Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Scientists & Religion - incompatable?

So I read an interesting piece over at the New York Times a couple of days ago, and it really got me thinking. They talk about Marcus R. Ross, a young earth creationist whose Ph.D dissertation in archeology was on a period of time in the earth's history believed to have occured 65 million years ago according to modern geology. The thing is, Ross, as a young earth creationist believes that the earth is much, much younger than that (probably on the order of 10,000 years). I honestly believe that the age of the earth is still an open question, and seeing as how I am not an expert in that field I will not even try to go there, not too mention I am still trying to reconcile what I know of the science and the story of Genesis.

The whole point of the article seems to be some kind of controversy about the fact that Ross's dissertation involves an age of the earth that he doesnt believe in personally. The question many people in the article seem to be asking is whether the work is of equal value as someone who believes in the current dogma of archeology, that the earth is ~4 billion years old (give or take a few millenia).

Many people who object to Ross getting the Ph.D. think that everything he did is no good or that any future work will be tainted because of the fact that he did research that goes against his professed beliefs. In other words, they believe that you have to believe everything in a particular field to do research in it. That just sounds like a bunch of hogwash to me. The guy mastered knowledge in a particular field and carried out original research, which last time I checked was the point of a Ph.D.

There is an even bigger objection though, and that is that now that Ross has a Ph.D in geology he will use his credentials to bolster claims about a young earth. The problem is, it does not appear to me that Ross has performed any original research into the actual age of the earth (although that is probably going to be the focus of his research now). Until he does that, why should anyone believe anything he says about the age of the earth? Once the guy can carry out any decent critique or does his own research on the subject, then he might be worth listening to, but not yet. Yes, he has had to learn a lot about the basic background about how one determines the age of the earth for his research, but I doubt that he did a lot of actual rock dating himself. I am assuming his research encompassed a very small sliver of all of geology, it would have to in order to only take 4 years of his time.

I guess the whole point of all this is to say that I dont think one has to believe everything about a field in order to do research in it, and that just because you have a Ph.D. does not make one an expert on the entire field, and therefore worth listening to about areas unrelated to ones research. I will (hopefully) have a Ph.D. in Chemistry within a couple of years, but that does not make me an expert on all areas of chemistry. Far from it. So if I offer my opinion on organic or inorganic chemistry (or many other areas I know very little about), it should be worth very little compared to someone who is working in that area. Likewise listening to someone with a Ph.D. in geology talking about the age of the earth, whose area of expertise is on a specific group of fossils, not on figuring out when they all existed (I am assuming that, as I have not read his actual dissertation).

Other commentaries on Ross (scientific community): Moran on Ross, What is science

Any other comments?

1 comment:

Mrs. D. said...

So true! The only thing worse is when celebutants offer their opinion on politics :-)