Should employers be blind to private beliefs?

Discuss

402 Responses to “Should employers be blind to private beliefs?”

  1. aLearnerRather says:

    I’m surprised to see so many BoingBoing readers ascribing such mean-spirited feelings to Prof. Dawkins–that he’s a bigot, that he believes that all religious believers are incompetent fools, etc etc.

    What I take from Dawkins’ writings, as well as Sam Harris’, is that they feel that if someone believes there is an invisible, omnipresent, omniscient being who created the universe and who takes an interest in what human beings do, and if that someone wants us to treat those beliefs as credible, that person should present evidence for his beliefs. Requiring this evidence does not make them (or me!) bigots, or hateful, or bad people of any sort. I know of no claim that either Prof. Dawkins or Mr. Harris has ever hurt anyone, except maybe by hurting their feelings.

    In the case above, a man was applying for a position with a scientific institution based on scientific knowledge that cannot be reconciled with the man’s stated beliefs viz. Christianity. It seems appropriate to me, as I gather it seems to Prof. Dawkins, that the institution would not entirely trust a man who claims to hold mutually contradictory beliefs.

    Please read what Prof Dawkins actually writes, not some bogeyman caricature of what people who are defensive about their religions imagine him to have written. “The God Delusion” is actually a warm, funny, hopeful book.

    • Anonymous says:

      Why is it their business what proofs a person can offer of their religion? Why should somebody’s personal beliefs, contained within themselves, have to be open to scrutiny? It’s all very well to dismiss others’ religions, but I guess I don’t get what right anybody has to demand anyone else prove their beliefs, then to submit to judgment on their validity, to begin with. Who makes who judge and jury? Or is it just smugness and arrogance that makes a person demand proof of others’ views?

    • mellon says:

      Please read what Prof Dawkins actually writes, not some bogeyman caricature of what people who are defensive about their religions imagine him to have written. “The God Delusion” is actually a warm, funny, hopeful book.

      I’ve watched Professor Dawkins debate, and of course read what he’s said here. I’m not a theist, and my own religion’s tradition of logic offers a host of arguments against belief in a creator deity, some of which are the same ones Professor Dawkins uses. I do believe that Professor Dawkins means well, and is good-hearted.

      Nevertheless, his words here speak louder than his good intentions. He is in fact proposing that it should be okay to discriminate against people based on their beliefs, not based on their actions, in circumstances where he has stipulated that their beliefs do not materially effect their ability to perform the work for which they are being hired.

      Since I presume that I fall into the class against which he would like to discriminate, it’s difficult for me to see this in an accepting light. Suppose a Christian didn’t want to hire me to program his computer because I’m Buddhist. Why would I see that in a different light? It’s basically the same position. Essentially Professor Dawkins is asking to be treated differently because his position is, he says, not based on religion.

  2. Anonymous says:

    And this all works great, until a young earth creationist has to fact-check something about the geologic past, and finds it isn’t worth his time to sort out the difference between two theories he is certain are false.

    Or until a professional astronomer decides to use his position to promote intelligent design, which is why Gaskell came up in the first place, even though he isn’t a creationist.

  3. Richard Dawkins says:

    I used the Gaskell case only as a prompt to get into the more general issue. But I very clearly stated that, precisely because Gaskell himself denies being a YEC, I was not going to talk about his case. Nowhere in my article did I say that Gaskell himself should not have got the job.

    I deliberately discussed extreme hypothetical cases, because they raise the general issue starkly, in a way that the Gaskell case does not. The Gaskell case is complicated by the fact that he is not a YEC, so it does not bring out the general principle of whether private beliefs should be ignored. Gaskell’s private beliefs are not obviously silly, so the issue of principle is not seen in sharp focus.

    So, that is why I chose to discuss preposterous examples like the eye doctor who believes in the stork theory, the astronomer who thinks the universe is less than 10,000 years old, and the YEC geologist. The demonstration that it was worthwhile raising these hypothetical extremes is precisely the fact that a substantial number of commenters on Boing Boing have come out and stated that they would STILL hire somebody even if his private beliefs were as ridiculous as these hypothetical cases.

    Richard

    • Anonymous says:

      The problem with your hypotheticals is these beliefs you’ve given to these professionals are beliefs that preclude them operating in any kind of professional capacity. These beliefs are so far outside the realm of accepted thought in their fields, it might be considered evidence of a nervous breakdown.
      In terms of employment, it’s impossible to believe that these people could have been hired in any position in their fields believing fundamental principles they learned in junior high school science are wrong.

    • Ito Kagehisa says:

      The demonstration that it was worthwhile raising these hypothetical extremes is precisely the fact that a substantial number of commenters on Boing Boing have come out and stated that they would STILL hire somebody even if his private beliefs were as ridiculous as these hypothetical cases.

      Strongly agree, Dr. Dawkins. I love the questions you raise, and the things they reveal, even when I don’t agree with your position.

      I’m a pantheist, essential monist variety, and you might be surprised how often I am excoriated for believing in a mystical sky man (I don’t) simply because I’ve made the statement that I’m deeply religious, and that I take my children to church on Sunday.

      But, you see, nearly everyone around me has insane, mystical, faith-based ideas. Some of them deny the existence of God, which flies in the face of evidence (I’m sure you’re read Spinoza, at least, if not other pantheists) and some of them insist that God is “Supernatural” which is equally nonsensical.

      If I refused to have economic and social interaction with people who have egregiously silly ideas about God, I don’t know where I could find a job. I’d also certainly have a hard time hiring anyone, since most people with my belief system are already well employed; when I needed eye surgery I went to a Catholic eye surgeon because he had the ability to do the job. I wouldn’t want to have some religiously correct surgical incompetent poking me in the eye, so I have to face up to reality.

    • naharnahekim says:

      ” sd th Gskll cs nly s prmpt t gt nt th mr gnrl ss. Bt vry clrly sttd tht, prcsly bcs Gskll hmslf dns bng YC, ws nt gng t tlk bt hs cs. Nwhr n my rtcl dd sy tht Gskll hmslf shld nt hv gt th jb.”

      Mr. Dwkns, ‘m gnn hv t cll bllsht n ths. Y brght p th Gskll cs, thn prcdd t ly t 4 mr rdcls t th xtrm css. By mntnng Gskll t ll n ths cntxt y lnk hm s prt f yr rgmnt, nd jst s rdcls s y hypthtcls. t ws nt jst sprng brd fr frthr dscssn, t ws nt s sbtl ttmpt t xprss yr dspprvl f th tcm f th Gskll cs.

      ” dlbrtly dscssd xtrm hypthtcl css, bcs thy rs th gnrl ss strkly”

      gn, mst cll bllsht. Y dlbrtly dscssd xtrm hypthtcl css fr n rsn nd n rsn ln: Y sr, r fckng trll. Yr cnstnt s f xtrm xmpls, nd vrblwn hyprbl nly srv t prpl yr wn prcncvd bs, sll yr bks, nd gt hts n yr blg.

      Yr ntr crr s nt bsd n rtnl thght, bt n th fct tht mr ppl py ttntn t y (nd by yr bks) f y sy “Rlgs ppl r ll rrtnl, mntlly ll sshls” s ppsd t th mch mr hnst “Ppl r ftn rrtnl, mntlly ll sshls rgrdlss f thr strp”.

      “Mrvr, wld rgrd hs qnmty n hldng tw dmtrclly ppsng vws smltnsly n hs hd s rvlng ndctr tht thr s smthng wrng wth hs hd. ”

      wld pt frth tht f t ny gvn tm y dn’t hv t th vry lst tw dmtrclly ppsd vws bttlng t t n yr brn, yr nt pyng ngh ttntn, r y’v bn blndd by yr wn slf stsfctn t lrdy knwng vry dmn thng thr s t knw.

      Gd dy sr, nd gd trllng t y nd y’r lk

    • Osis says:

      Somewhat unrelated, but I really enjoyed “The God Delusion”. I am not an atheist, because I still don’t believe that God is amenable to scientific inquiry, and is thus incapable to prove/disprove. I do, however, see major flaws in all organized religions. And, unfortunately, religion and politics have become more and more intertwined in the US, making the subject almost immune to debate or intellectual discourse. Thanks for all your contributions.

    • AndrewFinden says:

      extreme hypothetical cases

      Professor, I think you’ll find they’re called strawmen.

      • factbased says:

        It seems to me its the opposite of a straw man.

        He didn’t mischaracterize an opposing view to knock it down and look like he won the argument. He didn’t claim it was an opposing view and was in fact surprised to hear people defending the idea. He was introducing the extreme idea to start with a boundary before moving on to more contentious ground.

  4. hpavc says:

    I don’t want to be taught or led by the best ELIZA.

    I see the example of the new earth cosmologist not being hired somewhat of an easier that laid out. Yes such a person fraud, but more so what will they inspire in others?

    A person going through the motions isn’t a good fit in that they are going to be perceived as inauthentic or generic at best.

    What student (or dean of a department, or parent of a student) wants to have their future livelihood shaped by “the guy that doesn’t believe this stuff, but passes the tests really really well”

  5. Anonymous says:

    One is never required to accept a scientific theory, even if no contrary evidence can be found and supporting evidence exists in abundance. To require such acceptance would be to establish dogma. Skepticism is always warranted, and the degree to which people choose to practice skepticism is a free choice and should not be used as a basis for employment if an applicant meets the functional requirements of the position.

    How many inquisitions, purges, and genocides does it take to show that unswerving adherence to the status quo is a bad idea for humanity? That is true even if the status quo is good, solid science. It is true because humans are fallible and science is a process and must incorporate changing theories and therefore must harbor (and even encourage) heretics. Science is hard, but making it easy by forcing adherence to the current beliefs will not make it better.

  6. chrism says:

    Is there not a checkbox clearly labelled ‘idiot: do not employ’?

  7. misterdestructo says:

    Where does ‘religious foolishness’ begin? Is it really any more foolish to believe the Earth is only 3,500 years old than it is to believe a man in the sky spoke and created everything? Who decides what is foolish and what is accepted? NEWSFLASH: BELIEF IS NOT LOGICAL! Does that mean that anyone who believes in something they can’t see or prove is incapable of operating within the realm of logic? Absolutely not, and if a person is able to do a job and keep their personal beliefs from affecting that job I don’t believe there is any reason why they should not be able to so.

  8. morganj says:

    I see a lot of people making the point that “You wouldn’t hire a pastor who didn’t believe in god, so why would you hire a scientist who did?”

    Barring the examples where both of these things happen, a pastors job is one that is about belief. If we are to believe Dawkins (and others here), belief is not in the domain of science. Science by definition operates without belief.

    So yeah. Job about belief, discriminate on basis of beliefs. Job about science, beliefs shouldn’t matter – or you’re doing it wrong.

    • realgeek says:

      “So yeah. Job about belief, discriminate on basis of beliefs. Job about science, beliefs shouldn’t matter – or you’re doing it wrong.”

      The problem is the use of the term “belief.” A belief isn’t one that’s necessarily religious, although it may be. So it helps to distinguish when discussing beliefs whether you mean a belief based on faith or based on repeatable empirical evidence.

      It makes a big difference to this discussion, doesn’t it? Maybe someone can recite exactly what the orbital frequency of the moon is, and lots of other sort of science-y facts about it, and because it’s part of their personal faith, also think (maybe even just on the inside) that the moon is made of cheese. So is this person who you’d want to be teaching you science?

      • morganj says:

        “The problem is the use of the term “belief.” A belief isn’t one that’s necessarily religious, although it may be. So it helps to distinguish when discussing beliefs whether you mean a belief based on faith or based on repeatable empirical evidence.”

        My point is exactly that if it’s based on repeatable empirical evidence, it’s not a “belief” – you’re starting to do science. On which basis you might put together a few assumptions, some useful hypotheses, and a grab bag of possible conclusions awaiting further data.

        Suggesting that one should “believe” in science is the first trick of YUC and anti-science types, where in they conflate their religious belief with the use of the tool of science to better understand the world (and so conflating, equate the two – such that you’re just choosing to believe in science, like they believe in religion).

        • realgeek says:

          Absolutely incorrect. Please see the many available definitions of the word belief on the net. Do not allow your adversary to control the meaning of the language in the debate, otherwise you’ve already lost.

  9. Anonymous says:

    i can’t help but think of the equally-religious beliefs held by adherents of particular operating systems, text editors, and programming languages.

  10. Brainspore says:

    The joke’s gonna be on the university when he locates God with a backyard telescope.

  11. morganj says:

    Also, this all plays into a wider debate that’s happening right now as a result of social media and broader connections. Does an employer, by paying your salary, have the right to dictate your actions outside the workplace? Do they, in exchange for the work you do and the cash they provide, get to dictate your values?

    That’s the core issue at stake here, and I’d say that answering “Yes” to any of those questions is pretty much the antithesis of Happy Mutant thinking.

  12. Anonymous says:

    We require academic honesty from students. Shouldn’t we include professors as well?

  13. pitkataistelu says:

    Not that anyone’s going to read the comments this far down, but

    The thought experiments need expanding into other types of private belief. Within what academic fields is it legitimate to reject a candidate because she has been seen to use homeopathic medicine? Or cough syrup? What about any particular kind of diet that has been shown to have no positive effect? What if a candidate is in the habit of knocking on wood, crossing their fingers, or carrying a lucky charm?

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not claiming all of these interfere with professional performance at the same level, but it’s a gradient that needs to be defined before concluding that all private information may be valid grounds for rejection. Personally, I’ve been horrified by all the cases of perfectly fine teachers and politicians being vilified and sometimes fired on account of the nature of their sex lives even as recently as the past few decades, and I’m keenly aware that we all have to conform to an artificial paradigm in that respect in order to qualify for tenure. Public awareness of one’s sex life, of course, interferes with professional performance in a very different way than a set of beliefs in conflict with the basic tenets of one’s field, but is it not fair at least to point and shudder? In all these cases, the condemnatory information may be summarised as the candidate being human, and that does seem to be the type of employee we’re stuck with.

  14. Pablito says:

    I’m glad that most BBers recognised this example as discrimination.

    Dawkins’ ‘extreme examples’ do not help us think through these issues, they are deliberate constructions designed to reach a specific conclusion.

    In this respect, these ‘examples’ remind me of similar thought experiments regarding the use of torture in the years following 9/11. The contortions of reason and reality required for reasonable to accept torture were so extreme or fanciful that these ‘thought experiments’ had no relation to any real world example. Indeed, the ethical dilemma faced by Harry Callahan at the end of Dirty Harry was the most used example of the conditions required for the justification of torture. Dirty Harry.

    Similarly here, Dawkins’ does not want to talk about the actual example (as it is clearly a case of discrimination), but rather his extreme examples.

    Why not talk about the actual, real world example? The one where the most qualified candidate did not get the job, despite his qualifications and the university selection process demonstrating that his beliefs do not interfere with his capacity to perform his duties.

    As other have noted, Dawkins’ binary conception of thought where a person knows/believes that something is either right or wrong, and any equivocation is dishonesty or mental illness, is disturbing.

    The philosopher John Gray has argued that this sort of fact/non-fact ontology is rooted in Christian conceptions of reality and morality. Impossible to prove, but after reading Dawkins, I’d like to believe it, just for irony’s sake.

  15. Anonymous says:

    One line of counterexample that doesn’t seem to have been pursued here:

    Imagine you’re teaching an advanced college science course – one that requires real contribution and not just multiple-choice tests. Now imagine that you find out your top student holds beliefs (religious-crazy or secular-crazy) that contradict the whole theoretical underpinning of the course. The student is turning in top-notch work, even though the contents of that work contradict his/her beliefs.

    Should the student be given an A or an F?

  16. Anonymous says:

    No one seems to be stating the obvious. Gaskel is simply wrong. You can’t divide an integer by zero, and you can’t ride a unicorn to the moon. So too, Gaskell is Wrong.

    The state of being “Committed to the Bible” is antithetical to, and makes impossible serious and intelligent scientific research. The touchstone of truth in scientific research is Fact. Being committed to the Bible means eschewing FACT in favor of “faith.” Therefore, one cannot reliably function in a scientific capacity if FACT takes second place to “faith”.

    Such a prejudice should then, inevitably, disqualify any applicant for a scientific teaching/research position.

    Let’s Turn it around. If I were to apply for a position in a fundamentalist church and publicly state that I don”t believe in the sanctity of the Bible and the divinity of Jesus, but am willing always to uphold those tenets when I speak from the pulpit, do you think the board of directors of that church should hire me? Can I apply, let them reject me and then sue for $125,000? !!!!

  17. spugmeistress says:

    All the commenters who are saying that it is OK to discriminate in Gaskell’s case because it would allow others (whether they knew all the facts of the case or not) to make fun of the university and therefore it is part of the job role to uphold a good reputation – a few years ago, many women would have been denied positions for this reason. Would that make it right? Even now, if you live in a society where many people are still racist, or homophobic, does that mean that you wouldn’t hire someone who wouldn’t make your university look good? I thought universities were supposed to be progressive institutions where logic ruled (such as perhaps the logic that if someone can do the job well, maybe you should let them) rather than prejudice and popularity?

  18. Anonymous says:

    As an atheist astrophysicist, I would like to say that a good scientist works with the data and the model that has been empirically reliable. What he or she believes is irrelevant as long as the science is good. If the man isn’t preaching in the classroom, then there should be no controversy.

    In fact, good science often runs counter to expectations, and this man’s ability to continue to do good science that is contrary to his religious beliefs shows that he is not disingenuous, but a model example of what a scientist should be.

  19. bardfinn says:

    Furthermore, in his conclusions to the above article, he basically states that any atheistic — by which he means any worldview that does not include his deity as the creator of the universe – worldview is incapable of providing morals, truth, justice, beauty, or meaning to a life :

    “I don’t think that these questions about the origin of the universe (and of life) are just remote irrelevant cosmological questions.  They profoundly affect our world views, our morals, and the way we live our lives.  There is a profound difference between believing that God created the world and people in the world rather than insisting that the origin of our universe and of ourselves is to be traced to an accidental chance combination of blind impersonal physical forces.  It as been said that it is doubtful whether the latter, purely mechanistic, atheistic view of our origins can be a sufficient basis for such human values as goodness, truth, justice and beauty, etc.  It has also been argued that in the atheistic view, man is left without ultimate meaning and value, that it is pointless to speak of “human rights”, for example, and that in atheism existence is ultimately absurd.
    The Judeo-Christian worldview is very different from the atheistic view.  In the Judeo-Christian view mankind was created in the image of an infinite personal God.  This belief gives people significance, dignity and value.  In the Judeo-Christian worldview it is the relatedness to the infinite personal Creator God that gives meaning to the human understanding of what is good, true, just, and beautiful.  Existence is not absurd, but is ultimately meaningful.”

    This is a public insult to any of his erstwhile student’s religions if they aren’t his religion. /Under the imprimatur of the Astronomy department/, he’s claiming that non-monotheistic religions are false, that atheists can’t decide the meaning of their lives for themselves, etcetera. He’s stating publicly that he has arrived at a conclusion and is searching for the data that fits it — and has done so in a professional auspice.

    Mr. Dawkin’s view is not based on an assumption — it is based on the readily-available and overwhelmingly damning evidence written by Gaskell himself.

    • Anonymous says:

      Are you seriously arguing that him being a whatever-he-is is an insult to the students’ religions?

      I don’t see what astronomy has to do with finding “morals, truth, justice, beauty, or meaning to a life”. We have philosophers for that.

      I suspect that if we ever got talking in real life we would disagree, for example, about what justice is. If that’s the case may I respectfully ask that you be the one who gets turned down for jobs as a result (it’s just that I’ve got rent to pay, you see).

      Apparently only one of us can be right.

      • bardfinn says:

        No, I am accurately observing that he, himself, under the auspices of a professional faculty of UT Austin, publicly insulted the religions of many of his students.

        Thanks for asking for that clarification, I felt that I had made that point entirely clear before.

    • mellon says:

      What in the quotation that you provided, presumably from Gaskell, disqualifies him from teaching astronomy? I don’t happen to agree with him either, but so what? How is it insulting to others beliefs for him to hold a belief that disagrees with theirs? Wouldn’t it then be insulting to his beliefs for them to hold their beliefs? Who’s the bad guy here?

      This kind of thinking is what leads to jihads and pogroms. Let people believe what they believe. Debate them on their actions.

      • bardfinn says:

        His hijacking of the credentials of the Astronomy Department of the University of Texas at Austin to lend scientific credence to his religious beliefs and his religiously-flavoured political agenda. His public declaration to insert his beliefs and political agenda into the public understanding of science. Putting an insult to atheists, humanists, and non-monotheistic believers on what is to be understood as University letterhead. Inserting religious doctrine into discussion and views on astronomical science. It is the Chair for the Public Understanding of Science, and someone who shows a marked political agenda of hijacking the public understanding of science to have people pay attention to his religious beliefs does not deserve the post.

        • mellon says:

          If he wishes to attack assumptions then he should — but he should not parade his religious views as if they were even eligible to be a falsifiable hypothesis. His public behaviour is the antithesis of the scientific method, and he is avowed of insisting that it belongs in science.

          This may or may not be true, but is not something that Professor Dawkins brought up initially. And I didn’t see anything in the specific quotation you chose to share that indicated misconduct on his part. If he goes on to assert that the cosmic microwave background radiation is the breath of God, or doesn’t exist, or something like that, I would feel more sympathy for your position, but merely saying that he believes God created the universe is, while in my opinion false, hardly a valid basis for saying he can’t do science.

  20. Anonymous says:

    You know, the main thing that jumps out for me from this, is what kind of complete idiot would, as chair of the search committee, write an email like that to the chair of the department, or frankly, anyone else.

    To write an email, that’s discoverable obviously, with such a bald statement, and not think “wow, this would be bad if someone else saw this email” makes me think the person that is not capable of doing the job is the search committee chair. No idea about the candidate, but the search chair should be fired or forced to retire because the dementia he/she suffers from is bound to affect their teaching and research.

    Idiot.

  21. The Chemist says:

    Oh, just come out and say it, you want to discriminate against a certain class of people even though there is no real objective logical reason to do so. You get an ick factor. Which is eminently stupid. Competence is by definition the ability to get the job done in a satisfactory or better than satisfactory manner. If the person is competent, but somehow throws you off personally because of cultural predilections, that’s frankly a problem and a weakness of your comfort level. Imagine a world where you could hire and fire based on that. I would certainly like to see what you’d have to say when someone refuses to hire an Atheist, because “it tells you something about him.”

    • Anonymous says:

      Honestly this whole post kind of icked me out. It inherently doesn’t feel right to consider discriminating these people based on what they believe. However, in the given examples their personal views directly contradict the necessary desired views from the employer. Someone who believes the Earth is flat should not be getting a job as a geographer. Similarly, an Atheist should not get a job as a priest.

    • mati says:

      I really agree, The Chemist. The whole time I was reading this, the phrase “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” kept flashing through my head. Isn’t the whole idea there (rightly) that as long as an individual performs his or her duties competently and completely, we shouldn’t discriminate based on some ideological litmus test? I think most BB readers would agree that the abstract notion that teh gays might get all handsy in the barracks is not reason enough to discharge them.

      In a broader sense, I think belief systems are way to culturally bounded to use to evaluate people. A person might identify as a creationist due to familial or community pressure just as much as an atheist might identify as agnostic for those same reasons. Should a deserving candidate ever have to choose between alienating their peers and their friends? And why do you think you’re qualified to make that decision for them?

    • Anonymous says:

      The Chemist, Knowing someone is an atheist does tell you something about them. It tells you that they have been able to take a look at the overwhelming evidence and make a sensible decision based on it. Knowing someone is a creationist tells you that they have looked at the evidence and chosen to ignore it based simply on belief, or gut feeling. I know who I would prefer to hire if we are going to use personal beliefs as a measure of job suitability. The real point of this blog was to show that the current state of things is already biased and should be made consistent.

    • Osis says:

      Right, so I would discriminate against an atheist applying for a job as a pastor (says something about him/her). Probably not the best person for the job. It’s simple logic people. Everyone’s so afraid to come out and say anything about religion though (at least in this country anyway). The candidate pool was obviously extremely deficient if this person was the “best”.

      • The Chemist says:

        Don’t be obtuse, an Atheist being a pastor actually fails to meet an explicit requirement of the job. Not to mention it’s an inherently ridiculous premise that simply doesn’t happen in real life.

        • Osis says:

          “Don’t be obtuse, an Atheist being a pastor actually fails to meet an explicit requirement of the job. Not to mention it’s an inherently ridiculous premise that simply doesn’t happen in real life.”

          Obtuse? Hardly. I can just as easily say that a creationist fails to meet the explicit requirements of the job of “scientist”. And my analogy may be a ridiculous premise that simply doesn’t happen in real life, but a creationist teaching science is also a ridiculous premise that shouldn’t (but unfortunately does) happen in real life. That’s the point! Don’t be obtuse.

    • Anonymous says:

      The idea of discriminating against an Atheist ‘because it says something about him’ is not quite the same.

      By definition, someone with a religiously inspired materialistic belief (in this case, YEC), has ‘something’ in his head to discriminate against him.

      Someone who is an atheist lacks such religiously inspired materialistic beliefs. He may well believe that Mars is the egg of a mongoose and it would be correct to discriminate against him on that basis but it would not be an ‘atheistically-inspired’ materialistic belief.

      Dawkins is trying to point out that people seem to make a difference between people with ludicrous beliefs and people with ludicrous beliefs when said beliefs come from religion. This is unwarranted and draws a false line in the sand when in reality they are one and the same.

      Objectively, believing that Mars is the egg of a mongoose disqualifies any scientific work you may do quite. Simply because either you’re being a fraud about your work (since you hold your findings to be false) or you are potentially a threat to the advancement of knowledge, in that you might choose to hinder findings which contradict your beliefs.

      So, believing that the Earth was created by an ancient semitic god 10’000 years ago should not be spared this same criticism. Regardless of the work which might be done – and it could well be absolutely stellar work.

      It would be wrong to discriminate someone on the grounds that they are ‘Catholic’ and leave it at that, since it would be negative discrimination like any other (although perhaps not as insidious as ethnic discrimination). It is not wrong to discriminate against a candidate for a doctor in a university hospital who believes storks deliver babies.

    • Anonymous says:

      I have to believe that you completely missed the point. So, to boil it down, Dawkins was only trying to convey the double standard held in hiring policy when it comes to religious and non religious beliefs.
      I would think that most people would have a problem hiring someone for a job that polarizes the applicant’s belief with a fundamental principle of that particular field.
      The MAIN point being, it has ZERO to do with the person hiring the applicant, and EVERYTHING to do with the relationship between the applicants belief and the field. Competent, or not, the thought is unnerving to me and I am certain, many others.

    • mmarlett says:

      Well, you wouldn’t hire a pacifist to be Secretary of Defense. This excludes Mennonites outright. (I mean, you would hire one if your goal was to subvert national defense.) As an atheist and a pacifist, I can tell you that there are philosophical reasons not to hire me for certain jobs and practical ones. If someone wouldn’t hire me to bag groceries because I don’t believe in a god, I’d be outraged. If someone didn’t hire me to teach Sunday school, I’d giggle a bit but totally understand. The idea that an astronomer can be offended because he himself doesn’t believe in imperial evidence … ? Fuck him. He’s a moron.

      • Hools Verne says:

        The idea that an astronomer can be offended because he himself doesn’t believe in imperial evidence … ? Fuck him. He’s a moron.

        Freudian slip if I ever saw one.

    • Anonymous says:

      If you are a car mechanic and you do not believe that gasoline makes an engine work, but you are perfectly competent at changing oil pans and aligning tires, this ABSOLUTELY DISQUALIFIES YOU for the role of lead mechanic in the garage, because that piece of knowledge IS KEY to the competency requirement of the position. Sure, you can understand little details of the car which don’t require this giant piece of knowledge, but your fundamental understanding of the car and it’s primary purpose is flawed.

      Now in this case, it’s a position where you preside over an organization dedicated to discovering and observing the universe. If you believe the universe is sub-10,000 years old, that is a HUGE problem to your competency. How can you make findings based on cosmic distances, when the objects you are observing are millions, even billions of light years away. In other words, you are seeing photons which left their origin stars BILLIONS of years ago and are just now reaching you. If you believe the universe was only created about a 100,000th of that amount of time ago, that is a serious issue which disqualifies you for the role. It is equivalent to being able to change a car battery but not understanding gasoline and internal combustion, and being mad when you do not get hired as the lead mechanic in a 50 person repair shop.

      • mellon says:

        If you are a car mechanic and you do not believe that gasoline makes an engine work, but you are perfectly competent at changing oil pans and aligning tires, this ABSOLUTELY DISQUALIFIES YOU for the role of lead mechanic in the garage,

        Hm. Speaking as a Mahayana Buddhist, I can tell you that it’s a basic tenet of my branch of Buddhism that the gasoline doesn’t make the engine work. And yet, I used to do a pretty good job of fixing my motorcycle when it stopped working (several times due to fuel supply issues). This is the Middle Way, and it would be difficult to explain without a lot of time and an interested audience (which, I assume, you are not).

        So in fact I would argue that you would be foolish to disqualify that mechanic from being head mechanic, despite his or her beliefs. Because, really, you don’t understand those beliefs. And for this, if for no other reason, we really ought to evaluate employees on the basis of their actions, not on the basis of their beliefs.

        • Anonymous says:

          Except quite clearly, the engine will not work without gasoline. you take out the gas from an otherwise functional engine, it stops working.
          QED.

          So if the Mahayanan Middle Way says that’s not so,
          (and I’m not a Buddhist, though loosely familiar with it, but find it hard to believe it references internal combustion engines in anything but the most uselessly general way — all is maya, etc.)

          then either your belief system is patently ludicrous, or you have moved the debate to some other realm of meaning such that you’re not even really talking about the same thing as our anonymous car mechanic.
          I.e. the gasoline has no capacity for agency, so cannot “make” the engine do anything, or “work” is a value imposed by the observer, and the engine simply “is” with or without gasoline, etc.
          True, but ultimately boring when it comes to getting stuff done.

          If you fixed a fuel supply issue with your bike, then you must have acknowledged some observable, testable, repeatable cause and effect relationship between the fuel system and whether the engine runs. You made observations, tested them, acted on them. You fixed your engine. This is empiricism. This is the scientific method.

          How can you have done this while simultaneously asserting it wasn’t so?
          There’s an inconsistency there which needs to be confronted.
          It’s like saying you can catch falling things but don’t recognize the validity of gravity.

          • mellon says:

            How can you have done this while simultaneously asserting it wasn’t so?
            There’s an inconsistency there which needs to be confronted.
            It’s like saying you can catch falling things but don’t recognize the validity of gravity.

            Correlation does not imply causation. As I said, I don’t think it’s possible for me to explain the Mahayana worldview to you here in this comment thread. My point is not that you should accept the Mahayana worldview. It’s that you shouldn’t assume that because you neither accept nor understand it, that nevertheless you are qualified to decide whether someone who does understand and accept is is going to be a good mechanic.

    • Anonymous says:

      Absolutely wrong! It is NOT like failing to hire an atheist because he doesn’t match your world view. It is failing to hire a SCIENTIST who will NEVER and CAN never fully participate in the furthering of scientific knowledge because his beliefs are completely contradictory to the goal of science. It shows the standards of evidence that he will accept as true (clearly not up to snuff) and it displays for all to see, his level of motivation to further a science which he is possessed of a confirmation bias that it is wrong, from the very beginning.

      That is not discrimination. That is logical HR.

      Would YOU hire a tutor for your son, if that tutor held a deep seeded belief that your son was NEVER going to succeed? Would you be convinced that he could never be as motivated to assist him in his goals as someone who believed in what he was doing?

      How about learning astronomy works from a person who believes that stars were put there with light en route a mere 6000 years ago?

