Darwinian thought police strike again

ID-advocate astronomer denied tenure at Iowa State University


Dr Guillermo Gonzalez is an astrophysicist and assistant professor of physics and astronomy at Iowa State University [ISU], as well as a senior fellow of the Discovery Institute’s Centre for Science and Culture, considered the hub of the Intelligent Design [ID] movement. Earlier this year, ISU President Gregory Geoffroy notified Gonzalez that he would not be granted tenure and promotion to associate professor.

Such a storm of controversy erupted over this blatant case of discrimination against an academic because of his pro-ID beliefs that the ISU took the unusual step of issuing a news release on the subject, dated May 14, 2007. Written by ISU PR person John McCarroll, this stated:

‘Tenure is recognition of significant accomplishment in scholarship and in faculty responsibilties in research, teaching and service. … It means a lifetime appointment for the individual being considered.’ Then under the heading ‘Why was tenure not granted to Guillermo Gonzalez?’ it says: ‘Dr. Gonzalez was evaluated for tenure and promotion to associate professor by the tenured faculty in the Department of Physics and Astronomy. That evaluation was based on an assessment of the excellence of his teaching, service, scholarly research publications and research funding in astronomy, using standards and expectations set by the department faculty. The consensus of the tenured department faculty, the department chair, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and the executive vice president and provost was that tenure should not be granted. Based on recommendations against granting tenure and promotion at every prior level of review, and his own review of the record, President Gregory Geoffroy notified Gonzalez in March that he would not be granted tenure and promotion to associate professor.’1

Qualified or not qualified?

Notice that the above statement does not give the reason the faculty came to its decision to deny Dr Gonzalez tenure. His academic qualifications for the position would appear to far exceed the requirements.

    Copyright © Scott Hammonds 2004 M31, the andromeda galaxy
    M31, the andromeda galaxy, 2.5 million light years from earth.
  1. His 1993 Ph.D. in Astronomy was from the University of Washington, Seattle. He then did post-doctoral work at the University of Texas, Austin. The journal Nature reports, ‘“He proved himself very quickly,” says David Lambert, director of the university’s MacDonald Observatory. He and Gonzalez co-authored several papers on variable stars, and Lambert says that while there, the young Cuban immigrant was an impressive scientist. “He is one of the best postdocs I have had,” he says.’2

    The Nature article continues, ‘In 1996, Gonzalez returned to the University of Washington to do his second postdoc, and again distinguished himself—producing two papers3 that linked a star’s metal content to the presence of extrasolar planets around it. The papers are still highly cited, and they have encouraged other researchers to search for planets around metal-rich stars.’2

  2. He has received fellowships, grants and awards from NASA, the University of Washington, Sigma Xi (scientific research society), and the National Science Foundation. He has been at ISU since 2001.
  3. He has published 68 articles in peer-reviewed journals, including Astronomy and Astrophysics, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Astrophysical Journal, and Solar Physics.4
  4. According to the Promotion and Tenure Policy and Procedure put out by the ISU’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, (page 4):
    ‘Evaluation of research ability is based primarily upon published papers in refereed journals … . For promotion to associate professor, excellence sufficient to lead to a national or international reputation is required and would ordinarily be shown by the publication of approximately fifteen papers of good quality in refereed journals.’5

    Dr Gonzalez’s international reputation is surely established by his post-doctoral work described above; and his 68 peer-reviewed journal articles (of which 21 have been while he was at ISU) exceed the 15 required by ISU by 350 per cent!

  5. According to Chronicle of Higher Education reporter Richard Monastersky:
    ‘[D]ata from a prestigious Smithsonian/NASA astrophysics database show that Gonzalez has the highest rating for citations to his work of anyone in his department: “Mr. Gonzalez has a normalized h-index of 13, the highest of the 10 astronomers in his department. The next closest was Lee Anne Willson, a university professor who had a normalized h-index of 9.” The fact that Gonzalez—an Assistant Professor—is ranked higher than any other member of his department, including full professors like Willson, is incredible.

