Mar 27, 2007

The road to Liberty: How biology professor Dr. Marcus Ross became a paleontologist and caused creation controversy

by Dave Thompson, News Reporter
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” It’s a question that everyone is familiar with on some level or another. Some want to play sports, some want to preach, some want to be a doctor- and to some, paleontology holds a particular appeal.

Dr. Marcus Ross was one such kid. “My entire life has been, in many ways, consumed with dinosaurs and prehistoric animals,” he said.

Though many of the dreams of youth kick the bucket somewhere around the high school years, or even sooner, Ross’s dream held out at least that long.

According to him, “Not a lot of people have (their desire to be a paleontologist) in (their high school yearbook), even of those that actually, do, few of (them) are actually able to make it all the way through.”

But Ross made it through on a level that most childish fantasies never realize. The New York Times recently ran an article on the peculiarity of his situation. You see, Ross is a creationist. He received his doctoral degree from the University of Rhode Island. Cross-reference creationist, paleontology and “Rhode Island” in a Google search, and the first full page will link to articles concerning Ross, many of them blogs. Ross is making news.

Born in Rhode Island, Ross became a Christian at about five years old. According to him, “By the time I was ten, I guess I realized that the dinosaur books were saying one thing and the Bible seemed to be saying another.”

To his own surprise later in life, he said he realizes that he thought through serious scientific and theological issues at that young age.

“Could the days be really big long days, or could God have made anything, then started all over again,” he wondered. “I went through…the Gap Theory and Theistic Evolution all on a very child, kiddie level,” he said.

Upon graduation, Ross enrolled at Penn State University “because of the excellent geology program. It was there that I actually started getting my first taste of truly young-earth creationist material.”
“The Genesis Flood,” by Henry Morris and John Whitcomb, proved to be the fire starter for Ross, who subsequently began lapping up creationist material.

Though all of his college courses focused around secular science, Ross’s faith remained unscathed through the undergraduate level.

After receiving his B.S. in Earth Science, he found himself applying to the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. He planned to earn his Master’s degree in paleontology, but things got rocky along the way.

Through some misconceptions and paranoia by staff after a fateful letter to the newspaper’s editor, as well as the complications caused for his schoolwork, Ross found himself on academic probation, his thesis committee depleted, and no research project.

But through the grace of Dr. Gale Bishop, a museum curator who took several disadvantaged students under his wing, Ross was able to complete the paleontology program and subsequently applied to the University of Rhode Island for his doctorate.

The affiliation at URI is what has perhaps cast Ross into the spotlight. “It was a far more rigorous academic program (than SDSMT).” His program focused on the extinction of the mosasaurs, a marine reptile group thought to have died off at the end of the Cretaceous period.

In a seminar class at SDSMT, Ross discovered the severe lack of conclusive research that had been performed regarding mosasaurs, and though he was unable to research them for his master’s program, he found a welcome home for the idea at URI.

Publishing his doctoral dissertation, however, meant “Playing By Science’s Rules,” which was the headline of the New York Times article.

In essence, though Ross’s creationist views “disagreed with certain naturalistic interpretations” upon which he based his article, the article was written according to that evidence.

“What I was worried about (when the story came out in the Times),” said Ross, “was that the people back at URI in my department would take a lot of heat. Taking on a creationist student in the geological sciences and letting them get through to a Ph.D., some people hold the advisor culpable.”
During his time at URI, Ross came to a situation where grants were in question and an outside job was a necessity. Through an association with Dr. David DeWitt, who heads up Liberty’s Creation Studies program, Ross came to Lynchburg  – and the rest is history in the writing.

“My wife and I love the town,” he said. “It’s about the same size (as Rapid City, South Dakota). It’s got all the stuff you need, and very easily you can get out into the woods and hike.”

Though he plans to stay around Lynchburg and at Liberty for some time, Ross is only 30 years old, and there is plenty of life left for him to live. “There is a rich and rewarding life following Christ wherever He leads you,” he says. “For me, he’s led me here.”

Contact David Thompson at dbthompson@liberty.edu.
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