Termites in the Groves of Academe

February 12, 2007

This story about a young earth creationist who managed to score a doctorate in geosciences from the University of Rhode Island raises two entirely different sets of thorny questions. The first set concerns the character of Marcus Ross, who believes the biblical account of creation is literally true (which of the two stories in Genesis he subscribes to is not specified) and that the Earth is at most only 10,000 years old, but managed to play it straight enough to finish a scientifically credible paper about the spread of mosasaurs about 35 million years ago. So, is Dr. Ross an accomplished liar and fraud? Is it possible to get a degree in an area of science you personally consider a Satanic lie without raising damning questions about your own ethics?

It’s revealing that Ross immediately went to teach at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, which makes belief in young earth creationism a requirement for employment. Apparently there are a number of other creationists who have managed the similar feat of getting respectable academic credentials by doing work that directly contradicts what they believe. One was even a student of the late Stephen Jay Gould, the bete noire of creationists, which makes me wish the old paleontologist could be contacted for his views via ouija board.

The other set of questions is for the other geosciences students at the University of Rhode Island. If I were in their shoes, I would seriously consider shifting to another university program. If Ross did the work then Ross deserves the degree, no doubt about that. But can there also be any doubt that his doctorate is simply another step in the creationist drive to robe anti-intellectual dogma in the garments of scholarship? Will any student Ross mentors be able to evade the suspicion that he is simply another Trojan horse built to smuggle religious frauds into respectable science? And would any other student attending the University of Rhode Island want to be associated with the university that helped promote religious quacks?

Back in my bright college days, I took a class that started with the teacher, Richard Hughes, asking for a show of hands on how many people thought the truth of a situation could never really be determined. Quite a few hands went up, which shocked me — if you really believe that truth is beyond human grasp, then what is there about journalism that would be remotely attractive to you? Why be a journalist if you don’t agree with the very basis of journalism?

But the comparison breaks down: journalism is not a heavily credentialed field. It’s hard to imagine a comparison with any other branch of academe. It would be one thing if a student from the Milton Friedman school of economics took a class in Marxist theory simply to test his beliefs against an opposing school of thought. That would be honorable, even admirable. But what would we make of that student if he went on to complete his doctorate in Marxist theory?

The comparison breaks down because scientific inquiry is predicated on rigorous intellectual honesty, and Marcus Ross, while observing the proper forms, has apparently tossed out the core meaning of the field. In science, one forms a hypothesis, tests it repeatedly, then goes on to form a theory based on the available evidence. Creationism cannot be science because by its very nature it meets none of the scientific norms. You can’t call upon the deity to replicate results in the field. Had Ross tried to earn a doctorate on the terms of his own beliefs, he would have been laughed out of the university. His is a doctorate in dissembling, not science.

Dr. Marcus Ross has mastered the trappings of science, but he will never be a scientist. His doctorate is real enough, but it will be used to promote unreality. Ross and his fellows are termites in the groves of academe, devouring their field from within. If the creationists cannot attain respectability by rising to meet the standards of science, they will work to lower the standards.

Their victory will be a hollow one, because real science will continue elsewhere even as they work to distort it here. If the religious frauds succeed in packing the halls of universities with their brethren, then America will be the loser as other countries take the leadership role America once held. All because a small sect of believers cannot bear to see their notions of reality challenged in any way. The egotism and arrogance of these people is astonishing to me.

35 Responses to “Termites in the Groves of Academe”

  1. In a recent issue of New Scientist, there was an interview w/ John Baumgardner, a creationist geologist who believes the Earth is 10,000 years old. In 1983, he developed a model of the interior of the earth that’s still used… but strangely, his papers in Nature and Science don’t use a Biblical account. From the linked article:

    Q: Your papers in Nature and Science assume conventional geological timescales. How did you reconcile your authorship of these papers with your own views about the Earth’s history?

    A: I admit that I struggled with that. Basically, my rationalisation is that there’s nothing wrong with the underlying physics that I described. There were a few points where I had some editorial input and tried to tone down some of the language. My colleagues felt strongly, since it was my computer code, that I should be an author. So I allowed it to go through. I believe God has called me to participate in the scientific community, not to be a Lone Ranger.

  2. Rix Says:

    He studied the astonishing complexities of God’s practical jokes. Any deity that can trick us by placing a fossil record in the Himalayas is capable of creating the universe in 6 days.

  3. Dan Becker Says:

    The problem with PhD’s is we have turned the obtainment in to a manufacturing process. Add 3 years to your education, write a paper and bingo; PhD.

    But what would you expect from a nation that has turned child rearing into a commercial enterprise and education into serving corporate needs. You know; go to school, get a job.
    Very narrow. A means to an end. Well, Dr. Ross did just that.

    Use to be that schooling served society’s need for an educated populace. Getting an education was a movement of maturation. A means to a begining.

