Skip to comments.How to not handle a young-earth creationist employee: Fired in wake of finding dino soft tissue
Posted on 07/31/2014 2:58:12 PM PDT by SeekAndFind
A young-Earth creationist microscope technician formerly at California State University-Northridge is suing his former employer for religious discrimination, wrongful termination, and the violation of free speech.
Mark H. Armitage. Mr. Armitage is a microscopist; he's worked with microscope sales and services since at least 1984. When not involved in commercial microscopy, he is interested in scientific microscopy. He did undergraduate work without a degree in Biology at the University of Florida, he acquired a B.S. in Education at Liberty University, an M.S. in Biology (emphasis in parasitology) at the Institute for Creation Research, an Ed.S. in Science Education from Liberty University, and is a doctoral candidate at Liberty University in Science Educational Leadership.
He's managed electron microscope labs at the Institute for Creation Research, at the Creation Research Society Van Andel Creation Research Center, at Azusa Pacific University and at the Biology Department at California State University-Northridge (henceforth, CSUN). He was an Adjunct Professor at Azusa Pacific University and was at least some of the time an Instructor at CSUN.
The Board of Trustees of CSU, CSUN Biology Professor Ernest Kwok, CSUN Biology Department head of technical services William Krohmer, and CSUN Biology Chair Randy Cohen.
Mr. Armitage applied/interviewed/etc. for a position at CSUN in late 2009. During the interview process he informed the interview panel (two professors and Mr. Krohmer) that he had published positively about young-earth creationism. CSUN and/or the Biology Department and/or his interview panel and/or the Electron Microscopy/Confocal Committee apparently were okay with this, they offered him a two-day-per-week technician position deemed "permanent part-time" and he accepted. It sounds like things were going okay until some stuff started to happen in 2012.
In March of 2012, Dr. Oppenheimer, the Chair of the Electron Microscopy/Confocal Committee, sent an email to the Biology Department stating that Mr. Armitage was doing a good job. Mr. Armitage mentions in his lawsuit that, as of that time, his young-earth creationist beliefs were "generally unknown to students, faculty, and staff".
In middle May of 2012, Mr. Armitage went to a dinosaur dig in the Hell Creek Formation of Montana. This dig was conducted with Dr. Kevin Anderson (fellow young-earth creationist) and guided by Mr. Otis Kline (also a young-earth creationist). The dig was being done expressly to find dinosaur bones to break them apart to find soft tissue. Pieces of horn, rib, and vertebrae, presumably from Triceratops, were discovered on this dig, and the specimens were studied at CSUN.
Then Mr. Armitage's big week happens. He doesn't mention it in his lawsuit, but on June 7-9th, 2012, the Creation Research Society Board of Directors had their meeting, Mr. Armitage, as a member of the board, attended and talked about his less-than-a-month-old project. He was interviewed by a young-earth creationist podcast on June 8th, talking about his preliminary findings. That day, Mr. Armitage also appeared at the Rocky Mountain Creation Fellowship's monthly meeting identifying as a Biologist at CSU-Northridge, speaking about how scientific timescales must be wrong. This is relatively a lot of vocalism by Mr. Armitage about his beliefs, and possibly the most vocal he is about his beliefs since he was hired at CSUN.
By this time, Dr. Oppenheimer had retired and Dr. Kwok had become the new Chair of the Electron Microscope/Confocal Committee. He was, for all intents and purposes, Mr. Armitage's new supervisor. This change of Chair occurred around the same time that Mr. Armitage was studying the Triceratops specimen at CSUN. According to the lawsuit:
In demonstrating the use of a microscope to students, Plaintiff would engage in brief socratic dialogue about the possible age of the horn. These types of exchanges were consistent with leading students through the scientific method and were within the scope of Plaintiff's employment. One of Dr. Kwok's students was stunned by the discovery and its implications and went to tell Dr. Kwok about it.
This description of events sounds like Mr. Armitage informed some students of his young-earth creationist beliefs, and this might be where Dr. Kwok, his new supervisor, found out about them as well. Unmentioned by the lawsuit, students (undergrad? grad?) in biology departments are not big fans of hearing about young-earth creationism, so at least one of these students might have thought Mr. Armitage was proselytizing to them, even if he didn't intend to.
