two magesteria In the courtroom

CocktailPhysicsMoi Three years before he died, paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, one of my favorite popularizers of science, published a book called Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life, basically consigning the two subjects to different realms of thought and influence. Gould maintained that the two areas of inquiry asked and answered different questions that need not impinge on each other. The reaction was, well, reactionary and not all of it truly thoughtful. I thought at the time that many of the reviewers were hell-bent on developing their own Theory of Everything that reconciled all areas of human thought. Many scientists, skeptics, and atheists (sometimes embodied in one person) roundly denounced the work (and Gould, in the kind of low-blow ad hominem attacks they decry in others, I might add) for daring to try to "legitimize" religion or spirituality in the same breath as science.

This post is not about that.

I mention it because, as was inevitable, the question of whether a scientist can have any kind of religious faith or even just entertain the idea separately from his or her own professional work has now reached the courtroom stage in the case of Dr. C. Martin Gaskell, a  University of Nebraska astronomer who was turned down for a post by the University of Kentucky because an internet search of his name revealed he was an evangelical Christian who wasn't shy about writing about astronomy and the Bible. Gaskell has taken pains to point out that he is not a creationist and he does not have any problems with the theory of evolution. A department staff member, Sally A. Shafer,

found links to his notes for a lecture that explores, among other topics, how the Bible could relate to contemporary astronomy. “Clearly this man is complex and likely fascinating to talk with,” Ms. Shafer wrote, “but potentially evangelical.” . . . Francis J. Manion, Dr. Gaskell’s lawyer, said: “I couldn’t have made up a better quote. ‘We like this guy, but he is potentially Jewish’? ‘Potentially Muslim’?”

Put in those terms, this becomes not just an issue of scientific accuracy and honesty, but of censorship and, yes, plain ole bigotry.

The job Gaskell applied for was running the new UKentucky student observatory, which also involves lecturing publicly about science. Keep in mind that UKentucky is not far from the Creation Museum in the heart of the Bible Belt, which may have contributed to their jitters about hiring someone they perceive as working for the other side. But it may be that it's that perception that's the problem. One of the basic rules of discrimination and bigotry as that it lumps large numbers of people together in a single group without regard for individual differences. The terrorists who took down the Twin Towers in 2001 were Muslim; hence all Muslims are terrorists. Stated so baldly, bigotry is laughably simplistic to anyone with the ability to analyze and think for themselves—a trait I would hope scientists and education leaders would possess in abundance.

Now, bear with me for a moment and imagine you are a practicing Christian—not an unquestioning, blindly faithful zombie Christian, but a thoughtful, questioning, testing-your-faith kinda Christian—living near the University of Kentucky where Dr. Gaskell has just been hired, and you see an advertisement for this talk by Dr. Gaskell: "Modern Astronomy, the Bible and Creation." Back in the day, when I was a Jehovah's Witness, I had a really healthy curiosity about Life, the Universe, and Everything and a talk like this would have more than piqued my interest. Quite likely, I'd have trundled off to hear it, possibly dragging one or two others of my equally curious JW friends with me. Here's what I would have heard (PDF) according to his own summary:

I give my responses to some of the questions I am most frequently asked on the subject of the Bible and modern astronomy. I start out by emphasizing that many scientists and philosophers have strong religious beliefs and I give some quotes from famous scientists and philosophers. I list, and briefly discuss, some of the main theological interpretational viewpoints of the creation stories in Genesis. 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.) [emphasis mine] The origin of Bishop Ussher's date of creation is explained and the question of “days” in Genesis 1 is discussed. Examples of where modern astronomy is supporting the details of Genesis 1 are described. A list of suggested readings for those who wish to read more about Christianity, the Bible, and some of the scientific issues is appended.

Gaskell goes on to say that, "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." "Mostly very poor science," huh? Hmmm. And that would have piqued my interest too. Why is it poor science, I would have wondered? Further investigation would have followed—and did, in a similar situation, leading me to where I am now: skeptic in fact if not by affiliation, and Buddhist fellow-traveller.

Honestly, none of Gaskell's talk sounds Creationist to me. What Gaskell is actually doing is finding common ground with his audience, in this case the Bible, to talk about science, without distorting either. This is something Jennifer does with just about every post she writes, but her common ground is pop culture. And as a former fundy science nerd, I can testify that science history this reasonably presented would have been greeted with interest by any but the most fundamentalist of Christians, who are probably already a write-off. But that's not what happened in Kentucky. There was nothing reasonable about the response in Kentucky. Oh, no. There was, instead, a "rush to judgment."

In recent years there's been more than a hint of the hysterical witch hunt in the voices of some skeptics and scientists crusading (and yes, I use that word intentionally) against creationism and Intelligent Design. Phil Plait, the favorite Bad Astronomer of Cocktail Party Physics, addressed this at a recent TAM meeting in his inimitable way, in a talk called "Don't be a Dick":

Part II

Part III

Rather than seeing someone like Gaskell as a possible bridge between the reasonable, questioning, curious Christian community (and there is one; I've been part of it), UKentucky freaked out about a possible PR nightmare in hiring someone perceived as a narrow-minded pseudo-scientist. One thing I don't think you can accuse Dr. Gaskell of is being a pseudo-scientist. If you skim his publication lists (he's now at the University of Texas), you'll see he's co-authoring with legitimate scientists in his field, and publishing in all the usual places that "real" astronomers publish in. Not the Discovery Institute, but the American Astronomical Society's journal, and other well-known scientific journals.

Now, call me crazy, but I always thought the purpose of a university was to offer education. It's hard to educate people if you don't speak at least some of their language. Most Christians—most religious people of any stripe—feel that scientists not only don't speak their language, but are only interested in belittling them, not in having a reasonable conversation with them. So even if you have questions, as a religious or spiritually inclined person, who are you supposed to ask, when the scientists will just mock you? As Phil says in his talk, we should be "relying on the merits of the arguments, which is what critical thinking is all about, what evidence-based reasoning is about." Not vitriol. Not bigotry. Not prejudice.

