Christian Astronomer Sues University over Creationist Belief

A jury trial has been scheduled for February over whether an astronomer was rejected from a position in 2007 at University of Kentucky because of his religious beliefs.

Martin Gaskell maintains that he was a leading candidate for the position of founding director for the university’s new observatory, until the review committee learned of his religious views which question evolution. Gaskell had been going around the country, giving lectures to college religious groups, telling them that there were “major flaws” in evolutionary theory.

The university had asked for the case to be thrown out on summary judgment, but U.S. Senior District Judge Karl S. Forester of the Eastern District of Kentucky ruled that Gaskell has a right for his allegations to be heard in court.

From an article last week in the Louisville Courier-Journal:

“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,” Forester 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 choose 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.

Kentucky has been treated as something of a laughingstock lately for some really backwards unenlightened thinking of its citizens, what with the Noah’s Ark theme park coming to town and the Senate election of tea party darling Rand Paul, who won’t even say how old he thinks the Earth is. So, I’m sure folks at the university are less than thrilled with this latest bit of notoriety.

On the surface, it seems like an interesting case requiring one to wrestle with some thorny constitutional issues. Gaskell claims that he’s not a young earth creationist. (Obviously, if he were, it would be impossible for him to function as a legitimate scientist in his field. How would light traveling from those distant stars have gotten to Earth in 6,000 years?) Rather, he indicates that he’s an old earth creationist – he accepts the universe is 14 billion years old, but that God created it pretty much as depicted in the bible. That being said, Gaskell has written that evolutionary theory has “significant scientific problems” and includes “unwarranted atheistic assumptions and extrapolations,” a statement that certainly makes one question whether he has the critical thinking skills to lead an observatory.

Additionally, he wasn’t fired, merely passed over for the position. Obviously, an astronomer shouldn’t be passed over for a job solely on his religious beliefs – unless of course those religious beliefs directly conflict with the established science. And then, well, sorry Dr. Gaskell, you’re just not qualified.