You Can Lead a Creationist to Water…

Peter Boghossian, a philosophy professor at Portland State University, was faced with a dilemma recently when a student in his “Science and Pseudoscience” class wrote this on her final exam:

“I wrote what I had [to] to ‘agree’ with what was said in class, but in truth I believe ABSOLUTELY that there is an amazing, savior GOD, who created the universe, lives among us, and loves us more than anything. That is my ABSOLUTE, and no amount of ‘philosophy’ will change that.”

She wrote that because he had tried (unsuccessfully) to “disabuse” her of Creationist beliefs.

Is that the proper role for a professor?

Is it enough that educators simply put the correct information out there, or is it our job to make sure students accept it?

Boghossian feels obligated to make them accept it:

… my role was not simply to provide evidence and counterexamples and hope for the best, but to help her overcome a false belief and supplant it with a true one.

I believe our role as educators should be to teach students not just factual data, but the importance of critically examining beliefs by exposing them to facts, and then revising cherished notions when confronted with reliable but discomforting evidence.

Later on, he elaborates a bit. He’s not trying to convince students that gay couples, for example, should be allowed to get married. That’s a moral belief and he doesn’t feel any urge to impose his will on his students. But the Earth being 4.5 billion years old? That’s not a moral issue. That’s a fact. Doesn’t he have a responsibility to make sure they understand that and accept it?

He talks about the particular class the student was in and why he was so upset with her:

… we discuss a wide array of both scientific and pseudoscientific topics, including astrology, homeopathy, chelation therapy, and vaccinations. It is not enough for my students to know that vaccinations do not cause autism; they must also believe this and then eventually act accordingly. (In this case, action consists of not being afraid of vaccinating their children out of fear that they could cause their children to become autistic).

While I sympathize with him, I just don’t know how you can force students to accept reality against their will. If I’m teaching a class on evolution, and a student answered all my exam questions correctly — but told me privately that she didn’t buy into any of it — would her final grade change? That would strike me as unethical and, most likely, an example of religious discrimination.

It’s like the dissertation Marcus Ross completed at the University of Rhode Island to earn his Ph.D.

His subject was the abundance and spread of mosasaurs, marine reptiles that, as he wrote, vanished at the end of the Cretaceous era about 65 million years ago. The work is “impeccable,” said David E. Fastovsky, a paleontologist and professor of geosciences at the university who was Dr. Ross’s dissertation adviser. “He was working within a strictly scientific framework, a conventional scientific framework.”

Ross, however, was openly a Young Earth Creationist. He didn’t buy into his own dissertation. Should he have earned a Ph.D.? Well, he did all the work necessary for it, so yes. What he does with that information shouldn’t have a bearing on him earning his degree.

Boghossian doesn’t say what his student’s final grade was — It doesn’t sound like he changed it based on her godly views, though. It’s just the principle that he’s arguing — that a professor’s role ought to be to make sure students are well-versed in the basic mechanisms of the field in which they’re studying and that means buying into the notions that made them foundations in the first place. If you don’t accept the Scientific Method, how can you “discern true empirical claims from false empirical claims”? Isn’t it the educator’s responsibility to rid you of any competing ideas?

(via CFIOnCampus)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Anonymous

    I think it depends on the type of belief.
    Belief in god is extremely irrational, extremely harmful to society and can be extremely harmful to the person, therefor I think it is our duty as human beings ( it’s not just professors) to educate people and show them how their thinking is flawed, And it is not flawed because it’s different then ours, it is flawed because it doesn’t match reality.

  • Anonymous

    I think it depends on the type of belief.
    Belief in god is extremely irrational, extremely harmful to society and can be extremely harmful to the person, therefor I think it is our duty as human beings ( it’s not just professors) to educate people and show them how their thinking is flawed, And it is not flawed because it’s different then ours, it is flawed because it doesn’t match reality.

  • Anonymous

    I think it depends on the type of belief.
    Belief in god is extremely irrational, extremely harmful to society and can be extremely harmful to the person, therefor I think it is our duty as human beings ( it’s not just professors) to educate people and show them how their thinking is flawed, And it is not flawed because it’s different then ours, it is flawed because it doesn’t match reality.

  • Anonymous

    I think it depends on the type of belief.
    Belief in god is extremely irrational, extremely harmful to society and can be extremely harmful to the person, therefor I think it is our duty as human beings ( it’s not just professors) to educate people and show them how their thinking is flawed, And it is not flawed because it’s different then ours, it is flawed because it doesn’t match reality.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Miles-McCullough/1026691196 Miles McCullough

      Of course we should try to convince others to accept reality in our capacity as fellow human beings, but using one’s power to threaten that person’s career is unethical.

      • Anonymous

        i don’t think it’s that cut and dry.

        For instance, have you ever heard Sam Harris talking about that woman who is one of the few people giving advice to obama on bio-ethical  issues?
        And how she said that we could never say that a culture that removes the eyes of every third child is objectively morally wrong if they were doing it because they had a scripture that said to do so?
        I mean, should this woman be in the position she is considering her rational? I’m sure she did “all the work”, so on one hand she deserves her job, on the other hand, she’s responsible, even if indirectly, for millions of peoples lives.

        So, I think threatening someone’s career if they don’t accept reality may be ethical…..in fact it may be the ONLY ethical thing you can do.

        • http://www.facebook.com/AnonymousBoy Larry Meredith

          if that woman is advising the president, I think her employer is the one that has the problem.

          If a person earns the grade it doesn’t matter what they personally believe. Let the job market handle that. Employers that want a good professional shouldn’t be hiring a professional that personally disregards the education that makes them a professional. If they do, it just shows that the employer doesn’t really care very much.

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Miles-McCullough/1026691196 Miles McCullough

            But that’s just it: a person’s beliefs shouldn’t matter if they don’t interfere with their job performance. Read reddit.com/r/atheism for lots of horror stories about atheists getting fired or afraid of getting fired by Christian bosses for their personal beliefs.

            • Anonymous

              Are you really going to argue that religious belief doesn’t interfere with someone’s performance? I don’t think there’s a belief that interferes more than the belief in god.

              For example, I would never go to a theist psychiatrist/psychologist .

              In fact, a psychiatrist/psychologist that believes in god or thinks religion is a good thing is an extremely irresponsible practitioner.  They have a lot of responsibility on their shoulders and we know perfectly well what religion has caused to the world and still does, and we know why it is so attractive to us , and we also know why we tend to believe in god, which brain mechanisms are involved, and so forth…

              Also, atheits would be fired not because of their “personal beliefs” as you said but because of their disbelief. Totally different.

              • http://www.facebook.com/people/Miles-McCullough/1026691196 Miles McCullough

                Religious believers are capable of performing job duties. All that is important is that they are made aware of their expected duties and forced to comply or face consequences.

                “Personal beliefs or lack thereof” then. I don’t see how discrimination against atheists is different from discrimination against believers in any philosophical sense. Unless you’re arguing that because atheism is true, it’s nonsensical to discriminate against atheists and imperative to discriminate against theists. But that pretty much abolishes any separation of church and state, not to mention freedom of belief.

                That is fascism, straight up. Maybe it’s time to take a step back on this one and re-evaluate.

                • Anonymous

                  Correct me if I’m wrong and I may be since english is not my native language but firing someone over his religious beliefs would be bigotry. Firing someone because the person is an atheist is not bigotry, because atheism is not an ideology or an opinion, or a belief, it is the lack of an ideology/opinion/belief…and it’s also the default position.

                  But hey, maybe I’m wrong.

                • http://www.facebook.com/people/Miles-McCullough/1026691196 Miles McCullough

                  Regardless of whether atheism is an ideology, it is not, strictly speaking, relevant to job performance.

                  You can’t open the floodgates of discrimination on the basis of irrelevant criteria without it turning on you.

          • Anonymous

            “If a person earns the grade it doesn’t matter what they personally believe.”

            Come on!! What if a medic earn his grade and did all the work but thinks homeopathy works? And instead of giving proper care to someone he recommends homeopathy as the way to go…and the person eventually dies for lack of treatment…

            Do you really have the guts to say, well, it’s just one life, I’m sure he would be stripped of his medical license after that, or, well it’s not his fault, it’s the employer’s problem?

