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Lee you keep saying what UKentucky did but you actually don't know what UKentucky did, you only have Gaskell's claims as to what they did!

Thony C., the deposition covers both Gaskell's side of the story, and UKentucky's, so I'm not just extrapolating, or making this up.

What he said, too.

diandra wrote

... the judge, who looked through a lot more evidence than any of us have, refused summary judgments in either direction because he didn't feel either side had proved their case.
That's a mischaracterization of what a "summary judgment" means. To issue a summary judgment for one side or the other, the judge must interpret every fact or inference as being as favorable as possible to the side against whom judgment is requested, and in spite of that weight of favorable interpretation find that that side has no case. In this instance neither side could make that hurdle.

And if Kottner would bother to read the documents in the matter, he'd find that there was no "rush to judgment," and that the committee mostly looked at the (mis)match between what the job required and what Gaskell brought to it in making their decision.

And as to Kottner's claim that Gaskell merely brought Johnson's and Behe's books to the attention of his audience in an effort to 'meet them where they are,' note that he recommended them as illustrating how some biologists and geologists see the matter, ignoring the fact that neither Johnson nor Behe is a biologist or geologist and that they both routinely and purposefully distort the science in their books.

Oh, and another thing:

Apparently, I skipped past the last paragraph in the blog post. What a frankly disgusting false equivalency.

The "fear of the Other" demonstrated by "white supremacists, jihadists, and homophobes" is fear of the unknown. Religion is the opposite of unknown; it pervades society, exerting massive influence on public policy and cultural mores. Fear is not, by definition, irrational, and fearing irrationality is very rational indeed. No one is "tarring all spiritual seekers with the same brush of ignorance." Anyone who identifies himself or herself as a "spiritual seeker" is admitting to believing in things without evidence or despite evidence to the contrary, which is irrational. Rationality and irrationality are not equivalent, and apologizing for irrationality is not laudable.

Religion and irrationality are not equilvalent. I know that Kevin and others of the "extreme atheist" stripe aren't going to agree with that, for they've basically *defined* religion as irrational, by defining "rational" as "that which can be derived entirely from the scientific method."

As Lee points out, there is a wide range of religious viewpoints. There are the convinced fundamentalists, for whom there may be no hope, and there are folks like me who are practising scientists and who are, based on reading just this blog post, if anything more worried about Gaskell's religious language than non-religious Lee seems to be.

The *fact* is that the majority of the USA, at least, is made up of people with *some* religious connection. Many of them aren't very religious, many of them probably just have vestiges of it left over from their childhood. And, many of them, like Lee was, are people to whom science could reach out to. However, once you've written them off as fundamentally irrational-- well, you're never going to talk to them.

*You* don't have to accept any religion yourself. But by convincing yourself that those who aren't strict philosophical materialists must therefore have something wrong with their thinking, you're no better than the fundamentalists who have convinced themselves that those who haven't accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior must therefore be evil. This is what Lee is talking bout when she says tarring all spiritual seekers with the same brush of ignorance. You've draw a very strict line in the sand, and have said "anybody not on my side of this line is irrational, and deserves no defence." That's bad tactics, and it's also out of touch from the thinking nature of many of the people who don't strictly share your philosophy.

Where the facts are disputed, a detached observer usually refrains from making a judgment.

A key point of contention here is whether Dr. Gaskell is referencing creationist works to "pique the interest" of his religious audience and using this method to promote good science, or is he doing so in support of creationism and attempting to use UKentucky to help bolster his credentials.

What is his actual goal? That is very difficult to tell, even for the people directly involved in the case who have access to more details. It is also a very subjective issue as people often have shifting beliefs and intentions.

Which makes the emotional certitude displayed in this post very extraordinary - terms such as "bigotry", "discrimination" when discussing this specific case and "hysterical witch hunt", "skeptics and scientists crusading", " extremists in the the secular world", "cheap, petty, ignorant fear", "frothing at the mouth skeptic/atheists" when discussing about the wider context.

Moreover, any detail that supports the contrary view is either dismissed as irrelevant or ignored:

Dr. Gaskell's previous role as faculty advisor of the Intelligent Design Theorists of Nebraska at UNL is dismissed as irrelevant.

Dr. Gaskell referencing numerous works from prominent creationists and a discredited textbook from the Discovery Institute is "knowing your audience".

Personal opinion such as "none of Gaskell's talks sounds Creationist to me" is relevant, but the views of UKentucky Biology Department faculty who reviewed Dr. Gaskell's lecture notes and "expressed concern... about Gaskell’s 'creationist' views and the impact these views would have on the university" is not mentioned.

