Discrimination? (RJS)

Discrimination? (RJS) December 21, 2010

We will take a brief break from consideration of Denis O. Lamoureux’s book Evolutionary Creation returning to Ch 5 next week.

A couple of people forwarded an article to me – published in a number of papers last Friday: Scientist Alleges Religious Discrimination. Just a teaser here – read the whole article by following the link to the Washington Post site.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — An astronomer argues that his Christian faith and his peers’ belief that he is an evolution skeptic kept him from getting a prestigious job as the director of a new student observatory at the University of Kentucky.

Martin Gaskell quickly rose to the top of a list of applicants being considered by the university’s search committee. One member said he was “breathtakingly above the other applicants.”

Others openly worried his Christian faith could conflict with his duties as a scientist, calling him “something close to a creationist” and “potentially evangelical.”

This is quite the article – and opens up some interesting questions for conversation. Another article on the subject was published in the New York Times on Saturday (Astronomer Sues University of Kentucky).

What goes through your mind when you read an article like this?

I don’t know any of the details about the situation at the University of Kentucky beyond the articles linked above and I don’t know Dr. Gaskell.  I generally hold a level of skepticism or at least agnosticism with such news articles until additional information becomes available. There may be facts not apparent in this short report. However, the story is plausible – while such expressions toward evangelical faith are not everyday occurrences, they certainly occur. From the article it appears that the problem with Dr. Gaskell is not so much his faith – but that he was open and on record about his faith, made some comments that could raise questions. He was judged by some as guilty by assumption and association – despite the fact that he affirms both an old earth and evolutionary biology:

Gaskell said he is not a “creationist” and his views on evolution are in line with other biological scientists. In his lecture notes, Gaskell also distances himself from Christians who believe the earth is a few thousand years old, saying their assertions are based on “mostly very poor science.”

His attorney, Frank Manion, is quoted as saying:

“Unfortunately too many people get hung up on the idea that you have to be one extreme or the other,” …  They say “you can’t be a religious believer and somebody who accepts evolution, which is clearly not true. And Gaskell’s a perfect example of that.”

This is an interesting case. There were probably at least a couple of Christians who were involved in the search process at some level – yet other faculty members felt comfortable using derogatory terms responding to a perceived threat without fear of opposition and without realization that most Christians in the sciences are convinced of the reliability of both mainstream science (without the atheistic and purely materialistic trappings) and the truth of the gospel.

The story also illustrates the power of internet archives – and the influence this has on the availability of formerly obscure information and details about people. From the NY Times story:

For the plaintiff, the smoking gun is an e-mail dated Sept. 21, 2007, from a department staff member, Sally A. Shafer, to Dr. Cavagnero and another colleague. Ms. Shafer wrote that she did an Internet search on Dr. Gaskell and found links to his notes for a lecture that explores, among other topics, how the Bible could relate to contemporary astronomy.

The conflict started, apparently, when references to a lecture reconciling science and faith given a decade earlier was unearthed in a routine web search. The interface between science an faith is no longer a topic on which it is safe to speculate or think in public – a tentative suggestion a decade ago can become enshrined as personal position today.

A code of silence. Part of the problem highlighted with Dr. Gaskell’s case is not discrimination against Christian faith – but the complete breakdown we have in dialog on issues of science and the Christian faith.   The situation at the University of Kentucky can be put into context if we look at something of the culture in the secular academy. I wrote a series of posts this last spring on Elaine Ecklund’s book Science vs Religion (you can find the links in the science archive on the sidebar). In her survey (~1700 scientists) and interviews (275 scientists)  of scientists at ‘elite’ universities Ecklund found that  very few identify as evangelical (2%) – although a somewhat larger percentage practice what we would consider an evangelical faith. The label “evangelical” carries baggage that many are unwilling to embrace.  Many of these scientists keep a low profile on all fronts, practicing what Ecklund calls a closeted faith. She also notes that Universities tend to have what sociologists refer to as a strong culture. In this culture religion is not an acceptable topic of discussion, except, perhaps, in an abstract academic fashion; or often as a subject of ridicule, humor, and/or frustration.

