The Institute for Creation Research and
Its Quest for Official Texas Certification to Award
Masters Degrees in Science Education
A REPORT BY TEXAS CITIZENS FOR SCIENCE
Steven Schafersman, TCS President
2007 December 17
Updated: 2008 January 6
Updated: 2008 January 28
Read the news articles and editorials here
The Institute for Creation Research and Young Earth Creationism
The Institute for Creation Research (ICR) wants the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) to give ICR official state certification to award Masters Degrees in Science Education in Texas. Recent news reports and editorials of this story are available, including the initial two articles published on 2008 December 15 in the Dallas Morning News and Austin American-Statesman that brought this story to TCS's attention. Although the two articles left out much pertinent information (included in the present report) about history, individuals, and motives, TCS expresses its gratitude to the fine journalism of the two writers for breaking the story.
The Institute for Creation Research is the oldest of two major Young Earth Creationist organizations in the United States (the other is Answers in Genesis of Northern Kentucky, which has the new, expensive Creation Museum that received so much attention during the past year). ICR recently moved its administrative and educational offices from San Diego, CA, to Dallas, TX, presumably because it is a more congenial location for their major activity: promoting Young Earth Creationism (YEC) in the United States. Young Earth Creationism--which combines the beliefs of Special Creationism of every species or "kind," Adam and Eve were real people, Noah's Flood actually occurred and created most geological features on Earth's surface, and a young Earth 10,000 years old or less--is still by far the most popular variety of Creationism in the country (not Intelligent Design Creationism), because it conforms to the views of Biblical Literalists. Although it is illegal to teach any type of Creationism in public schools--because doing so in secular public institutions violates the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution--it is possible to teach it in homes, churches, Sunday schools, private schools, and home schools. This is where most American students learn their Creationism; as studies and surveys repeatedly reveal, about 45% of U.S. citizens believe in this traditional form of Biblical Creationism, so the ICR, AiG, and Fundamentalist Christian churches have been extraordinarily successful at dumbing-down science literacy among our country's students and citizens. The same studies and surveys also show that approximately the same amount, 45%, believe in Theistic Evolution, which is the doctrine that God created the universe and used biological evolution to "create" species, including humans, by a natural but somehow God-guided process; i.e. these individuals accept both supernaturalism and methodological naturalism in varying degrees. Finally, about 10% of the population are secularists and ontological naturalists who believe that both the origin of the universe and species are entirely natural processes with no input by a deity. (The numbers of these three categories vary plus or minus 5% in numerous surveys taken over many decades.)
Intelligent Design Creationism (IDC), as promoted by the Discovery Institute across the country and by seven members of the Texas State Board of Education, is the most recent version of Creationism. IDC does not promote the tenets of YEC listed above. Rather, IDC has two goals: the proximate goal is to corrupt and distort science education in public schools by convincing ignorant state education officials that modern biological evolution is "controversial" and has "weaknesses" that scientists know about but don't want young people to learn, so these officials should require that science standards and textbooks must include the alleged but bogus "weaknesses" and "controversy" about evolution; the purpose is to damage evolution instruction so much that students will distrust science, science instruction, and science instructors. The ultimate goal of IDC is to convince a majority of Americans that IDC is a better explanation for origins and biological diversity than evolution and to distrust natural scientific explanations in favor of supernaturalistic explanations, i.e. to replace naturalism with supernaturalism as the dominant intellectual ontology in science and academia.
I mention IDC to contrast it with the YEC promoted by ICR. Both falsely claim to be devoted to science and to have scientific evidence that supports them, but YEC is a much more vulgar and incredible version of Creationism, one which requires the believer to ignore enormous amounts of evidence from all scientific disciplines and to willingly suspend disbelief and engage in monumental self-deception. ICR's pretension to teach real science and science education is baseless. For the THECB to give ICR certification to grant masters degrees in science education would be a mockery of science and an injustice to students who work hard in legitimate academic institutions to earn real Masters degrees in science education.
History of the ICR Graduate School
ICR is registered in Texas as a "private, not-for-profit corporation, for the purposes of research, writing, and education in both the standard curriculum of each scientific discipline and the Institute's supplemental framework of scientific creationism and biblical authority in all disciplines." ICR runs its own graduate school that offers M.S. degrees in science education. Its stated mission is to "research, educate and communicate Truth involving the study and promotion of scientific creationism, Biblical creationism, and related fields." ICR claims its Graduate School program "provides graduate-level training in science education through an online environment, with minors in the natural sciences that are particularly relevant to the study of origins," specifically biology, geology, and "astro/geophysics" (this specialty is in quotes because there is no such category in modern science education that I know of). In fact, the ICR Graduate School provides instruction primarily in Young Earth Creationism and teaches its grad students the skills to proselytize this religious doctrine to younger, innocent science students in supposed science classrooms. ICR does not teach students anything about legitimate biology, geology, "astro/geophysics," or science education, but rather teaches them pseudoscience and pseudoscholarship. Basically, ICR teaches its graduate students how to fool future younger students about the true nature of science, a truly unethical practice by any moral standard. Most of ICR's graduates teach in Protestant Christian private schools and home schools, but a few teach in public schools. Those who work there use their ICR Masters degree to earn a higher salary than a teacher with only a B.S. or B.A. degree.
The Institute for Creation Research has long had permission to grant Masters degrees in science education in California. How ICR obtained this is quite a story. But it will be briefly retold here since events now in Texas are mimicking past events in California so closely. ICR was formed by Henry M. Morris in 1970 following an organizational split with the Creation Science Research Center (CSRC), an older YEC organization that Morris had originally helped to start. ICR was originally the creation science research and teaching division within Christian Heritage College, a college founded by Morris and Tim LeHaye, the well-known fundamentalist preacher and Left Behind series author. Christian Heritage College was devoted to YEC and Biblical Literalism, and is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. It is now named San Diego Christian College. However, ICR was forced to split off from Christian Heritage College in 1981 so that the college could receive accreditation from the Senior Commission of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. Christian Heritage College could not receive mainstream accreditation while ICR was a research and teaching division of the college, so ICR became an autonomous institution in 1981.
ICR still wanted to provide its students with Masters Degrees in Science Education. At that time, California statutes allowed academic institutions to award graduate degrees if they had formal accreditation from a recognized accrediting association or if it had been approved by the Superintendent of Public Instruction, the chief of the State Department of Education. To gain the superintendent's approval, the school would have to demonstrate, to a committee of examiners, that its academic resources and programs were comparable to those at accredited schools that offered the same degrees. In 1981 the superintendent was Wilson Riles, an individual sympathetic to the ideals and goals of ICR. After a peremptory examination that superficially complied with the law, an examination committee of equally sympathetic and apparently specially-chosen individuals approved allowing ICR to grant advanced degrees in science and in science education. No one doubts that this examination committee was composed of members we would call ringers, shills, or plants. In fact, this had to be the case, since one must realize what had happened: a research institute that teaches Young Earth Creationism, Noah's Flood, Adam and Eve, Special Creationism, and Biblical Literalism was given legal State of California authority to award legitimate Masters of Science degrees in Astronomy, Biology, Geology, and Science Education to paying students. An informed and rational person would consider this a con game or sham: the awarding of legitimate state-approved science degrees for studying and mastering pseudoscience. (ICR is not a diploma mill; students had to attend, take courses, and study to earn their degree--and, of course, pay tuition.)
What happens next is a story best related by William Bennetta in a series of ten articles titled Degrees of Folly. TCS has reformatted these papers into a single document and is making it available to readers in Texas. Degrees of Folly should be read since it describes a course of events that is being exactly duplicated now in Texas: the sham physical on-site visit and ludicrous report by the evaluation committee, the complicit public education officials, the urgency and secretiveness of the process, and the alarming public attention when the suspect program has been discovered and publicized. It really is true that what is fashionable in California does eventually reach Texas, but usually it doesn't take two decades.
