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Regarding My Academic Training

by Dr. Terry Mortenson on February 21, 2014

Right after the Bill Nye-Ken Ham debate on February 4, 2014, I received some condescending communications from opponents, calling into question my academic training, especially my PhD. Since this is not the first time this has happened, I decided that I would put some facts on the table.

It should be noted first, however, that these attacks on my academic training are ad hominem arguments—they are attacking me personally rather than offering any scientific, historical or biblical refutations of my publically expressed views. Furthermore, by attacking my training these people are indirectly attacking the academic institutions that granted my degrees and the academic competence of my professors and examiners, none of whom held to a young-earth creationist view at the time I did my studies.

For the record, I received a BA in mathematics from the University of Minnesota, a highly regarded school in that field. That math degree taught me two very important things that are very relevant to my present work at AiG. One is the importance of paying careful attention to details. (With math you can’t be sort of correct.) Secondly, it helped to train my mind to think critically and pursue the truth.

My biblical and theological training was at one of the leading evangelical seminaries, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, in the Chicago area. There I learned Greek and Hebrew well enough to use the scholarly biblical resources. Since none of my professors argued for the young-earth view, I had to read and think through many opposing ideas, which sharpened by critical thinking skills further and deepened my understanding of the arguments used by Christian scholars to try to accommodate evolution and/or millions of years.

Finally, I got my PhD in England, granted by Coventry University. Some of my critics have searched the Coventry University web site and, failing to find a history of geology department or geology department or even a geology course, have concluded that my degree is suspect, if not bogus. But they don’t understand the British education system for PhD research.

From Fall 1992 to Spring 1996, I was a research student of Wycliffe Hall, which is an Anglican theological college that at the time had a symbiotic relationship with Oxford University. During those years, under British education laws, Wycliffe Hall could supervise PhD students but not grant the degree. So Coventry University was the degree-granting university for my degree (though other PhD students at Wycliffe at that time received their degrees from different universities). Because of the relationship Wycliffe Hall had with Oxford University, I did nearly all of my research in the Oxford University libraries. The month I received my degree from Coventry (November 1996), Wycliffe Hall became an official college of Oxford University.

My internal supervising professor at Wycliffe was Dr. Gordon McConville, a respected Old Testament scholar. However, my research was not on the Old Testament, but rather on the history of geology in the late 18th and early 19th century. It specifically focused on the development of the geological theory of millions of years of earth history and on a group of men collectively known as the "scriptural geologists" who raised geological, biblical and philosophical objections against the old-earth theories and against the various Christian compromises with old-earth geology at that time. (A shortened version of my thesis was published in 2004 as The Great Turning Point. It is essentially identical to the thesis except that it contains only 7 of the 13 chapters on individual scriptural geologists. Most of those additional chapters have been published on the AiG web site.)

Therefore, because of the focus of my research, my primary supervisor was the late Professor Colin Russell, Professor Emeritus at the Open University and one of the leading historians of science in the UK, who had published some writings related to the history of geology.

My two PhD examiners for the oral defense of my thesis were (and still are) historians of science who if I recall correctly at the time were both on the faculty of Lancaster University in the UK. They also had published writings on the history of geology. They were Prof. John Hedley Brooke (one of the most prominent historians of science in the UK and arguably in the English-speaking world) and Dr. Paul Marston (whose own PhD thesis focused on Adam Sedgwick, one of the old-earth Christian geologists which the Scriptural geologists critiqued).

After completing my degree I was required by the university and the British Library in London to supply them each with a hard-bound copy of my thesis.

So I was supervised and examined by historians of science with expertise in the history of geology and my thesis was in that field, as anyone will see who reads The Great Turning Point. It is no surprise to me that my research has only been cited by one secular historian, as far as I know. Creationist research in any field of study is almost completely ignored by secular academia (even Christian academia), because this is really a worldview conflict. People may strongly disagree with my historical interpretations of what happened in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, but in attacking my degree and academic training they are really attacking the men who taught, supervised and examined me, which I think is very disrespectful of those professors who were very helpful to me and speaks volumes about the character of my attackers and the intellectual weakness of their evolutionist position.

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