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Evidence of Discrimination Against Martin Gaskell Due to His Views on Evolution

Casey Luskin

In the prior post, we saw that Martin Gaskell’s actual position on origins is probably closest to a theistic evolution position (he accepts common ancestry), with an openness to the possibility of intelligent design (ID). However, because his online notes from a talk expressed skepticism towards biological and chemical evolution, the faculty on a search committee who were considering him for a job at the University of Kentucky (UK) called him a “creationist” and denied him a job at the university. Because UK believed (wrongly) he was a “creationist” and discriminated against him on that basis, Gaskell has since filed a lawsuit against UK alleging religious discrimination. He is represented by the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ).

After reading Gaskell’s lecture notes, the hiring committee contacted the UK biology department “and asked if Gaskell had made scientific statements about evolution that showed a fundamental lack of appreciation for the scientific method and/or for well-established scientific principles.” (p. 9) The court recounted that the biologists then pressured the UK Department of Physics and Astronomy to not hire Gaskell:

After reviewing the lecture notes, the biologists expressed concern to Cavagnero about Gaskell’s “creationist” views and the impact these views would have on the university. The biologists further warned that the Biology Department would refuse to cooperate with the Physics and Astronomy Department on the building of an “outreach science team” were Physics and Astronomy to go ahead and hire one of “these types of individuals”. (p. 9, internal citations removed)

One member of the search committee, Professor Thomas Troland, saw where things were headed and feared they were going in an illegal direction. The court recounts how Troland wrote an e-mail titled “The Gaskell Affair” to an ex-officio member of the committee, Professor Michael Cavagnero, as follows:

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.). . . If Martin were not so superbly qualified, so breathtakingly above the other applicants in background and experience, then our decision would be much simpler. We could easily choose another applicant, and we could content ourselves with the idea that Martin’s religious beliefs played little role in our decision. However, this is not the case. As it is, no objective observer could possibly believe that we excluded Martin on any basis other than religious. . . . (p. 14)

The court recounts Cavaganero’s reply:

Cavagnero replied to Troland two days later that he disagreed with Troland’s analysis of the situation, and presented several other reasons why Knauer was preferable. He acknowledged, however, that the religion issue may have played a part in the decisions of at least two committee members (Shafer and Shlosman) and admitted that he would be “worried” every time Gaskell, if selected at Observatory Director, would be let out in public. Moreover, Cavagnero admits that Gaskell’s views on evolution were at least one element of his decision. (pp. 9-10, internal citations removed).

Troland also wrote to the Equal Employment officer at UK about the inappropriate religious discrimination against Martin Gaskell:

I was part of the entire process that led to this decision. I know what observatory committee members said in meetings and privately, not just their e-mail comments. I know that the university (not your office!) chose an applicant with almost no relevant experience over one with immense experience in virtually every aspect of the observatory director’s duties. And I know that this choice was made (to a significant extent) on grounds that have nothing to do with the job as advertised nor with the job as envisioned by our department. (p. 14)

The court ruled, “His comments, if true, are direct evidence of religious discrimination. Although Troland has subsequently retracted these comments to some extent, they remain direct evidence of religious discrimination.” (p. 14)

Finally, the court recounted another e-mail from a member of the search committee:

Later, Shafer emailed members of the Search Committee, stating “If the job were solely about physics and astronomy and within the university I would strongly agree with you that Martin’s beliefs on biology and religion don’t matter a hoot and should not figure in the discussion at all.”. The negative implication is clear: because the job was not solely about physics and astronomy within the university, Gaskell’s beliefs on biology and religion do matter. (pp. 15-16, internal citations removed)

Based upon the evidence presented here and in the prior post, it seems clear that there is evidence that the faculty on the UK search committee denied Gaskell the job at UK on the basis of their perception that Gaskell was a “creationist” and a Darwin-skeptic.

Federal Court: Martin Gaskell’s Lawsuit Presents Evidence Discrimination on the Basis of “Biology and Religion”
The ACLJ has an article elaborating on Gaskell’s case:

We represent Professor Martin Gaskell, an internationally-respected astronomer who was turned down for the post of Observatory Director at the University of Kentucky in 2007 after concerns were voiced that some of his writings contained in a personal website discussing the relationship between science and religion showed him to be “potentially evangelical.”

Professor Gaskell has filed suit against the University claiming that, by considering his religion in the hiring process, Kentucky violated Title VII, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which, among other things, prohibits employers from using an applicant’s race, color, religion, sex or national origin in making hiring decisions.

In an important decision just days ago, a federal district judge denied the University’s motion for summary judgment with Judge Karl Forester of the U.S. District Court in Lexington, Kentucky ruling that Professor Gaskell had produced direct evidence of religious discrimination, evidence that requires that the case now proceed to trial.

As noted in the first post, Gaskell’s case shows that even if you’re a theistic evolutionist who expresses mere openness to an intelligent design (ID) view or doubts about Darwinism, then you’ll be labeled a “creationist” who isn’t fit to serve the university. It doesn’t matter if you’re not a creationist–mere openness to the possibility that neo-Darwinism is wrong and ID is right is a bridge too far.

Gaskell’s trial is scheduled to start in February, 2011.


Casey Luskin

Associate Director, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.



Martin GaskellUniversity of Kentucky