Young Earth Creationist Geoscientist
The latest in a disturbing trend, a guy who recently earned his doctorate in geoscience at the University of Rhode Island wrote his dissertation on "the abundance and spread of mosasaurs, marine reptiles that... vanished at the end of the Cretaceous era about 65 million years ago," even though he is a Young Earth Creationist (YEC) and actually believes the Earth to be only 10,000 years old.
This kind of thing brings up a whole bunch of issues about the purpose of higher education in the sciences and what it means to earn such a degree. On the one hand, many argue that what this guy did is intellectual and academic dishonesty, in that he wrote a dissertation that he himself thinks is wrong, and thus he should not have been given the doctorate. On the other hand, others argue that not allowing it would essentially create a belief litmust test that students would have to pass in order to graduate, and that this is religious discrimination.
There are also arguments stemming from what people like this intend to use their degree for. In cases like these the graduate often uses the secular degree they earned as a platform for challenging, on religious bases, the very scientific field they earned their doctorate in. For instance, this guy is now teaching creationism at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, and in another famous instance, a follower of Reverend Moon got a doctorate in biology solely to use it to, in his words, "destroy Darwinisim" from the inside. Some argue that those intending to use their degrees in such ways should not be awarded those degrees, as they are essentially planning to commit a kind of fraud by using their secular degrees to lend legitimacy to their religious arguments against science.
I'm of two minds about this. Certainly, I don't think it should be the business of universities to impose some kind of belief test on students nor should they discriminate against students on the basis of religious belief. Nor do I think they can refuse to award degrees to those they suspect might use that degree in what I agree are fraudulent ways, even though it really, really pisses me off when creationists do that.
However, what, exactly, does the awarding of doctorate mean if the student is allowed to write a dissertation he or she thinks is wrong in order to graduate? Perhaps imposing some kind of belief orthodoxy is too much, but isn't it reasonable to expect the author of a dissertation to come up with a hypothesis that he or she thinks is likely, on the balance of the evidence, to be true? Is it really religious discrimination for the university to ask doctorate candidates, "Based on the evidence you have collected, do you believe the hypothesis you have presented to be true?" and expect them to say, "Yes"? Is it really all right to present a scientific argument that you think is factually wrong just in order to obtain the degree?
If university degrees are to have any meaning, I don't see how it can be.
As to the argument the guy in the article uses about how science and religion are "different paradigms," in this instance that's just complete bullshit. YECs are making a substantive truth claim about the world that is completely within the realm of scientific investigation: either the world is billions of years old, or it is 10,000 years old. Only one of these two hypotheses can be true. It's not like how many angels can dance on the head of a pin or where Heaven is located. If the Earth was created 10,000 years ago, then there wasn't a Cretaceous. And YECs know that, which is why they argue so vociferously against any evidence indicating otherwise. In this case, scientists and YECs have competing truth claims that cannot be reconciled by relegating them to "different paradigms."
Anyway, all I know is that, in university Calculus II class, when I questioned something the professor was saying, she replied, "If you believe the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus, you have to believe this." Being the smartass I am, I said, "Fine, then I don't believe the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus," after which the professor asked me to leave the class, since there was nothing for me to learn if I didn't accept the basic premises on which the class was based. (I didn't leave; I apologized and she let me stay).
Was she wrong? YECs would have us believe she was. But I'm not so sure. There's definitely an element of dishonesty to writing things you don't believe in just for the crass motivation of gaining a degree you can use to destroy the field you're studying, and while I'm all for freedom, I'm not sure we have the freedom to be dishonest in an academic setting for our own selfish reasons.
Or maybe we do. In which case I think I'm gonna go to seminary school! If it's okay for YECs to get geoscience degrees even though they think the Earth is only 10,000 years old, I should be able to go to seminary school even though I'm an atheist, right? Good for the goose is good for the gander, after all.