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Gaskell vs. UK #2: The Louisville Courier-Journal

Several days ago, I did a post on Gaskell vs. The University of Kentucky, and now have the first update. The Louisville Courier-Journal (LC-J) ran a story Friday about the case.  There are apparently a number of disconnects between what the story says and Gaskell’s actual words. My primary source for Gaskell’s position is his online essay which the committee read.
The LC-J article reports that he gave talks to various campus religious groups across the country [1. true statement] and that he believes that the theory of evolution has “major flaws,” [2. not a fully accurate statement of either Gaskell’s words or beliefs] and implies that is the dominant topic of his talk [3. decidedly false]. What Gaskell actually states is, “It is true there are significant scientific problems in evolutionary theory (a good thing or else many biologists and geologists would be out of a job) and that these problems are bigger than usually made out in introductory geology/biology courses, but the real problem with humanistic evolution is in the unwarranted atheistic assumptions and extrapolations.”

As 1. is true, there’s no point in commenting on it.

2. Perhaps “questions” would have been a better term for colloquial use than “problems,” but neither word, nor the context of his statement conveys the idea of “major flaws” (i.e. that the theory should be chucked as incorrect or wrong). Gaskell doesn’t even use the word “flaw.” In many areas, we use the term “problems” to indicate something that needs to be solved, rather than something that is incorrect. For instance, we will tell students to do the problems at the end of the chapter for homework, and no one interprets this as saying the chapter is incorrect. We try to solve innumerable problems in our research to refine and improve our explanatory models, theories and hypotheses. He is also careful to separate the scientific theory from the naturalistic philosophy commonly, but not necessarily, associated with it, and states that his primary "problem" is with the philosophy rather than the science.

{Note that this discussion is of what Gaskell did or did not say, not whether his statements are true. This is an important distinction for purposes of the case. He readily acknowledges in his essay the diversity of views out there.}

3. Regarding the LC-J article's implication that the talks focused on evolution, the above quoted sentence is the majority of what he says about evolution in the entire talk. In fact, he (with tongue in cheek) bemoans as an astronomer any time he has to talk about biology at all. The title of the essay is “Modern Astronomy, the Bible and Creation.” There is nothing about evolution in the title, and he only covers it in passing because Genesis 1 talks about the creation of life, so he’s obligated to at least mention the topic.

The LC-J article also mentions “he recommended students read theory critics in the intelligent-design {ID} movement.” This is only partially true. Gaskell’s purpose is to give an overview of the different perspectives out there and encourages readers to research all of them for themselves. This is the mark of an educator, not a demagogue. Furthermore, Gaskell specifically says that ID as a movement does not offer an interpretation of Genesis, but just asks if there is evidence for design in the universe by an intelligence, and is not about mechanism.

Later in the LC-J article it says, “But UK biologists said in their e-mails that evidence for evolution was so overwhelming that Gaskell had no scientific basis to raise questions about it.” Logic states (as Gaskell implies in his essay) that if there are no remaining questions about it, then why is it still a field of study?

The article also states, “Gaskell had given the talk to religious and other groups at campuses around the country, including one at UK in the 1990s.” According to Gaskell’s attorneys, this was an invited talk—with the invitation issued by the Physics and Astronomy Department after some department members had read the essay!

Finally, his attorneys also dispute the claim by UK that the reasons for passing over Gaskell included “a poor review from a previous supervisor,” saying the written review which the search committee had received actually rated Gaskell as “superior” and “superior-plus.”

Overall, apart from these issues, the article seems to be fairly balanced, but it does leave the impression that Dr. Gaskell is a religious extremist and it trumps his credibility as an astronomical scholar.

I’m sure as the February 8th trial date approaches, media discussion will escalate. As significant events occur, I’ll post about them, but will not critique every document/article that comes out. If you are interested in seeing every jot and tittle, a Google search will provide a plethora of hits.

As always, do keep the Gaskells and their legal team in your prayers—for wisdom, peace, protection, and a fair hearing in the courts.



  1. The issue I have with Gaskell's use of the term "problem" in the quoted text is that he really uses it in two ways. The first is equivalent to questions, the subject of current research. His second use of the term suggests flaws, or things incorrect about the theory. The things that Intelligent Design critics call out as "problems" -- meaning flaws -- are usually not flaws. Gaskell's big problem with evolution seems to be keeping out supernatural explanations, and that is a problem with his understanding of the tenets of science. Science seeks natural explanations. In pursuing this with the arguments he has, I agree, that he has tarnished his scientific credibility, something that would be problematic for the Observatory Director job.

  2. I wish Anonymous would reference their material.

    If you go on to National Center for Science Education webite Gaskell v UK court cast ( you can read the dispositions already taken.

    I have been reading the disposition of UK Equal Opportunity Officer, Patty Bender. She outlines an investigation she undertook in 2007 over the interview process for the director of the UK Observatory. Gaskell failed for two reasons. The first is that during his employment with the University of Nebraska he did not comply with behaviours required by the University of Kentucky. The other is that he Gaskell has not compartmentalise his views into his scientific belief and his religious belief. Indeed, he has tried to bring them together. He does not want to be some philosophical schizophrenic. No evidence has been given that Gaskell religious views have interfered with the methodological naturalistic conclusions of his scientific investigations.

    After reading Gaskell’s speaking notes, “Modern Astronomy, the Bible and Creation”, are not a coherent essay. That is why I call them speaking notes. The fact that these notes are continually updated suggests that Gaskell’s views are developing. The version I have suggests he needs to some deeper research the relationship of Christian theology and science. He needs to go outside his own tradition too. His use of the term, “world view” within the ‘Conclusion’ section of the speaking notes suggests dominion theology. That could raise questions of integrity.

    Please note, I am an Australian, living in Australia and have little knowledge of US academic traditions.