Science blogs have been buzzing about Marcus Ross, a geosciences PhD who’s also a creationist. The controversy: Should the University of Rhode Island have granted Ross a PhD for his scientific work, even though he also believes the Bible’s account of the earth’s origin is literally true?
I say: sure.
The PhD process is not a referendum on your political, moral, religious beliefs — it’s a measure of your scientific work. And according to Ross’ dissertation advisor, his scientific work on marine mammals (which didn’t challenge the theory of evolution) was “impeccable.” Assuming that’s really the case, there’s no reason to deny him a degree. Science isn’t about individual researchers’ personalities or their personal beliefs — it’s about the continual advancement of a body of knowledge through testing hypotheses and peer review. Like Scott Aaronson says, the great thing about science is that unlike religious fundamentalism, it doesn’t “need loyalty oaths in order to function. We don’t need to peer into people’s souls to see if they truly believe.”
Some are worried that he’ll just take his PhD and use it as a credential to push intelligent design. (Actually, he’s already doing that. Check out his DVD, put out by a Colorado Springs-based intelligent design organization.) But what one plans to do with a degree isn’t the concern of a PhD committee. Plus, on a practical front, it looks like he’s already limiting his message to fundamentalists — his first gig as professor is at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, where job biology job announcements say: “compatibility with a young-earth creationist philosophy required.”