            Sure the employer has to be and should be careful when hiring people but the point I’m trying to make is that critical thinking, logic, value for evidence and so forth should be taught at school from an early age, people need to be educated. Let’s no kid ourselves, the educational system is  shit. Sure it’s better then it has ever been probably but how good is something when you could improve it in 5 minutes?

            • http://www.facebook.com/people/Miles-McCullough/1026691196 Miles McCullough

              If a doctor prescribes alternative medicines when current best practice is to prescribe real medicine, then that doctor has committed malpractice and needs to be sued and possibly stripped of his or her medical license. Doctors are aware of this (or they should be), and will presumably follow the law.

              Performance should be the bottom line. Anything else is a witch-hunt based on potential misbehavior. It is unnecessary and worse, it will eventually turn on you. Unleash a witch-hunt at your own peril.

              • Anonymous

                Do you think threatening the career of a doctor who for instance has a history of prescribing homeopathic remedies to severely ill people  is a witch hunt? To me it looks like the only sensible thing to do besides stripping him of his license of course.

                But my point seems to have not come across. I’m only advocating education and critical thinking and ultimately , ridicule for those who reject reality (only for sane people of course).

                • http://www.facebook.com/people/Miles-McCullough/1026691196 Miles McCullough

                  No. I said it would be a witch hunt to discriminate against a doctor who believes in homeopathic remedies on the sole basis that the doctor might potentially fail to prescribe real medicine to a patient.

                  If the doctor has already failed to do his or her medical duty, then that doctor has committed an action that would form an adequate basis for repercussions.
                  Action, not belief.

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Miles-McCullough/1026691196 Miles McCullough

          That reasoning can be used to tear down any civil liberty we have, but each time it destroys our rights a little more.

          At the very least one needs an extreme circumstance to justify ignoring fundamental rights like freedom of belief. And I mean extreme like good expectation of immediate and drastic harm – like if someone explicitly says they think God wants them to kill people.

          Besides, as a pragmatic matter if we tore down freedom of belief, America would not turn into a secular utopia; America would turn into a theocracy. Professors would not have the ability to grade others on their acceptance of the material; professors would be the ones forced to swear an oath to God and Country; professors would be the ones forced to pledge not to teach evolution, skepticism, or other Ways of the Devil.

          • Anonymous

            I never said the teacher should have changed the grade. I don’t think he should. What I said was regarding threatening someone’s career, someone who’s practicing already but has beliefs that don’t match reality and can be harmful.

            Again, it’s not that cut and dry. A religious person may not say that his god tells him to kill people but he may, for instance refuse treatment for his son and resort to prayer instead.

            That’s what’s so wrong with religion,  it’s  core belief ; which is faith. Faith is essentially the definition of irrationality, and when you live by that core belief, it can justify just about anything.

            I think freedom of belief is all fine and dandy but not so much when that particular belief can have a severe impact on someone’s life, as in, terminate their life.

            Do I really have to say how many people die everyday purely because of religious bs?

            And I’m not saying that we should jail people who have religious beliefs, we must certainly fight against it, that was the point I was trying to make. We must educate people. It’s not like we’re forcing our beliefs or a belief. We’re forcing people to face reality, that’s it.

            • http://www.facebook.com/people/Miles-McCullough/1026691196 Miles McCullough

              Refusing treatment is an action, not a belief. People can believe whatever they want, so long as they obey the law.

              Seems to me that discrimination is only acceptable on the basis of actions, not beliefs, and that in pragmatic terms this is the heart of what it means to live in a free society.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000041560944 Riz Siemens

    I can’t help but agree with what he’s doing. Ignorance via believing things that just aren’t true or all-around made up just opens doors for people to believe basically anything, which opens yet another door on the journey toward things like religion-based biases and outright discrimination of people who just don’t deserve that kind of treatment.

    This guy is trying to treat the problem at the source (to instill fundamental truth that a student can actually *believe* as true if he or she will only open her mind a little further than fairytales), rather than just treating the symptoms as they crop up (trying to convince a religious person not to discriminate against gay people).

    You make the distinction between moral and non-moral, but for me, they’re all connected. Christians who discriminate against gay individuals do so because essentially they believe in bullshit to begin with. If they somehow were to wake up tomorrow and not believe that same bullshit, there would be a chance to a high degree they would no longer be so discriminative against gay individuals. Perhaps not a 100% chance, but certainly a large one.

    You can’t convince them to drop their bigotry by simply appealing to the fact that “gays are equal to everyone else”. You have to *rid* yourself of the initial insane beliefs first before a person can typically get to that level of understanding. We have to replace the erroneous belief-set with not just information, but a subsequent set of beliefs, because sadly that is how the human species as a whole tends to operate. As is stated in the original content: “There’s a fundamental difference between knowing and believing. ”

    I like what he’s trying to do. But you’re right: We can’t force someone to believe the truth…

    … but does that mean we shouldn’t “kinda” try?

    • http://www.angryvince.com Angry Vince

      Absolutely – we have to treat the cause, not just the symptoms.
      Facts > Beliefs
      Knowledge > Faith

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=3203340 Michael Dann

    From the educator’s perspective, I think students should be able to:

    1) explain the basic facts about the theory of evolution by natural/artificial selection
    2) identify that evolution is the accepted scientific consensus
    3) articulate the reasons why evolution is the accepted scientific consensus

    Whatever they want to believe besides that… they’ve shown that they know the topic.

    But yes… it should be more than just regurgitating (1) as Hemant put forward in the article.

    • kairanN

      I agree.  But it’s valuable to explore the logical fallacies behind religious ideas and pseudoscience as well, simply for the sake of building critical thinking skills.  The professor shouldn’t hope to supplant irrational thinking (but may yet!), and in deconstructing these topics, a professor is simply extending ‘classic’ principals of education to modern controversies.  If you don’t learn how to think, there’s no point in memorizing facts.     

  • Anonymous

    “my role was not simply to provide evidence and counterexamples and
    hope for the best, but to help her overcome a false belief and supplant
    it with a true one. ”

    That’s where this gets immensely troubling. In a world in which there are differences of opinion, one person’s ‘false beliefs’ are another person’s sacred truths. While I think that creationism is a false belief, it is not my place as an educator to actively push students into thinking the same way I do.

    Telling someone that creationism is false and they should abandon it = unproductive
    Teaching how the natural world makes more sense without creationism = productive
    Explaining that science used to be creationist, tested the idea, abandoned it = productive

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Miles-McCullough/1026691196 Miles McCullough

      Sounds like the professor did teach how things work and how we know, and that still wasn’t productive. I agree that we should’t discriminate based on beliefs, only actions, but it does make me sad for humanity that people are so stupid.

      • Anonymous

        it does make me sad for humanity that people are so stupid.
        Welcome to why being an educator is not as fun as it looks.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=560775590 T’Face Walrus Topsy

    I tend to agree with volchok here.  Having someone who completes a scientific phd then profess their belief in fantasy is a clear indicator that they have not accepted the reality of their findings.  If they do not trust in the reality of their own findings, how can the work hold water?

  • http://twitter.com/TheDudeDiogenes Diogenes of Sinope

    I think this is what the professor should have written: “The primary goal of every academic should be to [TRY] bring students’ beliefs into lawful alignment with reality.”  There’s no controlling the outcome, so trying is the best a teacher can do.

  • Heidi

    So does that mean I should be able to sit in a religious college and write “I know this is all bullshit, but I’m supposed to say…” all over my exams, and still get a degree in theology?

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_55E5P5YY7Q5JS6OXAP7HVATLHY NORMAN C

       I agree! I wonder if Pat Robertson’s Regent University would award me a Ph.D. in Divinity after I told my advisor that I thought the bible was B.S.?

      • Jaidensa

        Well, it is a private Christian school. But under your rights as an American, no they couldn’t do that. Public Universities have to observe the same rights and freedom of expression. So no, public Universities should not be able to do it either. FYI, there is a grading formula or template for college science classes. I have taken a lot of them, and none of them has included any points based on belief. Probably because that would violate the Constitution. 

    • kairanN

      I think many *theologists* would respect you for that.  Can’t say you’d do so well with a fundamentalist grading you…

  • Anonymous

    One of Tesla’s professors gave him a failing grade for his design of an AC generator because it was a “fact” that alternating current was akin to a “perpetual motion machine.”