In 1986, the California Legislature tightened the requirements and review procedures for non-accredited schools, saying that such academic institutes had to re-apply for approval to grant degrees from the superintendent under the new stricter requirements. The ICR Graduate School was thus obliged to renew its approval with the California Department of Education in 1987. California education statutes now provided that an unaccredited institution such as ICR could not receive state approval unless "The curriculum is consistent in quality with curricula offered by appropriate established accredited institutions" and that "The course for which the degree is granted achieves its professed or claimed academic objective for higher education, with verifiable evidence of academic achievement comparable to that required of graduates of other recognized schools accredited by an appropriate accrediting commission…." The new Superintendent of Public Instruction Bill Honig wanted to make sure the law was followed. A new five-person examination committee was appointed in 1988; however, two members were plants or ringers for the ICR.
After a theatrical and acrimonious series of events, ably described by Bill Bennetta, the examination committee first voted 3-2 to give ICR approval to award graduate degrees in science. Then, one member of the committee, a Stanford University geophysics professor, switched his vote after a discussion with Bill Honig (and probably some life scientists) so that the result was now 3-2 against ICR. The committee's report was full of errors, omissions, and obfuscations. After more turmoil, Honig decided to not accept the first committee's report and disputed 3-2 vote, and was forced to appoint a second committee of five individuals in 1989, only one of whom was an ICR plant. ICR knew they were in trouble with this committee, since unlike the first, it contained four perceptive and qualified scientists. ICR conducted a campaign to turn public opinion in its favor with misleading reports and news articles in order to prejudice the expected negative report. This committee eventually voted 4-1 against ICR, and its well-written report of January, 1990, revealed in stunning detail the scientific incompetence and ignorance of ICR in a manner that left no room to doubt the accuracy and correctness of the vote to deny ICR permission to grant graduate science degrees. Bill Bennetta's report ends here.
But the story continues. Now barred from granting graduate degrees in science, ICR had a problem. It could still issue degrees, but they would not be legally recognized. Loss of state approval meant that students at ICR would not be able to obtain federal student loans and other educational benefits. The degrees could not be transferred to other institutions, and would not serve as recognized educational certificates that in many cases would result in higher salaries. If this continued, students would not attend and ICR would suffer a severe financial loss.
The ICR Lawsuit and TRACS Accreditation
ICR claimed it was experiencing State discrimination against Creationist Christians and filed a lawsuit against Superintendent Bill Honig. After a trial, ICR was awarded a settlement of $225,000 in 1992 and regained permission to continue its graduate science program until 1995 as long as ICR continued to teach evolution alongside creationism ICR claims it does do this; if true, its students may receive more instruction about evolution than most Texas college students, but it wouldn't do them any good, since all of ICR's students are pre-disposed (or "self-selected," as helpfully explained by Henry Morris III in a report) to not believe anything about evolution is true. In fact, ICR's statement of faith includes the tenet, "The creation record is factual, historical and perspicuous; thus all theories of origins or development which involve evolution in any form are false." TCS was not able to learn the logic of the court's remarkable decision or the arguments under which the court's decision was reached. What this episode proves, however, is ICR's willingness to litigate to get what it wants. Rather than relying on prayers and divine benevolence to achieve success, as Christians would and should, ICR depends on a different but common American characteristic to achieve its goals in the face of principled opposition: it is litigious. This characteristic is certainly not lost on some Texas public officials.
The original agreement expired in 1995, and the newly-formed California Bureau for Private Postsecondary and Vocational Education granted the ICR religious exemption from postsecondary school requirements in California by finally recognizing ICR's long-standing accreditation from the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools (or TRACS). In 1979, nine years after being founded, ICR managed to pick up formal accreditation from an accrediting association, the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools. It was able to do this by creating the accrediting association itself. TRACS was founded in 1979 by Henry Morris and several other men. Morris's son, Henry Morris III, is currently a member of the TRACS Commission, the division that evaluates and awards accreditation. However, until 1994, TRACS was not recognized in California as an acceptable accrediting association, so ICR was obligated to seek and obtain approval from the Superintendent of Instruction as described above. Once TRACS was recognized by California, ICR approval from a state official was unnecessary.
TRACS is a Fundamentalist and Biblical Literalist Christian accrediting association. Any accredited institution must agree to follow TRACS Foundational Standards, which are based on the inerrancy and literal interpretation of the Bible. Here are three pertinent Foundational Standards from the TRACS Accreditation Standards:
The Bible. The unique divine inspiration of all the canonical books of the Old and New Testaments as originally given, so that they are infallibly and uniquely authoritative and free from error of any sort in all matters with which they deal, scientific, historical, moral, and theological.
Historicity. The full historicity and perspicuity of the biblical record of primeval history, including the literal existence of Adam and Eve as the progenitors of all people, the literal fall and resultant divine curse on the creation, the worldwide cataclysmic deluge, and the origin of nations and languages at the tower of Babel.
Biblical Creation. Special creation of the existing space-time universe and all its systems and kinds of organisms in the six literal days of the creation week.
Only a select number of institutions of higher learning would qualify to be accredited under these stringent standards. The vast majority are what are known as Bible Colleges, but two larger institutions accredited by TRACS are Bob Jones University and Liberty University. You may think that TRACS accreditation is practically useless, since it requires its accredited institutions to follow the fundamentals of Biblical Literalist Christianity, such as "non-evolutionary creation," "literal existence of Adam and Eve," "the worldwide cataclysmic deluge," and similar theological tenets. But this is not true. Bible Colleges that teach theology and train ministers would have no problem with this accreditation; in fact, they desire it. Being accredited under such terms obviously removes all mainstream scientific legitimacy and academic acceptance, so you might think that any institution that has a vision of being recognized as teaching and researching "real science" would not want TRACS accreditation. But again, this is not true: even suboptimal accreditation that is recognized by a state allows students to obtain federal student loans and use the graduate degree for a credential. It is likely that ICR Graduate School Masters Degrees in Science Education have not been faring well in the mainstream academic marketplace, but TRACS accreditation was good enough for pseudoscience education and ICR would have been happy to keep it if possible.
ICR Moves to Texas
In June 2006, ICR's board of directors formally approved the establishment of the Henry M. Morris Center for Christian Leadership in Dallas, Texas. The goal of this new strategic initiative is to expand the impact of ICR's various ministries through online distance education, leadership conferences and seminars, and the further development of ICR's web site. Of course, ICR planned to keep it Graduate School going to properly train the next generation of Young Earth Creationists. ICR's stated reasons for moving to Texas are a more central national location, proximity to a major airport, and a greater suitable population for their ministry. But ICR had a problem: Texas does not recognize TRACS accreditation. So ICR gave TRACS up. If one goes to the TRACS Commission Action Report for November 2007, page 3 reports the following:
The following Institution's letter of withdrawal was accepted and accredited status terminated:
Institute of Creation Research, Dallas, TX, formerly El Cahon, CA, a former Category III institution approved to offer the Masters degree, was removed from TRACS membership.
Texas accepts accreditation from only nine accrediting associations or commissions for bachelor and graduate degrees:
Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS)
Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools (MSA-CHE)
New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC-CIHE)
North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (NCA-HLC)
Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
Western Association of Schools and Colleges – Senior Colleges (WASC-ACSCU)
Western Association of Schools and Colleges – Junior Colleges (WASC-ACCJC)
Association of Biblical Higher Education (ABHE) (NOTE: recognized at the undergraduate level only)
Commission on Accrediting of the Association of Theological Schools (ATS)
I learned from Linda McDonough of the THECB that ICR does not intend to apply for accreditation from the last two--the two religious associations. These really won't work for them, because one is only good for undergraduate accreditation and the other is for theological schools, which the ICR Graduate School is not.
No government agency in the United States provides accreditation for the obvious reason of the potential for political abuse and corruption of higher education (the "approval" ICR had in California from 1981 to 1995 was not accreditation). I learned from several sources that ICR intends to seek and apply for accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), the standard accrediting association for Texas colleges and universities. The University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M are accredited by SACS, for example. SACS is a legitimate, mainstream accrediting association and probably won't accredit ICR, but you never know. Stranger things have happened. Additionally, intimidation works really well in Texas. ICR has sued state agencies that don't give it what it wants, and they have succeeded. In a courtroom, scientific principles and integrity can fly out the window. The same can happen in a state agency hearing room.
