Bias Against Guillermo Gonzalez (Privileged Planet)?

That is probably true in most cases, but some of the exceptions are quite prominent, e.g., Coyne’s loud protest that it was questionable whether anyone who believed in the Resurrection (i.e., Francis Collins) ought to be appointed head of a scientific organization (the NIH), and the confession of one of the astronomers on the Iowa State tenure review panel for Guillermo Gonzalez that Gonzalez’s religious conclusions regarding fine-tuning did contribute to his vote against Gonzalez. When the public sees stuff like this, they may well conclude that what they see is just the tip of the iceberg, and that there is massive systemic discrimination going on – at least in areas of science concerned with origins. (I don’t suppose the public thinks that professors of analytical chemistry or meteorology discriminate against their Christian students, but it probably does suspect that cosmology and evolutionary biology professors sometimes discriminate against their Christian students.)

One thing that would help in this regard would be if scientists such as yourself publicly chided Coyne etc. when they show such anti-Christian, or more broadly, anti-religious prejudice. When prominent scientists appear to bash religious belief or religious scientists, the public is likely to take the silence of the majority of scientists as consent.

In the Gonzalez case a group of Christian scientists, the ASA, showed great concern that Iowa State might have discriminated against Gonzalez in the tenure decision, allowing factors (i.e., dislike of his religious beliefs) other than the normal academic standards to influence the outcome. Yet after reading scores of blogs and internet debate about the Gonzalez case, I have not read a statement by even one atheist scientist that the scientist who admitted voting against Gonzalez partly because of his religious views was acting improperly. (I don’t wish to re-try the Gonzalez case here and will not respond to anyone who wishes to justify his refused tenure. My point here is not that Gonzalez should have been granted tenure, but only that one of the reasons for the denial was not professionally ethical; his private religious conclusions from his astronomical studies should not have been held against him.)

So sure, I think most scientists are willing to live and let live when it comes to the religious beliefs of other scientists. But the public would feel more confident if on occasion a few atheist/agnostic scientists upbraided some of their more vocal atheist/agnostic peers when those peers seem to be indicating a hostility toward religious belief.

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Just to say, Michael Ruse, an atheist philosopher, did chide Coyne for his attacks on Francis Collins and he does say that Dawkings and the rest of new atheist crowd are a ‘bloody disaster’ and that he’s proud to be on their ‘hit list’.

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Scientists are largely tolerant of private belief and public confession of private belief. They just don’t care about this as much the grand project of scientific inquiry. The episode with Coyne is a great example. He got zero traction in science on his assault on Collins.

They are ruthlessly intolerant of bad science. What happened to Gonzales might have been unfair. As I understand it, there were no objections to his scientific work. The reason hellfire was called down on him seems to be associating with ID, in the aftermath of Dover, and ID is consider as bad science mixed with politics.

Perhaps that was unfair. I’m more puzzled why he would have written a book that associated him with ID. Why he would have done this all before tenure. Unfairness aside, this just seems to be strategically misguided and unwise. I’m just not clear what he thought he was gaining by associating with ID.

He probably could have written that book independently, keeping ID at arms length. Why he didn’t is the real mystery. The kiss of death it seems.

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Yes, that’s true – Ruse did that. But he is a philosopher, not a scientist. How many professional evolutionary biologists (i.e., Coyne’s peers) did what Ruse did? And how many atheist biologists (as distinct from atheist philosophers) did so? This is my point: the public will more likely believe atheist scientists who say they aren’t against Christians in science if the atheist scientists are seen as actively defending Christian scientists against the attacks of other atheist scientists.

Joshua:

I agree with you that Gonzalez was imprudent, not just for publishing the book he published before getting tenure, but for putting it down on his c.v. submitted for tenure review. To some on the reviewing committee, that probably seemed like a thrown-down glove. I certainly would not have put the book on my c.v., and might well have held off publishing the book until after I had received tenure. Nonetheless, the point of principle remains: the dislike of some astronomers for religious-sounding conclusions (published only in a popular book, never in any of Gonzalez’s scientific articles or any of his lectures) that the galaxy seems fine-tuned for human existence and human observation shouldn’t be a factor in a tenure review. I think it is pretty clear that if the content of Gonzalez’s popular book on the cosmos had been different, if Gonzalez had written a popular book along the lines of Sagan’s Cosmos, reflecting an agnostic or atheist view of the universe, not a single eyebrow would have been raised about the book by any of his astronomy department colleagues.

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Perhaps you are right in that he wouldn’t be chided for his non-religious beliefs, but I wouldn’t be surprised if eyebrows were raised for him writing popular books at all. I remember Sean Carroll complaining that even his writing of a major textbook on GR was viewed non-favorably in his tenure decision at UChicago.