The truth about the history of scientific thought that many modern scientists would like to shove under the rug is that it sprang out of the only educated community in the middle ages and Renaissance: church clerics. Before the Age of Enlightenment was the Age of Enlightenment, it was the Age of Faith, and you can take the boy outta the church, but you can't take the church outta the boy. References to God and creation are everywhere in the history of scientific inquiry, even if only used metaphorically. Why not use them, as Gaskell does, as a lever to open the doors of blind faith just a crack, to slip in some scientific fact? It accomplishes more than just telling people they are fools and morons. Skepticism isn't teaching people what to think; it's teaching people how to think. You don't accomplish that by telling them that everything they know is wrong.

I'm glad Gaskell is bringing this issue to court, because it's something the scientific community needs to confront about itself. By tarring all spiritual seekers with the same brush of ignorance, extremists in the the secular world in general and the skeptical community in particular reveal their own fear of the Other, the same kind of cheap, petty, ignorant fear that white supremacists, jihadists, and homophobes display. Not nice company to be lumped into, is it? Fear isn't rational, though. And that alone should wake you up, if you're one of those frothing at the mouth skeptic/atheists. Use the rational mind that God gave you, for Pete's sake.

45 thoughts on “two magesteria In the courtroom”

  1. Oh, you’ve done it now. Excuse me while I go dig out my flame-retardant vest. 🙂 Have not been following this issue closely enough to comment intelligently, but if the facts are as you present them — i.e., Gaskell is not a creationist and accepts evolution, that is, his faith does not interfere with his science — then I agree he should not be automatically dropped from consideration because he happens to be a person of faith.
    A word to commenters: Please review our moderation policy and kindly adhere to it. Thanks.

  2. “Gaskell has taken pains to point out that he is not a creationist and he does not have any problems with the theory of evolution.”
    False. He is not a young earth creationist, he is an old earth creationist. See his writings on it here –
    Any form of ‘god-guided’ evolution is, in fact, contrary to evolution, since evolution depends on random mutation. When he says that he ‘does not have any problems with the theory of evolution’, what he is saying is that he doesn’t have a problem with his own pseudoscientific understanding of evolution, where the fundamental random component is axed in favor of designa nd intent, and “It is quite likely that Genesis is describing physical things that happened in space and time in the history of our universe.” He says: “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”. He seems to be a fan of intelligent design: “I should mention something … called “Intelligent Design”. This movement, which is often erroneously confused with young-earth creationism, is just exploring the question of what evidence there is in the universe for design by an intelligence. This is really a general, non-religious question”.
    “What Gaskell is actually doing is finding common ground with his audience, in this case the Bible, to talk about science, without distorting either.”
    Which is absolutely not true. He is distorting the science at the core. It is hard to understand how you don’t see teleological evolution as distorting random mutation + selection at a basic level.
    And gosh, I thought we’d seen the end of that ridiculous Don’t Be A Dick speech. “So even if you have questions, as a religious or spiritually inclined person, who are you supposed to ask, when the scientists will just mock you?” Where is this happening, that honest questions are met with instant mockery void of content. Plait never was able to produce an example of what he was talking about, which is why most people wrote off the speech as an empty truism.
    “The truth about the history of scientific thought that many modern scientists would like to shove under the rug is that it sprang out of the only educated community in the middle ages and Renaissance: church clerics.”
    [citation needed]. Who is doing that?
    “Skepticism isn’t teaching people what to think; it’s teaching people how to think.”
    Skeptics are no longer being skeptics when they tell homeopaths they’re wrong. Or antivaxxers. Or, wait, is it only religion that gets singled out for the kid-glove treatment?
    Debunking untruths is certainly something that does not belong in the skeptic community.
    “You don’t accomplish that by telling them that everything they know is wrong.”
    Again, [citation needed].
    “if you’re one of those frothing at the mouth skeptic/atheists”
    [citation needed].
    I think you’re making up strawmen, just like the Don’t Be A Dick speech.

    “there’s a new group formed at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln by students who know evolution is false. They are the Intelligent Design Theorists of Nebraska, and their faculty advisor is astronomy professor Martin Gaskell.”

  4. And it’s not as if this was the only concern, and he was otherwise a stellar candidate. Chair of UK Physics and Astronomy (Michale Cavagnero) contacted Gaskell’s supervisor at UNL, Roger Kirby, for a reference:
    “Kirby advised Cavagnero that Gaskell’s main source of conflict with UNL faculty was his desire to decrease his teaching load. Although Gaskell had been hired primarily to teach, Kirby informed Cavagnero that Gaskell had applied some of his research funding toward the hiring of an instructor to replace him as a teacher so that he could focus more exclusively on research. as a result, Kirby complained that he was placed in the difficult position of having to hire replacement instructors. Kirby further advised Cavagnero that Gaskell often refused to accept the decision of his colleagues and administrators, and found ways to rehash old issues.”
    He wanted to get out of teaching. Bear in mind the job he was applying for was outreach (i.e. purely teaching), not a faculty position.

  5. musubk:
    1. False. He is not a young earth creationist, he is an old earth creationist. See his writings on it here –
    Lee: Uh, clarification, plz. You just cited the same PDF I linked to in the post. It’s 10 pages long. I’m not finding evidence that he’s an old earth creationist. All he’s doing is discussing the various types of creationism. Further, he says he respects the ID people “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.” (p. 4).
    2. “The truth about the history of scientific thought that many modern scientists would like to shove under the rug is that it sprang out of the only educated community in the middle ages and Renaissance: church clerics.”
    [citation needed]. Who is doing that?
    Lee: How often do you hear scientists acknowledge that Kepler, Galileo, Copernicus, et al were good churchgoers? I can’t give you a citation because I can’t prove a negative.
    3. Skeptics are no longer being skeptics when they tell homeopaths they’re wrong. Or antivaxxers. Or, wait, is it only religion that gets singled out for the kid-glove treatment? Debunking untruths is certainly something that does not belong in the skeptic community.
    Lee: Distortion of my words. Just telling people they’re wrong accomplishes nothing but making them defensive. And presenting people with facts and research will only work if you can get them to reason. It’s not, as Plait says, a matter of winning arguments; it’s a matter of teaching people to analyze and develop their critical thinking skills. Nobody likes admitting they’re wrong with someone rubbing their nose in it. It’s hard enough to admit you’ve been wrong for years without any prompting but your own, but that’s the only way it sticks. I don’t say you shouldn’t point out the error in people’s thinking, just that merely telling them they’re wrong isn’t sufficient or useful.
    4. “You don’t accomplish that by telling them that everything they know is wrong.”
    Again, [citation needed].
    Lee: Simon Singh’s libel lawsuit.
    In the end, The British Chiropractic Association still refused to admit Singh was right and they were wrong. They merely dropped the suit.
    5. “if you’re one of those frothing at the mouth skeptic/atheists”
    [citation needed].
    Lee: Richard Dawkins’s book, The God Delusion. That’s a pretty frothing-at-the-mouth, inflammatory title, in my opinion.
    6. “there’s a new group formed at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln by students who know evolution is false. They are the Intelligent Design Theorists of Nebraska, and their faculty advisor is astronomy professor Martin Gaskell.”
    Lee: This link is now six years old. Gaskell is no longer at Nebraska and perhaps this experience was part of his loss of enchantment with ID. Hard to say. But no longer relevant.
    7. And it’s not as if this was the only concern, and he was otherwise a stellar candidate. Chair of UK Physics and Astronomy (Michale Cavagnero) contacted Gaskell’s supervisor at UNL, Roger Kirby, for a reference:
    Lee: The deposition document (which I also linked to) raises other issues not discussed in this post, which aren’t relevant to the argument I’m making. Now who’s setting up straw men?
    You’re free to not like Phil’s lecture, and I can see why someone like you wouldn’t. I’m just as free to cite it too, since Jennifer graciously allows me to post here.