The ICR website says it "equips believers with evidences of the Bible's accuracy and authority through scientific research, educational programs, and media presentations, all conducted within a thoroughly biblical framework." It also says "the harmful consequences of evolutionary thinking on families and society (abortion, promiscuity, drug abuse, homosexuality and many others) are evident all around us." Henry Morris III, the chief executive of the Institute for Creation Research, claimed that the proposed curriculum, currently taught in California, used faculty and textbooks "from all the top schools" along with the "value added" of challenges to standard teachings of evolution. "Where the difference is, we provide both sides of the story."
And some story it is! With a single global flood forming all Earth's surface features, humans and dinosaurs living together, God directly acting to create every species or kind, and a 6-10,000 year old Earth. And every student appreciates a "value added" curriculum, especially one in which the student doesn't have to think too hard for one's Master's Degree. That really is a great value.
The Henry Morris Center in Dallas offers the following description of ICR's planned course offerings in distance education:
The graduate school of ICR also offers resident Master of Science degrees in astronomy and geophysics, biology, and geology. These degree programs are currently being developed for web-based, distance education platforms to accommodate a growing number of students who desire quality advanced science instruction from a thoroughly biblical perspective.
The only thing better than offering distance education courses for hundreds of U.S. Christian students is to offer them for thousands of Protestant Fundamentalist students in India, China, Africa, and South America, and the only thing better than offering them the distance courses is being able to award them all certified and legitimate Masters Degrees in Science Education from the United States. And the only thing better than awarding the degrees is charging each of those thousands of Protestant Fundamentalist students all over the world many thousands of dollars for tuition. With a fat Texas-certified Masters Degree in Science Education thrown in, every student will get a quite considerable "value added" for their money. Who could ask for anything more?
The financial aspect of this story has received no attention from the press or anyone else, but TCS is happy to break the story. ICR stands to earn tens of millions of dollars from tuition fees if they can award real Masters degrees in science education to thousands of distance students over the world. Likewise, they will lose those millions of dollars if THECB certification is not granted on January 24, 2008, in Austin. Distance education is the reason ICR has only one equipped classroom in Dallas. That's all they need for their special distance education program, which can leverage the tremendous cost efficiencies of computer- and Web-based instruction. ICR wants to be the University of Phoenix for Pseudoscience.
The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board
For several months now, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) has been shepherding ICR's request for Certification to award Masters degrees in science education while it seeks permanent official accreditation from an accreditation association recognized by Texas. Certification is good for two years and allows the institution to prove itself before they receive a site visit and examination from the accrediting association. The THECB certification is temporary, but still vital for ICR to obtain, since it can start the buildup of its Creationist pseudoscience graduate school and leverage the official Texas approval and two years worth of work into something a mainstream accreditation association will be unwilling or intimidated to destroy. And even if SACS won't accredit ICR, ICR has other options. The easiest is simply to convince a majority of Texas legislators and our Governor to tell the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to accept TRACS accreditation for graduate schools. When the multi-million dollar financial stakes are so high, anything is possible in Texas. Most Texas legislators will see the education of foreign nationals in Creationism--with their tuition money flowing into Texas--as the best of all possible worlds. We can get rich while we make other nations stupid. That's what we mean by "value added" in Texas.
The entire certification process has been low-key and secretive. I believe that the THECB hoped that the entire process could be completed and ICR certification granted without any press, educational, or scientific attention. TCS has discovered that the individuals assigned to conduct the site evaluation were unqualified to perform this task. None of them had appropriate scientific training or credentials. The Certification Advisory Council was obviously unqualified to judge the site evaluation report. It rubber-stamped the report and voted unanimous approval for ICR's certification. There needs to be an investigation of how these individuals were appointed to their two committees and why they were chosen. The entire process stinks of cronyism and favoritism. TCS would not be surprised if money was involved, but we know nothing yet. The press really needs to investigate the THECB.
The On-Site Evaluation Team
Texas Citizens for Science obtained and posted the Report of Evaluation of the ICR by the THECB Site Visit Team. This PDF document also contains ICR's Initial Response to the Report of Evaluation. The latter Response contains ICR's Strategic Plan and Budgeting Process Timeline for their new Dallas institution. These two documents contain passages that should make reasonable, educated, rational readers squirm. The on-site evaluation committee of the THECB visited ICR in Dallas on November 8, 2007. Main stream media press reports omitted their names, but TCS is happy to make them available. The on-site visiting committee consisted of
1. David Rankin, Ph.D., Social Sciences Reference/Government Documents Librarian, Texas A&M University-Commerce
2. Lee "Rusty" Waller, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Educational Leadership, Texas A&M University-Commerce
3. Gloria White, Ed.D., Managing Director, Dana Research Center for Mathematics and Science Education, The University of Texas at Austin
4. Linda McDonough represented the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board
TCS believes that these individuals are not qualified to judge the qualifications of a proposed "scientific" graduate school that plans to offer Masters Degrees in Science Education. None of the three academic evaluators are formally trained in science or even science education. Gloria White, who works for a math and science education center, is a mathematician. Also, if one reads their scientifically-incompetent report, it is immediately obvious that all three were sympathetic to the aims and goals of Young Earth Creationism and deliberately wrote a biased report whose fairness and accuracy is highly suspect. An investigation should be made about how these three individuals were selected for the on-site visit. Were they recommended to the THECB by the ICR itself? Who on the Board staff selected these three for the site visit? TCS predicts that an investigation will reveal that cronyism and favoritism was involved (nothing new for Texas, admittedly, but somewhat unusual in science and science education).
The evaluation committee reported the following:
A review of the vita of the full-time teaching faculty by the site visit team indicated that the faculty's credentials are appropriate....It is fair to say that the education, experience, and characteristics of the ICR faculty in higher education are such that one may reasonably conclude that students will receive an education consistent with the objectives of the proposed Masters degree from ICR. In addition, the ICR faculty consistently stressed to the site visit team that they always include in their courses multiple perspectives on the science topics presented. In particular, they explained in detail how they provide not only the "creationist" perspective but also the "more typical secular" perspectives on the science topics covered in their courses.
The institution also makes clear in the faculty handbook the expectation that faculty publications should promote a creationist point of view, and represent unequivocal commitment to the stated doctrinal positions in the institution's Bylaws. The institution's statement on academic freedom has been distributed to all the faculty....
The differing perspectives of the creation/evolution issue was addressed by the faculty member in each of the courses, so that students will know and understand current scientific information and research from non-creationist scientists. Obviously, the faculty member in each of the courses also provides the student with the creationist perspective, as well. When asked if students seemed reluctant to learn about the creationist view of scientific topics as part of the course, the faculty indicated that the students at ICR tend to self-select such that they already have views that closely match those of the faculty and administration of ICR.
It is fair to say that the proposed Masters degree in science education, while carrying an embedded component of creationist perspectives/views, is nevertheless a plausible program. The proposed degree would be generally comparable to an initial Masters degree in science education from one of the smaller, regional universities in the state.
It is difficult to believe that anyone could write these paragraphs without having absolutely no understanding or appreciation of irony. It should be obvious to anyone with the smallest amount of reliable scientific understanding that ICR does not plan to teach legitimate science and that the school and its "science education" degree are part of an enormous con job. The site evaluation team writes, "It is fair to say that the education, experience, and characteristics of the ICR faculty in higher education are such that one may reasonably conclude that students will receive an education consistent with the objectives of the proposed Masters degree from ICR." This is double-talk or Newspeak. ICR could be teaching Geocentricism or Flying Pig Farming instead of Young Earth Creationism and the statement would still be true. Are there really no principled educational standards in Texas? Yes, students will receive an education consistent with the objectives of the proposed ICR Masters degree program, but what does that mean in terms of learning actual reliable knowledge about science or science education? Nothing! Students will learn pseudoscience and be awarded a Masters Degree in Science Education in Texas. This is a travesty, not an accomplishment.
A scientific view of nature is described by the ICR as the "more typical secular" perspective and the site team accepted this! Both secular and religious scientists would object to this description of a scientific view of nature. Legitimate scientists who are religious, who make up about 40% of all scientists, often understand the scientific view of nature from a religious perspective, and that's okay, since they also practice real science that avoids religion in their work. ICR does not practice real science; in fact, ICR and its Creationist ilk have been criticized by almost every scientific organization in the United States.
