IDC Alarming Sen. Brownback

Kansas Senator Brownback offered his two cents on the tenure case of Discovery Institute Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture Senior Fellow Guillermo Gonzalez at Iowa State University:

“When I was informed that Professor Guillermo Gonzalez was denied tenure, I was puzzled given his excellent academic record of achievement and faithful service. I understand that now two of Dr. Gonzalez’s colleagues have indicated that Gonzalez’s interest in intelligent design theory was, at least in part, responsible for this denial of tenure. This is rather alarming.”

Yes, that is alarming. Interest and documented participation in a sham to evade court decisions on establishment of religion should have been of concern to all of the tenure committee members. Complacency is complicity. The IDC advocates cannot be allowed to have it both ways: when approaching school boards, they claim that they are all about science and nothing else, then when one of them gets recognized as an advocate of putting a narrow religious doctrine into science classes, suddenly it is all about “religious discrimination”. Either way, though, proper assessment of the facts puts them behind the eight ball. They don’t have any science to offer; all they can do is regurgitate old religious antievolution critiques of evolutionary science, as was documented in the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District trial. And when you consider “religious discrimination”, what could be more discriminatory than their project of teaching special creation as if it were science, which is exclusionary of the theological views of 40 to 50% of the country? (Though it bears repeating that the constitutional provision is just as forceful for exclusion of one, or even the potential that there could be one excluded.) Rejecting IDC advocacy is rejecting religious discrimination.

But it appears that Guillermo Gonzalez’s tenure committee had other factors more closely in mind, such as the lack of evidence that he was intiating his own independent research program at ISU, the lack of external funding for his research, and his poor record on graduate student mentoring. Any one of those things could be a show-stopper when it comes to tenure considerations. Much of the whining from the IDC advocacy PR machine has to do with hyping the potential Gonzalez showed in his early career. Part of the reason for having a probationary period for tenure is to allow evaluation of how well potential turns into practice. In Gonzalez’s case, this appears to have shown that he was coasting on the residual glory of his postdoc days, and wasn’t developing the new research directions that his department likely expected of him.

In this case, it appears that the tenure committee had plenty of other justifications for denying tenure. I would argue, though, that it is perfectly legitimate for a state institution to consider IDC advocacy as something that they likely do not want to associate themselves with.

Update: Nature has published something on the Gonzalez/Iowa State thing.

Gonzalez, who has been at Iowa State in Ames since 2001, was denied tenure on 9 March. He is now appealing the decision on the grounds that his religious belief, not the quality of his science, was the basis for turning down his application. “I’m concerned my views on intelligent design were a factor,” he says.

Predictable, really. It certainly wasn’t the case that the “cutting-edge”, “paradigm-shifting” science of intelligent design creationism proved an asset to Gonzalez’s curriculum vitae. That only left the “religious discrimination” card to play. And there it is.

Later in the article, there is a quote from an unnamed biologist:

Nevertheless, proponents of intelligent design point to the signature drive as evidence of a widespread academic hostility to those who support the idea. “There is a pattern happening to everybody who’s pro intelligent design,” says one pro-design biologist, who declined to be named because his own tenure process has just begun. “The same thing could happen to me,” he says. “I don’t want to get into trouble.”

Anybody can be pro-design, in the sense that they believe God is responsible for creation of the universe, life, and life’s diversity. Lots of people manage to be religious and do well in science. But the “intelligent design” movement is a different kettle of fish. Born as a simple sham in 1987 to evade the Edwards v. Aguillard decision, it has continued a campaign into the present of trying to hide its sectarian religious character and obtain government endorsement under false pretenses. People generally, and this includes members of tenure review committees, know about this. The answer to not getting into trouble is not to give up on faith, but to honestly recognize faith as faith and give up on ever-more-sly subterfuge to try to gussy it up as if it were science. In other words, to tell the IDC snake-oil salesmen to take a hike. That’s a route that is both morally and intellectually satisfying.

Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Data scientist in real estate and econometrics. Blogger. Speaker. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.