Tuesday, December 14, 2010

More on UK's Gaskell Affair: What a tangled web they're weaving

Well, the defenders of Scientific Correctness have themselves into another fine logical mess.

They are claiming once again that Intelligent Design is a religious, rather than a scientific position. So far the claim has served them well. It allows them to simply dismiss it without actually doing any intellectual heavy lifting. They can simply raise their noses high, sniff audibly, and utter, in a dismissing tone, vague things about the integrity of science.

But the Gaskell affair at the University of Kentucky has got them all tied up in logical knots. Gaskell was the best qualified of seven candidates for the post of observatory director at UK until one member of the search committee got wind that he was a Christian, at which point some members of the committee--and apparently some faculty in the biology department--began a campaign to smear his reputation in order to deny him employment. They ended up hiring the third best candidate for the position rather than have a Christian on staff in one of their science departments.

It started when Sally Shafer, a UK staffer apparently in charge of keeping the university religion-free, Googled information on Gaskell and discovered he had given a lecture at UK in 1997 on science and religion, in which he went over the long list of Christian scientists in history and said that he adhered to the majority position in science that the universe--and the earth--were very old. He went on to say that, although he accepted natural selection, there were some unanswered questions about it.

Shafer, apparently appalled that Gaskell would discuss religion and science in the same lecture, and clearly disturbed that he had used the two words anywhere in the same vicinity, swung into action and reported Gaskell to the search committee as (brace yourself, this is strong language) a "potential evangelical."

Several other appalled committee members began calling him a "creationist" and "Intelligent Design" advocate, although the first is certainly untrue, and the second is not entirely clear from the record. In any case, the consequence was that he was passed over, even though, according to court documents, he was clearly the most qualified candidate. Gaskell then sued the university for religious discrimination under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

But what is interesting is the reasons now being given to justify his treatment at the hands of UK's Scientific Inquisition.

According to the critics of Intelligent Design, ID is a religious position, not a scientific one. But if it is a religious position, then those who hold it cannot be discriminated against on the basis that they hold it under the Civil Rights Act. If ID is a religious position, then its advocates should not be allowed in university science departments. But if it is a religious position, then it is discrimination not to hire them on that basis.

Oooh. Not a good dilemma to be in. But the critics--on this blog anyway--just go on blindly ignoring the inconsistency.

Again, it is not clear that Gaskell holds to an Intelligent Design position. We're just granting it for the sake of argument here.

If Intelligent Design is a religious position, then Gaskell cannot be denied employment on the basis of holding believing it. And if it is scientific, then he should not be denied employment for holding it.

Go ahead Maniacs, tell me how you get out of this one.


Anonymous said...


I'm on holidays and have a minute to thank you for all your fine efforts in the defence of reason.

-Martin Snigg

Anonymous said...

This was explained to you on the other thread. Quit pretending(?) to be so dense.

One Brow said...

From the article:

"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."

The theory critics in the intelligent design movement don't produce theory criticism. To the degree they produce science-type things at all, it is pseudoscience. If Gaskell really believes that work belongs in a science discussion, he is not fit to hold a science posiiton.

Francis Beckwith said...

Martin, why is it relevant if ID is a "religious position"? It may or may not be. If it's arguments fail, then they fail. They don't fail because they are religious. They fail because they are not good arguments.

Martin Cothran said...


I wasn't addressing the veracity of Intelligent Design. I have the same Aristotelian-Thomistic reservations as you.

I was merely pointing out the logical dilemma that the critics of any non-Darwinian position put themselves in when they say that Intelligent Design (or for that matter creationism) is a religious position and should therefore be grounds for discrimination in scientific disciplines.

The problem is that, if it is a religious position, it cannot be grounds for discrimination under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Their very labeling it as a religious position (if that were accepted by courts) undermines their argument that it should be grounds for discrimination.

I was just pointing out the irony.

One Brow said...


I agree that if a person in a scientific discipline agrees to teach strictly according to science, than his religious beliefs are not at issue in his employment.

There are people who, for religious reasons, think that pi is 3. I don't think they should be allowed to teach that in a mathematics class, or represent this as true while in the position of a mathematics professor, simply because the source is religious. I don't think you believe that either.

So, I don't see a logical dilemma here.

Martin Cothran said...


I should also point out that I do consider creationism a religious position, although Intelligent Design stands or falls, by its own declaration, on the scientific truth of its claims.

Martin Cothran said...

One Brow,

The only thing Gaskell said about Intelligent Design which I am aware of is what he said at an out of class lecture on the relation between religion and science, which was that--regardless of where you stand on the issue--you should read their claims.

You can't even know whether ID is a pseudo-science or not unless you do this. So I'm not sure what your comment has to do with Gaskell.

One Brow said...


I fully acknowledge the depiction presented in the Courier-Journal could be wrong, that's why I used "if". Your summary differs from theirs, and I'm not going to pretend to know which is more accurate. If their summary is more accurate, not hiring Gaskell seems like a very reasonable decision. If yours is more accurate, it may have been an unreasonable decision.

KyCobb said...


Of course he should be denied employment if he believes in intelligent design creationism for scientific reasons. If he stated that he believed the earth was flat and the stars and planets revolved around it for scientific reasons, would you still claim that is no reason not to hire him?

Francis Beckwith said...

Thanks Martin.

Martin Cothran said...


The positions you mention would directly affect his performance as an astronomer directing a student observatory. I have yet to see anyone point to any believe he has that would prevent him from doing the things he would be asked to do in that capacity.

But all of this is beside the point anyway. The question is whether he was discriminated against on the basis of religion, which he clearly was. He was "potentially evangelical." That was enough to damn him in the eyes of a majority of the search committee.