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Professor's Snub of Creationists Prompts U.S. Inquiry
New York Times ^ | 2/02/03 | NICK MADIGAN

Posted on 02/03/2003 3:53:13 AM PST by kattracks


LUBBOCK, Tex., Feb. 2 — A biology professor who insists that his students accept the tenets of human evolution has found himself the subject of Justice Department scrutiny.

Prompted by a complaint from the Liberty Legal Institute, a group of Christian lawyers, the department is investigating whether Michael L. Dini, an associate professor of biology at Texas Tech University here, discriminated against students on the basis of religion when he posted a demand on his Web site that students wanting a letter of recommendation for postgraduate studies "truthfully and forthrightly affirm a scientific answer" to the question of how the human species originated.

"The central, unifying principle of biology is the theory of evolution," Dr. Dini wrote. "How can someone who does not accept the most important theory in biology expect to properly practice in a field that is so heavily based on biology?"

That was enough for the lawyers' group, based in Plano, a Dallas suburb, to file a complaint on behalf of a 22-year-old Texas Tech student, Micah Spradling.

Mr. Spradling said he sat in on two sessions of Dr. Dini's introductory biology class and shortly afterward noticed the guidelines on the professor's Web site (www2.tltc.ttu.edu/dini/Personal/letters.htm).

Mr. Spradling said that given the professor's position, there was "no way" he would have enrolled in Dr. Dini's class or asked him for a recommendation to medical school.

"That would be denying my faith as a Christian," said Mr. Spradling, a junior raised in Lubbock who plans to study prosthetics and orthotics at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. "They've taken prayer out of schools and the Ten Commandments out of courtrooms, so I thought I had an opportunity to make a difference."

In an interview in his office, Dr. Dini pointed to a computer screen full of e-mail messages and said he felt besieged.

"The policy is not meant in any way to be discriminatory toward anyone's beliefs, but instead to ensure that people who I recommend to a medical school or a professional school or a graduate school in the biomedical sciences are scientists," he said. "I think science and religion address very different types of questions, and they shouldn't overlap."

Dr. Dini, who said he had no intention of changing his policy, declined to address the question of his own faith. But university officials and several students who support him say he is a religious man.

"He's a devout Catholic," said Greg Rogers, 36, a pre-med student from Lubbock. "He's mentioned it in discussion groups."

Mr. Rogers, who returned to college for a second degree and who said his beliefs aligned with Dr. Dini's, added: "I believe in God and evolution. I believe that evolution was the tool that brought us about. To deny the theory of evolution is, to me, like denying the law of gravity. In science, a theory is about as close to a fact as you can get."

Another student, Brent Lawlis, 21, from Midland, Tex., said he hoped to become an orthopedic surgeon and had had no trouble obtaining a letter of recommendation from Dr. Dini. "I'm a Christian, but there's too much biological evidence to throw out evolution," he said.

But other students waiting to enter classes Friday morning said they felt that Dr. Dini had stepped over the line. "Just because someone believes in creationism doesn't mean he shouldn't give them a recommendation," said Lindsay Otoski, 20, a sophomore from Albuquerque who is studying nursing. "It's not fair."

On Jan. 21, Jeremiah Glassman, chief of the Department of Justice's civil rights division, told the university's general counsel, Dale Pat Campbell, that his office was looking into the complaint, and asked for copies of the university's policies on letters of recommendation.

David R. Smith, the Texas Tech chancellor, said on Friday afternoon that the university, a state institution with almost 30,000 students and an operating budget of $845 million, had no such policy and preferred to leave such matters to professors.

In a letter released by his office, Dr. Smith noted that there were 38 other faculty members who could have issued Mr. Spradling a letter of recommendation, had he taken their classes. "I suspect there are a number of them who can and do provide letters of recommendation to students regardless of their ability to articulate a scientific answer to the origin of the human species," Dr. Smith wrote.

Members of the Liberty Legal Institute, who specialize in litigating what they call religious freedom cases, said their complaint was a matter of principle.