      Do you have a reasonable assurance that he would do his best to ensure that you fully understood the concepts and the weight of evidence that supports it?

      Clearly not.

    • jackie31337 says:

      I would certainly like to see what you’d have to say when someone refuses to hire an Atheist, because “it tells you something about him.”

      That reminds me of a Spanish story I read a long time ago about a priest who had become an atheist, but was still doing his work as a priest. The irony was that he was encouraging his parishioners to believe in something he didn’t believe in any more himself. I think in any religiously-affiliated organization or institution, it would only be logical to prefer someone with similar religious beliefs over someone with different beliefs, or none at all.

      One issue that stands out to me particularly is the question of whether the person would be a good fit for the organization. I’ve recently been involved in a round of hiring at work. During the interviews, we had several candidates who were very passionate and enthusiastic about particular ways of doing the job, or about particular working methods. We ruled them out because we got a strong impression that our company and our way of working weren’t what they were looking for. They wouldn’t have been happy working there, and we wouldn’t have been happy working with them. In our case, the reason for this had nothing to do with religion, but for a religious person working in an environment that contradicted their beliefs, or for an atheist working in a religious environment, that would certainly be the case.

    • Anonymous says:

      I agree with you mostly. Because science is peer reviewed and can be re validated by other scientists, someone who can get the job done, even if he doesn’t accept beliefs possibly related to the field hes in. However, in the case of the doctor for example, most people are not going to want to take the advice of a doctor who thinks babies come from storks. Sure you could get a second opinion, but that just means that the patient doesn’t trust the doctor in the first place, which causes a severe inefficiency with your hire.

    • zebbart says:

      Hmm, wouldn’t you expect Dawkins to use empiricism and scientific method, allowing measurable results and past performance to determine the question, rather than post-hoc rationalization of his personal bias?

    • Anonymous says:

      You have entirely missed the point.

      They are being paid, by their own admission, to lie.

    • Ito Kagehisa says:

      Chemist, I think you crystallized the ethical viewpoint perfectly.

      But I also think that atheists can be understood, if not condoned, for wanting to return some of the prejudice other atheists have endured. It’s human nature to punch back (and sometimes aggressive defense spills out into outright aggression) and it’s human nature to have sympathy for people you identify with, even if they are long dead or live far away.

      So while I’m sympathetic to people who want to discriminate against the dominant culture in retaliation for discrimination endured, I think it’s a profoundly bad idea from a practical viewpoint. Fighting fire with water nearly always works better than fighting fire with fire; you aren’t as likely to get burned carrying water.

    • Anonymous says:

      Like in the Boy Scouts? How many Atheist Military Chaplains are there?

  22. P1rat3 says:

    Here’s another interesting one. A woman in Vancouver, BC was fired from a Catholic school for being a Lesbian.

    So essentially she was sacked for not believing that she was herself evil.

    http://www.globaltvbc.com/Vancouver+Catholic+school+teacher+fired+being+lesbian+parent/2961849/story.html

  23. noen says:

    Dawkins: “First, is it always wrong to discriminate against holders of certain beliefs when appointing?”

    Is it an absolute? No, there are no absolute, objective morals. Is it a very good idea in line with classical enlightenment values? Yes.

    “Second, should it make a difference if the beliefs are based on religion?”

    No, performance should be the only consideration.

    Dawkins: “I suspect that most of my readers would discriminate against both these job candidates, although some might feel uncomfortable doing so because the word ‘discriminate’ carries such unfortunate baggage.”

    Why am I not surprised that the proponent of “The Brights”, an elite ruling class that *surise!* includes Prof Dawkins, finds discrimination “unfortunate”?

    “A patient could reasonably shrink from entrusting her eyes to a doctor whose beliefs (admittedly in the apparently unrelated field of obstetrics) are so cataclysmically disconnected from reality.”

    Only if she is an anti-religious bigot like Prof Dawkins. People’s religious views are not comparable to Dawkins’ strawman argument that unfairly compares the religious beliefs of Martin Gaskell to young Earth creationists. Having respect for the views of other people appears to be an utterly alien concept to Dawkins. It does not follow from Gaskell’s mere respect for some people due to their faith that he therefore shares that faith.

    I fail to see how someone who believes that evolution and the Bible are compatible (notice that is NOT YEC) cannot direct an observatory.

  24. Anonymous says:

    Reply to #3.

    It depends on whether or not he believes the earth is 10,000 because of scientific evidence or not. It is possible that one could hold the view that the natural evidence has been altered (by Satan) to deliberately deceive mankind. On this basis, one might honestly contribute to science based on the physical evidence while at the same time believe the world is actually must younger for theological or philosophical reasons (e.g, brain-vat ideas, Last Thursday-ism, We-are-in-a-virtual-reality, etc.)

    In the end, if one is being hired to “do science”, and can honestly perform the job despite any non-scientific views, then what is the harm?

  25. Cynical says:

    I think this argument is based around a false assumption: “this man is religious and is therefore incapable of performing the job properly.”

    This is clearly not the case, however, as his past experience and qualifications have shown that he is the best candidate for the job (although you may have a point that this suggests the pool of candidates is too small). To not choose the right person for the job, when they have demonstrated in the past that they are fully capable and suitable for it, on the basis of the fact that you don’t like the way they think privately, is pure bigotry.

    If he shows evidence that his beliefs are interfering with his work then by all means fire him, but thought is inherently private. Should you equally deny somebody a job in finance because they like to read Marxist literature? What about denying somebody a job as a bartender because they’re teetotal? Where do you draw the line when making that decision for other people?

    • grimc says:

      Should you equally deny somebody a job in finance because they like to read Marxist literature?

      I first read about this at gawker, who highlighted this reader comment, which makes a lot of sense to me:

      If you hire someone in the sciences, he doesn’t just live in a bubble and teach his little classes about neato stars and other cool heavenly stuff. A tenured faculty position means that he will be serving on committees, including curriculum development, hiring and tenure committees, in the sciences. (Not just in his own little astronomical world/department.) This is not the same thing as hiring a “Marxist economist” or someone who takes a different approach in your discipline. This is someone who fundamentally rejects the foundations of his colleagues’ careers.

      If a scientist openly espouses an anti-scientific, unprofessional approach to the sciences, he would be impossible to work with, because he would fundamentally disagree with his colleagues on all manner of instruction and administration, and therefore be a source of potentially severe damage to the tenure, promotion, and publication opportunities of his colleagues…

  26. pitkataistelu says:

    A further thought: teaching something you do not believe in should not negatively affect the student, as students in higher education are taught to exercise critical thought either way. I was taught Chomskyan linguistics by professors who subscribed to generative linguistics and thus rejected Chomsky altogether. I still got a good grasp of the subject, and came away with the understanding that Chomsky did not necessarily have the final word on the matter. In the example given by Dawkins above, I would be more concerned about research value than about teaching.

  27. Anonymous says:

    You wouldn’t employ a Christian man to be the rabbi of a synagogue, would you? Even if he can fake it?

  28. Anonymous says:

    Difficult question.

    But for me it all comes down to this – is the cognitive impairment recognized as harmful to the individual, or impairs his ability to function within society.

    Religious belief does not necessarily impair function, in the majority of cases – because the work does not conflict with their beleifs. But could a YEC be happy working within a framework which explicitly denying his faith? I doubt it.

    Either he may have an agenda to push, or the strains of working two systems may cause mental health problems, or the abandonment of one set of the contrary philosphy.

    Personally, when I first read the blog, I thought as long as Gaskell can do the work, then he should have got the job.

    Writing this response, I have concluded differently. Because I think that Gaskell may find the job too difficult (MAY not WILL), affecting his performance. Valid reasons not to hire him, based on probability.

    AS to the doctor stork theory – as long as he has been certified as not being harmful to himself, or society, then yes, I would allow him to operate. Because his day to day belief has no impact or conflict with his ability to operate within his field.

    Sorry Richard, but in that case, It is pure discrimination against people with mental health issues.

  29. Posthuman says:

    Sorry for the shaky English, I am not a native speaker.

    So, the problem seems to be a religion as a syndicate question. For two days I was reading the debate, and suddenly I remembered Carl Sagan’s novel “Contact” (not the film adaptation), where Ellie was rejected the SETI travel simply because she was an atheist.

    In the novel, the program set to search for the SETI, managed to compute the far digits of a Pi number, finding a special pattern when the numbers stopped varying randomly, and started producing 1s and 0s in a very long string. The 1s and 0s when organized as a square of specific dimensions formed a rasterized circle. The extraterrestrials suggested that this is an artist’s signature, woven into the very fabric of space-time. Upon returning to Earth, Ellie discovered that the video footage she has taken to shoot the aliens has been erased, and she was left with no proof of her story.

    Thus, though Ellie was actually hired because of her scientific skills in the first place, and rejected as a space traveler because of her lack of religious believes (as the board stated, some 95% of the people on Earth are believers, so she does not represent them adequately), and after she still managed to join the SETI travel and encountered the extraterrestrial beings, upon arrival on Earth, she was not being able to prove her story. So, she was put in a position to ACT as a religious person, asking others to believe her story, without her being able to provide the evidences.

    Check out the Wikipedia article http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contact_(novel)

    All I want to say is that we can easily imagine a narrative beyond the traditional creationist- evolutionist patterns, where a science indeed meets spirituality, not only in the Carl Sagan’s novels.

    The whole history of the traditional physics is a long foreplay with the mysticism or with the spiritualism (of various kinds). I cannot see, how that could be a disadvantage.

    And finally, saying this, I am an atheist, too.

  30. Anonymous says:

    Part of a candidate’s qualifications include how they’ll reflect on the company, and how they will fit in at the company. It’s entirely reasonable to use these considerations when hiring. If you’d hate working with a candidate, you don’t hire them; you hire someone else, even if the second choice is not the absolute best candidate on paper. If a candidate has been doing things, publicly, that would reflect poorly on the institution (even in their own time) don’t hire them. This isn’t discrimination, this is looking out for your institution and your employees.

  31. Anonymous says:

    “If American citizens, or, for that matter, citizens anywhere were motivated to describe the conditions under which they would relinquish their beliefs, they would begin to think scientifically. And if they admitted that empirical evidence would not change their minds, then at least they’d have indicated that their views have a religious or an ideological, rather than a scientific basis.”

    HOWARD GARDNER

  32. PlaneShaper says:

    I am against religious discrimination but in favour of discriminating against obvious goofiness, whether it is religiously inspired or not. I assumed that everybody would agree that there are limits to anyone’s tolerance of goofiness, and I assumed that the stork-believing doctor was well beyond everybody’s limit. Apparently I was wrong, and that is an interesting (and rather depressing) surprise.

    By what overarching authority would you seek to justly and fairly determine the standard of obvious goofiness — beyond which would allow for discrimination, even when the standard of merit has already been met?

    By majority vote? By concensus? By unanimity minus 1 (since a unanimity requirement would inherently mean that no belief would ever be considered too goofy provided someone held that belief at the time of vote)?

    I simply raised the question whether there are ANY beliefs so preposterously absurd, so universally agreed to be ridiculous, that they should be taken into account.

    You won’t ever find universal agreement as long as someone ardently holds the belief in question. And it’s unlikely you won’t ever find universal agreement as long as there are people who think that even unthought of beliefs aren’t ridiculous enough to justify discrimination (whether religious or not).

    I’m not sure if you’ve found that there are no limits to people’s collective tolerance, but perhaps that there are no limits to people’s collective sense of obviousness.

    I think that you are holding mutually exclusive beliefs yourself by saying you aren’t in favor of religious discrimination but are in favor of discriminating against other beliefs that are “too goofy,” even if they are religious. Lastly, I still think you’re vastly more qualified than me to be a biologist and don’t think your belief that there could and/or should be a certain level of goofiness by which beliefs are judged for hiring discrimination is too goofy itself to prevent you from excelling in your field (though I do think it is goofy).

    Not only all of this, but if such discrimination was allowable, you would not find a drying up of these “goofy” beliefs. Instead you would discover that people with such beliefs would simply believe them secretly instead (a thing people are very good at doing). And people may even wind up believing in them secretly together, withholding their beliefs for fear of ridicule and disposal from the positions which their actions otherwise merit.

    Such a trend has historic precedent and would certainly not serve the public good. It is better for people to be allowed to hold whatever belief they so desire within a society accepting of sometimes radically different beliefs, and be judged only on the merits of their actions.

  33. Anonymous says:

    Mr. Dawkins,

    Your hypothetical examples are poor in this instance because both are examples of science that happens in the present and can be witnessed. One can follow sperm with special cameras to see it fertilize an egg, and one can travel into space to see our round earth.

    The origins of the earth have no witnesses and all explanations will forever be theories.

    To discriminate based on theory is harmful to both science and religion.

  34. PlaneShaper says:

    So a scientist is now the heretic, hypocrite, and even charlatan for their religious (or other) beliefs?

    Since when did science require a belief in *it*?

    Never. Science does not require anyone’s belief in it to function. Science requires only a willingness to record and decipher observations, belief is not necessary.

    I hope I never see the day when the occupation of science is turned into a religion, particularly one which emulates the historic attributes that caused such a divide between science and religion in the first place.

    In all honesty, an astronomer can believe that the universe is created anew every single day, so at any given time never being more than a day old, and still be an excellent astronomer, with no conflictions to record observations as we see them. I would not begrudge them that and deny them a position for which they are completely qualified for.

    • realgeek says:

      “In all honesty, an astronomer can believe that the universe is created anew every single day…” A statement like that would imply that one doesn’t believe in the speed of light, and therefore the distance between the stars and Earth, and so on. That’s a lot of good science not to believe in!

    • noen says:

      “Since when did science require a belief in *it*?”

      Ever since the New Atheists decided to crown it as their God.

  35. Anonymous says:

    Some have said that tenure is the reason why we don’t need to protect against discrimination against teachers. They can hide their belief until tenure and then be free to express their beliefs. But the opposite may be true as well. If we do not allow subjective judgements, nepotism, or the popularity of ones beliefs or public profile to enter into hiring decisions, then there may be no more need for tenure and we can hire and fire teachers only on objective criteria like teacher test results, student outcomes and/or papers published.

  36. Thalia says:

    And yet, if someone discriminated against an atheist because it “says something about the person” you all would be offended.

    P.S. This shows you the need for a good legal department, to teach people not to write emails like that.

    • Anonymous says:

      I wouldn’t if it was for a position in the clergy.

    • Jonathan Badger says:

      There are plenty of universities that quite legally refuse to hire atheists — many religious universities require that faculty be members of the sponsoring religion.

      But refusing to hire a YEC astronomer isn’t analogous to this. Nobody is saying that an astronomer needs to be an atheist — but claiming that the Earth began in 4004 BC despite all the astronomical evidence to the contrary means that despite the on-paper qualifications, Gaskell is either unqualified or is mentally ill or both.

  37. tboy says:

    So… you would discriminate against a person for their beliefs that they hold in private, no matter how well they do their jobs. That’s what you’re saying. Not because I cannot do my job, but because of what I believe. Because it would be telling.

    And you qualify this fairly clearly by saying that no, it doesn’t matter how well I adapt to the dominating paradigm in my task, even when the dominating paradigm is, by your own proud boast, self-correcting. Apparently what I would believe in my own free time is not good enough for you — you need to know what I’m doing when I am at home.

    So it wouldn’t matter how good a scientist I am, but because I am, say, a devout religious person, you would discriminate against me.

    Especially if the religion is, say, Islam.

    No, no, stop talking. I think I’ve heard enough. Thank you very much.

  38. bardfinn says:

    My apologies for writing “Dawkin’s” instead of “Dawkins’” – it’s late here and I’m in need of sleep.

  39. grichens says:

    The elephant in the room, Dr. Dawkins, is that the Big Bang theory owes its origin to a Roman Catholic priest, Father Georges Lemaitre. Who you have questioned Lemaitre’s credentials as an astronomer in his day?

    • Anonymous says:

      Did it conflict with his ability to evaluate astronomical hypotheses, the way all the examples in the lead article might?

  40. Anonymous says:

    I’ve wondered about the double standard for a while…

    I used to be employed by one of the biggest non-profits in the world. You can only make it past grunt work if you’re a Christian (and sign a paper saying so). Granted it’s a religious organization. Oh but they get serious tax breaks….. hmmmmm.

  41. Tdawwg says:

    And a student could reasonably object to being taught geography by a professor who is prepared to take a salary to teach, however brilliantly, what he believes is a lie. I think those are good grounds to impugn his moral character if not his sanity, and a student would be wise to avoid his classes.

    This alone would disqualify any but the most ardent believers from teaching the Bible, or any other myths and scriptures, as they would perforce view these as humanistic, not divine, texts: as “lies,” to use your dangerously reductive, binaristic dichotomies. Claptrap, sir, and dangerous claptrap at that.

  42. chrism says:

    Religion irrelevant for job = good. Religion major impediment = bad. How hard was that?

  43. Apreche says:

    Would you refuse to hire Neal Adams to draw Batman comic books?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neal_Adams

    FYI, he is nearly on the level of Time Cube crazy.

    http://www.nealadams.com/nmu.html
    http://www.nealadams.com/morescience.html

    • Mister44 says:

      Aw man – I saw this 7 or 8 years ago. It made me sad to think one of my favorite comic artists was… a little loopy. Though I wouldn’t put him on the same level as time cube.

      Does he ever say HOW the earth is expanding? That is the elephant-in-the-room question about his theory. (Which I recall isn’t ‘his’, it’s been around for awhile.)

    • Anonymous says:

      There’s a big difference between drawing comic books and teaching people.

    • Anonymous says:

      What the hell does Batman have to do with science?

  44. Mister44 says:

    re: “A law that encourages you to say, “If a candidate’s private beliefs are based on religion I shall ignore them, otherwise I shall take them into account”, is a bad law. ”

    I agree with this.

    I can’t really imagine a creationist astronomer… though I guess it is more believable than a creationist geologist.

    Still – unless this guy was going to come in with a one page test: Q: “How was the universe formed?” A: God – I don’t really see how being a creationist would necessarily stop him from doing his job.

    • Anonymous says:

      “I can’t really imagine a creationist astronomer… though I guess it is more believable than a creationist geologist.”

      I am astounded that no one has acknowledged that the originator of the Big Bang theory was a Roman Catholic Priest, Georges Lemaitre.

  45. Anonymous says:

    In a high school advanced camp in 11th grade, I was taught chemistry by the strangest professor. He had 23 degrees, many in science, by the time he taught me, but all of his degrees were in subjects mentioned in the Bible.

    I got an A, and went on to get A’s in chemistry in college. It was a pity I got B’s in physics and math — those were my two majors.

  46. funksg says:

    If you are going to anthropomorphize an abstract concept that, by your own definition, is unknowable, and then BELIEVE in and worship your hallucination, then you should not be working in a field that involves science. If the reason you think you deserve the job is because you “perform his or her duties competently and completely” – the basis, not a benefit, of holding a job – you should wind up working in a gas station. Pumping the gas every night.

  47. bardfinn says:

    So, executive bullet point:
    It’s not about Martin Gaskell’s private religious beliefs. It’s about the fact that he made a public declaration to insert his own religiously-flavoured political agenda into the public understanding of science, and when applying for the Chair for the Public Understanding of Science, was passed over on the basis of his publicly professed goal of inserting his religiously-flavoured political agenda into the public understanding of science. He wants to confuse he issue and make it out to be religious oppression. He’s wrong.

    Side note: any and all commentary by me, under the screen name/handle of” bardfinn”, for this article /only/, is licensed under the Creative Commons BY 3.0 license – attributable to “bardfinn”, no other context necessary for attribution.

  48. astrochimp says:

    Prof. Dawkins’s willingness to make hiring decisions without reference to consequence is disconcerting, fear-mongering aside.

    If YECs’ beliefs were to clash with reality so easily as Prof. Dawkins thinks, we’d be fucked, proper fucked, and how. Because there are a lot of them.

    But things seem strangely fine. Dawkins’s worry is therefore unfounded, so far as the current state of affairs goes. I’d be far more sympathetic if he argued against any non-humanist, per se (ie, regardless of religious bent), since we have far more to fear from people who wantonly disregard human interests.

    That is, war mongers wage war regardless of religion (even if religion often factors in), and they will continue to do so. Capitalists make profits regardless of the starving poor. Illiberals remain illiberal. And racists remain racist. And, yet, we have infinitely more to fear from any of these than from any YEC, all else being equal.

    In short: better to be a consequentialist than an ideologue. However, I fear you are the latter, Prof. Dawkins, and that you therefore have far more in common with the YEC than you think.

  49. Michaelchr says:

    So it seems there are actually a couple of issues here.
    It’s one thing to have a belief and keep it to yourself. My workmates know certain things about me, but my religious beliefs are none of their business. I don’t broadcast them, and no one has asked. It’s hard to judge someone on a belief you don’t know about.
    If you are going to put information about yourself into the public arena then it’s pretty obvious that you want people to know that thing about you. If an employer uses all of the information at hand to hire you and some of that includes “insert freaky belief here” then it seems that they are just doing due diligence.

  50. dunnright says:

    I believe you erroneously labeled Mr. Gaskell as a YEC.

    It looks like in his own writings he dismisses this theory as it “certainly clashes head-on with science”.

    See
    http://incolor.inetnebr.com/gaskell/Martin_Gaskell_Bible_Astronomy.html
    under “DIFFERENT INTERPRETATIONS OF GENESIS”

  51. Laroquod says:

    I am an atheist, and yet Mr. Dawkins reminds me of a small fish in a pool of sharks, complaining about a ‘no biting’ rule that prevents him and his buddies from eating plankton.

    If religious discrimination is allowed, it will not turn out well at all for the atheists. It’s odd isn’t how such a smart man can be so dim when it comes to politics.

  52. highlyverbal says:

    I still don’t understand the argument, call me dense.

    Is Cory saying:

    a) there should be a demerit for foolishness or inconsistency when we are measuring competence?

    or

    b) foolishness or inconsistency is an absolute bar to employment, even if the aggregate competence “measure” still was favorable with a demerit?

    We happy mutant do measure these things, right?

    ======

    Another case:
    A young physicist is working in HER PRIVATE TIME on a ground-breaking new theory about how the universe works, from the cosmic to the quantum, a ToE… a grand unification theorem. She has great initial experimental results. As a consequence of her theory, she begins to suspect that several details in the currently accepted model might be wrong. It is going to take her years to write this stuff up, so she still derives a pittance of an income working as a grad ass TAing a lower division intro to physics course where she faithfully and persuasively teaches non-physics-majors the accepted model that she knows in her heart is wrong.

    Fired for immorality and having something wrong with her head?!

  53. Anonymous says:

    What about the historic argument? We should discount any of the works of scientists of a few centuries ago (Galileo, etc.) because they had a strong religious faith?
    Employers should be blind to personal beliefs just as they should be blind to, say, whether or not she has many children (and therefore might be likely to be absent from the job to have a few more). Capability to do the work is the sole hiring factor in most other categories; personal religious beliefs should be likewise.

  54. NoFixedAbode says:

    Does it strike anyone else as ironic that Michelangelo, who painted the image used at the head of this article, was being paid as a professional at a high level of society to express ideas in visual form which strongly contradicted his own internal beliefs?

  55. putty says:

    Great post.

    The problem with the faithful is that, any scientific evidence that is inconsistent with their beliefs was “put there by god to challenge us”. Regardless of how one feels about the prospect of a deceitful deity running the show, this is impossible to disprove.

    When it comes to practicing science, faith and belief are to be kept from interfering with the interpretation data. But when these two sets of information directly contradict eachother it does indeed make for an interesting predicament.

  56. aadaamhun says:

    Since when has atheism the right to be the only religion of a scientist, or a leader of an institute?

    Since when do liberals have the right to say whose religion is acceptable?

    Since when did our science, and our democracy turned into the exact same religion, as catholicism was in the time of Galilei?

    It doesn’t matter if Mr. Gaskell’s religion holds the One Truth, or it’s completely false according to our current understanding.

    What matters is is Mr. Gaskell able to do his job as the leader of that institute, or not?

    Personally, I’d rather like to have students who have some doubts about the correctness of our current mainstream understanding – which can be even the roundness of Earth – than students who cannot think outside of our current belief system.

    Because exactly that attitude was which started the inquisition of highly talented individuals; exactly that’s the attitude which restricted the advancement of science for long decades, and perhaps centuries, in the time what we call now “the dark middle ages”.

    How comes Mr. Dawkins to question anyone’s belief? Was he there at the Big Bang? Is he a space-tourist, maybe a former astronaut? Or does he just believe that these things are true?

    Because here, what’s at stake is the freedom of thought: there’s no more dangerous threat to that than people trying to restrict freedom in the name of that.

    • Anonymous says:

      Actually, the question is closer to “since when don’t scientists have a right to say someone’s beliefs aren’t supported by evidence?” Preventing them from not welcoming people antithetical to their field as its leading spokesmen would not be the same as promoting freedom of thought. Is it so hard to see that this isn’t quite the same as other types of discrimination?

  57. dcamsam says:

    I doubt I’ll add much to the discussion, but.

    Suppose you have a candidate for a job who has every qualification that qualified candidates in the past have had. And then you learn that the candidate holds a belief that you had thought was incompatible with such qualifications.

    Rather than question whether the candidate is still qualified in spite of his belief, shouldn’t you question whether your view that such a belief is incompatible with being qualified is itself rational?

    That would be my reaction, at least.

    • smr says:

      That’s a very, very good point.

      If you have someone who is competent at a job but believes things that you believe are incompatible with performing the job competently it’s your belief that’s on shakier evidential ground.

  58. The Chemist says:

    Also,

    I suspect that most of my readers would discriminate against both these job candidates…

    If by “my readers” you mean the echo chamber at RichardDawkins.net that you’ve grown accustomed to, certainly.

  59. Anonymous says:

    If a person truly can hold beliefs that are contradictory to your job at the same time as performing it better than anyone else, then simple economics says they should be employed.

    And the last I checked economics are the driving factor behind companies, not moral high ground (employing an ‘honest’ person, as Richard describes it).

    [I find it fascinating, every time I come across his work, that I can agree with Richard on the basic concept of religion as fallacy and disagree with so many of the conclusions he derives from it.]

  60. cory says:

    I must agree with Chemist and Cynical here. I’ll go further and say that I think Mr. Dawkins’ position on religion is prejudicing his viewpoint, because his argument doesn’t explore all the factors involved in making such a decision; it is a flawed argument that these people are fraudulent and should be removed on those grounds.

    To present just one scenario of many possible:

    an astronomer who, on religious grounds, believes the universe is less than ten thousand years old. This man holds down a job as a competent cosmological theorist (not at Oxford, I hasten to say). He publishes mathematical papers in learned journals, taking it for granted that the universe is nearly fourteen billion years old and using this assumption in his calculations. He bottles up his personal beliefs so successfully that he is capable of performing calculations that assume an old universe and make a genuine contribution to science

    This man is not a fraudulent astronomer. He is a fraudulent young-earther. He privately professes a religious, doctrinaire view to fit in with a religious crowd, or to needle his doctrinairian professional peers. In truth, he is able to do excellent scientific work because he believes in the scientific viewpoint.

    If this is a possibility (and I think you must admit, on the basis of what we’ve been told, that it is) then the argument falls apart; on competence grounds, there is no reason to bar him from cosmology; and we cannot do so for reason of professional ethics either. Without the ability to prove him fraudulent in his professional beliefs, we must assume that he is professionally ethical.

    In short, merit means competence in the job. Don’t make decisions on any other basis. If it turns out they are doing a bad job, you can always fire them then.

  61. skysky says:

    I find myself reading Mr. Dawkins examples of the opthamologist and the geographer and thinking that I would not refuse to hire them if they were by all other measures the best candidates for the job. Let’s face it: everyone holds views that we disagree with, and have motivations and agendas that are, to varying degrees, less that pure.

    I don’t disagree that, as a patient or a student, I might be wary of the opthamologist or geographer in question, if I knew about his or her views. But there are a lot of other views they could hold, religious and otherwise, that would make me wary. The point here is that these people are not airing their personal views excessively and are performing their jobs competently and even superlatively.

    As an employer, an applicant with objectionable views like these certainly won’t be helped by them in his or her application, but I wouldn’t discount them entirely. The employer’s job is to weigh the pros and cons of the applicants and find the one that will do the job best.

    Alternatively, we could just live in a world where christians will only hire christians and atheists will only hire atheists and so on, and while that sounds tempting I think that kind of outright discrimination would spill into other areas and get ugly quite quickly.

  62. angusm says:

    It’s the job of a hiring committee to determine the fitness of a candidate for a particular post. If someone’s belief system is incompatible with the job they are hired to do, they shouldn’t get the post. But it isn’t the job of a hiring committee to decree that “all persons who hold belief X are mental incompetents”, and exclude otherwise promising candidates on those grounds.

    There are plenty of examples of scientific beliefs that were considered unacceptable and self-evidently crazy at various points in the past – natural selection, the heliocentric model of the solar system or plate tectonics, to name only a few. Candidates holding those beliefs would have been – and were – turned away from posts for their beliefs. Like you, I believe that there is no chance whatsoever that young earth creationism will ‘turn out to be correct’. But as a general rule I’m very uncomfortable with the idea that anyone, least of all a hiring committee, should declare ‘truth’ by fiat.

    A hiring committee can and should say “this is what we want you to teach”; they shouldn’t say “this is what we want you to believe”.

  63. Mister B says:

    With all due respect to Dr. Dawkins, I find his response to this issue to be disappointingly on par with anyone else that wants to justify discrimination based on their ideology. I’m sorry, but, rationally, the same logic that one can and should discriminate against someone who can do a job well, but perhaps not believe in what they are doing, is the same logic that was applied to figures like John Scopes in the 20th century and many more before and after.

    The basic problem with the argument put forth is the contention that, under U.S. anti-discrimination law, religion is being given preferential treatment over other forms of “foolishness”. The underlying sentiment being, of course, that religion is always foolish, while good science is right and true. So, the argument seems to be that religion and bad science should both be discriminated against in favor of that which is right and true.

    Sadly, Dr. Dawkins sentiment fails to deal with the simple fact that there is NO SUCH THING as right and true, even in science. Science is an ever changing mash of competing theories, arrived at by consensus. The good science of yesterday is utter foolishness today, and today’s best guesses at cosmology and astronomy will be pathetically quaint in 100 years.

    So yeah, sad to hear the same arguments that have for centuries been used to stifle open discourse dredged up yet again, this time in the name of protecting against “anti-scientific beliefs.”

  64. Anonymous says:

    I’d love to live in a world as simple and black-and-white as the one Dawkins seems to want. For one thing, all politicians would be in jail. On the other hand, anyone who wrote science fiction or other fantasy would be disqualified from having a day job in academia, at least, and possibly any public job whatsoever.

    A canny attempt to move the Overton Window towards punishment of anyone who thinks differently.

  65. Ito Kagehisa says:

    It would be nice if we could respect Dr. Dawkins’ request that we leave the case of Martin Gaskell “on one side and look at the general principles.”

    As I read it, he’s freely admitted that the Gaskell case is contentious and that he does not know the truth of the accusations leveled against Gaskell, or the truth of Gaskell’s own assertions, and has invited discussion of the larger ethical and philosophic issue rather than this one case.

    Although I personally appreciate the information that’s been shared about the Gaskell situation, it seems off-topic to insist on discussing Gaskell here after our host has asked us to talk about something else. Can anyone post a link to a place where such discussion would be more appropriate?

  66. PlaneShaper says:

    “A statement like that would imply that one doesn’t believe in the speed of light, and therefore the distance between the stars and Earth, and so on. That’s a lot of good science not to believe in!”

