if they knew they were discriminating.

    If one can be denied a job in the sciences because one believes in the possibility of miraculous intervention of supernatural beings in the physical world, that excludes most religious people from the sciences. A Catholic for example, is required to believe in miracles as a matter of dogma. The relevant question is, IMO, will such a belief impede a Christian’s ablity to do science, enough to justify discrimination clearly prohibited by the first amendment. If we were talking about a YEC working in most fields of science, I’d say yes. In the present instance, I think no. Martin studies deeply redshifted quasars, teaches intro astronomy, and shows the public comets and transits of Mercury. Whether he thinks RNA was created by ‘poof’ or arose by a natural process is almost as irrelevant as whether he likes the Yankees or the Red Sox.