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Methodology versus beliefs: a comment from Marcus Ross.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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Last week, we considered whether good science has more to do with what you do or with what you believe, exploring this issue using the case of Marcus Ross, a Ph.D. geoscientist and young earth creationist. Dr. Ross sent me a response to this post via email. With his permission, I’m sharing that email here:

* * * * *
Hello Janet,
Thank you for your thoughtful piece yesterday in Scientific American.  It has been quite a while since the New York Times piece in 2007, so I was surprised to it revisited.  And I found your analysis of the events of my Ph.D. work far more considerate than many of the earlier reactions.  It’s nice not to be referred to as a trained parrot, a textbook case of cognitive dissonance, or a variety of unprintable words!
This paragraph from your piece sums things up quite nicely:

“It looks like Ross saw his dissertation as an exercise in presenting the inferences one could draw from the available data using the recognized methods of geoscience. In other words, here’s what we would conclude if all the assumptions about the age of the earth, deposition of fossils, isotope dating methods, etc., were true…”

This is a good sketch of what I did, not only for the Ph.D., but for all of my geological education (which was conducted entirely at non-creationist, state schools; and like at URI, at each location I made it known to my advisors that I was a young-Earth creationist).  I always felt that, since I was attempting to earn a degree from an institution which adhered to an ancient Earth and evolutionary explanations of life’s diversity, that I must show myself proficient in these areas. 
One clarification which stems from Cornelia Dean’s original article: I never referred to a “paleontological paradigm”.  That term is one she invented from her interview of me, but one I never introduced.  Indeed, the term actually makes very little sense (does anyone speak of a microbiology paradigm?).  In speaking with my students, I refer to the old-Earth and evolutionary paradigms, and I make sure to distinguish the two as well.
One issue that you bring up is whether I’ve essentially given up on interaction with the geological community, especially given my position at Liberty University.  Let me assure you that such is not the case.  In both print and in annual meetings, I do what I can to contribute to, and interact with, current geological discussions.  My publication record is not extensive, but it includes papers in a handful of conventional geological journals, including recent geological papers in 2009 and 2010 and co-leading a field trip at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America (our largest professional association) last year with four other creation geologists.  Even Steven Newton of the NCSE has written, more or less, charitably of my, and my creationist colleagues’, continuing interactions at society meetings over the past few years.
Nevertheless, despite my best attempts, and because of some of my old-Earth and evolutionary colleagues’ attitudes towards me, the road of interaction has been bumpy.  I have had chapters of my (decidedly conventional) dissertation rejected from journals and special publications for no other reason than the fact that I am a creationist, sometimes in very explicit terms.  Presentations at society meetings are viewed with deep suspicion that I will make creationist arguments (or even preach!) once given the lectern.  I have, on two occasions, been “outed” as a creationist following my own presentation by scientists who wished to score points with their students and peers, and do damage to my reputation.  But having been open about being a creationist my whole career usually blunts such shoddy attempts at a “gotcha” moment.  The job description for my employment was gleefully mocked at a society presentation while I was in attendance.  And this is from the more legitimate forms of scientific dialogue.  Googling my name gets really ugly, really fast.
But such is no major deterrent to me, though it does impede my attempts to publish in conventional literature, for example.  I value the contributions of my colleagues, and have enjoyed many constructive interactions, despite the occasional run-in with less pleasant sorts.  In my classes here at Liberty University I introduce my students to the reasons why geologist think the Earth is ancient, or why various organisms are viewed as strong evidence for evolution.  I do this so that they understand that these arguments are well thought-out, and to teach them to respect the ideas of those with whom they disagree.  And I was grateful for your blog post because, unlike many others, you respect my position enough to treat it with courtesy.  Thank you.
Marcus R. Ross, Ph.D.  

Associate Professor of Geology

Dept. of Biology and Chemistry
Liberty University

Janet D. Stemwedel About the Author: Janet D. Stemwedel is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at San José State University. Her explorations of ethics, scientific knowledge-building, and how they are intertwined are informed by her misspent scientific youth as a physical chemist. Follow on Twitter @docfreeride.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. DiscomBob 1:40 pm 10/24/2011

    My post from the last article still applies- Another example of the inherent dishonesty of the religious paradigm, especially the creationists. The only reason this person pursued a legitimate doctorate is so he could turn around and use it to lend an air of credibility to creationist claims- “See, this doctor educated at a credible school says he has evidence the earth is only 10,000 years old” in an effort to make their claims seem as legitimate as those made of an older earth. Pure bunkum aimed mainly at their current believers so they can feel credible.

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  2. 2. jaia 1:43 pm 10/24/2011

    Dear Dr. Ross,

    If you’re reading these comments, I’d like to ask you a question. Doing research is hard work. Most of us who do that work even when it has no practical applications (or at least no immediate ones) are motivated by curiosity, by a desire to understand how nature works. But if you don’t believe your own results, I don’t think that can be your motivation. So what, other than the desire for a credential, drives you?


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  3. 3. geojellyroll 10:40 pm 10/24/2011

    “you respect my position enough to treat it with courtesy”

    ???? Science is not ‘respecting’ ignorance and stupidity. It’s about calling your beliefs what they are…crap.

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  4. 4. Janet D. Stemwedel 12:07 pm 10/25/2011

    @ DiscomBob, I don’t know how Dr. Ross conducts his classes at Liberty University. But, if he is clear in separating accepted scientific methodology (and the claims that can be supported by such methodology and the existing body of empirical evidence) from claims whose support comes instead from scripture and faith, is he really making the latter look more credible than it should simply by virtue of having earned a Ph.D. in geosciences?

    I agree that it would be badly misleading if he were to claim, “As a trained scientist, I can tell you that young earth creationism is scientifically respectable/the best explanation for the empirical evidence/etc.” But if he’s not doing that, I think it’s harder to pinpoint the crime he is committing here.

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  5. 5. DiscomBob 3:05 pm 10/26/2011

    @Janet D. Stemwedel, as you said, you don’t know how he conducts his classes. I suspect that while he likely doesn’t make the direct statement you provide as an example, he does profess that young earth creationism is true in spite of all the evidence (“so called evidence” I’m sure he would say)to the contrary. Since he has the same credentials as those who state there is no evidence to support young earth creationism, his claims to the contrary gain an added air of credibility, especially to those who want to be gulled. When he uses information and methods from accepted science to add to that science and claims that the information he’s provided is true, but then goes in front of another audience and denies the information as true, he is intellectually and actually dishonest whether he recognizes it or not.

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  6. 6. Jurassicmark 7:23 pm 09/5/2012

    It doesn’t seem to matter what some people do. If they don’t have a Ph.D., they’re not qualified. If they do received a Ph.D., it’s not from a credible school. If it is from a credible school, then they don’t have articles published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. If they do have articles published, then their religious paradigm causes them to be inherently dishonest. Give the man some credit. He obviously understands the evolutionary arguments. Who decides what is “accepted science”? And how will we ever progress with that king of thinking?

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