The fall of UC Irvine geneticist Francisco J. Ayala

(Jay Johnson) #21

What I learned from my long-ago management training on sexual harassment is that it occurs whenever someone feels harassed. In other words, it doesn’t matter what the person doing the harassing intended to communicate; what matters is how the harassed person received that message. (And, just to be clear, the “message” isn’t limited to speech. It can include actions, gestures, and overall environment, such as the poster that had to come down.) This means that excuses like “I was just joking,” or “She’s overly sensitive,” or “I hug all my female friends” don’t hold water in front of a judge.

Edit: I should also add that the legal definition of sexual harassment applies only to the workplace. Outside the work environment, a different set of laws apply. The kind that can land you in jail, not just the unemployment line.


Yes, the keyword here is “unwelcome.” Unwelcome gestures, comments, pictures and the like will get you in trouble.


This might be a good place to mention something that used to make me extremely uncomfortable. I used to attend a happy-clappy touchy-feely evangelical church, and at the “passing of the peace,” parishioners used to give the people nearby a hug. And very often, the people held hands during certain prayers or songs. It always made me uncomfortable, and I saw no easy way to get out of this forced bodily contact that was expected. Maybe it has to do with being extremely shy; at any rate I hated it! And had I spoken up, they probably would have considered me weird. So…before you maul somebody, observe his or her body language first! Thankfully I go to a mainstream church now where we just shake hands, and I’m happy with that.


As long as sexual harassment training is distinct from implicit bias training, as you say, then I’d be fine with giving it a shot and seeing what the research offers for it.

@beaglelady Sorry beagle but that’s a bit tough for me given I don’t live in America, nor do I think labelling people by race and sex (“white male” evangelical) is gonna help. Once again, I’m going to wait and see what the studies say.

(Christy Hemphill) #25

You are right that many of the ways companies have gone about doing “sensitivity training” of various kinds have failed. But that doesn’t mean schools or workplaces should bail on the idea of addressing the issues altogether, because some things do work. When my husband was in the Army there was a focus on bystander training, like this NYT article describes, and I think it did make a difference for women both in the workplace and in domestic abuse situations.


We can’t prevent murder by passing a law against it. We can only try to prevent it, inform people of the consequences of murder, and bring murderers to justice.

Some people might think sexual harassment is a joke. Other might be genuinely interested in fostering a non-hostile environment. But harassment training can teach managers and staff about what kinds of behaviors are unacceptable, and the consequences of ignoring it. And victims of harassment (usually but not always women) can learn about their rights and how to file complaints.

Here is the page on sexual harrassment from the US Equal Opportunity Employment Commission.

It’s a pretty dumb company that doesn’t take this matter seriously.

(Randy) #27

That is very good.
In Niger/Hausa land, it’s considered normal to hold hands between men if you’re walking along in a friendly, platonic way. It can be shocking if you don’t expect it…

I also attended a charismatic type school for 2 years on furlough where the rather “huggy” pastor gave me a big embrace, surprising me from behind. I’m also not comfortable with invading my body personal space, and shook him off instinctively–giving a negative reaction to those around me.

Your experience implies to me the necessity of added sympathy to those who experience discomfort.

I also agree that any perpetrator can say “I didn’t mean that” when someone is offended. We don’t want that sort of abuse to occur without someone calling them to account. However, in the above situations, I don’t think that the African friend, the touchy feely folks at church, or the Pentecostal pastor meant anything bad. How can one resolve this appropriately with good teaching and avoiding a witch hunt?

In our culture, most of the time we’re pretty aware when someone is sexually inappropriate (and sometimes I think perpetrators assume license based on the '60s revolution).

Probably it requires painstaking, kind and firm research to get to the bottom of things.


(Randy) #28

I copied your link. It’s good. However, I almost feel that it doesn’t go far enough to protect people. My female family members have experience crazy stuff (not just sexual innuendo; though that’s probably the worst–makes me want to punch them.One surgeon threw things at my mom and other nurses in the '60s)! It’s good, though. Thanks.

Sexual Harassment

It is unlawful to harass a person (an applicant or employee) because of that person’s sex. Harassment can include “sexual harassment” or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.

