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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Two Faces of Dr. Ross

Young Earth Creationist?
Old Earth Evolutionist?

In yesterday's New York Times, there was an article about a recent creationist paleontologist. I'm kind of late to blog on this subject since it's been on many other discussion boards. However, I wanted to make sure I thought through my opinion more carefully. So here is the story, creationist Marcus Ross existed in a world of cognitive dissonance in order to obtain a Ph.D. in geology. He apparently is well aware of his own disease noting

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.”

There are many concerns here. The first is whether or not such a student should be awarded a Ph.D. because of his religious views. The second is the integrity of his science. The third is whether or not he wanted to obtain his Ph.D. from a secular school under a well-known advisor in order to legitimize his young earth science. Here are my answers:

(1) Religious views should not be held against the student and especially one who completes the coursework required for the degree. Apparently Ross has completed the coursework and written the requisite papers necessary for the degree. Therefore, from a minimalist perspective he should have the degree.

Now, here's where I am troubled by this. First, most professionals will not place their name on a paper where the conclusions are so antithetical to their own viewpoint. To write a paper where millions of years of evolution are used when that position is complete anathema to your scientific viewpoint smacks of opportunism. Furthermore, it is apparent from the literature that Ross had no trouble talking out of both sides of his mouth. He has several abstracts in the literature on YEC'ism and Intelligent Design. He co-authored a paper with Discovery's Paul Nelson on the problems with the Cambrian Explosion, but which hides behind evolutionary verbiage. Here is the abstract:

Various attempts have been made to quantify the increase in biological complexity exhibited by metazoans across the Neoproterozoic-Cambrian boundary. These include such metrics as genome size, cell type (Valentine et al. 1994), and a variety of complexity measures (e.g., McShea 1996). Here we develop a measure of ontogenetic depth--i.e., the distance, in terms of cell division and differentiation, between a unicellular condition and a macroscopic adult metazoan capable of reproduction (generation of gametes). We then apply this metric to the radiative events which occurred during the Cambrian Explosion, and assess the evolutionary mechanisms that may explain the increases in ontogenetic depth at the origin of the phyla.

ref:Ontogenetic depth as a complexity metric for the Cambrian explosion
Ross, Marcus R; Nelson, Paul A South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, Department of Geology and Geological Engineering, Rapid City, SD, United States (USA) Discovery Institute, United States (USA)Abstracts with Programs - Geological Society of America, vol.34, no.6, pp.427, Oct 2002.

He has authored other papers (according to Georef) here is his publication list:

Trans-Atlantic correlations of Upper Cretaceous marine sediments; the Mid-Atlantic (USA) and Maastricht (Netherlands) regions Ross, Marcus R; Fastovsky, David E
Northeastern Geology and Environmental Sciences, vol.28, no.1, pp.34-44, Mar 2006.

Stratigraphy and analytic paleontology of the lower Pierre Shale at Brown Ranch, southwestern South Dakota Ross, Marcus R. Proceedings of the South Dakota Academy of Science, vol.83, pp.163-181, 2004.

Quantitative approaches to Late Cretaceous shallow-marine and shelf stratigraphy of marine vertebrates Ross, Marcus; Fastovsky, David
Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, vol.24, no.3, Suppl., pp.105, 10 Sep 2004.

Intelligent design and young-Earth creationism; investigating nested hierarchies of philosophy and belief Ross, Marcus R. Abstracts with Programs - Geological Society of America, vol.35, no.6, pp.609, Nov 2003.

Chondrichthyan and reptilian fossils from the Upper Cretaceous Peedee Formation at Elizabethtown, southeastern North Carolina, and comparison to New Jersey faunas
Ross, Marcus R; Cuffey, Roger J Abstracts with Programs - Geological Society of America, vol.35, no.1, pp.66, Mar 2003.

It's not particularly impressive, but he may have several other papers in the pipeline. None of the articles are easily accessible as they are special issues or members only type documents, but it's clear enough that they are old earth articles written by a young earth creationist. So, in terms of answering the question "Did he do good science", I would answer "It looks like he did ok science". His advisor is top-notch and if his advisor claims that he did a good job, then I accept that as a valid answer. However, he did a good job by abandoning the core principles of his faith and his true 'creation-science' viewpoint. Cognitive dissonance positively bleeds out of this man.

