Monday, December 10, 2007

Dogmatism or consensus?

Back to the second story in last Friday's Boston Globe, concerning the post-doc formerly at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, who claims he was fired because he doesn't believe in evolution.

Unfair religious discrimination? Or a legitimate concern for the integrity of science? The courts will decide.

I was once involved in hiring a Ph.D. from one of the country's finest universities to teach history of science. He came with a glowing recommendation from his thesis director. It turned out he was a creationist, who held to a literal Genesis.

If the universe is 6000 years old, as this person believed, then virtually everything we know about astronomy, geology, physics, and biology is wrong. That is to say, if his one particular neolithic account of creation is true, then virtually everything on the science shelves of our college library can be tossed.

If I had known in advance of this gentleman's beliefs, I would not have voted to hire him. But once aboard, I found myself cutting him slack, while steering him toward the teaching of subjects where his personal beliefs would impinge minimally way on the accepted scientific consensus. Fortunately for the college, he soon chose to move on to a fundamentalist Christian school where science is tailored to conform to Scriptures.

Apparently, the postdoc at Woods Hole was hired to do work for which evolution was central. Let's be absolutely clear: Biblical creationism and intelligent design are not science. They have certainly been around a lot longer than evolution, common descent and natural selection, but they have identified no new phenomena, made not a single testable prediction, generated no experimental results, and produced no research acceptable to a non-faith-based, peer-reviewed scientific journal. Yet the creationists will cry foul, and accuse the scientific establishment of intolerance and dogmatism. What the creationists call dogmatism, the scientific community calls consensus -- a freely-embraced consensus across boundaries of religion and politics. I wonder if a respected evolutionary biologist or deep-time geologist could get a job at Liberty University, or any other fundamentalist institution.