    So, I don’t find this unexpected. What Dr. Ross has done is the results of what we have let happen and is reflective of our focus over the past 36 years.

  4. jimmiraybob Says:

    …spread of mosasaurs about 35 million years ago…

    If Marcus Ross had used 35 million years in his dissertation he would have become the ex-fraud doctoral candidate….hopefully. This number should be 65ish million years.

    But then, what are a few tens of million years between friends.

  5. Tom3 Says:

    This guy may have a PhD but he’s an IDIOT.

  6. Hmm… jimmiraybob… how come evolutionists can never agree on how old the earth really is… while real creationists who subscribe to the Biblical account (there’s really only one, if you had read the Bible you would know that) all agree that the earth is six thousand years old?

  7. Steven Hart Says:

    There are two versions of the creation story. One has been used to cook up all sorts of nonsense about women being subordinate to men.

  8. Roman Says:

    6 thousand yrs old…is that from the beginning of recorded hidtory…birth of christ…the first published bible…2000 AD? The biblical reference seems rather vague all of a sudden.

  9. 6000 years ago is when the Bible says the earth begins, my friend. I’d like to hear this other version that isn’t in the Bible, Steven.

  10. Steven Hart Says:

    Version one:

    Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. 28 And God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”

    Later on, we get this:

    Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” 19 So out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper fit for him. 21 So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh; 22 and the rib which the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23 Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” 24 Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh.

    You will note that the second version has woman being made from man, while in the first version both men and women are created jointly.

    The implications of this difference are explored by Elaine Pagels in her book “Adam, Eve and the Serpent.”

  11. I can understand how you might have reached this conclusion from those verses, but there are a couple problems with it. First, the Bible doesn’t always put things in chronoligical order, and sometimes groups events that happened at different times. Also, if the entire two chapters that you quoted from in Genesis are read, it is easy to understand how these fit with each other. The Bible is merely, as it does frequently, adding additional information to fill in what was already there. These two chapters don’t conflict anymore than us saying that the U.S. has fought wars in Europe and the Middle East. The wars were fought at different times. This is the same story twice, and happens often in the Bible. In fact, it often occurs in describing the same event in two different books by two different human authors.

  12. Steven Hart Says:

    It reflects the fact that the Bible is a collection of ancient documents translated, retranslated,translated again and rewritten and redacted by diverse hands, often with political motives. Either that, or your deity couldn’t keep his story straight.

  13. jimmiraybob Says:

    Hmmmmm…thelonedrifter…how is it Christian fundamentalist young earthers insist on remaining locked into a bubble-like state of ignorance and continue to insist that the earth is 6,000…uh, 8,000…uh, 10,000 years old – why is it that Christian fundamentalist young earthers can’t agree on how many thousands of years old they imagine the earth to be? Hmmmmmm, the Bibles that I’ve read make no reference to the age of the earth being 6,000 years old. How can that be?

    If you were refering to the Usher date you’re a tad off. Does God allow rounding?

  14. DG Says:

    Here’s what I don’t understand… Why would someone who literally believes in the creationist story of a young earth be interested in geoscience?

    How can someone hold in his head two opposing ideas and believe both are true? That’s Orwellian double think.

    It’d be like someone saying the sun revolves around the earth, yet gets a degree in astronomy, or someone arguing the world is flat and becoming an astronaut.

    Why would Fallwell’s Liberty University bother to teach geology (or any science) if they’re going to only hire people who believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible? What’s the point? Will any graduate from there go on to win a Nobel Prize for science?

    Nutty. But, hey. It’s a free country. I just hope the guy makes a decision some day as to whether he believes in a young or old earth.

  15. pollyanna Says:

    Everyone knows the Bible is rife with inconsistencies and contradictions. It’s ridiculous to include it, or any other religious document filled with unverifiable stories, in scientific studies of any kind.
    So some guy did research and wrote a paper about something he didn’t actually believe. Certainly, this is not the first time this has ever happened. Most humans will cling desperately to ideas and beliefs of some kind that to others may make no sense and may even appear silly. This is why we need science and critical thinking so desperately.

  16. in2l Says:

    Just wait until these folks manage to read more than just Genesis. The upsurge in animal sacrifice, ritual bathing,and the decline of clothing with mixed fibers will be interesting to watch. I would also assume that kosher butchers will get a lot more business.

  17. Steven Hart Says:

    To DG: Creationists follow the twin holy grails of getting research papers into peer-reviewed journals and winning respectable academic credentials. They haven’t scored with peer-reviewed journals yet, but by equipping their colleagues with degrees from big-time universities, instead of the usual silo colleges and diploma mills, they give their movement a veneer of respectability. This won’t help them with other scientists, but it will be useful to them in their bogus public debates before lay audiences.

  18. SC&A Says:

    Are you implying that any scientist who professes religious beliefs ought to be excoriated and professionally excommunicated?

    Is Einstein’s work to be rejected because he professed belief in a ‘Supreme Architect’?