The reference in the report to "non-creationist scientists" is priceless! Is this the new THECB term for what everyone else in the world would call a . . . "scientist"? The THECB site evaluation team believes it's a good idea to be specific when using new terms!
The site teams writes, "It is fair to say that the proposed Masters degree in science education, while carrying an embedded component of creationist perspectives/views, is nevertheless a plausible program." Plausible perhaps, but by what standards? If judged by typical science standards, the ICR Masters degree program fails miserably. It teaches Young Earth Creationism, for God's sake! That is not science. Even the supposed legitimate science instruction is suspect, since the ICR professors have no enthusiasm for legitimate science. Their entire careers are devoted to arguing against, attempted refuting, misrepresenting, and mocking authentic science. If judged by YEC standards, then yes, the ICR graduate program is plausible. But the THECB is not in the business of certifying Creationist research centers for approved Texas graduate degrees. Or is it? TCS would have no objection if ICR was approved to award Masters Degrees in Creationism or Masters Degrees in Pseudoscience. But we do object if the word science is in the graduate degree title.
The site team writes, "The proposed degree would be generally comparable to an initial Masters degree in science education from on of the smaller, regional universities in the state." This statement is just completely false. There is nothing comparable between a Masters degree in science education from a regional Texas university and one in pseudoscience education from ICR. The statement is a slur on every Texas regional university that offers a Masters degree in science education. Only individuals with (1) absolutely no scientific and educational competence or (2) are overwhelmingly biased and compromised in the professional conduct of their evaluation could write such a duplicitous sentence such as this. This is absolutely shameful and disgusting behavior. It is scandalous that such contempt for science education goes on in our state under the official purview of a state agency that is supposed to be dedicated to the goal "to achieve excellence for the college education of Texas students."
TCS claims that the three members of the site evaluation team were chosen because they were expected to favor the goals of ICR, and to write a positive report about ICR that would encourage its approval for THECB certification. This they did. But the language in their incompetent report--and I only pulled out a few choice quotes; there is much, much more--clearly reveals the authors are hopelessly biased and scientifically unqualified. For this site evaluation, TCS claims the fix was in. This scandal needs to be investigated by an Inspector General or the Attorney General, especially if their report is acted upon favorably.
The Committee on Academic Excellence and Research
The next step occurred on December 12, 2007. The THECB's Committee on Academic Excellence and Research (AER) met and, among other things, considered the following agenda item:
AGENDA ITEM II-H
Discussion and consideration of adopting recommendations by the Committee to the Board for approval of requests from two private postsecondary education institutions for certificates of authority to grant degrees in Texas:
1. Galen Health Institute, San Antonio
2. Institute for Creation Research, Dallas
[Galen description removed]
INSTITUTE FOR CREATION RESEARCH, DALLAS
RECOMMENDATION: Pending Certification Advisory Council recommendation
The Institute for Creation Research (ICR) is a private, not-for-profit corporation, registered in the states of California and Texas for the purposes of research, writing, and education in both the standard curriculum of each scientific discipline and the Institute's supplemental framework of scientific creationism and biblical authority in all disciplines.
The ICR Graduate School program provides graduate-level training in science education through an online environment, with minors in the natural sciences that are particularly relevant to the study of origins.
An on-site evaluation was conducted at ICR on November 8, 2007. The Board's Certification Advisory Council will review the evaluation team's report, and ICR's response to the evaluation on December 14, 2007. The Commissioner will forward their recommendation to the Board with his endorsement or with his substitute recommendation.
A person who attended this meeting reported to me that the AER Committee barely considered the ICR agenda item. They mumbled and looked embarrassed. They did not discuss the item or make recommendations. They quickly tabled the item and passed it on for the Certification Advisory Council to consider in two days, on December 14. The members of this important committee, supposedly devoted to "Academic Excellence," had the opportunity to say something to stop this madness and safeguard academic excellence in Texas, but they didn't. They ignored the issue, passed it on, and tried to hide. MSM (mainstream media) press reports omitted their names, but here they are:
1. Lyn Phillips, Chair
2. Elaine Mendoza, Vice-Chair
3. Laurie Bricker
4. Joe B. Hinton
5. New Board Member (Vacant)
6. Robert Shepard, Ex-Officio
These five individuals should be ashamed of their behavior. They should have stood up for good science in Texas and given the ICR request a negative recommendation. Once again, TCS feels that something is rotten in Austin. Educated public officials that must have taken an oath to uphold the integrity of their offices allowed a religious, pseudoscientific organization to obtain a valuable Texas certification to award graduate degrees in science. What was their motivation? Something stinks.
The Certification Advisory Council
Finally, the THECB's Certification Advisory Council reviewed their agency's on-site evaluation of ICR in Austin on December 14, 2007. After the hearing and discussion, the Council voted unanimously to endorse the ICR's request for certification. TCS knows little of what happened at this hearing. Once again, MSM (mainstream media) press reports omitted the names of the individuals on this advisory committee. Here they are thanks to Melissa Del Bosque of the Texas Observer:
Dr. Judith G. Loredo of Huston-Tillotson University
Dr. Helen Sullivan of Arlington Baptist College
Dr. Robert C. Cloud of Baylor University
Dr. Johanne Thomas of Texas A&M Prairie View
Dr. James P. Duran of UT Austin
Dr. Theodore J. Wardlow of the Austin Presbyterian Seminar
These individuals are appointed to two-year terms by the coordinating board to make recommendations on whether private institutions should be authorized to issue degrees in Texas. The authorization or certification is good for two years while the institution seeks formal accreditation from an accrediting association or commission recognized by Texas. Unlike other states, Texas recognizes only nine such associations, and they are all legitimate and respectable (i.e. unlike TRACS). Let's be clear what these six people did. Although their credentials are not known yet, but obviously unfamiliar with and untrained in science, these six individuals unanimously approved a recommendation to the full THECB (which meets January 24, 2008) to allow ICR--a Young Earth Creationist organization--to obtain its desired certification to grant Masters degrees in science education. This is a travesty. These six public officials, supposedly pledged to uphold the integrity of their office, recommended that an anti-science Creationist organization be given the right in Texas to teach students about Creationism and award them real, authentic, legitimate Masters Degrees in Science Education that are certified by the State of Texas. This is extraordinarily shameful and disgusting behavior, and makes a mockery of the THECB's goal "to achieve excellence for the college education of Texas students." In fact, it will do just the opposite. The citizens of Texas should be alarmed that our state's highest public education officials want to corrupt and pervert science education in our state.
It is imperative that the Commissioner of the THECB, Dr. Raymund A. Paredes, be made aware that ICR (1) is not a scientific organization, but one that actively promotes pseudoscience and the corruption of legitimate science, (2) that ICR failed to legitimately obtain certification from California to grant graduate degrees but got it anyway by a lawsuit, and (3) that the THECB's goal "to achieve excellence for the college education of Texas students" will be in jeopardy--in fact, Texas will become a laughingstock--if it grants ICR the official state certification it desires.
Some recent quotes from Dr. Paredes are not very reassuring. He seems to be unaware of the correct relationship between Creationism and science, perhaps believing that they are equivalent:
Asked for his views on evolution, Paredes said, "I accept the conventions of science" and "I believe evolution has a legitimate place in the teaching of science." But he declined to say that evolution should be taught as the science. "A lot of people believe creationism is a legitimate point of view. I respect them," Paredes said. "I'm an advocate of the principle that when there is a controversy and there are legitimate arguments on both sides of the conflict, my pedagogical principle is 'teach the conflict.' Maybe that's a possibility here."
No, Dr. Paredes, that is not a possibility. There are not two legitimate arguments on both sides here. One side is honest and has two centuries of success in discovering reliable and accurate knowledge about nature. The other side is dishonest in every conceivable way and fails every possible test of its reliability and integrity. Dr. Paredes is obviously confused about intellectual categories and boundaries within the realm of science. But later Dr. Paredes said this:
"Maybe the real issue here is to put this proposal in the right category. Maybe it's not a program in science education. Maybe it's a program in creation studies. Then we have to decide whether that is a legitimate field or not," Paredes said.