So on June 12th (the first day of work after Mr. Armitage returned from his young-earth creationist meeting), Mr. Armitage accuses Dr. Kwok of going into Mr. Armitage's lab and saying "We are not going to tolerate your religion in this department!! This is a science department and we will only have science here none of your creationist projects or your religion." Mr. Armitage told Mr. Krohmer and Dr. Cohen about this incident, Mr. Krohmer and Dr. Cohen tell Mr. Armitage that there's no problem, they'll do something about it, but Mr. Armitage alleges that this is all they did about the incident.
I find it odd that Dr. Kwok got upset with Mr. Armitage three days after Mr. Armitage was at a young-earth creationist meeting. Was Mr. Armitage extra-chatty that day with students about how the Earth is thousands of years old? Was he extra-chatty because he had been recently talking to fellow young-earth creationists? The timing here seems really odd.
Mr. Armitage and Dr. Anderson's paper is submitted on December 9th 2012, revised December 28th, accepted for publication on January 3rd, 2013, and on February 13th 2013, the paper is published online as an early-access article in Acta Histochemica (said article is published as text in July of 2013). That day, Dr. Kwok apparently has a secret gathering wherein a decision is made to fire Mr. Armitage. A week later Mr. Krohmer tells Mr. Armitage his days at CSUN are numbered, and on February 27th Mr. Armitage is fired.
In July of 2013 Mr. Armitage filed a Fair Employment and Housing Act complaint at the state of California, in response the Department of Fair Employment & Housing told him he had a right to sue within one year, and a year later (4 days ago) the lawsuit appeared.
He certainly thinks so, and a lot of content online is presenting this story as if this was definitely the case. From what I can find online, it sound like Mr. Armitage initially got into trouble with his new supervisor because he inadvertently talked to a/some student/s about young-earth creationism. His new supervisor was apparently unaware of Mr. Armitage's beliefs, and didn't much appreciate them. This trouble with his supervisor appears to have not blown over, if anything it apparently got worse, leading to a situation wherein it looks like the paper's online publication made Dr. Kwok push for Mr. Armitage's termination. Maybe that's a coincidence, maybe Dr. Kwok just wanted Mr. Armitage gone by the end of February...
Dr. Kwok had an employee who he found out was a young-earth creationist, who was talking to students about young-earth creationism, and who was going to publish an article, with a fellow young-earth creationist, about specimens that said employee believes are evidence of young-earth creationism. All of these factors might have led to a willingness to let Mr. Armitage go and find a replacement for the position.
Mr. Armitage's lawsuit mentions, without further comment, that the same former Chair who praised Mr. Armitage's work in March of 2012 also stated that the lab needed another employee, because Mr. Armitage's two-days-per-week employment was not enough to meet the demands of the lab. The lab is currently functioning and has staff, so it seems like Mr. Armitage was let go so that his job could be expanded and filled by someone else.
But we have to wait for the rest of the story to develop before we really know what occurred.
The Planet Earth knows nothing of Creation
Sounds like he were doing his job and the students a service.
Look - I (personally) think young Earth creationism is total BS. But - by bringing up an alternate point of view he were doing something that far more teachers should: teaching the students to examine the evidence and THINK. Not just vomit up whatever textbook the professor happened to write last summer.
There's his problem right there. He was a lab tech. Going off and speaking at a conference (any conference, but a YEC conference is going to draw more attention) and holding himself out as a "Biologist at CSU-Northridge" was not a smart career move, to put it mildly.
You’ll have to explain what that sentence means.
Hate to be the grammar nazi but what in Hades is going on with this “he were” business. The past tense of “he is” is “he was”, not “he were”.
Habit, sorry. I often dictate to the computer rather than typing, since I talk fast and type slow. Using were instead of was is part of the local dialect I grew up with, and I forget to correct it a lot of the time. Can’t catch it with spell check because it’s a valid word.
One of those annoying brain farts we all get from time to time.
That’s because it’s a chunk of lifeless dirt.
Roger that. I wondered if spell check might not be involved somehow...
Out of curiosity, what part of the country are you from that used “were” in funny places as part of the dialect?
I’m English - North Yorkshire WAS where I was raised (nearly slipped!). There are all sorts of odd (or very odd) ways of saying things there, really old and harking back to Old Saxon and Viking, and your mind just accepts them. The stuff you learn as a kid never really goes away.
Have you ate, instead of have you eaten, for example.
I’m pretty scrupulous about using spell check, but if that red line isn’t there, just don’t notice sometimes.