  6. “The God Delusion” is a frothing-at-the mouth title for a book? I think I could come up with some titles that froth more than that. Maybe more adjectives would really get the spittle flying.
    I agree with some of the things you have to say. I find there can sometimes be a tough balance between discrimination and also listening to the words of a religious-scientist while keeping my mind alerted to something that doesn’t gel due to that religion. It doesn’t mean atheist scientists are always scientifically correct, but I do find I trust them more easily not to slip something religious past me.

  7. Glendon,
    I agree “The God Delusion” is a mild example, but it is inflammatory. The moment you call something that people base so much of their identity on a delusion, you’ve lost them. It reduces the argument to name-calling. I love PZ Myers, but this is often what he ends up doing, and I think it hurts his otherwise very good, very clear arguments.
    I think the key here is to keep an open mind and to use the same critical faculties that we apply to science. If there’s no evidence, there’s no evidence, no matter how much we want there to be and what we base our identity on. But that doesn’t mean there never will be, or that we know all the answers now.

  8. Hi Lee,
    If someone wrote a book called “The Caffeine Delusion”, as a devoted coffee-drinker, my interest would be piqued; not lost. (Currently I consider it may be my favourite placebo.)
    The Gaskell case is interesting – when I started blogging my artwork, at first I wasn’t sure if I should mention being an atheist. Has it helped me get some of my illustration contracts? I can only speculate; it hasn’t come up. Would someone attempt to hire me to paint at altarpiece for their church? Again, I can only speculate. I would say they are free to decide to go with someone who is not only technically competent, but also shares their beliefs in the hopes it somehow informs their work.
    If Gaskell has some questions about evolution and leans toward a type of old-earth creationism -and there’s a field of other candidates to choose from- the question of how those beliefs inform his work seems to be something some on the hiring committee wanted to address. Is that discrimination or finding the most suitable person for the job?

  9. Hi Glendon,
    You’re obviously not as easily insulted as I am, :^) although I’m not sure caffeine is that closely tied to my identity (I’m a tea fan, not a coffee consumer). I’m not even a religious person now (though I was) and I felt insulted by Dawkins’s book, simply because he makes such sweeping generalizations about people with spiritual beliefs.
    You raise some interesting questions about your artwork, but I’m not sure the analogy holds. Art is about personal expression, even when it’s commissioned; you hire a painter because you like their style. Fact doesn’t really enter into it, even in representational art. In science, it’s all about the facts, so there’s not much, if any, room for fudging. But I do think it’s possible to separate religious belief from cold, hard facts, to a certain extent. There’s always a tension there, and when it becomes untenable, you do what I did: jump ship, one way or the other. But I do believe it need not affect one’s work. It’s a personal and philosophical problem, not an employment problem.
    I’m not entirely convinced that Gaskell is an Old-Earther either. If that’s the case, then, yes, I agree that should be a factor in hiring him. But being religious or simply discussing the idea with others does not equal belief in Old-Earth or any other kind of pseudo evolutionary theory. And he is right that the field is far from settled. No legitimate scientist questions evolution as a process, but how it happens is still not entirely clear. I think everybody in the field has questions about evolution, except whether it actually is going on right now and has in the past. But that’s true of lots of biological processes. We know they happen, but we don’t know the mechanism.

  10. I agree that we should be relying on the merits of the arguments.
    So why is Gaskell promoting the work of Hugh Ross, Philip Johnson, and Michael Behe? Why is he recommending the awful Discovery Institute textbook, Of Pandas and People?
    The problem is not that he is an evangelical Christian, or that he’s incompetent in his specific field of study: religion or any other legal extracurricular hobby should never be a criterion for employment, and by all accounts he’s a good astronomer. The problem is that he is evangelizing for bad science in fields outside his discipline.
    I wouldn’t want Hugh Ross running an outreach program at my university, and I wouldn’t want Gaskell for the same reason. He wouldn’t recognize an argument of merit if it came up and poked him in the eye.

  11. PZ, what do you mean by promoting? If you mean listing it in the bibliography he prepared for the public, then I would counter that, again, you have to know your audience, and start with stuff that won’t turn them off right away. Smart people who are asking questions will eventually be turned off by this crap, as I was, and start looking at real science. The other folks–well, you’re not going to convince them anyway.
    I think one of the underlying problems with trying to excise religious belief from the scientific community is that efforts to kill religion only make it stronger. Religions like persecution and martyrdom. The only way to kill them is to let them die of neglect. And that takes time.

  12. Lee, if you agree that being an Old-Earther should be a factor in hiring him, then may I suppose you agree that a church may not be considered discriminatory for hiring a devout person as a priest instead of an atheist person with the same credentials? Would that be a personal and philosophical problem or an employment problem?
    You believe it need not affect one’s work. That’s true in many scientists’ cases, I’m sure. His paper says he has developed those notes based on public talks given at many universities. He has a decent disclaimer at the very bottom saying he doesn’t necessarily endorse the views on the links provided. But the huge number of links to all these places is a statement too, especially since he takes pains to scientifically correct the views he disagrees with, such as a 6000 year old Earth.
    A note about my art-analogy. Artists are not always hired for style or personal expression. Re-dos, corrections and matching expectations are a huge, huge part of what we do. Gaskell was being considered in part for scientific outreach, and a large portion of his online presence includes religious apologetics. That may not be matching expectations for the job.

