Saturday, December 18, 2010

Expelled for Being "Potentially Evangelical"

Martin Gaskell is by all accounts one of the better scientists on the faculty of the University of Kentucky. Unfortunately for Professor Gaskell he's a bit of an iconoclast and heretic. You may have thought that universities nurtured such qualities in their faculty and students, but you would be wrong. That's only true when the iconoclasm is directed at things like Christianity or conservative politics. Rejecting these, especially with a contemptuous air, is the sort of thing that's much admired on college campuses, and those who indulge in it are often feted as courageous and bold heroes of academic freedom.

Professor Gaskell, to be sure, is skeptical of certain religious beliefs, but the religion about which he expresses his doubts is Darwinian naturalism, and that's simply an unacceptable breach of intellectual propriety and orthodoxy at UK as elsewhere.

What was the precise nature of his offense? Uncommon Descent provides some details:
No one denies that astronomer Martin Gaskell was the leading candidate for the founding director of a new observatory at the University of Kentucky in 2007 — until his writings on evolution came to light.

Gaskell had given lectures to campus religious groups around the country in which he said that while he has no problem reconciling the Bible with the theory of evolution, he believes the theory has major flaws. And he recommended students read theory critics in the intelligent-design movement.

That stance alarmed UK science professors and, the university acknowledges, played a role in the job going to another candidate.

Now a federal judge says Gaskell has a right to a jury trial over his allegation that he lost the job because he is a Christian and “potentially evangelical.”

“The record contains substantial evidence that Gaskell was a leading candidate for the position until the issue of his religion or his scientific position became an issue,” U.S. Senior District Judge Karl S. Forester of the Eastern District of Kentucky wrote late last month in rejecting the university’s motion for summary judgment, which would have dismissed the case.

Forester has set a trial date of Feb. 8 on Gaskell’s claims the university violated the 1964 Civil Rights Act’s ban on job bias on the basis of religion.

UK, in a legal brief, acknowledged that concerns over Gaskell’s views on evolution played a role in the decision to chose another candidate. But it argued that this was a valid scientific concern, and that there were other factors, including a poor review from a previous supervisor and UK faculty views that he was a poor listener.

In its brief, UK said professors worried about Gaskell’s “casual blending of religion and science” and feared the then-planned MacAdam Student Observatory’s “true mission … would be thwarted by controversy that has nothing to do with astronomy.”

Gaskell’s lawsuit, however, argues UK officials repeatedly referred to his religion in their discussions and e-mails. And he argues that UK mistook him for a creationist — someone who believes the Bible disproves the theory of evolution.
Well, Professor Gaskell should be thankful he still has a teaching job, although that, too, may be in jeopardy for all we know. But what did he say that caused the UK high priests to rent their garments and remove him from consideration for the directorship at the UK observatory? At this point, no one knows for sure, but Joseph Knippenberg provides some quotes from Gaskell's lecture notes on a talk he gives on "Modern Astronomy, the Bible, and Creation".

If you're disturbed by reading heretical opinions then I suggest you skip these paragraphs. They're very troubling, especially if one is a Darwinian fundamentalist:
“God made everything pretty much as it is now in six 24-hour days about 6000 years ago” – the so-called “Creationist” position (a bad name! – I, and many writers on the subject prefer the name “Young-Earth Creationist” for this position). This is the position of the Creation Research Society (CRS), the San Diego based Institute for Creation Research (ICR), and a number of other “Creation Science” organizations. I have a lot of respect for people who hold this view because they are strongly committed to the Bible, but I don’t believe it is the interpretation the Bible requires of itself, and it certainly clashes head-on with science.

“The Answers are not in yet”. This is part of my own viewpoint. I believe that God has not yet revealed everything to us in the Bible (see Deuteronomy 29:29 and I Corinthians 13:9-10,12), and I know that we don’t know all the answers in science yet.

The main controversy has been between people at the two extremes (young earth creationists and humanistic evolutionists). “Creationists” attack the science of “evolutionists”. I believe that this sort of attack is very bad both scientifically and theologically. The “scientific” explanations offered by “creationists” are mostly very poor science and I believe this sort of thing actually hinders some (many?) scientists becoming Christians. 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.

