Lawrence Krauss, perhaps my favorite living physicist and superb freethinker and educator, wrote this small piece on a recent quarrel between the University of Kentucky and a man they did not hire supposedly due to his religious beliefs. Krauss sums up my sentiments quite well here.
Religion no excuse for promoting scientific ignorance
08 February 2011 by Lawrence M. Krauss
The US constitution allows people to believe what they want. However, it does not require universities to promote ignorance.
LAST month, the University of Kentucky in Lexington paid $125,000 to settle a religious discrimination lawsuit brought by astrophysicist Martin Gaskell. Gaskell claimed the university did not appoint him director of their student observatory because of his Christian faith, despite him being the best candidate.
The settlement – which is not an admission of wrongdoing – means the suit will not come to court. While I think the university had a case, this may be the best outcome. A court case could have set a dangerous precedent. Instead, we can now move on.
Whether or not Gaskell’s views were inspired by his belief is irrelevant. The important question is whether, as a potential science educator, he has a firm grasp of the science and an ability to communicate it accurately. Given the evidence at hand there is reason to believe not.
In the notes for a lecture he gave at the university in 1997, Gaskell claimed, in clear disagreement with scientific facts, that evolution has “significant scientific problems” and includes “unwarranted atheistic assumptions and extrapolations”. This suggests a lack of understanding of the nature of scientific theory in general, and evolution in particular.
Religious viewpoints need not conflict with science. Several prominent religious biologists, including my friends Ken Miller at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, and Francis Collins at the US National Institutes of Health, make it quite clear that one doesn’t have to be an atheist to accept the scientific fact of evolution. Incorrect interpretations of empirical data to fit in with religious beliefs should not be legally protected.
Teachers of science need to understand and convey concepts that are in accord with our understanding of nature, and the University of Kentucky had a responsibility to ensure this was the case. The US Constitution rightly allows people to believe what they want, even if others think they are wrong. However, it does not require universities to promote ignorance.
Lawrence M. Krauss is director of the Arizona State University Origins Project, and a professor in its School of Earth and Space Exploration, and physics department. His latest book, Quantum Man, will be published in March