So Dr. Gaskell is "piquing the interest" or "finding common ground" or a "possible bridge with the Christian community" or "speaking their language" or "using references to God and creation as a lever to open the doors of blind faith".

This partiality is extraordinary.

Klar: Pot, kettle. You're no less partial than I am, just on the other side, and I never claimed to be detached (I'm hardly ever detached, and I think pure objectivity, scientific or otherwise, is largely a myth). I think that smoking gun email sort of speaks for itself. I agree that intention is difficult to pin down, but I'm basing my opinion on the interpretation of the text of Gaskell's talk, and that's what I do for a living. While it's true that that's just my opinion, I never said it was anything else but. I also spent nearly 30 years as a door-to-door evangelizer, so I have a pretty good sense of how you woo people from one set of beliefs to another, and that's how Gaskell's talk reads to me. This is a strictly editorial post, hence my emotional certitude, which you seem to consider a bad thing. Religious discrimination is religious discrimination, whether it's against Jews, Christians, or Muslims, and that's bigotry, and it's ugly. I dismissed Gaskell's advising of the ID theorists for two reasons: (1) it was six years ago and he's no longer at Nebraska and (2) the source was a badly written student blog, which counts as hearsay in my book. Show me a university document with Gaskell's name listed as advisor and that's another matter. The lecture itself, I might add, was given 13 years ago. That's a long time in anybody's intellectual development.

Kevin, Fear of the Other is the just fear of the unknown person--the person not like you and therefor unknown and often presumed unknowable and that's irrational. The ubiquity of religion does not mean you understand it, especially since you're claiming it's all entirely irrational. Being a spiritual seeker does not necessarily mean you believe in things without evidence; it usually means that you don't believe all the evidence is in, and you don't think humanity is smart enough to have all the answers.

RBH, first off, you got both my gender and my sex wrong. Secondly, if you mean Shafer's deposition, why, I have read that, actually. If you have links to others, I'd be glad to see those too. In it, Shafer's initial reaction to Gaskell is quite favorable (p. 6 of the PDF) until she becomes aware of his "evangelical" ties (her words), and she'd only "scanned" his lecture, not read it in-depth. That seems like a rush to judgment to me. I also think he's not recommending Johnson and Behe as biologists themselves but recommending the bibliography and the work of other Christian biologists and geologists, for whom he gives the names of societies where they can be found.

There is no accurate way to construe religion as rational. Once again, religion necessarily entails believing in things without evidence or despite evidence to the contrary. How can something be rational when it is done for no legitimate, i.e. objective, reason? Even a logical argument or sequence of arguments must predicate itself on evidence in order to apply to reality.

Where, exactly, do I write off all religious people as fundamentally irrational? Please, point it out if you can. Religion itself is irrational; a person who holds religious beliefs is thereby partially irrational, but certainly not wholly irrational just because of that. The jump that so many people make from "opposing a person's irrationalities" to "opposing the entire person because they're sometimes irrational" mystifies me.

Yet again, it's irrationality deserves no defense, not sometimes-irrational people. Trying to reach out and teach people critical thinking by appealing to their irrationalities is nonsense; it's like trying to teach someone to write by giving them unsharpened pencils. To say religious people have "something wrong" with their thinking makes an absolute moral judgment that I haven't come close to suggesting. If they value rationality, then they are not being entirely successful at achieving their values, and could do better. If they don't value rationality, fine, but they shouldn't expect me to take them very seriously. If we toss empirical and rational thinking out the window, then there are simply no possible objective comparisons, and anything goes.

This discussion continues to be baffling - once again I see argument by assertion. If Dr. Gaskell's intention is tough to pin down, what is the source of this certainty that it must be religious discrimination. Even the judge directly involved in the case does not have this certitude.

In addition, I don't understand this method of dismissing or omitting information. For example, what is the ground for omitting the UKentucky Biology faculty's view that Dr. Gaskell's lecture contains creationist views?

The passage of time by itself is definitely not enough. There could be creationists who maintain their beliefs for many years but instead have become better at disguising it. Such individuals will also reference creationist works while strongly denying that they are creationists.

I see the assertion that 30-year experience as a door-to-door evangelizer is used as a qualification to assess that Dr. Gaskell is not a creationist in disguise. But how about the rest of us who don't have that experience.

How to tell the difference?

Does the individual who is using the method of "common ground" to promote good science use different words, or different approach etc. from a disguised creationist? Any systematic difference at all.

