I believe in the Holy Ghost and dinosaurs

the New York Times ran an article today on one Marcus R. Ross of Rhode Island University, who submitted a geoscience Ph. D. dissertation on the disappearance of mosasaurs at the end of the Cretaceous period 65 million years ago, while simultaneously holding to the view that the earth is at most 10,000 years old.

It isn’t so much the simultaneity of religion and science that gets me — countless numbers of enlightenment scientists and philosophers also believed they were working towards God, and the same is true today of a goodly proportion of scientists (even physicists). But there’s something that instinctively terrified me about what this case attests to about our society today, so far removed from eighteenth and nineteenth century certitude that we are able to simultaneously hold two utterly irreconcilable views in our minds, because we’ve consigned them to the status of “paradigm” at the expense of “truth”; that this man could write an impeccable thesis on an entire area of science simply because he operated wholly within a coherent, internally-consistent framework, using the appropriate language, the appropriate cognitive tools, the appropriate apparatus. I haven’t figured out which terrifies me more: the fact that we live in such an epoch of paradigmatic vacillation, or perhaps the reality that there is, truly, no truth to the matter.

But I need to think about this more. Notes and questions for self:

  1. Whether or not we want to accept it or even that it is the case, science carries with it an association with logic, reason and truth. If we consign science to the realm of paradigm, there is a danger that logic, reason and truth will get thrown out with the bathwater. Are logic, reason and truth also paradigms? Is our society’s emphasis on “reason” simply a function (discourse) of the age we live in, like “democracy”, “communism”, “God” or “absolute monarchy”?
  2. Is it valid to receive a degree on a paradigm? How “personally authentic” does doctoral work have to be? Why does the idea of a creationist with a Ph. D. in geoscience bother me? Is it really any different from an atheist with a Ph. D. in theology?
  3. If universities will henceforth only admit students into science degrees who can utter a “scientific” answer to questions of the origins of human species, is that discrimination or qualificational rigour? Isn’t that just as denominational as needing to utter the Apostles’ Creed? Furthermore, is there really something wrong with scienctific work requiring scientific people, just like missionary work requiring Christian people? Why do I feel like there is — in the way it sets up science and religion as dichotomous, and indeed suggests that they are discrete paradigms that require discrete sets of people? Is this where my sense of unease arises from?

Possibly a few more to come.

I find it interesting that after reading the article, my first instinct was to investigate the opinions of others on the matter. I seem to formulate my own opinion by reading everyone else’s opinion and noting whether I agree or disagree — or am undecided (which is too often the case). I wonder if this is a product of my historical training, or whether it’s this innate quality that made me a historian in the first place. Why do I find it so difficult to opine immediately? I always need to step well away from the issue, think it through slowly, turn it over in my mind like a Rubic cube, slotting in other views, other opinions, slowly inserting information as and when I acquire it. I rarely resolve them. My mind is full of unsolved Rubic cubes.

8 responses to “I believe in the Holy Ghost and dinosaurs

  • Simon

    It is possible to argue, as Thomas Kuhn did, that scientific theories have always taken on the status of paradigm, and remain unquestioned for sometimes hundreds of years. Newton’s theory of gravitation is probably the best example of this – it was considered to be The Truth, so everyone just got on with applying it to other problems.

    Eventually something is found that the model can’t possibly explain, at which point we have to change much in our way of thinking and accept a new “truth”.

    I actually take heart from this article. To believe that the earth is only 10000 years old is fine, so long as you don’t try to impose that belief on anyone under the guise of science. I don’t understand how he could write such a paper, believing this, but does it matter? If he’s able to set aside his beliefs in the name of scientific advancement, I’d say there’s hope for him yet.

    That or he’s just schizophrenic.

  • oli

    Preventing creationists from studying for a Geology phd isnt ghettoising religion it’s just shepherding the insane- perhaps towards a more suitable institution.

    Creationism is an unbelievably intellectually dishonest theological position to take in the modern world.

  • Simon

    Only if you claim it to be a scientific theory. If it’s purely theological then you aren’t really hurting anyone else (aside from your poor, brainwashed children of course). Once you start trying to justify creationism scientifically though you get into a very different situation and piss of pretty much everybody who doesn’t share your belief.

    Ironically, you also piss of the ultra religious, because The Bible Is The Ultimate Truth, and any attempts to justify it with something so trivial as science is basically a blasphemer.

    The insanity is endless.

  • rAchel

    what I find most vexing is that “Dr” Ross is now teaching “Earth Science” at Liberty University (presumably in contradistinction to “Divine Science”), and his “scientific” degree will almost certainly function to legitimize his work over there. He’ll be lionized — a creationist with scientific qualification.

    but I feel like trying to keep tabs on what people can and cannot do with their degrees after they get them can set a whole new and terrible kind of precedent.

  • Kyle

    The very important distinction between an atheist getting a degree in theology and a creationist getting a degree in geoscience is that theology is a real and valid field of academic study within the cosmovision of the former, whereas geoscience simply should not be to the latter. Many have said that atheism is simply another set of beliefs whose central tenet is the denial of the existence of god — an ambiguous word at best — and is as valid a theology as any other. Whether you subscribe or not to that belief, theology is and no amount of denying its usefulness will negate its validity. Buddhists are non-atheists who don’t believe in god, yet no one would deny their valid interest in theology.

    Your suggestion that we can somehow equate requiring scientific rigour and dogmatic belief is a bit absurdly reductive, don’t you think?

    This is venturing out of my expertise a little, but if one of the salient characteristics of 20th-century modernism is that modern man lives outside his or her experience of modernity, perhaps one the salient characteristics of the emerging 21st-century modernism will be the utter divorce between modern man and the systems he creates to define the world.

    On the other hand, earlier today I saw the cover of People Magazine, which read “Astronaut Love Triangle!” and thought, ohmygod, that is not even supposed to be funny, and the world is absurd. It could just be, you know, that.

  • rAchel

    Equating scientific rigour and dogmatic belief may be reductive, but it still raises a valid question when we’re looking at what is essentially the relegation of science to paradigm — or cosmovision, as you put it :~) I guess I’m struggling with my own prejudices in this — that I, and most people I interact with, tend to presuppose that a secular worldview is the “real” and “valid” and yields (or can potentially yield) the “real” and “valid” answers. This simply isn’t the case for some people, and for Dr Ross this enables him to hold these two paradigms in his mind simultaneously; indeed, practice one and (literally) preach another. That’s seriously destabilizing for me, which is why I like both your observation on 21st century modernism, and your implication that the whole thing is completely, utterly absurd.

  • Jason

    This is your idea of writing “more carelessly” and “less prettily”? What hope for the rest of us mortals =)

    Anyway, I say let the man teach at any school he wants — just not any school that receives public funding. The state should not have to pay him to sow untruths.

  • musafiremes

    Perhaps, the problem arises or becomes that acute only when we do not have an accurate view of what religion is and what science is, or when we assume that “religious view” is automatically vetoed by a certain group and ideology which seemed to have emerged a victor from the past few millenia. I read a recent bestseller by a famous contemporary theoretical physicist that he held a conversation on the topic of evolution with some Christians who were on their way back from trying to find dinosaur bones in the Amazon forest, and I said to myself, “It is no wonder he disagrees with them.”

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