"There's no problem with Dr. Dini saying you have to understand evolution and you have to be able to describe it in detail," said Kelly Shackelford, the group's chief counsel, "but you can't tell students that they have to hold the same personal belief that you do."

Mr. Shackelford said that he would await the outcome of the Justice Department investigation but that the next step would probably be to file a suit against the university.



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1 posted on 02/03/2003 3:53:13 AM PST by kattracks
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To: kattracks
"There's no problem with Dr. Dini saying you have to understand evolution and you have to be able to describe it in detail," said Kelly Shackelford, the group's chief counsel, "but you can't tell students that they have to hold the same personal belief that you do."

My guess is if asked, these special students wouldn't be so sure that the sun, stars and planets didn't revolve around the earth too!

2 posted on 02/03/2003 4:21:03 AM PST by TightSqueeze (From the Department of Homeland Security, sponsors of Liberty-Lite, Less Freedom! / Red Tape!)
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To: kattracks
Now people think they are entitled to recommendation letters.

The dumbing down of America continues.
3 posted on 02/03/2003 4:23:28 AM PST by Iwentsouth
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To: kattracks
"There's no problem with Dr. Dini saying you have to understand evolution and you have to be able to describe it in detail," said Kelly Shackelford, the group's chief counsel, "but you can't tell students that they have to hold the same personal belief that you do."

The professor isn't telling them to change their personal beliefs. They can believe what they want. What's happening here is that the court is being asked to change the professor's personal belief that these students will not make good scientists. Nobody is owed a recommendation. The only obligation the professor is under is to make his true opinion honestly known to the recipient of the letter.

4 posted on 02/03/2003 4:30:58 AM PST by Physicist
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To: Iwentsouth
Not only does he think he's entitled to a letter of recommendation, but he didn't even take the class from the professor. It's a very weak case.
5 posted on 02/03/2003 4:41:17 AM PST by Catspaw
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To: kattracks
I should add that if a physics student asked me for a letter of recommendation, and it was known to me that the student believed the universe to be 6000 years old, I could not in good conscience give that student a good recommendation...unless, of course, the student could convince me of that also. (But in that case, I would urge the student to publish and collect his Nobel Prize.)

For a student to believe that the universe is 6000 years is not simply a matter of personal belief; it requires that he close his mind to extremely well-established facts. This mind-closing is incompatible with a career in science, and I would be compelled to say so.

I'm certain that the professor saw things the same way with respect to evolution.

6 posted on 02/03/2003 4:42:04 AM PST by Physicist
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To: Physicist
Physicist, well said. You beat me to it.
7 posted on 02/03/2003 4:49:46 AM PST by Gordian Blade
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To: Physicist
And NO professor is owed a tax-payer financed pay check. He can hold any belief he wants but has NO right to require that the students uphold his religious belief in evolution. Because unless you know of some video tape showing the evolution of species, this theory is a matter of faith. By the way, answer this: how could incomplete male and female reproductive systems produce offspring? Have you ever had friends or relatives trying to conceive, using everything in our modern medical technology, only to have it fail again and again? And we are to believe that male and female reproductive systems, so utterly dissimiliar, could in the process of evolving reproduce off-spring. Now that requires much more faith than I can muster. No wonder evolutionists need "billions and billions of years",in the words of the late Carl Sagan, to make this laughable theory (see Psalm 2:4) fly.
8 posted on 02/03/2003 4:53:57 AM PST by kittymyrib
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To: kittymyrib
Micah Spradling never took a class from this professor. He never asked for a letter of recommendation from this professor. It appears that Mr. Spradling is imposing his religious beliefs on the professor, not the other way around.

Why the Justice Department is involved in this matter is beyond me, and a waste of my tax dollars. Spradling's purpose appears to be frivilous litigation.

9 posted on 02/03/2003 5:03:45 AM PST by Catspaw
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To: kittymyrib
require that the students uphold his religious belief in evolution.

You err when you call it a religious belief.