    I’m no Pyrrhonist but we should be careful not to be dogmatic in our belief of “facts.”

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Miles-McCullough/1026691196 Miles McCullough

      In science, facts can be easily overturned and often are. Every rational person should still accept well-substantiated facts provisionally, unless one is designing an experiment to test said fact.

      • Anonymous

        I absolutely agree. I just caution against a professor holding an equally dogmatic belief in the absoluteness of “facts” as the theist holds for their demonstrably man made fairy tales.

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Miles-McCullough/1026691196 Miles McCullough

          OK, but how is that relevant to this case? I’m sure the professor isn’t demanding dogmatic belief, but belief dependent on the soundness and validity of the argument.

          • Anonymous

            Being self reflective about our own beliefs when trying to convince others on their validity is always relevant.

            • kairanN

              Say the theories ARE changed, radically–Perhaps even replaced.  Is it not better to be wrong about observation-based physics and biology than to be wrong about belief in tribal mythology?

              • Anonymous

                Who said it wasn’t? Isn’t it better to stub your toe than get hit by a train? It’s it better to be happily alive than dead? Isn’t it better to have as much ice cream as you care for than to have none?

                There are lots of things that are better than other things and I didn’t mention any of them either.

  • Emma Cating

    Ideally, I think it would be wonderful if we, as educators, could convince our students to accept scientific truths.  It would be excellent if every young earth creationist who took a course on geology or evolution would come to accept that their belief doesn’t jive with reality.  It would be wonderful if every antivaxxer who takes a biology class came out the other side chomping at the bit to get their children vaccinated.  

    Unfortunately, though, as Hemant said in his title, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.  There are some beliefs which are, in some people, so incredibly ingrained in their worldview, and even self-image, that no amount of evidence will persuade them from it, even if they accept the evidence! Cognitive dissonance becomes preferable to them to accepting the facts, because accepting the facts as truths would require them to build, from scratch, a brand new understanding of the world around them.  We spend decades constructing our understanding of how the world works, and to remove something fundamental to that understanding is for many an insurmountable obstacle.  

    There is one additional point I would like to make.  We need to understand that, because of the preference for cognitive dissonance and maintaining ones worldview, for many people facts are NOT the same as truth.  Facts are cold and objective.  Facts do not provide them comfort.  Truth is warm and subjective. Truth does not necessarily need to be based in reality.  The man from RI clearly separated the facts of the existence of a 65-million year old reptile, however his truth is still that god created the earth 6 thousand years ago.  This is not to say that we shouldn’t try to educate people, but that some people will not be educated.  Even if they may accept things as fact, they may never believe it as truth.

  • Emma Cating

    Ideally, I think it would be wonderful if we, as educators, could convince our students to accept scientific truths.  It would be excellent if every young earth creationist who took a course on geology or evolution would come to accept that their belief doesn’t jive with reality.  It would be wonderful if every antivaxxer who takes a biology class came out the other side chomping at the bit to get their children vaccinated.  

    Unfortunately, though, as Hemant said in his title, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.  There are some beliefs which are, in some people, so incredibly ingrained in their worldview, and even self-image, that no amount of evidence will persuade them from it, even if they accept the evidence! Cognitive dissonance becomes preferable to them to accepting the facts, because accepting the facts as truths would require them to build, from scratch, a brand new understanding of the world around them.  We spend decades constructing our understanding of how the world works, and to remove something fundamental to that understanding is for many an insurmountable obstacle.  

    There is one additional point I would like to make.  We need to understand that, because of the preference for cognitive dissonance and maintaining ones worldview, for many people facts are NOT the same as truth.  Facts are cold and objective.  Facts do not provide them comfort.  Truth is warm and subjective. Truth does not necessarily need to be based in reality.  The man from RI clearly separated the facts of the existence of a 65-million year old reptile, however his truth is still that god created the earth 6 thousand years ago.  This is not to say that we shouldn’t try to educate people, but that some people will not be educated.  Even if they may accept things as fact, they may never believe it as truth.

  • sil-chan

    Let’s say someone has written an academic paper (in this case, a Ph.D. dissertation) that they do not believe in and have made this fact publicly known.  Why should this person get a Ph.D.?  If they are willing to publish things they themselves do not believe to be true, that seems to be a clear ethics violation and thus he should be denied the degree regardless of whether or not the published material is scientifically accurate or not.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Miles-McCullough/1026691196 Miles McCullough

      So long as someone does their job well, their career should not be dependent in any way upon personal or public beliefs. This is what protects atheists in the job market. Do you really think this would only affect Christians seeking science degrees or jobs? Even if it did, would you really want to force Christians to choose between the closet and career destruction like atheists have had to do for so long?

      • http://twitter.com/the_ewan Ewan

        I’m pretty sure our atheist beliefs exclude us from working as (say) pastors. Someone who is prepared to publish work that they believe to be false is an academic fraud, and that should exclude them from working in academic roles.

        It’s not that they’re ‘bad people’ and we should keep them out of work to punish them for being bad (which is the sort of logic that harms atheists in the general employment market), it’s that some beliefs are incompatible with some professions.

      • sil-chan

        I doubt I could get a job as a pastor unless I put my atheism in the closet. This is no different. A person who is clearly and admittedly willing to commit academic dishonesty (by publishing results they find suspect) should not be granted a degreee.

        A PhD means a lot more than “I have learnt all this material.” It means you have learnt the material, have applied it to expaninng your field, and have the morals and ethics necessary for your work and practices to be trustworthy.

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com/ Steve Bowen

    If a person can make, or explain the rational scientific argument then cool. The best we can expect is that eventually cognitive dissonance will fall in our favour. If reliance on belief obtains, well that’s unfortunate, but rationally we should not penalise that in students.

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com/ Steve Bowen

    If a person can make, or explain the rational scientific argument then cool. The best we can expect is that eventually cognitive dissonance will fall in our favour. If reliance on belief obtains, well that’s unfortunate, but rationally we should not penalise that in students.

  • cipher

    Absolutely he should try to disabuse her of the ridiculous ideas with which she’s been indoctrinated. In fact, I’ll go further; she probably shouldn’t be there in the first place. If it were a higher-tier institution – Ivy League or on the level of BU or NYU – I’d insist unequivocally that she should not be there.  She’d be taking away the space from someone who might not have scored as highly on a standardized test, but would be more capable of taking advantage of the school’s menu of offerings and be better able to make a contribution to society later on.

    As far as Marcus Ross is concerned – it’s a travesty that he was awarded a PhD. He’s now at Liberty, teaching his students about the “gaping holes” in evolutionary and standard cosmological theories. His very existence is an abomination.

    I had a brief email exchange with the professor at URI who was his adviser. He gave me some pablum about the “marketplace of ideas”, or some such bullshit. He also tried to compare my objections to Ross’ receiving the degree to not wanting to teach music students to appreciate Wagner because he was an antisemite. I came away with the distinct impression that Ross got the degree because the administration at URI had been afraid of a lawsuit.

    This is becoming a serious problem. I wrote a piece for Pharyngula two years ago (http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/08/a_first-hand_report_of_nathani.php) about a lecture given by a young earth creationist who had just buffaloed his way through a PhD program at Harvard, largely because his adviser (with whom I also corresponded) hadn’t been paying close attention (he was mortified afterward).

    Let me head the Libertarians off at the pass – a graduate degree program is different from an undergraduate program. You don’t just show up and parrot back what the professor has told you. You’re required to do original work, based upon a foundation of work done by your predecessors in the field. If you start out by repudiating that foundation, on what do you base your research? Whatever you have left, it isn’t science. If you want to subordinate data to faith, go into theology – not science.

    If a student applied to the PhD program at the Harvard Physics Dept., and told them, “I’ll show up for all of my classes, I’ll repeate everything you want to hear, but I want you to know that I reject every theory of twentieth century physics. Relativity, quantum theory, string theory – it’s all nonsense. Newtonian mechaincs tells us everything we need to know, or ever will need to know, until Jesus returns.” – should that student be admitted to the program? Of course not – yet this is precisely what is happening, increasingly, in Biology departments across the country. It’s disgusting, and is a symptom of the evangelical, reactionary conservative sickness that has overtaken this country, has caused our “fall from grace” as a world power, and will finish us in the end.

