I suppose as a geologist I should feel angry and aggrieved about this newly minted PhD student:
…Dr. Ross is hardly a conventional paleontologist. He is a “young earth creationist” — he believes that the Bible is a literally true account of the creation of the universe, and that the earth is at most 10,000 years old.
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.”
Later in the article is becomes fairly clear that his motivation for getting his doctorate is to use “the fact that he has a Ph.D. from a legitimate science department as a springboard [for pushing a literalist viewpoint].”
I can’t bring myself to be angry about this, though (even though I can understand why others might). Instead, I find it sad; a waste of half a decade or more of someone’s life. Getting through a PhD is no picnic at the best of times; in my experience it’s only your fundamental enthusiasm and interest in your subject that gets you through. Forcing yourself through the whole traumatic process when you believe, deep down, that every word you write, every measurement you make, and every conclusion you draw is fundamentally mistaken – well, let’s just say that I can’t see it doing wonders for your mental well-being.
Over at PZ’s (where this story came to my attention - see also Chad's take), a large proportion of the comments are debating whether the University of Rhode Island would be justified in withdrawing his doctorate - or even, given that they knew about his young-earth beliefs before he applied, whether he should have been admitted to the PhD programme in the first place. I’d have to unequivocally answer no, and yes, respectively. In the context of a PhD you can only be judged on what you have submitted, and his supervisor tells us all we need to know:
His subject was the abundance and spread of mosasaurs, marine reptiles that, as he wrote, vanished at the end of the Cretaceous era about 65 million years ago. The work is “impeccable,” said David E. Fastovsky, a paleontologist and professor of geosciences at the university who was Dr. Ross’s dissertation adviser. “He was working within a strictly scientific framework, a conventional scientific framework.”
“We are not here to certify his religious beliefs,” he said. “All I can tell you is he came here and did science that was completely defensible.”
Presuming that this is an accurate representation of his dissertation, it’s a no-brainer: he came, he followed the rules, and he advanced his field: so he earned his doctorate, however galling it may be that he has proceeded to use his qualification in the manner that he has – to add a veneer of scientific authority to flawed creationist arguments.
Besides, there’s something else interesting about this story: the fact that when push came to shove, to get his qualification he had to follow the ground rules of science. And when he did that, what happened to all those big, obvious, gaping holes in the scientific picture of an old earth and common descent that we hear so much about? Did he try, even slightly, to cast some light on those holes with his research? It doesn’t look like it to me. Rather than a bold assault on the evil Darwinian empire, we get some meandering about “working within a particular paradigm of earth history”. Likewise, despite his self-declared mission to destroy Darwinism, it seems that Johnathan Wells kept his powder dry during his time at Berkeley. In both cases, the choice to use the PhD qualification as a rhetorical weapon, rather than the PhD research, pretty much tells you all you need to know.