PZ Myers has brought the case of Carlos Cerna and his quest for a PhD in molecular biology to the center stage. In a nutshell, Carlos attends La Sierra University — a Seventh Day Adventist school — and is a Young Earth Creationist. The church, which funds the university and dictates policy, has somehow acquired a professor of biology who teaches science. Poor Carlos, confused by the blatant contradiction, did what any good YEC SDA (Yecsda?) would do and wrote a paper critical of the scientific dating of the earth at 4.5 billion years old. Poor Professor Bradley, confused by a student who so badly mangled a term paper that it appeared he hadn’t even taken the course in the first place, gave him a pity C.
On the surface, this should not seem to be that big of a problem. Only the Seventh Day Adventists take Seventh Day Adventists seriously, right? Well, unfortunately, it is a problem. For one thing, Carlos has announced his intention to pursue a PhD in molecular biology. We would think that this would be impossible. After all, the foundation of any biological discipline is the theory of evolution. To properly understand evolution, one must understand its timeline. Organic life has taken billions of years to reach its current state. Put very simply, a Young Earth Creationist cannot possibly understand evolutionary theory and still be a YEC.
What would it mean if a YEC got a PhD in biology? In terms of actual science, probably not much. The peer review process is wonderful for weeding out crackpots, and if Doctor Carlos ever publishes, he’ll be laughed out of the journals. He can probably land a job teaching at a Christian university, or maybe he can get a laboratory job somewhere and do some sort of trivial work. Carlos will be ok.
The real danger is that grade inflation — like that given to Carlos for work that ought to have earned him a big fat F — is passing crackpots through science programs and giving them credentials, which they turn into an argument from authority and peddle the nonsense of people like Ken Ham. To a significant number of the religiostupidified among us, the presence of PhD’s in Creation Science “research institutes” adds legitimacy to the operation. Ken is very fond of telling patrons at his museum that he has real, qualified doctors working for him trying to unravel the science of God’s magic breath six thousand years ago. (He doesn’t mention that they have PhD’s in things like… history…)
The fact is, Intelligent Design is not science. It’s the opposite of science. There is simply no reason, be it scientific, political, or social, to let YEC’s pretend that they’re scientists. Giving a YEC a biology degree is like going to a hair stylist for brain surgery. It’s lunatic.
In any case, perhaps the public will be properly forewarned to watch out for the aspiring Carlos Cerna, and when we hear of his first authoritative declaration from Ken Ham’s Kentucky Pulpit, we’ll remember how he got his degree. In the meantime, we really should be asking some serious questions and demanding answers. How can we accredit a university that actively discourages science teachers from teaching science? How can we attach legitimate letters to the end of a person’s name when they have displayed not only a lack of knowledge of their subject, but an outright disdain for it? Why isn’t the science community as a whole calling for the head of the president of La Sierra, as well as the two professors responsible for giving this kid a passing grade? His test is online. You can grade it for yourself, even if you’re not a biologist. It’s obviously a failing paper. The evidence is right there, online, for everyone to see. And still, a professor sits in his office and presumably continues to pass students right on through this shameful diploma mill for dummies.
This is unacceptable.