There is nothing much unusual about the 197-page dissertation Marcus R. Ross submitted in December to complete his doctoral degree in geosciences here at the University of Rhode Island.
His subject was the abundance and spread of mosasaurs, marine reptiles that, as he wrote, vanished at the end of the Cretaceous era about 65 million years ago. The work is “impeccable,” said David E. Fastovsky, a paleontologist and professor of geosciences at the university who was Dr. Ross’s dissertation adviser. “He was working within a strictly scientific framework, a conventional scientific framework.”
But Dr. Ross is hardly a conventional paleontologist. He is a “young earth creationist” — he believes that the Bible is a literally true account of the creation of the universe, and that the earth is at most 10,000 years old.
Each year countless graduate students toil away in obscurity. never getting more than token recognition for all of their hard work. But if you go through all that, and are also willing to endorse goofy religious ideas, then you get profiled in the Times.
How was Ross able to do competent work in paleontology while not believing very much of what he wrote in his thesis:
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?”
The issue isn’t holding opinions different from the those of your department. It’s writing things in your thesis that you yourself do not believe. It takes a certain lack of intellectual integrity to do that.
The article goes on to raise some allegedly difficult questions:
And, for some, his case raises thorny philosophical and practical questions. May a secular university deny otherwise qualified students a degree because of their religion? Can a student produce intellectually honest work that contradicts deeply held beliefs? Should it be obligatory (or forbidden) for universities to consider how students will use the degrees they earn?
Nothing challenging here. The answer is No to all three questions.
This is a complete non-story. By all accounts Ross produced competent scientific work. That he was effectively an actor playing a character reflects very badly on him, but does not reflect badly on URI. If he chooses to use his degree to lend credibility to asinine religious ideas that’s his business. The rest of us will have to settle for bashing him for the things he now does. It’s not the job of URI, or any other university, to pass judgment on the religious views of others.
Shame on the Times for making a mountain out of this molehill.