    ‘Even the originator of the h-index rating (physicist Jorge Hirsch) concedes the point: “Under normal circumstances, Mr. Gonzalez’s publication record would be stellar and would warrant his earning tenure at most universities, according to Mr. Hirsch.” (emphasis added)’6

  6. Concerning the needed ‘excellence’ required by the ISU Tenure Policy and Procedure quoted above, Dr Robert J. Marks, Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Baylor University comments:
    ‘I went to the Web of Science citation index which is the authority on citations. Only journal papers, not conference papers, are indexed. There are lots of Prof. Gonzalez’s papers listed. My jaw dropped when I saw one of his papers has 153 citations and 139 on another. I have sat on oodles of tenure committees at both a large private university and a state research university, chaired the university tenure committee, and have seen more tenure cases than the Pope has Cardinals. This is a LOT of citations for an assistant professor up for tenure. The number of citations varies with discipline and autocitations are included in the tally, but this is a LOT of citations for an Assistant Professor. A lot.

    ‘The Iowa State U. Astronomy department … big star is Lee Anne Willson, University Professor. A University Professor is a rank more prestigious than a full Professor. She is their star. Her top two papers are cited 99 and 86 times. And she has been at this for 33 years.’7

    Cover of Scientific American
  7. Tenure statistics show that 91 per cent of faculty who applied for tenure this year at ISU received it, refuting the university’s claim that its tenure standards are ‘so high, that many good researchers have failed to satisfy the demands of earning tenure’ at ISU.
  8. Dr Gonzalez’s research has focused on examining stars with planets to see what sorts of properties they exhibited. It has led to the discovery of two new extra-solar planets. His research team discovered what is known as the Galactic Habitable Zone (GHZ), a term Dr. Gonzalez coined. His work has lead to feature stories in Science and Nature, two of the world’s premiere scientific publications. And he and his associates wrote a cover story about GHZ in the October 2001 issue of Scientific American (pictured).
  9. He is also the co-author of the second edition of Observational Astronomy, an advanced college astronomy textbook published by Cambridge University Press, and he is co-author of the 444-page book The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos is Designed for Discovery.

Gonzalez’s personal beliefs

The Nature article referred to above describes Dr Gonzalez as ‘a deeply religious evangelical Christian’, and it says ‘his faith has shaped his views on science. He considers himself a “sceptic” of Darwin, and says that his Christianity helps him to understand Earth’s position in the Universe. “Our location in the Galaxy, which is optimized for habitability, is also the best place for doing cosmology and stellar astrophysics in the Galaxy,” he says. In other words: “The Universe is designed for scientific discovery.”’2

Dr Gonzalez has refrained from mentioning his religious beliefs in his teaching and peer-reviewed works, but his 2004 book The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos is Designed for Discovery, co-authored with Jay Richards of the Discovery Institute, includes many of his pro-design arguments.

What then is the reason for denial of tenure to Dr Gonzalez?

An interesting clue is that it appears that ISU, at the same time as it denied tenure to Dr Gonzalez, decided to promote to full professor outspoken atheist and secular humanist Hector Avalos, professor of religious studies, faculty adviser to the ISU Atheist and Agnostic Society, and editor of the Journal for the Critical Study of Religion.

For those unaware, Hector Avalos is an embittered apostate ‘Christian’ who now describes himself as ‘a secular humanist’, and believes that ‘the Bible has no intrinsic value or merit’.8 He achieved some infamy by being quoted in the journal Nature as advocating cutting out parts of the Bible which deal with ‘theologically inspired violence’.9 In answer to Bill Muehlenberg’s question as to just what should be cut, Avalos said,

‘In the first phase what I hope will be deleted is any endorsement of violence that cannot be proven by scientific means to be coming from God. In the final phase, we hope to persuade humanity that the entire Bible should be removed as an authority in the modern world.

‘Yes, that should include removing the repugnant idea that a god sent his son to be slaughtered for the “salvation of man.” It is apalling that in the 21st century anyone still thinks that slaughtering one’s son should become a basis for “salvation.” It is an idea that has a long pre-Christian history, anyway, and it is rooted in notions of blood/sacrificial magic that our world should leave behind.’10

According to John West of Discovery Institute, ‘Avalos has led the charge against Gonzalez and intelligent design on ISU’s campus, helping to draft a 2005 petition denouncing intelligent design that ultimately was signed by more than 120 ISU faculty.’11 Concerning this Avalos says, ‘We were starting to see Iowa State mentioned as a place where intelligent-design research was happening. We wanted to make sure that people knew the university does not support intelligent design.’2

