Philosophy (Doctored)

Interesting article in the New York Times. Folks who believe in a Christian religious theory called “Young Earth” — that God created the earth not that long ago, and the fossil record lies, was doctored (by God) or has been misinterpreted — are earning Ph.Ds in, for instance, paleontology, at prestigious institutions of higher learning.

The students say, essentially, “From our point of view, we’re doing interesting thought-experiments, in which we’re abiding by the rules of the paradigm. Whether we accept the postulates behind those thought-experiments as accurate is irrelevant, so give us our degrees.” Some university folks are troubled by the ability to earn a degree in something you don’t believe in. But other universities agree with the students, saying, “What they’re doing is accurate science, and it’s not appropriate to discriminate against them because of their religious beliefs” (which prevent them from accepting the postulates on which their research is based).

Once these folks get their degrees, they can and do go around and speak (preach?) about their young earth world-view, which is decidedly NOT accepted by the academic community that their degree represents, and they can simultaneously tout their academic credentials while promoting this world-view. Said credentials don’t support the conclusions they’re presenting, but are theirs by right nevertheless.

So one way to re-frame the issue is as follows: Don’t think of it as being about “discriminating” because of “religious” beliefs, which is anathema in our culture. Rather, note that while these students may be doing accurate science, we can still ask: Are they thinking accurate science?  Toward the end of the article, someone points out: Ph.D. means “Doctor of Philosophy.” I think that you can argue that achieving a Doctorate in Philosophy means more than a fluency in using the basic postulates of the discipline; it means a clarity of thought that accepts the thinking behind the research as well.

I tend not to worry — I figure that over time, the truth will out. But it’s an interesting dilemma.