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C. Martin Gaskell, a Ph.D astronomer has a keen interest in music. But reports of his keen interest in disproving evolution were grossly exaggerated.  (Source: In Color: Nebraska)
Apparently the published information on Dr. Gaskell's viewpoints is very misleading


Whenever we do a story -- particularly a controversial one -- we always try to get as many voices and perspectives as possible.  Yesterday we wrote on the story of C. Martin Gaskell, a Ph.D astronomer who sued after being passed over for promotion and accused of being a creationist.  He had just secured an out-of-court victory -- a small settlement from the University of Kentucky, the university that passed him over.

A blog from the organization responsible for the prestigious peer reviewed journal Nature attempts to sum up the story, writing:

Should the University of Kentucky have hired a qualified astronomer to lead their new observatory, despite his strong religious views and his public doubts about evolution? Or was their decision to pass him over discrimination?

Many other publications published similar accounts.  There was only one problem -- Dr. Gaskell is a firm believer in evolution and to say he has "public doubts" about it, is stretching reality.  For our readers who were hoping him to be the great scientific savior for creationists, sorry to disappoint -- Dr. Gaskell is a religious man, but he doesn't abandon logic.

We were fortunate enough to interview him about his beliefs and the experience he went through, being accused of believing in intelligent design or creationism by the University of Kentucky staff, who clearly misunderstood his viewpoint.

The Interview:

Jason Mick, Senior News Editor, DailyTech:
When I first wrote my article, I was primarily referencing the settlement document, the university press release, and some additional items referenced by the Nature article on your lawsuit's outcome. All of these made it sound like your viewpoint was creationism (or left ambiguity to what exactly it was).

C. Martin Gaskell, Ph.D, University of Texas Astronomy Department:
I'm afraid that the University of Kentucky has been putting out a number of false or misleading things! I complained to their spokesman about this but didn't get any response.
The ACLJ press release is at:" rel="nofollow

[Note: American Center for Law and Justice is a legal advocacy similar to the ACLU, which supported Dr. Gaskell in his case.]

You believe in an old earth (in line with current scientific consensus) right?

Dr. Gaskell:
Yes. Very much so.

How do you believe life originated?

Dr. Gaskell:
I don't work in this area and those who do have wildly divergent opinions.

From your perspective, could life have originated from abiogenesis, [perhaps by divine intervention]?

Dr. Gaskell:
That's a very reasonable description, but some people who work in the area thing that that is difficult so they postulate that life came from space.

[Note: Abiogenesis is the theory that life originated on earth from naturally occurring non-living building blocks, such as amino acids and ribonucleic acids.]

When you say that there are problems with evolutionary theory, but that creationists' theories are poorly formed, did you mean that you think the current consensus on evolution is wrong?

Dr. Gaskell:

[Note: I'm referring to a quote from the professor included in our prior piece, linked above, pointing out that evolutionary theory has "significant" unanswered issues.]

Or [did you mean] merely that certain aspects of it (e.g. natural selection v. cataclysmic events/random drift) aren't fully understood at this time, due to lack of direct observation?

Dr. Gaskell:
Right. The debate over neutral evolution, for example, something that is has been a topic of heated in the field. The wide range of views on the origin of life is another example.

What are your thoughts on the paradox between public universities needing to teach scientific fact and the fact that they receive government funding and thus are likely not allowed to discriminate on the basis of religious beliefs, which may contradict scientific fact (e.g. believers in the young earth premise)? (And I mean this in the sense that this debate could come up for a biology faculty position, in which your beliefs might actually affect what you are teaching.)

Dr. Gaskell:
This HAS come up multiple times with biology positions. There is a good book covering this in great detail. It is called "Slaughter of the Dissidents" by Jerry Bergman. I'd highly recommend getting a copy to understand what goes on. The recurrent problem you'll find if you look at the cases documented in the book is that Christian biologists get fired or demoted not because of what they actually teach or do in their research, but because of who they are.

This is a major problem in the life sciences. One recent major survey showed that 51% of scientists in the life sciences believe in some sort of "higher power" (which most of them identify as "God"). Half of all scientists also claim a religious affiliation. There is an enormous problem if one disqualifies one half of biologists because of religious
affiliation or beliefs!