Harassment does not have to be of a sexual nature, however, and can include offensive remarks about a person’s sex. For example, it is illegal to harass a woman by making offensive comments about women in general.

Both victim and the harasser can be either a woman or a man, and the victim and harasser can be the same sex.

Although the law doesn’t prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not very serious, harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted).

The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or someone who is not an employee of the employer, such as a client or customer.


By becoming sensitive to other people’s feelings and body language. I can tell from observing body language when a dog, horse, or cat doesn’t want to be touched. Almost anybody can tell when a little kid doesn’t really want to kiss certain relatives. So where were these touchy-feely church folks when the clues were being handed out? And yes, in different cultures things are different. In Orthodox Jewish and Muslim communities a man usually doesn’t even touch a woman unless they are married.

At the end of the day, I voted with my feet…I took a hike!


Threw things? That’s awful. Shows you how people think they can get away with anything. These days it’s good to talk to a lawyer or ask a librarian to help you find information when you think your rights are being threatened.

(Luca) #31

I remember that guy from a WLC debate. Dang, what a dissapointment.
He seemed like such a nice old man.

(Matthew Pevarnik) #32

Not a direct response to you @beaglelady but a general question regarding the response to leaders like Ayala. Here is an example from when Euguene Peterson spoke in a way that was contrary to traditional Evangelicalism and there was a discussion regarding what to do with his works. The article mentions the practice of “burning” the works of an ‘apostate’ so to speak. What might some of you propose we think of the work Ayala has done over the years?

In a further note, many of my peers, some of them at UC Irvine where I got my PhD, spoke of the struggles of women in academia (as women). In a sense, Ayala is guilty of the worst types of crime an academic could commit, yet is far too common in the field as a whole.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #33

It isn’t a direct answer to your question, but just another parallel situation. A lot of Mennonite readers have read John Howard Yoder (Notre Dame) whose most widely read work is “Politics of Jesus”. He’s gone now, but even while he was alive, he fell from grace as accusations mounted. But he was (is) such an intellectual giant that it took a long time for AMBS to finally acknowledge the problem. Now nobody doubts that he used his prestige and influence to pressure sexual favors.

The question is … what to do with his extensive corpus? His books are good, if somewhat obtuse to wade through. I remember reading Politics and being influenced by it; and obviously will not “undo” any gleaned insights even if I could.

Maybe one way to look at this is to also remember people like David. How would he fare under scrutiny if he was alive today? I think Bathsheba would probably be just one tip of an iceberg there. And then in reaction … should we throw out most of the Psalms?

Without excusing abusers in any way or form (then or now), I think one conclusion we can draw is that God does make use of an astounding range of people who are obviously not all saints --some farther removed than others! While they may need to face consequences, and rightly so, God’s work wherever it is apparent, even through such people, can probably stand apart. But even then, those who survive such people would need to be respected in how or if any such work was referred to or used in their presence.


Christy and @beaglelady. Since it’s not implicit bias training, it’s fine. The reason for this is that hunting for “implicit bias” is just a ghost hunt. This is not specifically about informing people of this or that, but of choosing methods that actually help.


David repented of his sins. He probably didn’t write the Psalms. Psalm 51 might have been inspired by him:

Have mercy on me, O God, according to thy steadfast love;
according to thy abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
Against thee, thee only, have I sinned,
and done that which is evil in thy sight,
so that thou art justified in thy sentence
and blameless in thy judgment.
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
and in sin did my mother conceive me.
Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward being;
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Fill[a] me with joy and gladness;
let the bones which thou hast broken rejoice.
Hide thy face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right[b] spirit within me.
Cast me not away from thy presence,
and take not thy holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of thy salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.
Then I will teach transgressors thy ways,
and sinners will return to thee.
Deliver me from bloodguiltiness,[c] O God,
thou God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of thy deliverance.
O Lord, open thou my lips,
and my mouth shall show forth thy praise.
For thou hast no delight in sacrifice;
were I to give a burnt offering, thou wouldst not be pleased.
The sacrifice acceptable to God[d] is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.
Do good to Zion in thy good pleasure;
rebuild the walls of Jerusalem,
then wilt thou delight in right sacrifices,
in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings;
then bulls will be offered on thy altar.

