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:
- 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”?
- 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?
- 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.