There is a controversy at the California State University where scientist Mark Armitage claims that he was fired for his creationist beliefs as an evangelical Christian. Armitage recently published a paper where he suggested that soft tissue that he found in a triceratops suggested that the animal died no more than 4000 years ago rather than the common view putting extinction at 65 million years ago. The school is investigating his claim of religious discrimination.
In his lawsuit, Armitage details his publications and research including the heralded discovery in 2012 of the largest triceratops horn ever recovered from the world-famous Hell Creek Formation in Glendive, Montana. The fossil then revealed an even more exciting discovery, soft tissue with what appeared to be live bone cells or osteocytes.
Armitage argued that the cells show would have long ago “decayed into nothingness” if it was millions years old. For creationists the point could not be more significant to suggest that the Earth is only a few thousand years old as stated in the bible. However, just days after the article was published, Armitage was fired.
While the university claimed that his temporary position was eliminated due to a budget shortfall, Armitage says that his superior, Dr. Ernest Kwok, was hostile to his religious beliefs and even once allegedly “stormed into” his lab and shouted, “‘We are not going to tolerate your religion in this department!!”
While I have long been a critic of creationism and frankly I am a bit surprised to see a scientist clinging to such views, this does raise concerns over academic freedom unless the school can prove the budgetary claim. He is obviously an active and accomplished academic. His paper was published to express his view on the possible meaning of the find. (Note this is not the first such find and scientists have found such cells and, after prior find in fossils of a Tyrannosaurus rex, scientists concluded that the iron in the fossils had preserved the tissue from decay).
The controversy raises an interesting question of when such views are legitimate grounds for termination. For some scientists, a faculty member espousing creationist views is objectively unqualified. However, that would depend on how those views affect his teaching and research. Armitage is clearly functioning at a high level in this field, including the discovery and study of rare fossils. He is simply reaching a conclusion based on those findings that reflects a very small percentage of scientists. At what point does such minority views impact the status of an academic?
Armitage has a BS in Education from Liberty University and an MS in Biology (parasitology) at the Institute for Creation Research in San Diego, CA. He later graduated Ed.S. in Science Education from Liberty University
He is currently listed as part of Creation Ministries. The site confirms what many would consider the distortive impact of faith on science:
“The scientific aspects of creation are important, but are secondary in importance to the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as Sovereign, Creator, Redeemer and Judge.
The doctrines of Creator and Creation cannot ultimately be divorced from the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The 66 books of the Bible are the written Word of God. The Bible is divinely inspired and inerrant throughout. Its assertions are factually true in all the original autographs. It is the supreme authority, not only in all matters of faith and conduct, but in everything it teaches.”