One characteristic of this strong culture is that it is generally considered better not to discuss religion than to discuss it. When religion unavoidably comes up, such as when discussing news events, the conversation ends abruptly. Or everyone – religious and nonreligious alike – tacitly agrees that religion is generally negative and has a negative relationship to science, or at least that the subject is delicate and best avoided. The hallmark of a strong culture is that there is widespread agreement about certain issues – in this case, the issue of suppressing religion – even in the context of individual dissent. Most relevant here, strong departmental cultures related to religion made religious scientists feel as if they could not talk openly about being religious because they might face negative sanctions from their colleagues. When religious individuals participated in and upheld the strong culture surrounding religion in their particular departments, they perpetuated a closeted faith. (p. 44)

To take a public stand, to go on record as a Christian, is to align oneself, perhaps irrevocably, with the outspoken extreme.  One’s actual position on the issues of relevance, such as science and evolution, is secondary.

A code of silence within the church too. Of course strong cultures are not limited to Universities and academic departments in the sciences and social sciences. Churches can also be strong cultures – where it is inappropriate to speak about the interface of science and faith or the questions raised by science and ancient Near East and biblical studies about aspects of our received expression of the faith. As there is a tacit assumption of secularism within the university, there is within large swaths of our church, a tacit assumption of anti-evolutionism and rejection of scholarship. The strong culture demanding silence on religious issues within the academy is coupled with a strong culture demanding silence on scientific issues within the church. Those who practice a closeted faith within the academy turn around and practice a closeted scholarship within the church.

The scientists with a faith tradition whom I interviewed often displayed … an identity that is many-sided and fluid. … Religious scientists often feel embattled, both in their scientific and religious communities. At work, they might experience subtle discrimination. At church, if they were to express all facets of their identities as scientists, they might face misunderstanding and rejection, especially within religious communities that sometimes question (or outright reject) the theory of evolution. (p. 47)

This can, to put it mildly, make life difficult and leaves a question about how to move forward and break the stalemate. There is no quick and easy solution.

What do you think of the situation at the University of Kentucky? Is this surprising or only to be expected?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net

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  • Tim

    I read about this yesterday on a science blog. I think it’s just terrible, and I’m pulling for the guy in his lawsuit. I also hope that this sparks a conversation across the scientific community about freedom of speech and religious expression.

    You can’t say anything as a scientist of course. If the guy rejected evolution or the Big Bang (without a scientifically defensible case of course) that would seriously call into question his ability/intellectual honesty as a scientist in matters that are, well, scientific of course. Same as if you had a scientist going around arguing for flat-earth cosmology. It would be an embarassment.

    But their own personal views on matters of faith as to God and what not, that’s their own prerogative. They have just as much right to their views as secular humanists. This discrimination saddens me immensely.

  • Jason Lee

    What an interesting post. The Gaskell situation doesn’t surprise me at all, and as you say seems consistent with some of what Ecklund found (see also Christian Smith’s book THE SECULAR REVOLUTION, which I’m sure Ecklund draws from). And I think your noting the strong culture within the church brings a good balance.

    I don’t remember but doesn’t Ecklund sort of point out that being more mainline in affiliation (e.g., Catholic or Episcopalian) is more acceptable in the academy (others have suggested that academics mainly dislike evangelicals and mormons because of their politics). So this leads me to wonder if one’s denominational affiliation in any way conditions the degree to which one can get away with breaking the religious silence in the academy a little.

    I also wonder if certain non-evangelical church traditions (e.g., Catholicism or Episcopal Church) have far less anti-scientific and anti-intellectual cultures.

  • Tim

    (continued from above)

    I would note though that “new atheist” Jerry Coyne has come out in defense of this scientist, and critical of those who discriminated against him. I hope more scientists of an atheistic persuasion come forward, as Coyne has, against this inexcusable discrimination.

    This isn’t just damaging to the scientist who was shut out of a job, but it is damaging as well to the reputation of the academic institutions of science and by association the scientific community as a whole. If both theistic and atheistic scientists come out against this type of behavior, then hopefully this type of discrimination will start to fade away.

