I am teaching at a relatively large, public institution in the United States. I have assigned my students a research paper related to the thermodynamics of human biology. I have asked the students for a project summary including several anticipated citations, and one student has included a paper from the journal "Creation Research Society Quarterly" as an anticipated citation.

As far as I can tell, this is a reputable journal in the sense that it is not predatory. However, I'm concerned that the perspective of the journal, including "Fresh perspectives on science and society as impacted by origins" will not be compatible with accepted scientific theories (and here I use theory in the rigorous, scientific sense that means established according to all scientific evidence, rather than in the colloquial sense that means hypotheses). Moreover, the "Statement of Belief" published by the Creation Research Society explicitly states the religious motivations of the organization, whose viewpoints are generally considered incompatible with accepted scientific theory.

I have not read the article that the student intends to cite, so I do not know the information contained within that article and its perspective on the subject required for the assignment. Nevertheless, my general questions are:

  1. Should I encourage this student to seek out alternate sources for this assignment? Before doing this in my specific case, I should obviously read the paper the student will cite, but consider the case that I have read the paper and I am concerned about the scientific validity of the article.

  2. If so, how can I do that without encroaching on his freedom of religious expression?

  3. Finally, how can I fairly grade the scientific content of an assignment that presents a viewpoint opposed to established theories, such as the Theory of Evolution?

(It is not my intention here to begin a discussion on the merits of various hypotheses/theories related to religion and science, and I would note that this question could very easily be posed from the other direction. This is obviously a very complicated and fraught area, and I hope I have not caused offense in my presentation.)


2 Answers 2


A good way to think about this is to de-charge the religious aspect of the question by considering a parallel situation involving an equally dubious published paper with no religious aspects, such as this one. What would you do if a student wanted to cite such a piece of nonsense as support for their claims in a paper?

Rather than simply prohibiting the citation, you can treat this as a teaching opportunity to talk about how to determine the credibility of a scientific paper. It is, of course, certain that the paper that the student wishes to cite will fail any reasonable test, given the notoriety of the journal involved and its complete disconnect from the rest of the scientific literature. This is also an excellent opportunity to talk about how in science publication is not the end, but the start of the real conversation.

Perhaps rather than immediately talking to the individual student, you can take a few minutes in class to talk about how to evaluate a paper and its place within the scientific community. Compare a nice strong peer-reviewed paper to a lunatic one like that linked above, both of which are completely secular in nature. Then explain that part of what students will be graded on in their assignment is their ability to evaluate references. This gives you good grounds to warn the student that their citation is a problem without even having to bring religion into the picture, as well as teaching the whole class some valuable information.

Let the creationist citation fail on its scientific (lack of) merits, rather than making this an argument about authority and belief. The beauty of science is that, in the long run, authority and belief are simply irrelevant. Eppur si muove.

  • 1
    This is a good answer. Using this as a teaching moment would be really beneficial for students. You can also mark them down for not using sources appropriate to the subject. I.E a creationist view on evolution in a theoretical biological course that uses scientific methods is not a relevant source for their paper unless its used to be critiqued.
    – awsoci
    Feb 17, 2015 at 1:49

My feeling on this is it's their paper. This is college, not high school. If you want to cite a religious journal in a biology paper, it better be a damn good citation or come with follow up citations from other journals.

To be honest, I wouldn't address it at all based on the principal that all academic papers should be thoroughly researched. If you want to start giving heads up on what journals not to use, be prepared to never move on from that topic. Some people just lack the proper level of judgement for these things and no amount of teaching will get them to understand.

I would say grade all the papers fairly on content. Anyone who used sketchy information, without further citations to help support their view, should be docked points simply for failing to write a proper paper.

Hand holding is over-this is college, there are REAL academic aspirations out there that need your guidance and spending time explaining that creationism doesn't belong in thermal dynamic biology is only taking away from people who can improve.

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