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E-mails in Gaskell Case Show That Darwin Skeptics Need Not Apply to the University of Kentucky


Last month, Martin Gaskell settled his lawsuit against the University of Kentucky (UK) alleging they discriminated against him and refused to offer him a job due to his perceived views on "biology and religion." As we've previously covered here and here, there is much evidence showing that Gaskell faced unfair treatment due to his perceived sympathy for intelligent design and doubts about neo-Darwinian evolution. What we haven't yet shown are some of the direct e-mails cited in Gaskell's case as evidence of harsh intolerance at UK towards Darwin-doubting scientists.

The story begins when Mike Cavagnero, a physicist at UK who headed the search committee to hire a director of UK's new observatory, wrote to two UK biologists asking for their opinions about Gaskell. As he wrote, "One of the candidates they have short-listed is something close to a 'creationist,'" and he was worried that hiring Gaskell would give credence to "creationists in the state." Read the e-mail--Dr. Cavagnero is very worried about keeping those he calls "creationists" out of the academy:

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The e-mail makes it clear that one hiring factor for these scientists is Gaskell's view on evolution and how it might do "damage" to the fight against "creationists." Cavagnero soon thereafter wrote to the hiring search committee that he was worried about newspaper headlines that might be creationist-friendly if they hired Gaskell:

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What's interesting about this e-mail is that Cavagnero appears well aware that Gaskell is not a young earth creationist, but he's afraid of hiring anyone that might give creationists some kind of political clout. His concern is how hiring Gaskell might affect their battle against "creationists." It's clear that there is intolerance towards hiring a scientist who would express serious reservations about the Darwinian consensus.

To find out how bad things were, Cavagnero decided to ask the biology department for its opinion. Again, we see that Cavagnero recognizes that Gaskell is not a young earth creationist, but he is nonetheless worried that he "makes scientific statements about evolution that show fundamental lack of appreciation for the scientific method and/or for well established scientific principles." Here's the e-mail which again makes clear that evolution is a major issue in the hiring for this astronomy position:

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Replies from the biologists then started pouring in. They expressed severe intolerance towards hiring any scientist who is a scientific skeptic of neo-Darwinian evolution. Keep in mind that for our discussion here, what Gaskell actually believes about evolution is less important than the intolerance of these biologists. These biologists are clear on the record that if Gaskell were a scientific skeptic of neo-Darwinian evolution, they wouldn't hire him.

The first reply is from Jeffrey Osborn, professor in UK's Department of Biology. Osborn's reply is long, but it's worth reading completely to get a full appreciation of his intolerance towards hiring a scientist who would disrespect Darwin:

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Jeffrey Osborn's reply speaks for itself: he feels UK should not hire a scientist who would publicly challenge neo-Darwinian evolution or supports intelligent design. Here are a few highlights from the e-mail, in case you missed them:

  • "I would firmly assert to you that in any position of outreach this will most certainly bring both internal and external problems to the department, the college and the university"

  • "There are statements within the website that are simply incorrect and without scientific basis:

    "1. '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, but the real problem with humanistic evolution is in the unwarranted atheistic assumptions and extrapolations.' In actuality, the empirical and embedded evidence for genetic change and the concept of evolution has become overwhelming within the past 50 years. ... Thus, the statement from the website highlighted above could not be further from correct."

  • "2. 'While discussing controversies and interpretations of Genesis I should mention something that is /not/ an interpretation of Genesis: what is called 'Intelligent Design'. This movement, which is often erroneously confused with young-earth creationism, is simply exploring the question of what evidence there is in the universe for design by an intelligence. This is a general, non-religious question (although with religious implications), and there is no opinion on the interpretation or Genesis.' Both Jim Krupa and I could not disagree more with this statement of Dr. Gaskell. ID is most certainly NOT a "general, non-religious question." It is presented in its entirety from a religious point of view, which neither of us have a quibble with. However, to present ID within the context of empirical evidence based science is carefully couched within many aspects of the website. ... The website continually melds concepts of religious belief within the context of scientific thought. These types of implications simply lead the public and students into becoming confused about fundamental concepts of the nature of science and the beliefs of religion."

  • "In short, I find the very nature of the position for which you are seeking a viable public outreach servant to be at complete odds with the published views and nature of scientific study by Martin Gaskell."
  • Jeffrey Osborn could not be clearer: He feels that scientific skeptics of neo-Darwinian evolution or supporters of intelligent design deserve no place publicly teaching about science in the academy.

    Osborn also mentions UK biologist Jim Krupa, whom he promises would "pretty much discredit anything that [Gaskell] ahs to say about the concept of evolution." Krupa also wrote back to Cavagnero with a simple reply: "to have an anti-evolution scientist come to UK and be involved with science outreach will be a disaster." Krupa says he wouldn't even hire a multiple-Nobel Prize winning biologist if that person was a creationist. Read Krupa's intolerant e-mail, warning about the perils of Gaskell's perceived agenda to "bash evolution":

    Krupa_to_Cavagnero.jpg

    A final biologist who writes back to Cavagnero is Shelley Steiner. She plays a little head game with Cavagnero, warning that biology wouldn't hire someone with wacky views about physics and astronomy, so physics and astronomy better not hire someone with doubts about evolution. Her straw man comparison, of course, is to liken doubting Darwin scientists to wacky supporters of geocentrism: "Biology would not hire an individual who supports the thesis that the sun revolves around the earth. No matter how good a biologist he/she was." Her warning is clear: we keep unwanted individuals off your turf, so you better keep unwanted individuals off our turf. And for this UK biologist, unwanted individuals are those who "challenged evolution":

    Steiner_to_Cavagnero.jpg

    A final string of revealing e-mails is between UK physicist Thomas Troland, an advocate of Gaskell, and Mike Cavagnero. In this first e-mail, Troland complains that UK won't hire Gaskell even though he is "superbly qualified":

    It has become clear to me that there is virtually no way Gaskell will be offered the job despite his qualifications that stand far above those of any other applicant. Other reasons will be given for this choice when we meet Tuesday. In the end, however, the real reason why we will not offer him the job is because of his religious beliefs in matters that are unrelated to astronomy or to any of the duties specified for this position. (For example, the job does not involve outreach in biology.)

    Here's Troland's full e-mail defending Gaskell:

    Troland_to_Cavagnero_10-19-07.jpg

    Cavagnero then replies to Troland providing those "other reasons"--the pretexts--why they won't hire Gaskell. But Cavagnero nonetheless admits that Gaskell's views on evolution have become a major factor in his decision. Consider these two experts from Cavagnero's replies to Troland:

    Cavagnero_back_to_Troland1.jpg
    Cavagnero_back_to_Troland2.jpg

    So there you have it. There's more evidence out there in this case, but these are clear examples of the intolerance towards a scientist who is merely perceived to harbor scientific doubts about Darwin or sympathy towards intelligent design. Regardless of what Gaskell actually believes, this evidence makes one point clear: at the University of Kentucky, Darwin-doubting scientists need not apply.