My brother-in-law, Richard Norris, is a famous geologist at UCSD. He is not a Christian. He takes his evolution class to the Institute for Creation Research in San Diego. All hell would break loose if I did that! Interestingly the most famous astronomer at the University of Kentucky, Gary Ferland, has invited a young-earth creationist to give a lecture to his introductory astronomy class. I would never dare do that (I wouldn't want to anyhow).

Teachers are not required to personally believe what they teach. Bergman makes a very good point that probably the majority of religious studies courses at state universities are taught by non-believers. Nobody in the administration at such universities thinks there is anything wrong with a non-Christian teaching New Testament studies yet they would object to a highly-qualified biologist teaching a biology class because he or she is a Christian!

(Unlike your case in which your evolutionary views are outside your field of work.)

Dr. Gaskell:
The University of Kentucky made various mistakes. One was in not troubling to find out what my actual views were, and then the second mistake was using their perceived views, that even if true, were unrelated to the job in hand, and taking them into account as a factor as a factor in the hiring decision.


Well, we're glad we DID take the time to find out what Dr. Gaskell's actual views are.  After all, they are more interesting than the garbled version that's floating around on many outlets.

We would like to thank Dr. Gaskell for taking the time to share his views with our readers and answer our questions.

Comments     Threshold

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By PaterPelligrino on 1/24/2011 10:15:49 AM , Rating: 3
For the sake of argument, say the universe was a computer program running a simulation. Instead of running the simulation from t=0 with the big bang, say the programmer started it with an initial state taken from a snapshot of a previous run at t=13 billion years (or if you prefer, a hand-crafted snapshot made to appear as if t=13 billion years). Within the confines of the program, scientific logic would say the universe was 13 billion years old, while in reality it may have only been running a few seconds. etc....

Tho perhaps speculatively interesting, and like many similar scenarios, not disprovable, the inevitable result of such a fruitless way of thinking is that nothing can ever be known about anything. It is no different than saying that all of reality is just a dream. It may be a dream, but you still don't step in front of speeding cars. .

In the 18th century, Western philosophy was preoccupied with the origin of human knowledge. On one hand, you had the Empiricists who claimed that all knowledge derived from the senses; on the other side, there were the Rationalists who thought knowledge was innate to the human mind. Basically this was just the modern working out of the conflict between Plato's and Aristotle's theories of knowledge. (Kant resolved the dispute by demonstrating that "Stop, you're both right")

At the time, there was an Irish Bishop - Bishop Berkeley - who claimed that we are all just elements in God's dream. Dr Johnson, who attended one of Berkeley's lectures, remarked that his theory had the great advantage of being unfalsifiable. The same is true of your computer program thing, and religion for that matter.
While that statement is technically correct, it's the basis of another flawed assumption - that scientific logic can explain everything.

Tho it is true that science can't explain everything, the more relevant observation here is that religion can't explain anything. In fact, religion does not produce knowledge, it produces nothing stronger than opinion. Religious dogma has no predictive force whatsoever, and while some of it's tenants are not presently disprovable, neither are they provable; i.e., they are both unfalsifiable and unverifiable, which means they are without practical utility other than that of satisfying the emotional need to give life some kind of human sense.

It is for this reason that there can exist so many mutually-contradictory religions - there is no way to say which, if any, are correct. I could invent any number of new religions that would be just as valid as Christianity or Islam or whatever the flavor of the month is. It is precisely because religious dogma has no logical force that science ignores it.

Science may be a dim light in a large dark room, but it's the only light we possess, and it has proven itself in the power it has given us to regulate nature in predictable ways. Religion, on the other hand, is pure narrative; there is no logical difference between the Bible, the Bhagavad Gita, and Alice in Wonderland - other than the fact that Lewis Carrol never claimed that his story was factual.

Joseph Smith claimed that he was visited by an angel who brought him the Book of Mormon written on golden tablets that were subsequently lost. If you're a Mormon, that makes sense, if you're a Hindu, it's the Bhagavad Gita that supplies a narrative structure to your existence, for the Biblical Literalist its the OT.

The vast majority of the people who reject evolution or the Big Bang do so not because they think the science flawed, they think the science flawed because it contradicts the emotionally paramount Biblical narrative. It is no coincidence that the only science these people refuse to accept is that which threatens their faith .

"And boy have we patented it!" -- Steve Jobs, Macworld 2007

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