‘Two of the five active tenured astronomy professors in the department that denied tenure to Dr Gonzalez are connected to the statement that denounces intelligent design as “creationist pseudoscience”. Professor Steven Kawaler, the Program Coordinator for astronomy in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at ISU, actually signed the statement. University Professor Lee Anne Willson is married to ISU mathematics professor Stephen J. Willson, who also signed the statement.’12

‘According to a story to be published in the May 26 edition of World Magazine, two faculty members of the department that denied tenure to Guillermo Gonzales at Iowa State University have admitted that his work on ID played a role in the denial. While Prof. Eli Rosenberg, Chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy, insisted to the magazine that intelligent design “was not an overriding factor” (emphasis added), he then conceded according to the magazine that Gonzalez’s pro-ID book The Privileged Planet "played into the decision-making process.”’

The other department member who admitted that intelligent design played a role in the tenure decision was ISU astronomy professor Curtis Struck. According to Discovery Institute, ‘Struck told World that he was not surprised at the denial of tenure to Gonzales because “[h]e includes some things in his astronomy resumé that other people regard as taking a coincidence too far.” Struck was obviously referring to Gonzalez’s arguments for intelligent design.’

Appeal rejected

On June 1, 2007, Gregory Geoffroy, President of Iowa State University, informed Gonzalez that he had rejected Gonzalez’s appeal and that he upheld the denial of tenure. In a prepared statement published in the The Ames Tribune concerning this, he said:

‘I specifically considered refereed publications, his level of success in attracting research funding and grants, the amount of telescope observing time he had been granted, the number of graduate students he had supervised, and most importantly, the overall evidence of future career promise in the field of astronomy.’13

An article in the Des Moines Register provided the following additional information:

‘Iowa State has sponsored $22,661 in outside grant money for Gonzalez since July 2001, records show. In that same time period, Gonzalez’s peers in physics and astronomy secured an average of $1.3 million by the time they were granted tenure.’14

The Discovery Institute in anticipation and response posted a web article by John West on June 1, 2007, entitled ‘The Truth about Research Grants, Gonzalez and ISU’ as follows:

  1. As we have reported previously, outside research funding is not a published criterion for earning tenure in Dr. Gonzalez’s department. Indeed, it isn’t even mentioned in the departmental standards for tenure and promotion. So if this factor was considered key in his tenure denial, Gonzalez’s department was applying a criterion outside of its own stated standards. (The primary standard according to the departmental policy on tenure and promotion is peer-reviewed publications, and 15 articles are ‘ordinarily’ supposed to ‘demonstrate excellence sufficient to lead to a national or international reputation.’ Dr. Gonzalez has 68 peer-reviewed publications, or 350% more than the departmental standard. Twenty-one of these articles were published since 2002, the year after Dr. Gonzalez arrived at ISU.)
  2. Contrary to some reports, Dr. Gonzalez did receive outside grant funding during his time at ISU:
    • From 2001–2004, Dr. Gonzalez was a Co-Investigator on a NASA Astrobiology Institute grant for ‘Habitable Planets and the Evolution of Biological Complexity’ (his part of the grant for this time period was $64,000).
    • From 2000–2003, Dr. Gonzalez received a $58,000 grant from the Templeton Foundation. This grant was awarded as part of a competitive, peer-reviewed grant process, and his winning grant proposal had been peer-reviewed by a number of distinguished astronomers and scientists.
    • Earlier in 2007, Dr. Gonzalez was awarded a 5-year research grant for his work in observational astronomy from Discovery Institute (worth $50,000).
  3. Using selective figures provided by ISU, the Register implies that one was expected to bring in an average of $1.3 million in grant funding to get tenure in Dr. Gonzalez’s department. Again, there is nothing in the departmental standards about this, and it is hard to know how accurate or comparable this figure is without seeing the specific data for all of the astronomers in the department, and without seeing comparable data from other departments at ISU. Unfortunately, ISU has thus far stonewalled efforts to get grant and publications data for those considered for tenure during the past several years. On May 16 Discovery Institute filed a public documents request for the grant and publication data of those considered for tenure in Dr. Gonzalez’s department since 1997 and for faculty in other departments considered for tenure since 2002. Thus far the university has provided no data in response to these requests, nor as of today has it responded to repeated requests about when the materials will be provided. [All emphases are in the original—Ed.]
  4. It is worth pointing out again that 91% of ISU faculty considered for tenure this year received it. Did they all receive more than a million dollars in grants [in] order to get tenure? Did they all exceed by 350% their departmental standards for publications? We are trying to find out, but ISU apparently doesn’t want people to know the answers to these questions.15


