Do you have to believe what you write in your Ph.D. thesis for it to be valid?
A student, Marcus R. Ross, at the University of Rhode Island has been awarded a Ph.D. for his palaeontological research into mosasaurs that became extinct that he, himself writes in his thesis, at the end of the Cretaceous, 65 million years ago. But, according to the New York Times , Dr. Ross is a ‘young earth creationist’ and as such believes literally in the Bible and that the Earth is at most 10,000 years old.
He has played by the rules, his dissertation supervisor claims that the work is ‘impeccable’, but does stating one thing in his Ph.D. thesis and believing something else make him a hypocrite?
Dr. Ross states that the theories of palaeontology are one paradigm and scripture is another and the dates given in his thesis are ‘appropriate’. He says he is just separating the different paradigms.
My personal belief is that religion is no more than superstitious ‘mumbo jumbo’ but I find myself in the realms of the ‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it’ territory here. Where is the line drawn? There are many degree level students (particularly first year ones) who regurgitate material, not believing (or even understanding it). Are they not entitled to a degree? Some of those first year students will be studying geology or astronomy as an auxiliary subject – do they have to believe in an ‘old Earth’ to pass the module? The same thing also holds for degree level students with fundamental religious beliefs – can they have a degree if they don’t believe in what they write in their exam papers. The answer has to be no – if they satisfy the examiners and achieve the intended learning outcomes then they must pass.
Is a Ph.D. any different? Chad Orzel argues not and I have to agree. As he states, a Ph.D. is not a licence to practice like a Medical or Law qualification. It is just another degree. Dr. Ross has satisfied the examiners and is entitled to the qualification. Just what is a degree in the ‘Philosophy of Science’ anyway?
What does stick in my craw, however, is that having played the secular scientific system and gained his Ph.D., Dr. Ross is now in a position to use this qualification against this very secular scientific system. According to the New York Times, he has already appeared in a DVD arguing that ‘intelligent design’ is better than evolution in explaining the Cambrian explosion and online information about the DVD has Dr. Ross as ‘pursuing a Ph.D. in geosciences’ as part of his ‘authority’. Now he has the Ph.D. he is now clear to use this qualification to back statements on his beliefs on ‘intelligent design’ to an unsuspecting public.