Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The part Avalos played in GG's denial of tenure

Denyse O’Leary highlights an interesting commentary written by Ted Davis, a "scholar of religion and science in modern America", who is evidently not a supporter of ID.

Here it is in it’s entirety:

My views on the mugging of Guillermo Gonzalez are already well known. Now that the president of ISU has made his final ruling (though I understand that a further appeal to the Board of Regents is still possible), and now that Guillermo has also made a public statement that confirms the concerns I have had throughout this process, I am making public a portion of the letter I sent to the ISU president a couple of weeks ago. It should be seen as a commentary on his situation, from my point of view as a scholar of religion and science in modern America. I continue to think that an inappropriate form of viewpoint discrimination was a decisive factor in the decision not to grant him tenure. We may never know for sure if this is correct, just as we may never know many other things with certainty, but the evidence IMO strongly suggests that Avalos' completely inappropriate activities had a lot to do with Guillermo being denied tenure.

Here are my comments on this aspect of the situation, unedited, from the letter I sent ISU president


Let me be as clear as possible: Dr. Avalos’ activities were unwarranted. Dr. Gonzalez is hardly the only scientist to write books for the general public, giving religious interpretations of science. Whatever one may think of his book, it is not an appropriate response for a faculty member to organize a petition against Dr. Gonzalez, simply for adding his own religious opinion to those of many others. For example, when the late Carl Sagan presented his popular television series, Cosmos, more than twenty-five years ago, he began the first program with what can only be called a religious credo: “The universe is all that is or ever was or ever will be.” This is a religious credo, pure and simple (and many of his other statements are consistent with it), despite its incorporation into a series of programs that was used for many years in public high school and college science classes. Yet none of his colleagues at Cornell petitioned to dissociate the university from Sagan’s openly religious interpretation of cosmology.

Nor has anyone at Oxford, Texas, Harvard, or Brown petitioned against the views of Richard Dawkins, Steven Weinberg, Edward Wilson, or Kenneth Miller, who have all given religious interpretations to aspects of modern science in popular books. Is there something about Dr. Gonzalez’ design interpretation that makes it any less acceptable than Dawkins’ atheism, Wilson’s materialist reductionism, or Miller’s Roman Catholic interpretation of evolution? It is not hard to understand why Dr. Avalos, who advises a campus atheist group, would find Dr. Gonzalez’ book less acceptable than those of Dawkins or Weinberg; but that type of viewpoint discrimination should not be acceptable to the larger academic community at Iowa State, and I urge you to underscore that conclusion by overturning this decision.

From where I sit, the impact of Dr. Avalos’ deeds is not hard to see: he poisoned the environment for Dr. Gonzalez, by undermining his academic reputation and isolating him at Iowa State*and all based on a book that is actually one of the best popular books about science in recent years. I am an expert on the history of religion and science in the United States (my current project on modern America has received significant support from the National Science Foundation), and in my opinion Dr. Gonzalez’ treatment of historical topics in The Privileged Planet is far superior to the treatment of comparable topics in Sagan’s famous series. His debunking of the so-called “Copernican principle,” associated with the late Harvard astronomer Harlow Shapley, is an excellent corrective to the false view of Shapley, Sagan, and many other scientists that Copernicus somehow “demoted” humanity by moving us out of the center of the universe. As Dennis Danielson has shown decisively (in an article in American Journal of Physics and in The Book of the Cosmos), Copernicus and his followers believed no such thing, and Gonzalez’ clear explanation of the details helps the record straight for many in the general public. A leading historian of astronomy, Owen Gingerich of Harvard (a former student of Shapley), justly praises Dr. Gonzalez for this in his recent book, God’s Universe (Harvard University Press, 2006), itself yet one more example of a scientist offering a religious interpretation of his work to the general public. I have to wonder*if Professor Gingerich were also a junior faculty member at Iowa State, would Dr. Avalos now be organizing another petition drive against this particular book, for its defense of a designed universe?