Now this is a correct description, and an excellent one at that. TCS would endorse the THECB giving ICR certification to award graduate degrees in Creation Studies or Creation Education or Creationism. These are not legitimate academic fields, of course, but plenty of schools of higher education issue perfectly legitimate graduate degrees in weird, wacky, and obscure topics. Many religious institutions offer legitimate degrees in various aspects of theology, and ICR might find a place there. I would not begrudge giving ICR the approval to grant degrees in Theological Creationism. TCS would only object if the word Science was in the degree title, because this would be a prevarication. No doubt ICR wants the word Science in its degree title, to give their Creationist pseudoscience the superficial but false sheen of legitimacy, but this would be an insult to every scientist and science teacher in Texas. Is the THECB going to allow this?
If you are as appalled by the events described in this article as is the author, please write to Dr. Raymund A. Paredes, the Commissioner of the THECB to express your disgust at how this process has been handled so far, and to object to granting ICR the certification to award graduate science degrees it desires. The address is:
Dr. Raymund A. Paredes, Commissioner
Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board
P.O. Box 12788
Austin, TX 78711-2788
or by email at Raymund.Paredes@thecb.state.tx.us
Don't let secrecy, favoritism, cronyism, and probably financial mischief win this one for organized and aggressive pseudoscience in Texas.
NEW MATERIAL ADDED ON 2008 JANUARY 6
Texas Public Information Act requests of email messages have yielded new information about the process regarding the Institute for Creation Research's request for a Certificate of Authority from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) to grant Masters degrees in science education for two years while seeking formal accreditation from SACS. First, some relevant documents about ICR are available right from the THECB website:
Application for Certificate of Authority from the ICR
http://www.thecb.state.tx.us/AAR/PrivateInstitutions/ICR_Application_for_COA.pdf (9 MB)
ICR Site Evaluation Report
ICR Site Evaluation Response
http://www.thecb.state.tx.us/AAR/PrivateInstitutions/ICR_Site_Evaluation_Response_12.14.07.pdf (1.2 MB)
A FAQ of the evaluation process specifically for ICR
Private Colleges and Institutes in Texas
The first document is ICR's formal application for certification; it is 233 pages long. The second and third documents were previously obtained and made available by TCS in a single PDF file. The fourth document is a description of the process that ICR must follow to obtain a Certificate of Authority; it was written especially for ICR's application and explains the steps involved and who has the authority to give intermediate and final approval.
More interesting are the private email messages obtained by TCS and others. Forrest Wilder in the Texas Observer Blog has already reported on these new documents in an article titled The Masters of Pseudoscience on 2008 January 4. What follows is the TCS analysis of these messages and what they reveal about the ICR process.
As described in TCS's original December 17 report (above), we questioned whether the ICR evaluation process was conducted in a principled and professional manner and suggested that its integrity, competence, and fairness were not foremost in the minds of the evaluators. TCS strongly believed that cronyism and favoritism was at play in the conduct of the official THECB evaluation, and now we have the evidence that this was the case. How else to explain the speedy, unanimous, and very quiet and stealthy approval of ICR's application during its initial steps.
Linda McDonough set up the site evaluation committee for the THECB. On October 8, she emailed four individuals (two of which would not ultimately participate in the site visit), and said the following:
As you all know, creationism is a controversial issue with strong feelings on both sides. I’m sorry to have to put this bluntly, but, would you, as an evaluator, be able to put aside any opinions you may have on the issue and give an unbiased report on the education side of the degree program and how it meets the standards set by the THECB? Please respond by email as soon as possible.
This request may sound fair and balanced, but it is not. Yes, people do have "strong feelings" for and against Creationism and ICR, and it certainly would be professional to set aside any emotional opinions to write an unbiased evaluative report on the educational merits of the ICR and how its degree program met THECB standards. But please note that a proper site evaluation of a Creationist institution would not require the inspectors to put aside their own knowledge of educational competence, curriculum subject matter, and professional standards and principles--that is, evaluative opinions--and TCS thinks that this was what was really being requested of the evaluation team members by Linda McDonough. This is ultimately what happened in any case, either by willfulness or ignorance. That is, while one's personal feelings could be "put aside," it is improper to put aside professional evaluative opinions and principles to judge the suitability of ICR to accurately and reliably teach (in this case) science and science education so as to be able to legitimately award graduate degrees in science education. In particular, it would be improper for a legitimate scientist or science educator to be unbiased about the professional suitability of an ICR science education degree.
Scientists should be biased in favor of a scientific understanding of nature and expressing that attitude in the context of science education. Of course, students can choose what ultimately to believe, but the science instructor and institution must present accurate and reliable science and its interpretation by the consensus of scientists as used in research universities and professional training. This would obviously not be the case for ICR, which promotes Biblical Young Earth Creationism (YEC). ICR terms its doctrine "Scientific Creationism" or "Creation Science," but these are duplicitous euphemisms for YEC. In all cases, ICR promotes and teaches Creationist pseudoscience. Indeed, ICR is anti-science, since it teaches its students ways to refute current scientific evidence and reasoning concerning evolution and the origin of life. This would not be "science education" by any definition, but anti-science education, a form of miseducation.
For example, the ICR's statements of faith includes the tenet, "All things in the universe were created and made by God in the six literal days of the creation week described in Genesis 1:1-2:3, and confirmed in Exodus 20:8-11. The creation record is factual, historical and perspicuous; thus all theories of origins or development which involve evolution in any form are false." ICR's Graduate School Science Education Program Objectives include, "The ICRGS student will develop content knowledge in science from the evolutionary and creationist worldviews in order to relate science and [science] education concepts as revealed in scripture" and "The ICRGS student will use knowledge of the students in his/her classroom to...implement a variety of methods to convey successfully scientific knowledge as it relates to a created universe with purpose and destiny." That is, the ICRGS student is expect to use the knowledge he or she learns at ICR to indoctrinate younger students in Biblical Creationism. A noble objective, indeed, and one which many Texas citizens would appreciate. Other tenets include formation of Earth's surface features by a catastrophic global flood, specially-created Adam and Eve, and a Creator who remains active in natural laws and processes. Applicants to the ICR's graduate school are explicitly told that their answers to the essay questions on the application help to determine "your dedication to the Lord, the Word, and teaching creation science." The ICR's graduate program offers a class called "Curriculum Design in Science," whose course Web page gives this scenario: "The school board has asked you to serve on a committee that is examining grades 6-12 science goals. ... Both evolutionist and creationist teachers serve on the curriculum committee. How will you convince them to include creation science as well as evolution in the new scope and sequence?"
Ultimately, the site evaluation team members either willfully put aside their professional evaluative standards, or did not have such professional standards to begin with because they were unqualified to do their task. TCS admits that the latter situation is probably the case, and--though we can't rule out a hidden sympathy for ICR and its goals--this raises the question of why such unqualified site visit team members were chosen in the first place. To judge the suitability of awarding a Masters degree in science education, one would think that a site evaluation committee would be composed of scientists and science educators. As we now know, this was not the case. It would have been easy for a legitimate scientist or science educator to spot the pseudoscience being taught in ICR's curriculum, but the members of this evaluation team did not see it.
Lee "Rusty" Waller of Texas A&M-Commerce is an assistant professor of educational leadership and a Baptist preacher. Gloria White is managing director of the Dana Center for Mathematics and Science Education at UT-Austin, and might be expected to be an expert in science education, but she is not. Her background is in mathematics and math education. The librarian of the three-person site team, David Rankin, also of Texas A&M-Commerce, was added at the last minute--according to the email messages--apparently only to judge ICR's library. Two other individuals were also considered for the site visit, Judith L. Larson and Cathy Loving, but neither could attend. Judith Larson appears to be the librarian who had to cancel and her spot was filled by David Rankin on the day before the site visit. Cathy Loving is an associate professor of teaching, learning, and culture at Texas A&M-College Station, but she had to cancel because her husband was having surgery the same day as the visit.