Lastly, did he 'use' Rhode Island to give his degree legitimacy? The Institute for Creation Research has a graduate program in Geology. They offer a Ph.D. and Ross could have attended that school, written a dissertation in concert with his worldview and his twisted version of science and then trotted off to Liberty University or other young earth creation hotbed. It would seem to me the most logical thing to do. Instead, he chose a famous advisor and earned a respected degree. We'll have to see how often he is trotted forward as a Ph.D. from a secular university in an effort to legitimize his creationist work. From his new home at Liberty University he writes in his bio:

Marcus Ross has loved paleontology (especially dinosaurs) since he was a kid growing up in Rhode Island. He has continued pursuing this passion, currently researching about a group of extinct marine reptiles called mosasaurs. He is greatly interested in issues surrounding the creation-evolution controversy and the intersection of geology with the Biblical events of creation and Noah's Flood. He and his wife Corinna live in Lynchburg, Virginia.

Hey Dr. Ross, there was no global flood of Noah and if you had really paid attention in your classes and in the field, you would have noticed this.


Joe Meert

PS: I found some other publications of Dr. Ross and thought I should include them for completeness sake:

Title: Problems with characterizing the protostome-deuterostome ancestor.
Author(s): Nelson PA, Ross MR
Source: DEVELOPMENTAL BIOLOGY 271 (2): 601-601 254 JUL 15 2004

Nelson PA, Ross MR
Understanding the Cambrian explosion by estimating ontogenetic depth.

Interestingly, the DISCO Institute has a discussion with Paul Nelson on this subject:

This ISCID informal discussion material represents work in progress that I am undertaking in collaboration with Marcus Ross, a paleontology graduate student in the Department of Geosciences, University of Rhode Island (317 Woodward Hall, 9 East Alumni Avenue, Kingston, RI, 02881-2019; E-mail: mros1106@postoffice.uri.edu)

An interesting blog on this idea can be found at Panda's Thumb


At 1:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to agree, the guy deserved his degree. I'm just not so sure that he did it the right way.

At 1:42 PM, Blogger Joe Meert said...

Yes. This is apparently a hot topic on blogs and discussion boards. The range of opinions is wide.


Joe Meert

At 2:57 PM, Blogger dogscratcher said...

I suppose Richard Dawkins could get a divinity degree the same way: just do the coursework and keep the personal opinions out of it.

At 6:20 PM, Blogger RBH said...

That ontogenetic depth glop with Paul Nelson (also a YEC) is so much ... erm ... glop. Nearly three years ago Nelson promised a definition of "ontogenetic depth" and how it's measured "tomorrow" (see also here). Just about three years and the clock is still ticking.

At 7:28 PM, Blogger Joe Meert said...

Yes, creationists like to promise things they have no intention on delivering.


Joe Meert

At 12:07 AM, Blogger hipparchia said...

i found your blog from the article at slate.com and i'd just like to say: thank god you're here. i haven't got the patience to go around debunking the creationism that surrounds me [i live in hovind-land myself] so i'm glad you're doing it.

my response [yes, the degree should be granted]

and thanks also for that video.

At 9:20 AM, Blogger Joe Meert said...

Well, Hovind might be slowed for a little while. As for fighting ye-creationism, I feel it's something that unfortunately has to be done. I'd much rather do a lot of other things!


Joe Meert

At 4:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is a big catch 22 out there for YECs. If you do choose to go to CRI and get a degree, NO Geologist will respect you as a true scientist. Other than CRI, there is nowhere else to go to get a PhD in Geology except for a secular school. If you do choose to get a secular PhD in Geology you have to know going in that you're going to do research that relates to your advisor's research, not necessarily what you want to research on. That comes later. And if you want to get published, i.e. have any credibility, then you are limited as to what you can research on.

Secondly, why is it such a bad thing if he can seperate his beliefs from his science, that is what Evolutionists tell Creationists all the time, that Creationism is not a science. So perhaps, he has simpy decided to let the science tell the story. Maybe he is someone like me who has decided to believe the bible, keep an open mind and be willing to look at all the research. Isn't that a more truthful way of approaching Geology and science in general? By acknowledging that we don't know the complete answer to everything and it is the process of finding out that matters?

I just think that Anti-Creationists need to make up their minds. Because right now the reality is, is that if you do profess to believe in the biblical account of creation that you are then thought to be not "worthy" of doing anything scientifically. So why not count it a success that you have convinced a YEC that he needs to research according to your methods and ideas. Or is his crime that he believes in the bible at all?

I don't think the scientific community is willing to be honest that they do have a bias..we all do. And I think that that is a far worse crime.

At 5:41 PM, Blogger Joe Meert said...


