Fundamentalist scientists

A previous student of mine pointed out an interesting article in The New York Times, on a fundamentalist Ph.D. geologist who is a young earther. Now there’s someone who’s going to have an interesting career.

Not that this sort of thing is hugely unusual. Back when I was in graduate school (almost 20 years ago now—urh) I knew another physics Ph.D. student who was very conservatively religious and was inclined toward a young-earth position. It’s a crazy position to hold if you’re going to be a physicist of any breadth, but if you’re planning to hunker down and just build experimental equipment and take data you might be able to get away with it. I figure any religious scientist has to engage in some intellectual compartmentalization, but fundamentalist scientists must have to engage in an extreme version.

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About Taner Edis

Professor of physics at Truman State University

  • Explicit Atheist

    Jason Rosenhouse’s Evolution blog got this correct: Why is This in the New York Times?

    He makes 3 points about this that are correct:

    1) The analogy with a socialist economist studying in a supply side department as an explanation for the young earth creationist’s thesis doesn’t hold water. In this case the young earth creationist wrote a thesis that is incompatable with his own beliefs and thus was not intellectually honest, whereas in the economist case no such dishonesty by the student can be assumed.
    2) The article asks three questions as if those questions posed debatable controversies or conundrums for the university and the student when in fact the obvious answer to all three questions is clearly no.
    3) Its a bit much to make this into a front page story. Although I do think this topic is worthy of an article in the NY Times, it just doesn’t merit top of the fold first page placement, particularly given its limited focus on just one graduate student.

  • Malcolm Kirkpatrick

    The analogy with a socialist economist seems pretty close to me. I don’t see that it’s “dishonest” for an observer to say that some set A of facts is compatible with some theoretical model X, while the observer him/herself prefers a different model Y.

    This raises the question of what taxpayers get from supporting science or history however. Richard Feinman wrote that the State should not be in the position of mandating The Truth, but what studies then get tax subsidies? Or may someone who believes that the moon is made of green cheese teach Astronomy? Is a fan of Green Lantern and Spider Man qualified to teach Literature?

    In Economics, it has almost come to that.

    The least problematic position, it seems to me, is to get the State (government, generally) out of the education business, except for its own instrumental needs (military research, pollution control, vector tracing, etc.).