    Now, of course, I’ll have to hear about how education is the answer, “If I got out, anyone can”, yadda yadda. Yeah, great – how often does that happen really? In the meantime, this goddamn country is going down the tubes because everyone is scared shitless of the fucking Christian fundamentalists.

    • http://profiles.google.com/charliekilian Charlie Kilian

      What is the value of a PhD if someone can get one who doesn’t believe any of the things they have studied? Why are we confering the title of “doctor” — considering them an expert in their field — if they don’t even believe the basic tenants of their field? What does it mean to be an expert? This is a big problem. It will only serve to further the public distrust of knowledge.

      • Jaidensa

        Because belief is not a requirement to GET a PhD. Mastery of the material and independent research are. You do not have to address evolution in your independent research. Evolution is a very broad topic- it covers all life on earth. For a PhD, you have to focus very specifically on a very small area that you can test repeatedly using the scientific method, and getting reproducible results. TINY area of bio. 

        If you want PhDs to only be rewarded to people based on their beliefs, then you are advocating exactly the opposite of your premise. If people with specific beliefs should not have access to education then neither should other people with beliefs.  You are as bound to a beliefs system when you MUST disbelieve it as you are when you DO believe it.

        Just out of curiosity, does anyone here HAVE a PhD? Are you in a graduate program? Do you have a biology degree? Or a physics degree or any kind of science degree? And no, social science are not what I mean. Can you name the current predominate theory of evolution? Have you ever taken college biology courses?

        I am sorry, but evolution belongs in the sciences it is relevant to. Bio, geology. Philosophy is not a science. You want to teach reasoning? Teach the scientific method. 

        Can any of you name the steps to it?

        • cipher

          Mastery of the material and independent research are.

          In a doctoral program, one is required to do independent work based upon a foundation of the work of one’s predecessors. One cannot do this effectively if one repudiates the basic principles of the discipline.

          A physics major would never be admitted to a doctoral program if s/he went into the interview saying, “I reject every model developed in the 20th century. Newton has told us everything we will ever need to know.” Yet that is what is happening, increasingly, in biology departments.

          The bottom line is that you want desperately to hold on to your conservative Christian belief system, and are resentful of the fact that evolution conflicts with it. You want to subvert objective reality to faith? Major in theology.

        • cipher

          Yeah, I didn’t think so.

          Drive-by posting should be illegal.

          • Guest

            Ha! Says the guy who responded to me a year after I originally posted. (… says the guy who is responding to you a year after your belated response.)

    • Anonymous

      Speaking as a palaeontologist…

      The public already has a lot of bad and wrong ideas about what we know, how we know it, and why we think we’re right. Young Earth creationism has been a force for evil since the 1890s, and the fact that they’re not dead yet proves that facts don’t stop ‘em.  Up until Kurt Wise / Marcus Ross, all of the creationists were not officially trained by any of us. Now, they’ve broken through that door. It’s annoying, but is it as bad as it looks?

      I don’t think it makes that big of a difference. Creationists don’t care if the person lying to them is a doctor or a priest. Because of the existence of the Christian college (and television and internet and book…) system in the U.S., their lies and influence are mainly going to an audience that already believes the shit they’re peddling. The credentials that Wise and Ross spent money acquiring didn’t help
      them receive jobs in the world of real science, and (unless I’m wrong) I
      don’t think they’re using NSF funding that real scientists could better
      use.

      …they did waste their supervisors’ and departments’ times, since their positions could have been filled by actual real scientists. So I think that Harvard and URI deserve to both get smacked. But if they had told these students to take a hike, they probably woulda gotten smacked with litigation, and they probably woulda lost. That’s the bad thing about the First Amendment, it helps protect crazy people from doing stupid things if their excuse is Jesus.

      • cipher

        The problem is that gradually, as the numbers of fundamentalists and creationist “scientists” increases, they will be offered positions in the world of real science, as they’ll be the only candidates available. Their “Wedge Strategy” is succeeding. It’s no longer confined to their own clown colleges.

        Two or three years ago, in a similar thread on Pharyngula, a lab director from a university in the Netherlands told a story about an American student he had on a year-abroad program. She was a creationist, and deeply resented the fact that he expected her to interpret experimental data in evolutionary terms. He also told us she was a terrible student; for her final paper, she deserved to fail, but he felt sorry for her and gave her a “C”. She cried “discrimination”, and, when she got back to her US school, one of the large Midwestern universities, her adviser changed it to an “A”.

        This is what passes for science education in America today, and it’s the reason we’re the laughing stock of the developed world.

        • Anonymous

          ID proponents get offered real science positions but right now I don’t see a future wherein creationists do, unless it’s a future in which the States have drastically changed. Almost every secular university has at least one prof who thinks something wonky or kooky (cryptozoology, ID proponent, 9/11 Truther…) so I don’t think ID will be extinguished in our time. But I don’t think that the Wedge stratagem has succeeded as well as the DI hoped.

          On the subject of grad students not being beat down as much as we deserve… Part of it is about Americans who have higher expectations of entitlement than they should, and thus are litigation-happy when they feel like their fictional rights have been stepped on. All education past mandatory education is a privilege, not a right, and doing badly/failing out in a course/program because you don’t believe a word of it should be standard.

          However, part of it is a slippery slope, in which denying a person a degree for their beliefs can (theoretically) get out of control.

          …I’ll have to ask some palaeo profs the next time I’m at a meeting if we as a scientific society should try to have a concrete reaction to potential students of a creationist/ID bent.

        • Anonymous

          ID proponents get offered real science positions but right now I don’t see a future wherein creationists do, unless it’s a future in which the States have drastically changed. Almost every secular university has at least one prof who thinks something wonky or kooky (cryptozoology, ID proponent, 9/11 Truther…) so I don’t think ID will be extinguished in our time. But I don’t think that the Wedge stratagem has succeeded as well as the DI hoped.

          On the subject of grad students not being beat down as much as we deserve… Part of it is about Americans who have higher expectations of entitlement than they should, and thus are litigation-happy when they feel like their fictional rights have been stepped on. All education past mandatory education is a privilege, not a right, and doing badly/failing out in a course/program because you don’t believe a word of it should be standard.

          However, part of it is a slippery slope, in which denying a person a degree for their beliefs can (theoretically) get out of control.

          …I’ll have to ask some palaeo profs the next time I’m at a meeting if we as a scientific society should try to have a concrete reaction to potential students of a creationist/ID bent.

          • cipher

            However, part of it is a slippery slope, in which denying a person a degree for their beliefs can (theoretically) get out of control.

            I don’t think it would be as much of a problem as everyone seems to fear.

            ID proponents get offered real science positions but right now I don’t see a future wherein creationists do

            ID, creationism… potayto, potahto.

            • Anonymous

              I highly dislike how subsequent replies in this format get tinier and tinier.

              But you raised good points, cipher. Like I said, I’ll have to harass people who are on the other side of the grad student / prof dichotomy to see what they think should be done about evolution students who dislike evolution.

        • Jaidensa

          You posted previously that people wit6h creationist views would never be hired by Ivy league universities because of their views. Now they are taking over. Seriously? When I was in Catholic school, the teachers were afraid of a tiny group of kids who called themselves “DTO.” Dykes Taking Over. They never took over. 

          If you have such an issue with these people, don’t take their classes. 

      • Jaidensa

        FYI, Priests only exists in Roman Catholic and Orthodox religions. YEC is a protestant organization. Most Christians in America are protestant. Protestants don’t have priests. :) And as a Christian WITH a science degree, I can honestly say that the class that disabused me of my prior belief in evolution was evolutionary biology for biology majors. 

        • Anonymous

          “belief in evolution”
          You used to believe in evolution? What changed your mind into accepting that it occurred?

    • Anonymous

      To play devil’s advocate here, most religion professors at secular colleges are agnostics or atheists after studying the different religions. I’m sure that Fundamentalists feel similarly cheated by an Atheist getting a PhD in religion that Atheists feel about a Fundamentalist getting a PhD in evolutionary biology.

