Some of you will remember Marcus Ross. He is a Young Earth Creationist who obtained a Ph.D. in paleontology from the University of Rhode Island [Lying for Jesus]. Ross now has a faculty position at Liberty University where he teaches courses in religion and science. PZ Myers has posted an update on his career [So what's Marcus Ross up to nowadays?].
How could Ross write an acceptable Ph.D. thesis if he believes that the Earth is less than 10,000 years old? We know the answer to this question. Ross did not discuss his true beliefs in his thesis or during his Ph.D. oral exam. Instead, he wrote a thesis on the fossil record as though he accepted the scientific age of the Earth. In other words, Ross said one thing in public lectures and another in the exam room.
I was reminded of this episode while listening to Kirk Durston last week in Denyse O'Leary's course. Kirk is a Ph.D. candidate in biophysics at the University of Guelph [Kirk Durston's Proof of God]. At some point he will write scientific papers and a thesis and he will be examined on his understanding of science. I wonder what he will do?
In his talk, Kirk tried very hard to give the impression that his scientific findings point to the existence of an intelligent designer. There was a brief mention of the distinction between science and philosophy but it wasn't at all clear whether he was stepping over the line or not. He concludes that
One thing was clear, however. Kirk claimed that his work demonstrated the impossibility of evolving protein folds. He presented some calculations showing the total number of mutations that could have occurred since life began (1041, if I remember correctly). Then he showed that it would take far more than 1041 mutations to evolve the known protein folds.
In his lecture he clearly states that the results refute "Darwinism." He repeated over and over again that his thesis work was scientific evidence against evolution and in favor of intelligent design creationism.
It seems to me that Kirk Durston has only two choices at this point. Either he's sincere about his "scientific" claims, in which case they go into his thesis, or, alternatively, he's willing to disguise his true "scientific" conclusion by writing a thesis that's more likely to be accepted by the scientists on his committee.
To my way of thinking, scientific integrity should not be compromised in order to get a degree by trickery. But this presents a serious problem for Intelligent Design Creationists. In their public lectures, and in articles for the popular press, they make a big deal about the "scientific" nature of their findings. If that's what they truly believe then they should have no qualms about defending it in a scientific context. In other words, it goes in the thesis and let the chips fall where they may.
But here's the rub. Intelligent Design Creationists know full well that their version of science will not pass scrutiny by other scientists. Kirk Durston will not get his Ph.D. if he's being honest about his belief in his findings. It is simply not true that protein folding is scientific proof of intelligent design and a refutation of evolution.
So, Kirk like other creationists before him, will write the thesis that his committee will pass and not the one that he would be writing if he were honest.
The next hurdle will be the Ph.D. oral exam. Members of his committee know that he has been making very vocal claims about the significance of his Ph.D. research. They know that he has been making claims that the work refutes evolution even if that's not what's in the thesis. Should they question him about the difference between what he says in the thesis and what he says on the lecture circuit? Do they have a right to fail him if they think that what's in his thesis does not reflect his true opinion about the science—and that his true opinion is scientifically invalid?
I think the committee has this right and I think that a Ph.D. candidate should be prepared to defend any "scientific" claims they make outside of the lab.
There will be a few other problems with Kirk's thesis but they are easily fixed. For example, he claimed that ancient bacteria were complex and subsequent evolution has just been degradation of the genome. In the lecture he showed us several references. We now know that he is misinterpreting these scientific papers.
I assume this will go in the thesis because Kirk seemed to be really sincere when he talked about this as scientific fact. Member of his committee will read the thesis, correct his misconceptions, and point him to other scientific papers that reveal the true nature of bacterial evolution. This will give him an opportunity to learn about good science. At the end of the process Kirk will not be making scientifically inaccurate statements in public because he will know better.
There are quite a few examples of these factual errors but I assume they will all be fixed before the oral exam.
The bottom line is can Kirk Durston get a Ph.D.? If so, how should he do it? What do you think?
[Photo Credit: Theses from Jackson State University]