It is the latter that “creationists” should really be attacking (many books do, in fact, attack these unwarranted assumptions and extrapolations). While discussing controversies and interpretations of Genesis I should mention something that has been much debated in recent years but is not an interpretation of Genesis: what is called “Intelligent Design”. This movement, which is often erroneously confused with young-earth creationism, is just exploring the question of what evidence there is in the universe for design by an intelligence. This is really a general, non-religious question (although with obvious religious implications), and there is no opinion on the interpretation of Genesis.
Pretty raw stuff. I mean, the man is obviously sympathetic to intelligent design, and worse, Christianity, and he seems to be trying to give an objective, unbiased factual explanation, of all things, of the controversy between "creationists" and Darwinian naturalists over origins. This objectivity apparently poses such a threat to UK's standards of academic decency that the university simply cannot allow it to be tolerated. To be sure, Professor Gaskell affirms the scientific consensus on matters of origins and evolution. That's not the problem. The problem is that he manifestly rejects the naturalistic religion that many scientists hold to be the one true faith.

I don't know if there's anything to it, but there's a rumor floating about that the higher-ups at UK have summoned the men in this video to come to Kentucky to deal with people like Professor Gaskell.

Mexico Calls in Their Marines

Mexico has turned up the heat on its drug cartels in the last year. It's now using special ops Marines, aided by American intelligence, in the war against the cartels and they're proving to be lethally effective. Strategy Page has an interesting report on this escalation:
Mexico-U.S. cooperation in running counter-drug operations has increased over the last 18 months. The US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has been providing intelligence to Mexican police and other security forces, including the Mexican Navy's elite marine commandos. The Mexican marines have carried out several very high profile (and successful raids), beginning in 2009. The strikes often target drug cartel leaders and senior drug cartel enforcers (hit men).

Critics are arguing that the DEA is going around Mexican police because the U.S. is concerned about corruption in the police forces. That is very true, but the conspiracy theorists seem to ignore the fact that just about every other day the Mexican government points out that it is concerned about police corruption. Unreliable or corrupt police forces is one reason it began using military forces – the other reason being the drug cartels have more firepower than local and state cops.

Several of the more spectacular Mexican marine operations in northwestern Mexico are special operations raids, both strike raids and snatch (arrest) raids. The marines treat the cartelistas as an insurgent force and the cartel leaders as insurgent commanders.
There's more on this at the link.

The drug cartels are waging a low-level civil war in Mexico and elsewhere in Central and South America. Hopefully, the combination of highly trained combat forces and American intelligence-gathering capabilities will make their business more risky and less profitable than it has been up till now.

The Doxastic Minimum

There's an interesting discussion at Uncommon Descent on the question of what exactly is the minimum one can believe and be a Christian. The specific trigger for that question was the question whether one could be a Darwinist and still be a Christian. Denise O'Leary says no, Barry Arrington, citing Paul (Romans 10: 9,10) as his authority, argues that technically they can. O'Leary's response to Arrington is here. Perhaps they're both right. If, as Arrington points out, a Darwinist confesses belief in Jesus as Lord and also believes that He rose from the dead, then he's a Christian. Nevertheless, as O'Leary argues, it's difficult in practice to find people who are serious Darwinists who believe in a God who works the kind of miracles the Incarnation and the Resurrection require.

Darwinism is the belief that natural processes are completely responsible for the appearance and development of living things. No intelligent agent was involved.* Thus, Darwinists almost always believe that God has no role in evolution or the creation, and that if He exists at all he's somewhat like Aristotle's Prime Mover. Moreover, as O'Leary points out, Darwinism entails that Christianity is itself the product of blind, impersonal, purposeless forces acting in human societies and resulting in all the different belief systems we see in the world. The idea that the Christian faith is really the product of purposeful divine intervention is antithetical to a Darwinian worldview which is uncompromisingly naturalistic.

Arrington is saying that it's possible for a Darwinst to believe that God has acted in the world whereas O'Leary maintains that in practice they can do so only by setting aside their naturalism. Arrington is right in establishing Romans 10 as the doxastic minimum. O'Leary is right in pointing out that a Darwinist is logically prohibited from embracing that minimum.

*Thus, views like theistic evolution, or God-directed evolution are not Darwinian in the strict sense.