      • cipher

        Entirely different scenarios. As to whether or not they feel “cheated” – frankly, I don’t give a crap. They don’t like it, let them stay the hell out of legitimate academic institutions and confine themselves to Christian clown colleges as in days of yore. We’ll all be much happier, and society as a whole will be better off.

        • Jaidensa

          Why yes, society would be so much better off without the right that the founders of America find so valuable as to write into the constitution. 

          This is hate speech. You spew hate speech. Have you even GONE to college?

    • jaidensa

      Hello, I am a Christian, though not a fundamentalist. I was raised in the Eastern Orthodox Church, by parents who were born in Greece and moved to America before their children were born. I went to religious schools all the way through my junior year of high school. I was the Valedictorian of my class and in the top 96% (academically) of students in my state as a senior in public school. At that point, I had encountered so many religious restrictions and hateful “Christians” that I left the church as soon as I could. I was the president of the University GLBT club at the University where I received a BFA in visual arts. I had entire shows dedicated to mocking Saints. I married a female to male transgendered person. I minored in Women’s studies, I protested extremist religious groups (Fred Phelps). I MCed Drag show fund raisers and I gave presentations of safe lesbian sex to freshmen.  I organized my University’s National Coming Out Day activities for 2 years. I was the moaner in the Vagina Monologues. I threw paint balloons at Mormon temples from teh passenger seat of my best friend’s car. The most significant part of my identity (other than being a feminist and an first generation American) was being gay.

      I became Christian at the age of 28. No one was more surprised than I. I still believe in equality for all people. I believe in the separation of church and state. I believe in the freedom of religion, the freedom from religion, and the freedom from “no religion,” which in the liberal arts and religious studies fields is increasingly becoming viewed as it’s own religion (if you MUST believe in the opposite of a religious belief, you are as bound by it as if you believe in it). 

      I have gone back to school for molecular biology. I have been beaten in the face by vehement evolutionist bio teachers. The things I have heard in classrooms would be an absolute outrage if they were said of black people or women or gay people. I go to PSU. I am a science major. And I’m sorry, but nothing disproved evolution to me (I believed in it wholeheartedly prior) than evolutionary biology for biology majors. You have to have a tremendous amount of faith to believe in that. And you know what, it’s OK if people do believe in it. America is a free country and I am glad my parents came here. 

      Please keep in mind though, Greece has a national religion. It is a Christian religion. Yet somehow, they produce doctors and scientists (my neurologist went to medical school in Greece) plenty enough to care for their people and do research. These people are not taught evolution. It is presented as what it is, a scientific theory. It is not rammed down the throats of students in a defensive and violent manner as it is at PSU (repeatedly, in every biology course). Is it really necessary to repeat the same tired old line over and over in every class? Cell biology? Evolutionary theory hasn’t even caught up to technology in molecular bio or cell bio. Or bio chem. We all know who Darwin was, we all know that mutation is the driving force of evolution. We’ve all parroted out the expected answers. I did this in high school english, I do it in biology. In Chemistry, I actually get to answer based on my own deductions, calculations, and understanding of the material. :) 

      Physics is in an uproar right now. They are looking for something called “The Grand Unifying Theory,”  but no one can actually define it… 

      And as far as Trig goes, you have to learn the unit circle, the 3 special triangles, and how to algebraically manipulate and substitute for functions of sin, cos, and tang, in order to take CALCULUS. 80% of my trig class was how to do nautical measurements as if you were trapped in the pre-1900s. No body needs to know that crap, we have calculators and computers. 

      Noone needs to know the “fig-pudding” theory of the atom. No one needs to know WHO figured out that DNA is an anti-parallel double helix. No one needs to know how to calculate chi squared tests or use the quadratic equation without a calculator. We have CALCULATORS. there are lame hoops to jump through in every discipline. It’s part of indoctrination into academiology. 

      Even modern evolutionary theorists disagree with many of Darwin’s observations. Teach us your theory and move on. At public Universities, all student have access to all degrees, provided they can keep their GPAs up. Discriminating against religious groups for admittance and grades violates the Constitution.  The Constitution. Attacking religious groups is called hate speech. That’s been around a Hell of a lot longer (legally) than the concepts of Hate Speech against many other groups of people. 

      But you know what? I would stand up for GLBT people and anyone else who was facing the kind of constant bombardment by hateful “educators” in required classes. Because I think that is the CHRISTIAN thing to do. 

      If evolution is so logical and self-evident, why are theorists behaving in such a way that makes them appear as if they are rapid dogs cornered in an alley? I tolerate them, even though I think that they are encroaching on my Constitutional rights. Why are they attacking me? 

      And I am sorry, but 2 of the most published creationists with BIOLOGY PhDs teach at Ivy league schools. One is at Yale, the other is at Harvard. They have both been extensively published to the point, that you won’t even need their names to find them on Google. 

      • cipher

        And I am sorry, but 2 of the most published creationists with BIOLOGY PhDs teach at Ivy league schools. One is at Yale, the other is at Harvard. They have both been extensively published to the point, that you won’t even need their names to find them on Google.

        Well, I just tried Googling them and I couldn’t find them.

        Noone needs to know the “fig-pudding” theory of the atom. No one needs to know WHO figured out that DNA is an anti-parallel double helix. No one needs to know how to calculate chi squared tests or use the quadratic equation without a calculator. We have CALCULATORS. there are lame hoops to jump through in every discipline. It’s part of indoctrination into academiology.

        Right; it’s enough merely to say “Goddidit!”

        I highly doubt that anyone is attacking you. It’s far more likely that you resent the many challenges to your belief system.

        You obviously have issues. Please get some help.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_K5KGZH6OZGNABUMZRJA46XUMXE Brad

    Professors should certainly require students to demonstrate their understanding of topics covered in the classroom. To dictate the contents of their consciences, however, strikes me as extraordinarily arrogant.

    • kairanN

      Belief if creationism is not conscience.   
       

         

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_K5KGZH6OZGNABUMZRJA46XUMXE Brad

    Professors should certainly require students to demonstrate their understanding of topics covered in the classroom. To dictate the contents of their consciences, however, strikes me as extraordinarily arrogant.

  • Bob Becker

    What M. Dann said.

    And I think the person with the ethical problem in this  is not the teacher.   It’s the student who, she tells us, said what she thought the teacher wanted her to say though she believed not a word of it,  for the sole purpose of earning a grade.   The dishonesty was hers.  

  • Anonymous

    I have to reluctantly agree that if the requirements of a course are met, then the student must pass, regardless of what they privately believe.  If a student can properly define and explain evolution, shows good working knowledge of the mechanisms and can convincingly argue why creationism is false, you can’t not give them a good grade because they’ve told you that actually they’re lying through their teeth when they say all that. There could be a student who shrewdly decided to keep their mouth shut and has the same exact attitude. If you grade them differently, you are grading two people with the same performance differently, which is unfair. I do see a bit of a gray area in this case since she wrote it on a final exam. I don’t think my professors would have reacted with amusement had I written that “even though I have to agree that the mitochondria produces ATP that acts as energy units for the cell I KNOW that the LORD my God is actually infusing us with his holy energy!”.

    On the other hand I see no problem at all with making a distinction like this in hiring. As a biological scientist, I would never knowingly hire a creationist. Hiring is partly a matter of attitude and perspective. Someone who has managed to go through an entire biology degree and is still a creationist either A- doesn’t understand what they were learning and therefore is not qualified or B- Puts dogma ahead of accepting conclusions based on evidence. Either of these things are disqualifying factors as they indicate that the individual is likely to be incapable or unwilling to go wherever the evidence leads them.

    • cipher

      If you aren’t going to hire them (a position with which I agree completely), then it follows that they shouldn’t be awarded the degrees in the first place (at least, nothing beyond a Baccalaureate), because someone will hire them – then it’s only a matter of time until experimental data gets fudged – because we can’t have people thinking microorganisms actually evolve, can we? – and research will be held up, or an ineffective medication will be released, or what have you – and then someone will die.

      They’re dangerous. Keep them in their place, and that place ain’t science.

    • kairanN

      “If a student can properly define and explain evolution, shows good
      working knowledge of the mechanisms and can convincingly argue why
      creationism is false, you can’t not give them a good grade because
      they’ve told you that actually they’re lying through their teeth when
      they say all that.”

      …except stating “I believe” is not an argument.