  13. Hmmmm, interesting question, Glendon. I guess in the end I need to retract that thing about being an Old-Earther and use the criteria I started with: can you do the job without letting your personal beliefs affect your ability to carry out your duties? Since outreach is part of the job Gaskell applied for, how he goes about it is an important factor. Part of the problem, as I said earlier, is that even talking about these theories can get you branded as a “believer” if you do anything but roundly condemn them. That’s not a good strategy when you’re trying to convince others that they’re not viable. A reasoned argument has to consider the idea in detail, which an often sound like endorsement to people who aren’t paying attention. What you call “religious apologetics” someone else might call a reasonable discussion.
    “But the huge number of links to all these places is a statement too, especially since he takes pains to scientifically correct the views he disagrees with, such as a 6000 year old Earth.”
    I think part of what he’s doing with this exhaustive list is saying “start here,” which is what you do when you’re conducting what amounts to a survey course for a non-academic audience. His disclaimer speaks for itself.
    As for hiring atheists to fill a church position, you’d be surprised how many folks in those positions have lost their own faith. Divinity school often has that effect.

  14. What’s irrational is believing in something without evidence or despite contradictory evidence, which describes all religious belief.
    One of the primary traits of Evangelicalism is a belief in Biblical literalism (citation: This is, quite simply, in direct opposition to scientific pursuits. It is not at all unreasonable for someone interviewing an applicant for a scientific position to doubt the applicant’s ability to perform in that position when that applicant identifies with a group that believes mythology to be factual, and furthermore gives talks claiming his own subject is in support of that mythology, blatantly and misleadingly disregarding evidence in the process. Modern astronomy does not support Genesis, and anyone who claims otherwise either is being disingenuous or is dangerously misinformed. For one exceedingly simple example, the Genesis narrative explicitly states that stars were created after seas on Earth. This is nonsense; any attempt to justify it displays an unscientific mentality. Science goes where the evidence leads, and the evidence does not lead to Biblical literalism or any related apologetic views.
    For scientists to “speak the language” of religious belief only lends credence to those beliefs in the minds of believers. Trying to meet them in the middle only emboldens them and weakens science by muddying the waters.

  15. Kevin, you managed to miss the whole point of this post. In fact, you’ve done exactly the same thing as UKentucky, with your citation. Not every Christian, not even every evangelical, believes exactly the same things in the privacy of their own heads. If you lump people into groups like that and write them off, you’re defeating your own purpose, because you’ll never reach them. If you read Gaskell’s talk, you’d see that he doesn’t agree with a literal interpretation of the Bible. (In fact, those literal interpretations of the Bible have lead to a number of disparate beliefs inside Christianity, which Gaskell also points out.) Does that make him an evangelical in your book?
    The fact is that Gaskell speaks both in the language of science and the language of evangelicals and has been reaching out to evangelicals to explain a little science to them–and not the other way around. When you’re trying to inform people or even just broaden their minds, especially people who hold a totally opposing viewpoint from yours, you must meet them halfway. If fact is truly fact, I don’t see how that can possibly weaken it. Can you give me an example? And it emboldens “believers” to do what? Believe more? Evangelize?
    What people believe in their off hours and in their own time is irrelevant to their day jobs, as long as it doesn’t interfere with how they perform the work they get paid for.

  16. My point, which you seem to have missed, is that Gaskell not only identifies with the evangelical group, he takes actions which support that identification. He may state that he doesn’t agree with a literal interpretation of the Bible, but he gives talks that twist evidence to support Biblical claims.
    The last thing any rationalist needs or wants is for apologists to mislead believers into thinking that their irrational, unsupported beliefs actually are supported. What will that accomplish other than confusing the issue even further?
    I think it’s very clear that Gaskell’s beliefs do affect how he performs his work. He gives talks claiming, falsely, that the Bible is supported by modern astronomy. He doesn’t keep his beliefs and his work separate; quite the opposite, his beliefs directly inform his unscientific interpretations of his work.

  17. To commenter Kevin: i am an Orthodox Jew. That means i follow the rules as written and interpreted, but i don’t wear the black coats, tall fur hats, and have the long sidelocks of Hasidic Jews. i am a regular guy. i listen to Metallica, Elton John, Handel, and have watched Dune, like Star Trek, and work as a computer technician. i live in a world of math and physics. i learned data structures in college. i also learned oceanography, gross anatomy, and started a course on stellar cartography(i had to drop it; way too advanced for me, but i thought it was awesome). i cannot say anything but how G-d is everywhere, in every facet of life. If i believe that G-d is truly omnipotent, then He created the laws of physics, biology, and chemistry we adhere to. Everything from the smallest atom in the double-helix to the mind-boggling size of “star factories”, like MS 1358t62, found last February. i get such a kick out of reading about the findings in Cern. i am not a scientist. i am just a major nerd. To say that people who are religious can be or are “disingenuous or is dangerously misinformed” puts you on thin ice. i would like to point out that Evangelicalism is relatively new as a religion, as Christianity is, as well, despite being 2’000 years old. Look to what practicing Jewish scientists believe. Judaism predates Christianity by at least 2’500 years. Was it not a Muslim astronomer who first noted the phenomenon of parallax? Al-Battani died in 929, CE. He also is known to have made corrections to Ptolemy’s theories, and was influential in the beginning of trigonometry. He believe in G-d and creation, being a devout Muslim. Dr. Nathan Aviezer is an American-Israeli physicist who wrote a book called, “In the beginning”, about how Big Bang and creation can fit together. i have it, it’s a great read. He writes on cosmology, evolution, creationism, and biology from a Jewish perspective. While Dr. J.R. Oppenheimer was not a completely practicing Jew, he did have a Jewish identity. i had the pleasure of meeting the son of one of his colleagues, who is a Rabbi by the name of Steinmetz. i’m not the only one. i have a friend who has since moved back to Israel. He is a geneticist. Believes in evolution and creation. Another friend lives in Australia. Ali is the research biologist i turn to when i have questions regarding human vs. other mammalian neurology. She is a Lubavich chassidic woman, and a convert to boot. a closer friend of mine works for Kappel here in the NY capital region. She is a nuclear physicist. She is a chassidic woman, as well. Her belief is unwavering. She designs nuclear power systems. There are many religious people who are not like your mentioned subject. Neither are the other Jewish scientists i know. He might have been wrong in his practices, but that doesn’t make religious people like myself, or ALL RELIGIOUS PEOPLE “dangerously misinformed”. We might have rednecks and hicks where i am in upstate NY, but i am not one of them. Relating to what Diandra L.P. wrote last week, science is not democratic because “the masses” are uninformed. Same here with religion, creation, and science. Most people have only some of the facts in each subject. If we educated people more, maybe they’ll have different thoughts on the matter, as i do.