    Heh, right you are! :)

    Though if someone wanted to believe in a divine omnipotence, then it typically doesn’t need to entail a bunch of separate denials of all these idividual quantaties and rules of physics. Just a single idea that an as-yet-unproven entity for as-yet-unproven reasons is capable of bypassing them all, while we are currently still restricted by them. For many, that kind of belief can serve as the personal inspiration to delve into the unknown in the first place. Not necessarily to find proof, but just to find.

  67. Anonymous says:

    I completely agree with you that his believes are clear grounds for dismissal. Any scientist that holds to believes that are this medieval has no place in a place of science which is funded by society. How would it reflect on the institution when he as a director of an observatory would still hold to these clearly stupid ideas? Would anyone think that good science is being conducted there? I wouldn’t and I would feel insulted that such a man be given such an important position as there are like you say many other people that would qualify. The university did the right thing but America being America of course some lawyer saw an opening to make some money. Disgusting to be honest.
    As a European myself I cannot fathom why there are so many Americans who believe this? America has many of the best places of learning, science has a high standing and America has brought forth many of the most important scientific achievements in history and still you have these rednecks who believe what is said in the Bible to be true and disregard any prove to the contrary.

  68. Louis A. says:

    It should be noted, made clear, and not confused that Mr. Dawkins is not at all interested in empiricism or empirical events. Rather, Mr. Dawkins is an ardent believer née extremist of the positivistic world view. He is subsumed by a strict belief and adherence to transcendental signifiers which have no empirical bearing on the material world in which we actually live.

  69. Richard Jones says:

    He’s got a point. And i respect Richard Dawkins greatly. Why should religious beliefs be privileged over other sorts of beliefs?

    On the other hand, lets say instead of professors who believe in stupid things among people who believe in smart things. Lets talk about a guy who is a [supremely brilliant] truck driver who hold beliefs similar to Richard Dawkins but he works for a deep south company owned and operated by a guy who very publicly believes the earth is 4000 year old, that Satan is flesh and blood and routinely intervenes in human affairs, and that Dinosaurs bones were planted by atheist conspirators. Then this truck driver, on an internet forum, posts about how he doesn’t go to church because there is no god which offends the owner of the trucking company who is incredulous that this whole time he was employing an agent of Satan.

    What is there to protect the truck driver from being fired by the superstitiously sanctimonious small business supervisor?

  70. Random Royalty says:

    Wow I’m commenter #399!

    I must hand it to Mr. Dawkins for stimulating discussion on what is rather a simple issue of epistemology, or how one goes about justifying beliefs.

    Essentially all truth is related to a conceptual scheme (look up Donald Davidson), and as most scientists know, obtaining truths that obtain across conceptual schemes have a greater chance of actually being true. At the same time good scientists know (since the acceptance of the Copenhagen interpretation of the Quantum Theory) that the empirical reality is hardly the best reference.

    Working in any job (scientific or not) is about privileging one conceptual scheme over another depending on what context you happen to find yourself in. One must wear many hats in different social circles.

    The interesting thing is that unusual belief systems can lead to some striking discoveries, cosmology being a prime example. Perhaps we are confusing astronomy as the confirmation of the 6 billion year old universe, or perhaps the creationist astronomer is trying to refute it on political grounds. Science is not supposed to be about the political manifestion of epistemological beliefs. Science is about holding and accepting beliefs as a tentative thing.

    I think this whole thing boils down to whether or not holding a particular belief was a job requirement, which would likely be illegal. The key indicator should be the collegiality of the incumbent. Good universities encourage heterodox beliefs for a good reason, collegiality is paramount if the advancement of knowledge is the goal. Unfortunately the larger universities are political entities and tend to discourage dissent.

    This is truly unfortunate if this was the case. And I’d like to point out that despite his qualifications, Mr. Dawkins is a heterodox dissenter himself.

  71. Anonymous says:

    Interesting commentary. Prof. Dawkins makes good points in scenarios #3 and #4 — but it’s good to note that both of his examples are of scholars who are young-earth creationists.

    Many academics who believe in a creator or a designer also recognize that the earth and the universe are demonstrably billions of years old. The AP report cited by Prof. Dawkins says “Gaskell has said he is not ‘creationist,’ or someone who believes the Bible’s origin story puts the age of the universe at a few thousand years.”

    One suspects that Prof. Dawkins’s definition of “religious foolishness” goes far beyond young-earth creationism.

  72. Mitch_ says:

    If the creationist was the most qualified candidate for the job and was willing to fairly present theories with which he disagreed to his students then he should have been hired. It’s too bad he settled for so little. He should have pushed for an admission of wrongdoing or tried to get the court to force the university to hire him.

    His views would have provoked interesting class discussions and having him as a professor would have forced the students to reexamine their prejudices about religious people.

    I am not a creationist myself but it is important to be fair to people with whom I disagree, even if they believe in God or are more conservative than I am.

    • Anonymous says:

      Oh, don’t worry that, Gaskell got 125,000 admissions of wrongdoing.

      I can tell you right that you almost never get admissions of wrongdoing in a settlement (why? It’s not court, there’s no mileage in saying who’s wrong) but they still paid a substantial amount of money for doing nothing wrong.

  73. Adam H says:

    @ #249 and #252

    Very nice posts.

  74. brillow says:

    Irrational people, and I include any religious person or anyone else prone to rational thinking, cannot be trusted to make rational decisions in science. A doctor who believes in storks should not be chosen to practice in any medical field because he does not understand basic science. Who is to say what other strange beliefs they will use to justify a decision they make?

    I believe that we should have just as much right to discriminate against (or for) people based on their religious beliefs as much as we do for every other objective belief they have on anything.

    There is no reason to believe that someone’s view on the age of the earth or the formation of the solar system should be held ins special regard just because its shared by a group calling those views a “religion.”

    I’d also wager that religious people are just about the most discriminatory people who exist. I cant be hired as a priest just because I don’t believe in god? DISCRIMINATION!

  75. deckard68 says:

    The entire case depended upon the presumption that the most-qualified person is the person who must be hired. But that is not true. A university might like to give less qualified people a headstart on a career. Who knows. Doesn’t matter. The discretion on who to hire is up to the university.

  76. Anonymous says:

    Mr. Dawkins, is every scientist at your estimable institution of learning an avowed atheist? Inquiring minds want to know. If they are not, I’m sure they’d be thrilled to hear that you consider them incompetent fools based on a belief that has no impact on their scientific practices.

    I find it even more fascinating that you would be a fellow of an institution like New College, which shows a link to its chapel services on its front page, and then make an argument like the one here? You can’t have it both ways. You either maintain your argument and acknowledge the damage to your own credibility that the argument does in conjuction with such a fellowship. Or, you can acknowledge the fact that whether or not a man claims that a god or the Big Bang begins the whole of creation has absolutely no impact on that individual’s capability to study the stars.

  77. mellon says:

    So, you are considering “religion” as ONLY the texts in the accepted canons, and nothing else? Rather “fundamentalist”…

    The Book of Enoch is not a Christian text. I’m not aware of anyone who claims it as a Christian text. And Milton’s Paradise Lost is literature. We could say that the Narnia books are Christian texts, since they are allegorical, but they are not canonical.

    Fundamentalist doesn’t mean what you think it means. It doesn’t mean that people who say “this is a Christian text, and this is not” are fundamentalist. In the context of Christianity, it means “this book is the literal word of God, and means what it means, and is not subject to interpretation.” Which is of course impossible–you can’t understand what any book means without trying to understand it, and trying to understand it is interpretation.

    The story seems to hinge upon [Abraham's] real intention to sacrifice his son solely because he feared the wrath of God if he did not do what he was ordered, or to show his “devotion”.

    The Bible doesn’t tell us what meaning to draw from the story of Abraham’s sacrifice. But what we do see is that God commands him to make the sacrifice. And then he thinks long and hard about it, and finally decides to obey God. And then God stops him. To me the conclusion is obvious. If it were the right thing to do, God wouldn’t have stopped him. Since God stopped him, he failed the test. The test was for him to develop a backbone. Not everyone agrees with this interpretation, but it’s a consistent and valid interpretation, and one that I learned from a friend of mine who practices Judaism.

    “None shall come to the father but through me” – what does this mean then?

    Just what it says. What’s so hard to understand about it? The real question is what “come to the father” means. And what “through me” means? People, Christian and otherwise, often point to this as excluding all other religions. But it doesn’t say that. Buddhists don’t want to “come to the Father,” so we don’t have a problem with this statement. Jews don’t consider Jesus to be the son of God, so why would they care about this statement?

    The only person who would care about this statement is one who wants to “come to the Father,” and is reading Jesus’ words in order to do so. Well, or somebody who’s looking for an excuse to burn someone at the stake, but a person like that didn’t read the “through me” part of the sentence.

    This is a decent definition of “authority”, and as for the natural world and all of its manifestations, scientific inquiry has found much more convincing explanations, and therefore can be considered more “authoritative”.

    No, it’s the exact same standard that science uses for authority. An authority is someone who you trust provisionally as long as their assertions pass muster–as long as, when you evaluate their methodology, you can find no flaw, and as long as the results that they produce match your own experience–that is, as long as they are reproducible.

    I don’t deny that there are lessons to be learned from reading parables [...]

    Maybe there are, and maybe there aren’t. You can read them if you want to, and ignore them if you don’t (at least in a free society, which is the essential point of this discussion). But my point wasn’t to assert that Christianity had some validity, whether it does or not. My point was that faith does not come from authority. Faith comes from skepticism and practice.

    Another topic altogether, what is knowledge?

    Perhaps we should leave this question for another debate.

  78. Anonymous says:

    Consider the case of the Book Store Clerk. His job involves, nay demands, treating customers with courtesy and respect. However, his personal beliefs are that the customers are useless, smelly dimwits who should be drowned in sacks. He continually treats the customers with respect and never broaches his personal views or beliefs at work.

    Why should we fire this guy?

    If acting, for gainful employment, in a manner contrary to your personal beliefs, is indication that you are either mentally defective or morally defective and should be fired, I would assume that we could fire most employed people in the world. Don’t most of them believe that they are being asked to do more for their pay than they should be, while they continue to do what is asked of them?

  79. Anonymous says:

    If the professor was a famous Satanist, that would bring negative attention to the university for hiring him. Aside from that issue, if he does not bring his beliefs into the classroom he could be the best person for the job. Should a university be able to not hire someone because of the negative attention they would bring? Most universities rely largely on donations for the funding to exist, their reputation is very important.

    But sometimes the law has to pave the way for society instead of reflecting what society already thinks. A school in the 50s that allowed mixed races voluntarily before laws forced them would have had people in the community angry at it – but once a law forces them to not segregate, they have an excuse – it is implied they are only doing it to comply with the law so that the community will blame the law and not them.

    If laws require not discriminating based on religious beliefs, the university can say (or it will be assumed) that they had no real choice in the matter and not to blame them. That would deter most of the negative press the university would get and would eventually pave the way for people to accept the employment of people with various beliefs.

  80. mellon says:

    Assuming I’ve somehow received suitable training in performing abortions, it would be bizarre if the law required that I put that training to use against my wishes.

    That wasn’t the question. The question was whether, if your beliefs prohibit you from performing abortions, the law ought to compel someone to hire you on as an abortionist.

    This isn’t an academic point. Texas law currently compels pharmacies to hire pharmacists whose beliefs require them to refuse to dispense certain medicines in certain situations, against doctors’ orders.

    • TLMO says:

      I understood your point. I offered a diametrically opposite point, a hypothetical scenario (in the vein of Dawkins’ over the top hypotheticals) where someone possessing a certain skill is compelled to use it though it is against his belief systems. There has been discussion by some of withholding government payments to Catholic hospitals if they refuse to offer abortions. My scenario is hypothetical but, unlike the stork doctor, not inconceivable.

  81. SamSam says:

    In order to “justly” discriminate against the applicant for their religious beliefs, you have to first determine what, exactly, the harm that they pose to their position would be.

    In the case of #2, the Flat-Earther, you proposed a possible harm, that some might object to the idea of being taught by a professor who thought that everything they were teaching was a lie. This is tenuous, but at least is some indication of harm.

    However, I did not see any indication of the harm this creationist might do in the study of the cosmos. The fact that he was a top-ranked astronomer implies that he can’t have been any kind of Young-Earther, and must instead have been hewing to the strict science. The most reasonable estimation of his belief would seem to be that he believed God created the Big Bang, and physics took-over there-after. If his job did not require him to study what caused the Big Bang, why would this belief harm his study of astronomy?

    I have a friend who is a biochemist who believes that God created the universe, and evolution was “part of his plan.” There is no part of evolution that this friend rejects, and he is in fact one of the most scientifically-minded people I know. The only difference between this friend’s beliefs and my own is the fact that he believes God caused the Big Bang. This belief has never affected his scientific work at all. Should his belief prevent him from being a biochemist?

  82. cmpalmer says:

    If anyone is a good astronomer and/or cosmologist and is a Young Earth Creationist (or something in between – more than 10,000 years old, but less than billions), then in my opinion they would have to embrace the Omphalos hypothesis (“Last Thursdayism”) which says that God created the universe some time in the recent past, but with the illusion of it being billions of years old (hence it could have been created last Thursday and we couldn’t tell the difference).

    If that was the case, then he or she could function perfectly well in the chosen scientific profession, right?

    If they don’t believe that, but believe the universe to be younger than it appears, then they would be unqualified because they’d be rejecting basic theories, laws of nature, and observations.

  83. Anonymous says:

    As an ex-physicist, I think I agree Dawkins conclusion, but not necessarily how he got there.

    Consider a theoretical physicist that is a Young Earther. She secretly believes that the earth is 5,000 years old, but she has turned out a series of cosmological papers that are regarded as absolutely first-rate and influential by her worldwide peers. Although I would normally be very tempted to believe that her personal beliefs would prevent her from doing this level of physics, it’s quite clear that they do not (in this fictional example). If such a person could exist, what is clear is that her ‘belief’ about the age of the universe really resides in her faith as a religious person, this isn’t necessarily the same thing as having a scientific thought or ‘belief’. (Likewise, I like music but this has nothing to do with my thoughts about how music is formed or music theory.) Indeed, it’s common for physicists to pretend that they don’t necessary believe that (for instance) Quantum Theory is anything more than a ‘useful calculational tool’ (though my feeling is that the vast majority of physicsts indeed believe that quantum theory reflects reality). It could be argued, then, that some religious scientists regard their participation in the greater scientific endeavor as basically a social function a la Kuhn: “This is where the scientific community currently is and I will function within it based on that fact.”

    This is, however, a very theoretical construct and, most likely, such a person could not exist. If one is a functioning scientist, one must acknowledge that, over the long haul (and even mostly over the short haul), the global scientific process is based on rationality and reason, and that (on any substantive issue), the major conclusions are the ones that one must inevitably agree on based on the available evidence. To reject, therefore, an earth that is ~5B years old, is not merely to reject some isolated conclusion, it is to reject rational thinking itself, or at least that the worldwide community of scientists is on average rational. I can’t imagine, therefore, that the hypothetical person I constructed above could actually exist. Their rejection of rational thought (in favor of a fairly dubious interpretation, by the way) would have to influence their thinking, particularly if their research leads them in areas that begin to conflict with that rational thought.

    In the case of the astronomer, I would be ‘biased’ against him in that I would have to see a lot of proof that those religious beliefs didn’t poop up his ability to think rationally. I’d be afraid that, after hiring him (with tenure and all), that the hidden nuttiness would come tumbling out and then you’d have a real dud on your hands, not able (or willing!) to contribute to scientific thought.

    I should point out that Schrodinger once wrote, ATMAN=BRAHMAN, in a sort of quote from the Upanishads. But when Schrodinger wrote this (in Mind and Matter), he had already become a known quantity (with a little thing called the Schrodinger equation), and it’s quite clear that this falls directly out of the same thinking that allowed him to develop quantum mechanics.

    BTW…I should mention that I was an evangelical Christian for many years, and still attend church. I don’t, and didn’t believe that the earth was 5,000 years old, nor have I ever fallen for the Fundamentalist and silly interpretation of the ancient text of Genesis as being ‘literal’ (which rapidly falls into problems if you REALLY try to interpret it literally). I even got into an ‘argument’ once with a girl whose pastor was Jerry Falwell, and she was certain that Quantum Mechanics would be ‘proved’ wrong, and that Einstein was right about it (with the EPR paradox). I quickly ended the conversation, however, as I tried to probe her about the specifics (I was a trained physicist after all) and saw that she really had no comprehension of the scientific issues, though she certainly had plenty of ‘conviction’. Ah well. She was hot-looking, though.

  84. noen says:

    Dawkins: “Should religiously inspired beliefs be privileged, protected against scrutiny, where other beliefs are not?”

    Yes. We should all agree to disagree.

    A little bit of history for the ignorant professor. What we call classical liberalism (not political liberalism) is the consequences of the 30 years war of the 17th century. One of the most brutal and destructive conflicts in European history. Vast regions were almost entirely stripped clean of all living things. Roving armies swept across the land devouring all in their path. what was this all about? It was about religious beliefs not being privileged against scrutiny.

    And professor Dawkins wants to open that hell’s gate again because he *knows* that he is right and everyone who disagrees with him is wrong.

    • Mister B says:

      Well put.

    • realgeek says:

      Amazing. Dawkins is advocating against religious belief entering science and you use the 30 Years War to prove your point?

      • noen says:

        realgeek said “Dawkins is advocating against religious belief entering science and you use the 30 Years War to prove your point?”

        You seem to believe that only religious people are capable of violence. One would think that the history of the 20th century would teach you otherwise but I bet you’re one of those who deny that the USSR and Maoist China were driven by atheist ideology.

        I know that the point is a bit abstract and people these days find abstract thinking very difficult but…. the idea here is to abstract out from the historical context the lesson that *any* intensely held belief system that “others” those who disagree is dangerous and capable of vast violence.

        Yes yes I know. You drink the kool-aid and think that atheism isn’t a belief system… it’s science! Ah no, it isn’t. When you assert as true a proposition that you cannot prove true that is a belief. Atheists deny that god exists, something they cannot prove, so atheism is a belief. It is a systematic metaphysical, philosophical world view that holds concrete beliefs about the nature of reality.

        • Anonymous says:

          Atheism isn’t a belief system, just a single belief. You’ll never find someone willing to kill without a much larger ideology at stake, and most new atheists don’t agree with the Maoists on much else.

        • realgeek says:

          No, everyone is capable of violence. I almost feel sorry for those like you who believe so deeply that aspects of science are open to personal preferences and faith-based beliefs. Insert _your_favorite_religion_ here! It is based on supposition, testing and outcomes. It doesn’t care if you or I believe in God or FSM or anything, but if you don’t believe in science while practicing it, how can you or anyone else trust the outcome?

          • noen says:

            realgeek said:
            “I almost feel sorry for those like you who believe so deeply that aspects of science are open to personal preferences and faith-based beliefs. Insert _your_favorite_religion_ here! It is based on supposition, testing and outcomes. It doesn’t care if you or I believe in God or FSM or anything, but if you don’t believe in science while practicing it, how can you or anyone else trust the outcome?”

            Notice how you equate atheism with science as if they are one and the same. They are not and I am not attacking science, I’m attacking atheism, nor am I religious, I’m agnostic. Science is a method of inquiry, atheism is a philosophical world view that can be pretty dogmatic at times and whose proponents have committed vast crimes against humanity in the past. Just like any other world view.

          • realgeek says:

            “Notice how you equate atheism with science…”

            Ha. I’ll notice no such thing. Please stop making inaccurate inferences.

      • Brian Oregon says:

        realgeek — I don’t know what you believe, but Dawkins seems to be the kind of scientist who believes science is the True Truth of the Universe. As shown by the history and philosophy of science, that position, like a belief in God, is necessarily faith-based. I think noen was referring to the fact that holders of such faith-based belief often feel free to start wars with people who think differently.

        • Anonymous says:

          Ironically, Dawkins’ willingness to take action (hiring decisions) based on a system of beliefs (the existence/non existence of a god) rather than objective observations (previous academic performance) prompts me to more closely examine his previous academic work on evolutionary theory because its relevant to my own line of research. My need to now investigate how far his belief-based views contaminate his academic work goes to prove his point in a way. Even so, I will evaluate it on its own merits rather than Dawkins’ irrelevant beliefs regarding deities. Which I guess goes to disprove his point in the end, at least for this non-believer.

          Actually, what a lot of comments miss is that being able to hold beliefs is essential for scientific research, because they provide the motivation to investigate wether or not they’re true well before they can be considered science. Without beliefs, progress would not be possible. But they also have to be compartmentalized as beliefs so that they can be discarded if shown to be false, and this is not easy. Science too often progresses a funeral at a time (M. Plank). So, someone with a demonstrated ability to both have beliefs and effectively compartmentalize them away from science would be a better find than someone unable to acknowledge their beliefs or act on them, or distinguish them from science.

        • realgeek says:

          Yeah, Richard has some strong opinions, mine aren’t particularly anti-theist. I just don’t like it when people who are first and foremost holy men claim to be scientists, or vice-versa! And again, there are many scientists with religious beliefs, I don’t hate them! I only want them to be honest with themselves about whether there are conflicts in their beliefs when they practice science.

        • noen says:

          “I think noen was referring to the fact that holders of such faith-based belief often feel free to start wars with people who think differently.”

          Bingo. The New Atheists are secular fundamentalists. Like their religious cousins they hold absolute black or white views about reality. People who hold such intense ideological beliefs are willing, eager even, to start torturing and killing anyone who disagrees with them.

          You know, like Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens advocate killing and torturing those dirty arabs sitting on all our oil.

    • Raum187 says:

      Noen, the Spanish Inquisition called. You’re late for a witchcraft trial….

      Your post makes no sense. The 30 year was caused (in early part) because of the sort of immunity you’re promoting.

  85. mellon says:

    What is there to protect the truck driver from being fired by the superstitiously sanctimonious small business supervisor?

    Practically speaking, aside from a lawsuit after the fact or self-censorship beforehand, there is little anyone can do to avoid being discriminated against. We can’t control the actions of others. However, we can control our own actions, and I presumed that it was in that light that Professor Dawkins originally raised the question.

  86. Anonymous says:

    What about the reverse: An atheist who wants to be a priest, and promises to keep his atheism private and not influence his religious sermons. That makes about as much sense.

    • mellon says:

      Historically there have been lots of priests who went into the clergy for reasons other than a belief in God, or who remained there once they’d lost their faith. It’s practically a cliche. The difference is that unlike the person who won the settlement, they kept that information private, and hence were not discriminated against.

  87. zebbart says:

    noen, come back to commonsenseatheism.com! We need your style there.

  88. TLMO says:

    “…[ ] argued that continuing to use the term “science” in the association’s mission statement had become a concern because it maintained “the colonizing, privileging, superior positionality of [AAA] that continues to plague the discipline.”

    Other members of AAA referred to science as a “Western hegemonic construct” designed to perpetuate colonialism…

    AAA is the foremost academic society for American anthropologists. The majority of academic anthropologists in this country belong to AAA, including cultural anthropologists, physical anthropologists (who study human evolution), and archeologists. In Nov 2010, they voted as a society to remove the word “science” from their mission statement where it had played a prominent role for 50 years (in fairness, this was mostly the doing of the cultural anthros).

    Anyone who has ever been on a college campus knows that Anthro departments are not full of Bible-thumping fanatics. In fact, the opposite. The point here is that it is very easy for Mr Dawkins to pick a relatively obscure event involving a single academic scientist and his religious beliefs and make it seem as if we are headed back into the Dark Ages. For him, science is doomed if we let a single Gaskell run an observatory.

    But, apparently, a non-religious organization such as the American Anthropological Association, made up of thousands of college educators, and which commits scientific apostasy is of no concern to Mr Dawkins. Though they now abjure the very use of the word science in their mission statement, and though many of them honestly believe science is heretical when it comes to the study of mankind, we should pay them no never-mind.

    I would ask Mr Dawkins, if he were chairman of a search committee looking for a new professor of anthropology for, say, Oxford, would he disqualify any applicant who held this absurd though mainstream-AAA view of science? Tricky question, since I’m pretty sure there are a few Dons already there who hold such beliefs. But, of course, they are no where near as threatening to the sanctity of science as Mr Gaskell.

  89. Orizuru says:

    For the most part I agree with what is in the original post, though there is one point I feel compelled to comment on.

    Moreover, I would regard his equanimity in holding two diametrically opposing views simultaneously in his head as a revealing indicator that there is something wrong with his head.

    The ability of a person to hold two distinct beliefs that are mutually exclusive is the unique ability of a free mind. Although there is a clear benefit to having an internally coherent belief system that mirrors the presumably coherent universe, it would seem to be impossible for a single person’s mind to effectively do that. Our understanding of the universe is incredibly limited and abbreviated, which means there are going to be internal conflicts. A healthy mind can accept and navigate these conflicts, if need be. Alternatively, an inability to accept some inconsistencies would lead a person to an unhealthy state.

    On all other counts, good post.

    • 3lbFlax says:

      As Orizuru says, I enjoyed this post, but for this:

      “I would regard his equanimity in holding two diametrically opposing views simultaneously in his head as a revealing indicator that there is something wrong with his head.”

      I consider this to be diametrically opposed to my notion of what boingboing is all about, but in the spirit of said notion I will attempt to accommodate both models.

  90. bardfinn says:

    Some corrections: Gaskell was not applying for the Simonyi chair (not sure where that came from), but astronomy director. Point still stands — he’d be responsible for that institutions funding and direction of research, and thus responsible for some of the public understanding of some science.

    I said he believes the Earth is less than 10000 years old. I’m wrong. Still, he’s a Creationist, and any flavour of said belief is not science and not scientific.

    Now, off to bed and some clearly-needed sleep. Thankfully my two factual errors were not critical to my main arguments.

  91. Anonymous says:

    Dr Dawkins:
    The is the physicist again. I basically agree with your reply above, but I would point out that it is possible for people to compartmentalize and believe contradictory things at the same time. Hell, we physicists (and ex-physicists) have to believe that light is both a wave and a particle: In certain situations this conflict leads to some really bizarre conclusions. Yet we live with the conflict because we know that both are true.

    OTOH, in general the vast majority of the staunchly religious do not live this way. They indeed do need to ‘unify’ all of their beliefs about the world under one tree or pyramid of thought. Thus, a creationist will not simply be a functional creationist during church, they will carry that silliness wherever they go and maintain its’ objective truth. It would therefore have to be someone with clear and obvious insight and a long-term track record of significant publications for me to trust that this ‘compartmentalized’ belief wouldn’t have them ignoring (for instance) the geological evidence for an old earth.

  92. Hools Verne says:

    I still want to know what RealGeek means when s/he says “believe in science”.

  93. bardfinn says:

    … if they really /are/ the man’s /private/ beliefs, then the employer should not consider them. There is a balance between practicing private beliefs, and using them as a shield for a political campaign. When that political campaign is directly in opposition to the job’s requirements, it is reasonable to foresee that the candidate will not perform well.

    Once the person’s private beliefs are made public – and made into a political campaign, in direct opposition to the requirements of the job, such as when a pharmacist refuses to fill a prescription because it’s for a woman and it deals with her reproductive system – then the person’s beliefs are no longer private /and/ they’ve transgressed the contract they made with society.

    • mellon says:

      Once the person’s private beliefs are made public – and made into a political campaign, in direct opposition to the requirements of the job, such as when a pharmacist refuses to fill a prescription because it’s for a woman and it deals with her reproductive system – then the person’s beliefs are no longer private /and/ they’ve transgressed the contract they made with society.

      Indeed, I really wish that this had been the question that had been raised, because it’s a much better question. But I suppose the answer is obvious, and hence would not really elicit much discussion. If your beliefs prevent you from doing the job for which you’ve been hired, then you shouldn’t in good conscience apply for the job, and you shouldn’t be surprised when you don’t get it if you do apply.

      I would make a lousy butcher, because I believe it’s wrong to kill. It would be bizarre if the law required that the local meat-packing plant hire me.

      • TLMO says:

        Indeed, I would make a lousy abortionist, because I believe it’s wrong to kill. Assuming I’ve somehow received suitable training in performing abortions, it would be bizarre if the law required that I put that training to use against my wishes. Were this to happen, I might be inclined to feign belief in the “stork theory” of human parturition in the hopes I would be found incompetent as a physician, though based on current events that might not completely disqualify me for abortion duty.

  94. Anonymous says:

    By you logic, nearly every fast food employee should be fired. These charlatans continually wish everyone to have a nice day. They have absolutely no such desire. It’s a bold face lie and a clear indicator for their moral character. Fire them immediately.

    People are no more perfect than a chunk of steel. Both will have flaws if you look closely enough. Barring prima fascia evidence that either cannot do the job, I’m willing to accept imperfection.

    Except from Texans. Anyone from Texas is on thin ice.

    • road pizza says:

      Good on You brother, tell it like it is. Texans shouldn’t be allowed to have discourse with civilized people.

      • Anonymous says:

        “Texans shouldn’t be allowed to have discourse with civilized people.”

        I’m from Texas and have a question about this: Which course? The one taught by the religious nut? Sounds interesting to me – especially if my fellow students won’t be civilized.

    • Anonymous says:

      This is just plain rude. I am beyond tired of the ignorant people of this country assuming everyone from Texas is a God-fearing cowboy. There are plenty of bright, intelligent atheists and others living in this state; only illustrates your own ignorance.

  95. Antinous / Moderator says:

    If the creationist was the most qualified candidate for the job and was willing to fairly present theories with which he disagreed to his students then he should have been hired.

    There’s a difference between hiring a Professor with quaint beliefs and hiring a Director with quaint beliefs. If you’re trying to attract talent to your institution, you don’t want potential candidates joking about applying to work with Jedediah Bugtussle.

    Some positions require not only competence but avoidance of the appearance of impropriety. If you can’t handle that, you don’t get a high profile job. Do you think that the attorney who wears tie-dyed tee shirts to work gets invited to become a partner in the law firm?

    Also, the chairman of the search committee should be immediately fired and possibly beaten senseless for not knowing that e-mails are discoverable. That’s egregious incompetence.

    • Hools Verne says:

      So we’re admitting that the claim that science and the scientific establishment is about objective application of the scientific method with no political motivations is complete and utter bullshit now? That’s a breath of fresh air.

    • Mitch_ says:

      “Some positions require not only competence but avoidance of the appearance of impropriety. If you can’t handle that, you don’t get a high profile job. Do you think that the attorney who wears tie-dyed tee shirts to work gets invited to become a partner in the law firm?”

      Then I am sure you would be ok with a school district not hiring a homosexual as a teacher to avoid “the appearance of impropriety”. People who can’t handle that shouldn’t pursue teaching jobs.

      • Antinous / Moderator says:

        Do you think that the attorney who wears tie-dyed tee shirts to work gets invited to become a partner in the law firm?” Then I am sure you would be ok with a school district not hiring a homosexual as a teacher to avoid “the appearance of impropriety”.

        Unless you’re prepared to argue that creationist beliefs are inborn, that’s a false equivalency. But I would find it quite entertaining if you do decide to argue that.

        • morganj says:

          Unless you’re prepared to argue that creationist beliefs are inborn, that’s a false equivalency. But I would find it quite entertaining if you do decide to argue that.

          Homosexuality is not protected because it’s inborn, it’s protected because it’s wrong to discriminate on the basis of sexuality.

          Elsewise, you could argue that only the biologically queer were protected, and those who didn’t show the correct genetic markers can be freely discriminated against.

          That, and the very premise (sexuality is inborn, therefore a false equivalency) simply isn’t the case. It’s far more complex than that.

          • Hools Verne says:

            That, and the very premise (sexuality is inborn, therefore a false equivalency) simply isn’t the case. It’s far more complex than that.

