Monday, February 12, 2007

Lying for Jesus

 
Today's New York Times has an article about Marcus R. Ross [Believing Scripture but Playing by Science’s Rules]. Ross teaches earth science at Liberty University. He is a Young Earth Creationist who believes that the Earth is less than ten thousand years old.

Marcus Ross recently obtained his Ph.D. in paleontology from the University of Rhode Island and there's the rub. According to his supervisors, his thesis was very good—it analyzed the extinction of marine reptiles 65 million years ago.

How can Ross reconcile the thesis work with his belief that the Earth is less that 10,000 years old? Here's how,
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?”
Whoa! Let's unpack that statement and see where it takes us.

First, the analogy to differing points of view in an economics department is entirely specious. Capitalism and socialism are both valid positions on a controversial topic. The issue about which view is correct hasn't been settled—pehaps neither one is correct. If a socialist graduate student were to defend a thesis in front of a group of capitalist Professors, you'd expect some tough questions. The student would be expected to defend her point of view in a rational manner with evidence and facts to back up the argument.

The same thing would happen if the student was a supply-sider and the Professors were Marxists. In neither case would the student be in danger of failing just because she disagreed with her Professors. As a matter of fact, the Marxist Professors would be just as hard on a Marxist student. That's what Ph.D. orals are all about. If you can't think straight then you don't get a Ph.D., but there are many perfectly valid ways of thinking in economics.

Now, what would happen if a known Marxist student tried to deceive the Ph.D. oral committee by pretending to be a capitalist? The goal is to appease the Professors by telling them what they (presumably) want to hear, in order to get the Ph.D. That student would fail, I hope. Universities are no place for lies and deceit. You must stand up for what you believe and learn to defend it in an academic context. Otherwise, you don't deserve a Ph.D.

Marcus Ross thinks it's okay to write a thesis about 65 million year old reptiles when, in fact, he doesn't believe a word of it. He justifies this by referring to "different paradigms." Apparently, there's one kind of "paradigm" when you are trying to get your Professors to give you a Ph.D. and another kind of "paradigm" at all other times. This is just a euphemism for "lying." In this case, it's lying for Jesus.

If I had been on the Ph.D. oral exam, I would have honed in on the discrepancy between the dates in the thesis and the known beliefs of Marcus Ross. It is not intellectually honest to write something in a thesis that you "know" to be incorrect. I would want to know what Ross means when he writes that his marine reptiles went extinct 65 million years ago and I would expect an answer that's not intended to deceive me. If I'm not convinced, he doesn't get a "yes" vote from me no matter what the thesis says.

[Hat Tip: RichardDawkins.net]

18 comments :

  1. Not the only case of this. http://www.creationontheweb.com/content/view/3545/ - para beginning 'Because of known discrimination against creationist scientist at secular universities'

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  2. I disagree with your point that you have to stand up for what you believe in order to get a PhD.
    If that guy thinks its cool to write a thesis on something that he anyway does not believe than it is is problem.
    It is obvious that whit that attitude he will not get very far in science. the problem will sovle itself.
    I guess, he did his PhD in paleontology in the hope to find evidence that the world is 6000 years old and to prove that the whole evolution business is wrong. obviously he did not find it.
    if he wants to waste his life on such a hpeless quest, hi will continue.
    more likely, he will go work for the Institute of creation research where everybody else thinks like he does.

    darth314

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  3. I apologise for all the typos in my last post.

    next time, I'll do better.

    darth314

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  4. >>>>>Marcus Ross simply behaved like a good methodological naturalists, conducting his research as if the reptiles he studied were 65 million years old.

    It's nice to know what the Drs. Moran, Myers, Lynch, and Rosenhouse really think of scientists who adopt methodological naturalism. I wonder how long it will be before theistic evolutionists like Kenneth Miller and Francis Collins are accused of "lying for Jesus"?
    <<<<<

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  5. Larry,

    This is a bunch of crap. After passing exams, a PhD requires nothing more than fulfilling a mutual agreement: the student agrees to do a certain problem and to write about it cogently in the form of a thesis. The advisor and the committee agree that the problem posed is worthy of a PhD, and when the work is completed the committee evaluates its quality. That's it—it doesn't matter one iota whether the student values his own work. It's not lying. Any judgment on the character of the student is a matter for prospective employees, not for his committee. A PhD is nothing more than a massive homework assignment. Complete it, and you get credit, even if you think your own thesis is based on a bunch of crap.

    I am quite sure there are grad students in, for example, string theory who came to believe that quantum loop gravity was a superior approach and that string theory was nothing more than mathematics. They may even have believed that going in, but the only suitable advisor may have been a string theorist. They would not be expected to abandon their work and start over or to transfer. Get real.

    And it is perfectly reasonable for Ross to write about, for example, the Cambrian explosion. Your exposure to scientific arguments is clearly lacking, or else you are being purposely obtuse. It is a standard approach in science to argue: Let's accept one of your premises and demonstrate that, even with that concession I'm willing to make, you are still wrong. Ross is free to take that approach, he is within the accepted orthodoxy of science to argue from an old earth position, which he disavows, to claim that there are still problems for evolution. This kind of argument occurs all the time in science. Maybe you should stop typing "IDiot" four hundred times a day and do some science.

    Larry Moran wrote:
    "If I had been on the Ph.D. oral exam, I would have honed in on the discrepancy between the dates in the thesis and the known beliefs of Marcus Ross. It is not intellectually honest to write something in a thesis that you "know" to be incorrect."

    And if I had been his advisor when you asked that, I’d have said "unless you are claiming he fabricated data and have proof, that's irrelevant, you fool, sit down and be quiet" and would have told Ross to ignore it.

