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Bob Jones University (BS in Physics)

  1. Aug 10, 2009 #1

    Considering that the university lacks regional accreditation, and the mission of the university entails undermining any belief that disagrees with the evangelical interpretation of Protestantism, what do you think the chances are of a graduate being accepted for Masters or PhD work at an accredited university?
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  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 10, 2009 #2
    This is a rhetorical question...right?
  4. Aug 11, 2009 #3
    Heh, you're not thinking about doing your undergrad there, are you? No comment on evolution (though I certainly would have one if this were the biology department we were talking about), but if their creationist model encompasses cosmology, then we've got a pretty huge problem. Doing physics with the belief that the universe is 6,000 years old is sort of like being a chemist who doesn't believe in valence-shell electrons. You could do it, but you're being dishonest with yourself and everyone to whom you communicate your work.

    Is it possible to be admitted to an MS or PhD program? I'm not really sure. I found the following on Wikipedia concerning their accreditation status:

    Much as we have Christian music and Christian T-shirts, we apparently also have Christian accreditation. And if the analogy to music holds, it's probably just like regular accreditation except for a few token references to God.

    Their website says that their physics majors pursue graduate studies. It's possible (but I think improbable) that they're blatantly lying. It's more likely that by "graduate study," they're referring to graduate education in non-physics areas like seminary. Indeed, I'm told that many seminary students have undergrad degrees in science and engineering, so as to aid their employability if they don't go into the ministry. But hey, maybe some of their students really do go to grad school in physics. I looked at their course listings. The descriptions more or less match what I learned in undergrad at my public university. If this is an accurate reflection of what BJU physics students really learn, then I think that their students might have a decent shot at grad school. After all, if their graduates do well on the GRE, this would be an indication that their lack of accreditation doesn't negate the validity of their physics education. BJU seems to offer courses in advanced mechanics, E&M, stat mech, and quantum mechanics, which form the backbone of any physics education. They don't offer courses in current research topics like nuclear/particle physics, astrophysics, or cosmology (I guess that last one would go against their beliefs). But a lot of reputable liberal arts colleges also do not have such a wide variety of courses, and their physics graduates still get into grad school.

    Believe it or not, it is possible to believe in a 6,000 year old universe and still do well in your physics classes. Don't get me wrong, I think it constitutes willful ignorance and is accompanied by cognitive dissonance, but I've found that smart people can pull it off. Back when I was in undergrad I had a friend who believed in the young earth creation model. He got excellent grades in all his physics courses, and could have gone to graduate school if he wanted to. Let's face it, at the end of the day what matters in research is not what you believe, but your ability to pose interesting science questions and then carry out the experiments necessary to answer them...and to find the funding to do it. I've got a friend in my department who's into Ouija boards and weird crystal stuff, and he still does fine research. Again, in the case of creationism it requires some cognitive dissonance. I was always perplexed by one of my friends who believed in a 6,000 year old universe, but would give seminar talks in which he referred to stars that were giga-light years away. But I suppose that if this doesn't hinder your ability to do your work, it doesn't really matter.

    What would be important here is the content of BJU's physics courses. For example, in Phy 409, are they really learning about quantum angular momentum, or do they waste their time refuting the evils of secular physics? I imagine that if I were on an admissions committee, I might base my decision concerning a BJU student's application more on his GRE score than on his undergrad record.
  5. Aug 11, 2009 #4
    Again, other than the accreditation thing, I don't see a problem.

    Looking at their outline, it seems fairly standard except for the required Bible courses. Physics and Religion does not intercept much except for the Philosophy for Physics. Of course, any theist Physicist/Mathematician should harmonize their religious belief with their scientific one.

    Generally, such assimilation is easy and neither side compromises the other. Except if you are a fundamentalist (when I say fundamentalism, I mean you still believe the sun revolves around a 6000 year old flat earth held up by an infinite tower of turtles).

    EDIT: Currently, according to their site, the University is applying for more accreditation. It seems interesting, I will investigate it more tomorrow.
    Last edited: Aug 11, 2009
  6. Aug 11, 2009 #5
    I did a little googling and found at least one student in a graduate physics program from Clemson University (which is fully accredited) who had a BS in physics from this university.

