The Boston Globe reports that Nathaniel Abraham is suing the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, alleging he was fired for his creationist beliefs. From what the Globe reports, it appears Abraham claims Woods Hole discriminated against him for his religious beliefs. Woods Hole allegedly fired Abraham, a biologist, after he refused to work on "evolutionary aspects" of an NIH research grant the institution received.
The lawsuit is the latest in a series of cases pitting creationists against scientists in academic settings. Last year, a University of Rhode Island student was awarded a doctorate in geosciences despite opposition after it became known that he was a creationist. Earlier this year, an Iowa State University astronomer claimed he was denied tenure because he did not believe in evolution.
Like these cases, the Abraham lawsuit pointedly raises the question: Can people work in a scientific field if they don't believe in its basic tenets?
"I have a cleaning woman who is a Seventh-day Adventist and neither of us feel any tension," said Michael Ruse, a philosopher of science at Florida State University who has written extensively on creationism and evolutionary biology. "Yet, what is a person doing in an evolutionary lab when they don't believe in evolution . . . and didn't tell anybody they didn't believe in evolution?" . . .
Eugenie C. Scott, executive director for the National Center for Science Education, which defends the teaching of evolution in public schools, said Abraham was clearly being disingenuous when he applied for the job because he was hired to work in the field of developmental biology.
"It is inconceivable that someone working in developmental biology at a major research institution would not be expected to deal intimately with evolution," she said. "A flight school hiring instructors wouldn't ask whether they accepted that the earth was spherical; they would assume it. Similarly, Woods Hole would have assumed that someone hired to work in developmental biology would accept that evolution occurred. It's part and parcel of the science these days."
I am not an expert in the law of religious discrimination, but it seems to me that even insofar as Abraham's views are protected from discrimination, belief in evolutionary theory would be a bona fide qualification for the specific research position he had at Woods Hole.
UPDATE: A reader forwarded a copy of the complaint. I've posted it here.