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CULTURE DIGEST: Creationist earns secular science Ph.D.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Typically, a scientist must follow the guidelines of secular science if he wants to earn an advanced degree in the field from a reputable university. So when Marcus Ross wrote a dissertation to finish a Ph.D. in geosciences from the University of Rhode Island, he had to work within a conventional scientific framework.

Even though he wrote that the earth is more than 65 million years old, he doesn’t really believe it. Ross is a young earth creationist who believes in the Genesis account of creation and is certain the earth is no more than 10,000 years old. The New York Times featured Ross in a Feb. 12 article called “Believing Scripture but Playing by Science’s Rules.”

“For him, Dr. Ross said, the methods and theories of paleontology are one ‘paradigm’ for studying the past, and Scripture is another,” The Times reported. “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.’”

Ross, 30, now teaches earth science at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., and many scientists take issue with him and those like him who use a secular credential to support creationist views, The Times said.

“Scientists do not base their acceptance or rejection of theories on religion, and someone who does should not be able to become a scientist,” Michael Dini, a professor of biology education at Texas Tech University, told The Times. Dini has refused to write letters of recommendation for students who believe the creation story.

The Times compared Ross to Kurt Wise, director of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Center for Theology and Science and professor of theology and science at the Louisville, Ky., campus. Wise earned a doctorate at Harvard in 1989 under the guidance of Stephen Jay Gould, a leading theorist of evolution, the newspaper noted.

Wise wrote his dissertation on gaps in the fossil record but did not use that position to challenge Darwinian evolution, as many creationists would do, The Times said. Instead, he described a statistical approach to figure out when a certain species inhabited the earth millions of years ago, regardless of whether the fossil record was complete. But Wise is a young earth creationist who advises believers to pay attention to Scripture above any scientist.

“As I look at it, I went into the doctorate to determine the tools, to get trained with the tools of the discipline,” Wise said on the Albert Mohler Radio Program Feb. 13. “I in particular chose a thesis which could be interpreted either way. It could be interpreted from a creationist point of view or an evolutionist point of view. It really didn’t matter. It was a methodology for studying the world that I was being tested on.”

STETSON UNIVERSITY INCREASINGLY INTERFAITH — Stetson University, the once-Baptist school in Florida that produced Southern Baptist leaders such as Adrian Rogers and James Merritt, has strayed so far from its roots that it is now holding worship services led by Hindus and Muslims and is presenting controversial plays such as “The Vagina Monologues.”

Stetson severed ties with the Florida Baptist Convention in 1993 after more than 100 years of affiliation, but it still employs a university chaplain who is an ordained Southern Baptist minister. That chaplain, though, is leading the students under his care into some directions that are anything but Baptist.

“It’s a sacred place where we create that space where all faiths are welcome,” Michael Fronk, the chaplain, said of the school’s historic chapel. “The majority of our services are Protestant, but we try to be sensitive to people of all faiths.”

As the Orlando Sentinel reported Feb. 21, those sensitivities have led to Yom Kippur and Ramadan celebrations presented by the Jewish and Muslim student associations on campus as well as a group sharing Hindu prayers and reading from both the Koran and the Bible. Most students at the university now identify themselves as Catholic, the newspaper said, so Ash Wednesday services were hosted recently in the chapel.

“A lot of our ancestors — we joke about it — are rolling in their graves,” Fronk told the Sentinel. “In a historically Baptist school, the idea of having a priest lead a service at chapel is really eye-opening.”

Stetson students presented The Vagina Monologues Feb. 26 and 27, according to a school news release, “as a benefit to help stop violence against women and girls.” The performances, which include graphic descriptions of sexual experiences, were sponsored by Stetson’s Women and Gender Studies Program and the Gender Equity Council, and the news release said students, faculty and staff would be on stage.

TEXAS CLC HOSTS MUSLIM POLITICAL ACTIVIST — Religious diversity is being promoted at another Baptist institution, this time by the Christian Life Commission of the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

The Austin American-Statesman reported Feb. 19 that the commission’s annual meeting, called “Ethics Without Borders” and held at First Baptist Church in Austin, included talks on the global HIV and AIDS epidemic, human trafficking, religious oppression, world hunger and Christian-Muslim relations.

Charles Kimball, a religion professor at Wake Forest University and a leader in the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, spoke about “Islam, Christianity and the Clash of Civilizations,” the American-Statesman said. Mohamed Elibiary, president of the Freedom and Justice Foundation, a Muslim public policy group in Plano, Texas, then responded to Kimball’s talk.

The newspaper said Elibiary is a “frequent guest at Texas Baptist gatherings” and “hopes the exchange will help enlighten people on Islamic law and the diversity of Muslims abroad.”

“This is why I think groups like mine are finding them much more tolerant and easy to work with today,” Elibiary said of the invitation to speak at the CLC meeting.

Kimball, according to a report in the North Carolina Biblical Recorder, said Christianity and Islam “are talking about the same God. There is really not much ambiguity about this. Allah is simply the Arabic word for God.” Muslims and Christians simply understand God differently, he said, similar to how Christians of different denominations disagree about certain aspects of God.

MTV SHIFTS TO PROMOTING ABSTINENCE — Now that sex is commonplace on MTV’s reality television programs, the cable network is trying something new with a show called “Engaged and Underage,” which follows couples between the ages of 18 and 22 as they prepare for their weddings. The catch is that the couples are typically people who have not had sex and plan to wait until they’re married.

“The practice of not having sex before marriage is of course neither ancient nor brand new, but abstinence doesn’t get much time on television as anything but a culture-war trope,” The New York Times said in an analysis of the show Feb. 22.

Engaged and Underage, which premiered Jan. 21, is effective, The Times said, because the cameras are trained on people who are out of step with prevailing trends.

“A serious problem with middlebrow lifestyle documentaries is usually that they’re about people whose behavior is laboriously coded as both newsworthy and progressive: people postponing marriage, say, or becoming empowered strippers or changing sexes,” The Times said.

So while the new MTV fare is not exactly promoting good values all around, it is introducing to a new generation the idea that not everybody is having premarital sex. As The Times said, they’re opting for “presexual marriage.”

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  • Erin Roach