  18. There are no facts in support of religion or creationism. That’s my whole point. I certainly did not say all religious people are disingenuous or dangerously misinformed; what I said was that applies to those who twist scientific evidence to support religious claims.
    Certainly, there are many religious scientists who are able to keep their religious beliefs and their scientific work separate. It’s simply that Gaskell is not one of these people, as his own actions demonstrate.

  19. Thank you for clarifying. i think that those who twist science to fit religion are wrong. It should be a marriage of ideas. That is true; he can’t. But MY point is that the Jewish scientists i know(myself included, though i’m not a scientist; just an avid nerd), DO NOT separate their work. Their work is part of their belief system. To me, science supports religion. As an example, the Jewish calendar this year is 5751. This is the amount of time since creation, as we believe. This time is from when Adam and Eve started their story in the Garden. The first seven days of creation, because they were part of a “building process”, did not necessarily last 24 hours each. Who’s to say that the seven days were not seven “eras”, like the Paleolithic, Jurassic, etc.? If that were the case, these ages lasted for millions of years each, until such time as G-d deemed the world ready to “start”. i see it as the re-indexing of an SQL database. The re-indexing process doesn’t stop database access, just makes it slower. Once the re-index is finished, things resume at a normal pace.

  20. Kevin sez: “I think it’s very clear that Gaskell’s beliefs do affect how he performs his work. He gives talks claiming, falsely, that the Bible is supported by modern astronomy. He doesn’t keep his beliefs and his work separate; quite the opposite, his beliefs directly inform his unscientific interpretations of his work.”
    Does Gaskell give those talks on university time? And just how much do you know about the Bible? Because there are a lot of interesting synchronicities between scientific findings and the Bible, if you don’t read it literally (God’s rant to Job [38-42], is one example). The Bible isn’t a science text, but it’s not completely garbage either, as so many scientists seem to think. Even if written by men, it wasn’t written by stupid men, or less sophisticated men, just men who didn’t have telescopes or advanced math.
    -“The last thing any rationalist needs or wants is for apologists to mislead believers into thinking that their irrational, unsupported beliefs actually are supported. What will that accomplish other than confusing the issue even further?”
    Saying that Gaskell is an apologist because he dares to discuss the intersections between science and faith is simplistic. I would say he’s taking a different approach. If you’ve ever taught a complicated subject, you know that you don’t dump people in the deep end of it and expect them to have a sudden revelation of insight. Education doesn’t work that way. In this case, first you have to teach critical skills, because asking “why” is not always encouraged in strict fundy communities. By comparing the various types of pseudo science, that’s what he’s doing, because even they don’t agree with each other, and that shows that the dogma is far from being a unified front. Also showing that some of it is non-Biblical is a great blow to many fundamentalists, since they are so Bible-focused. The discrepancies he points out in his talk actually force people to ask questions. That’s where rational thinking begins.


    I think we need to keep in mind here that the facts ARE in dispute. We can all selectively pull out comments, but the judge, who looked through a lot more evidence than any of us have, refused summary judgments in either direction because he didn’t feel either side had proved their case. Gaskell has a difficult case to prove – that his religious views were the _primary_ reason he was not hired. I don’t think the available evidence provides incontrovertible support of that position. Neither did the judge, which is why neither of the requests for summary judgments was granted and the case remains open.
    I am pretty sure that additional information will come to light as this case progresses through court that will make this particular situation much clearer.
    The sad upshot of this case is likely that (just as has happened with sexism) people will be more circumspect when such issues are encountered. Instead of trying to deal with sensitive issues in the open, they will come up with code words (“not collegial”) that are not legally actionable but have the same effect.
    And please, media, stop referring to him as a University of Nebraska employee. He was when he applied for the UK job, but he’s currently at the University of Texas.

  22. Fair enough, Diandra. I think you’re right that this is probably going to help bury an issue that should really be discussed in the open. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to talk about it here.

  23. Sensurround: I don’t see how your “example” is at all scientific. Religious scientists may feel religiously inspired by their scientific work, but that’s a personal feeling. When they start telling the public that their work supports their religion, that’s a conflict, and I don’t think the majority of religious scientists do that, nor should they.
    Lee: I acknowledge that the Bible contains some historical accuracies, as well as representing significant cultural evidence from an anthropological standpoint. What I don’t see is any useful purpose behind pointing out “synchronicities” between science and the Bible to the masses.
    I quite agree that critical thinking skills need to be taught first. From his description of his talks that you posted, I don’t see that he’s doing what you describe. The talks don’t seem intended to point out discrepancies between different views, even if they do so incidentally. He explicitly states that most scientists who are Christians view the Bible as relevant to the earth’s origin. Condemning religious fundamentalism is good, but proposing alternative ways for people to maintain their irrational views isn’t good.
    If the university hires him, he gets to list the university in his credentials, which he clearly presents during his talks. Whether or not he composes or gives the talks on the university’s time, they’d be seen as endorsing him.

  24. Kevin, I certainly wouldn’t be lining up to see one of those talks. However, Gaskell does say at the bottom of his handout page: “These notes are based on public talks I have given at a number of universities. These notes are updated from time to time.” From that I infer that “public” talks means they were not part of any curriculum.
    A university professor listing credentials doesn’t necessarily imply endorsement of whatever they do outside the classroom. Even for a public talk held at a university. Indeed, universities hold talks by people they disagree with and say so.

  25. Lee you keep saying what UKentucky did but you actually don’t know what UKentucky did, you only have Gaskell’s claims as to what they did!

  26. diandra wrote

    … the judge, who looked through a lot more evidence than any of us have, refused summary judgments in either direction because he didn’t feel either side had proved their case.

    That’s a mischaracterization of what a “summary judgment” means. To issue a summary judgment for one side or the other, the judge must interpret every fact or inference as being as favorable as possible to the side against whom judgment is requested, and in spite of that weight of favorable interpretation find that that side has no case. In this instance neither side could make that hurdle.
    And if Kottner would bother to read the documents in the matter, he’d find that there was no “rush to judgment,” and that the committee mostly looked at the (mis)match between what the job required and what Gaskell brought to it in making their decision.
    And as to Kottner’s claim that Gaskell merely brought Johnson’s and Behe’s books to the attention of his audience in an effort to ‘meet them where they are,’ note that he recommended them as illustrating how some biologists and geologists see the matter, ignoring the fact that neither Johnson nor Behe is a biologist or geologist and that they both routinely and purposefully distort the science in their books.

  27. Oh, and another thing:
    Apparently, I skipped past the last paragraph in the blog post. What a frankly disgusting false equivalency.
    The “fear of the Other” demonstrated by “white supremacists, jihadists, and homophobes” is fear of the unknown. Religion is the opposite of unknown; it pervades society, exerting massive influence on public policy and cultural mores. Fear is not, by definition, irrational, and fearing irrationality is very rational indeed. No one is “tarring all spiritual seekers with the same brush of ignorance.” Anyone who identifies himself or herself as a “spiritual seeker” is admitting to believing in things without evidence or despite evidence to the contrary, which is irrational. Rationality and irrationality are not equivalent, and apologizing for irrationality is not laudable.

  28. Religion and irrationality are not equilvalent. I know that Kevin and others of the “extreme atheist” stripe aren’t going to agree with that, for they’ve basically *defined* religion as irrational, by defining “rational” as “that which can be derived entirely from the scientific method.”
    As Lee points out, there is a wide range of religious viewpoints. There are the convinced fundamentalists, for whom there may be no hope, and there are folks like me who are practising scientists and who are, based on reading just this blog post, if anything more worried about Gaskell’s religious language than non-religious Lee seems to be.
    The *fact* is that the majority of the USA, at least, is made up of people with *some* religious connection. Many of them aren’t very religious, many of them probably just have vestiges of it left over from their childhood. And, many of them, like Lee was, are people to whom science could reach out to. However, once you’ve written them off as fundamentally irrational– well, you’re never going to talk to them.
    *You* don’t have to accept any religion yourself. But by convincing yourself that those who aren’t strict philosophical materialists must therefore have something wrong with their thinking, you’re no better than the fundamentalists who have convinced themselves that those who haven’t accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior must therefore be evil. This is what Lee is talking bout when she says tarring all spiritual seekers with the same brush of ignorance. You’ve draw a very strict line in the sand, and have said “anybody not on my side of this line is irrational, and deserves no defence.” That’s bad tactics, and it’s also out of touch from the thinking nature of many of the people who don’t strictly share your philosophy.

  29. Where the facts are disputed, a detached observer usually refrains from making a judgment.
    A key point of contention here is whether Dr. Gaskell is referencing creationist works to “pique the interest” of his religious audience and using this method to promote good science, or is he doing so in support of creationism and attempting to use UKentucky to help bolster his credentials.
    What is his actual goal? That is very difficult to tell, even for the people directly involved in the case who have access to more details. It is also a very subjective issue as people often have shifting beliefs and intentions.
    Which makes the emotional certitude displayed in this post very extraordinary – terms such as “bigotry”, “discrimination” when discussing this specific case and “hysterical witch hunt”, “skeptics and scientists crusading”, ” extremists in the the secular world”, “cheap, petty, ignorant fear”, “frothing at the mouth skeptic/atheists” when discussing about the wider context.
    Moreover, any detail that supports the contrary view is either dismissed as irrelevant or ignored:
    Dr. Gaskell’s previous role as faculty advisor of the Intelligent Design Theorists of Nebraska at UNL is dismissed as irrelevant.
    Dr. Gaskell referencing numerous works from prominent creationists and a discredited textbook from the Discovery Institute is “knowing your audience”.
    Personal opinion such as “none of Gaskell’s talks sounds Creationist to me” is relevant, but the views of UKentucky Biology Department faculty who reviewed Dr. Gaskell’s lecture notes and “expressed concern… about Gaskell’s ‘creationist’ views and the impact these views would have on the university” is not mentioned.
    So Dr. Gaskell is “piquing the interest” or “finding common ground” or a “possible bridge with the Christian community” or “speaking their language” or “using references to God and creation as a lever to open the doors of blind faith”.
    This partiality is extraordinary.

  30. Klar: Pot, kettle. You’re no less partial than I am, just on the other side, and I never claimed to be detached (I’m hardly ever detached, and I think pure objectivity, scientific or otherwise, is largely a myth). I think that smoking gun email sort of speaks for itself. I agree that intention is difficult to pin down, but I’m basing my opinion on the interpretation of the text of Gaskell’s talk, and that’s what I do for a living. While it’s true that that’s just my opinion, I never said it was anything else but. I also spent nearly 30 years as a door-to-door evangelizer, so I have a pretty good sense of how you woo people from one set of beliefs to another, and that’s how Gaskell’s talk reads to me. This is a strictly editorial post, hence my emotional certitude, which you seem to consider a bad thing. Religious discrimination is religious discrimination, whether it’s against Jews, Christians, or Muslims, and that’s bigotry, and it’s ugly. I dismissed Gaskell’s advising of the ID theorists for two reasons: (1) it was six years ago and he’s no longer at Nebraska and (2) the source was a badly written student blog, which counts as hearsay in my book. Show me a university document with Gaskell’s name listed as advisor and that’s another matter. The lecture itself, I might add, was given 13 years ago. That’s a long time in anybody’s intellectual development.
    Kevin, Fear of the Other is the just fear of the unknown person–the person not like you and therefor unknown and often presumed unknowable and that’s irrational. The ubiquity of religion does not mean you understand it, especially since you’re claiming it’s all entirely irrational. Being a spiritual seeker does not necessarily mean you believe in things without evidence; it usually means that you don’t believe all the evidence is in, and you don’t think humanity is smart enough to have all the answers.
    RBH, first off, you got both my gender and my sex wrong. Secondly, if you mean Shafer’s deposition, why, I have read that, actually. If you have links to others, I’d be glad to see those too. In it, Shafer’s initial reaction to Gaskell is quite favorable (p. 6 of the PDF) until she becomes aware of his “evangelical” ties (her words), and she’d only “scanned” his lecture, not read it in-depth. That seems like a rush to judgment to me. I also think he’s not recommending Johnson and Behe as biologists themselves but recommending the bibliography and the work of other Christian biologists and geologists, for whom he gives the names of societies where they can be found.

  31. There is no accurate way to construe religion as rational. Once again, religion necessarily entails believing in things without evidence or despite evidence to the contrary. How can something be rational when it is done for no legitimate, i.e. objective, reason? Even a logical argument or sequence of arguments must predicate itself on evidence in order to apply to reality.
    Where, exactly, do I write off all religious people as fundamentally irrational? Please, point it out if you can. Religion itself is irrational; a person who holds religious beliefs is thereby partially irrational, but certainly not wholly irrational just because of that. The jump that so many people make from “opposing a person’s irrationalities” to “opposing the entire person because they’re sometimes irrational” mystifies me.
    Yet again, it’s irrationality deserves no defense, not sometimes-irrational people. Trying to reach out and teach people critical thinking by appealing to their irrationalities is nonsense; it’s like trying to teach someone to write by giving them unsharpened pencils. To say religious people have “something wrong” with their thinking makes an absolute moral judgment that I haven’t come close to suggesting. If they value rationality, then they are not being entirely successful at achieving their values, and could do better. If they don’t value rationality, fine, but they shouldn’t expect me to take them very seriously. If we toss empirical and rational thinking out the window, then there are simply no possible objective comparisons, and anything goes.

  32. This discussion continues to be baffling – once again I see argument by assertion. If Dr. Gaskell’s intention is tough to pin down, what is the source of this certainty that it must be religious discrimination. Even the judge directly involved in the case does not have this certitude.
    In addition, I don’t understand this method of dismissing or omitting information. For example, what is the ground for omitting the UKentucky Biology faculty’s view that Dr. Gaskell’s lecture contains creationist views?
    The passage of time by itself is definitely not enough. There could be creationists who maintain their beliefs for many years but instead have become better at disguising it. Such individuals will also reference creationist works while strongly denying that they are creationists.
    I see the assertion that 30-year experience as a door-to-door evangelizer is used as a qualification to assess that Dr. Gaskell is not a creationist in disguise. But how about the rest of us who don’t have that experience.
    How to tell the difference?
    Does the individual who is using the method of “common ground” to promote good science use different words, or different approach etc. from a disguised creationist? Any systematic difference at all.

  33. Klar, the judge is paid to be impartial and examine all the facts. I’m stating my opinion, not his. And I’m basing my opinion on a reading of the facts that were available to me, as are the biologists, but we’re coming from two different standpoints. One of the things I’m trying to point out is that there is a bias against anyone who even discusses different types of evolutionary thought with a public audience who isn’t roundly denouncing it in no uncertain terms–and that that’s not how to win converts. Because that’s what I think Gaskell is doing in this talk. I think he’s trying to make people aware of where the real hokum is by pointing out what’s scientific, what’s not, what’s Biblical and what’s not in contemporary pseudo evolutionary thought. You teach people discernment by pointing out discrepancies and getting them to ask questions about what they already know; only then do they start really questioning what they’ve been taught. As Mark Twain (or Will Rogers; I’ve seen it attributed to both) said: “It ain’t what we don’t know that hurts us; it’s what we know that ain’t so.”
    And by definition, you are not the audience for this talk, and neither are the biologists of UKentucky who stated their opinion about it. The audience is a group of Christians who are curious about the natural world, about science and about why there’s such a huge fight between scientific and religious thought. They are already questioning and you don’t want to turn them off entirely by telling them that everything they thought they knew is bullshit. I’ve worked with evangelizers like that, and they’re never successful. The key to conversion (and conversation) is encouraging questioning, because a change of opinion can’t be imposed from outside. It has to come from within.
    Without the ability to honestly and openly discuss the ideas and issues without fear of being penalized, you can kiss goodbye the idea of getting more people to think rationally about evolution. Evolution must be taught in the schools to counter what a lot of kids, like me, get at home, but the only way to reach adults is through talks (and books) like Gaskell’s. The man says he is not an IDer, or a young earther, or holding any other sort of pseudo-scientific idea of evolution. Are you accusing him of lying? Just because the Ukentucky biologists think they see someone who doesn’t hew to their orthodoxy doesn’t mean that’s necessarily so. And this is what I mean by witch hunting. It’s not too damn different from the Inquisition, except you won’t actually be waterboarded or pressed to death or burned at the stake. But you may lose your job for encouraging people to think. That’s just sad when it comes from a group of people who claim to have a headlock on rationality.

  34. Of course all the evidence isn’t in, and we don’t have all the answers (although I would not accept that a lack of intelligence is the reason for that). However, for someone to identify himself or herself as a “spiritual seeker” or anything similar implies, at the very least, an expectation that future evidence will take a specific form, i.e. it will support spirituality. That expectation is quite obviously irrational; if we don’t know what form new evidence will take (which is what makes it new evidence), then there’s no reason to believe it will support spirituality over, or even alongside, anything else.
    Having an active belief in something that’s not supported by evidence (even if it’s not contradicted) is irrational because it’s arbitrary. I would imagine that you don’t believe in the existence of fairies, unicorns, leprechauns, etc. because no evidence specifically promotes their existence, so there’s no reason to believe in them. The exact same thing is true of religious concepts; the only difference is that people pass these things down as traditions, so they are not afforded the same critical thought.