  • rjs


    I’ve added some to this post this morning – and one of the things from the NY Times article is that an internet search brought Dr. Gaskell’s 10 year old lecture to light and started this conflict. It isn’t so much his church affiliation as that he is on record somewhere as weighing in on the science/faith discussion from a faith perspective. Thinking through the issues he may have used expressions that set warning bells. Given such a document it would make little difference if his thoughts on the issues had matured or changed through the years, he would have been forever suspect.

    This is, in essence, why I post with initials.

  • RJS:

    Brilliant write-up. The code of silence is in the academy and the church. Thank you for a perspective on all of this as an insider.

  • Jason Lee

    RJS: … and you are very wise to do so (post with initials). I don’t post with my professional name either. I’d suspect that many church members would not understand this and might see it as “being ashamed of the gospel” vs. “being a light” or some such false dichotomy.

    Your post brings to the fore how new technologies place great pressure on issues of faith, identity, and professions/cultural engagement. Now when we talk, we talk to everyone (not just our immediate audience). Surely this changes what we should say because it changes who we’re (in reality) talking to. Gaskell was unfortunate enough to talk before technology changed the degree to which this is true.

  • Jason Lee

    Tim: yes, this is a kind of discrimination, and people should call this out. But this isn’t going away, and didn’t Jesus tell us to expect discrimination. For me the issue is how people in situations of anti-Christian culture can better be shrewd as serpents yet innocent as doves.

  • Rick


    “The code of silence is in the academy and the church.”

    And we wonder why there is difficulty in breaking down the walls and sense of distrust.

    In some way I hope they (RJS included) in these situations, but I do wonder what is the benefit if they must guard against making any kind of faith-based statement. When does the external compartmentalization of faith become too extreme?

    With that said, I wonder if religious based institutions (ie. Wheaton, Baylor, Notre Dame) are not the best places to invest in with these sharp minds.

  • Tim

    Jason (7),

    “and didn’t Jesus tell us to expect discrimination.”

    I don’t know. The authors of the gospels, writing at a time of discrimination against Christians in the very early church certainly attributed such warnings to Jesus. Whether or not he said them as a matter of history is anyone’s guess.

    But in any event, Christians aren’t the only group discriminated against. Take Muslims. They recently did a study, in Europe I believe, where fictitious “paper” candidates with a Muslim name were far less likely to receive an invitation to interview than identical candidates with a non-Muslim name. Did Jesus say anything about discrimination against Muslims?

    Or you could take atheists in America. Good luck finding one electable to the Senate, Congress, or especially the Presidency. “A” is a scarlet letter in politics. In fact, atheists are consistently ranked the least trustworthy and likable group among the general public in America, beating out most other minority groups with image problems such as Muslims and the LGBT community. I’ve even heard accounts that those who hold atheist views hide them from others just for this very reason. Essentially being “closet” atheists for fear of social, and even career reprucusions (apparently employers also often have negative views of the moral character of atheists). Did Jesus say anything about discrimination against atheists?

    I don’t think this should be viewed as a persecutory problem against Christians. It is a problem very limited in scope, to only the academic community. Christians have the upper hand in many other areas of public life in this predominately Christian country.

  • DRT

    What goes through my mind?

    – I can’t believe that we have not moved past this point yet as a society, from the standpoint of not judging people based on their religous views.

    – I can’t believe evangelicals have not wised up and started to teach that evolution and old earth are obviously the most likely scenarios.

    – Why do humans insist on assuming things without actually talking to the person involved. That is, why couldn’t they just say to him, “look, we need to know that you support the scientific consensus on a couple of key issues, do you?”

  • Before we married 29 years ago, my husband applied for a job at a prestigious university. When he was asked why he came to the States to get his doctorate, he described his journey of faith (in a concise and unthreatening way) . The interviewer got quite uncomfortable and my husband knew he had “lost the job”.

    He is not one that is overtly verbal, or threatening, as he is an introvert. He also is not one to jump to conclusions, as he is a scientist. But, he is sure, that he was discriminated against, because of his Christian faith, and this was over 30 years ago!