I couldn’t create a typewriter if you gave me a million :)
Oh, okay, English. Now it’s all making sense. You guys do have see some funky archaic-isms. Sometimes English dialect quirks aren’t so much wrong as just a few centuries out of date.
Oddly - according to many linguists, which is a really odd job to have, you Americans have a purer form of the original language, say from Shakespeare’s time. Your pronunciation, at least. Except for aluminium - that’s just barbaric the way you butcher an innocent word :)
If people want to say he was fired for his religious beliefs then fine. I'd say that if he was spreading young earth creationism in an academic setting then I'd say he was fired because he didn't know his field.
Having said that, I'm puzzled by these goings-on. Did he in fact find soft tissue in bones that should have been completely fossilized? That is, tissue that hadn't become fossilized? That's a crucial issue, but it seems to have become lost in the debate over his alleged religious beliefs. If true, it's an important scientific finding, with lots of implications for what we think we know about biology, chemistry, and a lot of other things.
Finally, I'm disturbed that researchers were digging up bones only to break them. Surely there are better ways of getting samples from their interiors than destroying the bones. Doesn't sound like good science to me.
RE: . I’d say that if he was spreading young earth creationism in an academic setting then I’d say he was fired because he didn’t know his field.
From the article:
” During the interview process he informed the interview panel (two professors and Mr. Krohmer) that he had published positively about young-earth creationism.”
Why did they hire him knowing this?
RE: Did he in fact find soft tissue in bones that should have been completely fossilized? That is, tissue that hadn’t become fossilized?
From CBS News Local:
While at the Hell Creek Formation excavation site in Montana, researcher Mark Armitage discovered what he believed to be the largest triceratops horn ever unearthed at the site, according to attorney Brad Dacus of Pacific Justice Institute.
Upon examination of the horn under a high-powered microscope back at CSUN, Dacus says Armitage was fascinated to find soft tissue on the sample a discovery Bacus said stunned members of the schools biology department and even some studentsbecause it indicates that dinosaurs roamed the earth only thousands of years in the past rather than going extinct 60 million years ago.
You can find an abstract of the paper Mark Hollis Armitage wrote here:
Soft sheets of fibrillar bone from a fossil of the supraorbital horn of the dinosaur Triceratops horridus.
Department of Biology, California State University, 18111 Nordhoff Street, Northridge, CA 91330-8303, USA. Electronic address: . Acta histochemica (Impact Factor: 1.61). 02/2013; DOI: 10.1016/j.acthis.2013.01.001
Just for your information,
Heres an episode of Ian Jubys show that contains an interview with Mark Armitage:
Yeah, that’s what I’ve heard — that we sound like what English English sounded like before the great vowel shift happened. Which is kind of cool actually.
As for aluminum, don’t we Yanks at least get some credit for our earnest phoneticism? You guys add syllables that aren’t even there for crying out loud. On the other hand, when you invent a language I guess you earn the right to take some license with it. And I must admit the result in the case of aluminum is quite charming with its extra convolutions.
The fact is that nobody expected to find soft tissues in dinosaur fossils, so never looked for them, so they weren't found.. until recently.
Now, it turns out, ancient soft tissues may be somewhat common:
How can this be?
The answer it seems is that, under ideal conditions, iron in dino-blood can act as a preservative, like formaldehyde, keeping soft tissues viable more-or-less indefinitely.
Dinosaurs' iron-rich blood, combined with a good environment for fossilization, may explain the amazing existence of soft tissue from the Cretaceous (a period that lasted from about 65.5 million to 145.5 million years ago) and even earlier.
The specimens Schweitzer works with, including skin, show evidence of excellent preservation.
The bones of these various specimens are articulated, not scattered, suggesting they were buried quickly.
They're also buried in sandstone, which is porous and may wick away bacteria and reactive enzymes that would otherwise degrade the bone."
So one scientific question, assuming the presence of multiple samples of dino soft-tissues, is whether they "prove" Young Earth claims the earth is only thousands of years old?
I'd say they only confirm that under ideal conditions, some organic material can be preserved indefinitely.
If it’s only a few thousand years old, they should still find C14. Did they test for that?
You understand basic scientific methods, right?
We begin with data -- apparent soft-tissue from Dinosaurs.
We "brain-storm" a hypothesis to explain it -- does iron in dino-blood slow down decomposition of soft-tissues?
