Thursday, April 2, 2009

Religion "Doctorate" is a Joke

One of my coworkers just finished his PhD in chemistry, and was very excited to learn last week that his paper will be accepted by Science magazine, the most prestigious scientific journal in the world. The story behind his PhD thesis and the Science paper is a classic of scientific enquiry: Insights and hypotheses, followed by years of hard work, setbacks, advances and discoveries. The results of his work are a genuine advance in human knowledge, and will ultimately improve our health and save lives.

We helped him celebrate with a dinner and champagne in a restaurant with a view of the sunset over the Pacific Ocean. It was great.

This morning, I opened my local newspaper and found this article, about a Christian college offering a "PhD" in "spirituality." This is so bogus it's an insult to every scientist who ever sweated and toiled for four years to get a real doctoral degree, and published a real thesis that advanced human knowledge.

A doctoral degree in any scientific field requires new, original research and discoveries. You have to actually do something relevant, discover something meaningful, and prove that your research is valid using proper scientific techniques.

What does a doctor of spirituality do that's comparable? They read the same book — the Bible of course — that has been read more than any other book in history, and has been analyzed ad absurdum. Then maybe they read some other books about spirituality and compare them to the Bible, mostly to show why the Bible is better. Finally, then they make up some new drivel about some purported insight about the Bible and spirituality, and that's their "doctoral thesis."

It's a complete hijacking of the term "PhD". They're riding on the coat tails of honest, hard-working academics who do real research and add genuine knowledge to the human ideosphere.

26 comments:

  1. What you forget is that Ph.D. stands for "Doctor of Philosophy" and is a degree that was invented by the Catholic Church/University system as far back as 1200 AD. Degree candidates did not specialize in a field but instead received instruction in a smattering of fields including rhetoric, philosophy, mathematics, biology/medical expertise, general science, and, yes, theology. It wasn't until the Modernist Revolution that one could even earn a Ph.D. in a specific field, much less for a solely scientific pursuit. If one wants to nitpick, he might say that the secular academic world is stealing the original meaning of Ph.D. from the church itself.

    Nonetheless, many Divinity Schools are recognizing the differences between the historical Ph.D. and the contemporary understanding of the same degree and are creating alternative programs for that very reason. Duke Divinity has created the Th.D. program for students seeking a degree as a Doctor of Theology. Perhaps it might be time for other disciplines to do the same? Very few doctoral candidates delve into the field of philosophy on any meaningful level, so clearly they insult the good name of Ph.D. as well. Perhaps a Doctor of Science or something of that sort?

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  2. Science is a branch of philosophy -- natural philosophy.

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    1. I would suggest that science is the opposite of philosophy...being based on deductive as opposed to inductive reasoning.

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  3. "Science is a branch of philosophy -- natural philosophy."

    And philosphy required you to think and analyze and change your mind when new evidence/ideas are introduced. For the most part religion, the western ideal of it at least, is about unquestioning obedience.

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    1. Not all religion is as closed minded as you would believe, though most mainstream churches certainly seem that way. Try on Deism for size; we're a pretty decent bunch and we're more open minded. Deism worked for several of our founding fathers.

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  4. I utterly agree with you. But please don't forget that English doctorates and Philosophy doctorates aren't a 'joke' either. Scientific advancement is invaluable to the human race but it's not the only branch of valuable knowledge.

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  5. At high school (I live in England so religion is on the curriculum) I failed my religious studies exam on purpose. I refused to invest time into the serious study of myths.

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  6. The Wigan Crossfitter said...
    At high school (I live in England so religion is on the curriculum) I failed my religious studies exam on purpose. I refused to invest time into the serious study of myths.
    - - - - - - - -
    Meanwhile, you were sweating away playing Dungeans and Dragons while watching Star Trek.

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  7. The Wigan Crossfitter said...
    At high school (I live in England so religion is on the curriculum) I failed my religious studies exam on purpose. I refused to invest time into the serious study of myths.
    - - - - - - - -
    Meanwhile, you were sweating away playing Dungeans and Dragons while watching Star Trek.

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  8. May I just say I have done B.Th and B.Sc and I found the B.Th a much much harder subject than the B.Sc so I don't think it is bogus. And what about those who receive a Ph.D in Evolution- even Richard Dawkins believes the Big Bang theory is very improbable. So getting a Ph.D in something you cannot prove is not necessarily a religious thing.

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  9. Maybe a B.Th is much harder because you have to memorize a bunch of logic that isn't logical, and a bunch of history that isn't historical. That's got to be hard work!

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  10. Let me start off by saying that I am an undergraduate studying Biology and I have a minor in religious studies.
    It's important to remember that most Ph. D's offered in Religious fields are not about following a religion. Almost all Religion programs are secular in nature and are more a branch of history/anthropology field.
    Religious scholars treat religion as a social science, not as Dogmatic rules.. That is for preachers, priests, and monks.
    The study of religion in a secular perspective, as "something humans do," for example, has just as much merit as any other field.
    Also, you are dismissing religion as worthless when it is not. I, personally, am an atheist. I find the study of religion very important, as religion is a creation of the human mind. Humans have constructed religion for many reasons, and it has shaped much of what we do today, whether we are religious or not.

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  11. Anon - I think you're arguing against things I never said. I never dismissed all religion as worthless, nor did I say that all PhD's related to religion are bogus. Far from it.

    What I did say was that a specific Christian college was offering a "PhD" in "spirituality." We're not talking about a major university that offers a degree in religious studies, which I highly respect. We're talking about a small, non-accredited college that is basically giving out bogus PhD degrees to people who don't contribute one bit of knowledge to humanity.