10 posted on 02/03/2003 5:03:58 AM PST by RJCogburn (Yes, it is pretty bold talk......)
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To: kittymyrib
...but has NO right to require that the students uphold his religious belief in evolution.

Straw-man Alert! Science is not religion, just because all the answers are not known, there is enough theory to think that at some time in the future they can be known. It is not blind faith or simply saying God said it, we believe it, and that settles it. Simply put religion ain't science, and teaching religion as science will only put us behind less religious countries seeking the same answers. Foolishness like this does not go on in other academic countries.

11 posted on 02/03/2003 5:08:45 AM PST by TightSqueeze (From the Department of Homeland Security, sponsors of Liberty-Lite, Less Freedom! / Red Tape!)
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To: TightSqueeze
#4 fits science as a religion depending on the zeal one has for it.
re·li·gion   Audio pronunciation of "religion" ( P )  Pronunciation Key  (r-ljn)
n.
    1. Belief in and reverence for a supernatural power or powers regarded as creator and governor of the universe.
    2. A personal or institutionalized system grounded in such belief and worship.
  1. The life or condition of a person in a religious order.
  2. A set of beliefs, values, and practices based on the teachings of a spiritual leader.
  3. A cause, principle, or activity pursued with zeal or conscientious devotion.

12 posted on 02/03/2003 5:15:49 AM PST by smith288
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To: kittymyrib
The professor is owed a tax-payer, and student-financed paycheck FOR TEACHING BIOLOGY COURSES. Not for writing letters of recommendation, a purely optional activity. Have you read the professor's page on his policy ? He requires you to:

a) Get an "A" in at least one of his courses.

b) Be well-enough known to him, by any of a number of criteria.

c) As he teaches a science course, he asks a science question. When a scientist writes a recommendation or other opinion, he puts his credibility as a scientist on the line.

So why SHOULDN'T he evaluate a candidate based on the criteria he sets forward ???


13 posted on 02/03/2003 5:16:32 AM PST by Salgak (don't mind me: the orbital mind control lasers are making me write this. . .)
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To: smith288
A cause, principle, or activity pursued with zeal or conscientious devotion.

If this were Jeopardy, I would be inclined to answer... How would one describe Republicanism under the Bush administration?

14 posted on 02/03/2003 5:27:06 AM PST by TightSqueeze (From the Department of Homeland Security, sponsors of Liberty-Lite, Less Freedom! / Red Tape!)
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To: kittymyrib
Now that requires much more faith than I can muster.

No doubt.

Alternatively, you might try a little knowledge.

15 posted on 02/03/2003 5:34:15 AM PST by Physicist
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To: Salgak
We would have no problem had the professor stopped with #1: Make an A in the class. That would be based on merit, not being a buddy with the prof (#2), or agreeing with his religious beliefs regarding evolution (#3). I assume if he's a successful instructor, his students should have learned the theory of evolution and passed the tests with flying colors on this and every other element of the course to get a final A grade. There should be NO qualifications beyond this. He is not hired to attack the personal faith of any student, their parents, and their pastors by requiring them to "truthfully" espouse his belief in evolution.
16 posted on 02/03/2003 5:34:22 AM PST by kittymyrib
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To: kittymyrib
Mr. Spradling said he sat in on two sessions of Dr. Dini's introductory biology class and shortly afterward noticed the guidelines on the professor's Web site (www2.tltc.ttu.edu/dini/Personal/letters.htm).

Spradling didn't take the class, so he couldn't have even reached criteria #1.

I hope Spadling knows that if he loses the lawsuit, he, not the law firm, are responsible for the fees the University and the professor will sure ask the judge to award.

17 posted on 02/03/2003 5:38:07 AM PST by Catspaw
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To: kittymyrib
agreeing with his religious beliefs regarding evolution

You seem to insist on referring to evolution as 'religion'. Strange. How come?

18 posted on 02/03/2003 5:38:38 AM PST by RJCogburn (Yes, it is pretty bold talk......)
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To: smith288
#4 fits science as a religion depending on the zeal one has for it.

