Monday, February 12, 2007

A Mind Divided

The New York Times has an interesting article about scientists who earn their degrees doing research in fields related to the study of evolution, but who personally hold religious beliefs that reject the findings of their own studies:
There is nothing much unusual about the 197-page dissertation Marcus R. Ross submitted in December to complete his doctoral degree in geosciences here at the University of Rhode Island.

His subject was the abundance and spread of mosasaurs, marine reptiles that, as he wrote, vanished at the end of the Cretaceous era about 65 million years ago. The work is “impeccable,” said David E. Fastovsky, a paleontologist and professor of geosciences at the university who was Dr. Ross’s dissertation adviser. “He was working within a strictly scientific framework, a conventional scientific framework.”

But Dr. Ross is hardly a conventional paleontologist. He is a “young earth creationist” — 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.

For him, Dr. Ross said, the methods and theories of paleontology are one “paradigm” for studying the past, and Scripture is another. In the paleontological paradigm, he said, the dates in his dissertation are entirely appropriate. The fact that as a young earth creationist he has a different view just means, he said, “that I am separating the different paradigms.”

How does one hold this together in the mind?

The article notes the challenges these individuals bring to the academic setting. As long as they are doing good work and keeping their religious views from interfering with their studies, then there is no reason to keep them from pursuing their degrees. But then some of them go on to teach at conservative religious institutions where they disavow the findings of the scientific method that they used to earn their degrees. And they use their academic degrees to lend legitimacy to the non-science they are teaching.

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