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Science and Scripture

The New York Times had a fascinating article on its front page today:
KINGSTON, R.I. — 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.”

He likened his situation to that of a socialist studying economics in a department with a supply-side bent. “People hold all sorts of opinions different from the department in which they graduate,” he said. “What’s that to anybody else?”
And, for some, his case raises thorny philosophical and practical questions. May a secular university deny otherwise qualified students a degree because of their religion? Can a student produce intellectually honest work that contradicts deeply held beliefs? Should it be obligatory (or forbidden) for universities to consider how students will use the degrees they earn?

Read the rest of the article here. It's a new wrinkle (or a wrinkle of which I have been unaware) in the creation vs. evolution debate.

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You know, I have to say that I'm on the fence with the young earth stuff. I'm a creationist to be sure, but was it a literal 24-hour day? Did the Sabbath day last longer than the rest? Is it symbolic of something more? I really don't know. After going to a fundamentalist high school and seeing endless films on why the Grand Canyon was formed during the Flood and debates involving such words as "antediluvian," I have to admit ignorance and say that I don't know. Nor do I really care. While I am firm on my belief that God created the world and everything in it, that's where my insistence stops.

Well, the thing that I found really interesting about the article was that it seemed like the universities were becoming "scientific fundamentalists" by considering refusing to give this guy a degree just because of what he believes.

Also, I thought that the whole thing about working "in different paradigms" so that he could do evolutionary geology on the one hand, and hold to a young earth creation idea on the other.

Fascinating stuff, but I'm still glad that I'm not a scientist.

A very, very interesting article.

The fact that he completely divorces his Ph.D. work from his creationism is a red flag to me that something is amiss. On the one hand, I think it's okay to argue for perspective you don't personally endorse for the sake of learning to build a case. I've done this at times in my philosophy classes. However, to write your entire dissertation from a perspective you don't endorse? That's a lot of time and energy spent on something that's ultimately not very worthwhile, and borders on dishonesty.

My first question would be, why bother learning the "scientific paradigm" if it's so flawed that he can't support it? Shouldn't a Ph.D. from a "respectable" institution be a black mark, rather than positive, when it comes to young-earth creationist credentials? If he does see value in the scientific paradigm, perhaps he needs to reexamine whether the Bible compels his young earth reading, which contradicts the scientific paradigm.

I'm definitely of the "No Final Conflict" opinion that science (done properly) and the Bible (interpreted properly) will not disagree. The hard part is figuring out where the problem lies when a conflict arises: on the science side or the biblical interpretation side.

As for the academic issues, denying someone a Ph.D. because of their religious beliefs would be ridiculously discriminatory. As I see it, issuing a Ph.D. states, "This person has proven that they can do satisfactory academic work according to the standards of our instituion." It's not an endorsement of everything they believe or even whether they will continue to adhere to those standards.

That said, I believe he also has a moral responsibility not to abuse the Ph.D. It would be absurd for him to cite the Ph.D. in order to give him more authority as a young-earth creationist when his dissertation contradicts the very views he promotes. As I said above, I think the Ph.D. would (or at least should) be something that hurts rather than helps his credibility as a young earth-er.

Lindsey: I think you're absolutely right in insisting only on the clear "basics" of creation in scripture - that God created the world and had a purpose in doing so. Nancy Pearcey argues in "Total Truth" that Christians need to stop fighting (at least in the public sphere) over the specific details, and insist simply that a reasonable, scientific case can be made for intelligent design. I'm inclined to agree with her.

And as for my personal views on the matter, things like this make me wary of the young earth creationism. It seems like the great majority of scientific data points strongly toward an old earth theory. However, I don't think a strong scientific argument can be made for Darwinian evolution: macroevolution through unguided, random mutation and natural selection.

I should also state that a Darwinian theory of evolution stands in fundamental contradiction to any halfway reasonable interpretation of Genesis (and the rest of scripture), so even if it were scientifically supported, you couldn't affirm both the Bible and the theory.

Here's a thought: what if the "scientific paradigm" and the "young earth paradigm" were something akin to the way we measure temperature? So, let's say this guy does all this work, and he does all his measurements in a Celsius paradigm.

Then, an American comes along and reads his measurements, saying, "But water doesn't boil at 100 degrees!" He then realizes that this was done in a Celsius paradigm, and all he has to do is translate the information into a Farenheit paradigm.

So, if this guy was doing research that spoke of a several billion year old world, would there be a way to translate that into a six thousand year old world? Or are the paradigms fundamentally opposed to each other, so that things that are assumed and used in the research and results of one paradigm are flat-out contradicted in the other paradigm?

As for me, I've simply decided to avoid ever giving any opinion except to say that God created the world--I'm not a scientific expert, and I would be foolish to act as though I were.

Well the most obvious way to do something like that would be something like the "day-age" theory where the Bible describes creation in terms of "days" but means something different than what science means by "days." Two different standards of measurement being used, so to speak. But then one is no longer a young-earth creationist.

The only other way I can see both "paradigms" agreeing is if he takes the view that God created an "old earth," or an earth that appears much older than it really is. Then he could affirm the reliability of his data and work, while still holding his actual young earth views.

Of course, he'd then have to be comfortable with God creating fossils of creatures that never existed outside of fossil form, etc.

You can blame all the fossils on the Flood. Or sin.

And don't forget that the accounts of Leviathan and Behemoth in the book of Job are clearly there because God wanted us to have a Scriptural records of dinosaurs living during the time of humans. Because those dinosaur stories couldn't have had any literary significance...

(Yes, I watched a video once in Sunday School that made that case.)

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