    The trouble is, those to whom these "PhD" recipients preach won't know the difference between these bogus scholars and real scholars.

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    1. So, the fact that these "bogus" scholars need to learn Ancient Greek and Ancient Hebrew, as well as German, French, and potentially Latin based on their emphases doesn't mean anything to you? They've studied Aristotle, Plato, and almost all of the major philosophers (both pro- and anti-religion) throughout the history of western civilization is of no import to you? The thought that most of these individuals also have education in counseling and sociology doesn't count?

      Perhaps, just perhaps, you should endeavor to fulfill the requirements of these "joke doctorates" before you dismiss them so readily. Perhaps you should also remember that modern scientific theory was born out the schools of Catholic universities in the latter middle ages.

      Finally, please understand that I am a fan of science. I think the likes of Stephen Hawking and Richard Dawkins are phenomenal scientists and have made great contributions to our world, but they are horrible philosophers. As you seem to have done, they too have failed to realize that all scientific endeavor begins with a presupposition which undergirds the methodology for determining its veracity. In other words, "I believe such-and-such is true/not-true, therefore I will devise an experimental method which will prove such-and-such is true/not-true."

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  12. "I think you're arguing against things I never said. I never dismissed all religion as worthless, nor did I say that all PhD's related to religion are bogus."

    The name of this post is "Religion 'Doctorate' is a Joke" and you wonder why Anon came to that conclusion?

    Sheesh.

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  13. Hi Craig,

    Interesting site - did it ever occur to you that you might be a religious fundamentalist? You just say "no" but your logic is the same.

    If I may suggest a book that might broaden your horizon while also supporting some of your concerns about religion: "The Battle for God" by Karen Armstrong. (Take a look at the introduction I found on the NY Times site: http://www.nytimes.com/books/first/a/armstrong-battle.html.)

    Best of luck to you...

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  14. Anon - The "you are a fundamentalist" assertion is frequently leveled at atheists, and is false. The difference between science and religion is that science makes TESTABLE claims, religion does not. Scientists often debate vigorously, but in the end the facts prevail.

    The idea that "your logic is the same" is simply wrong.

    Read more about it here:

    http://wiki.ironchariots.org/index.php?title=Science_is_a_faith

    In fact, you might enjoy the entire series of articles about common objections to atheism:

    http://wiki.ironchariots.org/index.php?title=Common_objections_to_atheism_and_counter-apologetics

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  15. Anon - one more thing, I have read Armstrong extensively. Her writing was very influential on the ideas in my book, "The Religion Virus," though perhaps not in the way she might have hoped. While I have great admiration for her scholarship, I don't agree with her basic philosophy.

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    1. And herein lies one of the greatest divides between those who argue against religion/theism and those who are for . . . The presupposition of the "rightfulness" or "wrongfulness" of another's philosophy precludes one from accepting the other's viewpoint. Karen Armstrong really isn't a good example to give to one with an empiricist worldview. Perhaps Francis Collins would be a better fit. If you wish to tackle the philosophy, try Alvin Plantinga.

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  16. Spirituality is how people live out their faith, how they worship, how they live out their chosen beliefs. A degree in spirituality is mostly a social science degree, looking how cultures, individuals practice their faiths. So you don't have one, but that is not to say there is no academic rigor in studying it. Just finishing my MA in Spirituality and it was a lot more than reading the Bible, we actually didn't do that much. It has been a cross cultural and multi-faith academic examination. So, you know, Mr. Scientist, get your facts straight. There are lots of programs out there with different types of focus. A PhD in the subject is my next step, and my dissertation will include plenty of science, lots of research, and buckets of blood, sweat and tears, don’t you worry. I will contribute to humanity in the long run by sharing information about how cultures value and interact with the Divine, looking for common threads that will unite. The great thing about believing in God, is that doing so requires us to find the value in everyone. I can see yours—stretch yourself a bit and maybe you can see mine. At the very least you must understand the importance of anthropology.

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  17. Craig A. James - your stupidity insults me.

    ~"Chad" M.S.

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  18. Anon you speak of a Degree in Spirituality as being a joke , but in reality how many real people have a B.S. degree and no job . One of my old girlfriends of many years ago has a B.S , her father was a supreme court judge . And she was on welfare . Anyone can have a degree in any field of study . It is what you do with it that counts .

    Sincerely ,
    Rev. Will Hensley

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  19. "They read the same book — the Bible of course — that has been read more than any other book in history, and has been analyzed ad absurdum"

    The "scientific types" are usually a little lost in terms of the more subtle forms of human expression. The comment above reflects this. It is like saying "I read Milton once, what do you want?" Or - "I did the Zen koan a couple of times - don't get it so it must be useless."

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  20. I have a PhD from Texas Tech University, and I am working on a second PhD from a seminary. Guess which one has required more work and toil thus far. If you guessed the state institution, you would be incorrect. In fact, the seminary degree has required more thinking and time than I ever put into my degree from the state institution, and I have not yet begun the dissertation phase. Don't be so quick to judge people with religious degrees. It seems you are the one who is narrow-minded here, not the degree-seeking thinkers.

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    1. There are many excellent seminary schools that offer impressive programs in the study of religion and spirituality. I hope yours is one of them.

      My criticism was primarily aimed at one particular "PhD" program that I thought was absurd, one that is representative of a number of "degrees" that as far as I'm concerned aren't worth the paper they're printed on. It wasn't a blanket condemnation of the study of religion. As you say, don't be so quick to judge ... or to read things into my words that aren't there.

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    2. I rarely remove anything in blog comments, but to the anon who deliberately made up a quote and attributed it to me ... your comment was deleted.

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