            Thank you. I’m always uncomfortable with LGBTQ movements pushing for the gay gene as the path to acceptance. It just makes us diseased in the minds of those that wish to oppress or “cure” us. Sexuality, like most all “things” that make up the tenuos concept of the self is a complex interaction of interior and exterior variables. Certainly there is evidence for some level of genetic predisposition, but to reduce the entirety of ones sexuality down to that seems dangerously naive to this queer.

  96. Hools Verne says:

    If you will read http://incolor.inetnebr.com/gaskell/Martin_Gaskell_Bible_Astronomy.html
    you will find that my remarks are 100% correct:

    hese are religious beliefs made public explicitly for the purpose of lending his authority as a scientist (though there exists no such thing, people still regard scientists as authorities — consensus rests not on authority of a person but on consistency and inassailability of a theorem) to his non-scientific belief that the Earth was created by an extraterrestrial with an appearance of great age, less than 10000 years ago.

    From your article:

    “It is explained that there are more than just two extreme views on the origin of the universe and that the majority of scientists who are Christians adhere neither to the view that the Bible is irrelevant to the earth’s origin (which exponents of atheistic evolution claim) nor the view that God made the earth essentially as it now is in six 24-hour periods about 6000 years ago (the “young earth creationist” position.)”

    ““God made everything pretty much as it is now in six 24-hour days about 6000 years ago” – the so-called “Creationist” position (a bad name! – I, and many writers on the subject prefer the name “Young-Earth Creationist” for this position). This is the position of the Creation Research Society (CRS), the San Diego based Institute for Creation Research (ICR), and a number of other “Creation Science” organizations. I have a lot of respect for people who hold this view because they are strongly committed to the Bible, but I don’t believe it is the interpretation the Bible requires of itself, and it certainly clashes head-on with science. This viewpoint is something of an “American” view and has been much less common among Christians in Europe. The “Creationist” movement as we know it originated in the USA among Seventh Day Adventists (see the detailed history by R. L. Numbers, “The Creationists”, 1993, University of California Press, $15). To get around the apparently overwhelming scientific claims for an old earth, the ICR holds to an “appearance of age” theory where the evidence for an old earth is an illusion created by God. Many challenge the theology of this theory since it requires God to be deliberately deceptive, while the Bible says, “God cannot lie”. There are many books that discuss the biblical problems with the Young-Earth Creationist interpretation (see bibliography; “The Fingerprint of God” has a good section on this).”

    “The main controversy has been between people at the two extremes (young earth creationists and humanistic evolutionists). “Creationists” attack the science of “evolutionists”. I believe that this sort of attack is very bad both scientifically and theologically. The “scientific” explanations offered by “creationists” are mostly very poor science and I believe this sort of thing actually hinders some (many?) scientists becoming Christians. It is true that 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 is usually made out in introductory geology/biology courses, but the real problem with humanistic evolution is in the unwarranted atheistic assumptions and extrapolations. It is the latter that “creationists” should really be attacking (many books do, in fact, attack these unwarranted assumptions and extrapolations).”

    I disagree with the man, but he is hardly what you are trying to paint him as. You’re backpeddeling.

  97. Nightflyer says:

    I object to the idea that holding contradictory ideas can only mean a person is crazy. According to the Discordian philosophy/religion, “All statements are true in some sense, false in some sense, true and false in some sense, true and meaningless in some sense, false and meaningless in some sense, and true and false and meaningless in some sense.”

    Example statement: “My name is Nightflyer.”
    True: On the BoingBoing boards, it is.
    False: It’s not on my birth certificate, is it? So it’s not my name.
    Meaningless: Whatever set of letters and/or numerals you use to describe me, be it on my birth certificate, web nickname, social security number, “hey you,” “crazy lady,” etc., will certainly fail to describe the entire complex physiological and psychological being that is myself… so what does it matter?

    I could further develop this analogy, but I think you can see where I’m going with it. So because I can believe “my name is Nightflyer” *and* “my name is not Nightflyer” at the same time, does that make me not only crazy but unfit to be hired anywhere as unethical? I don’t think so.

    Now whether or not this applies to teaching science at a university is a different question… or is it? It seems to me that everyone involved in the debate– the University, Mr. Gaskell, Dr. Dawkins, and every poster here– has a different definition of the best teacher for the job. And I’m sure, if this matter had not been settled out of court, the judge would have had his own opinion, based on the legal system… or his interpretation of it, at least.

    Personally, I don’t feel I know enough about the University or the teacher to know whether or not he’d be the best person to work for them. But in general, I think it’s possible for an employee to disagree with their employer and still be able to do their job effectively and ethically. Say my boss wants me to promote this green widget, he says it’s the best thing ever. I don’t agree, I prefer the blue one. When I talk to the customers, I can still point out each and every advantage of the green widget. I can tell everyone who walks into my store how much my boss loooooves that green widget. As long as I don’t say, “*I* think the green widget is the best ever,” I’m still being truthful and ethical in my job. To be honest, I’m not comfortable with the concept that I *must* conform to all my employer’s beliefs to work somewhere. As long as my values aren’t relevant to the requirements of the job, I don’t think they are any of my employer’s business. But that’s my opinion.

    • Anonymous says:

      Being able to hold two opposing views in your head is good for more than just contextual notions of truth. It’s essential for being able to negotiate or empathise or many good, human personal skills.

      NOT being able to hold the views a) I have a point and b) that the other guy might have a point, come to think of think of it is probably more of a sign of mental illness than being able to.

  98. Anonymous says:

    “Hm. Speaking as a Mahayana Buddhist, I can tell you that it’s a basic tenet of my branch of Buddhism that the gasoline doesn’t make the engine work. And yet, I used to do a pretty good job of fixing my motorcycle when it stopped working (several times due to fuel supply issues). This is the Middle Way, and it would be difficult to explain without a lot of time and an interested audience (which, I assume, you are not).”

    “Correlation does not imply causation. As I said, I don’t think it’s possible for me to explain the Mahayana worldview to you here in this comment thread”

    Ha, I see what you did there.
    You’ve cleverly made it possible for yourself to disagree with others and assert yourself without ever having to explain yourself or defend your opinion.
    Instead of engaging the posters’ points, you simply say “my explanation is too complex for you” and walk away.

    I’ll give this a try.

    If your belief has a basic tenet that gasoline does not cause engines to work, then I posit that you must have either ignored that belief or never held it to begin with, if you successfully fixed your engine when it had fuel supply issues.

    If you don’t believe that the gas makes the engine work (and assuming this statement isn’t predicated on some word play issue as mentioned above) then it should *never have occurred to you* that the engine had a fuel supply problem when you were trying to fix it, any more than it would have struck you that the engine might be malfunctioning due to a voudoun curse being on it. In your mind, there’s no connection at all between the gas and the engine running, right?
    Why would you credit something in which you don’t believe with relevance, which would then lead to making the right repair?

    In the case of diagnosing a curse, you’d invoke Legba or something, and, surprise, *nothing would happen*.

    Here, I assume you must have been trying to diagnose and fix the engine under the Mahayana paradigm and interpretive protocols that described the situation. but if they deny any connection between gas and the engine running, then it should have been impossible for you to use them to diagnose and repair the engine.

    Despite your protestations to the contrary, it seems pretty clear that either you were able to temporarily ignore your belief that the gas and the engine running aren’t connected long enough to do repairs, or your belief system doesn’t actually contradict reality in any practical way such that you change your behavior because of it.

    Also I think you owe us all at least a cursory explanation of what *does* make the engine work, if it’s not gas.
    :)

  99. Anonymous says:

    You should probably talk more about the law being bad at the beginning of your tirade since all that other stuff you say doesn’t matter since they technically broke the law.

    That being said, religion is protected for very good reasons. A partial list: the crusades, the mountain meadows massacre, the inquisition, witch hunts, various islamic jihads.

    You can’t (and I hope do not want) to mandate what people believe in. Until we live in a society where everyone believes the exact same things, protecting against religious discrimination is the best we’ve got. If that means that someone you believe to be operating in such a way that they are contradicting their own belief system gets the opportunity to further contradict themselves while getting a paycheck, well, I can think of worse things.

    As far as the rest of your argument goes, I grew up in a pretty pro-creationist environment, taught all the classic silly refutes etc, but the position I ended up with is that the Bible says some vague shit about how we came to be here and however it occurred it was God that made it happen. I don’t personally see the problem thinking that the commonly held scientific theorems on how the universe came into being are the best models we have for how it happened. I reserve the right to believe that God was the creator, but I’m not going to pretend that his methods were fully documented in religious canon. It happened when no one was around, who the hell knows how or when or what made it happen. Science does a pretty good job explaining probably how it happened, but I’m not going to look to it for why it happened.

    Personally I would never, never, never not give someone a job because they held a religious belief that Deity X was responsible and this is how they did it and this is when it happened, because who gives a shit what they think happened or when, as long as they have proven that they use the best scientific models available for performing their work. Conversely I’d never refuse to employ someone who doesn’t believe anyone/thing/entity/noun was involved, that our existence is meaningless, etc.

  100. hershmire says:

    Turn it around. Would you support a university’s choice to fire a professor because he didn’t believe in Creationism? If no, then you’ve got a fault in your logic.

  101. Alvis says:

    If I’m hiring your for a job that requires you to make logical conclusions, and I have evidence that you are known to come to conclusions from faith alone, lacking any evidence, that should disqualify you from consideration.

    Is it right that LE won’t hire someone with a known history of drug use? Some jobs, more than just requiring you to act in a certain way on-the-clock, demand a particual mindset from their employees.

    • Anonymous says:

      Actually you can be hired for LE with a history of drug use, even an extensive one. LAPD has famously hired recruits that quit using as little as 5 days prior to their hire date.

  102. Coal says:
    “On the contrary, faith is belief when the evidence isn’t in yet. Belief in the unseen. Usually involving hope. It’s not belief despite the evidence. That is stupidity.”

    Okay.

    This applies equally to believing that somebody should not be trusted to perform a job competently despite all evidence demonstrating that they excel in their chosen field. That is the very definition of bigotry which Dawkins is advocating.

  103. yesno says:

    There’s quite a bit of difference between whether you, a private person, would discriminate against someone because of his irrelevant-to-the-job beliefs, and whether the government (acting via a state school like the University of Kentucky) should be permitted to do so.

    Of course, the first amendment protects freedom of religion, specifically and by name, and not another sort of “freedom to believes things others find silly” right. But I would even be willing to hold the government to that latter burden.

  104. Brian Oregon says:

    From a standpoint of freedom and democracy, Professor Dawkins is way off the mark, in ways that seem to go to the point that scientific atheism can be a totalitarian dogma akin to the worst religions. His assumption that “his readers” will see these issues the same way he does, and the apparent inability to see any complexity in the cases he presents, may be a symptom of a closed mind. For instance, of course the eye patient and student should have the freedom to prefer not to be treated or taught by the iconoclastic specialists. But for institutions to exclude specialists for unrelated, iconoclastic beliefs would not be just. Plus, Dawkins’s belief that teaching some subject matter one doesn’t BELIEVE in is truly around the bend of authoritarian believerhood. Dawkins wants a RELIGIOUS TEST for people to have public positions, even if those beliefs have nothing to do with the position. [Maybe this is Swiftian satire?]

    The only REASONABLE position is agnosticism — but people don’t have to base their theological beliefs on REASON. People should be free to apply FAITH rather than reason and believe whatever theology they want (as long as it does not oppress others).

    But the position of insisting that the faith of atheism is ‘the FACT of what is,’ and that contrary views are therefore worthy of destruction or exclusion, is anti-freedom and democracy. (In the better societies we imagine and enact going forward, the belief in atheism may freely exist, but the dogmatic anti-freedom attitude may not.)

    • realgeek says:

      I think one of the points Dawkins makes is that a religious test isn’t inherently a bad thing. We usually think of it as a terrible injustice, but if you’re applying to become part of a religious ministry don’t they, in effect, ask you to verify that you believe in and practice the religion in question? That’s a religious test, and in that situation, it doesn’t seem evil, pretty run-of-the-mill in fact.

      So now, instead of applying for a job at a monastery (or whatever), you’re applying for a job as a scientist. Shouldn’t you’re employers perform a little due diligence and ask you all sorts of pesky questions about the origin of the universe and during which geological time period did apes begin to evolve into humans? I mean, those questions should be answered even before getting an in-person interview, right?

      • Brian Oregon says:

        If academic institutions are closed, faith-based monasteries, okay, apply your scientific religious test and exclude the iconoclastic believers. The reigning knowledge at any given time will then explicitly be a function of the most power to suppress others.

        Most scientists would probably not be willing to acknowledge that kind of authoritarianism may be at the root of their form of knowledge. (And of course moving forward explicitly on that basis would have significant consequences for the role of science and scientists in society.)

        • realgeek says:

          “Most scientists would probably not be willing to acknowledge that kind of authoritarianism may be at the root of their form of knowledge.”

          Why would anyone seriously believe that? The Earth used to be perfectly flat, until it wasn’t. It used to be the center of the universe, until it wasn’t. You might hear some people claim that science provides the Truth, but it doesn’t! It’s just trying to point us in the right direction. And that direction will only be valid until it isn’t anymore (that is, until science changes it’s mind). Contrast that flexibility with the end-all be-all rigidness of nearly every, if not all, organized religion.

          Why must so many people claim to know the answers to all the big questions!? Scientists aren’t! Or at least they shouldn’t be. They’re just not willing to guess because they’d rather be exploring.

          • Anonymous says:

            You give science far too much power there.

            “The Earth used to be perfectly flat, until it wasn’t. It used to be the center of the universe, until it wasn’t. ”

            Science didn’t cause the Earth to flat. It measured it and found it to be round.

          • realgeek says:

            “You give science far too much power there…

            Science didn’t cause the Earth to flat. It measured it and found it to be round.”

            Yeah I think you misread me, there. The moment the first person figured out the roughly working model of the solar system and then started accurately predicting when the sun would rise, set, the arc of the path it would take across the sky, etc… that was science.

  105. Anonymous says:

    Dawkins is wrong in this case, but his overall argument has merit in some cases. If Gaskel had held religious beleifs that clearly contradicted science, like being a young earth creationist, and beleiving the entire earth was flooded during Noahs time, and that evolution did not happen, those beleifs would indeed be a problem, and might justify not appointing him to a high scientific post. But beleiving that the Big Bang began the universe is actually accepted by most scientists, and beleiving that moment of creation is devinely performed is not addressed by science at all, one way or another. So Gaskel has no beleifs that contradict science, and merely beleiving in the bible, in areas where it is not contradicted by science, is not a sound basis for discriminating against him. By discriminating against him on that basis, the search committee was saying that only atheists should apply, which is clearly wrong.

    I wonder if Dawkins is familiar with the history of the Big Bang theory, and remembers that one of the scientists that originally helped to develop it was a Catholic monk, who also beleived, like Gaskins, that having a moment of creation implied the possibility of a Creator. At the time, many mainstream scientists, with atheistic beleifs like Dawkins, opposed the theory for that very reason, but the Big Bang proponents were proven right in the end. There was indeed a moment of creation, although what caused that creation, God, or some preceeding natural event, is still an open question.

    Personally, I am agnostic, and am also totally opposed to the young earth creationists, and anti evolutionists, who clearly are proven wrong by scientists. But it is equally wrong to say that to beleive in a God who created the universe, and directed evolution to create man, is anti science, since science has not yet proven those questions, and possibly never will.

  106. mellon says:

    There’s a difference between hiring a Professor with quaint beliefs and hiring a Director with quaint beliefs. If you’re trying to attract talent to your institution, you don’t want potential candidates joking about applying to work with Jedediah Bugtussle.

    This is an argument that the good old Jed can’t do his job because of his actions and the unprofessional manner in which he presents himself, not because of his religious beliefs. Nobody’s arguing (I hope!) that you should be required to hire someone who isn’t able to comport themselves in a way that’s appropriate to the job for which they are being hired.

    For example, whether or not you would hire an atheist priest to officiate at a Christian church, clearly you would be crazy to hire one who got up at the pulpit and mocked the beliefs of Christians every Sunday.

  107. Richard Dawkins says:

    How many more times do I have to say this? I am NOT in favour of discriminating against people on grounds of their religious beliefs. I simply raised the question whether there are ANY beliefs so preposterously absurd, so universally agreed to be ridiculous, that they should be taken into account. Of course I would not discriminate against Georges Lemaitre or any other priest, simply because he was religious. But I would discriminate against a doctor who believed in the stork theory of reproduction. I assumed that that would be uncontroversial. I find it revealing that it is not, and I am curious as to why.

    But, for heaven’s sake, STOP barking up the wrong tree of religious discrimination. We are NOT talking about religious discrimination. I am against religious discrimination. You are against religious discrimination. We are all against religious discrimination. OK? Got that? We are not talking about religious discrimination, but about whether any kind of discrimination should be utterly forbidden, even discrimination against doctors who believe babies come from stork, against geographers who believe the world is flat, or astronomers who think that Mars is the egg of a giant purple mongoose. I know those are absurd examples. That was the point of them. Yet even those, it seems, are not too absurd for many people here.

    I am against religious discrimination but in favour of discriminating against obvious goofiness, whether it is religiously inspired or not. I assumed that everybody would agree that there are limits to anyone’s tolerance of goofiness, and I assumed that the stork-believing doctor was well beyond everybody’s limit. Apparently I was wrong, and that is an interesting (and rather depressing) surprise. But, be that as it may, please do NOT falsely accuse me of advocating religious discrimination, because all that shows is that you haven’t read my article.

    • pb says:

      What is depressing is that you would knowingly subject people to a higher risk of botched eye surgery by hiring someone you know isn’t the best candidate for the job.

    • Rob Gehrke says:

      Dawkins :
      “We are not talking about religious discrimination, but about whether any kind of discrimination should be utterly forbidden, even discrimination against doctors who believe babies come from stork”
      The problem here is that a doctor who believes that would never even have been able to become a doctor in the first place, so it’s an impossible scenario. And, the belief that babies come from storks, as it is akin to most other religious make-believe fantasy, is in my view similar to religious doctrine. A virgin birth and a stork, well, no difference. I’m sure that if you press most religious scientists about their beliefs hard enough, you’ll find out that they really aren’t that convinced of the factual nature and the reality of their religion, they just keep that all in the back of their heads, preferring not to really examine it.

      Great scientists had long held absurd beliefs historically, as it was all in a primitive phase, it doesn’t diminish the quality and contributions of their work at all (depending on the field), so…

      • realgeek says:

        “A virgin birth and a stork, well, no difference.”

        The virgin birth was a miracle that allegedly happened long before the Bible. The stork theory is purported to be occuring many times per day, every day. And there’s a lot of precedent in nature for self-fertilization, so the virgin birth isn’t such a crazy idea, I just don’t think it’s been observed in humans.

        • Anonymous says:

          Of course, in nature, parthenogenesis can only give you genetically identical females.

        • Rob Gehrke says:

          “And there’s a lot of precedent in nature for self-fertilization, so the virgin birth isn’t such a crazy idea, I just don’t think it’s been observed in humans.”
          Well, you answered your own question here. The central idea behind religious faith, as I understand it, is that one does not need evidence or an explanation. It’s an authoritarian argument at its core, if you think about it. Such authoritarianism seems to me to be inherently unscientific.

          The central question here seems to be whether or not one’s irrational belief in something is proof that one will be irrational on a more general level, and that we can observe that this irrational belief is symptomatic of a deeper problem which makes a person unfit to teach science. And, whether that be religion or anything else is irrelevant. Fine – I just don’t think that it’s borne out by what we observe daily, namely that one can otherwise act very rationally in the context of a very irrational situation (or belief system).

          Dawkins thinks that the case being decided on the grounds of “religious discrimination” is absurd, as one can hold absurd beliefs which are not “religious” but still be just as absurd, or manifestations of just bad thinking in general. So, there’s no reason to give people a free pass on it simply because it’s “religion” and that religion represents a political force, especially in America. I agree, science should be separated from politics. Weak thinking is weak thinking whether it be religious or not.

          There are really two separate issues here (at least), that’s why there’s so much discussion, I think.

          • mellon says:

            The central idea behind religious faith, as I understand it, is that one does not need evidence or an explanation. It’s an authoritarian argument at its core, if you think about it. Such authoritarianism seems to me to be inherently unscientific.

            No, this is the central idea behind fundamentalism. And the reason fundamentalism spreads so readily is that most people aren’t all that interested in critical analysis of their own beliefs, because their beliefs are just a story they tell themselves to get through the day, or to find solace in the face of hardship. Such people are relatively easily attracted to fundamentalism because it’s easy. You don’t have to think hard, and you don’t have to do much.

            Fundamentalism and religion are orthogonal. You don’t even need to be religious to be fundamentalist. And you can be deeply religious, and have strong faith, and yet be not at all fundamentalist. It would not be inappropriate to call holdouts for steady state theory or classical dynamics, after these theories had been shown to be inaccurate in their predictions, to be fundamentalists.

          • Rob Gehrke says:

            OK, so you would agree that, for example, members of the Flat Earth Society are on some level “fundamentalists” (presuming that the organization isn’t a joke). Fair enough. In that sense, we’re defining “religion” here more as a cultural and societal phenomenon, pertaining to certain procedures, values, ethics, morality, etc. and isn’t necessarily a rigid doctrinal system of unquestionable assumptions about the world.

            I say “authoritarian” because the central part of the “fallen angel” story (could it be… Satan?) in the Christian canon is one of disobedience. Lucipher questioned the authority of God, and for that was cast into Hell, etc. This unquestioning of authority, examination (“trust me !”) seems to be a central component of the Abrahamic religions, wherever they are. Other religions, it’s true, put the emphasis on other things, such as self-realization, how to treat others, etc. (which is also part of the Abrahamic faiths, but I’d say it’s more just a feature of us as human beings). I understand your point.

          • mellon says:

            I say “authoritarian” because the central part of the “fallen angel” story (could it be… Satan?) in the Christian canon is one of disobedience. Lucifer questioned the authority of God, and for that was cast into Hell, etc.

            Lucifer would be Milton, not the Bible. If you want to be charitable, the Book of Enoch, but that’s considered heretical (rightly, IMHO), hence not really fair to ascribe to the Christian church.

            This unquestioning of authority, examination (“trust me !”) seems to be a central component of the Abrahamic religions, wherever they are.

            This is offtopic, so perhaps I shouldn’t say anything, but you might want to think a bit harder about this assertion. If you study the prophets in the Torah, they all debate with God. They are tested, and there’s a debate as to whether Abraham’s decision to sacrifice his son was obedience, or a failure to understand the nature of the test. The fact that God sent an angel to stop Abraham at the last minute seems pretty indicative to me. God is saying to Abraham, “do what you know is right, not what you’re told to do.”

            If you’ve ever seen Yeshiva students debate, you would understand that what they mean by “authority” is “the person who always prevails when you debate them.” No other definition of authority really makes sense; this is where Fundamentalism falls apart. Blindly following authority is the antithesis of the Talmudic tradition.

            If Jesus intended faith to come through authority, there would have been no need for all those sermons and parables. They exist because Jesus is saying how to live, and why to live that way. This is not argument from authority. This is argument. Jesus’ positions on various issues were quite radical, but he argued like the Talmudic scholar he was.

            (BTW, I’m not asserting that there was a historical Jesus, or was not; what I said is intended to make sense whether he was real or is fictitious.)

    • aadaamhun says:

      My problem is that saying anything is “goofiness” on such grounds is religious discrimination in itself.

      In case we approach it from a scientific standpoint, I thought it was pretty obvious since Descartes – who lived quite a few hundred years ago – that we can never be 100 percent sure, that our reality is not a – using today’s words – software simulation.

      If it is a such simulation, and every part of the reality was taken care of, perhaps designed by a mind greater than human conception, I think it’s pretty obvious that we cannot know, when did this simulation started.

      Even Sid Meier’s society simulation of Civilization does start with a certain degree of past.

      Wether someone believes that this is a simulation or not, wether someone believes that this simulation was started from point zero or from somewhere else, I assume, is totally a matter of personal belief. I can be a perfect strategic analyzer of Civ4 WITHOUT believing that Civ4 is the reality itself.

      Therefore, with even such seemingly obvious things, at a certain level – and PhD of Astronomy is on that level perhaps – one cannot think of the scientific achievements as facts, as there were multiple times at history, when the current understanding prooved to be way wrong.

      • Anonymous says:

        Please look up Relativity of Wrong by Isaac Asimov. Saying we ought not to care a doctor or professor thinks because who knows, reality might not even be real, is not a good argument.

      • realgeek says:

        If you use that broad a definition, then any concievable belief should be protected against religious discrimination. It isn’t really a slippery slope since a judge or jury would need to ponder the validity of a particular religious discrimination suit on a case by case basis, unless there’s already some precedent set. I’m no lawyer. Also, if the matrix has us, then there’s no point to this discussion, or anything.

        Personally, if I had to evaluate a candidate that believed all purple things are good and all green things are bad, I would hire that person on the spot because it has nothing to do with the job!

    • Laroquod says:

      So is it fair to say that you are for discriminating against the ‘goofy’ religions only, or is it fairer to say that you wish to exclude ‘goofy’ beliefs from the definition of religiions that can’t be discriminated against? I’ll leave aside the question of who gets to decide what is ‘goofy’, because it is not even necessary to go there to show the absurdity here.

      • realgeek says:

        “So is it fair to say that you are for discriminating against the ‘goofy’ religions only,…”

        Really? I know there are over 300 comments now, but after each time that Dawkins has said he is against religious discrimination, why do you think he should respond to this?

        • Laroquod says:

          Because Dawkins is doing a two-step trying not to openly say what he is saying, and I don’t want to let him get away with it — try quoting the second part of that sentence as well. Dawkins has argued his way into a blind alley and there is no way out but to admit that he is advocating religious disrcimination OR (see this is that inconvenient second part of the sentence again) admit that he wants to redefine religion not to include ‘goofy’ things he doesn’t like.

          • realgeek says:

            “…he wants to redefine religion not to include ‘goofy’ things he doesn’t like.”

            How do you define religion?

            Oh, and I quote what I’m responding to in order to maintain contextual continuity, if that wasn’t obvious.

        • mellon says:

          Really? I know there are over 300 comments now, but after each time that Dawkins has said he is against religious discrimination, why do you think he should respond to this?

          He has indeed said several times that he’s against religious discrimination. Yet he appears to mean only that he is against certain kinds of religious discrimination, but considers other kinds acceptable, based on some subjective test whose nature he has utterly failed to articulate.

          • realgeek says:

            “Yet he appears to mean only that he is against certain kinds of religious discrimination, but considers other kinds acceptable,…”

            Hmm, I didn’t get that from what he wrote.

    • Camp Freddie says:

      A rebuttal, or “When they came for the stork-doctors, I said nothing…”:

      “I am against religious discrimination but in favour of discriminating against obvious goofiness, whether it is religiously inspired or not.” – Richard Dawkins [what's the quote code here?]

      Or to put it another way, religious discrimination is okay if you think the belief is obviously goofy.

      I can’t believe you’re doing the ID-theory switcheroo that you’ve previously argued against. They say they are only teaching about a creator. It just happens that any creator is essentially god.

      You say you are only for discrimination on ‘obviously goofy’ beliefs. It just happens that any religion is essentially goofy.

      We don’t need stork-doctors when we have millions of real doctors who really believe that a baby can come from god. At least a stork-doctor wouldn’t think that my soul goes to a better place if I die under their knife.

  108. djfatsostupid says:

    I want to back up mellon’s comment #165. The problem with discriminating against someone based on their beliefs is that you probably don’t understand their beliefs. If someone is very intelligent, very competent at what they do, and claims to believe something that you think is completely antithetical to rational thought and to the job that the person is obviously competent at, it should probably cross your mind that you may misunderstand the situation.

    I think that Dawkins wants us to accept the “rules” of hypothetical examples, where there cannot be misunderstandings. The doctor is a very competent surgeon and believes that the stork delivers babies. There is no possibility that we are mistaken about either fact, or that we do not understand that doctor’s point of view. Everyone playing by the rules of hypothetical examples would be the norm for academics of Dawkins’ generation. But it is no longer the norm. These boards demonstrate that people are very willing to question the premises of examples like that, and I think discussion is richer, rather than poorer, for it. If we ask whether we can have a misunderstanding, if we point out that the example is absurd or has a tautological answer (if he is qualified, as the example states, then he is necessary qualified despite his beliefs) then while we are skirting the issue the example was intended to raise, we are bringing up more important issues.

    I know that I regularly see atheists characterized as being just like religious fundamentalists and I shake my head because I feel that people don’t actually understand my beliefs as an atheist. We should all extend each other the courtesy of thinking that we may not see the whole picture.

    But clearly, if a doctor who in all other ways *appeared* to be competent claimed that the stork was the true source of babies, I would not hire him, and I would hope that he was receiving treatment. Just as we should question whether we understand other people’s beliefs, we should also question whether we the conclusions we draw about the competency are valid. In the case of the surgeon who believes in the stork, the latter overwhelms the former.

  109. Anonymous says:

    Well there is an element of two facedness about it. Say a co-worker complements your work and offers some amendments or corrections which you take seriously and incorporate. You later learn that this co-worker thinks that the entire premise of your work is bunk and foolish and that you may be thrown in a fiery pit for the very sincerity that led you to that work. He made his corrections, without any such sincerity, by imagining a conceptual world where you were correct but which was completely detached from reality. You would be upset and question the comments he made, as they are if not undermining at least insincere.

  110. Anonymous says:

    Although it’s nice to be blind to any personal beliefs, the issue here is not that he has religious beliefs. The difference is that he is knowingly lying to his students, to his colleagues. He knowingly releases data that he personally finds untrue. In all science societies and engineering societies, there will be an oath to share only true information. So objectively the data is true, but he is failing his oath as a scientist because he finds the data untrue. Instead he should be trying to show data to prove his own beliefs/hypothesis of the young earth. That is the true moral dilemma. The fact that he can callously publish data that he finds untrue means that he either does not really believe what he states or he doesn’t care about integrity of thought.

  111. realgeek says:

    The whole dustup has been framed from the beginning as a religious intolerance issue. It isn’t. You can believe whatever you want, but if you don’t believe in science 24/7 you’re not a scientist. Sure maybe you can, as some have amusingly said, “do the science,” but you’ll know and everyone around you will know that it’s just a day job to you. Not unlike working a cash register or tending bar, perfectly qualified to do the science. Don’t forget to smile.

  112. one pieceman says:

    The article is chilling, for this reason. It posits a hypothetical situation where being right (knowing that storks don’t explain human reproduction) grants license to destroy someone’s career, even if the career (opthalmology) has nothing to do with the matter in dispute (obstetrics).
    If you can’t see the moral repugnance of this, consider at least the practical objection. What is the opthalmolgist to do instead? Clean toilets? In the meantime, if you have a problem with your eyes, would you really be happy to be treated (in the terms of the hypothetical example) by an inferior opthalmologist, but one with a “purer” world view that conformed more to your own?

    • realgeek says:

      Believing in the stork theory despite knowing the conventional idea of reproduction is crazy. it’s actually not okay. It demonstrates a break with reality (because it is possible to imagine a scenario where observation posts can be erected to watch for the arrival of a stork during labor; and since, hopefully, no stork shows up, the stork theory can be disproven). I think that particular person should not be practicing medicine. Can we stop defending the stork theory believers now, please?

      • one pieceman says:

        “Can we stop defending the stork theory believers now, please?” The point is not that the person with the stork theory is right. Clearly, they are not, and that is the point of the absurd example. What Dawkins doesn’t seem to get is that the problem is not with the degree of absurdity of the example (it is already absurd enough), but with the notion that if he is right and I am wrong about one thing (let’s say the stork theory, though I don’t acutally subscribe to that!), that grants him license to discriminate against me (ruin my career) in a completely unrelated area. It’s the fact that the area is completely unrelated (as per his framing of the argument) that is relevant. If it was related, if it was the case that Stork theory affects your ability to treat eyes, then he’d have a point, but he claims in his hypothetical example that it doesn’t.