  • mike

    It all depends on the purpose of this course.  If it is just for interest or introductory then it doesn’t matter one way or the other.  If however, this course is a required course that is meant to ensure that graduates understand science and are able and willing to apply the best tested methods in the real world, then there is a problem.  This is why Ross should not have received a PhD.

    An advanced degree at the most basic level represents a stamp of quality that the common citizen can look for when seeking complex solutions from a real expert.  Fake experts have fake degrees, real experts earn real ones.  Real experts are willing and able to provide the best advice known to mankind, and if you are not able or not willing, then you do not deserve a stamp of quality.

    By granting a PhD to someone who admits of an opposition to the very field itself, the University of Rhode Island has put any citizen who consults with Ross at risk of receiving bad solutions which can lead to bad consequences.  Furthermore, the university has harmed the field of Palaeontology and their own reputation.  It is now expected (justifiably so) in a slightly higher degree that the recommendations of Palaeontologists and graduates of the University of Rhode Island lack credibility.

    Here is an example.  I recently saw a TV show advertisement about hunting for the Ark Of The Covenant.  Travelling in the Middle East has its dangers.  Archaeology has its dangers.  All of this is also expensive and represents multiple financial risks.  Someone advised the company and crew involved that this TV expedition has merit.

    But there is no Ark Of The Covenant.  Real experts in Anthropology will tell you so.  The Israelites were never in Egypt, they did not walk through the wilderness for 40 years, and they did not receive stone tablets placed into a gilded box.  There is simply no record of 1 million extra men (+ 3-6 million women and children) living or travelling in a region which only had about 1 million local inhabitants.  And god’s revealed commandments are just a cheap rip-off of Hammurabi.

    So some jack-off told these people that it is a good idea to risk life and fortune in the pursuit of a fable.  And you wonder why people have such a luke warm regard for Anthropologists?

    • cipher

      By granting a PhD to someone who admits of an opposition to the very
      field itself, the University of Rhode Island has put any citizen who
      consults with Ross at risk of receiving bad solutions which can lead to
      bad consequences.  Furthermore, the university has harmed the field of
      Palaeontology and their own reputation.  It is now expected (justifiably
      so) in a slightly higher degree that the recommendations of
      Palaeontologists and graduates of the University of Rhode Island lack
      credibility.

      Yes! Absolutely!

      • Surgoshan

        Gonna chime in and agree again.  The PhD is more than just a process; there’s a matter of honesty.  Ross displayed appalling dishonesty and does not deserve his degree.

    • Anonymous

      Maybe next, they’ll freeze to death looking for Santa’s workshop. 

  • Tortuga Skeptic

    Because it is college and the students are there by choice it is a different matter than high school students.  Part of earning a degree is critical thinking and much of an undergraduate degree is teaching students how to learn so she is clearly not passing that test.  So, should she get a degree?  She is not alone, many students with and without religious reasoning don’t learn those lessons as they should.

  • ItsDeon

    I would say that the proper role of any professor or human in general is to try and disillusion those with such fantasy ideas. In truth, I would guess, it would be  unethical for someone to fail someone solely because they disagree with the information presented if they did work deserving of a passing grade. But it I would also say it is completely unethical to lie your way through a educational program. As said earlier, your taking a spot of someone who will contribute to society, not harm it.

    But, In dealing with it, maybe it would be best if when a professor found out that a student held such ideas and the ideas would conflict with the area of study (I.E. Biology, Chemistry, Geology, well…science in general etc.) They should try and talk to them about switching to something else. Stating things like that a degree wouldn’t amount to crap with such batshit insane fairytale beliefs, and people would ridicule the student AND the school’s program for knowingly passing them through. But they would complain that’s too harsh, so….

    • ItsDeon

      *You’re

  • Mitchell Rysavy

    I at least one friend that is (I think) a young earth creationist and gets top grades all around and wants to go into biology or chemistry. It’s not that hard, considering that it’s high school, but it’s the same deal.

    Creationists that do this kind of thing remind me of Orwell’s doublethink – Knowing something as empirical fact but simultaneously rejecting it for a substitute.

  • http://bit.ly/glUAR7 Calladus

    I think it’s a simple fix to this problem.  Whenever the Creationist starts speaking, and relying on his or her doctorate as an authority – the proper question to ask is, “Were you lying then, or are you lying now?  Is it ethical to lie for God if that lie saves souls?”

    It’s an untenable position that destroys credibility.  The problem almost solves itself.

    • kairanN

      That’s a great strategy for the informed and the naturally skeptical…  But what of the credulous who don’t know about his deceit or haven’t encountered enough scientific thought to catch him in his game?

    • http://thegodlessmonster.com/ The Godless Monster

      “It’s an untenable position that destroys credibility.  The problem almost solves itself.”
      A simple fix? Only if one is knowledgeable or intelligent enough to ask the right question(s).  Methinks you overestimate your fellow humans. Judging by our history and the current state of affairs, I’d say yours is a rather optimistic viewpoint.

  • Michael Caton

    First of all, I think the student who told him this deserves credit for being intellectually honest. How many of us reading this blog have written an essay assignment containing what we thought the prof wanted to hear?

    First, if there are *compulsions to action* (based on beliefs Boghossian insists the students adopt) then this should be laid out clearly in the syllabus. Switching positions: say you’re an atheist and you take a religious studies class, only to find out at the first term paper that you were expected by the end to actually believe in the Christian God, get baptized, go to confession, etc. You would be pretty pissed off. It would be B.S. even if it were stated in the syllabus but at least then it would be out in the open from the outset.

    If what Boghossian says is that it’s the actual behavioral effect of your beliefs that matters – it’s different than just knowing, and by the way I totally agree – then let’s look at the likely effect of Boghossian’s policy. The overwhelmingly likely effect is students’ writing what he wants to hear, not saying a word about their real beliefs and carefully compartmentalizing them so that they aren’t being compared in the open, and going through the motions to get a good grade. In fact he’s making this the most rational choice. Does Boghossian seriously think this student is the first one who he didn’t convince? She’s just the first one who’s admitted it. I’m all for trying to make more secular people, but this kind of compulsion is neither an effective nor moral way to do it.

    • Bob Becker

      “How many of us reading this blog have written an essay assignment containing what we thought the prof wanted to hear?” 
      I can’t answer for anyone else, but I never wrote on an essay exam something I didn’t believe to be so merely to anticipate and play to a  professor’s beliefs.   And as an undergraduate, I noticed fairly quickly that most of my teachers, and all of the better ones, rather welcomed disagreement — informed disagreement, based on evidence  – with their own views.   Perhaps the result of attending a small liberal arts colleges. Couldn’t say. 

      I know having been a history professor at ESUs [Enormous State Universities] in three states for the past 45 years, I loved to get students who’d question, disagree, offer some [reasoned and evidence-based] view different from my own.   

      The saddest thing said to me in all my years of teaching was this, said by a frustrated student who’d not done well on an exam:  “Just tell me what you want me to say and I’ll say it.”  And I have to report that over the last decade or so, I’ve had a disturbing number of freshman students tell me — students whose judgment I had some reason to trust — that in high school you could be, and sometimes were, punished for disagreeing with a teacher or challenging him or her in class or on an exam.   If so, that is truly sad… and scary.   

    • kairanN

      I’m sure tons of kids pretend to have an ‘aha’ moment in this class and right afterward they go back to prayer group to complain about their radical atheist biology prof!  I think the solution to this problem is to examine at a broader base of misconceptions during the course aiming to teach scientific/critical thinking.  That way you end up teaching a skill set and hopefully the students take that with them, whether or not they’ve changed their beliefs…perhaps they will later as become used to seeing the world more clearly. 

      • kairanN

        …and be prepared to look at their core belief system. 

  • Anonymous

    Under sterile, strictly controlled, laboratory conditions, germs have been noted to morph into other types of germs.

    However, outdoors and in nature, germs will eventually morph into talking monkeys.

    Don’t question this theory Hemant.

    Just believe  

    • cipher

      Yes, that’s precisely how it works. You’ve caught us out.

      Moron.

    • Coyotenose

      JD, gene duplication is well-established, as well as other events that lead to greater complexity. Please read about them.

