One week ago I commented on an opinion piece in the Vancouver Sun. Peter McKnight wrote in support of giving Marcus Ross a Ph.D. in geosciences. I disagreed (Peter McKnight of the Vancouver Sun Weighs in on the Marcus Ross Incident).
I sent Peter a link to my blog and he replied. We've exchanged emails. I then asked permission to post his original message to see what kind of feedback it gets here. Peter has just given permission so here is his letter.
Thanks for notifying me of this. It is a worthwhile discussion you're having, but I still don't agree with you.
You say there's plenty of evidence there is something wrong with Ross's science, but you fail to say what that evidence is. Indeed, what you're really saying is that there's something wrong with him - that is, with his belief.
This might be, but it doesn't mean there's anything wrong with his science or his understanding of science. You say doctoral students must understand basic concepts and ideas and think on their feet and defend their ideas etc. Where is the evidence that Ross failed to do so? I assume he did exactly that in his oral exam.
It seems that you want nothing less than Ross's assent to an old Earth theory, which is, of course, a matter of belief, not understanding. And rather than launching into a discussion of epistemic conditions for belief, let me just say that I, for example, understand intelligent design theory quite well I think, and yet I don't believe a word of it.
And one need not be a postmodern relativist or a fundamentalist Christian (which, I've argued for a long time, amount to the same thing) to refuse to accept that that scientific theories are literally true - if by true we mean correspondent with reality. There are, after all, pragmatist philosophies of science that suggest scientific theories are "true" in so far as they work, but that they aren't true in the sense most people give to that term. I assume you reject these philosophies of science, but surely you wouldn't deny a student a doctorate because he doesn't subscribe to the correspondence theory of truth.
Look, I think Ross is dishonest, but I don't know that for a fact. For all I know, maybe he really is a radical relativist, who believes science and religion present two incommensurable paradigms. But either way, he's doing enormous damage to his religion, and it was the point of my column to make that case.