    According to the description, the Bob Jones physics program is designed to only teach beliefs that conform to a pretty radically right-wing evangelical take on biblical literalism. Is it appropriate for an admissions office at, say, MIT or Berkeley to consider an applicant to a science program that is coming from a university where the curriculum denies core scientific principles such as evolution and the big bang?
  7. Aug 11, 2009 #6


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    I found this

    Bob Jones University, Greenville, S.C. Physics B. Sc. 1981
    Virginia Polytechnic Institute, Blacksburg VA Physics Ph. D. 1988
    University of Illinois, Urbana IL Nuclear Physics postdoc 1988-1990

    http://www.phys.uconn.edu/~jonesrt/vita.pdf [Broken]

    Faulkner, Danny R. - Associate Professor of Astronomy
    B.S., Bob Jones University, Greenville, SC, 1976
    M.S., Clemson University, Clemson, SC, 1979
    M.A., Indiana University, Bloomington, IN, 1983
    Ph.D., Indiana University, Bloomington, IN, 1989
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  8. Aug 11, 2009 #7


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    But have things changed in that past 30 years?
  9. Aug 11, 2009 #8


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    Maybe not.... Danny Faulkner is a very VERY strange case. He's an astronomer, and a young Earth creationist.

    I don't know Richard T. Jones.
  10. Aug 11, 2009 #9


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    I just googled him: very bizarre! Is the university of south carolina-lancaster a "real" university?
  11. Aug 11, 2009 #10
    From what I understand colleges can refuse to accept credits from other institutions that they deem to lack a minimum standard of rigor regardless of accreditation. Its possible that some colleges may have never heard of this one and will accept students based on transcripts and referals alone but any more the information is too freely available and easily checked on for it to go unnoticed very often.
  12. Aug 11, 2009 #11


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    Yes. And he does "real" research -- not a exactly top of the line, but legitimate science work on stars. Really. The disconnect involved is staggering.
  13. Aug 11, 2009 #12


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    It's a branch campus of the University of South Carolina, with mostly two-year associate's degree programs, plus a couple of specialized four-year bachelor's degree programs. A physics student there has to transfer to the main USC campus in Columbia (or to some other four-year college or university that accepts USC-L courses as transfer credit) in order to complete a bachelor's degree in physics.

    It serves a similar function to what many states call a "community college" or "junior college." Here in S.C. we don't have very many "community colleges" per se. Instead we have USC branch campuses, and a number of state-run "technical colleges."
  14. Aug 11, 2009 #13


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    We had a postdoc who was a GR theorist who believed the universe was 5600 (or whatever) years old.
    He was from a Jewish group(*) that believed the bible was absolutely true. We thought he was being ironic but he really believed the universe appeared the way it did because that's what God had wanted and his job was to study it to understand God. As far as he was concerned, why God chose to make the CMB at that distance was no more mysterious than why God had chosen the particular value of pi.

    *So orthodox they didn't believe in Israel - you couldn't have a promised land without a messiah, so he wasn't going there until somebody appeared out of heaven.
  15. Aug 11, 2009 #14
    The following sounds better in Yiddish, but here goes anyway. Note that 'Ben' in a Hebrew name means 'son of', and that the Messiah is to be a descendent of King David.

    They insist that Israel be founded by Messiah Ben David, not David Ben Gurion.
  16. Aug 11, 2009 #15
    Again, while I will never understand how someone can believe one thing in theory and practice another thing in the lab, the applicant's personal beliefs are irrelevant here. What matters is their scientific ability. If universities started rejecting applicants because they come from fundamentalist Christian colleges, they would start to have legitimate religious discrimination cases on their hands. What one would need to do is demonstrate that the BJU physics curriculum is substandard. I suppose if they teach shoddy science via their young universe cosmology, this might be one way to demonstrate such poor standards. But I find that among young earth creationists, the non-scientists (i.e. the vast majority of them) don't know enough physics to formulate any intelligent scientific argument for their model, and the young earthers who are scientists are well-aware that no such argument exists. Alas, they resort to simply poking holes in science. Ultimately, if the physics courses they teach have the same material as public schools, there's no reason their graduates shouldn't be allowed to attend the same graduate institutions as the rest of us.
  17. Aug 11, 2009 #16


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    Do the AMA have problems not giving licences to faith healers?

    That might be the sticking point. There wouldn't be much point in a bible college running a physics course if it taught the same physics as everyone else.
  18. Aug 11, 2009 #17
    I doubt any admissions officer would admit to rejecting an application solely because it came from a conservative Protestant university. The question would be more along the lines of, are they rejected because of the accreditation issues, or because the university teaches that commonly accepted scientific beliefs that conflict with their extremely literal biblical interpretation is wrong?