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  6. David says,

    A PhD is nothing more than a massive homework assignment. Complete it, and you get credit, even if you think your own thesis is based on a bunch of crap.

    It's sad to hear you say something as stupid as that.

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  7. Larry, you are way off base on this one. Science doesn't care what people think, only what the data is. You would have been censured for harrassing a PhD candidate about personal beliefs as he presents a respectable thesis. You don't have to like him, but he did earn his degree the same way everybody else has - through hard work.

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  8. What astonishes me is the degree of self-deception involved here. Ross must understand geochronology and radiodating - how can he maintain young-earth beliefs in the face of such evidence?

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  9. He completed the requirements for a doctoral degree and does not stand accused of academic dishonesty; that is all that matters.

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  10. theodore says,

    Larry, you are way off base on this one. Science doesn't care what people think, only what the data is.

    With all due respect, that's a kindergarten view of science. Technicians generate data. Scientist think about what the data means and how it contributes to our understanding of the natural world.

    You don't get a Ph.D. just for being a glorified technician. The purpose of the thesis is to put your work into context and interpret the data with respect to everything that has been published earlier. The purpose of the oral exam is to question candidates to make sure they understand what they've done.

    In my department, part of the thesis (and the oral exam) is to describe what you would do next if you were to continue to work on your project. All of our graduate students know this and they know they have to be prepared to think on their feet or they won't pass the oral exam.

    I don't know what kind of experience you've had with Ph.D. candidates but I fear for the future of science if all you expect is that they blindly pump out data until they have enough to fill up a "thesis."

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  11. The purpose of the thesis is to put your work into context and interpret the data with respect to everything that has been published earlier. The purpose of the oral exam is to question candidates to make sure they understand what they've done. - Larry

    Are you suggesting that Ross didn't understand his own thesis, or was not prepared to defend it?
    Or that he would not be able to continue the project in the future?
    Apparently he seems very comfortable working in multiple paradigms - something that is not foreign to methodological naturalism as a discipline.

    It's a shame that your own students may never feel the freedom to question an existing paradigm while in your program. How many wonderful discoveries may be lost as a result?

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  12. theodore says,

    It's a shame that your own students may never feel the freedom to question an existing paradigm while in your program. How many wonderful discoveries may be lost as a result?

    Not only are they free to question, they are encouraged to do so. And they are encouraged to be honest and open about their questioning.

    One of the things I won't tolerate is lying about what you believe to be true. That's not what university is all about. You have the freedom to question, but you also have to suffer the consequences of your decision. Lying is a way of avoiding the consequences and the challenges that come when you submit your beliefs to the rigors of scientific debate.

    That's what Ross did. He hid behind some gobbledygook about different paradigms. And you fell for it. Shame on you.

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  13. It's interesting to see you rail against the comment that "Science doesn't care what people think, only what the data is." It seems to me that the original commentator means that the integrity of one's work cannot be determined on the basis of the scientific validity of one's personal beliefs. To say that they were related, after all, would be unscientific at best, ethically irresponsible at worst. You disagree. Do you mean to say that anywhere scientific data and personal belief coincide, the scientific explanation trumps?

    Regarding your dismissal of the word "paradigm" as "gobbledygook," you should know that it is actually quite common to describe as a paradigm a set of ideas that carry the same epistemological assumptions. Scientific data, of course, are no exception to this.

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  14. Well, there's a lot of people who believe Jesus miraculously rose from the dead who are quite capable of applying the scientific method to discover insights into treating the human animal in order to prolong health and life. Many even consider it a religous duty to use science to heal.

    As an instance, one can believe the Earth is only 6000 years old, while accepting that the science strongly indicates otherwise. It just means that God must have made the Earth look old, while science can only investigate the way it looks.

    If Ross had been dishonest, well, he shouldn't have received his doctorate. But it doesn't appear he hid his religious beliefs. If he later uses his PhD to claim a scientific imprimatur to make religious claims, then that would be dishonest.

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  15. Larry said,
    One of the things I won't tolerate is lying about what you believe to be true.

    I haven't seen any evidence to indicate that Ross did this. Did he state that his belief is that the earth is billions of years old? No. He merely did research under an old earth model using old earth data sets. This is not uncommon in the historical sciences where data can be interpreted various ways and often a model must be chosen at the outset. Dating methods themselves often require the prerequisite choice of a model before data can be interpreted.

    At any rate it is inconsequential to the validity of his thesis. His work was, in the words of his advisor, "impeccable". That wouldn't change even if he believed in unicorns.

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  16. Do we really want to scare potentially talented creationist students away from pursuing a Ph.D. (viz., by effectively announcing they have absolutely no chance of getting a Ph.D. if they persist in their beliefs) when pursuing a Ph.D. is almost certain to cure their ignorance? I'm inclined to think not.

    If Ross winds up substantively deceiving his institution or his students, Rhode Island can always revoke his doctorate.

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  17. I had the pleasure of listening to Ross speak last night at my church. He states that his Doctoral Advisor at URI was extremely aware of his creationist position. They would discuss and debate it regularly.

    His advisor had asked that Ross write his thesis from an old earth perspective because he (the advisor) would have absolutely no idea how to evaluate the merit of a thesis otherwise.

    Everybody was intellectually and morally upfront on this, the advisor's position is understandable, and so is the position held by Ross.

    I think it was a win - win.

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  18. Sorry Larry, but your completely wrong on this one. Fortunately, you were not on this guy's PhD committee. If he is lying for Jesus, you must be lying for Beelzebub.

    westerndunes@rediffmail.com

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