Creationist Gets Doctoral Degree in Geosciences

Of course, this had to be reported on Darwin’s birthday

According to the New York Times, Creationist Marcus R. Ross recently got his doctoral degree from the University of Rhode Island. Surprisingly, his dissertation contained sound science.

How does that happen?

For him, Dr. Ross said, the methods and theories of paleontology are one “paradigm” for studying the past, and Scripture is another. In the paleontological paradigm, he said, the dates in his dissertation are entirely appropriate. The fact that as a young earth creationist he has a different view just means, he said, “that I am separating the different paradigms.”

I’m not saying he should be denied his degree because of his religious beliefs. Especially if he did the work to earn it.

But I’m having trouble understanding what’s going through his head. He obviously thinks that the dates and time periods he wrote about in his dissertation are all wrong. He still submitted it, though. And he said of his thesis:

“I did not imply or deny any endorsement of the dates.”

The questions that arise are these: Was he just playing the game? Did he write his thesis without believing in it just so he could get a degree from a real university? Will he now use his credentials to espouse his theories on young earth Creationism?

For what it’s worth, Ross is currently teaching earth science at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University.

Ross had previously appeared on a DVD arguing for the Intelligent Design explanation of life over Evolution. The DVD identified him as “pursuing a Ph.D. in geosciences” at the University of Rhode Island.

It has already begun…

[tags]New York Times, Creationist, Creationism, atheist, atheism, Marcus R. Ross, University of Rhode Island, science, paleontology, Scripture, Bible, dissertation, thesis, Jerry Falwell, Liberty University, Intelligent Design, Evolution, Charles Darwin, Darwin Day[/tags]

  • eli sarver

    Great way to get credibility. Just keep this on file when others in the ID movement cite him when trotting out the old logical fallacy of argument from authority.

  • Jason Tippitt

    He’s certainly not the first creationist to pursue this sort of strategy. When I was working on the college newspaper staff, our advertising manager was a geology major and a young-earth creationist, and he described his approach to his coursework almost exactly the same way as this Ross guy — “play their game” to get his degree, then become a science teacher and share “the truth.”

  • Siamang

    These folks seem to think that science is advanced by reference to credentialed authorities, rather than by experiment.

    It’s a cynical game. All he wanted was the sheepskin so he could argue from authority for YEC. As if science was really about “X guy with a PHD says this, so it must be true.”

    I wish I got a PHD. Then I could declare anything I wanted to be true by fiat, and not be troubled by pesky calls for “evidence” or “experiement”.

  • Siamang

    And I could have spelled experiment better.

  • Karen

    I think it’s tough for people who haven’t been fundamentalist believers to understand how much “compartmentalization” goes on in the fundy brain. I’m convinced now that it’s an amazing byproduct of childhood indoctrination: You can be a rational, reasonable, heck- even skeptical! – person in general, but hold irrational, unreasonable ideas at the same time as long as you label those ideas “sacred.”

    What you’re trained to do is wall the sacred ideas off in your mind so that if you allow yourself to question them you’ll be labeled a heretic and – voila! You can be like this guy, who learns all the science, sees the PROOF for it, but doesn’t really believe it.

    I wonder if at some point in his life he’ll undergo the kind of emotional/intellectual crisis that so many of us former believers go through?

  • Susan

    I sort of hope he does. It’s not all that fun going through that crisis if you actually believe (I had an easy time of it because I never felt that strongly about it), but I think in the end he’ll be happier for it. It’s always better when you’re not lying to yourself.

  • The Exterminator

    Whatever happened to “defending” one’s thesis?

    If Ross were required to do so, he would not be able to say: “I did not imply or deny any endorsement of the dates.”

    Scientists don’t really “do” science by claiming to have proved hypotheses that they sincerely believe are false. Real scientists work to disprove such hypotheses. Or else they reevaluate their intellectual positions based on their findings. Ross doesn’t care about his own findings; this is a peculiar attitude for any scientist.

    But off course, Ross is no scientist. He’s a charlatan who learned how to vomit back and manipulate information that was useful to his agenda, but in which he had no “faith.” His advanced degree should have been in regurgitation, not science. And the faculty’s appropriate response on reading his dissertation should have been to throw up.

  • Karen

    sort of hope he does. It’s not all that fun going through that crisis if you actually believe (I had an easy time of it because I never felt that strongly about it), but I think in the end he’ll be happier for it. It’s always better when you’re not lying to yourself.

    “Not all that fun” is quite an understatement! ;-) When you’ve based your entire existence on certain rigid beliefs, and suddenly the rug’s pulled out from under you, your very future is threatened. It’s a pretty awful transition time for most fundamentalists – as you say, much easier for less rigidly raised believers.

    But in the long run – yes, it’s much better not to lie to yourself, and in the end most people are happier with the honesty. It’s such a personal thing, though, you never know who’ll choose to really examine life to the fullest and who will keep their head firmly in the sand.

  • Invisible Eye

    The most interesting part was the puzzlement in the comments. Their uniform inability to understand how this guy can possibly be of two minds. How educated people can fail to comprehend how 90% of the world thinks about things — how people have to deal with the contradictions of their existence — doesn’t allow me to be very comforted by their general dismissal of fundamentalism.

  • Logos

    Invisible Eye, what are you saying?

