Do They Need to Be Clashing Cultures?
Hi, as Tangled Up in Blue Guy, I write as an atheist keenly interested in science and the issues of confusion between science and religion. At my main blog, I write occasionally acerbic posts on the ways that religion intrudes on the personal lives of non-believers. But, mostly I write about what interests me in science and politics. I have been a fan of Hope for Pandora ever since Thomas wrote his post on the Scarlet A, referenced in his introductory re-post.
For this morning, I am going to re-post an article I wrote at Tangled Up in Blue Guy in which I compare the cases of Guillermo Gonzales and Stephen Matheson.
Is it Their Work Product?
The Discovery Institute has taken up arms over the tenure denial case of Guillermo Gonzalez, and insists that he was persecuted because he is a Christian; more specifically that he published books and articles which support the idea of Intelligent Design. His more famous work is The Privileged Plant, an examination of the anthropic principle (read a favorable review here by a Feller.) The confusion comes from whether he was discriminated against because of the publication of this work, through Regnery Books, which shows that he believes in Intelligent Design. The Fellers are making the case that it is a form of religious discrimination, while at the same time insisting that ID is not about religion because they daren’t in public speculate on who their Designer may be. They remain vague about the Designer because they are masking their Creationist roots.
The upcoming movie, Expelled, seeks to demonstrate that the concept of Intelligent Design takes the watchmaker argument in bold new directions unimagined by either David Hume or William Paley; and that it is being suppressed through censorship and denial of tenure. Gonzalez’s case promises to feature prominently in this documentary, as does the case of Richard Sternberg at the Smithsonian Institution. Both of these guys are scientists who are Christian, and so I wonder if there is a way to reliably determine through their work whether or not a scientist is a Christian.
Gonzalez’ bid for tenure was denied for three reasons:
- Since moving to Iowa State, the research he had done which led them to hire him in the first place had dropped off considerably during his time at Iowa State.
- The grants he had secured during the time leading to the tenure application was far short of the standards of his department in terms of dollars. A major portion of one grant funded the work of a grad student at another university, which doesn’t help his department much either.
- A major determinant of a professor’s ability to teach is mentorship of graduate scholars in their department; and Gonzalez had fallen short of department goals. He has had no successful grad mentees in his time at Iowa State.
The Fellers would have you believe that the professors considering the granting of tenure were concerned mostly about his affiliation with Intelligent Design, as evidenced by e-mail exchanges during the tenure review period. Yes, it was a concern, because they don’t accept the scientific claims of ID and don’t think that a proponent has the proper grasp of the scientific process necessary to further the research in the field they represent. It is clear that ID wasn’t the reason that he was denied tenure, but his association with it doesn’t help his case.
Guillermo Gonzalez is a Christian and he has never denied it; but is that the reason that he has been denied tenure, is that the reason that he is being “oppressed” and “suppressed” so that darwinists can “regress” to the 19th century? Is that the reason that he is ridiculed? To examine the question I would like to present a counterpoint. I found this blog through Pharyngula, and it is written by an experimental developmental biologist, who is also a Christian. This site demonstrates that the reason the ID position is ridiculed is not because of its religious affiliation, but because it is bad science and poorly done.
I have read a few of the articles at Quintessence of Dust, and I am aware of the fact that my predisposition to like his writing is that he makes reference in many cases to Shakespeare and that he is a baseball fan. Stephen Matheson is one of the Scientists Named Steve.
I have actually learned something very cool by reading this post on the domestication of corn from teosinte, a wild grass which had at one time been thought to be more closely related to rice than corn. Domesticated corn and teosinte are genetically identical; in fact they meet the standard of species definition commonly understood. They can be interbred and produce fertile offspring. But they look nothing alike; and the differences are not genetic. The differences in structure are due to variants in multiple genes. Multiple genes which are identical in both plants, but are expressed morphologically in different ways.
Evo-Devo is so much fun to read about because it teaches so much about how DNA works. The existence of a gene is not enough for a protein to be expressed; there are additional factors. And this Steve explains how this affects the premise of Michael Behe’s book, The Edge of Evolution:
It would be easy to get the impression from various creationists and ID proponents that mutation and selection can only remove things from a genome. Young-earth creationist commentary on “microevolution” (a yucky term for the now-undeniable fact of genetic change over time) always adds that this kind of change involves NO NEW INFORMATION. (The caps are important, apparently, since caps and/or italics are de rigueur in creationist denialism on this topic.)
Similarly, Michael Behe wants you to think that beneficial (or adaptive) mutations are some kind of near impossibility, and that when they do happen it’s almost always because something’s been deleted or damaged, with a beneficial outcome.
So, anyway, I am not writing this post on corn and teosinte; I am writing it on Stephen Matheson and Gonzales. Both are Christians, both are scientists. One is being “oppressed” and the other is apparently an oppressor. Were Matheson in position to vote on Gonzalez’ tenure, he would likely vote in the negative. Yes, Matheson works at a Christian University and Gonzalez at a public university; and one can say that Matheson is “safe” from having his religious beliefs used in his college as a determinant for tenure. However, his obvious disdain for ID as a baseless “theory” indicates that the “censorship” of Intelligent Design is not motivated by anti-religious fervor but by its lack of explanatory and evidential power.
How can you tell if a scientist is a Christian? Their scientific work product will be silent on the matter; the best way to know is simply to ask or read what they say about their religion.