What to do with the creationist dissident?

February 25, 2007 at 9:45 pm Leave a comment

Marcus Ross’s 197-page Ph.D. dissertation, submitted to the geosciences faculty of the University of Rhode Island in December, might have been perfectly run-of-the-mill, except for one slight point: the dissertation contradicted his own beliefs.

ross.jpgDr. Ross’s topic was mamosaurs, a marine reptile which (according to the dissertation) died out 65 million years ago. Ross himself, however, is a creationist and believes that the reptiles in question couldn’t have lived more than 10,000 years ago.

Why did Ross write in an evolutionary paradigm—and was it intellectually honest to do so? According to the New York Times article (published last week):

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.”

Ross’s research, according to his dissertation advisors, was “impeccable.” Yet the situation has raised a bit of controversy: If Ross did not actually believe what he wrote in his dissertation, should he have been granted his degree?

Some think the answer is no.

Many scientists, for example, worry about how figures like Ross will use their secular degrees to advance their creationist views.

Others, like Dr. Michael L. Dini, a professor of biology education at Texas Tech University, maintain that part of being a scientist is actually believing the philosophy of science that stands behind their research.

Dini is quoted in the Times article as saying, “Scientists do not base their acceptance or rejection of theories on religion, and someone who does should not be able to become a scientist.

Advice to the “Dark Side”

I am impressed that the University of Rhode Island went ahead and conferred a Ph.D. degree on Ross despite his religious views. To my mind, this was right: Ross produced the research according to the rules of the scientific establishment, demonstrating that he does indeed know his science.

Those who defend evolution have reason to be worried about individuals like Ross, yet I think that granting Ross his degree may be the best thing evolutionists can do for themselves if they wish to protect their theory (and their integrity).

After all, one of the biggest reasons for skepticism about evolution is that the market of ideas is not free.

Science is dominated by evolutionary thought, say the critics, because alternative interpretations are excluded a priori. If creationist researchers were given as much money and visibility as their evolutionist counterparts, the state of scientific conclusions on evolution might very well be different.

As long as science rules God out from the start, people like me will continue to make this argument and will continue to question—for good reason, I think—whether the scientific establishment has something to hide.

Hence, if evolutionists wish to persuade the general public to accept evolution, I think they’re going have to do exactly as the Rhode Island faculty did and allow for competing views. May the market be opened and may the best idea win.

As for me, all I can say is that I would love to hear from the horse’s mouth why Ross remains a creationist even after the rigmarole of his educational experience. Anyone who can write nearly 200 pages in defense of an evolutionary paradigm and still come out an unbeliever has got to have a fascinating perspective—one that is probably worthy of very careful consideration.

[Hat tip: Jonathan Vigh]

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profile.jpgI am working on my M.A. in Religion at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan. Besides having a big interest in theology, history, ethics, and the deep stuff of life, I am also very fond of Mediterranean food, snow, and the color red.

Email me: jamie.kiley@gmail.com

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