      • Anonymous

        Coyotenose,

        Do the predictive models put forward by evolutionary biologists rise to the level of the hard sciences?

        Skip that.  Do they even rise to the much lower threshold of the social sciences?

        Are you even well-read enough on this topic to even answer that question in an informed manner?

        • Heidi

          Do you still beat your wife?

        • Anonymous

          Do the predictive models put forward by evolutionary biologists rise to the level of the hard sciences?

          Evolution in biology has extremely high predictive value on levels ranging from genetic to morphological. Predictions based on evolutionary principles have been borne out time and time again and the identical nature of phylogenetic trees based on different criteria (be it genetic, morphological etc.) is only explainable within an evolutionary context. If you have the slightest wish to check on this, use the Google.

          Skip that.  Do they even rise to the much lower threshold of the social sciences?

          I will in fact skip it, since it’s merely a snide insult and clearly shows you to be trolling, and not actually actively seeking information.

          Are you even well-read enough on this topic to even answer that question in an informed manner?

          Oh so we’re pulling rank now? OK, I’ll bite sweetheart. You show me your academic bona fides to talk about the subject of evolution, and then I’ll show you mine.

    • http://thegodlessmonster.com/ The Godless Monster

      Genius…sheer genius. You do your kind proud, I’m sure.

      • Anonymous

        I know many people were worried that when we switched to patheos we would be flooded with fundies, but even with this guy the rate doesn’t seem to be that much higher than it was at our old site.

        • cipher

          Wait.

        • cipher

          Wait.

  • Marguerite

    If people can convince themselves they see Jesus in a Wal-Mart receipt (and somehow get this nonstory into the media):

    http://www.whptv.com/news/local/story/VIDEO-ADDED-Wal-Mart-receipt-has-image-of-Jesus/i0kmLGPH-k2IAbLKRH_VaQ.cspx?rss=50

    then it’s no real surprise that someone can go through university courses and still steadfastly believe in creationism.  People can convince themselves of just about anything, it seems.

  • Gibbon

    As far as I’m concerned the job of the educator is not to persuade the student into believing something, but rather to develop their skills comprehension, analysis and argument, and the best way of doing that is to expose them to the best ideas and theories and to teach them to comprehend the idea and why it is widely accepted. What the best education should not do, is indoctrination, which is what seems to be advocated by many comments on this blog.

    There is also the problem of the constitutionality of teaching in public schools what a student should or should not believe. Once a public school teacher starts telling a student that they should believe in evolution, then that steps over the line and violates the right to freedom of belief.

  • Leo B

    I haven’t read any of the other comments, but my thought is doesn’t the professor have an ethical duty to let potential employers know if his/her students are qualified?  Maybe I’m thinking about this too much from an engineering perspective, but, in engineering, skills like problem solving, understanding logic, etc. are generally more important than knowledge.  So, even if I possessed the knowledge to answer questions or could fake those skill sets (which I’m not entirely sure how one fakes such things, but apparently it is possible) to pass the tests, etc, but yet the professor knows I’m faking, isn’t it his/her ethical duty to lower my grade?  It may even be beneficial to the student.  If they go get a job, and then their employer finds out they are inept, they’ll lose their job.  …Though, if these students are faking skill sets they know they don’t possess, they’ll probably prepare for getting fired or try to find a boss with a similar mind set.  But even then, they could then use an argument from authority if they graduated from a so-called prestigious university and perhaps try to use that to pull a more credible Ben Stein (reference to “Expelled”) maneuver.  I.e., instead of us being able to discredit these creationist “doctors” for getting their degrees from diploma mills, they’ll be flaunting credentials from MIT.  That won’t be persuasive to us, but could be to the less informed.

  • http://twitter.com/summerseale Summer Seale

    This is going to sound extremely pedantic, but every single Code of Conduct in any University that I have seen includes the words “Integrity” and “Honesty”.

    If you hide your stupid beliefs about the age of the earth just to get a passing test score, or a diploma, it means you lied about your beliefs and your fundamental understanding. This is not a display of integrity nor honesty. On that basis alone, I would revoke any grade or diploma awarded.

    If somebody truly understood the scientific reasons of why we know the age of the universe and the earth, and then they reject that simply for their “faith”, they have then demonstrated that they actually understand nothing whatsoever about science. The core fundamental principle of science is that you accept what is testable and the results of countless tests, and you build upon that – regardless of how you “feel” about it. Feelings don’t come into it, and neither does faith.

    If somebody cannot grasp that, or cannot process it, or even accept it, they are not a scientist no matter what their grade or diploma says.

  • Anonymous

    The creationist student has attained the knowledge of the topic but lacks the understanding of it.  A college professor has a responsibility to instill understanding in addition to knowledge.  It is all very well having a student who can regurgitate what they have been told but a good student should be able to extend their field of expertise by expanding on the knowledge gained.  That will only come about from a thorough understanding of the subject. 

    A final exam is more than a test of knowledge.  I think the grade should be reduced accordingly.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_ELBGCUBPREUUO6QMO5VBYYKY7M John

    Having been the victim of indoctrination in a college course myself, I sort of sympathize with the student (although, obviously, she’s wrong).
    I took a course in human sexuality, and quickly discovered it was being taught by an extreme man-hating lesbian. She cited no sources; she merely gave her opinions and invited all the gay faculty members to give guest lectures. It was all politics, no science.
    Let me point out that I am a liberal and a feminist.
    But the following was on the final exam: Give an example of unnatural sex.
    My answer: I know from the lectures here that the answer you’re looking for is “there is no such thing as unnatural sex.” However, it seems to me that if I dress up as Santa Claus, douse my penis with gasoline and light it, then stick it into an electrical outlet, the case could be made that that’s unnatural. However, my official answer (because I want to pass this course) is “there is no such thing as unnatural sex.”
    She marked my answer wrong. swrote the “right” answer in the margin: “There is no such thing as unnatural sex,” and failed me in the course despite the fact that that was the only question I got “wrong.”
    Oh, and one of our in-class assignments was to view two short porno movies (caled “stag films” back then, and asked to to identify the “better” movie! They were both embarrassingly bad, but it turned out one movie was “better” because it featured an interracial couple!

    • cipher

      You should have threatened the college with litigation.

    • Anonymous

      This is part of the reason why I distrust humanities courses in general. Your course could have been taught as a science course, but it obviously wasn’t and I think that that subjectivity is the problem.  

  • http://religiouscomics.net/ Jeff P

    In many fields a PhD by itself means nothing without the extra
    experience of a post-doc position along with starting to establish a
    published track-record.  You also need the recommendation of your
    peers.  These one or two creationists that “slipped through” with a PhD
    (even from a prestigious university) would never get these extra
    necessary recommendations to land a job at a legitimate university. 
    They will only be able to land positions at places that function to mock or fight science – Liberty “University”, “Discovery” Institute, and the like.  It is sad that these places will hire these PhDs simply for propaganda purposes so they can say “some PhDs believe this, some PhDs believe that”, but I don’t think degrees should be withheld from people because of their personal beliefs who otherwise did the work necessary. 

    It is also a necessary part of science to try to disprove and find fault
    with existing scientific theory.  This is necessary to prune out bad
    ideas and focus attention on slightly different tangents.  Or maybe the
    “bad idea” was only bad in a small detail that was exposed with the
    criticism.  Then the idea can be made better.   Scientists “should” be doing the criticism for the purpose
    of advancing science.  Although, if actual criticism (backed up with valid reasons) is offered that allows science to move forward, does it really matter what the person’s intent was? 

    I don’t know anything about Ross.  Perhaps he would jump at the chance to let his name and title be used for propaganda purposes somewhere and sit on his butt collecting a salary doing nothing but spewing creationist dribble.  But on the other hand, if he is up to snuff, he might find some minor detail of evolutionary theory that legitimately needs to be rethought…  Who knows.

    • cipher

      Jeff, it isn’t that one or two who “slipped through”, it’s that their numbers are increasing. Furthermore, they do untold damage throughout the courses of their careers.

      Similarly, it isn’t that there are evangelical lunatics on TV. The problem is that millions hang on their every word.

