Cognitive dissonance?

In Uncertain Principles Chad Orzel reports on a story in the New York Times about a young earth creationist studying paleontology.

Even though Marcus Ross’s work is “impeccable,” according to David E. Fastovsky, Dr. Ross’s dissertation adviser, some people have a problem with the fact that he is a “young earth creationist”, that is, 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.

They would like him to be denied the degree, because it gives creationists an air of authority.

To Orzel’s credit, though a believer in atheism himself, he disagrees:

… if he’s done the work needed to get a Ph.D., and written it in a manner
entirely consistent with accepted scientific beliefs, are there really any
grounds for denying him the degree?

I would say no– we’re not the Bar Association, and there’s no character requirement for getting a doctorate. He’s done the work, and he can talk the talk, so give him the degree. To the extent that there’s a problem at all, it’s a societal problem– too many people take the Ph.D. as a sign of real authority, when in fact, doctors of philosophy are as likely to be nutty as anybody else. But I would expect this to generate a fair amount of heat (though precious little light) in science blogdom.

I would go further than this. If such a degree could be denied, then what about all of the non-Christians with theology degrees. Most universities don’t require belief as a prerequisite to study the Science of God. Mine certainly didn’t, and it made for some very interesting and healthy debate at seminars!

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One Response to Cognitive dissonance?

  1. Stephen Simmonds says:

    cognitive dissonance? Hmm. Wherein does it lie?

    You shouldn’t be barred from a doctorate for maintaining a particular belief system?

    I imagine few would deny a degree based on religious belief. HOWEVER: the awarding of a science doctorate should be predicated on a deep insight into – and I also dare to say empathy with – scientific method. If one demonstrates the knowledge, but is simply paying lip service to this, then a religion-centred degree such as divinity may be more appropriate.

    Academics such as the one you quoted may disagree, but I am willing to bet that the majority would not.

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