Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Scopes Trial Through The Looking Glass

On July 21, 1925, in The State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes, judge John T. Raulston found biology teacher John Scopes guilty of teaching evolution under the state's Butler Act.  Since then, evolution has largely displaced creationism as a required part of school science curricula in the United States.  Although opponents of teaching evolutionary biology still exist, cases such as Tammy Kitzmiller, et al. v. Dover Area School District, et al. (M.D.Pa. 2005;  Judge John E. Jones III) have found that teaching creationism in public school biology classes violates the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment.

In a sign of how evolutionary biology's ascendancy may have legal limits, a federal judge in Kentucky has now allowed a religious discrimination lawsuit filed by Dr. C. Martin Gaskell, an astronomer and astrophysicist (Ph.D. from the University of California at Santa Cruz), to proceed against the University of Kentucky.  Gaskell's complaint, filed on July 10, 2009, alleges that, during an interview for the position of Director of the MacAdam student observatory at the University of Kentucky, he was asked, and warned, about his personal religious beliefs.  He did not get the job.  The complaint also discusses an email, sent to Gaskell by a University of Kentucky faculty member, revealing that "members of the Biology Department were consulted as to Gaskell's qualifications...[and] expressed great concern about some of Gaskell's religious beliefs" (Complaint, paragraph 25).  Gaskell's "action is brought persuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964...and the Civil Rights Act of 1991, for employment discrimination based on religion."

The past few years have seen the publication of several high-profile books that attempt to use scientific evidence to challenge the legitimacy of religious belief.  Foremost among these is Oxford University Professor Richard Dawkins' (D.Phil in biology from Oxford University) "The God Delusion."  Meanwhile, others have argued that acceptance of science and religious belief are not mutually exclusive, including the Director of the National Institutes of Health Dr. Francis Collins (Ph.D. in physical chemistry from Yale University), in "The Language of God:  A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief."  At the moment, the law may be more tolerant of the Collinsian than the Dawkinsian perspective.

More biolaw at LEXVIVO.

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