This mess will probably never end, but because we hope this is our final post about the Mark Armitage litigation, we’ll include some background information for completeness. Regular readers can skip the next few indented paragraphs:
Armitage lost his job at California State University, Northridge (CSUN), and alleged it was because of his creationist views. He complained about “viewpoint discrimination,” and claimed he has Evolutionists On The Run. Also, he has degrees from Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, and the Institute for Creation Research. He self-published a book titled Jesus is like my Scanning Electron Microscope (Amazon listing).
He was an electron microscopy technician who, according to California State University, Northridge (CSUN), was a temporary hire between 2010-2013. While on a fossil hunt in Montana, he found a large triceratops horn. Back at CSUN, he examined his fossil and saw what he believed to be “soft tissue.” In July 2013 a peer-reviewed scientific journal, Acta Histochemica, published his article: Soft sheets of fibrillar bone from a fossil of the supraorbital horn of the dinosaur Triceratops horridus.
It appears that Armitage kept his views on the age of the fossil out of his published paper, and it was only later that he promoted his young-Earth interpretation. Clever fellow. He subsequently lost his job and sued CSUN, claiming he was fired because his discovery indicates that dinosaurs roamed the earth only thousands of years ago. It’s an old creationist issue. The TalkOrigins Index to Creationist Claims discusses the claim that dinosaur fossils with “red blood cells” have been found, and we’ve posted about the subject before — e.g., Dinosaur Fossils Found with Hot Red Meat?
This is a copy of the complaint that was filed: Mark Armitage vs. Board of Trustees of the California State University, et al. (21-page pdf file). You can check the court docket here Los Angeles Superior Court to see a list what’s been filed, but not the actual pleadings. If you go there, click on “Access your case” and enter case number BC552314.
The case never went to trial. There was a settlement, the terms of which aren’t disclosed in the court documents. However, as we reported in Mark Armitage Case — Chaos & Controversy, Armitage posted a YouTube video claiming he had won in court. Then he revised it a bit, but still claimed victory. Subsequent news stories indicated that he had been paid a settlement of almost $400K. If that happened, our guess is that there was probably evidence about someone at the university involved in terminating his employment who had been disparaging of Armitage’s religion. That’s always a mistake.
In a fully rational world, the matter would fade away. But creationists need to create a fantasy universe in which their views are true, and where they have not only martyrs, but also occasional winners. To feed that need, there seems to be a mythological version of the Armitage case which is now being circulated. An example is Court awards financial settlement to creationist who was fired for challenging evolution. That is a grotesquely misleading headline.
It appears in the Christian Times, which describes itself like this: “The mission of The Christian Times is to report on Christian-related news and events nationwide and worldwide. … We affirm the divine inspiration, truthfulness and authority of both Old and New Testament Scriptures in their entirety as the only written word of God, without error in all that it affirms, and the only infallible rule of faith and practice.” Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us for emphasis:
A creationist was awarded a six-digit financial settlement from California State University Northridge (CSUN) after he was allegedly fired for publishing his findings on the discovery of soft tissue on a triceratops horn. … His findings were published in the November 2012 issue of American Laboratory magazine and in the online peer-reviewed journal Acta Histochemica in February 2013.
That is totally wrong. Armitage wasn’t “awarded” anything — at least not by the court. Also, he didn’t publish any findings about the “discovery of soft tissue” in the paper he wrote about his work. He made those claims later. Then the Christian Times says:
Armitage’s lawsuit alleged that the publication of his findings led to his termination. Some of the professors allegedly went on a “witchhunt” against him and one of them reportedly stormed into his office shouting, “We are not going to tolerate your religion in this department!”
Well, he was terminated, and someone probably did make a remark like that, but it was because of Armitage’s behavior after his paper was published, not because of the contents of the published paper. Adding to the legend, we’re told:
Armitage’s attorney, Alan Reinach, maintained that the creationist was fired because the university did not want to be associated with Armitage’s article. He noted that the termination took place just a few weeks after his findings were published. “To have CSUN associated with the creation heresy — that was the capital offense,” Reinach told The College Fix.
[*Groan*] The published article contained no “creation heresy.” Then a bit of accurate information seeps into the story:
Reinach, who is also the executive director of the Church State Council, stated that Armitage’s article did not go into detail about the implications of the discovery. According to Nature, Armitage did not publish his views about the age of the fossil and simply reported that it was found in Hell Creek.
This is the two-year-old article in Nature to which they refer: University sued after firing creationist fossil hunter. It says:
But what makes this case different is that Armitage managed to survive for years in a mainstream academic institution and to publish research in a respected peer-reviewed journal. Armitage acknowledges that he did that by keeping his views on the age of the fossil out of the paper.
Who ya gonna believe — Armitage or Nature? The Christian Times then slips a bit more accuracy into their story:
Reinach acknowledged that there was no admission of guilt in the settlement but he believed that the university would not pay a large amount if it did not think it would lose the case.
Okay, that’s enough. We may never know why the university settled for such a large payment — if that’s what happened. But it wasn’t because of the reasons given by Armitage. Anyway, the legend of Mark Armitage is growing. As it does, universities will be learning an important lesson — which is twofold: (1) be extremely careful about the people they hire; and (2) be equally careful about what they say when they fire someone.
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