    If they are not rejected, are they expected to demonstrate a fundamental grasp of the subject through some other means, like GRE scores (some universities might consider allowing someone into a graduate program without a proper undergraduate degree in compelling cases if they can demonstrate competence and equivalent experience by some other means).

    This really piqued my curiosity.
  19. Aug 11, 2009 #18
    I don't know that faith healers are the best analogy here. Perhaps a better one might be the AMA giving licenses to doctors who believe in supplementing medical treatment with prayer. Again, I assume here that we're talking about physicists who believe in a young earth cosmology but do legitimate research. If the issue were physicists who waste their time publishing in creationist journals, I think something would have to be done about it. But I suppose the point is moot, since we're dealing with undergrads applying to grad school, who have little if any research record.

    Well, I guess that aside from the fundamentalist theology it's not all that atypical. There are plenty of private Christian colleges which require all students to take theology classes, and which offer physics and other science majors. Some such schools actually have fairly well-respected departments. Of course most of these schools also belong to Christian denominations that don't subscribe to young earth creationism. But I suppose the theology any denomination chooses to adopt isn't our business so long as it doesn't result in bad science.
  20. Aug 11, 2009 #19


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    Bob Jones university isn't exactly Notre Dame or St. Francis Xavier

    It's worrying that a school with some fairly extreme attitudes to science is accredited in the USA.
    Do I have to be suspicious of any PEng with a southern accent? Is it like those accident prone African airlines where you get to be a pilot by being the president's cousin.
  21. Aug 11, 2009 #20
    I certainly do see your point. Fundamentalist theology tends to regard science as "from the devil" (so to speak), and people in this group often study science solely for the purpose of learning the terminology so they can refute the evil secular scientists. It breeds an anti-intellectual culture. Off the record I'll certainly say that I would view a BJU physics grad with some degree of suspicion.

    However, as Vociferous has mentioned, we do have a system in place to prevent substandard schools from getting their graduates into grad school. As much as I hated the GRE as an undergrad, it does provide a level playing field by presenting all grad school applicants with the same set of problems. You can't get a good score on the GRE by accident; you need to know your physics. Furthermore, most departments filter grad students via a PhD qualifier. You can't beat a qualifying exam without knowing your undergrad physics pretty well. If a BJU grad is able to get past these levels of filteration, then we can't just deny them the chance to pursue a physics PhD simply because we don't like their beliefs. Don't get me wrong, I think that the young earth cosmology is very harmful to American science, and is going to make other countries surpass us pretty quickly. But I'm extremely hesitant about not letting capable researchers into physics just because they believe in these whacky ideas.

    I really would like to know what goes on in BJU physics classes. I share your suspicion about a school with such extreme views being accredited in the US. We're talking about people who until 2001 claimed that interracial marriage was aiding the cause of the Antichrist. These people are deviant even from evangelical Protestantism. It would be nice if we could see a course website or a syllabus.
  22. Aug 11, 2009 #21


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    I'm not too worried about grad students. How much harm can they do - and believing the world is only 4000year old isn't much worse than string theory ;-)

    You have to jump through a lot of hoops to get foreign qualifications recognised in the US for obvious reasons - I would be nervous if a BJU physics/engineering degree is automatically accepted by the American Nuclear Engineering Society
  23. Aug 11, 2009 #22
    I just remembered that this was the university that was embarrassed by then-governor George W. Bush into lifting its ban on interracial dating in 2000.
  24. Aug 11, 2009 #23
    Oh, you'd be surprised at how much harm we can do. But maybe I'm the exception, being known as the department prankster who never got past age 12 and all... :biggrin:

    Indeed it is, although former President Bush didn't have any direct involvement in this. During his campaign he was chided by certain critics for speaking at Bob Jones University without condemning their racist policies. Because of this, the university got a lot of media attention for the remainder of the election. At one point, the university president, Bob Jones, was on a television program (Larry King, I think), and was explaining how they believed that mixing races will hasten the coming of the Antichrist. When criticized about it, he claimed that earlier in the day the school's policy makers had met to discuss the issue and had recinded the policy. Basically Bob Jones bowed to public pressure and altered the school's racist policies on national television. I guess that after this the must have made some additional PR overhauls. A few years ago I was checking out their website, and they've got pictures of African American and Asian students on their homepage.

    I've always found it rather humorous that these people actually have a physics department. Their theology can't even be convincingly defended from the Bible that they claim to believe in. How they can pull off the task of educating a physics undergrad is beyond me.
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