        What if the belief in Stork theory is due to highly localised damage to the brain? The brain is fine in all other respects, and aside from Stork theory, is quite capable of functioning, and indeed, as stated, delivers a superior opthalmic performance than can be obtained from other brains. Dawkins’ argument then becomes a clear case of disability discrimination. He wouldn’t argue that Stephen Hawking can’t practice cosmology because he can’t run up stairs (an irrelevant skill to cosmology), so why does he argue that the Stork guy can’t practice cosmology because he can’t see the error in his Stork viewpoint?

        • realgeek says:

          “The point is not that the person with the stork theory is right. Clearly, they are not, and that is the point of the absurd example.”

          I’ve already explained what I think the real point of the absurd example is. Sorry for posting comment numbers as reference points, I didn’t realize that they sometimes change position.

          “What if the belief in Stork theory is due to highly localised damage to the brain?”

          That’s some highly-specific brain damage, and amazing that it doesn’t affect his performance as a doctor. If that’s the case, however, there’s no need to hide the disability from a potential employer. In fact, telling your potential employer about it would be helpful in later filing a discrimination suit based on disability law if you didn’t get the job. And I would support him in that lawsuit! But again, if it’s not brain damage, then he’s crazy, for reasons I’ve already pointed out.

          “so why does he argue that the Stork guy can’t practice cosmology because he can’t see the error in his Stork viewpoint?”

          Because he can’t (or won’t) see the error in his stork theory. He’s not being honest with himself. He is willfully self-deluding. I sometimes call that “crazy.” Would you actually trust the results of scientific experimentation carried out by this person?

          • one pieceman says:

            realgeek, I think you’ve muddled up Dawkins’ two examples. It’s the flat earther (scenario 2) who is being wilfully dishonest. The eye surgeon isn’t being dishonest at all. He really believes the stork theory, and no attempt is made to hide the fact. Remember, he is “rejected for his beliefs”, and therefore they presumably must have been known to the selection committee. His lawyer doesn’t seek to deny them, merely to point out that they are irrelevant to the job, so Dawkins is well aware of that consideration.

            However, Dawkins thinks this rejection is OK, and is at pains to point out that this is OK even if the man is brilliant at his job. So what’s going on here?

            It seems a particularly interesting case study into the genesis of evil. Dawkins believes that religion causes much suffering, and provides many examples to support this in his various writings. Others counter that in non-religious contexts (e.g. Stalinism), the suffering still continues. But it isn’t religion, or even strong belief in a point of view that causes the suffering, it is the view that if you are right, then it’s OK to inflict suffering on those who don’t agree with you. That’s where the suffering comes from, and while it is highly correlated with religion, or strong beliefs of another form, it’s the very specific belief that dissent justifies punishment that actually causes the suffering, and Dawkins seems no more immune to it than the religious fanatics he rightly criticises.

          • realgeek says:

            “realgeek, I think you’ve muddled up Dawkins’ two examples. It’s the flat earther (scenario 2) who is being wilfully dishonest.”

            In a more general example, if someone clings to the disproved belief while outright rejecting any proof to the contrary, then she has broken with reality. If she knows the belief is impossible, and persists in believing it anyway, she is intellectually dishonest. Neither is acceptable to me when it comes to scientific theory and practice, in the many forms that might take, such as doctor, research assistant, various kinds of teacher, etc.

        • realgeek says:

          Sorry guys, I’m still here! More comments to follow.

        • Coal says:

          He’s saying that because we have one type of scenario where an “irrational” (not backed by science) belief can be held without it affecting one’s ability to be competent (or indeed excel) at one’s chosen occupation, and this other scenario where a belief, view or opinion is sufficiently absurd and/or extreme and/or deeply ingrained that it does affect one’s ability to work competently and that such people should be fired/turned down for work when the effect it has comes to light, then we must therefore have this third “middle” ground where an “irrational” belief is not so absurd that it has any effect on competency, but IS absurd enough that they should be fired/not hired. This obviously ignores the very relevant point that affecting one’s ability to work competently in a rationality based field is the main factor in determining that a belief is too absurd.

          In short, he’s looking to justify bigotry.

          • realgeek says:

            “This obviously ignores the very relevant point that affecting one’s ability to work competently in a rationality based field is the main factor in determining that a belief is too absurd.”

            I don’t understand.

            “In short, he’s looking to justify bigotry.”

            That was over the top, and I don’t appreciate it. Words have meaning.

            Having what someone’s potential employers can logically show is a mental defect and hiding it from them, or claiming that it wouldn’t affect their scientific integrity in their position, is wrong. Does that statement really mean that I’m trying to justify bigotry? No, it doesn’t. Especially since mental clarity and intellectual honesty are requirements for the job.

            I’ve already explained how a devout stork-believer is either mentally unfit or intellectually dishonest. If you can apply the same kind of thought experiment I used before on another, less absurd belief and again reasonably disprove it, then the same reason applies not to hire the holder of that less-absurd belief as well.

            I hope everyone can see that I’m not attacking religion. Although I think it’s entirely wrong, for example, to consider a closet YEC for a position as a geologist, I personally feel that matters of faith can be extremely helpful to humankind. Yeah, shocker! :-)

  113. Antinous / Moderator says:

    This is an argument that the good old Jed can’t do his job because of his actions and the unprofessional manner in which he presents himself, not because of his religious beliefs.

    But the whole academic world is built on the concept of reputation. He doesn’t need to do anything amiss as long as his beliefs are widely known. He’s just plain bad for business. That alone is a disqualification for a Director. Academia may have arcane standards, but it still ultimately functions on the same principles as the rest of the real world.

  114. Anonymous says:

    Dawkins may get many points right. He is, however, as religious as the pope. He has turned atheism into an organized religion.

  115. Anonymous says:

    WHERE can I apply (without wasting paper and stamps)
    - being an Atheist for a position as priest
    - being a vegan for a job as boss of a slaughterhouse
    - being antialcoholic for a job as bartender
    - being a communist for CEO of an incorporation
    - being leftwing to go on air in the Murdoch imperium?

    So why should the stork theorist get the chance to hire future gyn/obs professors?
    Why should the young earth astronomer get the chance to select science faculty?
    (If s/he has a position without voice in faculty procedures, might be that s/he behaves like a moderate religionist towards students, maybe…)
    But moderate religionists are still mainstream, and therefore protected by averageness for years to come.

    Mr. Gaskell seems to be much too controversial to be that.

  116. pjcamp says:

    So you’re saying Alfred Russell Wallace should have been given the bum’s rush when he backed away from natural selection?

    I once interviewed for a job at Texas Instruments (didn’t get it). One guy asked me if it would bother me that I would be working on weapons. He said it bothered him a lot. Should TI have fired him?

    You can certainly argue that creationists are unqualified to be scientists, but that raises the question of what happens when they keep their beliefs private. If found out, should they then be fired when there is no other blemish on their record?

    In this particular case, the university wrote the job description. Any candidate that met the requirements they laid out should be given fair consideration without regard to unspoken requirements that are a secret part of the process. This is how blacks, Jews and women have been excluded in the past.

    And I say all this as a confirmed atheist myself.

  117. petertrepan says:

    Imagine if I applied for a job as a pastor after explaining that despite my thorough knowledge of scripture, I don’t believe any of it – but don’t worry – I’m capable of pretending that I do.

    I wouldn’t be hired, and that decision would be uncontroversial. Since the job is about exploring a viewpoint that is incompatible with my own, I would be unfit for the job. The only reason we’re arguing about this is because people with these particular beliefs are politically powerful. Imagine if instead of sympathizing with young earth creationism, the applicant believed in the cosmology of Scientology. Think the decision not to hire him would be controversial then?

  118. Anonymous says:

    It is terribly frustrating to be in a conversation thread the author of such interesting books as The Ancestor’s Tale and The Selfish Gene, and only be talking about how opposed everyone is to things he didn’t propose. :(

  119. karl_jones says:

    So: Martin Gaskell asserts …

    (A) That he is a Christian, and

    (B) That he has been discriminated against, with respect to the job at University of Kentucky.

    Item (B) is obviously true: the letter from the chairman of the search committee makes this plain.

    Item (A), however, is another matter. Gaskell says that he’s a Christian. But can he prove it?

    I submit that the answer is no: neither Gaskell — nor anyone else — can prove that they are true believers in the faith they profess.

    • billstewart says:

      Karl Jones @ 43 asks whether Gaskell can prove that he’s a True Believer in that particular faith, and asserts that he can’t. From a religious discrimination lawsuit perspective, that’s not highly relevant – the committee discriminated against him because of their dislike of what they perceived to be his religious belief, which is the behaviour that matters, and what he himself believes (which appear not to include the YEC dogmatism that they specifically dislike) doesn’t really matter here. Similarly, if they’d discriminated against him for being gay because he liked pink clothing and Broadway musicals, it would be their discrimination that was at issue, not his actual sexual preferences.

      As far as economists reading Marxist literature goes, when I was in grad school in the 70s, the econometrics department was dominated by Marxists, and why not? How would you expect to run a planned economy unless you understand how to measure it and plan it? I’d expect well-read economists to know Marx’s work, and that of currently influential Marxists. If somebody were trying to work in a university Literature department, I’d be concerned if they liked most Marxist writing, which belongs on the Dismal Science Fiction shelf next to Ayn Rand, but there’s no accounting for taste.

    • Anonymous says:

      Do you think that honestly matters? If I discriminate against you for being, for example, gay you don’t have to kiss someone of the same sex in court to prove that you really, really are gay.

  120. arikol says:

    Mr.Dawkins

    Regarding example number 3 in your article:

    People get stripped of their credentials for knowingly falsifying research. If the man is publishing research which he believes to be wrong, then that is what he is doing. No ethical standard at all, and it would be fair to say that someone who tells untruths (in his eyes) so easily is not a man to be trusted.

    Actually presenting what you believe to be false as a truth is just about the least honest thing you can do. It also means that any assumptions made in his papers have to be reviewed for dishonest errors. It isn’t enough to review his findings for honest mistakes, due to the intellectual dishonesty which he freely admits to.

  121. realgeek says:

    BTW, thanks Antinous for keeping BoingLand clean! I just realized it is (or was) Moderator Day.

  122. pjcamp says:

    In fact, I’ll add to that.

    Some people adopt atheism as a kind of religion and become positively pentecostal about it.

    I would be tempted to add tolerance and open mindedness to the list of virtues. Just as closet creationism calls into question the intellectual virtues of a cosmologist, intolerance and a mind slammed shut equally well calls into question the judgment of any scientist.

    The issue here is not creationism so much as it is dogma.

  123. billstewart says:

    Out of curiosity, how would Prof. Dawkins feel about a scientist who believed in a religion like Hinduism that views physical reality to be an illusion? Would he treat that differently than somebody who believes a religion that has beliefs that he specifically disapproves of?

  124. d15724c710n says:

    Creationists shouldn’t be in the astronomy-teaching business. Or the science-teaching business. Or the teaching business. Let’s not make not hiring the seriously deluded illegal, when we know their delusions do reflect on their work and their working environment.

  125. Crispian says:

    Mr. Dawkins,

    “I simply raised the question whether there are ANY beliefs so preposterously absurd, so universally agreed to be ridiculous, that they should be taken into account.”

    If your argument is really so simple and narrow, let me speak for many in agreeing with that premise with an equally simple “no duh.” Though it leaves me wondering why such a bright person would pontificate on such a trivial matter. And it is this latter puzzlement that leads so many of us to criticize your argument as we have. And it’s not a big secret that your views on religious belief aren’t exactly charitable.

    Certainly a person may hold absurd beliefs that call his sanity into question or may be socially repugnant. Falling back on a claim that they’re “religious” beliefs should not save a prospective candidate. You now fall back on the more absurd examples you’ve provided…but you also provided the dubious example of the astronomer YEC and say you would discriminate against him for his religious views (albeit not in such explicit terms) because you “would regard his equanimity in holding two diametrically opposing views simultaneously in his head as a revealing indicator that there is something wrong with his head.”

    But us humans often suffer from cognitive dissonance. Perhaps you fault the astronomer for his complacent awareness of the conflicting notions (whereas cognitive dissonance is generally more obscured from our consciousness). Perhaps the astronomer views it as a conundrum he hopes to be explained one day. Scientists can accept conflicting ideas. A scientist may have a deep-seated belief that time travel is possible but recognizes such a belief contradicts some basic notions of physics. Perhaps a convoluted theory can be devised that makes it appear rationale enough for you. And perhaps it is the relative lack of complexity in determining whether the universe is older than 10,000 years old that emboldens your penchant for discrimination in the astronomer’s case.

    Ultimately, according to your presentation, the astronomer’s work is not hampered by his conflicting positions on the age of the universe. You would call him a fraud…though it is very unclear who he is defrauding – other than himself or possibly his church. You say his academic work is good.

    You strive to find a way to frame discrimination against him as something other than religious by calling him crazy and a fraud. This is the danger many of us see. It appears you would endorse religious discrimination simply by re-framing the issue. As someone who studied the law, framing issues is a first step in winning a case, despite the facts. Your definition of crazy is too broad and your definition of fraud is too personal. The question should be the quality of the professor’s work, which you admit is good.

    “Of course I would not discriminate against Georges Lemaitre or any other priest, simply because he was religious.”

    No, but you might find a way to call them crazy or frauds. And you may do it in good faith. I give you the benefit of the doubt that you are not being dishonest in your argument but I do think you are suffering from cognitive dissonance in saying you oppose religious discrimination while wishing to discriminate against people for holding religious views you deem crazy or fraudulent if held by those in certain academic fields.

  126. Christopher says:

    Look, as far as I’m concerned, this hasn’t got a thing to do with religion or not; it’s all about who you choose to sympathize with.

    The whole argument is constructed around the idea that you are either in charge of hiring employees, or you are a student. What you definitely aren’t, here, is somebody who needs a job.

    Me, though, I plan to stop being a student in the very near future, and I expect to start doing a lot of freelance work. I don’t currently ever expect to be making the hiring decisions for a university.

    So what your asking is, don’t I think that the world would be a better place if I had to order not just a part of my life, but the entirety of my life around flattering the beliefs of potential employees?

    And, no, quite frankly I do not think that would be a better world for me.

  127. Anonymous says:

    Personally, I think it’s pretty straightforward. Your private beliefs are your private beliefs, and unless they are an impediment to competence in your job, they are immaterial. However, the minute they begin impacting your job (in these instances, for instance, if the professor deviated from the accepted scientific teachings to proselytize about YEC or storks or something along those lines), then it may be considered an impediment, breach of contract, contrary to university (or company, etc) policy, and they lose all job protection.

    If the person in question may do his/her job well, or even make a scientific contribution to his/her field, then it shouldn’t matter if the taught material contravenes personal beliefs. While not scientific, I point you to the art of debate, the legal profession, and the general idea of a Devil’s Advocate. If we are to say that some sort of moral fraud is perpetrated by someone who argues for something in opposition to their personal beliefs, then all lawyers are (even more) guilty than the jokes portray them as being. And a further question might be this: what is a liberal arts education, so prevalent in universities these days, without the many opposing viewpoints? And how can you get these opposing viewpoints if the professors aren’t allowed to make an argument for something they don’t believe? No, these aren’t hard sciences, and not as directly contravened by YEC theory, but the idea behind them is the same.

    Discrimination is discrimination; as long as belief doesn’t interfere with competence, why should it matter? And when it does interfere, then there’s just cause to fire them (or not hire in the the first place).

  128. Anonymous says:

    I had a wonderful teacher, a devout creationist, who taught a unit on evolution, he presented the material accurately, thoroughly and without bias. When I asked him about creationism he said “That would be a different class” he went on to explain that you can teach a class on Orwell’s 1984, yet not have to agree with the premise. It’s all about being good at your job and seperating personal beliefs from work.

  129. Anonymous says:

    This seems cut and dry, with astronomy unable to cohabit with faith, but (and I really hate the slippery slope argument, but..) how far is it from the search committee quizzing him on his religious beliefs? Would the search committee quiz every applicant on their religious beliefs? Would job applicants have to recant particular religious beliefs to get the job?

    I don’t like that. If you accept that faith is about belief and science is about evidence, hypotheses and proof, you shouldn’t be called on to explain yourself. Your body of work should be enough.

    This said, the job of a search committee is to find a group of equally qualified candidates, so they can make a decision that won’t generate a lawsuit. They were breathtakingly UNqualified.

  130. Antinous / Moderator says:

    naharnahekim,

    Feel free to check out our Comment Policy.

    • naharnahekim says:

      Antinous,
      My comment was inflammatory, disrespectful, and perhaps did not further the discussion already at hand. I accept my summary dissemvowelment humbly, and will endeavor to elevate my discourse above the level of dawkinsian hawkishness.

  131. shadowfirebird says:

    In neither of your examples would I discriminate against the prospective employee.

    Furthermore, I think your assertion that either of these hypothetical candidates would be tainted in some way because of their beliefs to be poor logic — you have already said that they are not, since you said they excelled at their jobs.

    I fail to understand the logic behind your argument. It’s very tempting to believe that you have succumbed in some way to bias due to the religious nature of the argument.

  132. factbased says:

    The problem with “no discrimination based on religious belief” is that anyone can claim to hold any belief and call it religious.

  133. Alfie says:

    Speaking of non religious foolishness. I just found out someone at my work, in a position of influence, is convinced that the world will be over in 2012.

    I need to make a report to the board of directors regarding his position. Do I bring this lunacy up?

  134. The Chemist says:

    Wow, I like how people are talking here as if holding conflicting or complexly interlinked ideas in your head either signifies dishonesty or mental illness.

    Last I checked, that was a feature, not a bug. Otherwise political scientists could never teach anything at universities.

  135. jphilby says:

    Considering 1. how many centuries science was held back by religious persecution, and considering 2. how even today rightist religions are largely responsible for the backlash keeping climate change solutions from being rapidly effected, and considering 3. that the US Gov just found that 20 percent of US HS seniors are ‘proficient’ in science … I’d say it’s utterly imperative that no more ‘nice’ compromises are made.

    The war of ideas has now come to the point that the future of humanity is hanging in the balance. It’s time to end the nonsense, and prove that we’re NOT too stupid to save ourselves.

    • TLMO says:

      Consider:

      1. Despite previously being held back by religious persecution, scientific knowledge and understanding exploded over the past few hundred years and made the modern world what it is today.

      2. Despite “rightist religions” having no currency in the scientific debate over climate change, the leftist sham narrative on this issue is now rejected by a majority of Americans…uh, because of them. This has nothing whatsoever to do with the scandal at CRU and the IPCC.

      3. Despite public schools chasing away millions of motivated, and now home-schooled, students with their ridiculous postmodern teaching techniques, the US Government finds that 20% of HS seniors still manage to become proficient in science. Efforts to increase this number include making public high schools more conducive to all students. This will, hopefully, entice home-schoolers (who generally score much higher on these tests) to return to public school.

      I agree that no more compromises be made. Compromising is, after all, not a facet of scientific inquiry. It is of politics, of course. In fact, one could say that, unlike science, compromise is the heart and soul of politics. And, you understand this. You would never inadvertently conflate science and politics in this regard, right?

  136. mellon says:

    I think what you are doing here, Richard, is similar to what you do when you criticize religious people in general: you pick prominent but basically ignorant religious people, demonstrate what idiots they are, and then say “well, these guys are prominent, so no doubt the best examples of their lot. Hence, any other example will be even more idiotic, and we therefore need not examine them.”

    Here you say “look, we have a competent person who holds religious beliefs someone found objectionable” (for reasons unstated, at least by you). “Isn’t it basically okay that he was discriminated against on the basis of those beliefs, since all people who hold those beliefs are idiots or insane?”

    Would you refuse to hire me since, as a Buddhist, my practices only really make logical sense if you accept the idea of reincarnation? Even if I were otherwise by far the best person for the job? That’s basically what you’re proposing here.

    The fact is that you appear to know very little about religion (and certainly as a self-proclaimed “atheist” you are entitled to that state of ignorance, at least in regards to religions involving the worship of deities). So it’s hard to see how you’re qualified to even ask this question, because you’re not competent to discriminate accurately between religious people who are idiots or insane, and religious people who are neither.

    A better question to ask would be “if your religious views directly affect your ability to do your job,” (e.g., because you would refuse, as a pharmacist, to fill certain prescriptions), “is your employer then allowed to discriminate against you, since you clearly will not be able to do the job your employer wishes to hire you to do.” In this case, I think the answer is clearly yes. It’s a much cleaner question, whereas your question almost qualifies as a troll.

    • d15724c710n says:

      How could you possibly think that being a creationist does not affect one’s job of being an academic astronomer? That’s nonsense.

      • mellon says:

        Oh, Creationists have no problem rationalizing the incompatibilities between their beliefs and observed reality. The photons were created in flight. Problem solved.

  137. Daemon says:

    It comes down to reputation. The university’s, that is, not his.

    Apparently he does absolutely excellent work. Unfortunately, his beliefs would make it very, very easy for people not familiar with his work (ie. most of the world) to make fun of the university for hiring him.

    And honestly, reputation is everything for a university.

  138. Maiku81 says:

    I would argue the exact opposite of what Richard Dawkins proposes. You are how you ACT in this world not what you tell yourself you believe.

    If a Marxist works in the city for a major stockbroker and turns a large profit for that stockbroker then I think it is fair to say that the person in question is not actually a Marxist. They may cling to Marxist labels as an act of personal identity but they do not actually believe it in anyway as it does not change the way they act.

    A supposed YEC astronomer who published papers stating that the universe is 14 billion years old is not a legitimate YEC. They may cling to the label for the sake of old friendships but they are not really a YEC. It has no impact on their lives.

    Incidentally I know plenty of sports fans with a disconnect from reality based on their team loyalty. Presumably Richard Dawkins is fine with discriminating against any sports fan who believes that their team is the best when the truth is demonstrably otherwise. I mean it’s “a revealing indicator that there is something wrong with his head.” right?

  139. Anonymous says:

    I prefer Linux, I think it is better that Windows in many applications. Should I not be allowed to make my living supporting and deploying Windows because to paraphrase Mr. Dawkins, “{I am} a fake, a fraud, a charlatan, drawing a salary for a job that could have gone to an honest [MCSE].”?

    Just what we need, people having to hide their religious beliefs to keep their jobs. I vote no if anyone is counting. And for the record I would prefer a brilliant eye surgeon that believes in avian-genesis over some hack with a rusty scalpel who knows where babies come from.

  140. Anonymous says:

    Let’s assume that instead of being a creationist, young earth or otherwise, Gaskell is a gambler.

    In this scenario, hypothetical gambler Gaskell, quite apart from his work as an astronomer, believes wholeheartedly and fervently in luck. For our purposes, luck will be defined as an impersonal and unmeasurable force that nevertheless pervades all existence and arbitrarily influences persons or events, sometimes over sustained time periods, such that their outcomes are other than probability predicts. This belief manifests itself in a number of personal quirks, such as the carrying of a rabbit’s foot, much in the same way that, say, a Catholic might wear a scapular. Nevertheless, his work in astronomy remains “breathtakingly above” his peers.

    Should his belief in luck preclude him from employment as a chair of astronomy at a university?

  141. The Chemist says:

    I might add as well that the whole Dawkins rhetorical device obsessed with equating things he doesn’t like with mental disease or illness is growing quite tired. People do suffer from mental diseases and illnesses and aren’t worse people for it, nor are they instantly rendered helpless babes incapable of ever accomplishing anything useful. It’s disgraceful to casually bandy this sort of bigoted rhetoric about so carelessly.

  142. Tim says:

    While the case Prof. Dawkins makes is a strong one, as many commenters have pointed out, Martin Gaskell is not a YEC. In his own writings, which Prof. Dawkins linked, Gaskell states that there’s nothing in the Bible that says the Earth could not be 13.7 billion years old. He seems to be saying, “My religious beliefs do not clash with scientific knowledge.”

    While I do fully support the “don’t give foolishness a freebie just because someone claims the foolishness is religious” it does seem that Prof. Dawkins is letting his personal distaste for religion of all kinds to color his views on this. There seems to be nothing that would imply Dr. Gaskell is anything but highly qualified and nothing that would lead one to believe that he would not do a wonderful job. He holds certain religious beliefs, but none that come in direct conflict with science and he seems reasonable enough that should the seemingly conflict, he has found ways to let them coexist without rejecting anything scientific (if anything, he altered some of his religious beliefs to fit the science).

    Some of the examples Prof. Dawkins gave do seem illogical and ridiculous. But this real case is not one of those, and while the extremes do exist, let’s not reduce everything to absurd extremes in an attempt to make a point. Extremes can present examples, but the world is far more full of shades of gray than blacks and whites. While extremes do exist, and they can be dangerous, just because someone believes God exists or set off the Big Bang does not mean they believe the Tooth Fairy left them a quarter when their front tooth fell out.

  143. TLMO says:

    “Even if a doctor’s belief in the stork theory of reproduction is technically irrelevant to his competence as an eye surgeon, it tells you something about him.”

    The predicate here seems false. An “eye surgeon” is a physician. How could it be irrelevant to his competence, therefore, for him to believe in the stork theory of reproduction? Has any physician in the US or UK ever graduated medical school, and completed an internship (required for specialty “eye surgery” residency training) without, for example, personally witnessing a live human birth? I think not.

    This hypothetical is a stretch and Dawkins’ conclusions from it nothing but snark.

    • realgeek says:

      “This hypothetical is a stretch and Dawkins’ conclusions from it nothing but snark.”

      First, I don’t think he’s drawn any conclusions, at least not that I’ve seen stated yet.

      Second, He himself labeled the hypotheticals absurd, and I think he’s done that to show that if we start from a position of profound absurdity (like the stork theory), and show that a believer of stork theory must have broken from reality (#326), then how can that person possibly be “breathtaking above the other candidates?”

      We’ve established that our fictional eye surgeon is unfit due to his evidently false absurd belief. We can then find other candidates with potentially less absurd beliefs. yet still use a little supposition, mental exercise, and perhaps a bit of research to determine that their beliefs may also be evidently false.

      What does this mean? I’m not disputing that everyone has a right to her own personal beliefs, but if your beliefs are determined by your potential employer to be evidently false, then it seems they have every right to consider you to be unfit for the position.

      Also, please note that I did not use the term “religion” above in this comment because this is about personal beliefs. Remember, religion implies belief, but belief does not imply religion. If you don’t think that statement is true, I think you should get a dictionary and an elementary course in logic.

      • TLMO says:

        First of all, I did not read all the comments. Mr Dawkins has apparently acknowledged that his examples were over the top.

        I would note that the case of the astronomer here involves his employment at an academic institution. Theoretically, a university should tolerate a wide variety of beliefs.

        “…to determine that their beliefs may also be evidently false.”

        I’m not sure what this means in the real world. “May evidently be false” is a very slippery slope. That Gaskell’s beliefs may evidently be false implies, by your logic, that he shouldn’t be teaching at all, regardless of his tenure status. It also implies that someone can conclusively falsify his or anyone’s religious beliefs. Would this standard be applied to all religious beliefs? It’s almost absurd to hypothesize that a Muslim astronomer at U of Kentucky would have been treated the same as Gaskell.

        The story of Dr. Gaskell is much ado about nothing, IMO. He’s more a victim of PC thought control on campuses than anything else. Par for the course, unfortunately. He could have been a religious minded Political Science prof and had a similar experience.

        Why Mr Dawkins jumped on this story is beyond me. I appreciate his books on evolution, but I’m not a fan of his crusade to stamp out religiosity.

      • TLMO says:

        “Remember, religion implies belief, but belief does not imply religion.”

        Hmm, I’ll have to remember that. Don’t necessarily impugn religious beliefs on my part, BTW.

        “but if your beliefs are determined by your potential employer to be evidently false, then it seems they have every right to consider you to be unfit for the position.”

        You should remember this statement of yours. File it away for reconsideration when a religiously motivated administration takes charge in DC. If they believe the way you do, they may decide to purge the federal bureaucracy of people whom they consider to hold “evidently false beliefs”, like perhaps agnostics and atheists.

        Private employers may have some latitude in who they can disqualify for employment based on beliefs. I wouldn’t give the government carte blanche in that respect.

        Gaskell, I believe, is technically an employee of the state of Kentucky.

  144. Anonymous says:

    Anti-creationism is a popular form of bigotry today.

    Think about it. Most forces in the universe are non-conservative. Gravity is the main exception; but once two objects hit, bam! Friction takes over.

    Stable differential equations are unstable when time is reversed. Any student of calculus knows you need both the slope and the boundary values/equations. It doesn’t take much complexity to achieve a chaotic system, at which point there are often an infinite number of “probable” solutions. Creation and the Big Bang are just two popular ones today.

    The “big bang” is an item of faith almost as big as God. Astrophysicists are happy when their equations are consistent “within a few orders of magnitude”. That doesn’t cut it in most fields. That said, theirs is still an interesting line of research; but its more like alchemy than they’d like to admit. Just as computer “science” is often more of a craft.

    Historians can tell you how doubtful the written record is. Anyone who claims authoritative details of prerecorded history is just blowing smoke.

  145. Mojiferous says:

    I think what all the “religious” people of all faiths are forgetting here is that hiring blind would cut both ways. What if you found out that the priest you hired a while back was actually a closet atheist, who didn’t believe in any of the mumbo-jumbo you place so much weight in? Would that be acceptable?

    If some YEC can teach geology, why can’t I teach your kids sunday school — I’m familiar with most bible stories (thanks to Catholic school) and can regurgitate the moral teachings with the best of them, but I am an atheist, do you think I would provide them with the best experience? Wouldn’t you be up in arms when you found out I thought your ideas of a higher being were unfounded and unproven? I can only imagine the reaction.

    • Ito Kagehisa says:

      Mojiferous, you are welcome to teach Sunday School at my church. We could use more teachers.

      Obviously, if your presence turns out to be detrimental to the kids, you will be asked to stop teaching. But it wouldn’t be because of your atheist beliefs. We have plenty of atheists.

  146. Anonymous says:

    If the argument is that you shouldn’t be able to hold personal beliefs (of whatever calibre) that aren’t entirely in line with your employers and keep your job, then I don’t agree with that. Nor do I see how any reasonable person would.

    I’m an atheist and I’m ok with other people being wrong. If a person can do their job, then I don’t see why they should be denied employment because they don’t think the same way I do. If I want to be judged on my merits, and not by other’s prejudices, then that starts with me extending the same courtesy to others.

    I suppose the biggest affront in this piece is the fact that an atheist scientist is being discriminatory without a shred of actual real world evidence. That, and the idea that objective science is somehow more valid if the author believes in it – what ever happened to peer review? I thought the point behind science was that it can be demonstrated to be true – that you don’t have to take it on faith? If a YEC comes up with a cure for cancer or grand unified theory, and it is supported by experiment and peer review, they why does it matter what they personally belief? The objective science is what matters in my opinion.

  147. smr says:

    I think it’s bad that we’re letting the discussion be steered towards “how bad should we be to these outlying nutters?” because it doesn’t sound totally different from “Would you sleep with me for a million dollars?” “OK” “Would you sleep with me for one dollar?” “No! What kind of person do you think I am?” “We already established what kind of person you are, now we’re just negotiating over price.”

    Once you decide that you can’t employ competent but goofy people it’s just a question of how goofy is goofy enough. I have a lucky pen from my school days I still use for tests, interviews and so on and that’s a goofy belief but is it “too goofy”?.

    • realgeek says:

      “Once you decide that you can’t employ competent but goofy people it’s just a question of how goofy is goofy enough.”

