The Abraham Affair

Fired for Disbelief

by Mark Looy on December 10, 2007

The firing of a scientist in New England appears to be yet another clear-cut case of employment discrimination because of a researcher’s creationist beliefs.

The firing of a scientist at the prestigious Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in New England appears to be yet another clear-cut case of employment discrimination because of a researcher’s creationist beliefs, and not his academic qualifications or competence. The dismissal of Dr. Nathaniel Abraham from the institute and his recent lawsuit became public knowledge on Friday with a front page “above the fold” article in The Boston Globe, and is now circulating worldwide (e.g., via the AP and Reuters news services).

Dr. Abraham...was let go in 2004 when he told his supervisor that he did not accept evolution.

Dr. Abraham, a postdoctoral researcher in fish development at Woods Hole in Massachusetts, was let go in 2004 when he told his supervisor that he did not accept evolution. He was met by the comment that his beliefs of biological origins were incompatible with his position, and that he should resign or be fired. Such an admission by Woods Hole made it open to a civil rights lawsuit over religious discrimination.

Specifically, Dr. Abraham was a zebra-fish researcher at the acclaimed Woods Hole institution. From India originally, Dr. Abraham came to America with the hope of gaining a top-notch education, but in his postdoctoral work, he ran into the evolution police. Within weeks he was shown the door, leaving him with the prospect of losing his visa and having to leave the U.S. and ending his research (through a grant from the National Institutes of Health). In the process leading to his termination, an electronic and hard-copy paper trail exists that includes memos that expressly state that he was let go because of his creationist beliefs (and thus that he supposedly could not perform his duties at the institute).

The Globe reporter was not very sympathetic towards Dr. Abraham’s situation. First, she misled her readers by writing that Dr. Abraham held a doctorate in philosophy, when it is actually a PhD in biology. (While the Ph in PhD stands for philosophy, the newspaper can’t be let off the hook for misidentifying the true nature of his scientific qualifications.1) Furthermore, the reporter also gave plenty of space to the institute to defend itself, and then quoted Florida-based evolutionist Dr. Michael Ruse and vocal anti-creationist Dr. Eugenie Scott of California to seemingly buttress the institute’s right to fire Dr. Abraham.

The Globe reporter also mentioned that “a University of Rhode Island student was awarded a doctorate in geosciences despite opposition after it became known that he was a creationist.” This is a reference to Dr. Marcus Ross, now a Liberty University faculty member (as is Dr. Abraham). However, opposition to him receiving a doctorate did not come from his advisor or university department, which recognized the quality of his work. The opposition was from those outside of the university, such as Dr. Scott who suggested that creationists in graduate school “would not be worth my time.”2

Dr. Abraham—who teaches biology at Liberty University in Virginia3—told AiG that because religious discrimination was behind his firing, he has filed (through his attorney, David Gibbs III4) a $500,000 civil rights lawsuit. He also hopes to establish a precedent in federal court that could help future qualified researchers from facing similar discrimination if they are found to reject evolutionary beliefs on the job in publicly funded institutions.

In one of the most bizarre claims made by evolutionist opponents to the creation movement was a conspiratorial comment made by a doctoral student at Clark University in New England about the Abraham affair. He was quoted by a Massachusetts newspaper (see his comments at “Creationist Says Firing by WHOI Is Bias, Files Suit”) that suggested Dr. Abraham may have infiltrated the institute with a nefarious motive: “It’s a strategy the creationists are using to bankrupt research laboratories,” [Brian] Seitzman said. “They attempt to get people to infiltrate and then use up all their funds.” AiG has polled several people to ask if they know of any single instance of such an infiltration ever happening with that purpose, much less becoming a “familiar” occurrence (as the newspaper stated), and have heard of none.5

Of course, Dr. Abraham denies this motivation. He wanted to remain at Woods Hole, he told AiG, and had even asked his supervisor for either the opportunity to complete his current research project or to take on a new assignment so that he could remain in the United States—and not risk the prospect of having to leave the country if he had no employer. As he informed AiG, there were personal reasons he also wanted to stay: his wife was pregnant, which he had told his supervisor. Dr. Abraham asked that he be allowed to finish at least one year of his contract (of the possible 3-year period), but was refused.

In February, the movie Expelled will be released to the theaters that will expose some of the discrimination faced by other researchers (plus teachers) who don’t accept the evolution belief system (or have merely allowed evolution to be questioned in their professional setting, even though they may be evolutionists themselves). Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed is hosted by actor/economist/presidential speech writer Ben Stein. The Abraham affair probably won’t make it to the big screen at this late date in the film’s production, but in the movie's promotional efforts, no doubt this latest skirmish in the creation/ID/evolution wars will be highlighted.

Further Reading


  1. It is possible that when the paper contacted Dr. Abraham’s alma mater (St. John’s University) to check the nature of his degree, the reporter misunderstood the degree he earned.
  2. Dr. Abraham told us that he did not know anything about Liberty University until several months after he got fired and after AiG suggested that he look for possible openings there. His appointment at Liberty was something of a last-minute rescue, for Liberty filed an expedited visa—otherwise he would have had to leave the country, as his visa was about to expire. He informed us that Woods Hole was well aware of his visa situation. We believe it’s quite possible that Woods Hole was further emboldened to fire Dr. Abraham because it would have been very difficult for him to challenge his termination if he were living outside the United States.
  3. See “Do creationists “need remediation” in science?
  4. Mr. Gibbs has assisted AiG with legal counsel too over the years.
  5. Over the weekend, and after not being able to find an instance of a creationist infiltration with the intent to stir up trouble and then file a lawsuit, AiG contacted both Mr. Seitzman and the Cape Cod reporter (by email) and requested examples of such alleged infiltration. As this article posted, we had not heard back from either (but note the possibility that they have not checked their emails yet). [EDITOR’S NOTE 12/14: It has now been five days since both were emailed—still no response.]


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