February 12, 2007
Monday morning madness
Someone should have told the New York Times that this idiot is neither scientist nor newsworthy. (So why am I bothering with this one? Good question.)
There is nothing much unusual about the 197-page dissertation Marcus R. Ross submitted in December to complete his doctoral degree in geosciences here at the University of Rhode Island.
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.”
But Dr. Ross is hardly a conventional paleontologist. He is a “young earth creationist” — he believes that the Bible is a literally true account of the creation of the universe, and that the earth is at most 10,000 years old.
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.”
He likened his situation to that of a socialist studying economics in a department with a supply-side bent. “People hold all sorts of opinions different from the department in which they graduate,” he said. “What’s that to anybody else?”
Intellectual dishonesty—accept no substitute.
In a telephone interview, Dr. Ross said his goal in studying at secular institutions “was to acquire the training that would make me a good paleontologist, regardless of which paradigm I was using.”
Today he teaches earth science at Liberty University, the conservative Christian institution founded by the Rev. Jerry Falwell where, Dr. Ross said, he uses a conventional scientific text.
“We also discuss the intersection of those sorts of ideas with Christianity,” he said. “I don’t require my students to say or write their assent to one idea or another any more than I was required.”
But he has also written and spoken on scientific subjects, and with a creationist bent. While still a graduate student, he appeared on a DVD arguing that intelligent design, an ideological cousin of creationism, is a better explanation than evolution for the Cambrian explosion, a rapid diversification of animal life that occurred about 500 million years ago.
Online information about the DVD identifies Dr. Ross as “pursuing a Ph.D. in geosciences” at the University of Rhode Island. It is this use of a secular credential to support creationist views that worries many scientists.
Eugenie C. Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education, a private group on the front line of the battle for the teaching of evolution, said fundamentalists who capitalized on secular credentials “to miseducate the public” were doing a disservice.
Michael L. Dini, a professor of biology education at Texas Tech University, goes even further. In 2003, he was threatened with a federal investigation when students complained that he would not write letters of recommendation for graduate study for anyone who would not offer “a scientific answer” to questions about how the human species originated.
Nothing came of it, Dr. Dini said in an interview, adding, “Scientists do not base their acceptance or rejection of theories on religion, and someone who does should not be able to become a scientist.”
… Dr. Scott, a former professor of physical anthropology at the University of Colorado, said in an interview that graduate admissions committees were entitled to consider the difficulties that would arise from admitting a doctoral candidate with views “so at variance with what we consider standard science.” She said such students “would require so much remedial instruction it would not be worth my time.”
That is not religious discrimination, she added, it is discrimination “on the basis of science.”
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