Trained parrot awarded Ph.D.

This is a sad story of compartmentalization carried to an extreme: a Ph.D. student in the geosciences who is also young earth creationist. This is a tricky subject: religion is not a litmus test for awarding a degree, but supposedly depth and breadth of knowledge is. I say that you cannot legitimately earn an advanced degree in geology and at the same time hold a belief contrary to all the evidence, and that the only way you can accomplish it is by basically lying to yourself and your committee throughout the process—and look at this…the student agrees.

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.”

In other words, he was going through the motions. He was doing “research” on the distribution of mosasaurs 65 million years ago, but what he was actually doing was echoing ideas he disagreed with to fit the expectations of his advisors—he was a complete fraud.

I have a hard time imagining spending 4+ years working hard at something I believed was a complete lie, but this guy did it, and thinks he accomplished something. His motive clearly was not a love of science, but to acquire credentials under false pretenses that he could then use to endorse his ideology. What a waste of his time; I wouldn’t hire such a phony, and I don’t know anyone who would. Where could he end up working? But of course…

Today he teaches earth science at Liberty University, the conservative Christian institution founded by the Rev. Jerry Falwell where, Dr. Ross said, he uses a conventional scientific text.

“We also discuss the intersection of those sorts of ideas with Christianity,” he said. “I don’t require my students to say or write their assent to one idea or another any more than I was required.”

If his training was a lie, I guess he doesn’t have any scruples about lying a little more: I’ve seen the job ads from Liberty University, and a “young earth philosophy” is a prerequisite for teaching there. He teaches something called CRST 290, which is in a “religious studies” category, taught as part of their required instruction in “creation studies”.

CRST 290: 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.

I think the University of Rhode Island might want to review their doctoral programs a bit. It looks like someone can slip through with only the most superficial knowledge of their field, and can admit to faking it throughout their entire training. This kind of slack in the standards diminishes the luster of degrees from RI.

It also says something even worse of Liberty University. They’ll hire any old hack to teach their courses.


  1. #1 Torbjörn Larsson
    February 12, 2007

    Since science and theories are meritocracies, I don’t see an inherent need for PhD’s to be revoked outside of faking the PhD work.

    But it could be considered, especially is circumstances change. Research is based on peer review, but also money and PR. Getting the reputation soiled may not be selective enough in todays society

    But he HAS faked his data – all of it.

    Probably not, measured against theory. That he thinks it is fake is another matter.

    As scientists, we should be adopting agnostic worldviews.

    Science is a neutral tool. It is compatible with or supportive for a number of -isms, humanism, agnosticism, atheism, and so on.

    It is difficult to claim any is better. But if anything, atheism is increasingly supported by induction over facts and theories, while agnosticism is diminished by it. And as poke noted, instrumentalism, and I would claim agnosticism, may open up for inane positions which is another fact to consider.

  2. #2 Torbjörn Larsson
    February 13, 2007

    As long as he has done that, what does it matter if he believes there is some mysterious flaw in the reasoning?

    The whole discussion is interesting, and while I sympathize with PZ’s goals of pure science, I don’t quite see how it would work. All sorts of walks of life have frauds living in the cracks of the systems.

    But I think we can make this more precise. The above description also encompass theistic evolutionists like Miller. They see that evolution results in unguided natural processes but believes the process is guided anyway. So they put their faith in their gods in the physical gaps of evolutionary theory, unduly constraining physical theories and their own theology instead.

    Ross is different, because as an YECist he believes there is some mysterious flaw in independent facts. His belief doesn’t contradict a specific theory and pervert others, it directly contradict facts arriving from all sorts of science. In principle he could check each stage in dating a fossil and either get gobsmacked by the missing flaw or have to believe most of our science is at fault. That is a difference.

  3. #3 Torbjörn Larsson
    February 13, 2007

    I have yet to read a cogent definition of how to draw a line between what counts as natural and what counts as supernatural.

    Natural is defined as what is observed.

    If one doesn’t introduce ontological categories for observations that is not yet observed, this will do fine. Science is “methodological naturalism”.

    If one introduces other ontological categories for analysis, one has to be more precise. A necessary (else we couldn’t do science) and sufficient (since that is what we observe) is lawfulness for natural observations.

    If the fundamental laws changed too often between place to place or time to time we could never make any science out of it. (Which leads to a dreaded philosophical question, since life wouldn’t be possible either – is nature anthropic? :-)

    Note that we could distinguish commonly discussed supernatural events here if we wished, say random resurrections, Thor causing thunder or poofed speciations, nothing prevents that.


    scientists who adopt methodological naturalism.

    That is a fair description of science.

    I wonder how long it will be before theistic evolutionists like Kenneth Miller and Francis Collins are accused of “lying for Jesus”?

    Peoples opinions are already voiced. I wouldn’t expect any change.