Monday, February 12, 2007

Is it OK to have a young earth creationist get a PhD in Paleontology?

Very interesting article in the NY Times about a Young Earth creationist who just got his PhD in Paleontology at the University of Rhode Island. The main question of the article was - should biologists consider this a bad thing? That is, if someone plans to do the work of a PhD thesis and will do it well, should their motivation for doing the PhD be considered when (1) accepting them into the program and (2) giving them the PhD?

The person, Marcus Ross is now teaching at Liberty University and some are concerned is using his credentials as a PhD Paleontologist to promote Intelligent Design as a scientific theory.

I am pretty torn about this one. On the one hand, when there ar elimited resources for training and funding PhD students, why waste money on someone who will end up probably not contributing to the field in a useful manner? On the other hand, if he is able to separate his personal religious beliefs from his scientific work, all the power to him.

I guess I have no real objection per se to him being a Young Earth Creationsist and getitng the PhD - after all many many many scientists have conflicting beliefs about science and religion. But I would object to training him if I knew that he simply planned to use his credentials to make anti scientific statements. Similarly, if someone was in the Med School at Davis and I knew they were planning on using their MD to write prescriptions for themselves and their friends, I would not support their place in the Med School. In the end, intent is a part of education and training and simply doing the work required is not enough to have me spend time helping train someone.
You can read comments on the article at the Times Website here


  1. The problem as I see it is one of legality. While in your MD example there are laws against providing prescriptions frivolously (even if they are often hard to enforce), there are no laws against using the credibility of a scientific degree to attack science, and any attempt to refuse entry to creationists would probably bring accusations of illegal religious persecution.

    Of course, if "national security" is involved all legality gets thrown out -- I doubt very much that an openly fundamentalist Muslim could get into a nuclear engineering program in the US. Maybe we could try to convince Homeland Security that creationist paleontologists are also a security risk.

  2. I was talking abut what to do in theory, not in reality. In reality, (1) one never has a clue what the real motivations of people are (2) admissions committees deal with lots of different types of information (3) religion should play no role in admission plans to stay in science should AND do ... it is not about religious persectution no matter what they might say. After all, ID is not science.


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