Opinion across a startlingly broad political range has been solidifying lately in favor of discrimination -- not discrimination on racial or sexual grounds, but against some controversial ideas and those who hold them. The ideas have to do with evolution. Is this a welcome development?
A spate of lawsuits and complaints poses the question of whether, in scientific fields, a person holding unorthodox views on Darwinian theory merits being fired, denied a job, or other penalties.
Last month at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, senior computer specialist David Coppedge was fired, having first been demoted. What got him in trouble? A supervisor complained he was talking in favor of intelligent design with colleagues. He is suing.
Or meet astronomer Martin Gaskell, now at the University of Texas, to whom the University of Kentucky just paid $125,000 to settle his discrimination lawsuit. Gaskell presented e-mail traffic evidence from the faculty search committee that he was turned down to head UK's observatory because he wrote on his Web site that unguided evolution has "significant scientific problems."
At the Smithsonian Institution, supervisors punished evolutionary biologist Richard Sternberg for editing a pro-intelligent design essay in a peer-reviewed biology journal. The U.S. Office of Special Counsel found that Smithsonian colleagues created a "hostile work environment" aimed at "forcing [Sternberg] out."
Similar incidents have occurred at Iowa State University, the University of Idaho, George Mason University and Baylor University.
At the conservative National Review Online, columnist John Derbyshire opines in favor of the University of Kentucky and mocks Gaskell as a "crybaby."
Astrophysicist Lawrence Krauss, a frequent contributor to the conservative Wall Street Journal, writes in the New Scientist that any scientist who thinks evolutionary theory has problems is guilty of "incorrect interpretations of empirical data," making it appropriate for scientific institutions to deny him employment.
Less surprisingly, best-selling atheist biologist Richard Dawkins endorses discrimination against Darwin doubters. He makes a comparison to fanciful scenarios like "a doctor [who] believes in the stork theory of human reproduction."
However, the stork-theory doctor would have to be crazy. Not so Gaskell, clearly, of whom one principled astrophysicist on UK's hiring committee protested that Gaskell stood to be rejected "despite his qualifications that stand far above those of any other applicant."
Intelligent design presents scientific evidence that, over billions of years, an intelligent force guided life's evolution. Isn't that as incredible as biblical literalist creationism?
Saying so would require a thorough, searching examination of the arguments offered by intelligent-design theorists: the seemingly insurmountable problems posed to unguided evolution by considerations of population genetics, developmental biology, combinatorial inflation, ontogenetic information and more. From all appearances, nobody among the discrimination advocates has undertaken such an examination.
Another discrimination advocate, pro-Darwinian lobbyist Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education, commented to the Associated Press, drawing a distinction between acceptable and unacceptable reasons for penalizing beliefs.
"You can't discriminate based upon religion," Scott affirmed. "You can discriminate based upon scientific views." But by the logic of the discrimination promoters, it's hard to see why traditional religion shouldn't likewise be subject to penalties in academia.
Say you are a Christian biologist who believes in the Virgin Birth. One can easily picture discrimination advocates explaining someday why, under the First Amendment, religion per se may be protected but not religion when it crosses over into science, seeking to describe such presumed empirical events of the past.
That is no fanciful scenario. Apart from the deadening effect on science of any imposed orthodoxy, the widening agreement in favor of discrimination in the scientific realm should warn us of future assaults on freedom of thought.
David Klinghoffer is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute.