December 9, 2007

Earlier this year, we heard about Marcus Ross, the young-earth creationist who managed to keep his mouth shut and play it straight long enough to score a doctorate in geosciences from the University of Rhode Island, allowing him to score solid scientific credentials before scuttling off to a job at Liberty University, where devout belief in whacky notions is a condition of employment. Now it’s Nathaniel Abraham, a creationist who was chucked out of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution because he told his superiors that he didn’t want to be part of any discussion or co-written research paper that discussed evolutionary principles. His discrimination complaint has been dismissed, so now Abraham’s suing on the grounds that the job advertisement didn’t specify that belief in evolutionary principles was a condition of employment.

By coincidence, Abraham shares a field with PZ Meyers, one of the most popular science bloggers. Here’s what Meyers has to say:

I would have fired the guy, too. Hahn studies a particular protein family in multiple species, not just zebrafish; he publishes papers with titles like “Unexpected diversity of aryl hydrocarbon receptors in non-mammalian vertebrates: insights from comparative genomics.” He does modern developmental biology, which is so tightly wrapped up in evolutionary theory they’re becoming indistinguishable. How do you go off to do a post-doc in a lab without first reading up on the work, getting excited about it all, and planning to invest yourself in it? Abraham had to have read and understood the prior work of the lab, or he shouldn’t have taken the job on. Announcing that he didn’t like evolution is comparable to showing up in a fish lab and announcing that he didn’t like to get his hands wet. It’s like taking a job as a stockbroker and denouncing capitalism and refusing to make a profit. It’s like wanting to work as a carpenter but declaring a deep-seated fear of hammers and saws.

If he thinks he can get a half-mil for wrongful termination on this, I’m going to march down to the local fundie church and demand a job as youth pastor, which I will prosecute by explaining the absurdity of god-belief to the little kids in Sunday School, and then I’ll sue when they fire me. This isn’t simply firing someone for incidental, private beliefs — it’s firing him for practices that actually conflict with the stated purpose of the job.

Abraham is now working at Liberty University, where all creationist poseurs who claim to be scientists go to die.

My first thought was that Abraham going to Woods Hole to deny the foundations of biology would be like a Shi’a mullah getting a job at Liberty University and then saying he didn’t want to do any work that involved support for Christian doctrines. But argument by analogy should be avoided in cases like this. The wingnuts already get considerable mileage just by exploiting the general public’s misunderstanding of scientific terms like “theory,” so I’m swearing off any arguments that might inadvertantly play into the creationist gambit of treating evolutionary theory as just another dogma.

As with Ross, the actions of Nathaniel Abraham raise plenty of questions about the character and motives of somebody who, while claiming to be interested in science, militantly espouses anti-science. On the basis of this evidence, I’d have to say that Abraham is another termite trying to work in thr Groves of Academe.

Since the Dover court decision pretty much ended their frontal assault on science education, the creationists are going for a rope-a-dope strategy, setting up their own funhouse version of science at intellectual ratholes like Liberty University while harassing real institutions with lawsuits and time-wasting bogus controversies. To continue the boxing metaphor, the creationist movement is a palooka who can’t score a knockout punch, so he keeps getting into clinches in order to tire out his opponent.

I know the Lord is supposed to work in mysterious ways, but this is a pretty small-minded and sleazy way to demonstrate one’s devotion to an infinitely powerful supreme being.


2 Responses to “Rope-a-Dopes”

  1. rix Says:

    My nephew is graduating from Liberty. He majored in Sports Management, so he probably avoided some heavy duty science courses. But I majored in Literature at a state college & have introductory courses in Earth Science, Environmental Science, & Astronomy on my transcript. Plate tectonics, global warming, & the Big Bang. I wonder what my nephew learned.

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