(Vlad K. I'm an Agnostic Atheist) #36

Sometimes, the allegations of harassment go too far. Unless you know the FULL story, I’d say it’s too early to rush to judgment.

I think there is an environment being festered where it’s easy for someone to claim they were harassed and they are automatically believed. Did you know that just by looking at someone you can be accused of sexual harassment?

Note, article above talks about ‘staring’ but where is the line between looking and staring?

Fun fact. Once I was a speaking function where the hall consisted of tables and chairs, with rows of people facing each other. I was looking at a speaker in the distance, but the person a few rows from me, thought I was looking at them because of an angle where we were sitting. Had I been a pro religious professor and the person opposite to me being a staunch opponent of anything religious, voila, sexual harassment. Now, I’m not saying this is what happened here, but I think a rush to judgment is not always warranted.

(Jay Johnson) #37

“Personal space” is an excellent example of cultural differences. We assume that our idea of personal space is universal, but it isn’t. Check this out:

Notice the three categories: Stranger, Acquaintance, Close Relationship. People become uncomfortable when our unspoken boundaries are crossed, such as when an acquaintance (coworker) speaks to us from a distance only appropriate for a close relationship. The same concept also translates to things like touching, shaking hands, hugging, flirting, etc.

Many problems are caused by the fact that we are blind to our own cultural biases. We think that our standard is the same as everyone else’s, but that’s not always the case. And, besides those biases that we receive from the culture at large, numerous subcultures come into play. What is “polite” in the South is overly familiar in the Northeast. As we all know, navigating these complicated waters isn’t easy, even when we want to play by the rules. People will make mistakes. Errors will occur. We just have to be careful to distinguish honest errors from patterns of behavior. That is why training and awareness are important. You can’t enforce the rules until everyone knows the rules.

Then, of course, there is something called “corporate culture,” which is a micro-culture within an organization. When an organization really gets into trouble is when its corporate culture fosters and encourages a “hostile work environment.”

I’ve been thinking about that, too, and what keeps coming to mind is Martin Heidegger and his Nazism. Addressing the students of Freiburg University, he said, "Let not theories and ‘ideas’ be the rules of your being. The Führer himself and he alone is German reality and its law, today and for the future.” What should we do with Heidegger’s philosophy? Obviously, history already has made that decision, and he still stands as one of the most influential thinkers of the 20th century. Ayala’s scientific work belongs in this category. (I’m making no judgment of the merits of his scientific work. I have no idea where he ranks in that regard.)

What of the rest of Ayala’s writings? @Mervin_Bitikofer brought up Yoder, who is probably the most extreme case. What does one think of an ethicist who was fundamentally unethical? I find it hard to take him seriously. But I don’t think Ayala falls into this category. I can’t claim anything more than superficial knowledge of his work, but as far as I know, he wrote about topics other than morality and ethics. Personally, I’m not ready to “burn the books,” but others will make their own judgments, and history eventually will record the decision.


In the case of Ayala, it went on for years, there were allegations from both faculty and students, and there were more than 60 witnesses. I’d say there was no rush to judgment.

(Dr. Ted Davis) #39

The point about this being the first such case in the Christian intellectual community is not correct. I could name several male faculty members or administrators at various Christian colleges who’ve been fired for sexual harrssment, with the first such instance I am aware of belonging to the early 1990s.

Also–it’s not at all clear that Ayala is (present tense) a Christian believer. A very long time ago he was a Catholic priest, but he left the priesthood, according to some mutual acquaintances, after struggling with doubts about Christianity growing out of theodicy; on that account he is probably a theist of some type but not a Christian. Other mutual friends say that Ayala is still a Christian, but that he keeps his cards so close to his chest that it’s very hard to tell what he believes.

I don’t know him. I met him just once at a small event in Philly, and exchanged snail mail letters afterwards–there was no email then, that’s how long ago it was. I know a former doctoral student of his, an evangelical, who says that Ayala is definitely not a Christian. I also know a mainline theologian who knows Ayala just as well, and he says the opposite.


Yes. He always refuses to say what he really believes. The only reason I posted this is because BioLogos needs to know about it, since they’ve published articles by him.