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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 ltgrunt on 1/24/2011 10:16:46 AM , Rating: 2
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.

I've seen this argument before, but without the computer program analogy. Essentially, the argument goes that we can't trust what scientific observation and measurement tell us about the age and development of the world around us. Supposedly, even when things like Carbon dating tell us that the world is much older than Young Earth zealots claim, those findings are inaccurate because in their view, God created the world to look old, but it isn't really.

The inherent problem with this argument is that God then becomes a liar who deceives his creations in a twisted game specifically designed to make them antagonize each other in an endless debate over science versus faith. Religion tends to lose its moral authority when you start to portray the perfect being who created all that is and whose existence and behavior defines "good" as a cruel sociopath who likes to toy with his creations.

Also, in your computer program analogy, where is the coding and cached data for all program behavior for t = 0Y to t = 13BY?

By tbcpp on 1/24/2011 4:51:18 PM , Rating: 3
The inherent problem with this argument is that God then becomes a liar who deceives his creations in a twisted game specifically designed to make them antagonize each other in an endless debate over science versus faith.

It does not make God a liar. To be a liar He would have specifically have to have said "the earth is 13 bil years old". He didn't say that. In fact he specifically stated that the earth is 10k-ish years old. And He also stated that although man was created to look 20-30 ish, he was really only a few moments old.

I don't think you will find anyone who believes that the world was created without some sort of implied age.

So you can believe what you wish about creation/evolution. But to call God a liar because he didn't make a "full disclosure" isn't doing justice to the argument.

Your 2nd fallacy is that God actually would actually care what people would think about him. If God really is powerful enough to create an entire world, do you think he would care if half his creation didn't believe in Him? Why would he lower Himself to even justify His existence to mortals? Where would the logic be in that?

If I created a sentient group of robots, and half of them suddenly decided that I didn't exist. I would probably be just as likely to destroy them with a snap of my fingers as I would to walk up to them and say "hey! I'm your creator, just FYI, I exist".

By Skywalker123 on 1/25/2011 3:13:29 AM , Rating: 2
God doesn't care if you don't believe in Him? According to Christians he will kill you and set you on fire if you don't.

By ltgrunt on 1/25/2011 10:10:08 AM , Rating: 1
Claiming that the Earth is very young, then artificially making it look much, much older is inherently deceptive. Also, you are making two untenable assumptions - the first being that everything in the Bible accurately represents statements made by God, and the second being that the claims presented in the Bible are true.

I don't think you will find anyone who believes that the world was created without some sort of implied age.

Plenty of people don't believe that the world was created with any sort of implied age. Specifically, everyone who understands how the Earth was formed billions of years ago. But then we're getting back into understanding of scientific explanations of natural occurrences as opposed to belief in magical rationalizations. The inherent difference that many others have already pointed out being that magic demands unquestioning belief, scientific understanding requires skepticism and constant reevaluation.

As far as my second supposed fallacy, if God didn't care, why would we have any religion at all? Why supposedly send his son to be sacrificed on our behalf? The Biblical narrative makes it quite clear that he cares a great deal. Your "why would he lower himself to even justify his existence to mortals" is an actual logical fallacy designed to draw attention away from the unfalsifiable nature of religion.

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