That's not how creationism works. It assumes the bible is true and seeks to force the data to fit the answer or simply invent data. Both are scientifically dishonest. You don't appear to realize that science changes as better data come in. Creationism today is the same as it was 100 years ago and will be the same tomorrow. Compare that to real science.


Joe Meert

At 8:50 PM, Blogger hipparchia said...

yes, but unfortunately....

At 9:15 PM, Blogger Joe Meert said...

Eric Hovind got his father's looks (to his detriment), but he is not nearly as effective at delivering the lies. Kent may have to train him in the fine art of lying for Jesus, but trust me, Eric is less than a splinter off the old (and highly inaccurate) block.


Joe Meert

At 10:10 PM, Blogger Clovis8 said...

Getting a PhD is not about fulfilling some recipe of requirements. Getting a PhD is not the same as getting a trade degree. Its about becoming a philosopher within your field (ie. having the highest level of training and understanding). I do not see how someone who denies the very bedrock principals on which his field is based could claim this level of expertise. Would the Catholic church give me a priesthood if I professed to not believe in God? Of course not. Ross should have been denied his degree, not based on his religious beliefs, but based on his clear misunderstanding of his chosen science.

At 11:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The realm of receiving a Ph.D. in science should be religious neutral territory. It shouldn't matter if one is a Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, or atheist, if one does the work to receive a Ph.D. then one receives the degree. Science is just like math, history, geography or any other academic subject. One's religious persuasion should not be important. One person cited Richard Dawkins getting a Doctor of Divinity yet receiving a Doctor of Divinity is entirely within the religious realm. When subjects fall under the religious realm, ie theology, then personal belief should play a role. But when someone engages in purely academic study it should not matter what they believe.

At 9:44 AM, Anonymous Randy said...

My concern is with authors such as Ross who publish work they clearly don't accept as correct. An author of a scientific paper should provisionally accept that the data and conclusions in the paper are correct unless new data shows them to be wrong. I teach some classes on publishing in the scientific literature and give the following advice quoted from "Writing and Publishing in Medicine" by E. Huth.

"The authors of the paper should be the person or persons who can take public responsibility for its content.

Each author should be able to defend publicly the intellectual content of the paper. "

It is quite clear that while Dr. Ross may be able to defend the intellectual content of his "old earth" papers he does not really believe them to be accurate. He is in essence attaching his name to work he considers false in order to further his career and agenda. IMO this is totally dishonest behavior and is essentially "lying for Christ".

How do you suppose YECs would react if an "evolutionist" wrote a YEC book just to make some money?


At 5:58 PM, Anonymous JohnJay said...

I really like this idea I see mentioned in this thread:

Everyone defending a PhD Thesis should be asked, do you believe the conclusions and evidence you present represent the best science you could find up to now, and are you willing to change your views if new evidence is presented?

At 9:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Creationists actally are the more scientific literate in respect to the sciences.

Given no element is created within the earth only elements decaying.

The earth itself could well of been created thousands of years ago, not millions.

The various atomic clocks decaying when they were set is an unknown and not happening (being set) within the earth.

One can only conclude that Hovind was right that the earths fossil indeed are young thousands of years old.

C-14 is formed not within the earth but in the upper atmosphere and C-14 dating concurs that the fossil evidence is young not old.

The evolutionists really have no basis to say the earth is millions of years old. Why? Because fusion is simply not evident within the earth elements only seen defusing(decaying). simple truth.

Why are paleontologists unable to see this simple truth.

P.S. Hovind, bless his heart was a young earther.

At 10:44 PM, Blogger Bruce M. Axtens said...

"That's not how creationism works. It assumes the bible is true and seeks to force the data to fit the answer or simply invent data. Both are scientifically dishonest. You don't appear to realize that science changes as better data come in. Creationism today is the same as it was 100 years ago and will be the same tomorrow. Compare that to real science."

And so you suppose that scientists are always honest, always objective, always ready to abandon the conjecture-du-jour as soon as new information comes to hand. I seriously doubt that that is true.

Consider what Boyce Rensberger said in his book, "How the World Works":
"At this point, it is necessary to reveal a little inside information about how scientists work, something the textbooks don’t usually tell you. The fact is that scientists are not really as objective and dispassionate in their work as they would like you to think. Most scientists first get their ideas about how the world works not through rigorously logical processes but through hunches and wild guesses. As individuals, they often come to believe something to be true long before they assemble the hard evidence that will convince somebody else that it is. Motivated by faith in his own ideas and a desire for acceptance by his peers, a scientist will labor for years knowing in his heart that his theory is correct but devising experiment after experiment whose results he hopes will support his position."

