Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Two Masters of Marcus Ross

On Monday The New York Times ran a fascinating article on Dr. Marcus Ross, a “young earth creationist” who believes the earth is no more than 10,000 years old, but nevertheless recently received a PhD in geosciences from the University of Rhode Island after submitting a dissertation – described by his adviser as “impeccable” and “strictly scientific” – on mosasaurs, which disappeared around 65 million years ago.

Dr. Ross defends his approach by saying “the methods and theories of paleontology are one “paradigm” for studying the past, and Scripture is another.” That’s true, but they are not interchangeable, equal dimensions of study. One doesn’t attempt to define the mystery of baptism through chemistry, and you shouldn’t attempt to fit geology within the confines of Genesis.

The Times article poses a number of interesting, difficult questions, among them: “Can a student produce intellectually honest work that contradicts deeply held beliefs?”

Dr. Ross’ approach is highly suspect, largely because it is not intellectually honest to insist on a literal understanding of the Bible. There is no possible coherent understanding of an anthology of ancient writings by different authors in different places at different points in history that does not admit to the impossibility of reconciling the countless inconsistencies between – and often within – the texts. Even Genesis contradicts its own account of creation by the second chapter.

The scientific community is rightly concerned that Ross and others like him will use their academic credentials to lend an impression of authority and credibility to anti-scientific views. Ross now teaches earth science at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University. Of course, it would be wrong – and unconstitutional – to establish ideological litmus tests for college graduates.

The only solution is for mainstream Christians to speak louder and more often about our faith’s relationship to its sacred writings. The spiritual truths are independent of the understandably limited scientific experience of the Biblical authors. A “literal understanding” of the Bible is a misguided and spiritually impoverished one; Christianity believes that the Scriptures were inspired, not dictated. We must continue to expose Christian Fundamentalists for having abandoned the fundamentals of Christianity. Christianity and science are not in opposition. Insistence on literalism undermines both scientific and religious integrity.

Dr. Ross claims he can objectively navigate between the two opposing paradigms, but Jesus taught that we cannot serve two masters. That’s one verse Dr. Ross should consider taking literally.


kr said...

He doesn't necessarily see Biblical Literalism and honest scientific inquiry as opposing ... perhaps merely that science hasn't yet discovered how correct the Bible is, which is what I usuallly understand from Biblical Literalists who like Science.

That's neither here nor there, though, Mr. Subscribes To Archconservative Mailing Lists So You Can KeepTrack Of Them. Even if he does consider the paradigms "opposing," lots of people make a practice of keeping up with viewpoints they consider a potential threat.

Perhaps if the Bush Administration had studied information from "opposing" sources about Iraq, we might not be in such a bad way over there ... or over there at all ...

In any case, a bit much to complain about a Biblical Literalist really studying science--isn't that what you WANT them to do? Presumably eventually if he is at all honest the Truth will win out. If he isn't honest, well, not much to be done.

Andy said...

All very good points, KR. I'm not complaining about a Biblical literalist studying science -- I encourage that! I just marvel that all of the learning and knowledge necessary to earn this kind of advanced degree can be objectively held by a person who believes science is in the grip of profound factual error.

kr said...

He doesn't have to hold it objectively, though, see--he merely has to be able to speak it. He has to be able to speak it so well that the scientific establishment considers his presentation "objective" (objective enough--a brief study of the history of science or medicine will show us that true objectivity is impossible).

I study sprituality broadly, primarily so I can see where I might be missing things, but also so I can effectively refute or explain, in the context of other belief systems, in ways other people understand. I study science because it is fascinating ... but also because being able to speak intelligently about general developments in String Theory and geomorphology do in fact lend credence, as the worried scientists fear, to my claim to be a thinking, non-ignorant person--who happens to be a Christian and hold MANY views establishment science finds inconvenient.

Gotta put the kids to bed.

Love ya ;).

Matthew said...

Personally, I hold religous beliefs which do contradict my analytical mind. I accept that there are ways of establishing knowledge other than the scientific method, such as intuition. So, I believe things that a purely intellectual approach would conclude were not likely to be true. It's a delicate balancing act, but it is working so far.

Andy said...

Yeah, this post sucked. I'm sorry.

kr said...

It's not that bad ;P. Just less well thought out than most of yours. You set a fairly high standard.

DJRainDog said...

You're busy hating the weather, your job, your home; it's natural you should be distracted. We forgive you.

Andy said...

Yeah, that's actually exactly the problem. The analytical end of my brain is totally preoccupied with other things.