      In a way, I agree with you. But the situation is untenable at either extreme.

  148. Peter Sean Bradley says:

    How many more times do I have to say this? I am NOT in favour of discriminating against people on grounds of their religious beliefs. I simply raised the question whether there are ANY beliefs so preposterously absurd, so universally agreed to be ridiculous, that they should be taken into account.

    Sure. Marxists shouldn’t be allowed to teach politics, history or economics.

    After all, we know that Marxism is not only a pseudo-science, it has also been demonstrated to be contrary to the facts and to produce baneful results. So, as long as we are rooting around in personal beliefs, that should be one that put on our little list.

    Of course, that is probably not what Dawkins has in mind. Marxism is probably one of those permissible wrong, silly and stupid beliefs that we can tolerate. Marxism is probably something he can understand someone holding because he knows might know people who are Marxists.

    How about atheism? John Locke argued that tolerance ought to be extended to everyone in England except Catholics and atheists. Catholics because they couldn’t be trusted because of their adherence to a foreign power, and atheists because they couldn’t be trusted to adhere to solemn vows. Perhaps, we ought to be concerned about atheists in the same way that John Locke was concerned.

    But, again, that’s not the type of personal belief he picks out. That kind of personal belief is a permissible belief because, again, he knows people who have that kind of belief.

    I personally don’t believe either belief ought to be considered, but, then, I’m not the one trying to equate “belief that Mars is a blue mongoose” to atheism or Marxism.

    Rather than deal with these real world examples of personal beliefs that have been the basis of denying government employment, Dawkins picks out the banal and asinine strawman of believing that “Mars is a blue mongoose,” as if that had any connection to any issue that we are likely to address.

    The belief that “Mars is a blue mongoose.” is a banal and asinine strawman because until we know more about this person who holds this belief we have absolutely know way of judging the case. Is the person who advances this view a gadfly trying to prick the priggish certainty of the Dawkins of the world with some truly out of the box ideas? Who knows. Does he adhere to the view as a metaphor for something or other? Who knows. Does he defend the idea out of some loyalty to his beloved Nana who told him that when he was younger and she never lied to him? Who knows. Does he think that Mars is literally a blue mongoose?

    Well, then, might we want to know if this fellow is color blind? Maybe. Does he have any other delusions that he expresses? Who knows. Is he able to manage his financial resources and avoid being taken advantage of? Not a clue.

    On its face, the issue we should first address is whether advocate of “Mars is a blue mongoose” is someone who needs medical or psychiatric intervention before we even discuss his fitness to teach anything.

    And that, of course, is why Dawkins’ example is a silly and banal example. Dawkins is asking us to treat his silly hypothetical as if it were real when we know that the Marxist and atheist example are far more pertinent. Dawkins is attempting to make a religious belief and “belief that Mars is a blue mongoose” somehow equivalent.

    Those of us not interested in strawmen don’t have to assume Dawkins’ assumptions. We know that “Mars is a blue mongoose” means “young earth creationist” and may someday mean “people who believe in religion/Marxism/atheism.” Once we adopt the idea that can discriminate against those we suspect of heresy, we know that there is no neat line that demarcates the end of our proclivity to discriminate.

  149. antic says:

    Irrational beliefs, religious or not, could be considered equal to any other mental derangement or quirk. Should we take into account other derangements in hiring? Maybe. Though this is slippery and I think it actually depends on the industry.

    The core of the problem here is that laws can’t be made to apply to every field.

    Steven Hawking can’t be considered for a job working construction. That’s a discrimination that fits. So why are we allowed to have physical discrimination in hiring, but not mental?

    It seems that in an academic hiring, it should be up to the institution to determine what mental state they wish their employees to have–especially in the field of teaching. A school should be allowed to determine what views will be given as truth within their walls–whether this is a religious institution or not.

    I wonder if a church is allowed to discriminate against hiring a priest based on religious belief?

  150. Mambo Caboose says:

    Turn the question around the other way. I’m someone who believes firmly that everything can be explained with science. would it be discrimination when a church who firmly believes in creationism doesn’t hire me to run their computer network?

  151. hmonkey says:

    Mr. Dawkins, having read your post, many of your articles in the popular press, and your most recent book on the subject, I have to say that news of your opposition to discrimination against people on the basis of their religious beliefs comes as a complete surprise.

  152. TharkLord says:

    Everyone has irrational beliefs. If I think someone doesn’t have any its usually because I haven’t gotten to know them that well. My main concern is how those beliefs will impact my life and the lives of those they come into contact with.

    If a bus driver absolutely believes in Bigfoot, that may be a little freaky, but I’d be much more concerned if he believed that drinking a six pack of beer in the morning wouldn’t impact his driving.

    Everybody is crazy in some way. I just hope they have an open mind and are willing to say, “I sincerely believe this, but I’ll put aside my beliefs rather than cause suffering to someone else.” Believe whatever you wish, but be kind and respectful to the lives of others.

  153. Anonymous says:

    If Dawkins’ theories are applied, I shadder to think what would happen to all the marxists in the US universities.

  154. Anonymous says:

    Believing that what someone told you is the truth is the definition of gullible. Religious people are,in most cases, the epitome of gullible.

  155. Anonymous says:

    I think the point he’s making is that you can’t take on someone who isn’t evidence-based for an evidence-based job, and you shouldn’t be forced to just because someone’s appealing to antiquity.

  156. mellowknees says:

    It doesn’t matter what a person’s personal belief system is as long as they can get the job done without those beliefs getting in the way. In the US, Equal Employment Opportunity law dictates that people may not be discriminated against for their religion. Clearly, in this case, religion was the deciding factor.

    I can understand not wanting to hire a creationist to head up an observatory, but until he proves that his belief system gets in the way of his ability to do his job, well, then it’s illegal discrimination (at least in the US).

  157. Proteus says:

    Big miss in Mr. Dawkin’s article — the issue of reputation. Part of the job of a professor is to represent the university. While a university will generally turn a blind eye to personal beliefs of a subjective nature, it would not be in the university’s best interests to hire someone whose publicly-stated beliefs are at odds with the science he is hired to profess.

    • Thalia says:

      I think THIS is the only argument that holds weight. The concept of being represented by someone who publicly declares a belief that is incompatible with the school’s mission/goals/teachings is a problem.

      But I still think that your private faith/beliefs are your business. Just as I would never refuse to hire an instructor in religious studies because of their lack of faith, I would not refuse to hire an astronomer who is a YEC, as long as she turned out quality work that was not based on that private faith. I would, however, ask in an interview whether their teachings reflect the current scientific consensus/religious consensus on the subject matter. If they can commit to that, I don’t see the problem.

      P.S. The best religion teacher I ever had was an atheist. And I believe my chemistry prof was a born again YEC-type, and she knew her chemistry.

  158. Anonymous says:

    You get to choose your religion. You don’t get to choose your race or sex.

  159. davidould says:

    Dawkins begins to smack of genuine insecurity in his strident attempt to bar others from being recognised as scientists.

    Notwithstanding that Gaskell doesn’t hold a YEC position, what if he did? That’s the real dilemma for Dawkins here. He considers such a position preposterous but what if it was genuinely and sincerely held by someone who, in every other regard, was considered an expert in the field?

    You’re left with 2 options

    1 “Dawkins” him and brand him a nut-job because he doesn’t hold to the consensus.
    2 Have the humility to recognise that some very great and fine minds disagree on substantial issues. In this case that a highly-regarded scientist took a contrary view might just be an opportunity to climb down from our very high horses of certainty and consider for a moment that there could possibly be a different way to conclude on the same evidence.

    The second one is much braver option but has the virtue of not being coupled with the arrogant hubris of simply dismissing those we think are wrong – something Dawkins has long gained a reputation for. Coupled with a demonstrable failure to properly understand or represent those he seeks to criticise (which would be understandable in an internet troll but has to be seen as woeful in an academic), it doesn’t surprise me that he’s taking the shelacking that he is here. I can’t be the only one who’s actually quite enjoying it.

  160. Coal says:

    I think the sports team analogy hits it. Dawkins is effectively claiming that anybody who supports a sports team believing them to be the best in spite of occasional defeats should be barred from any scientific position.

    The irony here of cause is that Dawkins has proved himself a fraud and incapable of holding a scientific position by his own argument. He claims that somebody who privately believes in creation despite the lack of any empirical evidence supporting it (and indeed being fully versed in such evidence) should not be considered competent to hold scientific positions. Yet that claim is based on his own private belief that he stated very clearly was not supported by or based on any empirical evidence. By his own conclusion, he is a fraud, has mental issues, and should not be permitted to work in a scientific field.

  161. Richard Dawkins says:

    To repeat:-

    I did not say Martin Gaskell shouldn’t have got the job. I did not, and do not, say that Christians, or Muslims, or Hindus, or Buddhists or etc . . . cannot be good scientists. Of course they can, and are. I was interested in a question of general principle: whether, when a university is looking to employ somebody, they should under all circumstances be completely blind to the candidates’ religious beliefs, as the law requires. In other words, is it a good law?

    In order to put the precise question into sharp focus, I deliberately announced that I was NOT going to consider the Gaskell case. Instead, with the same aim of sharpening the focus on the precise question at hand, I tried to think of an extreme: to see whether there was some level of absurdity of belief, which everybody would accept as beyond the pale of employability. That seemed to me to be a baseline of agreement, from which we might take the argument on to more difficult territory.

    For this purpose, I chose a hypothetical doctor who believes that babies come by storks, rather than by sex followed by gestation followed by birth. I thought I was safe that here, at least, was an example which could serve as our baseline. Surely everybody would accept that such a man should never be employed as a doctor, even if his specialty had no connection with obstetrics. Apparently I was wrong, and that’s fine, that is an interesting result in itself. I had no idea that I would flush out such opinions.

    What has emerged from the comments on Boing Boing is that there is apparently no level of absurdity that can serve my purpose of serving as a baseline for further discussion. For some people, the taboo against prying into a candidate’s private beliefs is so absolute that there is literally no belief, no matter how absurd, that could rule him out.

    I am now curious about where this taboo comes from. Does it come from religion itself? Or does it have something to do with the ‘cultural relativist’ belief that all opinions are equally valid? If your eye doctor believes babies are brought by storks, his opinion is just as valid and just as worthy of respect as your belief that babies come into the world via birth canal? Seriously, would you entrust your eyes, or your life, to such a person? Seriously, would you hire an astronomy professor who thinks that Mars is the egg of a giant purple mongoose? Are there literally no limits?

    I’m genuinely curious.

    • Coal says:

      I am now curious about where this taboo comes from. Does it come from religion itself? Or does it have something to do with the ‘cultural relativist’ belief that all opinions are equally valid?

      It’s neither. People are irrational beings, but well adjusted adults are fully capable of compartmentalising. If it can be demonstrated that a “goofy belief” in no way affects a person’s ability to do their job, then the belief is irrelevant to that job, and believing otherwise is an irrational conclusion inconsistent with the evidence.

      If your eye doctor believes babies are brought by storks, his opinion is just as valid and just as worthy of respect as your belief that babies come into the world via birth canal? Seriously, would you entrust your eyes, or your life, to such a person? Seriously, would you hire an astronomy professor who thinks that Mars is the egg of a giant purple mongoose? Are there literally no limits?

      Here you contradict yourself. The objectionable idea that babies are brought by storks is either a “belief” or an “opinion”? Which? It makes a huge difference, yet you use them interchangeably. If somebody had been home-schooled to the age of 18 and it had never been explained to them how babies were born outside of the stork theory, then even after medical schooling to become a doctor (graduating at the top of their year) and knowing for a fact that babies are born via birth canal, some part of them would continue to intrinsically believe the stork explanation because it had been their dominant explanation for the first 18 years of life. In that regard, a belief has a lot more in common with a phobia than an “opinion” which are a lot more open to reason and change.

      So no, no belief is too ludicrous if it’s been successfully compartmentalised so as not to interfere. Opinions are something else altogether though.

    • Anonymous says:

      “What has emerged from the comments on Boing Boing is that there is apparently no level of absurdity that can serve my purpose of serving as a baseline for further discussion. For some people, the taboo against prying into a candidate’s private beliefs is so absolute that there is literally no belief, no matter how absurd, that could rule him out.”

      I disagree.

      Having read all of the comments, I think that the overwhelming consensus that has emerged is that the baseline is when belief affects job performance. that is when Boingboingers woul d”rule someone out”

      The problem, Professor Dawkins, is that you offered hypotheticals and then seem baffled by people who take them at face value.
      If the ophthalmologist’s performance is unaffected by his or her beliefs, then the group seems to feel there’s no problem. And indeed, with what criteria would you identify a problem?

      For example, if I am firmly convinced that the Earl of Marley wrote Shakespeare’s plays, it won’t make any difference to my ability to do materials science.
      If I have decided that “Happy Birthday” is the greatest musical work ever created by human hand, it won’t affect my ability to teach math.
      If I think that fairies drink the milk I leave out at night, it won’t affect my ability to safely drive a car.
      And so on.

      I think that the (only partially) hidden conclusion you dance around, and encourage everyone to draw, is that irrational beliefs should *de facto* disqualify someone from holding jobs requiring empiricism.
      I.e. it’s *impossible* for the stork theory ophthalmologist to be a good ophthalmologist, because of that belief.
      That’s a superficially appealing idea, especially because it absolves you of any analytic responsibilities but it fails to make any link between beliefs and real world consequences.

      Unless and until a belief has real world consequences, it’s just aesthetics.
      When a belief system has negative real world effects, especially on other people, I think everyone here can agree that the holder should be disqualified from the relevant pursuit.

    • Ito Kagehisa says:

      Dr. Dawkins, apologies about the Gaskell diversion.

      If you spend more time on BoingBoing, you’ll find that consensus is almost never achieved in a strong discusssion thread, and rarely among the boingers themselves. For example, Pesco and Cory seem to have fairly incompatible ideas on religion, but both of them get along just fine with Mark and Xeni. It’s not a bug, it’s a feature; this is a very diverse and constantly changing community. You should watch me and Antinous have a go at each other some time!

      …I tried to think of an extreme: to see whether there was some level of absurdity of belief, which everybody would accept as beyond the pale of employability. That seemed to me to be a baseline of agreement, from which we might take the argument on to more difficult territory.

      The problem you’ve encountered is in your experiment setup. If you postulate that person X is the most qualified person to do the job, but person X has beliefs that preclude actually being the most qualified person, you’ve created an insolvable conflict in your base axioms.

      Either the person’s beliefs make them unqualified, or their qualifications transcend their beliefs. It’s very difficult to conceive of a situation where a single person is both highly competent and highly incompetent at the same task. If any absolute answer is returned, most likely it will simply reflect which of the two axioms a respondent has chosen to discard as nonsensical.

      What has emerged from the comments on Boing Boing is that there is apparently no level of absurdity that can serve my purpose of serving as a baseline for further discussion. For some people, the taboo against prying into a candidate’s private beliefs is so absolute that there is literally no belief, no matter how absurd, that could rule him out.

      Reading the thread, I see that many here are completely comfortable with “reverse discrimination” (to misuse a lame phrase). The people who are uncomfortable with job discrimination based on private beliefs are talking a bit louder, though.

      I am now curious about where this taboo comes from. Does it come from religion itself? Or does it have something to do with the ‘cultural relativist’ belief that all opinions are equally valid? If your eye doctor believes babies are brought by storks, his opinion is just as valid and just as worthy of respect as your belief that babies come into the world via birth canal? Seriously, would you entrust your eyes, or your life, to such a person? Seriously, would you hire an astronomy professor who thinks that Mars is the egg of a giant purple mongoose? Are there literally no limits?

      Dr. Dawkins, your questions not only imply a consensus that does not exist, they presuppose a coherent shared origin for that consensus rather than a multitude of divergent systems displaying a superficially similar feature. The eye of the octopus does not resemble the eye of a human because humans are descended from octopi, they are similar because that is a viable form that confers reproductive advantage. It’s unlikely that others’ beliefs on this matter have the same basis as my own; I’ve based my response on personal observations of empirical evidence.

      In the USA, you can gain economic and social advantage by abstaining from religious discrimination. The limit of tolerance of religious beliefs lies exactly at the limits of competence; if a religious astronomy professor performs the function of astronomy professor better than astronomy professors who are not religious, the religious issue will be ignored, until it interferes with competence. This is how our people want our economic system to work – we want functional meritocracies despite our government’s frequent attempts to eradicate them and our many disagreements on how merit should be judged.

      I’m genuinely curious.

      I’ve posted this already, but perhaps you missed it: My church has a paid secretary who is not of our religion, who holds views that we find nonsensical. But she does the job well! This is empirical evidence that disqualifying job applications on a basis of belief is unneccessary, and empirical evidence trumps theory in both science and business.

      If you would like to visit my home or church, and verify my observations for yourself, you will be welcome! I live about an hour south of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, near the Brandywine Natural History Museum.

      • Aant says:

        @Ito Kagehisa:

        The problem you’ve encountered is in your experiment setup. If you postulate that person X is the most qualified person to do the job, but person X has beliefs that preclude actually being the most qualified person, you’ve created an insolvable conflict in your base axioms.

        Precisely. Which is why the real issue is whether the qualifications needed to be a professor (physician, etc.) include public respectability in some sense.

        @Richard Dawkins:

        I am now curious about where this taboo comes from. Does it come from religion itself? Or does it have something to do with the ‘cultural relativist’ belief that all opinions are equally valid?

        I would like to hope that it is the result of the knowledge that we all have skeletons of one sort or another in our closets, in the form of attitudes or past behaviour we’d rather our bosses didn’t find out about, but which don’t affect our present and future ability to do our jobs. And also, that we rightly fear the sort of toxic politics that arise when the best way of discrediting an opponent is to dig up some evidence of their “unrespectable” opinions…

      • while1dan says:

        If you postulate that person X is the most qualified person to do the job, but person X has beliefs that preclude actually being the most qualified person, you’ve created an insolvable conflict in your base axioms.

        Dawkins surely realizes that setting up an unstoppable force and an immovable object is nonsense. If we lay the pendantry aside, we can understand him to mean “Person X is the most qualified to do the job, [except] that he has a certain belief which [could] preclude him from doing the job correctly [or which indicates an underlying flaw in his thought process which may cause thus far undetected flaws in his work].”

        He may have missed a few of the words to make it all blindingly clear, but to have an honest discussion we must assume that nonsense is really just a failure to communicate (at least the first few times, after that we can draw statistical inferences).

        If you’re calling BoingBoing commenters pedantic, then I’m behind you 100%.

        • Ito Kagehisa says:

          Well, I’m at the statistical inference step now.

          The majority of people replying that “you must not discriminate” are also saying “the point at which the unorthodox belief impacts the work is the point at which you may validly discriminate”. If the immovable rock moves, it wasn’t immovable, and if it doesn’t, the force wasn’t irresistible. We are advocating reality based value judgment, instead of whimsical judging based on whether one is fond of rocks or not.

          Dr. Dawkins is refusing to acknowledge this – he’s saying that people have “taboos” (the inference being that we’re primitive and uneducated, I guess) that probably come from religion or ‘cultural relativism’. This is a gross misinterpretation of what’s being said! Given Dr. Dawkin’s beliefs, it’s also a bit insulting, I suppose. I don’t care about that, but it does make me think he has some blinders on.

          There’s a point where the objector has to prove that belief in purple mongooses will cause a problem, or the objector is no more worth listening to than the purple mongoose loon is – and that’s the line of division.

          Anyway, I can’t deny BoingBoing commenters can be very pedantic. I personally am also too prolix, but I’m endeavoring to persevere.

          If you rephrase to “Person X is the most qualified to do the job, [except] that he has a certain belief which [could] preclude him from doing the job correctly [or which indicates an underlying flaw in his thought process which may cause thus far undetected flaws in his work].” the answer becomes “if there is no person equally qualified who has no such orwellian unauthorized thoughts, then person X is still the most qualified”.

    • while1dan says:

      This reminds me of the episode of Friends where an obstetrician simply stated, as if it was relevant, that he loved Arthur Fonzarelli.

      Dr. Harad: I’ll be back in a minute to do your internal, in the meantime, just relax because everything here looks great. And also I love Fonzie.

      While discussing it afterwards with her friends, Phoebe misremembers his statement to mean he thinks he is Fonzie.

      Ross: To be fair, he doesn’t seem to be impersonating Fonzie–
      Phoebe: What are you doing? Why are you defending him? Just get me another doctor. One who isn’t crazy and one who isn’t Fonzie.

      And Phoebe, being a private individual, was free to choose any doctor for any reason. Even if his love for Fonzie had been on religious grounds.

      And if it matters to the tone of this comment, I agree with everything you said, Richard.

      For anyone else, yes, a love of Fonzie should not be the deciding factor in whether someone gets a job. But if he thought he was Fonzie, I’d never hire him. So I have a do-not-hire-because-this-guy-is-crazy line. Anyone who doesn’t have such a line is on the wrong side of my line.

    • PlaneShaper says:

      “I am now curious about where this taboo comes from. Does it come from religion itself? Or does it have something to do with the ‘cultural relativist’ belief that all opinions are equally valid? [...] Are there literally no limits?”

      Mr. Dawkins,
      I would say that indeed, there are no limits to this. As an American, it is deeply seated within our concept of justice to respect others’ beliefs, even when they are invalid or disagreed upon. Provided they can perform the services they are requested of, and decouple their beliefs from their performance, then there is no wrong.

      If we want to get away from what seems to be the material controversy of this topic (science vs religion), I’d suggest another analogy. Suppose there is a police chief who personally supports prostitution (while not actually partaking in it). As a police chief, they are expected to uphold the law, which they do, but they are not expected to *believe in* the specificity of the law.

      What happens to the police chief in the situation that prostitution comes up for public referendum? If you required them to believe in the law on the books as being the correct law, then you are effectively requiring someone who is going to vote a certain way, thus ensuring that your police chief will always vote for the continuation of laws as they are currently are. However, the police chief has a constitutionally protected right to vote whichever way they choose to do so. There would become a serious dischord between hiring policies and guaranteed rights.

      Allowing a scientist to be judged on beliefs that do not *materially affect* their ability to perform the task would set precedent to do the same with other professions, like the police chief.

      Humans are capable of imagining things that are simultaneously mutually exclusive. It is a fundamental capability of human imagination to not be held to the confines of reality that way. People *constantly* hold minor beliefs that are diametrically opposed. Additionally, all people can succumb to allowing their beliefs to affect their bias in situations where reality presents them with cases where one is forced to choose between the two (say for the case of the police chief, one in which a prostitute is arrested).

      Personally, I find diametrically opposed to the principles of science and reason your expressed belief that someone else should be discriminated on due to a belief of their’s that is materially inconsequential to upholding their profession, based on the perceived risk that they could not truly perform above their biases even when they show a marked history of successful performance. And I believe your original article is the result of allowing your personal bias to influence your opinion. Under your proposed logic, I feel I would have reasonable right to suggest that you would not be open minded enough to particpate in scientific study. That is, of course, an extreme example, and one that is untrue.

      You have well proven yourself capable of scientific study, and you can continue to provide great insights to numerous scientific fields while holding the belief that someone else should not be allowed to participate at certain levels based on perceived performance risk due to their beliefs. Why? Because holding your belief is materially inconsequential to your performance. I would probably not hire you to be part of a hiring committee, though…unless of course you can show a successful history of functioning on hiring committees, where you consistently choose the best candidate based on the rules imparted on that committee, which may include not discriminating based on beliefs. Then I would feel confident placing you on a hiring committee, regardless of your belief that some of the rules imparted on the hiring committee would be inappropriate.

      In fact, people are not always expected to perform above their biases. There are professions (like judges) that look for the specific quality in people to overcome potentially contradictory biases while performing their required duties. Because people in general are expected to allow their biases to affect their decisions to some extent. I think discriminating someone based on their biases alone, when they have a proven record of separating their bias from their performance, has real societal consequences. I do not think there should be a limit to that.

      • Ito Kagehisa says:

        Humans are capable of imagining things that are simultaneously mutually exclusive.

        Some humans. We are variable in our capabilities.

        Other than that, I agree completely with your several points.

        • PlaneShaper says:

          Some humans. We are variable in our capabilities.

          Yes, thank you! :)

          Also, my comment (246) should have begun with “Dr. Dawkins” – apologies!

          (Also also, I just figured out how to properly quote \o/)

    • mellon says:

      What has emerged from the comments on Boing Boing is that there is apparently no level of absurdity that can serve my purpose of serving as a baseline for further discussion. For some people, the taboo against prying into a candidate’s private beliefs is so absolute that there is literally no belief, no matter how absurd, that could rule him out.

      I think you are characterizing this incorrectly. What has arisen from this discussion is a consensus among some participants, including me, that if the belief the person is an excellent candidate, and would do a good job, then whatever beliefs the candidate may hold are irrelevant. It is when the candidates *actions* disqualify them from holding the job that they ought not get it.

      You seem to want to have it both ways: the belief has to be extraordinarily odd, presumably in the eyes of the employer. And yet it has to not affect the potential employee’s ability to do the job, in its entirety, including such things as the employee not expressing their beliefs in a way that puts their employer in a bad light, if the inability to avoid that would in fact effect the employee’s ability to do the job.

      It’s this position that is the problem. You want the belief to be somehow outrageous, and yet not affect the employee’s ability to do his or her job. One of two things has to be the case here: either it has to be the case that the belief is not that outrageous, since it doesn’t affect the employee’s ability to do their job. Or, it has to affect the employee’s ability to do their job.

      The third case, the one you are asking about, doesn’t exist. And it is because you seem to want it to exist that I question your statement here:

      I am against religious discrimination but in favour of discriminating against obvious goofiness, whether it is religiously inspired or not.

      You are insisting that there is a third case, when no such case can exist. And so I have to conclude that you *do* want to discriminate inappropriately, but you want to be able to make the claim that it is appropriate. You want to be able to judge a person’s religious beliefs, even though you really don’t understand them.

      Or you genuinely believe that despite the fact that you have no evidence to suggest that the potential employee will fail to do their job, other than their beliefs, which you find goofy, the fact that their beliefs are goofy is itself an indication that at some future time they will fail to do their job.

      But we already have a mechanism for dealing with that: you fire them, based on their failure to do their job, or to comport themselves appropriately.

      • Antinous / Moderator says:

        But we already have a mechanism for dealing with that: you fire them, based on their failure to do their job, or to comport themselves appropriately.

        Academics frequently have tenure. It’s virtually impossible to fire them.

        Or you genuinely believe that despite the fact that you have no evidence to suggest that the potential employee will fail to do their job, other than their beliefs, which you find goofy, the fact that their beliefs are goofy is itself an indication that at some future time they will fail to do their job.

        When you’re charged with the responsibility of hiring someone, you’re supposed to use every legal means at your disposal to predict whether or not they’ll be a good employee. Of course you’re going to look for flaws that might manifest later. If you don’t do that, you shouldn’t be involved in hiring decisions.

        • antic says:

          Your reply needs a facebook “Like” button. Seconded.

        • Brainspore says:

          Academics frequently have tenure. It’s virtually impossible to fire them.

          To be fair, people generally only get tenure after they’ve spent several years demonstrating that they are competent at their jobs.

        • Anonymous says:

          Tenure exists to protect scientists and teachers from exactly the kind of discrimination we are discussing.

          If you prove you can do the job, you get tenure, and then you can reveal your true beliefs and not be fired for it. That’s literally the entire reason for tenure. It’s intended to promote intellectual diversity without compromising teaching standards.

          However, tenure ain’t what it used to be when we were growing up, Antinous. Reagan and his ilk “fixed” that. Maybe if they hadn’t, we wouldn’t need to have this discussion.

        • mellon says:

          Academics frequently have tenure. It’s virtually impossible to fire them.

          Do you know anybody who’s gotten tenure? It’s quite difficult to get, and involves serious peer review. It’s not customary to give tenure to a new hire. Furthermore, even if you have tenure, you can still be fired–it just now requires a great deal more work, similar to what would be required to *grant* tenure in the first place.

          When you’re charged with the responsibility of hiring someone, you’re supposed to use every legal means at your disposal to predict whether or not they’ll be a good employee. Of course you’re going to look for flaws that might manifest later. If you don’t do that, you shouldn’t be involved in hiring decisions.

          Right, but we’ve already agreed that the person is well-qualified, and shows no history of behavior that would conflict with their job, even though they’ve presumably held these beliefs during at least some substantial portion of the job history you evaluated on their resume. If they did nothing objectionable based on those beliefs, why do you think they are suddenly going to do it when *you* hire them?

          Really, your position boils down to saying that if a person has a wacky (to you) idea, that is predictive of future inappropriate behavior, regardless of past history. This either is or is not a testable theory. Either $wacky_idea can be described objectively, or it cannot.

          If it can, then you can study whether people with $wacky_idea who have no history of acting inappropriately in the past are more, less, or equally likely to behave inappropriately in the future, compared to a control group lacking $wacky_idea.

          If you can’t come up with a way to express $wacky_idea that passes any sort of test of objectivity, then you don’t have a falsifiable theory, and therefore I would argue that if you try to act on your theory, you are just as guilty of being a possessor of $wacky_idea as the person you’re skeptical of. Furthermore, you’ve demonstrated that you will definitely act inappropriately based on $wacky_idea.

    • Mister44 says:

      re: “Are there literally no limits?”

      As with EVERYTHING, there are no absolutes and everything must be judged within it’s own context.

      Yes, I know I just contradicted myself there. Heh.

      Using the example of a Professor – if he believes the moon is made of cheese, but teaches the standard approved curriculum, and not his personal beliefs, then there isn’t a conflict.

      If he believes the moon is made of cheese, presents it in class as truth, and tries to persuade/convince them to join the Mooninite cause, then there is obvious a problem.

      Everyone has his own bias and beliefs. In academia this almost always bleeds through what someone is teaching – from the art professor who is hung up art having a hierarchy as to which are it ‘finer’ or ‘better’, to a history professor who is into the JFK conspiracy theory, to the Psychology professor who thinks Lobotomies should be a standard treatment. These and other beliefs may come out in the course of a year. Even more radical ideas not directly related to the class may come up in classroom banter. That doesn’t mean that they can’t teach the ‘status quo’ while holding a fringe belief.

      • Galactor says:

        You would be happy to have such a person teaching your children about the moon as long as it was approved curricula?

        You would approve of the principal appointing such a person to the faculty to pass on knowledge that he felt was opposed to his own beliefs?

        • Mister44 says:

          I assure you there are professors/teachers in every school whose personal beliefs conflict with my own. As long as they are teaching what they are supposed to be teaching, I can’t fault the principle for not cherry picking who I would hire.

    • Stooge says:

      You can’t posit an absurdity and then complain when people suspend their disbelief and follow it through to its logical conclusion.

      Clearly, it’s at best exceptionally unlikely that a real person who believes something so ridiculous could be a competent doctor, but as medical competency can be tested why the need for this absurd proxy?

      I find it a bit odd that you – a scientist no less – would posit an indirect test of competence when a direct one is available. It’s as if you had decided to determine my shoe size by measuring my grandfather’s cranial circumference, rather than, you know, measuring the length of my foot.

    • Tynam says:

      What has emerged from the comments on Boing Boing is that there is apparently no level of absurdity that can serve my purpose of serving as a baseline for further discussion. For some people, the taboo against prying into a candidate’s private beliefs is so absolute that there is literally no belief, no matter how absurd, that could rule him out.

      I am now curious about where this taboo comes from.

      Well, I can only speak for myself, but my objection to allowing private belief to influence hiring is not religious (I’m an agnostic), relativist, or ethical. It’s practical, and self-interested.

      Humans have vast and frequently-exercised capacity for bigotry and prejudice. I cannot think of any way to design a law (or tradition) of hiring practice that forbids even the extreme and silly examples presented here, without making it easy to misuse for the purpose of less-welcome discrimination.