  • rjs


    Come on – skepticism can be over done. Given the fact (and I do consider this fact) that Jesus was crucified – and that it is highly likely that he knew it was either very likely or even inevitable, aren’t statements about persecution entirely credible and in context?

    Also – within the academic environment at least atheism or agnosticism on some level is almost the expected norm and it absolutely is not persecuted.

    Turn your skeptic meter in all directions – not just against Christian statements.

  • Robin

    I think this is both a case of discrimination and a case of bad personal (professional) relationships. Think about it, this professor was not new to the institution. When UK decided it wanted to build the observatory this is the professor they consulted. He was familiar to them and they put their trust in him. He was the obvious choice to lead it once constructed. I am fairly sure he was also on campus for a long duration during the construction and acquainted with all of the faculty that would be involved in the hiring process. They knew his professional record, and they knew him.

    However, what did the other faculty do when it came time to make a hiring decision? One of them went looking on google for some ‘evidence’ that his level of religious devotion was academically unacceptable. This suggests to me that other professors might have known he was moderately religious, but that he had not done or said anything at the University that would be objectionable, so one of them went looking for something that they could wave as a red flag. This seems like something more than religious discrimination, it sounds like a witch-hunt.

    An analogy, it is one thing for a landlord/employer to discriminate against someone because they are black; it is more reprehensible for an employer/landlord to suspect someone of being black because they have a dark complexion and go looking through historical records to prove that they have a black parent or grandparent so that they then feel justified in discriminating against them.

  • AHH

    It is sad that my immediate reaction, before I read the full post, was to think that this was probably semi-phony persecution like the propaganda in the movie Expelled. That’s how cynical I have gotten after years of the “wedge” and the culture wars.

    But it looks like this is a real case of bigotry, and of the academy not knowing what to do with people who don’t fit the “warfare” stereotype between science and faith. It might be legitimate to, on grounds of competence, deny a science faculty position to someone who denied clearly established conclusions of science like the age of the Earth or common descent, but it seems this guy does not fall into that category.

    It will be interesting to see if the Discovery Institute jumps on this — and if so whether Gaskell embraces those culture warriors or keeps his distance. That will tell us a lot about whether he is really trying to be constructive in the science/faith area.

    I also agree with RJS that, like much of the academy, the church often has its own culture of silence, and can’t handle these issues in anything other than a “warfare” mode. And then there are Christian colleges where these cultures intersect, many of which also deal badly with scientists of faith trying to take non-warfare approaches. Just ask Richard Colling, or the two guys at Calvin in the situation Scot linked to in the last Weekly Meanderings.

  • Robin


    His case is being handled by the ACLJ, so I think it is fairly clear that he at least isn’t running away from the culture warrior types. (It is probably free to get them to handle his lawsuit as well, so it might just make financial sense for him).

  • Tim


    “Turn your skeptic meter in all directions – not just against Christian statements.”

    I do. If you think I’m being one-sided, you could let me know where I’ve refrained from being appropriately skeptical in some other ares, outside Christianity.

  • Tim

    RJS (continued),

    “Also – within the academic environment at least atheism or agnosticism on some level is almost the expected norm and it absolutely is not persecuted.”

    I acknowledged that theistic discrimination can occur in academic circles. I understand that in scientific circles specifically, atheists are dominant both in terms of numbers and influence. However, my point was that this type of discrimination is largely limited to scientific circles in this largely Christian country. You won’t find it in other areas so much (even inside academia, in the humanities for instance, there really isn’t too much theistic persecution).

    If you want to respond to the substance of what I wrote, RJS, in a more nuanced fashion that would certainly be something I welcome – rather than just pointing out discrimination exists that I already acknowledged and condemned.

  • Tim

    RJS (Continued again – sorry, taking care of my daughter today so I’m in and out of my office and could only take quick stabs at this – but she just went down for a nap now though),

    “Given the fact (and I do consider this fact) that Jesus was crucified – and that it is highly likely that he knew it was either very likely or even inevitable, aren’t statements about persecution entirely credible and in context?”