Klar, the judge is paid to be impartial and examine all the facts. I'm stating my opinion, not his. And I'm basing my opinion on a reading of the facts that were available to me, as are the biologists, but we're coming from two different standpoints. One of the things I'm trying to point out is that there is a bias against anyone who even discusses different types of evolutionary thought with a public audience who isn't roundly denouncing it in no uncertain terms--and that that's not how to win converts. Because that's what I think Gaskell is doing in this talk. I think he's trying to make people aware of where the real hokum is by pointing out what's scientific, what's not, what's Biblical and what's not in contemporary pseudo evolutionary thought. You teach people discernment by pointing out discrepancies and getting them to ask questions about what they already know; only then do they start really questioning what they've been taught. As Mark Twain (or Will Rogers; I've seen it attributed to both) said: "It ain't what we don't know that hurts us; it's what we know that ain't so."

And by definition, you are not the audience for this talk, and neither are the biologists of UKentucky who stated their opinion about it. The audience is a group of Christians who are curious about the natural world, about science and about why there's such a huge fight between scientific and religious thought. They are already questioning and you don't want to turn them off entirely by telling them that everything they thought they knew is bullshit. I've worked with evangelizers like that, and they're never successful. The key to conversion (and conversation) is encouraging questioning, because a change of opinion can't be imposed from outside. It has to come from within.

Without the ability to honestly and openly discuss the ideas and issues without fear of being penalized, you can kiss goodbye the idea of getting more people to think rationally about evolution. Evolution must be taught in the schools to counter what a lot of kids, like me, get at home, but the only way to reach adults is through talks (and books) like Gaskell's. The man says he is not an IDer, or a young earther, or holding any other sort of pseudo-scientific idea of evolution. Are you accusing him of lying? Just because the Ukentucky biologists think they see someone who doesn't hew to their orthodoxy doesn't mean that's necessarily so. And this is what I mean by witch hunting. It's not too damn different from the Inquisition, except you won't actually be waterboarded or pressed to death or burned at the stake. But you may lose your job for encouraging people to think. That's just sad when it comes from a group of people who claim to have a headlock on rationality.

Of course all the evidence isn't in, and we don't have all the answers (although I would not accept that a lack of intelligence is the reason for that). However, for someone to identify himself or herself as a "spiritual seeker" or anything similar implies, at the very least, an expectation that future evidence will take a specific form, i.e. it will support spirituality. That expectation is quite obviously irrational; if we don't know what form new evidence will take (which is what makes it new evidence), then there's no reason to believe it will support spirituality over, or even alongside, anything else.

Having an active belief in something that's not supported by evidence (even if it's not contradicted) is irrational because it's arbitrary. I would imagine that you don't believe in the existence of fairies, unicorns, leprechauns, etc. because no evidence specifically promotes their existence, so there's no reason to believe in them. The exact same thing is true of religious concepts; the only difference is that people pass these things down as traditions, so they are not afforded the same critical thought.

"However, for someone to identify himself or herself as a 'spiritual seeker' or anything similar implies, at the very least, an expectation that future evidence will take a specific form, i.e. it will support spirituality."

No, it means the evidence, whatever it is, is not in, for everything. What came before the Big Bang? Hell, what started the Big Bang? Why is quantum mechanics so weird and what does that mean? I suspect that there's more to be discovered that we haven't even invented questions for, yet. This is the whole idea behind the two magesteria: Science tells you what is, spirituality tells you what it might mean for you, personally. Don't confuse religious dogma with a sense of the ineffable. A lot of self-respecting non-religious scientists, especially physicists, have a strong sense of the enormity of the universe, not just in its size, but in its possibilities. We know a little, teeny patch of it and have a tunnel-vision glimpse into its history. What else is out there, waiting to mess with our tidy little world views? I could resort to quoting Shakespeare at this point, but I won't, Horatio. But thinking we're the smartest beings in a ball park this vast? Wow.

If you think quantum mechanics is "weird," that's a problem with you, not a problem with it. Quantum mechanics is the theory that best describes a multitude of experimental results; in short, it is, to the best of our knowledge, how the universe works. I don't think it's particularly meaningful that the default human perspective differs from the quantum perspective, given that humans evolved around very little interaction with quantum scale phenomena. The universe has no duty to adapt itself to our preconceived patterns of thought. In fact, in order to be rational, we must adapt our thinking when we encounter evidence which demonstrates that the way we think about the universe isn't how the universe actually works.

You're taking the word "spirituality" beyond any reasonable definition. The word has a definite supernatural/religious connotation, and if you eliminate that you're hardly talking about anything at all, and certainly not the actual topic of discussion. If you say "we don't have all the evidence, so anything is possible" and use that as a justification for any specific unsupported belief, you are being irrational. For one, many things are not possible based on the evidence we currently have (at least to an overwhelmingly high confidence level), including many religious/supernatural truth claims. Furthermore, while absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, it's even more certainly not a reason to hold any sort of active belief. Appreciating the existence of an enormity of possibilities just means being willing to accept them if a reason presents itself. (See, for example, this YouTube video discussing open-mindedness.)

