Religious discrimination?

In creationist and intelligent design circles, there’s long been a conviction that in scientific institutions there’s a climate of persecution against “dissenters from Darwinism.” This is not entirely imaginary; after all, in science, we tend to think that especially religiously-inspired anti-evolutionary stances are a sign of professional incompetence.

Lately, I’ve ben running into an occasional piece taking this to the next level. Since our judgments of incompetence are bound to influence career-related decisions such as the granting of tenure, some creationists are charging that this is illegal discrimination on religious grounds. If colleagues look askance at you because you’re one of the tiny minority of natural scientists who have Intelligent Design sympathies, well, that’s a “hostile work environment.”

I doubt if it would go anywhere, but it could be interesting to see if anyone tries to make a real legal case based on such an approach. Meanwhile, it’s yet another example of conservatives exploiting liberal and left-wing lack of imagination—the tendency to construe all injustice in terms of prejudice against identity-groups.

About Taner Edis

Professor of physics at Truman State University

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08964658430856685576 Yoo

    Does that mean if I make up my own religion based on not working, will I be able to keep a job despite doing no work by claiming that firing me would be religious discrimination? :P

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01898478961169607232 MrMarkAZ

    What about the case of Guillermo Gonzales? Or that chap at the Smithsonian Institute?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16641266062186767500 Keith Parsons

    About Gonzales, go to the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) website and check out “Expelled Exposed,” their thorough debunking of Ben Stein’s creationist movie. They have a section on the “expelled,” those allegedly denied tenure, promotion, etc. because of their creationist views. Looks like Gonzales did not get tenure for perfectly legitimate reasons that had nothing to do with his creationist convictions.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01898478961169607232 MrMarkAZ

    You’re right about Gonzales (and the Smithsonian guy, whose name I’ve forgotten, was in the same category). Sorry I didn’t make that clear in my original post.

    This creationist/IDiot whining of “‘Alp! ‘Alp! I’m bein’ repressed!” is bullshit. It’s not repression to deny someone tenure because they haven’t done any credible work in the field they were hired for in the first place. It’s not censorship to examine the opinions that they express freely in the public forum to scrutiny and criticism where warranted. From what I’ve seen, scientists are far more civil in their discussions of this nonsense than their creatard counterparts (I have to admit, I’m not terribly respectful of them myself).

    My point was that there have been cases brought by creationists claiming discrimination, and they’ve lost them based on the case’s actual merits, not out of any bogus persecution.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08964658430856685576 Yoo

    “From what I’ve seen, scientists are far more civil in their discussions of this nonsense than their creatard counterparts”: This is kind of ironic, since scientists are often much more passionate and argumentative about discussing real controversies in science than with the pseudo-controversies that are pushed by pseudo-scientists.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16826768452963498005 Jim Lippard

    Richard Sternberg, and you’re right, his case was also bogus.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05501109533475045969 Explicit Atheist

    It is easy to blame the people (who you label “leftists” here) who properly use a concept (in this case, “prejudice”) for thereby setting a bad example for the people who then inevitably come along and misapply and misuse that same concept. It takes a more effort to defend the critical distinction between people being discriminated against because they are incompetent versus prejudiced discrimination based on irrelevant criteria. That extra effort is necessary, however.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10778996187937943820 Taner Edis

    Explicit Atheist: “It takes a more effort to defend the critical distinction between people being discriminated against because they are incompetent versus prejudiced discrimination based on irrelevant criteria.”

    Yes. But in cases such as this, what is relevant or not is contested territory. In academia at least, very often we take the lazy way out, and make group representation the only relevant issue. And this is something conservatives can very nicely exploit.


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