  • eli sarver

    Of course people can be of two minds about something at the same time. It, unfortunately, is the source of cognitive dissonance. Seeing the facts of geology but still believing in ‘TRUTH’ at the same time? I don’t know if a mind can really take that too long before one has to settle. I know I did. I eventually had to stop letting my religion get in the way of my understanding of the world. It was either religion or understanding.

  • King Aardvark

    Invisible, what’s going on here is that all of us are used to using our brains to figure out the most sensible way to look at things. It’s not that we don’t understand that there are fundies who compartmentalize, it’s that (other than ex-fundies who have gone through it all) we can’t comprehend how one would go about compartmentalizing like that. It’s like a sci-fi robot faced with a logical paradox with the giant flashing red lights saying “does not compute” – we keep on expecting their heads to explode from the strain, but they don’t.

  • Tom Boughan

    Jerry Falwell said ,in response to someone saying that fundies are anti-science, that his fdaughter went through medical school( apparently, his school doesn’t offer medical courses) andshe gave essays about evolution.He said she never pointed out her personal beliefs in them or try to point out fallacies in it.She, also, told her advisors that she doesn’t believe in evolution, but will ” play the game”.

  • Raskolnikov

    How fucked up can a brain be?

    So, suppose he goes to work for an oil company, or some mining industry. Which paradigm will he use to find what his company asks? Why not the other?

  • MTran

    I think it is a rather simple matter to be able to master the language and form of science (or any other field) while being unpersuaded by it. If one is deliberately refusing to accept the underlying concepts, then there may not be any experience of cognitive dissonance at all. Instead, the “imposter” student may feel superior to all his classmates and professors because he has “pulled a good one” on them.

    I loved science until I got one teacher after another who could not teach and gave no indication of being able to communicate in clear sentences. My middle school, most of my high school, and my undergraduate instructors in science were lousy.

    During those years of lousy teaching, I managed to parrot back the right answers without understanding some of them or violently disagreeing with them. Just like the geology PhD we are reading about.

    It was only when I went took graduate level genetics and molecular biology that I found a treasure trove of marvelous professors.

    I think there is a real problem with math and science teaching, especially in high schools. Unequipped teachers are assigned to courses that they either don’t understand or can’t adequately communicate. In the end, the students suffer, and many of them don’t even realize they have been short changed.

  • Invisible Eye

    It’s probably too late to continue this, but sorry I haven’t checked back in a while.

    In using the phrase “the puzzlement in the comments”, I was referring to the commenter s in the New York Times, not here. You may not have read those. They were most universally derisive of Ross and suggested a lot of draconian, if not vengeful, ways to deal with his sort of impertinence – his ability to understand and apply himself to science while not “buying in” to science. -Deny him the degree- (though he did the work). -Wait for his unmasking as a fraud- (a certainty, apparently). -He will get his in the end- (alarmingly like someone itching for a Day of Judgment, though believing to be Over With All That).

    Confusion, perhaps, and especially if framed as the confusion of people who are certain they know the answers, period, and cannot possible conceive why others won’t take capital “T” Truth to heart. Coming from people who apparently value free thinking — and I won’t get into parsing definitions here, I am no more an expert on that philosophy than I am on fundamentalism — I find some very alarming opinions.

    You may or may not be able to recall a time when religion and modernism coexisted more or less harmoniously in this country, and in which the mainstream voices of either side did not make regular pronouncements about the “threat” one posed to the “other”. What was said privately may have been quite another thing, but certainly things were sanguine enough that, in my case, I received perfectly straightforward instruction in the theory of evolution in my Catholic grade school science class, as well as getting the story of Noah’s Ark in religion class — on the rare occasion Noah was pertinent, since religious instruction at the time much favored the New Testament. No one experienced psychological damage from the contradiction, to my knowledge. Generally, you emerged with a far more nuanced idea of the world, with those of us more technically-minded ones tending to regard biblical tales no less “real” despite the details being so obviously metaphoric. And fundamentalist religions were marginalized, a lower class phenomena not to taken seriously let alone reckoned with.

    Somehow that protocol broke down over the past 40 odd years, and the boundaries have become stark and the territory in between downright hostile. It would be easy to blame the rise of fundamentalism only, but I doubt they are the only source of discord. There are chips aplenty on the shoulders of opposing parties, and the motivations seem less to do with the opposing philosophies of theology and science than with cultural discord and the psychology of pain. Both the most literal believers, feeling betrayed by changes in their culture, and the other outcasts — sexual, ethnic, intellectual –- have gained through change some degree of influence, each feeling just as betrayed, betrayal turning to anger. In each the anger has morphed into bullying and bravado as each find their kindred and gather in protective mental enclaves.

    To blame religion (or science) is a rationalization, but it is not rational. “If only my parents had not been Evangelicals, they would have accepted me for who I am…” “If only I had known God then, I’d never have gotten in trouble, used drugs, got mixed up with the bad crowd.” Whatever, in the end it is all very human, and therefore, unlikely to end with the victory of one philosophy over the other.

    People are going find alienation, pain, injury, and they are going to invoke some core belief – theirs, or those of others, to explain it all, in order to preserve themselves emotionally. “If only my parents hadn’t been Socialists/Capitalists/Vegetarians. If only…” You fill in the blank, please.

    Religion and science are not the sources of our discord. They are merely proxies, to be used, abused, to be shoved in front of ourselves as shields. To be grabbed onto by authorities, politicians, demagogues, and hucksters, to manipulate us. As all wants, desires, beliefs, and reasons are subject to manipulation.