    I think a lot of Christians need to separate out what they take as personal faith, and what they take as fact on historical grounds if they are going to accuse others of being “too skeptical” on matters they have personally accepted as having actually occurred.

    I think most historians acknowledge that Jesus existed, that he was an associate of John the Baptist in his early ministry, that he taught love, compassion, and self-sacrificial giving to extraordinary degrees, that he preached of a coming Kingdom of God/Heaven, that he had a significant following, that he caused trouble for the religious authorities in Jerusalem (including storming the temple), that he was crucified, that the tomb shortly following his crucifixion was found empty. So these things most historians believe are true of Jesus as “facts.” But the explanation for these “facts” can vary, particularly depending on the faith of the individual.

    So, did Jesus see his crucifixion coming, and if so when? That’s a valid question. The non-Christian historian would see no reason to think so as far as I can discern on historical grounds. Even some Christian historians might entertain the possibility that he didn’t see it coming until right before the event. Of course, persons such as yourself, and what is likely the traditional view, would see Jesus seeing this coming for quite some time. But I don’t see how it would be appropriate to label this a historical “fact” on any grounds I can discern. I could be wrong though, if you are aware of anything you want to introduce (though that would take us pretty far off-topic for this thread).

    But even if Jesus didn’t see his crucifixion coming until very late or not at all, that doesn’t mean that he and his followers weren’t persecuted in such a manner that he would have warned his followers about this. That might truly have happened. Or his persecution might have been very late in his ministry and unexpected. As a historical matter, discerning what happened there is very difficult, and very speculative. As a faith matter, that might not be the case. But again, one should realize upon which platform they are basing their arguments when it comes to accusing people of being “too skeptical” of historical claims.

    The long and short of it RJS is that I just don’t know. That is what I posted originally when I said it was “anybody’s guess.”

  • Jason Lee

    #17: “even inside academia, in the humanities for instance, there really isn’t too much theistic persecution”

    If I were to wager a guess as to where Christian discrimination is highest, I’d guess the following (where “1” equals highest discrimination):

    1. social sciences
    2. humanities
    3. hard sciences

  • Darren King

    It tells me that human beings suffer from human nature.

    Or, put differently, regardless of the context (but to different degrees of course), the dominant paradigm inevitably marginalizes/belittles/persecutes all other paradigms.

    The Church community does it to “non-believers”.

    And the Academy does it to Theists.

    And, of course, in each instance, the dominant group assumes this is the one time when such prejudice is warranted.

  • Tim


    I was educated in an academic “social sciences field”, a clinical psychology doctoral program (though I stopped with my Masters to pursue a different career). I knew several cohorts who were Christian, and there was no discrimination. However, I could see this happening potentially in other programs. Nonetheless, the social sciences are still, well, sciences. And as such would be fall within my previous statement that anti-theist discrimination largely manifests within those academic confines.

    As far as the humanities, I don’t know why you listed that as a #2 candidate for discrimination. I mean, music is a humanity. Do you honestly feel that Christian or even Evangelical Christian musical academics are being discriminated against? Or how about literature? Or art? I fail to see why you feel that such discrimination is rampant in the humanities.

    Concerning “hard” sciences, I think you are drawing an inappropriate distinction. For instance, Chemistry is a “hard” science but theoretical (as opposed to non-theoretical) physics isn’t really. But would you really think that discrimination in Chemistry academic programs would be higher than theoretical physics programs? I don’t see why at all.

    So, I will stand by my original statement that the discrimination occurs largely in the sciences, broadly defined, and just leave it at that.

  • Jason Lee

    social sciences and humanities faculty have more of an anti-christian culture (all things being equal) because of the prevalence of certain forms of marxist thought (which tends to see religion as a tool of the powerful).

  • Tim


    Marxist thought now? Is this academia in general or just ultra-liberal institutions? Where are you getting this from Jason?

  • rjs


    First of all the reference to “fact” was to the actual crucifixion, not to what Jesus thought of his possible death given the situation of the day.