Rusty Waller replied to Linda McDonough's request. "Certainly! I will only consider the standards." Dr. Loving, in an interview quoted in the Texas Observer article, noted that she could not put aside her professional judgment when evaluating ICR according to the THECB standards. She stated:
Of course I have opinions—based on many years of research and writing. These opinions are very much on the "education side of the degree program and how it meets the standards of THECB." I assume part of the education requirements of the Board’s standards involves the content of the courses. That is the controversial part--and the Institute will have to convince evaluators that the content is about science and about education--and that science and religion are taught with adequate distinctions. If they cannot do that, then there is no way I can support a program that calls itself "science education."
"Creation science" is more than controversial. It has been ruled illegal to teach in public schools, according to decisions in Dover, Pennsylvania and then in the Supreme Court. But beyond that, even if private institutions are allowed to teach creationism—they must show the evaluators how their theory is presented in such a manner that "science education" meets a reasonable definition of science and not religious belief. Surely the Board has a reasonable definition of science.
It is unfortunate that Dr. Loving was not part of the THECB's ICR site evaluation committee, for she would have been a qualified and competent evaluator and might have saved the evaluation team much grief. The Texas Observer article says Loving was unsure whether McDonough would have accepted her response because she never received more than a cursory reply. The article also states that Gloria White wrote the section of the Site Evaluation Report dealing with Standard 12, Curriculum, which we will come to see is the center of the controversy. This section of the report states that the site team's examination of ICR's curriculum materials
indicated to the visiting team that the level of rigor of their science education and science courses was acceptable for [an] initial Masters degree. The differing perspectives of the creation/evolution issue was addressed by the faculty member in each of the courses, so that students will know and understand current scientific information and research from non-creationist scientists. Obviously, the faculty member in each of the courses also provides the student with the creationist perspective as well. When asked if students seemed reluctant to learn the creationist view of scientific topics as part of the course, the faculty indicated that the students at ICR tend to self-select such that they already have views that closely match those of the faculty and administration of ICR.
It is fair to say that the proposed Masters degree in science education, while carrying an embedded component of creationist perspectives/views, is nevertheless a plausible program. The proposed degree would be generally comparable to an initial Masters degree in science education from one of the smaller, regional universities in the state.
TCS has already addressed the substance of these statements, from the ludicrousness of the term "non-creationist scientists" to the idea that a Young Earth Creationist curriculum is a "plausible program" for a graduate degree in science education to the insulting contention that the ICR degree in science education would be "generally comparable" to a similar one from a regional Texas university. It is clear that the site evaluation team--through design or ignorance--was eager to give ICR's pseudoscience their approval. Now we need to examine the THECB's specific standards in some detail to see where the formal, operational mistake occurred.
The key document we need to examine is titled Chapter 7. Private and Out-of-State Public Postsecondary Educational Institutions Operating in Texas, available at http://www.thecb.state.tx.us/Rules/tac3.cfm?Chapter_ID=7&Subchapter=A This document is also available as a PDF file at http://www.thecb.state.tx.us/Rules/Tac3.cfm?Chapter_ID=7&Subchapter=A&Print=1, then you must manually change the extension from .cfm to .pdf after the file downloads to open it in Adobe Acrobat (because it doesn't download correctly as a PDF file). The section we are interested in is "Section 7.7, Standards for Certificates of Authority." This section lists the Standards under which ICR was evaluated on 2008 November 8 and will be evaluated again by the new advisory group composed of scientists and science educators appointed in January 2008 by Commissioner Paredes to re-evaluate ICR and decide whether its Graduate School should be granted a Certificate of Authority to issue graduate degrees. As TCS mentioned before, events in Texas are 20 years later exactly duplicating the events in California. Unfortunately, also likely to be duplicated is ICR's lawsuit against the THECB if it is denied its application for a science education graduate degree. No doubt this prospect is in the mind of Dr. Paredes, for ICR is a particularly litigious organization, even when the merits of the case are against it.
The Site Evaluation Team (SET) and the Certification Advisory Council (CAC) are legally obligated to evaluate ICR on the basis of THECB's Standards, Section 7.7 published in its Rules, and only by these Standards. It is probably true that ICR does meet almost all the standards (most minimally, such as Standard 15--adequate library facilities (the library was no doubt filled with Creationist books, but the SET only said ICR needed to hire a full-time librarian), Standard 16--adequate educational facilities (ICR has one equipped classroom, but that was deemed sufficient by the SET, because almost all instruction was going to be distance instruction using the Internet), and especially Standard 11--Academic Freedom (since all faculty members are required to sign a Biblical Literalist loyalty oath!). The SET recommended that the ICR Graduate School (ICRGS) needed to make changes to better comply with Standards 4, 7, and 15. Standard 4 concerned the distinction of roles of individuals on the governing board and the administration, Standard 7 improving institutional assessment, and Standard 15 the library. The CAC agreed with the SET that ICR (specifically, the ICR Graduate School, or ICRGS) needed to make changes to fix the problems with these three standards. TCS has no doubt that ICR will fix these problems with alacrity, and they stated such in their formal Initial Response to the Report of Evaluation.
The Problem of Standard 12, Curriculum
The one standard that the ICR Graduate School manifestly did not meet--but which was not properly detected and reported by the SET in its Site Evaluation Report--was Standard 12--Curriculum. This is the key point: Standard 12 governing the school's curriculum was not evaluated correctly by either group, SET or CAC, both of whom gave ICR their unanimous approval. Neither evaluation panel stated a concern with this standard, and yet this is the standard which ICR obviously fails.
Standard 12(A) says, "The quality, content, and sequence of each course, curriculum, or program of instruction, training, or study shall be appropriate to the purpose of the institution and shall be such that the institution may reasonably and adequately achieve the stated objectives of the course or program." TCS agrees that the ICR Graduate School would meet this standard if it was granting Masters degrees in Creation Studies, Creationism, Biblical Creationism, Young Earth Creationism, Creationism Education, Pseudoscientific Education, or similar monikers. But not for a degree in Science Education. The "quality" and "content" of their courses does not adequately teach Science Education, because ICR teaches Pseudoscience Education (and Anti-Science Education). No individual on either evaluation group was qualified to understand and make this distinction, and if any thought of this concept, they ignored it. TCS maintains that the course, curriculum, and program of instruction must be evaluated within the implied standards of the graduate program and degree intended to be offered. Any legitimate scientist or science educator on either the site visit committee or the CAC would have noticed this discrepancy immediately and acted on it.
Amazingly, Curriculum Standard 12 of Section 7.7 doesn't explicitly specify or require that the stated degree program and curriculum offered by the institutional applicant should be similar in quality and content to other accredited institutions that offer the same degree, such as in this case of a masters of science education program and degree. Instead, the standard only states that the curriculum and degree program "shall be appropriate to the purpose of the institution" and that "the institution may reasonably and adequately achieve the stated objectives" of the program. This leaves an enormous amount of interpretation to the professionals evaluating the curriculum and degree program, and no doubt this ambiguity was intentional to allow many different types of academic institutions to achieve the desired Certificate of Authority while they seek legitimate, mainstream accreditation. After all, Bible Colleges, Schools of Theology, Schools of Alternative or Eastern Medicine, and Chiropractic Colleges would be able to offer legitimate and certified degrees to graduates despite their complete lack of mainstream science content. The difference, however, is that these schools and colleges do not seek to award Masters Degrees in Science Education to their graduates, a mainstream academic discipline and degree.
Despite the absence of an explicit requirement of the degree program and curriculum to conform or be similar to other accredited institutions that offer the same degree, TCS believes this conformance is implied when it states that "the institution may reasonably and adequately achieve the stated objectives of the course or program." That is, when evaluating the curriculum, the nature and type of the desired degree program must be taken into account: a graduate degree in science education should be awarded to a student who masters legitimate Science Education, not ICR Creation Studies (which frankly is anti-science education as explained above). Without such an implied conformance to state or national standards, any set of circumstances, biased agency evaluators, and sympathetic public officials could permit any institution the right to grant any degree. Then the curriculum standard would be a form of 1984 Newspeak, a form of double-talk that can be interpreted in a variety of ways for the benefit of unscrupulous institutions. Under this interpretation, we might as well give ICR the right to award Texas-certified PhDs in Creation Science in addition to Masters Degrees in Science Education. Unfortunately, since the standard is somewhat ambiguous, a correct evaluation of the ICR curriculum under Standard 12 depends to a large extent on the experience, knowledge, professionalism, and--yes--integrity of individual evaluation committee members regarding the amount of conformance to mainstream academic standards of the desired degree. What this means is that the original two evaluation committees could, in their ignorance and lack of scientific knowledge and training, legally but irresponsibly conclude that ICR met the burden of Standard 12. To do this, however, the panel members would have to willfully blind themselves to what is obvious: that ICR's science education degree program is not scientific and not education.