      To be blunt: accepting a Mars-mongoosist in the faculty is a small price to pay for stopping Mars-mongoosists from being able to discriminate against far-more-plausible groups.

      Seriously, would you hire an astronomy professor who thinks that Mars is the egg of a giant purple mongoose?

      Yes, in the circumstances described in your thought experiment, I’m forced to conclude that I would. By hypothesis, this professor is perfectly competent and willing to handle the actual job, so I have to hire. Not because I’m OK with this silly idea, but because I’m not… and I don’t want people to be able to reject me from jobs I would do perfectly well because I have unprovable beliefs they find ridiculous.

      This is why lawyers will tell you that extreme cases make bad laws. Extreme examples are rare; to society as a whole it doesn’t actually matter how you handle them. It matters how those rules are applied in practice in common situations.

    • Camp Freddie says:

      I think that the stork example is quite unhelpful since it starts the debate with a straw man and tries to poison the well with it’s tattered corpse (please forgive the tortured metaphor).

      In considering a candidate for a job, you should only be allowed to consider the qualities that are relevant to the job.

      The obvious problem is defining what is ‘relevant’. I would say that yes, it is okay to discriminate against YEC astronomers and atheist priests, because their beliefs directly contradict the duties of their job.

      The stork-doctor argument is basically saying that if someone is clearly insane, should you be able to hold that against them. Well, yes.

      The problem is then defining the limit of ‘insanity’. Does a YEC
      count? While I’d say they are crazy, the fact that biblical-literalist doctors exist (I’ve met some, in the UK!) and presumably are treating patients adequately – then by definition they are able to do the job and are not ‘too insane’.

      Another problem is that aptitude for a job must be estimated in advance but can only be demonstrated by practice. A YEC-astronomer probably is too much of a contradiction for them to do a good job. However, I can’t prove that. It’s just my opinion. Should I be able to discriminate?

      The argument that a belief says something about someone’s character is a very dangerous one. What if I was rejected from being a police officer or soldier because my atheism shows a free-thinking character that is unlikely to obey arbitrary orders? Would you support that sort of discrimination?
      (Maybe you would, I would probably make a terrible policeman or soldier for precisely that reason!)

      You can quickly get drawn into all sort of silly McCarthy-ist arguments about character based on beliefs, especially since the relevance of an belief is a matter of opinion.

      My personal belief is that having a special law regarding religious freedom of belief is only justified because of the history behind it. It’s philosophically silly to privilege religion, but the consequences of allowing religious discrimination are likely to be worse than preventing it. It would lead to factionalisation and reinforcement of prejudice because, “I don’t trust muslims/christians/atheists” or whatever. The best cure for a lot of prejudice is to actually force people to work together.

      Hmm, I’ve got to go and visit a dentist now. Hope he’s not a tooth-fairy literalist!

  162. Anonymous says:

    Hey everyone, I enjoyed the article and the comments and I just want to say how happy I am to see the good debate going on here. Mr Dawkins’ article sure did spark a lot of discussion and luckily, or perhaps the mods are just keeping it cleaned up, it is very respectful and calm in tone for the most part. The only on-topic thing I have to say is directed towards Mr. Dawkins: I think it’s because of your reputation people are trying to derive erroneous conclusions from your article, what a shame considering the greater discussion your article opened up, I really did enjoy the read and wish you the best.

    -Anon

  163. bardfinn says:

    Here’s the thing:

    These are not his personal religious beliefs. These are religious beliefs made public explicitly for the purpose of lending his authority as a scientist (though there exists no such thing, people still regard scientists as authorities — consensus rests not on authority of a person but on consistency and inassailability of a theorem) to his non-scientific belief that the Earth was created by an extraterrestrial with an appearance of great age, less than 10000 years ago. He is himself and in in cooperation with other religious extremists attempting to undertake an overthrow of the scientific paradigm of the age of the planet, the universe, and the scientific addressability of the existence of deities — not through science, but by fascist infiltration, in order to press his / their religious beliefs on unwilling students.

    Anyone who does what I have described — compromising the very basis of science in furtherance of a religiously-flavoured political goal — can NOT be considered capable of fulfilling the fiduciary duty that a teacher has to his discipline and students — every class he teaches, every paper published, every result produced, will always be under intense suspicion because of his publicly declared political motives. He’s a rogue data point, an uncontrolled variable in a system of rigorous experimentation and research. He’s worse than putting an untested graduate student into the post — the grad student might be able to be trusted alone with the minds of our children and might rise to the challenge.

    PROFESSOR: one who Professes. The man cannot profess scientifically backed views of the age of the planet and the universe without inserting his religious beliefs, or violating his religious beliefs. Since it is insane to make us have to keep track of his religious beliefs in order to not cause him to violate them, this entire thing is a giant attempt to entangle his department into wrangling with his own beliefs and entangle it in his religious goal — to force his religious views into public debate, /as if they were worthy of such/.

    125000 is a tiny amount compared to what YEC nutjobs have cost schools, governments, private citizens over the last century and a half. His experience and qualifications, in the light of science and in the practice of science, mean /nothing/. The reliability of the data, the assailability of the data, the repeatability of the data is what matters, and 125000 US is SO much more cheaper than having him author a purposefully skewed paper that takes a decade an 15 million US in research based on the assumption that it’s an honest work, to depose as an anomaly.

    Let him take his thirty pieces of silver, and fuck right off.

    • Mister44 says:

      Who are you talking about? Is it Mr Gaskell, because I don’t think its been shown he is any of those things.

    • Hools Verne says:

      Except he’s not. He has explicitly stated that YEC goes against all available evidence, but that he respects YECs for their devotion to scripture. Dawkins takes this to mean that he’s obviously a YEC in sheep’s clothing. Despite having no real evidence for it.

      • bardfinn says:

        If you will read http://incolor.inetnebr.com/gaskell/Martin_Gaskell_Bible_Astronomy.html
        you will find that my remarks are 100% correct: Gaskell advocates, under the imprimatur of the Astronomy department of the University of Texas, Austin, that Christians should “be attacking the humanistic and atheistic assumptions” in evolutionary theory and in cosmological theory — and since there /are/ no such assumptions unless you limit — falsely — science to a false dichotomy between atheism/humanism on one side and theology on another — he is in fact stating publicly a religiously-flavoured political agenda to have his theistic beliefs inserted into the public understanding of science, to make a public view of a “debate” between science and theistic worldviews, as if science could address or test anything theological. It cannot.

        Science does not make any atheistic or humanistic assumptions. It is limited to creating explanations concordant with observed and reproducible /facts/, data, results. No-one can test a diety, there’s no glaring facts that require the existence of a diety — much less the Judeo-Christian-Islamic deity – to explain.

        He has publicly appropriated the authority of the Astronomy Department of UT Austin to lend credence to not merely one but a variety of Creationist views – his disclaimer of his personal belief in YEC not withstanding. It’s not science — /none/ of it. It’s all religious debate and political agenda, and has NO place in science. He /publicly/ declared the insertion of these into the public discussion of science to be his goal. Let him reap what he sowed.

        • Anonymous says:

          I’m sorry you feel that way about a scientist talking about “ATTACKING ASSUMPTIONS” IN SCIENCE. Have you never heard the scientific method described that way before?

          • bardfinn says:

            The difficulty is that Martin Gaskell is not talking about attacking assumptions in science — he’s talking about attacking the “atheistic and humanistic” ‘assumptions’ in science, by setting a false dichotomy between what his religious view agrees with, labelling it “theistic”, and what his religious view does not agree with, and labelling it “atheistic and humanistic” — according to the tenets of his religion. The dichotomy exists solely in his religious views. The atheism and humanism are according to his religious views.

            Someone who would be well-qualified for the chair of the Public Understanding of Science would know that this is a false dichotomy, would not publicly conflate religious views with scientific support, would not purposefully confuse the process of beginning with a conclusion and finding evidence that supports it — a process described in the original document that is at the heart of this — with starting with a hypothesis, designing an experiment, performing an experiment, gathering data, and reproducing results to attempt to falsify the hypothesis. What he did was entirely the reverse of the scientific method, and he has the gall to impute it to be scientific.

            If he wishes to attack assumptions then he should — but he should not parade his religious views as if they were even eligible to be a falsifiable hypothesis. His public behaviour is the antithesis of the scientific method, and he is avowed of insisting that it belongs in science.

  164. Anonymous says:

    “Moreover, I would regard his equanimity in holding two diametrically opposing views simultaneously in his head as a revealing indicator that there is something wrong with his head. ”

    Counterexample: I’m pretty sure that P != NP. But if P were equal to NP, what kind of consequences could I prove?

  165. Joe says:

    If someone’s religion causes them to strongly believe in something that is readily falsifiable and also highly relevant to their desired profession, they simply can’t do the job with integrity. To be a young-earth creationist and also competent to teach any of the sciences, the amount of compartmentalization required is enormous. Failure to change beliefs when presented with overwhelming contrary evidence is a sign that one is not competent to teach.

    I’m talking specifically about YEC here, that the earth is 10,000 years old, despite Antarctic ice cores showing 650,000 or more winter/summer seasons and evidence coming from about 20 different directions giving an age for the earth in billions of years.

  166. DeclineEffect says:

    The debate over barring those with contrary religious beliefs from scientific posts is of course fascinating and inflammatory but something of a strawman. As the saying goes, extreme cases make for bad law. I would wager that for every such case, whether it makes the news or not, there are ten, or fifty, in which qualified applicants are barred from scientific posts because of their contrary scientific beliefs. The justice or even honesty of the selection process is not nearly so self-evident in such cases.

    For example, suppose instead of disbelieving in a round Earth or an old Earth, the applicant endorses the view of Paul Feyerabend: Suppose he says that scientific ‘revolutions’ tend to be less a matter of objective proof, one paradigm being rigorously tested against another, and more a matter of chance, persistence, and ad hoc advocacy. Suppose in his interview for a position teaching quantum mechanics that the applicant brings up Feyerabend’s example of the Born rule, which doesn’t follow from the principles of QM, and is merely a pragmatic empirical rule. Suppose the candidate admits that he regards the Copenhagen interpretation as a gross error which somehow gained mainstream status, and the whole crumbling edifice of QM as an obstacle to progress which must be torn down, starting by revisiting the notorious Born rule.

    And let us stipulate that the chairman of the search committee finds this candidate’s mastery of QM, his published work, his credentials, to be as impeccable as in Dawkins’ religious case above.

    Does our iconoclast get hired? Is his belief rational or irrational?

    Being barred for religious reasons is a man-bites-dog story, it makes the news. Being barred because you think your colleagues do shoddy science and you are impolitic enough to say so, doesn’t make the news. But it is everyday life in science.

  167. allen says:

    I’m not in favor of refusing good work on the grounds of personal disapproval. Since we are talking science, science is served best by the best work- it doesn’t care if the author is an intellectual charlatan or not.

    I think the argument that we SHOULD take into account personal beliefs for positions like that presumes that we believe that these positions should be viewed as capital for creating a specific type of world view, and that that is as important as advancing the field. I’d rather have excellent work and a diversity of beliefs- even if I find those beliefs lucicrous.

    So that basically addresses my views on the eye surgeon that believes in storks. I don’t trust people to be agendaless enough to recommend an atheist for bible study or a creationist for history.

    Finally- I don’t think any worthy purpose is served by creating a double standard for strange indefensible beliefs by accommodating them because they are religious. Especially since I am advocating that we be tolerant of strange beliefs that don’t compromise good work.

  168. pb says:

    If I needed risky eye surgery that could result in blindness and the surgeon who believed in the stork theory was “breathtakingly superior” I would have him perform the surgery.

    It would be irrational to needlessly increase your risk of blindness just so you can punish someone for their private thoughts.

    If you wouldn’t have the less skilled surgeon work on you it would be pretty reprehensible to hire him to perform surgery on the unsuspecting public.

    • realgeek says:

      Nah, you’d want someone who understands the body as completely as possible, so that they can adapt to unforeseen events during the surgery instead of performing it like a robot.

      • pb says:

        Ok, but if the surgeon performs like a robot I don’t think he can be described as “breathtakingly superior”. I’ve interpreted the original hypothetical as meaning that the surgeon is objectively better.

        You might say this is simply impossible, that in order to be competent you must believe in the empirically proven model. In this case we have no problem. By picking someone competent you by definition eliminate anyone with crazy beliefs and so there is no need to specifically discriminate on that basis.

        I personally don’t think that’s true though. Physicists who are fully aware of quantum mechanics can teach classical dynamics as well as if not better than someone from a hundred years ago who really believed the classical model.

        • realgeek says:

          I’m getting confused by the surgeon analogy.

          One member of the hypothetical hiring committee referred to the candidate as “breathtakingly superior.” That’s not the case, however, because the candidate in this case doesn’t believe in science, and is therefore unqualified for the position. If the candidate had religious beliefs that didn’t conflict with his belief in science, there wouldn’t be any problem, but that’s not the situation in this hypothetical.

          I’m perfectly okay with physicists teaching more than one theory, as long as it’s not based on, “God made all the physics work. The end.” :-)

  169. DeclineEffect says:

    Perhaps it is my fault for joining this debate too late, but I still question the basic premise here, the search for some ‘red line’ of belief that makes being hired for a scientific post impossible. Professor Dawkins says that he would not hesitate to draw such a line, and he is curious why so many others would not.

    My answer may speak only for me. I observe that professional scientists draw a multitude of hiring lines, not so much out of a pure desire for excellence or truth, as from pragmatic self-interest. They don’t want Candidate X writing recommendation letters for graduate students, or sitting on grant committees, or flying off to conferences, while pushing an alternative theory that, while recognizably science, contradicts their own. See, for example, the excellent critique of the sociology of science by Lee Smolin in “The Trouble With Physics”. Or the Climategate letters.

    Individual scientists do their best to be rational, but the social process by which one theory is adopted and another pushed aside is much less so. It is tribal, adversarial, chaotic. (Obviously I think Feyerabend had a point.) So even if the boingboingers present could draw a common ‘red line’ and say that sincere belief in Santa Claus is a bar to hiring, what of it? It is far more common for employer and prospective employee to be divided over the merits of Chomsky (the example pitkataistelu gave), or the testability of string theory. The battle being waged daily in the committee rooms isn’t reason versus faith, it’s one faction within a field striving for dominance over another, by fair means or foul.

  170. Rocco42 says:

    Although personally I believe very strongly that what this man is saying regarding the value of an ancient text is wrong, this should not cost him a job. He has an actual phd, and was apparently qualified to do the job. The fact that he achieved as much as he did means he was willing to put aside preconceived notions when dealing with evidence. The fact that he thinks YEC might be viable, (which personally I can’t see how YEC and astronomy can be reconciled) certainly takes him out of the mainstream, it does not remove him very far from Christians or Muslims practicing scientific endeavors while maintaining their respective delusions. After all, the majority of scientists are, in fact, theists.

    Does this mean we stop standing up to examples of anti-science wherever they occur? Absolutely not. Pride and bad faith are very difficult to let go of.

    However, does that mean people who are total nutbags can’t make lasting impressions? No, just look at the example of Pythagoras, of which I’m sure most of us are aware, Pythagoras was a numerologist and cult leader. However, his ideas on math hold up until today because of their usefulness and applications. I would ask the question “Should Pythagoras have been allowed to do math?”

    • antic says:

      “After all, the majority of scientists are, in fact, theists.”

      I’d be very interested in seeing the numbers on that.

  171. Anonymous says:

    Isn’t the more fundamental question why it is that:
    1) Someone who holds one of certain belief systems with no empirical backing (and proud of it!) and makes lifestyle decisions for self and others because of those beliefs is called insane,
    but
    2)Someone who holds one of a select group of other belief systems (which are indistinguishable in principle from the first group, varying only in descriptive details) and makes lifestyle decisions for self and others because of those beliefs is called an adherent of a major religion?

    That is, why is the guy who believes fervently in fairies/leprechauns/aliens from Planet X, and wants you to sacrifice your infant children to them any different from the guy who says his God told him to not eat dairy and meat with the same utensil/ slay the infidel/gay people are evil/only fish on Fridays/life begins at conception etc., etc., and is willing to force you with violence or law to do the same?

    I question anyone who makes decisions based on irrational beliefs. Yes, that means members of any and all religions. I can never take you or any other “believer” 100% seriously.
    That being said, I don’t think I give a shit what my plumber/carpenter/ electrician etc. believe if they do a good job, and don’t see why any other job would be different
    I do question whether a YEC could actually really be one and also be a good cosmologist. You couldn’t be an obstetrician if you thought babies came from under cabbage leaves, or an animal breeder if you believed in Lamarckian evolution.
    “One of these things is not like the other/ One of these things is not the same…”

  172. StCredZero says:

    > Or to put it another way, religious discrimination is okay
    > if you think the belief is obviously goofy.

    How would you distinguish this from cutting the person on the basis of the belief alone? Ask yourself, if someone who was *not* of that religion held the goofy belief, would they also be disqualified? If the answer is yes, then it’s the belief, not the religion.

    My Mom is by her own reckoning a “staunch Catholic.” Yet she’s disagreed with the Pope on a number of issues for longer than I’ve lived. So much for “Papal infallibility.” Despite what some people might say, it’s not always easy to argue that particular beliefs are integral parts of particular religions.

    > You say you are only for discrimination on ‘obviously goofy’
    > beliefs. It just happens that any religion is essentially
    > goofy.

    Most of them contain irrational elements. It’s only politics that compels any truly rational person to accord the irrational elements any semblance of credence.

    • Mister44 says:

      re: “My Mom is by her own reckoning a “staunch Catholic.” Yet she’s disagreed with the Pope on a number of issues for longer than I’ve lived. So much for “Papal infallibility.” Despite what some people might say, it’s not always easy to argue that particular beliefs are integral parts of particular religions. ”

      Catholics aren’t a mindless hive with one thought. There are many MANY conflicting views from local church level, on up to the Bishops. You will see this when one of the Bishops says something exceedingly stupid or inflammatory.

      Catholics aren’t bound to follow everything the Pope says. Most people don’t understand what “Papal infallibility” means. It doesn’t mean he can go onto Jeopardy and answer every question with, “What is I’m-a the freakin’ Pope!” and be considered right.

      It is reserved for issues of doctrine only. For example: Ineffabilis Deus, Pope Pius IX, 1854, defining the Immaculate Conception and Munificentissimus Deus, Pope Pius XII, 1950, defining the Assumption of Mary.

      When the Pope comes on and talks about condoms, global warming, or Harry Potter, those are his views and the direction he thinks the Church should take. But it does not mean every Catholic must follow these instructions, nor that he is infallible on these subjects, nor that all of the Bishops etc agree.

  173. Anonymous says:

    Don’t forget Catholic Fundamentalism. It puts forth the idea of God as “Unprogrammed Programmer”. He wrote and downloaded The Creation Program, which includes us human programs. The Creation Program is there to give us free will.

    We must choose to be saved. Those who choose not to be saved, aren’t. Those who choose may see the world as a 6-12,000 year old download. Others don’t think God could do that, and choose to see it as a self-appearing 20 billion year old existence.

    We pays our money and we takes our choice, depending on how powerful we think God is.

  174. Antinous / Moderator says:

    I hope that BB doesn’t start checking beliefs, because I’m way beyond the edge of most people’s ideas of sane and rational.

  175. Anonymous says:

    Yes… yes… of course you have to hold the same views and conclusions as us otherwise you cant be a scientist here. That is the true path to scientific discovery. Think like everyone else.

  176. Anonymous says:

    Dawkins requires that scientists believe in or commit to the theories they are contributing to? This is total nonsense! How could scientists then work on multiple theories which are mutually inconsistent? It’s called instrumentalism and it allows scientists to work in different directions at the same time… This is an essential part of research in any field of science!

  177. Wallenstein says:

    I know of another well-known, ground-breaking scientist who attended my university (although some years before me).

    He was intensely religious, and was a strict biblical literalist but tended towards the weirder aspects of those beliefs (by all accounts he was a bit of a whacko, and spent a lot of time trying to predict the end of the world from the bible).

    This chap went to extraordinary lengths to keep his views under wraps – he never made his faith public to the university authorities, as he knew it would get him kicked out of his post, but he still produced some decent work.

    By the standards Dawkins has outlined this chap would have no place in any university, but the world would be a poorer place if Isaac Newton hadn’t been allowed to continue his work.

    • Mister44 says:

      -_- I see what you did there.

      He also spent a fair amount of time trying to turn lead into gold, even using occult forces to explain his idea.

    • Galactor says:

      “By the standards Dawkins has outlined this chap would have no place in any university, but the world would be a poorer place if Isaac Newton hadn’t been allowed to continue his work.”

      It’s like people don’t actually read or understand what they are reading before making comments.

      Dawkins is trying to establish what the baseline is – he is not himself setting the baseline. He is asking what Boing Boing members think such a baseline should be – apparently, they think there is no baseline – people can be as whacky as they like as long as they keep it to themselves.

      Dawkins may have his own opinions about what these standards are – but he is not expressing them here.

      As to the remark about Newton. Dawkins states that those with religious beliefs can be good scientists.

      Why can you not draw an opposite conclusion? Why can you not say “the world would be a better place if people who had extreme views were not allowed a place at the table”?

      Now, I feel I have the need to tell you that I am not advocating anything? I am suggesting your post is not particularly sound.

      • Wallenstein says:

        “Dawkins is trying to establish what the baseline is – he is not himself setting the baseline. He is asking what Boing Boing members think such a baseline should be – apparently, they think there is no baseline – people can be as whacky as they like as long as they keep it to themselves.”

        I think you should re-read what Dawkins wrote (and perhaps lose the snarky tone, especially if you are going to fail this hard).

        “Dawkins may have his own opinions about what these standards are – but he is not expressing them here.”

        Wrong.

        Dawkins’ quote is “I would discriminate against both these religious men if I were on the search committee for a university job.”

        He is in fact saying the COMPLETE opposite to what you claimed: he has set a clear baseline, which is that he would discriminate against people who have personal beliefs which fundamentally contradict their (in this case) academic role.

        His key point, however, is that *any* “foolish” beliefs are grounds for discrimination, not just religious ones. His qualification is that consistency is required: a doctor with a non-religious belief in delivery by stork should be subject to the same discrimination as an astronomist with a religious belief in a young earth.

  178. Ito Kagehisa says:

    I feel compelled to point out that there are actually plenty of atheist pastors – obviously, in the explicitly atheist religions (which some of you may not be aware of), but also in non-creedal religions such as Unitarian Universalism. I know a UU minister personally who frequently waffles back and forth between agnosticism and atheism, and admits this from the pulpit. Nobody seems to be offended, and she’s a good preacher, with a strong grasp of theology, history and philosophy.

    As for hiring practices, the church secretary at my local UU church is a paid position. Somebody has to be around to answer the phone during the day; people call looking to rent the facility, or for information, or because they need help and don’t know who to turn to, or because they want to get married to someone that society says they can’t marry. Our secretary was selected on the basis of her ability to do that job, and she does it well; I interact with her frequently. But she’s not a congregant – she’s actually Catholic, of all things – her job is just a job to her. Since UUs are not evangelical, nobody tries to change her mind. I don’t know if her priest is aware that she works for heretics and unbelievers.

    Some of you here are probably tired of me pointing out that Christianity is a religion, and is not the gold standard of what all religions are or should be. This disappoints a lot of people, I know. ^_^

  179. Anonymous says:

    Would the Army hire me if I believed that the military’s sole purpose was the genocide of Asian people and I wanted to get my hands dirty? I certainly hope not. Anyone who has claimed that someone’s beliefs aren’t important for what they decide to do is full of shit. Unless you’re job is fucking drudgery and requires no real thought, your beliefs have everything to do with your work.

    You can bullshit about extremes all you want, the truth is that you can’t specialize in a field that is defined on empiricism and at once reject empiricism utterly the way YEC do. To do so is to have a critical conflict of interest and I would suggest a remarkable ignorance about one or both of the topics.

  180. Anonymous says:

    This Martin Gaskell fellow is an interesting dude. I’d hire him.

  181. Mister44 says:

    As long as a scientist is putting out honest work – I don’t see what it matters. In the example #3 above, I completely disagree with the assertion that he is a fraud. It is preposterous, inflammatory name calling (hey, we all have to be good at something.)

    Many, MANY people in science are working on projects, yet harbor secret ideas or theories that are different from their assumptions. Only when they have the the means to pursue experiments on their own, or viable data they can show to back up their ideas and do further research do they make their secrets know – lest they be met with ridicule. With out these ‘fraudsters’, we would be stagnant in many areas – especially fields that are long on theory, short on data and require some imagination.

    I have to say I do cringe at YEC – as I think they are ignorant of their religion – but people of faith don’t bother me at all as scientists. Many of the early naturalists and scientists were priests and monks. The idea now known as the Big Bang theory was proposed by a priest astronomer. My good friends Methodist minister has a degree in Astronomy. The Vatican actually has an Academy of Science, where they are advised on such matters. (At least the Catholics recognize there is too much data on evolution to ignore or write it off.)

    I just find it distressing that most of us can live with science and religion, but some of the most vocal people on either side make it an either/or issue.

  182. David says:

    I want to point out a missed consideration in the argument for negative discrimination against YECs. It’s quite possible that these YEC scientists believe that the universe was created 10,000 years ago, but that it was 14B (-10,000) years old at creation. In other words, that the creator wanted a scientifically consistent universe but decided to skip all the boring bits that happened before the beginning of history.

    If this were the case, then articles and teaching that assumed a 14B year history would not be lies. Rather, they would be typical scientific simplication: ones that ignore irrelevant details (when did the creation happen) to concentrate on the ones that matter (how old is the universe). Put another way, it’s David Hume in reverse: just like we can’t really _know_ that the sun will rise tomorrow, but we operate on the assumption that it will, we can’t _know_ that the sun rose 10,000 years ago, but operate on the assumption that it did.

  183. Anonymous says:

    The employment requirement of holding a certain belief is OK when it belief that one is teaching (theology, f’rinstance).

    The requirement of holding a certain belief for teaching cosmology shows that it is a belief that is being taught.

    Mr. Dawkins has supplied effective proof for his belief in his world view.

    On the other hand, teaching science is task that someone with knowledge of the subject can do.

    On the other other hand, though, writing of papers and seeking of grants feeds the academic machine, and therefore, if THAT is a clear job task to be accomplished MIGHT preclude hiring someone who holds a differing view. Though that does still fly it the face of academic freedom and the implied desire to represent differing views in a UNIVERS-ity

    • realgeek says:

      “The requirement of holding a certain belief for teaching cosmology shows that it is a belief that is being taught.”

      No, unless you mean a belief in science, or the lack of belief in conflicting religious views.

  184. ColdThinker says:

    It would be incredibly dishonest to say an employee’s opinions don’t matter. Of course they do. Being a scientist at the office and a YEC at home is such intellectual dishonesty that it alone should be enough to disqualify an applicant.

    How about a misogynist applying for a job in a feminist magazine? A communist seeking a job as a publicist for a right wing party? An atheist wanting to become a priest?

    While personal opinions are irrelevant to may practical jobs, there is a difference between hiring someone to mow a lawn and hiring someone to teach. And considering an applicant’s opinions about the reality is hardly the same as discriminating them on the basis of their sex or ethnicity.

  185. antic says:

    Two addendum considerations:

    There’s a huge difference between belief and practice. I can belief that every time someone sneezes, I should slap them until they bleed. When I practice this, I will probably be fired–and for good reason. Knowing that I hold this belief and that this behavior is not desired within the confines of my institution would benefit my potential employers in their decision to hire me or not. However, if I demonstrated that I could restrain my beliefs at work within the values of the institution hiring me, then that should also be considered. However, I don’t think I could condone a law saying that people are not allowed to fear that a person might come apart, failing to act against their beliefs when required. After all, we don’t hire former pedophiles to work with children, even if they denounce their ways.

    In the case that someone is already employed: if a creationist tells a geology class that carbon dating is a lie, he should be fired–not for his beliefs but for spreading false information in a teaching setting. The action is what is unacceptable, not necessarily the belief. However, in hiring, companies, schools, churches, etc should have the right to choose their level of risk.

    I have to disagree with Richard Dawkin’s assertion though that a religious person should not be allowed to be a scientist if he is able to put his religion aside and do his job properly. As stated in the example, this person may benefit science–and, moreover, he might learn something himself. I don’t think we can make the world a better place by excluding religious people from participating in science.

  186. Rob Gehrke says:

    OK block quoting here, it’s serious stuff
    Moderators, can we name this thread the “Book of Gaskell”? It may be already longer than some of the holy writs.

    “Lucifer would be Milton, not the Bible. If you want to be charitable, the Book of Enoch, but that’s considered heretical (rightly, IMHO), hence not really fair to ascribe to the Christian church.”

    So, you are considering “religion” as ONLY the texts in the accepted canons, and nothing else? Rather “fundamentalist”…

    “If you study the prophets in the Torah, they all debate with God. They are tested, and there’s a debate as to whether Abraham’s decision to sacrifice his son was obedience, or a failure to understand the nature of the test. The fact that God sent an angel to stop Abraham at the last minute seems pretty indicative to me.”

    This does not make sense – if he did understand the nature of the test (was able to second guess God’s intentions) he would not have tried to go through with it in the first place, or would have done so half-heartedly, knowing it was simply “a test” and therefore annulling the whole point of it. The story seems to hinge upon his real intention to sacrifice his son solely because he feared the wrath of God if he did not do what he was ordered, or to show his “devotion”. Correct?

    “If Jesus intended faith to come through authority, there would have been no need for all those sermons and parables.”

    “None shall come to the father but through me” – what does this mean then?

    “If you’ve ever seen Yeshiva students debate, you would understand that what they mean by “authority” is “the person who always prevails when you debate them.” No other definition of authority really makes sense”

    This is a decent definition of “authority”, and as for the natural world and all of its manifestations, scientific inquiry has found much more convincing explanations, and therefore can be considered more “authoritative”.

    I don’t deny that there are lessons to be learned from reading parables and understanding arguments laid out in them, and in the general absorption of culture and ideas – all texts and ideas are ultimately human ones (unless you want to argue that plants and other animals can influence our mental processes, but let’s not get into that), and therefore may have something to impart on the reader/student regardless of whether or not their origins are superstitious. Another topic altogether, what is knowledge?

  187. Anonymous says:

    Discrimination in employment is surely a tricky thing- but almost certainly unavoidable since you are applying a selective process to eliminate unwanted applicants by selection of undesired traits. If, for example, I’ve employed 2 male workers in the past and 2 female workers in the past (in order to be fair!), and, in my business, I found the female workers were better at the job, would it not be my right, or even the most sensible course of action, to pick another female candidate, based on my experience and understanding of the requirements of the job? Or is that sexist? What I found quiet people fitted in well with my team, am I obliged to find loud people to hire next for equality reasons?

    Equally, if they had found the same to be true of a God worshipping individual versus a non-believer, should they not be allowed to use their experiences to make judgements? Even if they do object (or prefer) one option over another, as long as those beliefs are based on some sort of system of merit (and not just an inherit hatred for a group of people), then are they not right within their rights in making such a judgement call? Even if there are no other suitable applicants, if one of their criteria is not to have a “conflicting set of values” for the role, can they not reasonably apply this filter? Should they not eliminate those who are incapable of mathematics for a maths position because that would be a bias?

    However, as for whether or not people who are “betraying” their faith can be trusted: people are not all that they say they are, but it doesn’t stop them from saying things. It is possible to hold conflicting values (I would consider myself a pacifist, but I’m not niave enough to believe that no war is worth fighting) and still be a sane person and a respectable one- surely it is in demonstrating flexibility in our views that we demonstrate our ability to learn – and that if we hold two value systems concurrently that we are unable to rate one system fairly over another?