    Believe it or not I’ve read Crossan and Borg and other members of the Jesus seminar; I’ve read Cox and Ehrman (both academic and popular works), I’ve read Scot’s academic books including “Jesus and His Death”, I’ve read JAT Robinson, … and I could continue with a long list here from ranging from moderately conservative to reactionary liberal views of Jesus and of scripture. And I tend to read the academic works not the popularizations.

    The “persons like yourself” comment suggests maybe you don’t realize this. You’ve brought up nothing in any of your comments that is new or unfamiliar to me, often I can guess who or what you’ve been reading. The reason of course, is that, like you, I have found this to be a topic that I need to get a sound handle on, I need to know what the arguments are, where they are coming from and why. This is a search for truth not a search for the right party line.

    It is on this basis of background and rather extensive reading that I based my original comment. The “anybody’s guess” throw away suggests that a coin flip is the best we can do. On this topic I don’t think that is the case. While certainty is not possible, some sound arguments can be made that there was a level of intent in the actions of Jesus and that comments about persecution were reasonable in that context. I see no reason to accept unthinkingly the hypothesis that it was all recast by the later church.

  • rjs

    Tim (#23)

    Jason is an academic speaking from experience I believe. I agree with his assessment in #19; discrimination is far more prevalent in the social sciences and humanities than in the “hard” sciences. It isn’t just ultra-liberal institutions. If we could get rid of the age of earth and evolution questions it would never come up in the hard sciences. This is not true in the social sciences or the humanities.

  • Tim

    RJS (25),

    I am willing to change my mind on this, but I’d need a little more information. My background is in a social sciences doctoral program, and I didn’t see it. But that is just one narrow sampling size of 1 social sciences program. Hardly enough to draw a strong inference. I wonder if Jason’s level of insight is broader than a similarly narrow exposure. Perhaps it is.

    Again, I’d need more information on this if I am to accept the truth claim of widespread discrimination not just in the social sciences (which I could understand to a degree conceptually, particularly if the discrimination is toward Evangelicals who are regrettably lumped into a group of, in the popular and academic minds, as intolerant and dogmatic), but for the humanities in particular as I don’t really see where the basis there for the discrimination is coming from. Jason mentioned a Marxist orientation, but I just have a hard time believing that this is a dominant perspective in modern academia, unless if Jason is using “marxist” in a very hyperbolic manner (meaning perhaps just plain liberal/democrat). Again, I’d need more information to change my view – which I am certainly prepared to do here.

  • Tim

    RJS (24),

    “The “persons like yourself” comment suggests maybe you don’t realize this.”

    I think you’re reading WAY too much into that statement RJS. I only said “persons like yourself” for the simple reason that you advocated that view.

    By the way, I come close to pretty much despising the Jesus Seminar. I see them as fairly transparently having a big ideological axe to grind. I also think they misapply many of the tools of historical critical research, such as the dissimilarity criteria.

    I have a very unflattering view of Crossan and Borg. I think they both try to shoe-horn Jesus into being what they want him to be. I have read some of Ehrman’s and similarly disagree with many of his arguments. He also seems to have a fairly transparently ideological axe to grind. For instance, he makes WAY too much of minor textual issues in an effort to discredit the Bible. I just can’t respect the level of intellectual dishonesty he is willing to engage in in that regard.

    I would exercise some restraint in how you peg me RJS. And I would avoid latching onto small statements I make and then reading a whole lot into them.

    By the way, I know that none of what I mentioned is new to Scot, and I would presume it’s not new to you. I didn’t mention it because I thought it was novel. But I did consider it relevant to the argument you were making, at least as I perceived it. I also was by no means suggesting that the historical “facts” were ALL there was to Jesus that mattered in terms of our view of him. I do think that overall, the picture that the early Christians had of Jesus had some, at a minimum, mediocre level of actual correspondence to his life and ministry. It’s just that nailing down the particulars on that is hard. So I gave a list of relatively assured particulars.

  • pds


    “It is true that there are significant scientific problems in evolutionary theory (a good thing or else many biologists and geologists would be out of a job) and that these problems are bigger than is usually made out in introductory geology/biology courses . . .”