Michael Behe, biochemist, prominent advocate of intelligent design at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and author of the ‘irreducible complexity’ book Darwin’s Black Box, says, ‘Academia seems to be in a rage about anything that points to any purpose. They are penalizing an associate professor who’s doing his job because he has views they disagree with.’2

Professor of Astronomy David Lambert (who oversaw Gonzalez’s postdoc work at the University of Texas) says, ‘Nothing I have seen in his refereed papers leads me to believe his beliefs are impinging on his science. I would have said he was a serious tenure candidate.’2

United States Senator and Republican presidential candidate Sam Brownback has issued a forceful statement expressing alarm over this situation. According to Sen. Brownback, ‘such an assault on academic freedom does not bode well for the advancement of true science.’ Brownback continues, ‘Observation, testing, and the development of reasonable hypotheses have long been integral to good science. Scholars, such as Professor Guillermo Gonzalez, ought not to be intimidated nor silenced by those in the academic community who would rather dismiss a well-reasoned hypothesis than debate it on its merits. Such an assault on academic freedom does not bode well for the advancement of true science.’16


It should be noted that many in the ID movement do not hold to the biblical history of the universe as laid out in Genesis—we are unaware what Dr Gonzalez believes about creation. However, even the mere suggestion that someone believes that the universe shows signs of design appears to be enough to cause this sort of persecution. Those who control academia are at war with God and will not allow the concept of design to be discussed. It seems that no matter how much evidence for design is presented by ID advocates, both the evidence and the person(s) advocating it will be booted out. The common argument raised by anticreationists, that ‘if your ideas were sound, they would be accepted by the scientific establishment, so why don’t you get them published there’, is seen to be laughable.

The fond notion that science is some sort of self-correcting, ideologically neutral pursuit of the truth, wherever it might lead, is seriously undermined by these happenings. This should alarm not only Christians, but advocates of academic freedom in general.

Update: see this off-site rebuttal to evolutionary attacks on Dr Guillermo Gonzalez.

Published: 12 June 2007


  1. Iowa State University News Service, May 14, 2007. http://www.iastate.edu/~nscentral/news/2007/may/tenureFAQ.shtml May 23, 2007. Return to Text.
  2. Brumfiel, G., Darwin sceptic says views cost tenure, Nature 447(7143):364, 24 May 2007. Return to Text.
  3. Given in ref. 2 as ‘Gonzalez, G., Mon. Nat. R. Astron. Soc. 285, 403–412 (1997)’ and ‘Gonzalez, G., Astron, Astrophys. 334, 221–238 (1998)’. Return to Text.
  4. For a full list of these see http://www.discovery.org/scripts/viewDB/filesDB-download.php?
    May 23, 2007. Return to Text.
  5. http://www.evolutionnews.org/isudeptphysastron.pdf May 23, 2007. Return to Text.
  6. http://www.evolutionnews.org/2007/05/chronicle_of_higher_
    May 23. 2007. Return to Text.
  7. http://www.evolutionnews.org/2007/05/science_professor_
    May 23, 2007. Return to Text.
  8. Avalos, H., Society of Biblical Literature forum, http://www.sbl-site.org/Article.aspx?ArticleId=520 May 24, 2007. Return to Text.
  9. Ledford, H., Scriptural violence can foster aggression, Nature 446(7132):114–115, 8 March 2007. Return to Text.
  10. http://www.billmuehlenberg.com/2007/03/15/time-to-trim
    May 24, 2007. Return to Text.
  11. http://www.evolutionnews.org/2007/05/iowa_state_promotes_
    May 23, 2007. Return to Text.
  12. http://www.evolutionnews.org/2007/05/isu_department_
    May 24, 2007. Return to Text.
  13. http://www.midiowanews.com/site/tab1.cfm?newsid=18417567
    June 6, 2007. Return to Text.
  14. As reported in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guillermo_Gonzalez
    June 6, 2007. Return to Text.
  15. As reported in http://www.evolutionnews.org/2007/06/the_truth_about
    June 6, 2007. Return to Text.
  16. http://www.evolutionnews.org/2007/05/breaking_news_us_
    May 24, 2007. Return to Text.