      • http://religiouscomics.net/ Jeff P

        Cipher,  I’m not disagreeing with you about what the problem is.  I’m just apparently disagreeing with what we should do about it.  I just don’t think professors should withhold signatures on dissertations based on the personal beliefs of the PhD candidate.  I think signatures should only be withheld if the author fails to demonstrate original ideas, competency in reasoning, or mastering of the appropriate material.  People are always going to disagree about things.  I’ve seen ferocious disagreements between scientists that had nothing to do with religious beliefs.  We wouldn’t want professors withholding signatures for PhD candidates not buying into the professor’s pet theory about something.    

        • cipher

          I couldn’t disagree more. I’ve been saying it for years – not only should the degrees be withheld in the first place, but if they earn the degrees honestly, then flip out later on and start promoting nonsense, the degrees should be rescinded.

          We wouldn’t want professors withholding signatures for PhD candidates not buying into the professor’s pet theory about something.

          There is a profound difference between disagreeing about the mechanics of evolution, and proclaiming “Goddidit!”

          • http://religiouscomics.net/ Jeff P

            I wouldn’t support the rescinding of degrees.  What is done is done.  I would support, though, some kind of public record where professors who signed off on a PhD who later regretted it for whatever reason could indicate their change of heart.  This wouldn’t have any legal bearing on the degree, but could be used as a resource (like the published record) to determine if the PhD recipient is still in good graces with the people that launched him or her. 

          • http://religiouscomics.net/ Jeff P

            I wouldn’t support the rescinding of degrees.  What is done is done.  I would support, though, some kind of public record where professors who signed off on a PhD who later regretted it for whatever reason could indicate their change of heart.  This wouldn’t have any legal bearing on the degree, but could be used as a resource (like the published record) to determine if the PhD recipient is still in good graces with the people that launched him or her. 

          • http://religiouscomics.net/ Jeff P

            I wouldn’t support the rescinding of degrees.  What is done is done.  I would support, though, some kind of public record where professors who signed off on a PhD who later regretted it for whatever reason could indicate their change of heart.  This wouldn’t have any legal bearing on the degree, but could be used as a resource (like the published record) to determine if the PhD recipient is still in good graces with the people that launched him or her. 

    • Anonymous

      if he is up to snuff, he might find some minor detail of evolutionary theory that legitimately needs to be rethought

      Marcus Ross worked on mosasaurs from the Cretaceous Period.
      …the problem is that he thinks that the Cretaceous Period was all deposited during the Noachian Deluge a few thousand years ago. However, none of this is mentioned in his dissertation (so I hear, I’ve never had the pleasure of reading it) which reads like he interpreted the fossil record the same way most scientists do.

      He talks of the Flood when he’s with creationists. He talks of the Cretaceous when he’s with scientists. He is not going to rethink a thing.

      • cipher

        He talks of the Flood when he’s with creationists. He talks of the
        Cretaceous when he’s with scientists. He is not going to rethink a thing.

        Precisely. While he was sucking up to his profs at URI, he rationalized it in terms of “paradigms” (and they just ate it up, the gullible assholes). Now that he’s working for Jonathan Falwell, he just says whatever the hell he pleases.

      • cipher

        In fact, I’ll do you one better. He made it clear to them that he didn’t think there was conclusive evidence to support evolution, but, even if he thought there were – he’d refuse to believe it because the Bible contradicts it.

        How on earth is this science, and how do they rationalize giving this clinical psychotic a PhD? Again, I have to think they were afraid of a lawsuit (at least, that’s what I want desperately to believe).

  • cipher

    I’d like to add something else. I downloaded Portland State’s course catalog. Here is the description for the course entitled “Science and Pseudoscience”:

    Phl  306  
    Science  and  Pseudoscience  (4)

    An  examination  of  basic  issues  in  philosophy  of
    science  through  an  analysis  of  creation  science,
    faith  healing,  UFO  abduction  stories,  and  other
    pseudosciences.  Some  of  the  questions  addressed:
    What  distinguishes  science  from  pseudoscience?
    How  are  theories  tested?  When  is  evidence  reli-
    able?  Must  we  invoke  the  supernatural  to  explain
    certain  aspects  of  reality?

    Here you have a student who was a Christian fundamentalist, attending a secular university, who went out of her way to take a course in which she knew she’d be confronted with arguments in favor of evolution. She was clearly there for the sole purpose of proselytizing.

    You know the drill – I’m sure she was told, by her parents or her pastor, that she had a “Christian duty” to confront the heathens and proclaim “the Word”. I’m sorry, but she deserved to be smacked down for that reason alone.

  • cipher

    From Dr. Boghossian’s article:

    … I teach a class entitled “Science and Pseudoscience” (the student who
    wrote the above comments on her exam was enrolled in this class). In
    Science and Pseudoscience, students need to understand a basic
    mechanism, rooted in the scientific method, by which they can reliably
    discern true empirical claims from false empirical claims.

    As expected, we discuss a wide array of both scientific and
    pseudoscientific topics, including astrology, homeopathy, chelation
    therapy, and vaccinations. It is not enough for my students to know that
    vaccinations do not cause autism; they must also believe this and then
    eventually act accordingly. (In this case, action consists of not being
    afraid of vaccinating their children out of fear that they could cause
    their children to become autistic).

    The primary goal of every academic should be to bring students’ beliefs into lawful alignment with reality. An example from critical thinking may help to make this clear: there are certain ways of making decisions that are superior to other ways of making decisions.

    She knew what she was getting into. If she took the course, was exposed to this line of reasoning and responded by sticking her fingers in her ears and shouting, “LA, LA LA… I can’t hear you!” – she deserved to fail.

  • Frank

    This is one case where Hemant is absolutely wrong and the philosophy professor is absolutely right. This issue is not about forcing people to believe things, obviously one can’t. This is about basic honesty. If I ask a young earth creationist in everyday conversation how old the earth is, and they respond that the earth is 4.5 billion years old, then they have just lied to me. A test is no different. And the consequence for lying on a test should be a failing grade. It is that simple.

    The civil engineering example the prof gave makes it clear why educators are supposed to change students’ beliefs. If they are educating students to go into a particular profession, and the student can’t fulfill the responsibilities of that profession because they have false beliefs, then the student has to be failed. Why should a degree that isn’t linked to a particular profession be any different?

    As for Marcus Ross, the fact is he lied. He submitted a thesis that said, repeatedly, that things happened millions of years ago. He believed the earth was only thousands of years old. That is a lie. And a lie in a PhD thesis is an act of academic fraud. His degree should be revoked for that. Every professor who knowingly participated in giving a young earth creationist a paleontology PhD is an accomplice to that act of academic fraud, and should be fired for it, tenure or no tenure.

    Again, this is not about forcing beliefs on anyone. This is about honesty. Without honesty, a university cannot function, an organization cannot function, a society cannot function.

  • Filippo Salustri

    I think it depends on the extent of the curriculum.  Does not a teacher/professor/instructor have a moral obligation to prevent people from attaining a degree if he/she can demonstrate that the student’s beliefs will make the student unreliable in practice?

    Should a medical school prevent a student from graduating, regardless of the student’s grades, if the school knows the student intends to practice, say, “faith healing” or some similar scam?

    I say yes, the school must prevent the student from graduating.  And they should do it in every case where a graduate is known to use his/her academic credentials to advocate for a position disavowed by the school.

    And on the “beating down” on grad students.  I was one once.  I got beat on, intellectually.  It was a test of character.  The notion is that it takes more than intelligence to be an academic.  It takes character.  I sucked it up because I knew I’d get through it while those too weak to speak for truth and knowledge (i.e. what academics do) would not.

    I’m a prof now.

  • Clarinz

    The purpose of science is not to prove or disprove the existence of God, but to help us understand the world around and in us.  The purpose of religion is not to prove or disprove scientific ‘facts’, but to provide a framework for deeper thinking on the meaning of life, however one chooses to define it.  To me, they are never mutually exclusive, but address different endpoints in discovery.  Scientific facts are ever-changing as new hypotheses are tested and new technologies advance our ability to study things as never before.  Religious truths are solid and unchanging by definition. 

    How would you describe the taste of salt to someone?  It tastes like salt, great, but what does salt taste like?  You just know and you can’t really tell someone why or how salt tastes like it does.  Such is faith, you just know.

    As a PhD in biological sciences for 30 years, I will pray for all of you.


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