Culture At Large

Writing one thing, believing another?

Andy Rau

A NYT piece today details the curious case of Marcus Ross, a paleontologist whose creationist beliefs are at odds with his own dissertation. Ross' dissertation fits neatly into the realm of scientific orthodoxy, but his personal beliefs about the age of the Earth and other issues run in a very different direction. Ross' ability to write one thing while believing another has some colleagues alarmed.

For him, Dr. Ross said, the methods and theories of paleontology are one “paradigm” for studying the past, and Scripture is another. In the paleontological paradigm, he said, the dates in his dissertation are entirely appropriate. The fact that as a young earth creationist he has a different view just means, he said, “that I am separating the different paradigms.”

He likened his situation to that of a socialist studying economics in a department with a supply-side bent. “People hold all sorts of opinions different from the department in which they graduate,” he said. “What’s that to anybody else?”

I've heard of college students writing papers they disagreed with in order to avoid being marked down by professors with a differing ideological agenda; is this case just a high-level example of that phenomenon? Beyond the usual evolution-vs-creation debate, there are some interesting ethical questions lurking behind the story. From a Christian perspective, is being able to "switch paradigms" like this a clever way to get past the possibly unfair biases in the scientific community? Or is it an unhealthy practice? The NYT piece sums up the big questions:

...for some, his case raises thorny philosophical and practical questions. May a secular university deny otherwise qualified students a degree because of their religion? Can a student produce intellectually honest work that contradicts deeply held beliefs? Should it be obligatory (or forbidden) for universities to consider how students will use the degrees they earn?

For an extra twist, imagine a scenario in which the situation is reversed: say, an atheist writing religious articles that state genuine Christian truths, but with which the atheist personally disagrees. Would the atheist's writings be "tainted" by his own disbelief in them? How would your attitude toward a book or essay change if you learned that the author disagreed with what they'd written?

Topics: Culture At Large, Science & Technology, Science, News & Politics, Justice