Personally, I am highly sceptical of scientists. They are after all merely human beings. Just like me.

At 7:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


It's quite obvious that not only are you not a scientist, but you have no clear understanding of how science works. Yes, there are dishonest scientists. There are dishonest teachers, doctors, lawyers and software engineers as well. The big difference is that science checks itself regularly and constantly. Thus, why bad science can and does happen from time to time, it is usually discovered by another scientist.


Joe Meert

At 9:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, I do not see a dichotomy here but rather tactical brilliance. If faith cannot be reconciled with science so what? There is no proof that science will infer the right answer under all circumstances. It is by "faith" that one embraces science.

Dr. Ross is not a hypocrite like bioethics professor Peter Singer who promotes euthanasia and abortion with fervor, while hiring a group of health care workers to look after his mother with Alzheimers.

At 10:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What Dr. Ross did in his Doctorate work was honest. With his doctoral dissertation "jury" knowing he was a young earth creationist, Dr. Ross stood there in front of an audience defending the data that he uncovered, and he did it WELL, he was the first person to graduate with the type of doctorate that he received from U.R.I. Being a "young Earther," he needed to know how "real" science worked and how evolutionary scientists came to the conclusions that they came to. I personally commend Dr. Ross. He took time to do hard science and earn a degree from a great school. He isn't like a young earther you went to a young earth school that does young earth science that gets young earth answers. I don't think he is trying to push his own agenda. He wants to be the best he can be in the field that he is in.

Sorry if this rambled a little.

At 1:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Haha, I like your validation for your arguement.

"Hey Dr. Ross, there was no global flood of Noah and if you had really paid attention in your classes and in the field, you would have noticed this."

From what I've just read, it looks like he has more research under his belt for his argument. Where's yours?

At 2:47 PM, Blogger Bill said...

Science changes as new facts come in? Really? How about the sad worship of Charles Darwin, who based his whole simple life-to-complex life theory based on his observation of 1-celled organisms which we now know are staggeringly complex? Where are all the transitional forms fossils we see nicely drawn for us in our textbooks that Darwin was sure future science would find? And can we agree that for all the billions poured into the effort, science has yet to create life? Let's face cold facts: science is the study of something by observation whose facts are reproducible in a lab. Belief systems (including religion) is only a way to interpret what we can't reproduce in a lab. Between God and Darwinism I'll choose the hope found in God!

At 2:49 PM, Blogger Joe Meert said...

Yes, Bill much has changed since Darwin's time. For example, Darwin did not know how evolutionary changes took place and the genetic basis for evolution. Darwin's original thesis has been tested and improved upon. The problem is that if you only read the lies written by your creationist masters, you miss out on a truly wonderful part of learning.


Joe Meert

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At 12:16 PM, Anonymous phentermine said...

Good story about dr ross

At 2:49 PM, Blogger Ritchie Annand said...

To be blunt, this is the same sort of shitty tactic as doing research on homeopathy using 'weak' homeopathic preparations (dilutions of only 1:1000 or so) that have significant amounts of the original substance in them and using that as evidence of homeopathy itself working.

If his main reason for getting the degree was to prop up respect for creationism, then he's a dishonest son of a bitch and should be treated as such.

At 3:50 PM, Blogger Ritchie Annand said...

dogscratcher -> Not only that, but Dawkins should then insist that creationists believe him that there is no God because of the divinity degree.

Is that not the way this functions?

I was reading a while back one way in which they seem to use this theme is to beat non-creationists without a degree in the subject over the head about the lack of degree. Akin to AiG's ever so brilliant "Ear-Jerk Reaction" cartoon.

At 3:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What Dr. Ross believes is totally irrelevant to the quality of his work. His work should be judged on its own merit. It is my understanding that his work is pretty good, and if this is the case then of course he should have his PhD. In fact, I find it a little disconcerting that the man is being so raked through the coals over his beliefs rather than the quality of his work. THAT is what is so against science here, and is pretty despicable.

True, you have to wonder about his motivations. If he is caught using his PhD to further his creationist agenda (not just speaking about creationism, but referencing his PhD while doing so), THEN we can blast him. But until then, he has done nothing wrong, and it is unfair to attack him.

Just my 2 cents.

At 5:59 AM, Blogger Joe Meert said...

Anon, I've not criticized his science here or at GSA. What I have criticized is his use of his degree to further YEC'ism and his duality of persona. Check out



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