We test the hypothesis -- two tissue samples, one soaked in blood, the other in water. See Schweitzer's work reported in post #22 above.
After two years Schweitzer found little decomposition in blood soaked tissues, but complete decomposition otherwise.
Of course, I couldn't say whether such a test confirms Schweitzer's red-blood-cell hypothesis enough to call it a "theory", but it is surely more than just wild speculation.
Alternative speculations -- such as dino soft-tissue somehow proves a Young Earth hypothesis seems to me problematic in the extreme.
For example, it would require us to throw away everything else we think we understand about the age and evolution of the Universe, Earth and life.
And before I'd consider doing that, I'd want extraordinary scientific confirmations that a Young Earth is even possible, much less necessary.
...numerous small sheets of lamellar bone matrix. This matrix possessed visible microstructures consistent with lamellar bone osteocytes. Some sheets of soft tissue had multiple layers of intact tissues with osteocyte-like structures featuring filipodial-like interconnections and secondary branching.... Filipodial extensions were delicate and showed no evidence of any permineralization or crystallization artifact and therefore were interpreted to be soft.So sure, "soft tissue," but a long long way from 66-million-year-old meat.
Maybe ancient soft tissue is common because it’s not ancient.
And the physical evidence you have to support such a "hypothesis" is what, exactly?
Once it’s established that “ancient” soft tissue is common, one of the possible explanations is that the tissue is not ancient.
Seems to me this is a more plausible explanation than the one that claims soft tissue can last ten to the sixth power longer than previously thought.
The latter explanation looks suspiciously like a desperate attempt to escape uncomfortable truth.
Then the next logical step would be to examine other lines of evidence that would either support or contradict that explanation. If the tissue is relatively recent it should still contain measurable quantities of C14. Did they test for that?
Indeed, one possible explanation is that such "soft tissues" did not originate in the dinosaur where it was found, but is remains some other critter that later on lived & then died in "dino meat".
But for now, at least, all such speculations must remain in the realm of hypotheses which have not been confirmed.
In fact, we can only speculate if "soft tissues" will be commonly found in the future, and if so, what they might tell us about the ancient past...
That claim doesn't come in a vacuum, though. I see the choice as being between
1. the multiple overlapping and concurring methods of dating fossils are correct, and microscopic fragments of soft tissue can remain in them even after millions of years due to some factors we don't fully understand yet; or
2. all those dating methods are flawed, and not only that but they're each flawed in exactly the way necessary to make it agree with the other ones, so it's possible that dinosaurs were around a few thousand years ago, even though we haven't found any mummified dinosaurs like the mummified mammoths we have, or dinosaur bones that haven't been turned to rock unlike the sabertooth tiger bones we have, or any of the other kinds of fossils we have from animals that lived only a few thousand years ago.
I know which scenario I find more plausible.
I can appreciate your argumentation because it actually seems to make sense in that you don’t sound like a lawyer.
However, there are some problems. In particular, the “factors we don’t fully understand yet” excuse. That’s available all around.
For example, there could be a universal, unknown factor which affects all dating methods such that although they precisely concur with one another, they are nevertheless vastly inaccurate.
Mammoths lived in ice, so they died in ice. Mummified dinosaurs haven’t been formed in ice because they didn’t frequent icy regions.
I don’t have an answer for the sabertooth tiger bones. It appears to be a problem for my argument, but I must say it doesn’t seem particularly overwhelming.
Thank you. I’m always glad when my arguments at least seem to make sense.
Regarding what we understand: again, it comes down to what seems more likely. Is there some chemical process that, under certain conditions, can preserve tiny scraps of soft tissue encased inside bone for millions of years? Or is there some unknown factor that can skew the 700-million-year half-life of U-235, the 1.3BY half-life of potassium 40, the 50BY half-life of rubidium 87, and several others, all by the precise amount necessary to make them all wrong but all agree? I know which scenario I find vastly more plausible.
We have mummies of lots of animals. Some died in ice, some in tar pits, some in bogs, some in deserts, some on mountains. None of them are dinosaurs. It just seems to me that if all the dinosaurs were still around when the mammoths and the sabertooths and humans were, we’d have some evidence in the form of a mummified carcass or at least pieceof a carcass.
To me, accepting the geologic time scale answers all these questions except the fairly trivial one of how flakes of tissue get preserved for millions of years. Throwing out that time scal opens up a myriad of other questions that don’t have good answers.