Ross received his Ph.D. in geosciences from Rhode Island University His thesis topic was on a class of marine lizards called mosasaurs. These animals lived more than one hundred million years ago and they went extinct at the end of the Cretaceous, 65 million years ago. Ross is a Young Earth Creationist (YEC). He believes in the literal truth of the Bible. This includes a belief that all species were created in a 6 day week only 10,000 years ago. Ross is currently a Professor of Biology at Liberty University, run by Rev. Jerry Falwell, where he teaches a Christian version of Earth Science and a required course (CRST 290) on the History of Life.
An interdisciplinary study of the origin and history of life in the universe. Faculty of the Center for Creation Studies will draw from science, religion, history, and philosophy in presenting the evidence and arguments for creation and evolution. This course is required for all Liberty students. The video taped course is 3 semester hours credit.According to an article in the New York Times (Believing Scripture but Playing by Science’s Rules) Ross did not discuss his YEC beliefs in his thesis, Instead, he wrote his thesis as though he believed in an Earth that was billions of years old and as though species evolved and went extinct over periods of millions of years. In other words, Ross did not tell the truth about his true "scientific" beliefs when he wrote his thesis. I assume that he also didn't discuss his true beliefs during the Ph.D. oral exam when his examining committee questioned him on his thesis work, including his interpretation and its implications.
What does the creationist community think of all this? Well, first of all they don't think that Ross was "deceptive" but they have a very peculiar definition of deceptive. The creationists admire Ross for not hiding his belief in a 10,000 year old Earth while getting a Ph.D. in geology. They see nothing wrong with "pretending" to be a scientist while attending a "secular" university. Here's how Sal Cordova puts in on Uncommon Descent.
For the pro-ID and creationist students out there, Ross shows how to make it through a Darwinist controlled secular institution. Ross was never deceptive about his beliefs, yet demonstrated he could accept Old Earth Darwinism as a working but falsifiable hypothesis. One has a better chance of overturning prevailing paradigms when one is well-versed in it. Accepting a wrong theory as a working hypothesis is no more a profession of faith than accepting the wrong idea that the square root of two is rational in order to prove it is irrational.Let's hear from Evelyn, a graduate student in geology who just happens to be working on dating technology for her thesis (Young Earth Creationists Are NOT Geologists).
Why else am I so worked up about “Dr.” Ross and his Young Earth Creationist “geologist” friends? Currently, I date rocks for a living. In my free time, I try to date men, but mostly I’m dating rocks these days. More formally, I am a graduate student in training to become an argon-argon isotope geochronologist. Basically, I am learning how to use argon isotopes to determine dates for rocks.There are two issues here and it's best to separate them. First and foremost, should we give Ph.D. degrees in paleontology to students who say the Earth is less than 10,000 years old and life didn't evolve? In order to simplify the discussion, let's just consider a hypothetical honest Marcus Ross who tries to defend Young Earth Creationism in a thesis. We can imagine that the thesis will be largely devoted to refuting all of the evidence for an old Earth and for evolution.
I am learning that dating rocks and minerals is no easy task. For instance, this spring I am working on obtaining ten dates from a group of volcanic rocks from the Ninetyeast Ridge, a 5000 km long hotspot track in the Indian Ocean. I anticipate that my samples will range in age from about 40 million to 80 million years old. These ten age dates are going to require a solid three months of my time. Not just three months of ordinary, 9 to 5 labwork either. I am working 60+ hour weeks, and I’m also trying to do some homework now and then between samples. The past week has been particularly grueling as we (two of us– I’m working with the lab supervisor) are trying to prepare a group of samples to send off to the nuclear reactor we use to turn potassium into argon, an important step in the argon-argon dating process. For the past week, I’ve been working 14-15 hour days during the week. On the weekend, I took it easy… I worked for six hours on Saturday and for eleven hours on Sunday. Monday morning I was back at lab at 9 am, and I just returned home now (Tuesday) at 2 in the morning. Once we ship the samples off to the reactor next week, my schedule will relax again, and I’ll only work 8 to 10 hour days.
I work very hard as a geochronologist. There are many people like me who work extremely hard to produce these dates of rocks and minerals. Theoretically, someone with a Ph.D in geology appreciates how difficult these dates are to obtain and understands the science behind the isotopic dating systems. I just don’t understand how a well-educated geologist could be a Young Earth Creationist. I am angry because here is someone who is clearly NOT a very good geologist but who has GOOD geological credentials… and he’s essentially trying to discredit what is swiftly becoming my life’s work. I feel insulted, personally, by people like “Dr.” Ross. I work hard, every day, to better understand the Earth. I work hard, very hard, to obtain concrete dates for my rocks. Having a Ph.D geologist tell me that Earth is only 6,000 years old is absurd and makes me very angry and also very, very sad.
Asked whether it was intellectually honest to write a dissertation so at odds with his religious views, he said: “I was working within a particular paradigm of earth history. I accepted that philosophy of science for the purpose of working with the people” at Rhode Island.
And though his dissertation repeatedly described events as occurring tens of millions of years ago, Dr. Ross added, “I did not imply or deny any endorsement of the dates.”Ross is a Young Earth Creationist. Of that there's no doubt. He rejects all evidence that the Earth is 4.5 billion years old. He rejects evolution in favor of a six day spree of poofing species into existence. But an old Earth and evolution are scientific facts that form the core principles of biology and geology. All scientific concepts, ideas, and theories are based on those scientific facts. You can't make sense of biology for example, unless you understand and accept evolution. ("Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.")