So the real travesties are (1) the poorly-written, non-explicit Curriculum Standard 12 and especially (2) the procedure that the THECB used to select the members of the two evaluation bodies. Was the lack of scientists and science educators on the two groups deliberate or a coincidence? I believe the selection was deliberate, since it would have been extraordinarily easy to select qualified individuals rather than the ones who have approved ICR's Certificate for Authority application so far. It is inconceivable that the THECB--and Linda McDonough in particular--thought it was okay to just send over any Texas academic to perform the site visit without regard for their ability to make an accurate professional judgment of ICR science and science education curriculum and degree program.
Standard 12 further states, "Each program shall adequately cover the breadth of knowledge of the discipline taught...," and ICR may actually meet this requirement in a perverted sort of way, since it teaches enough about scientific topics (evolutionary biology, radiometric dating, stratigraphy, paleontology, etc.) so that its students learn how to refute them using the usual specious Creationist arguments! Needless to say, this is not education, but the opposite of education: it is indoctrination in mendacious pseudoscience.
Obviously, if the students pursue their studies at ICR and don't end up accepting the scientific understanding of modern biology--which include evolutionary biology as the core process, an ancient Earth, a naturalistic origin of life, etc.--and, needless to say, none do, then the courses, curriculum, and program of instruction at ICR are not performing at the same level as mainstream academic institutions. Notoriously, the site visit committee wrote that, "The proposed degree would be generally comparable to an initial Masters degree in science education from one of the smaller, regional universities in the state." If this statement were true, then ICR would meet Curriculum Standard 12. But it is not true; in fact, the statement is an insult and slur on all smaller, regional universities in Texas.
Robert Cloud's Reasons That Justify His Recommendation
One member of the Certification Advisory Council (CAC), Baylor University professor Dr. Robert C. Cloud, Ed.D., felt so concerned about the negative feedback from scientists for the consequences of his vote to approve ICR's application, that he took the time to write to Linda McDonough and his colleagues on the CAC on 2007 December 20 to justify his decision. Cloud was formerly Chair of the Department of Health, Human Performance and Recreation at Baylor; currently he is the Interim Chair and Professor of Higher Education in the Department of Educational Administration. Dr. Cloud is not a scientist, and judging from his academic training, TCS believes he is opposed to evolution (Cloud is a graduate of Howard Payne College, a Baptist school upholding traditional Christian values, founded in 1889 for the purpose of preparing students for Christian ministry).
In his message, Dr. Cloud gives three reasons for his decision to support the recommendation to the THECB:
1. Based on the site visit committee's report and a lengthy discussion among CAC members, Dr. Cloud says that ICR's proposed "Masters Degree in Science Education appeared to meet the letter and spirit of all but three of the required operational standards specified in Coordinating Board policy." Cloud mentions standards 3, 4, and 7 that must be addressed before the THECB considers ICR program certification. He continues, "As you know, Advisory Council deliberations and recommendations are bound by those Operational Standards. The Coordinating Board deliberates the larger issues like appropriate separation of church and state." Here Dr. Cloud is trying to confuse the issue. Church-State separation is not an issue here and never has been. Many church-related post-secondary institutions receive certification from the THECB. He ignores the crucial issue: why did the CAC not fault ICR for standard 12--its curriculum? Were all six CAC members oblivious to the fact that ICR does not really teach science and science education, and therefore has no reasonable grounds to be recommended to award graduate degrees in science education?
2. "No public money will support the proposed ICR program." True, but irrelevant and irresponsible: ICR will not get public money, but it will get public certification (if Dr. Cloud's recommendation is followed), something even more valuable than money, and it will educate students who will earn Texas-certified Masters of Science Education degrees, the quality of which presumably our state has a financial interest (a suspect state-approved science education degree will lower the value of other state-approved degrees).
3. Dr. Cloud says, "The Institute for Creation Research is a private, sectarian institution that by its own admission offers a narrowly-tailored curriculum to a very small student population. If approved by the CB, the ICR Masters program in Science Education will reflect that narrow mission--no more, no less." Actually, no. The ICR Masters Degree program will teach many hundreds of students over many years, and by awarding them a Texas-certified Masters Degree in Science Education, will inevitably lower the quality of all Texas science education degrees and the reputation of the State's degree-granting certification policy. And it is not a "narrowly-tailored" curriculum: it is a full-blown mock "science" education curriculum that passes off pseudoscience as science.
Dr. Cloud continues, "The ICR leadership will have to establish credibility in the larger academic arena if the program ever achieves regional accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). Minutes of the December 12 Advisory Council meeting will reflect that we had a meaningful discussion with ICR representatives about the critical importance of their continuing work toward accreditation with SACS." This reason is the most hypocritical justification of them all. It is particularly cowardly and irresponsible, because Dr. Cloud is passing off the problem to SACS rather than making the principled and correct decision now to refuse to grant ICR certification to give science education graduate degrees. Enough information is available now to make the correct decision. Even more egregious is the fact that the Certificate of Authority is renewable. As described earlier, it will be very difficult--perhaps impossible--for ICR to obtain formal accreditation for its pseudoscientific "science education" curriculum and degree program from a mainstream accrediting association such as SACS. Instead, if ICR wins THECB's certification the first time, they will just keep renewing it every two years! If favoritism and cronyism have carried ICR so far in its quest for the authority to grant legitimate, State-certified science education graduate degrees, then it will just keep using this means.
All three of Dr. Robert Cloud's reasons for recommending that ICR's application be approved are extraordinarily illogical and specious. Unfortunately, they reflect the aggressiveness and over-reaching of modern, organized, institutional Creationism in the United States. A similar example of such specious and aggressive over-reaching can be found in ICR CEO Henry Morris III's letter in response to a Dallas Morning News editorial, in which he defends the scientific credentials of ICR. Dr. Cloud's own institution, Baylor University, has an excellent scientific reputation, and evolution is not considered controversial by its science professors, many of whom will cringe when they read their colleague's email message. Someday empirical and reasoned principles will be used to make decisions in Texas by public officials, but today is not the day if Dr. Cloud's analysis is the standard.
Texas Citizens for Science approves the idea of allowing ICR the right to grant a Masters Degree in Creation Studies, Creationism, Young Earth Creationism, Creation Education, or some similar title. It would be churlish to deny ICR the right to award a graduate degree in their curriculum and degree program when Bible Colleges, Schools of Theology, and Chiropractic Colleges have the right to award similar legitimate and State-certified graduate degrees in their specialties. What scientists and science educators object to, of course, is giving ICR the certification to award a Masters Degrees in Science Education, since this would be a prevarication--as explained above. Such an outcome, moreover, would invite a lawsuit from organizations of science educators and possibly Texas institutions that award legitimate, mainstream science education degrees, since the name and value of their degree would thereby by cheapened.
The other possibility--that ICR may wish for if it can't win approval for a masters degree in science education--is being allowed to award a Masters Degree in Creation Science or Scientific Creationism. TCS would object to this possibility also, because it is a duplicitous and misleading use of the words science and scientific. There is nothing scientific about ICR's brand of Creationism: Creation Science and Scientific Creationism are the names of a well-known pseudoscience, Biblical Creationism masquerading as science. Many federal District Court and Supreme Court decisions have already determined this fact and forbidden the teaching of this pseudoscience in public schools because it violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. If the THECB approves such a graduate degree in a Certificate of Authority for ICR, it will make Texas the laughingstock of every other state in the country. Texas might as well approve Masters Degrees in such disciplines as Homeopathy, Astrology, Geocentricity, Flat Earth Studies, UFO investigation, the Shroud of Turin, Big Foot, and the Loch Ness Monster.