  188. bjohndick says:

    Personally I don’t have much of a problem with people holding two diametrically opposed beliefs.

    “Nothing is true, everything is permitted.”

    As long as they are going by the ones proven to give the desired results in their duties, they are still acting correctly in my view.

  189. Anonymous says:

    Further to Dunright and Tims comments, I think you should seriously consider editing the main page version of this article. Many readers just read that section, which taken on its own strongly implies that Gaskell is a YEC, which he very clearly isn’t. By aligning Gaskell with the YEC, readers get an artificially polarised impression of the argument.

  190. CANTFIGHTTHEDITE says:

    It’s an interesting question, no doubt about it. While I definitely agree with there being no difference between religious belief and non-religious belief when a belief is irrational in either case, firing or not hiring someone based on their beliefs isn’t clear cut.

    Think about the following possibilities:
    a) Church secretary is atheist.
    b) Pastor is atheist.
    c) Secretary of the science dept. at a university is a YEC.
    d) Professor of a scientific field at a university is a YEC.

    Is it okay to discriminate in any of these cases? While the secretaries aren’t required to express their beliefs as part of their professions, the pastor and professor would seem to be, but I could certainly imagine how a person could compartmentalize their private beliefs no matter what their job is.

    I think that the bottom line in this case is that when we start descriminating on the basis of personal beliefs that are kept private, we open the door to descrimination on any basis, whether that belief is well founded or not.

    • mdh says:

      But…. my pastor (Reverend, actually, and with a Harvad Divinity College PhD) is an athiest.

      I think you’ve maybe oversimplified your position.

  191. Anonymous says:

    I do not I the church would let a Satan worshiping black metal star be a preacher no matter how well he/she knows the scripture. This is not discrimination, but a cultural clash.

  192. Crispian says:

    As yesno notes (and Dawkins conveniently omits): “There’s quite a bit of difference between whether you, a private person, would discriminate against someone because of his irrelevant-to-the-job beliefs, and whether the government (acting via a state school like the University of Kentucky) should be permitted to do so.”

    Nonetheless, Dawkins does offer an alternative means of dealing with the constitutional problem of religious discrimination – albeit by trying to sidestep the problem – and it should be explored.

    Dawkins writes “The fact that these particular anti-scientific beliefs happen to be grounded in religion should make no difference…Either a particular belief is relevant to eligibility for employment or it is not.”

    So let us ask whether belief in a deity should preclude employment by the government. Belief in a deity may be based in some logic, but it is far from scientific. Couldn’t belief in a deity theoretically inhibit scientific research about the universe or throw into question the clarity of the researcher’s mind? Dawkins, author of the “The God Delusion,” might say yes. But, according to Dawkins, we must throw up a pretense of ignoring whether the belief in a deity is based in religion and only whether it is relevant to a job in scientific research. Based on the preceding discussion and assumptions made by Dawkins, I’d have to reluctantly say yes.

    And this leaves us in the position of the government forbidding scientific employment to anyone with religious beliefs. And if Dawkins finds a clever way of giving a pass to mere deists, it still leaves us in a position of precluding employment if one adopts more specific religious views which are non-scientific. Dawkins argument is, unsurprisingly, inherently anti-religious. It is unworkable under our constitution for use by our public universities. Private universities should be able to use Dawkins’ standard if they so wish, to their detriment.

    • Anonymous says:

      Couldn’t belief in a deity theoretically inhibit scientific research about the universe or throw into question the clarity of the researcher’s mind? Dawkins, author of the “The God Delusion,” might say yes.

      But you’ll notice he didn’t, and in fact specifically limits his examples to ones where the beliefs are in direct and obvious conflict with the scientific practice. This thread is covered with dead strawmen.

  193. Anonymous says:

    Don’t we run a risk on the other side of this argument? From reading what I have about Gaskell’s work, it would seem that the loss of his research is itself quite sad. If his science would be in no way impeded by his belief in Design rather than “design”, and if his science passes the peer review process that has been created to determine what is or is not good science, why should we as the public lose out on such a good resource of knowledge? I mean, I’m assuming that NASA wanted to pay him for a reason.

  194. Snig says:

    I think sometimes belief systems matter.
    Further extreme examples:
    An example is if a police officer vowed to uphold the law and administer justice equally, even though he let his employers know he personally believed black people were inferior. When it came to objective measurement, his inherent bias could easily sway his judgement.

    A less toxic example would be a serious Tolkien fan who was an astronomer. Likely very common. An astronomer who, as a hobby, did a lecture trying to find a location for the planet of Middle Earth based on constellations mentioned in middle earth would likely not be shunned. However, if the astronomer’s view of cosmology were heavily influence by the Silmarillion, if there were serious lectures that seemed to suggest his love of Tolkien altered what his perception of orthodox (ahem) astronomy, the university might look for a different candidate.

    Quick read of Gaskell’s website shows that he might be more of the hobbiest stripe than the ardent true-believer. As far as the YEC view, he mentions his wife is a micropaleontologist who likes to look at tiny million year old dead things, so he and not every one he hangs out with is neccesarily a YEC advocate.
    “I have a lot of respect for people who hold this view because they are strongly committed to the Bible, but I don’t believe it is the interpretation the Bible requires of itself, and it certainly clashes head-on with science.”
    I don’t think he respects the alleged science YEC, but he’s giving them props because they really love the bible.

    Were he a YEC proponent, I could definitely see reason to turn him down.

  195. PJDK says:

    This is an impressive thread, and kudos to Professor Dawkins for reading through and replying. It would be worth a repost with edited highlights of the comments since plenty of people will not have got all the way down here.

    Just to add my two pence.

    1. In regards to the law, where does it actually stand? Are religious beliefs really privileged.

    2. If it is the character of the person rather than the ability to do their job that we are worried about doesn’t religion make a real difference here? If I believe stalks bring babies I am taking a thing presented as a story and adopting it as truth for no reason at all, by adopting this belief I am probably generally crazy. A religious belief may have no rational basis, there are plenty of solid social and emotional reasons to adopt a religion. For that reason religious beliefs are quite different from stand alone craziness.

    3. Is it rational to want to be operated on by a measurably inferior doctor for any reason. Dr A leaves 1% of his patients blind, Dr B leaves 2% blind, I can think of no belief Dr A could hold that would convince me that Dr B is the preferable option

    • PlaneShaper says:

      1. In regards to the law, where does it actually stand? Are religious beliefs really privileged.

      To be honest, religious beliefs are not privileged in US law. (As in, your religious beliefs or lack thereof do not give you privilege for being considered for a position in a public profession paid through government funding). And they are not a privileged class of beliefs either, as you also can’t be discriminated against for things like your political beliefs, nor your creed (whether religious or not). (Though it would admittedly be a difficult case to defend a creed in court that advocated actions that were against the law, but as long as you aren’t taking part in manifesting those actions, you’d probably win).

      Private businesses have different standards, non-profits have even more different standards, but a public university position must adhere to the standards for other public professions.

      Dr. Dawkins primary original argument appears to be that all other, potentially non-religious beliefs should either A) be given the same treatment as religious ones (which is already generally the case), or B) religious and non-religious beliefs or lack thereof should not be given that treatment at all (the treatment of not giving a person privilege if they hold them or don’t). He sides with the latter.

      His primary thesis seems to be suggesting two things, 1) that beliefs, religious or otherwise, can affect someone’s suitability at performing a job, even if those beliefs are completely unrelated to the task in question, and 2) that such a possibility inherently means that public sector employers should be allowed to discriminate based on the possibility of such a risk even if that person has a record of excellent performance in that profession.

      But this is all caveated only to specific beliefs that are “foolish” or “goofy,” though only limited examples of such self-identified beliefs are provided, a general rule or measure for foolishness or goofiness is not. He also seems disappointed that many people were accepting of the examples he saw as “absurd.”

      But honestly, I wouldn’t care if my eye doctor was a Witch (of the Wicca variety) and believed they were casting spells on their equipment prior to operating. I will concede I might care if they required a Lucky Cricket to be in the room (what would they do if the cricket met an unfortunate fate during an operation?) — but I would stop caring if they had a proven history of the ability to maintain composure and successfully perform despite such an event. I certainly wouldn’t consider either belief to be an absurdity that should be held above proven professional merit.

      I really wouldn’t care if my dentist had a personal belief that plaque was caused by watching television. As long as he had a history of correctly informing *me* what peer-reviewed dental literature says it’s caused by and how to avoid it. He can even tell me he thinks it’s caused by watching TV, as long as he explains that is his personally held belief, I’d rather still have him for my dentist than someone who doesn’t even have qualifications to perform the actions of dentistry.

  196. Antinous / Moderator says:

    My personal experience of religious co-workers has gone like this:

    Co-worker: You need to accept Jesus into your heart.
    Me: You need to stop stealing office supplies.

    Other co-worker: You need to find Jesus.
    Me: You need to stop groping unconscious patients.

    See! Religious beliefs are unrelated to job performance.

    • mellon says:

      I see that you favor works over faith, you Godless heretic! :)

      • Antinous / Moderator says:

        My problem with fundamentalist Christianity is that there seems to be an increasing belief that you can commit any sin or crime that you want because you’re going to be forgiven anyway. Cf. innumerable rappers who became preachers who then got busted for violent crimes. They know in their hearts that Jesus loves them despite what they did. Fortunately, the courts are less forgiving.

        • Anonymous says:

          Fundamentalism as a phenomenon is particularly pernicious and crosses ideologies.

          Fundamentalist Protestant Christianity (FPC) as we know it is a fairly recent phenomenon, emerging in the early 20th century. FPC is intellectually bankrupt. The followers of FPC tend to hold beliefs and act in ways that are fundamentally anti-Christian, especially when you consider works such as the epistle of James (James being the true anointed spiritual successor of Jesus’ work, per Jesus’ wishes).

          All fundamentalism warps thought, emotion, and reaction, regardless of the belief system used as its focus.

          Now… to address Mr. Dawkins’ posts:

          Can someone hold irrational beliefs yet behave in a rational way, performing rigorous tasks requiring logical thought all the while? Yes, it happens all the time. People are, by their nature, a horribly irrational lot, blinded by illusion, hobbled by poor impulse control, and largely driven by fear. Were that not the case, intelligence efforts, propaganda, advertising, and targeted marketing would not be nearly as effective as they are. Suggesting that people ought to behave in a truly rational way (no cognitive dissonance, no disconnect between belief and science, no expectation bias, etc.) at all times is itself — given the nature of people — an irrational expectation.

        • mellon says:

          My problem with fundamentalist Christianity is that they fail to understand that faith (belief in the savior) and works (doing what the savior said to do) are the two wings of your spiritual practice; with only one wing or the other, you can’t fly, but with both, you can. Of course, I’m not a Christian myself, so what do I know?

          Anyway, in case it wasn’t obvious, the heretic comment was intended to be ironic.

  197. Anonymous says:

    I think the only reason to discriminate against hiring someone for a position in which they would be hiring someone would be that they openly profess to believe that they should be able to discriminate against a viable candiate for unverifiable reasons.

  198. Anonymous says:

    Any scientist who still believes in Santa is no scientist at all. A non-scientist isn’t qualified for such a position.

  199. robulus says:

    If you want to insist that a candidate’s beliefs are private, should be respected, and should be treated as irrelevant by an appointing committee, then you should at least be consistent. You should also be blind to whether or not those beliefs have a religious provenance.

    Should I? You have not shown this, or provided a persausive argument for it. You have simply asserted it.

    I find your constant, casual dismissal of ancient tradition as a thing of little consequence, to be disingenuous.

  200. realgeek says:

    Was there discrimination involved? Sure, but it’s unfortunate that this email somehow came to light during the evidentiary discovery, because the Uni had a perfectly valid excuse to pass him over: he was unable to perform a basic function of the job. If you’re hired as a scientist, doesn’t that mean you believe in science not just as a process, but as a process that provides the closest we can come to the truth (and, of course, the option to change our minds about whatever the truth is when the evidence warrants it)? What good is a scientist who doesn’t believe the science? Isn’t having the option to change our minds about the truth in stark diametric opposition to holding devout religious beliefs which contradict the science? Contrary to what many have said here, you can have opposing ideas in your head, but you can’t honestly believe in both, because that IS either intellectual dishonesty or madness.

    For the record, I don’t think discrimination is acceptable, but I also think it was used (much like “playing the race card” in this case) when there was actually a perfectly valid reason not to hire him. If you’re being hired as a scientist, it’s reasonable that your employer should expect you to believe in science above all other beliefs. Simply put, if you’re beliefs about what is true are not dictated by science, then you’re not a scientist, you’re just pretending. Someone explain to me how this situation is different from someone who wants a job as a clergyman, yet doesn’t actually have faith?

    • Mister44 says:

      re: “Someone explain to me how this situation is different from someone who wants a job as a clergyman, yet doesn’t actually have faith?”

      There are clergy who have lost their faith and are now just doing their job – and they can still be competent at it.

      Another analogy that would be in the same realm of academics, but not with the not so divisive element of religion, are paleontologist in search of soft tissue in fossils, and those thinking they are finding modern bio-matter. You might think Ms. Schweitzer is full of it, but that won’t prevent you from running her experiments as a grad student and reporting what you find.

      • realgeek says:

        “There are clergy who have lost their faith and are now just doing their job – and they can still be competent at it.” I respectfully disagree. This is another example of dishonesty.

        Regarding your analogy involving paleontology, the hypothesis, no matter how wild, is irrelevant. Your job as part of a research team is to perform the experiments and report the data in an as unbiased way as possible.

        I will state it again: being a scientist requires you to believe. It’s not like being hired as a gas station attendant or an ad executive. You have to show that you can be trusted to stand by the work that you’re doing.

        How should Gaskell have responded not IF, but WHEN students began asking him about the origin of the universe? I wonder if the hiring committee asked him about this, since it’s directly related to the job.

        • Mister44 says:

          re: “How should Gaskell have responded not IF, but WHEN students began asking him about the origin of the universe? I wonder if the hiring committee asked him about this, since it’s directly related to the job.”

          I agree with your point – and my first post I said it would be unacceptable if that was how he dismissed the question.

          However:

          1) It doesn’t appear he is a YEC.

          2) The issue in question was evolution not something he would be teaching.

          3) He is already in academia, and hasn’t had controversy (that I know of). Assuming this is the same person: http://www.as.utexas.edu/~gaskell/

          • realgeek says:

            Well, Dawkins points out from the outset that he was allegedly a creationist. Most of the discussion that ensued revolved around the assumption that this was true. Regardless if it’s about creation or evolution or any other supposedly controversial topic, if one’s personal faith trumps *widely* accepted science, then one doesn’t really believe in science.

            That’s not to say that someone can’t validly dispute science based on some other or new scientific evidence, my problem is with people who think science is a day job and that it’s perfectly okay to pick and choose which parts of science they like, as if it were some kind of cognitive menu.

        • Hools Verne says:

          How should Gaskell have responded not IF, but WHEN students began asking him about the origin of the universe? I wonder if the hiring committee asked him about this, since it’s directly related to the job.

          How about the way my neuroscience prof answered the question of whether she was a monist or a dualist: “I personally believe [X] (if necessary you can expand on why you believe [X] here). However, this is a personal belief and I happily concede that I could be wrong. There simply isn’t enough evidence at the present time to offer a definitive answer so it’s up to you to look at the evidence and decide for yourself what you believe”. While I’m sure you think that such claptrap is the give away that she’s some kind of Augustinian Apologist she’s actually a strict monist. I was the student who didn’t buy into strict monism and, being the excellent professor that she was, she saw this as the beginning of the conversation not the end. Certainly my beliefs about the nature of consciousness didn’t stop me from acing every test I took in that class. You and the likes of Dawkins would see their vision of reality become unquestioned dogma, seeing scientists as little more than the new priests and pharisees. This is detrimental to the institution of science and society at large.

          • realgeek says:

            “You and the likes of Dawkins would see their vision of reality become unquestioned dogma, seeing scientists as little more than the new priests and pharisees. This is detrimental to the institution of science and society at large.”

            That would be detrimental, luckily your assumption is quite wrong. Why would I claim to know how the universe began? Sorry if I gave that impression. I think people are entitled to their beliefs, but it makes me upset (and I think rightfully so) to see people mix faith with science and logic. And why shouldn’t I be? Faith is by definition an unprovable belief.

            Also, if you’re a scientist, I think it’s okay to have imaginary friends, as long as they don’t whisper into your ear untruths about science. :-)

          • Nathan says:

            re: #126

            “I think people are entitled to their beliefs, but it makes me upset (and I think rightfully so) to see people mix faith with science and logic. And why shouldn’t I be? Faith is by definition an unprovable belief.”

            On the contrary, faith is belief when the evidence isn’t in yet. Belief in the unseen. Usually involving hope. It’s not belief despite the evidence. That is stupidity. I’ve posted a longer response to what I think the problem with the original post is…

          • realgeek says:

            “On the contrary, faith is belief when the evidence isn’t in yet. Belief in the unseen. Usually involving hope. It’s not belief despite the evidence. That is stupidity.”

            Okay.

          • Hools Verne says:

            See, you’re living proof that somebody can hold a set of beliefs and act in a manner diametrically opposed to them.

          • realgeek says:

            It’s true that people don’t always act according to their beliefs, but I’m not sure how that takes away from anything I’ve said so far.

          • Hools Verne says:

            We usually think of it as a terrible injustice, but if you’re applying to become part of a religious ministry don’t they, in effect, ask you to verify that you believe in and practice the religion in question?

            Most of the top United States Seminary Schools are interfaith and generally much more interested in theology than wrote sectarian dogma.

  201. Mister44 says:

    re “How many more times do I have to say this? I am NOT in favour of discriminating against people on grounds of their religious beliefs.”

    You may want to edit or update the original article, as many will just read it and not wade through nearly 300 posts to find your replies.

    “I simply raised the question whether there are ANY beliefs so preposterously absurd, so universally agreed to be ridiculous, that they should be taken into account.

    “I am against religious discrimination but in favour of discriminating against obvious goofiness, whether it is religiously inspired or not.”

    Therein lies the problem. What is goofiness? Other relatively sane people believe in goofy things – everything from alien abduction, to the 7 Jewish Bankers, to the WTC being brought down with explosives. Look around where you work. Someday in the break room or in the bathroom washing your hands, they will say some crazy ass things that will make you go o_0.

    Personally I believe anyone who believes the WTC wasn’t brought down my two jet liners to be bigger idiots than creationists (which isn’t to say I necessarily believe creationists are idiots).

    In the initial example of Mr. Gaskell, I can’t call his belief goofy. In this case he questioned Evolution, but even if he believed in creation – even a young earth creation – I would hardly call it goofy. It is a mainstream line of thinking. It obviously hasn’t stopped him from being published and working in Texas.

    While you or others find the notion absurd, one can rationalize things are the way they are because god wants it that way. So he can study the stars just fine, knowing while they appear X old, they are actually only Y old, and base his calculations and papers on the assumption that they are X years old (Because that is what they appear to be).

    So do we force people to hire others regardless of any fool idea? Of course not. One has to weigh the context. Is this idea harmful or detrimental to your business? Will it conflict to greatly with the established staff? Is it something super bizarre, like the believe they are Christ or that the gov. is sending him messages in Newsweek and a symptom of a mental problem.

    Your other two examples of the Stork Dr. and Flat-Earther are ones of harmless goofiness. They aren’t insane, and their belief isn’t going to harm anyone or prevent them from doing their job.

    • realgeek says:

      Believing in the Stork Theory isn’t goofiness, it’s insane. Children believe in Santa Claus because they haven’t been told yet to doubt it. Shouldn’t there be some expectation just to qualify for adulthood, much less gainful employment, that one has the ability and the willingness to question one’s beliefs? Again, I’m referring to the stork theory here.

      • Mister44 says:

        Well it is really hard to have a serious discussion about it – as no one – sane or crazy – really thinks baby comes from storks. (I shouldn’t say no one – but it is an absurd hypothetical question.)

        • realgeek says:

          “Well it is really hard to have a serious discussion about it – as no one – sane or crazy – really thinks baby comes from storks. (I shouldn’t say no one – but it is an absurd hypothetical question.)”

          Maybe that’s what most people think, but this post until recently was chock full o’ peeps trying to defend the stork believer’s beliefs. Yes, he has a right to this belief, but only if you also admit that he’s broken from reality.

          Maybe the point is that it’s wrong for someone to devise any idea whatsoever, call it their religion, and then claim discrimination when it’s violated. That seems like an untenable situation, doesn’t it?

  202. SamSam says:

    It seems that half the commentators here have been slipped a fast one.

    The scientist in question is NOT a Young Earth Creationist. Although Dawkins mentioned that briefly, he went on to give examples of people who’s beliefs are just as looney as YECs (like the flat-Earther) and so allowed people to argue as if he was a YEC.

    Further, everyone is commenting as if it’s a given fact that he has views that are at odds with those that astronomy (and by extention the department) espouses. Yet I have yet to hear what views this scientist holds that are at odds. Most astronomers can persue their entire career without having to make statements about what might have happened before the big bang.

    Also, this may be my lack of in-depth study of the subject, but aren’t all Christians “creationists,” at least of the “old” (as opposed to young earth) variety? Is a central tenant of their faith that God created the universe. So is no Christian allowed to be an astronomer?

  203. Anonymous says:

    He is a fake, a fraud, a charlatan, drawing a salary for a job that could have gone to an honest astronomer.

    You have no reason to call him dishonest. If he lied, and said he really believed in the more accepted story, that would be dishonest, but you would have no way of knowing.

    This post makes me think of John Mccain apposing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Despite having an expert saying he’s by far the best astronomer, you say “but a creationist can’t be scientist” based on prejudice.

    You say “I hope my readers would too” without giving any reason why.

  204. Anonymous says:

    This all boils down to how we interpret the “superbly qualified” assertion. Two alternatives: (1) If was meant in an all things considered sense, including not just peer review production but teaching, prospects for future contributions, individually, at the university and in the wider scientific community. If person X is more qualified all workrelated things considered, then a merit principle demands that he should be hired. (2) More weakly interpreted, the assertion could mean best in terms of peer review publication track record. That’s compatible with scoring lower on teaching or future potential or meshing well with the overall scientific program that the university is aiming to develop in the years to come. For example, a part of the task of being a scientist involves participating in general social deliberation and calling out unscientific claims there. Would the creationist job candidate be good at doing that, for example with great fervor engaging in popular work and lectures that at lenght points out the many mistaken claims and outright manipulations by creationist organisations?

    I take Dawkins to mean and interpret the email assertion as (2). The idiotic beliefs of the creationist is here (rightly!) seen as significant evidence that there will be problems ahead. Someone who believes things that fly in the face of the relevant empirical data are likely to perform badly in the future at some or other work related task. If such criteria are explicitly included in the job call then no problem and no (problematic) discrimination.

    The Chemist, Thalia: Your objection fails since there is no empirical evidence that being atheist causes bad scientific performance later on. So Dawkins and anyone else can reply to your “countercase” that discrimination in such cases would be baseless and therefor wrong. But there is empirical evidence that creationist beliefs result in worse overall work performance as a scientist.

    Anon (historic argument; Galileo etc.): that fails because those historical believers did not have the excellent scientifically verified information and theory when forming their religious view. We do and therefore we should know better.

    Anon * 2 (this sci-fi writers, fast food workers etc should be jailed, fired etc!): bad analogy arguments is bad. None of what you write follows from Dawkins argument. It applies specifically to hiring for science jobs. Having what it takes to get at the truth is part of the job description there.

    Anon (atheism is a religion!): If you by religion mean having baseless positive beliefs about properties and processes in reality then no atheism is not a religion. Atheism is a stance based on all the available evidence.

    mellon: every paragraph of your comment contains things that Dawkins discusses, and rebuts, at length in the God Delusion book. Why not read it?

    To all: here is one obvious problem for a creationist trying to perform well as an astronomer: general academic ethics codes values honesty. Now imagine a student in astronomy 101 asking the creationist “but prof do YOU really believe all this?”. What should he reply? If he says “of course not, I’m a creationist” then that will affect the learning outcome of the students badly. If even the teacher doesn’t believe that stuff is there really any knowledge to be had, would be a reasonable student reaction. If the teacher says “No comment” the same student outcome seems likely. If the teacher says “of course” then he is a cold faced liar and fails the honesty test.

    Dozens of other comments iterate the problems replies to above, ceteris paribus.

  205. Anonymous says:

    Considering that you can’t disprove a negative, can we discriminate against people who insist that evolution disproves there is a God?

  206. Anonymous says:

    From the visions of a nun in the 1600s as written in The Mystical City of God
    Chapter II, Paragraph 34
    Although this divine knowledge is one, most simple and indivisible, nevertheless, since the things which I see are many, and since there is a certain order, by which some are first and some come after, it is necessary to divide the knowledge of God’s intelligence and the knowledge of his will into many instants, or into many different acts, according as they correspond to the diverse orders of created things. For as some of the creatures hold their existence because of others, there is a dependence of one upon the other. Accordingly we say that God intended and decreed this before that, the one on account of the other; and that if He had not desired or included in the science of vision the one, He would not have desired the other. But by this way of speaking, we must not try to convey the meaning that God placed many acts of intelligence, or of the will; rather we must intend merely to indicate, that the creatures are dependent on each other and that they succeed one another. In order to be able to comprehend the manner of creation more easily, we apply the order of things as we see them objectively, to the acts of the divine intelligence and will in creating them.

    And there you have an explanation of evolution before Darwin was even a gleam in his father’s eye… Poor people saddled with only the Protestant tradition…

    Iris Celeste

  207. Anonymous says:

    Discrimination based on merit is right.

  208. Rob Gehrke says:

    Oh yes, Dawkins !
    It does make sense that a person who is to teach science in a university should be held to rigorous standards as to if his/her belief system is rational and informed by science. It’s also reasonable to judge a person’s rationality by these beliefs, i.e., if he/she harbors irrational beliefs, then it can be argued that he/she might turn out to be irrational on a host of other issues.

    Also, it’s absurd to put belief in creationism on the same level as being LGBT, having red hair, being a woman or a man, as these are all mostly hereditary traits that we are born with and have absolutely no bearing on the quality of our thought processes – the very same thought processes that would be required for teaching science (and most other things, as we can’t pretend that science is the sole repository of rationality in human culture). In that sense, the lawsuit is iffy in my opinion – after all, one has a choice whether or not to believe in magical sky gods, one does not choose one’s sexuality or hair color, and they are irrelevant to the subject being taught.
    So far so good.

    There is a problem with this argument :
    1. It seems to be possible for some people to totally dissociate their irrational beliefs from the environment they teach or work in. So, it is possible that a creationist could be an excellent teacher and scientist without anyone knowing about it (being a creationist) if this information is kept secret ; now, if he/she were to disclose this information suddenly to the public and students after years of teaching, would it change the substance of the lessons he/she has been giving in the past? No, they would be identical of course. So, the question comes down to, in my mind, is there a direct relationship between one’s secretly held beliefs on the one hand, and the quality of one’s interactions with the rest of the world on the other, such that the latter can be deduced from the former? I doubt it.
    Think of an anonymous commenter on a blog – when you cannot attribute a name to the person, you concentrate solely on the words and the strengths of the argument, and not on any ancillary information about the person. So, there is a case for personal information like irrational beliefs being withheld from recruiters, the public, etc. and not influencing the person’s ability to get a job.

    So, for me, the issue is not so much assuring a high level of scientific inquiry and education (which is obviously vital), as it is a question of personal privacy – and the right for all people, no matter how irrational or stupid or schizophrenic, to try to earn a living.

  209. Anonymous says:

    I get that lots of religious people are pretty insufferable when it comes to tolerance and understanding- dismissing others as fools for rejecting those things they’ve dedicated their lives to propagating, holding faith to be solidly established fact at times even though their beliefs are at best, theory, and at worst, glassy-eyed, smug attempts to convince everyone else in earshot of their imbecility and inherent ignorance in the face of such obvious Truth. For shame; trying to force one’s beliefs on others, even ‘for their own good’, is meddlesome and no matter how good the intent behind it is, others’ beliefs aren’t really their business to begin with.
    Maybe sometimes their beliefs impinge on their abilities to do their job. Surely that’s a performance issue; I would view dismissing somebody out-of-hand for adhering to a different viewpoint from my own to be no different than dismissing them for any other reason. And all the sputtering in the world about how they’re foolish and ignorant and must be stopped from polluting the minds of others with their superstitions and lackadaisical belief-structures is no different from what so many of them do (and get roundly reviled for). How does the knife not cut both ways? How does rejecting somebody become perfectly acceptable, if it’s an atheist doing it, but horrible and ignorant if a person of religious views does it? It sounds as though Prof Dawkins’ disagreements with religion are license to reject those who adhere to them, simply because they don’t line up with what he believes. Or to put it more aptly, they don’t adhere to his religion of atheism (religion for taking as fact that proof and science are ultimate, immutable truths), so it’s fine to discriminate against them solely on those grounds, performance and professionalism be damned. Of course, if the tables were turned, it would be an outrage somehow.

  210. sbarnes2 says:

    Moar articles, please, RD.

  211. MarlboroTestMonkey7 says:

    If there’s any justice in the world, he or anyone else should have the opportunity simply do what he does best and either find God or not in it or elsewhere. Like you.

    • Anonymous says:

      If there is empirical evidence that the candidate will not perform the job adequately, then those are grounds for removing them from consideration. Likewise, if there is empirical evidence that the candidate has performed the job well, and in fact, has never performed poorly, than you have no grounds to remove them from consideration.

      The fact that Dawkins’ claims this man is incapable of performing a job that requires empirical rigour, despite that all empirical evidence says otherwise, is incredibly ironic, and makes me doubt Dawkins’ capability as a scientist.

      Indeed, I would argue that someone who is able to put aside their biases and beliefs in order to perform science is, by definition, a fantastic scientist. Everyone comes to the table with false beliefs and assumptions, it’s the ability to come to conclusions that contradict personal ideologies that makes great scientists.

      If this man is truly able to put aside his beliefs in YIC, and academically state conclusions that contradict his own philosophies, I hold him in great esteem as a scientist. If he proves incapable of this, then have at him, but as we say in civilized world: Innocent until proven guilty.

  212. Raum187 says:

    Dawkins clearly says, “so I want to leave his particular case on one side and look at the general principles”.

  213. Tim says:

    Prof. Dawkins,

    Thank you for a follow-up comment. I apologize if I misunderstood your post; it did appear as if you were using the extreme examples to show that Gaskell should not have been hired.

    Using your extreme examples solely, I would say that beliefs should be able to be factored into a job application, but only when they pose a risk or unnecessary danger to the position. The ophthalmologist who believes in storks could prove risky/dangerous to patients if they further refuse to believe other physiologically relevant information. A geologist who believes the world is 10,000 years old seems to fall under this category as well. However, an ophthalmologist who believes the world is 10,000 years old does not, as their belief in YEC doesn’t seem to insist that they won’t keep up with modern medicine.

    I guess the best I can say in response is that personal beliefs should be considered, whether religious or not, if they are relevant to the position. A religion professor who is an atheist doesn’t seem problematic, but a priest who is an atheist does; a chemist who is a YEC doesn’t seem as potentially problematic as a paleontologist does, but I can see how an argument could be made.

    The biggest problem with this is not letting personal feelings/opinions interfere with what is considered “problematic”; religious persecution by other religions, scientific persecution by religious leaders, ethnic persecutions by other ethnicities, and racial persecution by other races were all justified as the persecuted group posed a “danger” for one reason or another. I’m not saying you are doing this, but not everyone who factors in beliefs on an application would be as discerning or logical as yourself. There are bigots in this world, and many will use whatever means necessary to make the world as they prefer; it seems dangerous to hand them another tool to persecute others.

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