In his January Diary, John Derbyshire comes down on the side of the University of Kentucky for refusing to hire Martin Gaskell, a superbly qualified astronomer, for the sole reason that he expressed sympathy for intelligent design. The case of Professor Gaskell, who sued UK for religious discrimination, needs to be understood in the context of widespread anti-Christian discrimination in academic science. I thought readers might be interested in some background on the story and many others like it to which Brother John did not draw our attention.
The University of Kentucky chose to pay a $125,000 settlement to Gaskell, now at the University of Texas, after Gaskell’s attorneys released records of e-mail traffic among the faculty hiring committee. Seeking a scientist to head UK’s observatory, professors complained that Gaskell was “potentially Evangelical,” while a lone astrophysicist on the committee protested that Gaskell stood to be rejected “despite his qualifications that stand far above those of any other applicant.”
This is no isolated incident. An enormous, largely hidden transformation has taken place in what we mean when we speak of “science.” For centuries, the free and unfettered scientific enterprise was fueled by a desire to know the mind of God. “The success of the West,” writes historian Rodney Stark in his important book The Victory of Reason, “including the rise of science, rested entirely on religious foundations, and the people who brought it about were devout Christians.” Now, increasingly, voicing such a desire is likely to get you excluded from the guild of professional scientists.
For years, I’ve tracked the stories that come out regularly about scientists of impeccable credentials whose religion-friendly beliefs proved injurious to their career. In some fields, notably biology and cosmology, Christians who voice doubts about Darwinian theory pay a particularly high price.
Last month, a top-level computer specialist on the NASA’s Cassini mission to Saturn, David Coppedge, got fired after he sued JPL for religious discrimination. Coppedge had occasionally chatted with interested colleagues about the scientific case for intelligent design, which made good sense since JPL’s officially defined mission includes the exploration of questions relating to the origin and development of life on Earth and elsewhere. For this, his supervisor severely chastised him for “pushing religion” and humiliated and demoted him.
At Iowa State University, astrophysicist Guillermo Gonzalez was refused tenure, despite a spectacular research publication record, because of a book he co-authored arguing that life is no cosmic accident.
At the Smithsonian Institution, supervisors harshly penalized evolutionary biologist Richard Sternberg for editing a pro–intelligent design essay in a peer-reviewed technical-biology journal. The U.S. Office of Special Counsel examined the 2005 case, finding that Smithsonian colleagues investigated his religious beliefs and created a “hostile work environment” aimed at “forcing [him] out.”
Similar incidents have occurred at the University of Idaho, George Mason University, and Baylor University.
There is, in fact, an underground of Darwin-doubting scientists, fearful for their livelihoods, who believe that evidence from cell biology, cosmology, and paleontology tells an increasingly complicated and contradictory story about life’s evolution.
In every such instance I’m aware of, the suppressed scientist is a Christian, whether Protestant or Catholic. Meanwhile, among members of the prestigious National Academy of Sciences, 95 percent of biologists identify as atheists or agnostics. The fact of their religious (or irreligious) beliefs doesn’t invalidate their scientific opinions. Nor should the religious belief of Christians cast their otherwise sterling scientific training and acumen into doubt. However, in academia, it is understood to do just that.
It’s bad enough when private universities clamp down on the free exchange of ideas. But government-run institutions have often seemed to be the worst offenders of all, something the First Amendment cannot permit. The public is poorly served by a system of scientific research and funding that seems locked into reaching predetermined conclusions.
Science has become a business like many others, unfortunately, and a largely nationalized one at that. Workers must toe a company line. With the government’s $7 billion National Science Foundation and $31 billion National Institutes of Health heavily supporting research, localized pressures easily take on the form of a universal compulsion to conform.
The search for truth should be unimpeded by such orthodoxies, whether religious or anti-religious. The scientists who initiated the scientific revolution itself, all Christians, knew that better than scientists, or John Derbyshire, do today.