What Does Earning a PhD Mean?

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Bert Perry's picture

Now as I write this, do keep in mind that I dropped out of Ph.D. studies (engineering) when I found my wife and job more interesting, of course, but the guys I studied with generally had a slightly less exalted view of the terminal degree.  It didn't mean one's knowledge was a mile wide and a mile deep, but rather that one had become the world's foremost expert on a tiny sliver of knowledge--an inch wide and a mile deep as it were.  And even in the hard sciences and engineering, you occasionally get a real dud dissertation--one guy's I was aware of did a thesis that violated conservation of energy.  

He's correct that PhD studies do expose one to peer review and the tools of research, and often correlate to a better understanding of logic and rhetoric,especially--and here I get to the motivation for his writing--as it deals with fundagelical gullibility.  

But that said, one was not required to take logic or rhetoric to get a PhD where I studied, and quite frankly a lot of this has to do with those "they paid good money for that?" studies, either ones where the conclusion should have been either flatly intuitive or absurd--and hence not a candidate for a study at all.  So why not save a few years and sit down with a good primer on logic instead?

To be fair, the author writes about some things that I really cherish, and I appreciate that.  Fundagelicalism does need more people who can think in an academic manner, for sure.  It simply does not require ten years or so in college, however.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Mark_Smith's picture

I knew that treasured "logic and rhetoric" course was going to be mentioned. Thanks for not disappointing me.

Aaron Blumer's picture


It's pretty hard to generalize about the value of a degree. (Yes, I'm generalizing about generalizing! :-D)

There are so many variables, you end up piling up qualifications like "other things being equal," and "if it's a good program," and "if your career path requires the credential," and "if you have the sort of mind to make good use of that much information" and then the "then again, what about all the idiots with lots of degrees?"

One obvious pro-degree statement I can make: if you are going for a role in your career that requires it or is decisively enhanced by it, get that degree! If not, well there are so many options. Some people have the discipline to self educate to an advanced level. The peer interaction is hard to replicate w/o a degree program though.

With everything there are tradeoffs. Though the advanced degree program puts you into a peer environment that you can't quite get anywhere else, that environment also tends to isolate you from "the real world" and various forms of groupthink set in. This is why, in law enforcement, for example, there are fields like "translational criminology." They're trying to solve the problem of academics who are too isolated from conditions on the ground and field personnel who are too unaware of the academic insights. (Lately, I'm seeing the term "pracademics" alot... it's a bit too cute, but it does make the right point.)

We have pretty much exactly the same quandary in ministry training. The cliche "ivory tower" mentality exists for a reason. Yet, ministry practitioners stand much to gain from better academics. So we need more bridging... "translational theology" or something (but that sounds like KVJ vs. other battling!)

Edit: Yes, this is why I don't share the snobbery many express about the DMin degrees. These are pracademics. May their tribe increase.

But if I had a dime for every time I've heard a PhD completely waste a church speaking opportunity because he focused entirely on obscure points of contention important only to his peers...    Well, my IRA would look much better than it does!   (But if I had even a nickel for every time I've heard a pulpiteer say something moronic that a bit more schooling might have helped... yeah, comes out about the same)

Bert Perry's picture

Mark_Smith wrote:

I knew that treasured "logic and rhetoric" course was going to be mentioned. Thanks for not disappointing me.

When we can get through a contentious thread without the genetic fallacies flying fast and furious, I'll know my mission is accomplished.  :^)

And let's be serious; you, an aspiring academic, just picked on me for insisting on learning the basic tools of research.  Q.E.D., no?

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.