It equally well fits a teenager listening to pop songs. But then, wasn't John Lennon savaged by the press for hinting at that?

19 posted on 02/03/2003 5:39:17 AM PST by Physicist
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To: TightSqueeze
If this were Jeopardy, I would be inclined to answer... How would one describe Republicanism under the Bush administration?

If this was a discussion about a prof. only giving recommendations to students on Jeopardy I would ask, "Questions that have nothing to do with said topic"

20 posted on 02/03/2003 5:44:10 AM PST by smith288
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To: kittymyrib
I cannot believe this dichotomy exists. In my opinion creationism and evolution are not mutually exclusive. But, the point of this article should be 'Does Spradling have a legimate right to sue'...having never enrolled in the prof's class. Too many people have too much time on their hands.
21 posted on 02/03/2003 5:44:28 AM PST by Dudoight
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To: Salgak
Except that getting such letters is "REQUIRED" in order to get into medical school. Students who would take a lot of their biology courses from him, but don't believe in evolution BEWARE because time spent with this particular professor will be USELESS in terms of showing themselves "letter worthy."
22 posted on 02/03/2003 5:46:58 AM PST by HiTech RedNeck
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To: HiTech RedNeck
Why would someone pursue getting a letter of recommendation from a professor when the student hadn't taken a class from this professor? Surely this was not the only professor in the university that writes letters of recommendation. Why couldn't the student had asked a professor with whom he had taken a class to write a letter of recommendation?
23 posted on 02/03/2003 5:50:30 AM PST by Catspaw
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To: Salgak
When a scientist writes a recommendation or other opinion, he puts his credibility as a scientist on the line.

He could quite truthfully and charitably say something like "this student understands very well the evolutionary theory of biological origins, and is a good scientist in XXX and YYY and ZZZ areas of biology" [not related to evolutionary theories of origins] and leave it at that.

24 posted on 02/03/2003 5:52:04 AM PST by HiTech RedNeck
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To: HiTech RedNeck
He could quite truthfully and charitably say something like "this student understands very well the evolutionary theory of biological origins, and is a good scientist in XXX and YYY and ZZZ areas of biology" [not related to evolutionary theories of origins] and leave it at that.

How would the professor had known this if the student in question never took the class?

25 posted on 02/03/2003 5:53:47 AM PST by Catspaw
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To: Catspaw
The problem seems to be that he is refusing up front to do so and thus discriminatory. This won't be an easy legal battle and could have been set up more powerfully with a student who actually has vested a lot of time in his courses, but it has at least as much logical merit as the prof's position.
26 posted on 02/03/2003 5:58:33 AM PST by HiTech RedNeck
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To: kattracks
A rational judge would order these lawyers to write "My Client Does Not Have A RIGHT To A Recommendation Letter" one thousand times.
27 posted on 02/03/2003 6:03:38 AM PST by steve-b
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To: kittymyrib
Because unless you know of some video tape showing the evolution of species, this theory is a matter of faith.

I didn't know that Johnny Cochran ("Does the prosecution have a video tape of my client assaulting Ms Smith and Mr Goldman?") lurked here.

28 posted on 02/03/2003 6:05:32 AM PST by steve-b
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To: kattracks
I think this whole silly business boils down to did the Professor give recommendations based on an individual's religion?

Since religious belief is constitutionally protected, this becomes a rather sticky point.

One could argue, rather spuriously, that a Professor in a medical school that publicly stated that he would not give a homosexual a recommendation because the lifestyle is not healthy nor conducive to a career in healing, would be similarly at risk for a lawsuit. While not constitutionally protected, many would feel that the Professor SHOULD be sued, that such criteria, while having some legitimate value, blatantly discriminates.

Let's say the original Professor in question discovers that his student attends a nearby fundamentalist Christian church. Does he disqualify him on that knowledge? What about other religions that believe in Creation - Jews, Muslims, and Hindus all have the universe being created by a Devine Being. If you practice any of those religions, are you automatically disqualified to be a physicist in this Professor's view.