    Why are so many defending Gaskell, but left Guillermo Gonzalez out to dry? Is there a big difference?

  • This is absolutely criminal. I hope he sues and wins, and makes an example of the anti-religious bigots. But first, I would hope that the university has the integrity to fire those on the search committee who were behind this criminal act of discrimination.

  • pds

    AHH #14,

    I wonder if you could define “semi-phony persecution”? How is it different from genuine persecution and 100% phony persecution? Does it feel different when it is “semi-phony”? Should we Christians give it a pass if it is “semi-phony”?

  • Tim


    “Why are so many defending Gaskell, but left Guillermo Gonzalez out to dry? Is there a big difference?”

    The difference is that Gonzalez didn’t deserve to be granted tenure as he failed to live up to his research obligations. On the academic standard of “publish or perish” pretty much routine for any professor in a scientific field at a reputable institution, Gonzalez failed to live up to his obligations in terms of publishing an adequate number of papers in the journals and therefore “perished” by being denied tenure.

  • Jeff L

    I’m also an academic speaking from experience (specialist in U.S. history). I work at a state-supported public university. I see very little Marxism on campus, or at academic conferences, or in academic publications. There is a good bit of watered-down, often not very well thought out, moderate political leftism of the Keith Olberman type.

    I’ve been a Christian for several years and have experienced no discrimination from the institution or my colleagues. Part of this might be because the dean of my college is a practicing Lutheran. I do notice, however, that a number of colleagues get uncomfortable if I reference my faith in any way.

  • pds


    The publication issue was not so clear-cut based on prior decisions. And the tenure decision was not the only issue. It was how he was treated and denounced by many on the faculty prior to the decision.

    It seems clear that any one in the sciences who is sympathetic to design arguments really needs to keep her mouth shut, at least until she makes tenure. I see that as a problem.

  • Tim


    If you want to elaborate on why the publication issue wasn’t clear-cut, you’re welcome to it. Based on what I heard concerning his publication track record in the years leading up to his denial of tenure, I wouldn’t have granted it to him either if it was up to me.

  • Jason Lee

    humanities and social science academics rarely actually label themselves as “marxist” or even marxian in orientation, but many have deep ideological underpinnings in marxian thought. much post-colonial scholarship and feminist critiques have deep marxian foundations and these are some of the biggest contemporary avatars of marx. one of the ways orthodox religion and particularly Christianity are implicated are that Christianity is seen as fundamentally patriarchal and therefore oppressive to women.

    i’m not saying that many strains of marxian thought are bad or good or that they’re necessarily incompatible with Christian ethics, but I do think that the way things have shaken out puts a lot of people in the humanities and soc sci’s in deep contact with marxian thought and one of the ways Christianity is cast is as intrinsically oppressive to women. and this often leads to a culture that subtly or not so subtly places Christian devotion in the “bad” or at least “suspect” category. one of the thoughts implicitly lurking in the air in many courses or academic meetings is the thought “if you’re devout, you must be a patriarchal chauvinist.”

  • AHH

    PDS #30,

    By “semi-phony” I meant claims of persecution that had a grain of truth in them but that were distorted and overblown for propaganda purposes, as in Expelled.
    For an analysis of the way in which the claims of this film were semi-phony, I would point people to a thoughtful review by a biology prof at a Christian college:

    And a comment on Guillermo Gonzalez from this quasi-academic in the sciences. Clearly there were some at Iowa State who unfairly attacked him for his religious views and (more to the point) for his affiliation with the Discovery Institute which is perceived (with some justification) as an enemy of science and education. But claims that he would otherwise have been a slam-dunk for tenure are ludicrous. His publication record (since joining the faculty; earlier publications while others were leading the research don’t count) was thin and he brought in no external research funding. That’s a recipe for tenure denial in a science department at any decent research university.

  • Jeremy

    I can’t speak from personal experience, but I know a few PhDs that have run into overt hostility in various philosophy and literature departments. One of my friends even had his original dissertation subject denied AFTER he was accepted to a major university due to the head of the dept saying his subject, a famous 20th Century philosopher, was “too christian.” Another said her lit department was extremely neo-marxist for the same reasons Jason reports.

    From what I can see, social sciences and humanities are worse because their subjects are highly subjective. Your ideas become suspect. The hard sciences are a bit easier to operate if your work is sound unless you’re dealing with anti-theists. This situation sounds like an anti-theist witch hunt, or maybe just academic politics per usual.

  • rjs

    Jason (#35),

    Interesting you bring that up. I have been asked how I can be a Christian and an intelligent woman far more often than I have been asked how I can be a Christian and a scientist.

    The image of evangelical as patriarchal chauvinist is far more pervasive and damaging than the image of evangelical as anti-evolution. (Except at the height of the Dover trial press perhaps.)

  • Daniel

    You know rjs, drop the exclusive claims of Christ, ideas about God engaging in human history, and ideas of authority derived from a 2-3000 year old book and you will gain a better reception amont your tolerant, intelligent friends.

  • rjs


    That is a particularly unhelpful response.

    Of course if we drop all claim to truth we will have no problem and no faith. The question as I see it is which “truth claims” are really our mistakes and which truth claims are God’s truth.

    I don’t think tradition gives us this perfectly for a variety of reasons. And I do think that we need to be able to rationally defend the truth to which we hold.

  • Daniel

    Rjs @40, well that really is the catch-point isn’t it? In our age of selective tolerance standing for something can get us into trouble. It seems that the scientific community holds to certain things just as fiercely as any religious group. Deviate from the established norms and we see a rejection on par with religious rejection of a heretic. We see the same sort of labels stamped on the one who doesn’t agree too. Sort of like what we see in the political realm. Today it is patriarchal chauvinists and tomorrow it is homophobic, the next day judgmental.

  • rjs


    There are certainly issues where there is a demand for correctness and conformity within the academy – no question; just as there are such issues in the church. To conform for the sake of acceptance is wrong in both cases.

    But the question we always need to ask is whether this position or that position is true to following Jesus, heart, mind, body, and soul.

    I argue here strongly for a compatibility between our faith and our observation of God’s creation. And this means evolutionary creation because I don’t think there is any real reason to take a different position, theologically or scripturally, and the evidence for old earth and evolution is overwhelming as I see it.

    I don’t enter into the women in ministry question nearly as strongly because I am always worried that my personal interest could be preventing me from seeing things clearly.

    On the other hand the charge of patriarchal chauvinism goes far beyond the issue of who can preach and lead. This isn’t the soft complementarian vs egalitarian debate, it is so much deeper than this. I will be unequivocal on some issues … with respect to abuse and the necessity of supporting women subject to very real abuse, and the necessity of empowering women, especially in the third world to help the whole community, the inappropriateness of positions that view women as to an extent possessions (as is true today in some parts of the world and was true in Europe and the US in days gone by). The church has a bad name in so many ways here.

  • #31 Tim states:
    :The difference is that Gonzalez didn’t deserve to be granted tenure as he failed to live up to his research obligations. On the academic standard of “publish or perish” pretty much routine for any professor in a scientific field at a reputable institution, Gonzalez failed to live up to his obligations in terms of publishing an adequate number of papers in the journals and therefore “perished” by being denied tenure.”

    Hey Tim,
    You might be interested to know that I took Gonzalez’s publication record and showed it to a couple tenured astronomers. I did not mention he was an ID guy. All agreed that he met the standards for tenure.

    And remember, I’m no ID Theory sympathizer. I’ve debated a number of these guys.


  • Tim

    Denis (43),

    The information I’m working off of is an article from The Chronicle of Higher Education that reported that Gonzalez’s publication record dropped off substantially since he was hired at Iowa State.

    Apparently, he failed to secure any major grants and failed to publish any significant research during his seven years at ISU. In the work he did do, apparently there weren’t even any measurements or tests of any kind. He also only successfully mentored one graduate student through to finishing their dissertation.

    Additionally, Gonzales wasn’t the only professor who was denied tenure in the Physics and Astronomy department, where 4 out of the 12 candidates were denied tenure in the past 10 years.