If Ross rejects evolution and an old Earth then there's something seriously wrong with his science. He doesn't deserve to get the highest degree that a university has to offer. Why is that so hard for people to understand? If science isn't about scientific truth then what is science?
Part of the problem is that people make the common mistake of assuming that science is little more than doing a bunch of experiments and publishing the results in a thesis or a scientific paper. They seem to think that science is all about collecting data and little else. But science is much more than that. You also have to be able to interpret your results and put them into context. You have to formulate reasonable hypotheses, not just test them. In order to interpret your results you need to demonstrate that you understand and accept the basic concepts that have been worked out over many decades by the giants upon whose shoulders you wish to stand.
Of course there's no rule in science that says you must accept the current consensus. Quite the contrary. One of the requirements of good science is that you always question authority and try to keep an open mind. Skepticism goes hand-in-hand with curiosity. But, as the saying goes, your mind mustn't be so open that your brains fall out.
The defenders of kooks will always point to the men and women who led us in new directions and overthrew the reigning consensus. As scientists, we also revere these men and women. The trick is to distinguish the true revolutionaries from the true kooks. We all know the, mostly apocryphal, stories about how they laughed at Darwin. Wegener, and Einstein. We forget that they also laughed at Bozo the clown.
We encourage students, especially graduate students, to come up with new explanations of natural phenomena. Personally, I have a soft spot for students whose intelligence and curiosity leads then to question authority—I'm not as fond of students who simply memorize and regurgitate what's in the textbooks. Questioning is evidence of a working mind.
So, how do we resolve differences of opinion in an academic environment? How do we distinguish between a revolutionary and Bozo? The answer is we fight it out in the meeting rooms and the journals. The weapons are facts and rational thinking. If someone wants to question a scientific consensus then all they have to do is marshal the facts and evidence and present it to the scientific community in a rational and logical manner. If you are successful, then science advances another step and the scientist who came up with the idea gets lots of praise and kudos (and maybe a Nobel Prize).
Of course there's a downside. If you fail in your attempt then you may be branded as a kook unless you recognize that you fought the good fight and abandon your untenable idea. It is honorable to give up when your ideas are shot down. This sort of thing happens all the time. I've had many wonderful ideas that didn't pan out.
Dr. Fastovsky and other members of the Rhode Island faculty said they knew about these disagreements, but admitted him anyway. Dr. Boothroyd, who was among those who considered the application, said they judged Dr. Ross on his academic record, his test scores and his master’s thesis, “and we said, ‘O.K., we can do this.’ ”
... Dr. Fastovsky said he had talked to Dr. Ross “lots of times” about his religious beliefs, but that depriving him of his doctorate because of them would be nothing more than religious discrimination. “We are not here to certify his religious beliefs,” he said. “All I can tell you is he came here and did science that was completely defensible.”If a student writes a thesis that fails to convince the examining committee then the student fails or re-writes the thesis. This is a normal part of the process. You have to understand that by "failing to convince" I don't mean that the members of the Ph.D. oral committee are instantly converted to the student's way of thinking. What usually happens is that they are convinced that the thesis is a valid scientific idea even though they may not agree.
I don't think people understand this. The thesis and its defense are as much—perhaps more—about concepts and ideas than about data. If you use the world "belief" in this context then, yes, students can be failed for their "beliefs." (I prefer not to use "belief" since it's such a loaded word.) We don't flunk students because of their religious beliefs; we flunk them because their understanding of basic scientific concepts is flawed. If their science is motivated by their religion then that's just unfortunate coincidence. Students who believe in a 10,000 year old Earth should flunk a Ph.D. oral no matter how they came to believe such nonsense. They could be atheists.
What about the second issue that's mentioned above? The Ross case gets complicated because he did not do what any honest scientist should do and defend his "scientific" opinion in public. There's nothing in his thesis about Young Earth Creationism. However, his real views were well known because he had been consorting with Young Earth Creationists for some time. Ross even made a DVD attacking the fossil record. You can see part of it at The Cambrian Explosion, Lecture by Stephen Meyer and Marcus Ross. Incidentally, Marcus Ross comes across as a very well-spoken and knowledgeable young man in this video.
In this situation we have an example of someone who carefully hid his true belief from the thesis committee, or at least went out of his way to give them an excuse to avoid facing up to the main problem. This is deceptive and antithetical to how science is supposed to operate (see Some People Defend Lying for Jesus). It opens a whole other can of worms. While most of us would agree that openly advocating a young Earth in your thesis would be grounds for failure, we couldn't fail someone who effectively lied about his "scientific" opinion. We put our faith in honesty and scientific integrity whenever possible. It's the default assumption.
But here's the rub. Although there wasn't anything in his thesis about a 10,000 year old Earth it wasn't the case that his examining committee was completely ignorant of Ross' true views on paleontology. In fact, they were aware of the history. They knew Ross was a Young Earth Creationist when they admitted him to graduate school and they had no reason to suspect that he had changed his mind.
The bottom line is that faculty of Rhode Island University gave a Ph.D. degree in geology to someone they knew to be a "scientist" who believed that the Earth is only 10,000 years old. Furthermore, they gave a Ph.D. to someone who they knew was deliberately misrepresenting his "scientific" views in his thesis. They had every reason to suspect that this misrepresentation was for the sole purpose of getting the Ph.D. since Ross knew that by being honest about his rejection of a old Earth, he would not graduate. This is a double whammy since not only was Ross ignorant of the basic principles in his field but also ignorant of the principles of scientific integrity.