Another point to consider is how important is this recommendation to their future job prospects?

I guess my point is if the "left" is going to bring silly discrimination lawsuits for barely tenable reasons, why should we be surprised if the "right" begins to bring their own?

29 posted on 02/03/2003 6:10:21 AM PST by Crusher138
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To: steve-b; PatrickHenry; longshadow; Junior; balrog666; RadioAstronomer
Ha. You probably also believe that Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence. But I remind you that you have no videotape to support this theory, and therefore it is purely a matter of faith on your part. Hence, I demand equal time in the nation's history classes to promote my theory that the Declaration of Independence was, in fact, authored by the inhabitants of Planet Seven...

:^)

30 posted on 02/03/2003 6:23:13 AM PST by general_re (If you lend someone $20, and never see that person again, it was probably worth it.)
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To: Crusher138
I think this whole silly business boils down to did the Professor give recommendations based on an individual's religion?

Since religious belief is constitutionally protected, this becomes a rather sticky point.

I don't see it as a sticky point at all. The relevant Constitutional question here is the professor's First Amendment rights. The right to speak freely comprehends a right not to speak. His reasons for not speaking are immaterial, let them be ever so bigoted. The court cannot compel him to speak when he chooses not to.

31 posted on 02/03/2003 6:26:33 AM PST by Physicist
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To: general_re
I demand equal time in the nation's history classes to promote my theory that the Declaration of Independence was, in fact, authored by the inhabitants of Planet Seven...

But they already do teach that.

32 posted on 02/03/2003 6:28:45 AM PST by Physicist (...counting from the outside inwards...)
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To: Physicist
My point is that if you believe as Pres. Bush does when he quoted this from Isaiah 40:26,"Lift your eyes and look to the heavens. Who created all of these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing," you should not be discriminated against by a government- employed instructor who has a different belief about origins.

33 posted on 02/03/2003 6:36:36 AM PST by kittymyrib
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To: Physicist
...counting from the outside inwards...

Someone's always gotta be a wise guy. Unless you have videotape of such a counting, I reject this faith-based theory of yours ;)

34 posted on 02/03/2003 6:43:36 AM PST by general_re (If you lend someone $20, and never see that person again, it was probably worth it.)
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To: kattracks
Let's see, if I understand the definition of a theory, it means an explanation based on observation, experimentation, and reasoning, which has been confirmed by verifiable fact (and the absence of incompatible fact).

The difference between fact and theory is that a theory has not be undeniable proven or refuted by fact.

Creation and Evolution should have equal standing within the scientific community. The outrage, should be that a professor used belief in a theory, to rate whether a student should be given a letter of recommendation. The whole reason the scientific community keeps advancing, is that students are trying to prove or disprove theories.
35 posted on 02/03/2003 6:50:47 AM PST by ODDITHER
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Comment #36 Removed by Moderator

To: Physicist
Precisely. If the professor were a state agent providing a service that is supposed to be available to all citizens as a matter of right or upon meeting certain objective criteria (e.g. issuing driver's licenses or CCW permits), then he would not have such discretion. As it is, he does.
37 posted on 02/03/2003 6:54:18 AM PST by steve-b
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Comment #38 Removed by Moderator

To: HiTech RedNeck
Had the student in question signed up for the class for credit, rather than sitting in on two classes and looking at a website, then had the professor either flunk him because the student believes in creationism, or, if he had gotten an A, refused to write a letter of recommendation based on the student's belief in creationism, the student would've had a leg to stand on.

Letters of recommendation are done on a voluntary basis by a professor. The professor can pick and choose whom he decides to write letters of recommendation. However, the student in question didn't even reach that threshold. He didn't take the class. I can't see where he's been actually harmed.

This is frivilious litigation.

39 posted on 02/03/2003 6:56:42 AM PST by Catspaw
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To: Physicist
One of the techniques that I have seen conservative commentators use against liberals is to "put the shoe on the other foot".