The best solution for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board is to allow ICR to award a Masters Degree in Creation Studies. No scientist or scientific organization would object to this decision.
NEW MATERIAL ADDED ON 2008 JANUARY 28
I visited Austin and had several good conversations with THECB Commissioner Raymund Paredes. He is now completely knowledgeable about Creationism in general and ICR in particular. Dr. Paredes told me in email correspondence that the evaluation process until he got involved was "insufficient," but now everything will be done with full transparency, correct evaluation standards, and follow proper procedure.
A news article reports that the Coordinating Board (CB) received emails from Nobel Laureates Steven Weinberg and Alfred Gilman, and these were printed in the newspaper. The CB is going to follow correct policy and procedure on ICR's application, and ICR will be given a fair evaluation and review over the next several months. ICR asked for more time and they now have until April 24. I am satisfied with how things have progressed since the issue became public around December 14 when I wrote the first TCS press release about ICR (I read the two December 15 news articles that broke the story on December 14 on the Web). Before the issue became public, ICR was indeed getting a pretty slick ride. I still believe they had received secret assurances from someone of smooth sailing, but those promises are over. ICR has some extremely tough hurdles to climb to succeed now, and I don't think they can. If they ultimately sue Texas, ICR will lose. I think ICR is going to have to be satisfied with a masters degree in creation studies or creation education, which I would not begrudge them, although such a degree would be next to useless for their financial purposes. I am not going to worry about this issue until April 24, when the CB meets again to decide ICR's application.
Commissioner Paredes met for several hours with an ad hoc group of scientists and science educators. Next, he met with ICR and raised three "concerns," asking ICR for more information for the CB to review. Let's discuss them now:
1. Curriculum. "Their curriculum doesn't line up very well with the curriculum available in conventional master of science programs here in Texas," he said. "I wanted them to either revise the curriculum or explain why it departed from the norm." I discussed the inadequacies of the ICR science curriculum in great detail in my original Dec 17 report on ICR. At the recent SBOE meeting, I spoke to one of the science educators who was on the ad hoc panel. I was told that the members agreed not to speak to anyone publicly until Jan 24, now April 24. But I was able to have several statements confirmed. One was that it is not only the principle that new degree programs must be similar in quality and content to those of similar programs in Texas universities, as I reasoned in my report should be the case, but it is also the "practice." Although I had no way of knowing this, historically the CB indeed evaluates new graduate degree programs by comparing them to other university graduate programs of similar content and quality. That's why the Site Evaluation Committee approval and Certification Advisory Council approvals were so unusual: their findings went against historical practice as well as implied principle. The content and quality of ICR's graduate program in science education must be compared to similar programs in other Texas universities, and this was not done by the two initial CB evaluation panels. Instead, their evaluation was superficial and cursory, and thus irresponsible.
2. Online learning. "Given all the research that demonstrates that science is best learned by actually doing it, how are you going to give students the proper exposure to the experimentation side of science online?" Commissioner Paredes said that this question is one he would ask of any online science program and wasn't related specifically to creationism. This would also be evaluated under the curriculum standard, no. 12, but I didn't think of this problem. Here's why. I was a pioneer in the development of distance education and a huge fan of the concept of delivering education over a huge area via distance methods. I created the first three science distance learning courses in Houston back in the late 1980s and very early 1990s, using video tapes for lectures and email and telephones for communication with students. Then in the mid 1990s I began converting these and other courses to web instruction using the new teaching software (such as Blackboard and WebCT) just then becoming available. Such courses are standard now.
Even though I was a very experienced science teaching professor, I took a series of courses about the brand-new disciplines of CAI (computer-aided instruction) and online educational technologies. These courses were taught at the University of Houston-Clear Lake by young education professors who had just received their PhDs from the University of South Florida, where the computer- and network-based educational technology revolution began. My institution, Houston Community College, had just initiated their own program in this field, and I was one of the very few first participants, the only science instructor. The courses I had earlier developed were non-lab science courses, which were okay for many students since I was working in a community college; I also taught the same courses in a classroom setting with labs for students who needed lab courses that would transfer to universities. I also worked on creating online lab courses with portable equipment (e.g., we checked out rock and mineral kits for the distance physical geology course) and lab books so labs could be conducted at home (yes, this is possible to a limited extent). My early distance courses were taught with video-taped lectures, not using the Web (which had been invented but was not in widespread use). So ICR's plan to deliver a total science education program solely via online distance learning did not alarm me at first. Not so, however, to the experienced science teacher educators. They told Paredes, quite correctly I now admit, that science educators in training must have classroom lab courses so they can handle the equipment they will be using to teach future students in similar classrooms. Such hands-on training is essential and is the norm for all science education programs in Texas. How is ICR going to provide hands-on laboratory training to its masters degree students using online instruction only? They can't.
I searched for any similar online or telecourse science education courses in Texas. UT Dallas has such a course for a Master of Arts in Teaching-Science Education degree. This, however, is a telecourse: lectures from UTD are delivered via computer and AV-equipped classroom and the students do their labs at the host institution. It appears that UTD telecourse students will actually take their standard laboratory science courses in a classroom setting at the host institutions, and the UTD science education program provides the specialized science education pedagogy that many colleges don't offer. The UTD science education course is not online only; there is no such course in any mainstream Texas university. This differs completely from the ICR plan to teach the entire science plus science education curriculum solely via online courses. With no hands-on labs, the degree program would not be equivalent to standard programs. I suppose over the next several months ICR will try to solve this problem with distance lab courses at host sites or have all graduate students physically attend real classes in Dallas for a period of time. Can they do it?
3. Research. Paredes said that the institute "claims that their faculty do actual research," so he asked for "material that documented the research activities under way" and that show the research to be "based on solid scientific research." This is another evaluation standard that I overlooked, since standard 9 governing faculty just says that they must have science PhDs from legitimate, mainstream research universities, not that they must conduct research, so I believed that ICR's faculty met that standard. Wrong. According to the scientists who advised Paredes, if an institution claims that its faculty are conducting scientific research, as ICR does indeed claim, these "scientists" must publish in mainstream, peer-reviewed scientific journals to be considered qualified research faculty. Since ICR's faculty do not publish in such journals, this is going to be a very difficult standard for them to meet. ICR faculty only publish Creationist articles in Creationist pseudoscientific journals, magazines, and tracts that are not peer-reviewed by qualified scientists.
It is important to recognize, of course, that ICR's teaching faculty does not consist of real scientists, despite their possession of legitimate science PhDs. Real scientists use the scientific method and possess the scientific attitude, which means that they work within a framework of methodological naturalism no matter what their religious beliefs may be. About 40% of real scientists believe in a supernatural, personal deity, but they don't conduct their scientific inquiries within a framework of supernaturalism as do the ICR Creation "scientists." ICR claims that its staff members keep their Biblical beliefs separate from their scientific beliefs, but that's nonsense. All of their classes and literature are Bible-based and stress their Literalist doctrine of Young Earth Creationism. Real scientists propose hypotheses that can be tested using empirical and logical methods--that's the basis of methodological naturalism--and Creationism by a supernatural Deity ultimately cannot be tested in this fashion. Of course, many proximate claims of the Creationists can be tested, such as the 10,000 years age of the Earth, a universal global flood, the lack of transitional fossils, macroevolution does not occur, etc. Fortunately for us, these claims have all been tested and they have all failed, since the claims are all based on specious reasoning and misinterpreted evidence, which has now been amply documented in the massive anti-Creationist literature written by scientists over the last three decades.
In conclusion, Commissioner Paredes set three high but perfectly legitimate hurdles for ICR to surmount to achieve their certification approval. It will be difficult for ICR to meet these standards. Perhaps that's why ICR sent a letter to their friends asking them to pray for ICR's success.
Texas Citizens for Science Last updated: 2008 January 28 Research for this article was conducted by the author and one anonymous researcher whose assistance is gratefully acknowledged. Other individual sources are cited with Web addresses. Several MSM reporters and bloggers have used information contained in this report because of earlier email messages and press releases sent by TCS.