  19. Nimish Batra Says:

    “Is Einstein’s work to be rejected because he professed belief in a ‘Supreme Architect’?”

    err… you’re misreading Einstein my friend.

    Try going at least a wee bit deeper into his essays. Judge him not by quotes.

    Or try listening to Dawkins’ lectures where he addresses the issue of such quotes as “God does not play dice.”

  20. He will have to publish like any other scientist.

    His individual ideas and theories should rise or fall based on their own merits- regardless of what you might think of him as a young earth creationist.

    J. Kaiser

  21. spatulated Says:

    i just dont get it… honestly religion is simply out of date at theis point. at least religion that directly contradicts science. There is not a single good reason to allow some faith based doctorine trump scientific fact. none

  22. SC&A Says:

    Nimish, you are quoting Dawkins as if he were an disinterested third party- which is hardly the case!

    His animus toward religion and religious people is well documented.

    In any event, my question remains unanswered.

    “Are you implying that any scientist who professes religious beliefs ought to be excoriated and professionally excommunicated?

    Is Einstein’s work to be rejected because he professed belief in a ‘Supreme Architect’?”

  23. Steven Hart Says:

    Short answer for SC&A: No. As all of us know, including you, nobody here is saying scientists can’t be religious.

    As far as I know, Einstein was not a member of a cult that was trying to infiltrate a doctrine into classes that directly contravened physics. And while he was quite radical as a physicist, his theory of relativity was based on research and hard calculations, not religious doctrine.

  24. Scott Stiefel Says:

    Right up there with United Scatinos of America.

  25. SC&A Says:

    Actually Steve, I agree with you for the most part.

    You made my point re Einstein, for me.

    Still, as disturbing as it might be that the guy in question may very well be a religious whack job, if he fulfills the requirements for the degree, well, he has kept up his part of the bargain with the university.

    There are Harvard flat earthers and Phd’s that believe we never landed on the moon, too.

    There is no stipulation that post grads be sane.

  26. Steven Hart Says:

    Give me their names and I’ll ridicule them, too. But I don’t think the flat-earthers have won any doctorates in cartography — or astronomy.

  27. Nimish Batra Says:

    Nimish, you are quoting Dawkins as if he were an disinterested third party- which is hardly the case!

    a. I didn’t quote Dawkins.

    b. You’re misreading Einstein.

    c. I’m a third party here. I’m neither ultra-religious nor doing a PhD.

    Just don’t misread Einstein. Please?

    It’s just that the entire article is probably about the ethics of students in the US. Probably.

    His animus toward religion and religious people is well documented.

    For the last time… stop misreading people. Please?

    Don’t bother replying. I won’t read this thread anymore.

    I don’t like being misquoted.

  28. Sheena Says:

    Interesting that a university which flouts the scientific community by touting such a misnamed subject as creation “science”, should hire a teacher with a bona fide scientific degree to give prestige to their sham, hokey “science” course.

  29. Invisible Eye Says:

    “How can someone hold in his head two opposing ideas and believe both are true? That’s Orwellian double think.”

    I love that. The entirety of human psychology, dismissed with a literary reference. It’s like having a superpower. Like omnipotence!


  30. Invisible Eye Says:

    Oh yeah, and the “Termites” title? Can’t you be more direct?

    I find the term “vermin” gets the blood up like nothing else. Don’t be shy.

  31. Steven Hart Says:

    Hey, if the shoe fits, wear it.

  32. Nimish Batra Says:

    vermin in the grove?

    vermin eat trees inside out? err…

  33. […] 9, 2007 Earlier this year, we heard about Marcus Ross, the young-earth creationist who managed to keep his mouth shut and play it straight long enough to score a doctorate in geosciences from the U…, allowing him to score solid scientific credentials before scuttling off to a job at Liberty […]

  34. emile Says:

    Dear friends,

    I received a masters degree writing papers expressing views that I did not beleive in. I simply applied myself to the discipline of study, whether I agree or not is not an academic requirement.

    You see, there really is no academic freedom – or should I say there is freedom as long as you take academe’s company view. Universities and their professors are really no different than corporations and corporate managers. To progress, you must stay within the boundaries of prevailing scholarship.

    Funny, it was only a few years ago that secular archaeolgists said that the ancient kings of Israel were a myth because there was no archaeological evidence. Now there is a abundance of evidence on many of the kings. Some of it found at digs far away from ancient Israel’s borders. The kings have been verified to have existed. I cannot recall any retraction of the secular community or statement that they were wrong. They merely select another Biblical target in a continuing attempt to discredit Biblical records.

    With respect to creation, the stones will cry out in time. With respect to Biblical “errors” we will see in time about that as well.

    Vermin? Termite? Quit whining and call him “Doctor” just like many of you. If he could “fool” them, that makes him look even smarter. LOL

    Grace and peace

    Emile E. Tosso
    Commander USN Retired (submarines)
    Methodist Pastor

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