ID proponent denied tenure

Guillermo Gonzalez, an astronomer at Iowa State University who is best known as an Intelligent Design proponent, has just been denied tenure. So far it seems unclear what role ID played in this denial, though it’s a real possibility since Gonzalez has been active and reasonably productive in mainstream astronomical research.

In the fall of 2005 I invited Gonzalez over to give a straight astronomy talk to my physics department and an ID talk for my interdisciplinary “Weird Science” class. Now, I’m not an astrophysicist and I can’t judge the quality of Gonzalez’s astronomy. But it seemed decent enough. I can judge ID claims, and there’s nothing in Gonzalez’s ID advocacy that I find impressive. But I figure academics should be able to have interests beyond what brings in immediate grant money. More importantly, they should be allowed to be wrong, even grossly wrong, in claims they make. The price of encouraging originality and free thinking is that you have to tolerate a certain amount of mistaken notions.

Whichever way this turns out, I suspect science is going to suffer for it. A tenured Gonzalez would likely have been an even more forceful ID figure in public. In an environment where ID has become much more of a nasty ideological movement than an intellectual minority view, that would not have been good either for Iowa State’s reputation or for the public understanding of science. But now, with Gonzalez case poised to become a conservative cause célèbre, mainstream science again loses out by being portrayed as a rigid orthodoxy. And if there is even some substance to such an allegation, there are deeper reasons to worry. More is bound to come out; perhaps Iowa State has legitimate concerns about the quality of Gonzalez’s mainstream astronomical research or other considerations that affect tenure. I just hope this was not about ID alone. If so, I’ll be inclined to think that the ID proponents have point here.

About Taner Edis

Professor of physics at Truman State University

  • RBH

    I’ll repost a comment on this I just made at Thoughts in a Haystack:

    Without taking a position on the particular decision — I don’t know enough — I can say that based on 20 years of experience with faculty hiring, retention, promotion, and tenure decisions that the last — tenure — is a different animal from all the others. To appoint someone to a tenured position is a forward-looking decision. It is a bet that the person will professionally contribute to the department, university, and discipline over a lifetime career. It is not a reward for accomplishments past like the others; it is bet on accomplishments to come.

    Very good people don’t always get tenure. A recent case in point is Sean Carroll, cosmologist and Cosmic Variance blogger. He recently failed to get tenure at the University of Chicago. Rather than having a socio-political organization agitating for petitions and letters of indignation directed at the U of Chicago, he went out and got another job, as a Senior Research Associate in Physics at CalTech no less.

    The differences between his situation and that of Gonzalez are impossible to assess on the information available, but Carroll’s situation does illustrate the fact that tenure decisions are not automatic and even very good people do not always get it at their first institution.


  • The Exterminator

    What you don’t mention in your post is how much Gonzalez’s religious views impede his ability to “do science” in an open-minded way.

    For example, would Gonzalez be willing to reevaluate his ID claims if any of them were falsified by scientific research. That seems highly unlikely, given the fact that nearly all such creationist claptrap (let’s call a spade a spade) has already been been found scientifically untenable. The schism between ID and evolution is not a mere difference of opinion; it represent the gulf between someone who believes in the scientific method and someone who doesn’t. While Gonzalez may be the most brilliant of astronomical researchers, he certainly could not truthfully present himself as a proponent of science.

    An institution of higher learning should strive to tenure only those professors who represent the cream of its intellectual crop. Unfortunatly for Gonzalez, his non-scientific belief in ID makes all his other science suspect. I think the decision-makers at Iowa State University should be cheered.

  • techhstuff


    there is this page i found which tracks all the top blog news about atheism in just a single page
    you are on it too

  • Explicit Atheist

    Jason Rosenhouse argues in defense of denying tenure on the grounds that Gonzalez “actively aligned himself with anti-science groups and publishing houses and was promoting scientific arguments that most scientists regard as utterly foolish”. Jason also makes the same observation that rbh did here that tenure is a bet on future contribution.