The "non-overlapping magisteria" thing is nonsense, and I'll let another blogger explain that (Sean Carroll, perhaps you've heard of him): Science and Religion are Not Compatible and the follow-up What Questions Can Science Answer?.

Kevin, now we are in the realm of opinion, yours vs. mine: i.e., the weirdness of quantum mechanics, but I've always thought J.B.S. Haldane nailed that: "the Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose." Whether that has anything to do with our lack of previous interaction with it or not, it didn't match our first experiences of the world, nor the laws we "discovered" about it. Why else call something "spooky action at a distance"? Even Einstein thought it was weird--too weird. What was that you said about adapting our preconceived patterns of thought?

As for the definition of spirituality, Merriam Webster define its as "a sensitivity or attachment to religious values," not religious dogma. For example, I find the values of Buddhism--compassion for all, love, lack of attachment--worth considering and emulating, but don't swallow the dogma of reincarnation. The fact that we (humans) are still arguing about where morals and ethics arise from and what the hell consciousness is is a good indicator that this question is not solved, and probably won't be in the near future.

I'm not dragging Sean into this; he studied philosophy and came to his own conclusions. But I often think that scientists don't really grasp the function of the metaphor, story, or myth very well (though they're not the only ones; too many people take fiction literally). And that's one of the factors at the heart of this debate. But the real point of the debate is the freedom to discuss ideas--even erroneous ones--in the open without fear of reprisal, because that's the only way knowledge advances and learning takes place.

But I often think that scientists don't really grasp the function of the metaphor, story, or myth very well (though they're not the only ones; too many people take fiction literally).

Lee, you hit that right on the head. Too many of these people in the atheist debates about whether religion is something that can be accommodated, or something that must be mocked, seen to think that the only thing that can be called "knowledge" is scientific knowledge, and that any other kind of thinking besides scientific thinking is just fuzzy and unrespectable. This, of course, would be news to the vast majority of the faculty of any university. However, the arguments against religion as being something that somebody who is intellectually honest or reasonable could do ultimately come down to arguing that nothing other than science is real thought.

If it is true that Dr. Gaskell is trying to promote good science with the "common ground" method, and if it's also true that this method is really more effective, then I hope this turns out well for him.

I understand the challenge of communicating science that is socially unpopular. However the "common ground" approach, while it may make the message more palatable (eg. using "theistic" evolution to convince the religious into accepting biological evolution, despite the reality that modern evolutionary theory has no theistic element), it might also end up popularizing deep misconceptions about the subject matter

Disturbing to see that I've been read as accusing Dr. Gaskell of lying, which isn't a charitable read since I've clearly stated I don't have enough information to make any such call, moreover Dr. Gaskell might just be undecided instead of deliberately lying.

Though this charge is significantly less harsh than what the UKentucky biologists got - "orthodoxy", "witch hunting", "not too damn different from the Inquisition" etc. - for stating their professional view about Dr. Gaskell's lecture.

The use of such attacking terms feels like a disproportionate response to me, but I concede this may be due to my inexperience, since I have barely done a decade of scientific research (dealing with molecules, not with interpretation of texts) and I've never been a professional evangelizer of any sort.

Jennifer, since your warning about the moderation policy, I will be able to say very little here:)
That essay by Gould is one of his more stupid and pusillanimous ones. Religion is irrational, superstitious, and
faith-based. Science isn't, or shouldn't be. I doubt that you would object to my being somewhat rude about, say,
homeopathy-http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HMGIbOGu8q0 but religion always gets a free pass because any atheist pointing out its faults is considered aggressive and rude.

Agreed that religion is superstitious and faith-based and science isn't, and shouldn't be. Since when is that at issue? Plenty of atheists have pointed out religion's flaws without being aggressive or rude; having a thoughtful discussion on the topic does not equate giving religion "a free pass." The same moderation policy applies to homeopathy and other contentious topics, incidentally.

The Magisteria essay was an absolute low point in Gould's output. It is craven in the sense that I do not think
he really believed his own words. It is the usual political correctness involved in not challenging religion as an irrational superstition. "Two separate Magisteria"---pretty grand (pompous) and totally meaningless. Sure, one magisterium is rational, leads to increased understanding of the universe, and results generally in improved quality of life. The other enshrines belief without reason. Having said that, I do enjoy his essays.

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