  35. “However, for someone to identify himself or herself as a ‘spiritual seeker’ or anything similar implies, at the very least, an expectation that future evidence will take a specific form, i.e. it will support spirituality.”
    No, it means the evidence, whatever it is, is not in, for everything. What came before the Big Bang? Hell, what started the Big Bang? Why is quantum mechanics so weird and what does that mean? I suspect that there’s more to be discovered that we haven’t even invented questions for, yet. This is the whole idea behind the two magesteria: Science tells you what is, spirituality tells you what it might mean for you, personally. Don’t confuse religious dogma with a sense of the ineffable. A lot of self-respecting non-religious scientists, especially physicists, have a strong sense of the enormity of the universe, not just in its size, but in its possibilities. We know a little, teeny patch of it and have a tunnel-vision glimpse into its history. What else is out there, waiting to mess with our tidy little world views? I could resort to quoting Shakespeare at this point, but I won’t, Horatio. But thinking we’re the smartest beings in a ball park this vast? Wow.

  36. If you think quantum mechanics is “weird,” that’s a problem with you, not a problem with it. Quantum mechanics is the theory that best describes a multitude of experimental results; in short, it is, to the best of our knowledge, how the universe works. I don’t think it’s particularly meaningful that the default human perspective differs from the quantum perspective, given that humans evolved around very little interaction with quantum scale phenomena. The universe has no duty to adapt itself to our preconceived patterns of thought. In fact, in order to be rational, we must adapt our thinking when we encounter evidence which demonstrates that the way we think about the universe isn’t how the universe actually works.
    You’re taking the word “spirituality” beyond any reasonable definition. The word has a definite supernatural/religious connotation, and if you eliminate that you’re hardly talking about anything at all, and certainly not the actual topic of discussion. If you say “we don’t have all the evidence, so anything is possible” and use that as a justification for any specific unsupported belief, you are being irrational. For one, many things are not possible based on the evidence we currently have (at least to an overwhelmingly high confidence level), including many religious/supernatural truth claims. Furthermore, while absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, it’s even more certainly not a reason to hold any sort of active belief. Appreciating the existence of an enormity of possibilities just means being willing to accept them if a reason presents itself. (See, for example, this YouTube video discussing open-mindedness.)
    The “non-overlapping magisteria” thing is nonsense, and I’ll let another blogger explain that (Sean Carroll, perhaps you’ve heard of him): Science and Religion are Not Compatible and the follow-up What Questions Can Science Answer?.

  37. Kevin, now we are in the realm of opinion, yours vs. mine: i.e., the weirdness of quantum mechanics, but I’ve always thought J.B.S. Haldane nailed that: “the Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.” Whether that has anything to do with our lack of previous interaction with it or not, it didn’t match our first experiences of the world, nor the laws we “discovered” about it. Why else call something “spooky action at a distance”? Even Einstein thought it was weird–too weird. What was that you said about adapting our preconceived patterns of thought?
    As for the definition of spirituality, Merriam Webster define its as “a sensitivity or attachment to religious values,” not religious dogma. For example, I find the values of Buddhism–compassion for all, love, lack of attachment–worth considering and emulating, but don’t swallow the dogma of reincarnation. The fact that we (humans) are still arguing about where morals and ethics arise from and what the hell consciousness is is a good indicator that this question is not solved, and probably won’t be in the near future.
    I’m not dragging Sean into this; he studied philosophy and came to his own conclusions. But I often think that scientists don’t really grasp the function of the metaphor, story, or myth very well (though they’re not the only ones; too many people take fiction literally). And that’s one of the factors at the heart of this debate. But the real point of the debate is the freedom to discuss ideas–even erroneous ones–in the open without fear of reprisal, because that’s the only way knowledge advances and learning takes place.

  38. But I often think that scientists don’t really grasp the function of the metaphor, story, or myth very well (though they’re not the only ones; too many people take fiction literally).
    Lee, you hit that right on the head. Too many of these people in the atheist debates about whether religion is something that can be accommodated, or something that must be mocked, seen to think that the only thing that can be called “knowledge” is scientific knowledge, and that any other kind of thinking besides scientific thinking is just fuzzy and unrespectable. This, of course, would be news to the vast majority of the faculty of any university. However, the arguments against religion as being something that somebody who is intellectually honest or reasonable could do ultimately come down to arguing that nothing other than science is real thought.

  39. If it is true that Dr. Gaskell is trying to promote good science with the “common ground” method, and if it’s also true that this method is really more effective, then I hope this turns out well for him.
    I understand the challenge of communicating science that is socially unpopular. However the “common ground” approach, while it may make the message more palatable (eg. using “theistic” evolution to convince the religious into accepting biological evolution, despite the reality that modern evolutionary theory has no theistic element), it might also end up popularizing deep misconceptions about the subject matter
    Disturbing to see that I’ve been read as accusing Dr. Gaskell of lying, which isn’t a charitable read since I’ve clearly stated I don’t have enough information to make any such call, moreover Dr. Gaskell might just be undecided instead of deliberately lying.
    Though this charge is significantly less harsh than what the UKentucky biologists got – “orthodoxy”, “witch hunting”, “not too damn different from the Inquisition” etc. – for stating their professional view about Dr. Gaskell’s lecture.
    The use of such attacking terms feels like a disproportionate response to me, but I concede this may be due to my inexperience, since I have barely done a decade of scientific research (dealing with molecules, not with interpretation of texts) and I’ve never been a professional evangelizer of any sort.

  40. Jennifer, since your warning about the moderation policy, I will be able to say very little here:)
    That essay by Gould is one of his more stupid and pusillanimous ones. Religion is irrational, superstitious, and
    faith-based. Science isn’t, or shouldn’t be. I doubt that you would object to my being somewhat rude about, say,
    homeopathy- but religion always gets a free pass because any atheist pointing out its faults is considered aggressive and rude.

  41. Jennifer Ouellette

    Agreed that religion is superstitious and faith-based and science isn’t, and shouldn’t be. Since when is that at issue? Plenty of atheists have pointed out religion’s flaws without being aggressive or rude; having a thoughtful discussion on the topic does not equate giving religion “a free pass.” The same moderation policy applies to homeopathy and other contentious topics, incidentally.

  42. The Magisteria essay was an absolute low point in Gould’s output. It is craven in the sense that I do not think
    he really believed his own words. It is the usual political correctness involved in not challenging religion as an irrational superstition. “Two separate Magisteria”—pretty grand (pompous) and totally meaningless. Sure, one magisterium is rational, leads to increased understanding of the universe, and results generally in improved quality of life. The other enshrines belief without reason. Having said that, I do enjoy his essays.

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