Edit: see this Carroll post: http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2011/03/30/how-to-get-tenure-at-a-major-research-university/

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This has not been my experience at all. Here is my experience when I was a graduate student, and is mostly an assessment of younger scientists (grad students, younger postdocs):

A lot of scientists are tolerant of belief when asked in private amongst close friends, i.e. when we have dinner parties at a buddy’s house, they will affirm their tolerance of religion. However, out in the open (even, for example, during departmental social events) these tolerant scientists are silent and let the discourse taken over by vocal anti-religious members of the community. This creates an oppressive environment for religious people even if perhaps a sizable population are actually privately tolerant of religion.

Both the religious and the ones that are privately tolerant of religion are too afraid to affirm their belief or tolerance of belief out in the open.

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I don’t want to retry the Gonzalez case, especially from this distance.

My opinion, at that time, was that his case for tenure was weak. And yes, possibly his ID views might have tipped the balance against him. But if there had been a strong case for tenure, then I doubt that ID would have mattered.

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I’ve had a mixed experience. I’ve heard, “Christians are just dumb people who believe in ghosts.” And I’ve heard, “if a fellow scientist is religious doesn’t matter to me at all. We all come to different conclusions about different things. Just as long as they do good work.” So a bit of a mixed bag in my experience.

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I do not see evidence of this being the factor. It was the biologists that threw a fit, because he was associating with ID. We can debate whether or not that was the right thing to do, however it seems like his papers were published without incident.

I disagree. He could have even done so from a Christian point of view, as did Francis Collins, and it would not have been a problem. The issue was the association with ID, not the ideas.

And there is that too.

What you are describing @PdotdQ is a self-reinforcing cycle that is very common to the minority experience. What many of us that have become public find is that much of this fear is not warranted. When we are open in the right way about our faith, it tamps down the anti-religious rhetoric and generates a lot of curiosity.

The alienation we feel can be just as much a function of being unnecessarily silent as it is about actual bias against religion. The silence allows the anti-religious few to feel they are in a “safe in-group” where they can express their personal beliefs roughly, without censure. Which in turn reinforces the silence. That is the vicious cycle. This however, is not how it has to be.

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This is exactly my experience, but:

This is affirmed in private gathering amongst close friends:

While this is affirmed in large scale social departmental events:

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I didn’t say that scientists weren’t opinionated. We can be opinionated and tolerate at the same time :wink:.

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This vicious cycle is difficult to fix as a young scientist. Especially since scientists who are tolerant of religion are just that: tolerant but won’t come in the defense of religion. On the other hand, the ones who are anti-religion are actively anti-religion and might try to harm your professional career for your beliefs.

Keep in mind that the department I was at as a graduate student has an openly Catholic professor who is very passionate about her religion. Being a religious graduate student in other departments might be even more difficult.

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I agree with this. You will not be a young scientist for much longer though.

Part of what our responsibility becomes is to “create shade” for others as our own stature grows.

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Oh and this is a big one I think. Many, and I mean many, scientists I’ve been around think Christianity == YEC. Which can be very easy to ridicule. Most aren’t familar with the strong intellectual underpinnings of Christianity. I feel like if more were aware of real Christian scholarship opinions could change.

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@PdotdQ, in your context in Boston, there are a large number of Christian faculty at MIT. I know you are Harvard, but have you considered reaching out at talking to some of them?

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Yes, this is a huge problem. A lot of scientists think that their scientific abilities make them experts on religion and philosophy despite their ignorance.

Most don’t even know the basic claims of the religion they are attacking. I am tired of explaining that Catholics do not think that the host literally turns into a 2000 year old corpse from the Middle East.

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I find the variety of experiences interesting. If I include grad school, I’ve been running around in scientific circles for 35 years and I’ve never heard public, open antagonism towards religion from scientists. I’ve encountered some quiet disdain when someone didn’t know that I was religious, and I think very much based on lumping all Christians together as science-denying, gay-hating people who are not part of our tribe.

In the US at the moment, I suspect a politically liberal, devout scientist would be a lot more welcome than a politically conservative atheist.

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Playing the Persecution Card just isn’t a good look. In the case of Gonzalez, he didn’t have any grants, he wasn’t doing new research, he wasn’t publishing papers on any research he had done at Iowa State, and he had graduated just one student whose dissertation was seriously lacking. On these points alone Gonzalez had not earned tenure. People are not entitled to tenure for simply existing. It is something that has to be earned.

Time and time again the discussions are turned away from the science to false claims of persecution. It is a rather easy strategy to see through.

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Another anecdote, this time from Twitter. I follow many geneticists on Twitter. A couple of years ago (before I stopped ignoring Twitter), some scientist in the UK finally noticed that Francis Collins was a believer, and started tweeting about it, wanting to know how we could get him fired as an obvious incompetent. The response from other scientists (none religiously inclined that I know of) was quite negative, as I recall. There were some who would willingly attack Collins for his leadership of the NIH, but attacking him for religious belief was not kosher.

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