Okay, should a Professor at a Baptist Theological Seminary be required to give a letter of recommendation to a Wiccan?

Should a physician at a Catholic teaching hospital be required to recommend an abortionist?

Life is not fair. It has never been fair, and it isn't up to the government to make it fair.


40 posted on 02/03/2003 6:58:36 AM PST by dinasour
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To: kittymyrib
you should not be discriminated against by a government- employed instructor who has a different belief about origins.

This student was not discriminated against. He didn't take the class. He didn't ask the professor for a letter of recommendation. He sat in on two classes (which is not the same as taking a course for credit) and looked at a website. Could you show me where the actual--not perceived--discrimation occurred?

41 posted on 02/03/2003 6:59:48 AM PST by Catspaw
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To: ODDITHER
The difference between fact and theory is that a theory has not be undeniable proven or refuted by fact.

No, the difference between fact and theory is that the former is a specific observation (an apple just conked me on the noggin as I sat under this tree) and the latter is a systematic explantion of many observations (objects attract one another with a force proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them).

(Yes, I know that the story about Newton getting hit on the head is probably apocryphal, but it's still a valid illustration of the concept.)

Some theories are so strongly confirmed that they may, for all practical purposes, be taken as truth (while remaining subject to refutation should some contrary facts be discovered). You might fly like Superman if you jump out a window -- but I wouldn't advise the attempt.

42 posted on 02/03/2003 7:00:06 AM PST by steve-b
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To: kittymyrib
that the students uphold his religious belief in evolution.

Evolution IS NOT a religious belief at all. It is a scientific theory that resulted from hundreds of years of painstaking research. On the other hand, Creationism/ID is a belief system and does not belong in a science class or should be considered science at all. Creationism/ID is truly a faith-based argument.

43 posted on 02/03/2003 7:02:10 AM PST by RadioAstronomer
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Comment #44 Removed by Moderator

To: Motherbear
Frankly, I think he just has a problem with "bible thumpers".

I disagree. In good conscience, I could not recommend a student if he professed the stars were only 6,000 years old for graduate studies in astronomy either.

45 posted on 02/03/2003 7:06:16 AM PST by RadioAstronomer
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To: Physicist
What's happening here is that the court is being asked to change the professor's personal belief that these students will not make good scientists.....

i would have to agree with you... The only problem I would foresee is; if a student because of his/her belief in creation wouldn't be admitted to a medical school,period. Then maybe the courts would need to decide if this is in a fact a factor that would prevent him/her from becoming a "good" doctor.
46 posted on 02/03/2003 7:07:03 AM PST by usastandsunited
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To: kattracks
The level of misunderstanding of the legal issues in this matter, as demonstrated by the comments on this thread, is profoundly dismaying.

All those who think this professor has a legal right to discriminate based on religious beliefs probably also think he has the right to discriminate based on race. Nobody can honestly believe that this guy could legally issue letters of recommendation only to white people. He couldn't. And he won't get away with this stunt either.

47 posted on 02/03/2003 7:14:39 AM PST by Kryptonite
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To: Kryptonite
Please read the article very carefully. The student in question never took the class or asked the professor for a letter of recommendation. Please show me where the actual discrimination took place.
48 posted on 02/03/2003 7:18:02 AM PST by Catspaw
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To: Catspaw
I read about this story last week, and I did read this newer Slimes article carefully. The investigation isn't about one student - it's about the policy, and if the policy is, on its face, discriminatory, then actual harm isn't even an element of proof.
49 posted on 02/03/2003 7:27:24 AM PST by Kryptonite
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To: RadioAstronomer
The only conceivable case this belligerent, litigious bozo could have would be if the professor had gone out of his way to write a negative letter to torpedo the student's chance of getting into graduate school. All that the professor has done is to remain silent, and to decline to write a letter. The creationoid is an abnoxious fool, trying to use the legal system to force his non-scientific belief system on the world.
50 posted on 02/03/2003 7:35:29 AM PST by PatrickHenry (Preserve the purity of your precious bodily fluids!)
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