February 1989 'BASIS', newsletter of the Bay Area Skeptics Bay Area Skeptics Information S

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---------------------------------------------------------- February 1989 "BASIS", newsletter of the Bay Area Skeptics ---------------------------------------------------------- Bay Area Skeptics Information Sheet Vol. 8, No. 2 Editor: Kent Harker DEGREES OF FOLLY: PART I by William Bennetta [On 8 December 1988, the "New York Times" told that the Institute for Creation Research -- the most prominent center of creationist pseudoscience in the United States -- had suffered a setback: The California State Department of Education had barred the ICR from issuing masters' degrees in science. That news, by itself, might not have seemed remarkable, for the ICR's charlatanry had been widely publicized for several years, and the idea of the ICR's awarding degrees in science was absurd. But the "Times" also told some things that surely WERE remarkable. The ICR already had been approved once by the Department, some seven years earlier, and actually had been passing out degrees. Moreover, the ICR's new application for approval, submitted in 1987, had led to some strange proceedings: The Department had sent a committee of five men to examine the ICR's programs, and three had voted favorably. The application had been denied only after one of the three changed his vote. How had all this happened? Here is the first part of an article in which Bill Bennetta, one of BAS's advisors, will answer that question. Bennetta has collected the relevant documents and has interviewed the members of the committee. In this installment, he tells how the committee's visit to the ICR resulted in a misleading report that omitted or distorted anything that might have conveyed the real nature of the ICR, its aims and its programs. Next month, he will recount how two members of the committee later told the real story, and he will describe what occurred after that.] When California's legislature adopted the Private Postsecondary Education Act of 1977, its statement of legislative intent spoke of "protecting the integrity of degrees and diplomas" issued by private institutions. The Act sought, among other things, to impose discipline on the operation of unaccredited schools and to inhibit the distribution of bogus degrees by diploma mills. It said that no school in California could award degrees unless the school had been certified by a recognized accreditation agency or 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 their same degrees. In 1981, when the superintendent was Wilson Riles, the Department overtly scorned the legislature's vision: After what was evidently a mock examination that would seem superficially to comply with the Act, it approved the granting of advanced degrees in science and in science education by the Institute for Creation Research (ICR). The ICR (which then was in El Cajon, but now is in Santee) is the creation of Henry Morris, a fundamentalist preacher and former engineer who poses as an expert in geology, biology, paleontology and various other fields in which he has no detectable credentials. Like Morris himself, the ICR is avidly committed to "creation- science," the fundamentalist enterprise that seeks technical validation for the doctrine that the Holy Bible is an absolutely accurate account of history and an infallible textbook of science. The functionaries of the ICR spend a lot of their time in devising quasi-scientific "evidences" that will seem to verify the Bible's creation narratives, other biblical episodes, and the fundamentalists' belief that the age of the universe is only 6,000 years -- a figure based on the sum of the lifespans of the patriarchs listed in the Book of Genesis. They spend even moretime in purporting to refute evolutionary views of the universe, of Earth, and of living things. (Henry Morris has suggested that the concept of evolution was devised by Satan himself and other "evil spirits," while they were perched atop the Tower of Babel. (1) At first glance, doing "creation-science" may seem to be a tough job: Isn't it hard to peddle, as scientific, a book that says that beetles have only four feet and that a newborn animal's color pattern is determined by what the parent animals happened to see when they were mating? In fact, the job is easy, because "creation- science" has nothing to do with science; nor is it intended to win the allegiance of scientists or of anybody else who might be tempted to count a beetle's feet or to think about genetics. Instead, it has been concocted for two extra-scientific audiences and two extra-scientific purposes. The first purpose is to bolster the religious faith and anti- intellectualism of fundamentalists at large, most of whom know nothing of science and very little of what the Bible really says; rather than reading the Bible itself, they rely on preachers' accounts  e biblical beliefs seem scientific to public officials -- who typically know as little as the fundamentalists know about science or about the Bible -- so that such beliefs can be injected into public-school science classrooms. Given their naive audiences, the creation-scientists are free to reject most of 20th-century science and to offer in its place a stew of weird tales and fatuous assertions, spiced with distorted quotations from legitimate scientific literature. They offer an astronomy in which the asteroids seem to have originated during a battle between good and evil angels, (2) and in which the sun is, and always has been, continuously shrinking. (By extrapolating the shrinkage backward through time, they find that the solar system cannot be billions of years old, as scientists say it to be.) They offer an astrophysics in which the speed of light is adjustable, so that photons from remote galaxies, millions of light-years away, have been able to reach Earth in the mere 6,000 years since the universe began. They offer a geophysics in which rates of radioactive decay are capricious, so that radiometric dating can indicate that a rock is millions of years old although it really was formed only a few thousand years ago. They offer a geology in which many of Earth's features, including the fossil record of life, were formed during Noah's Flood. And they offer a biology in which organisms occur as immutable, separately created "kinds" -- a term that they have borrowed from the King James version of Genesis and that they cannot define or explain. To promote the dignification and dissemination of "creation- science," Henry Morris in 1981 set up something that he called the ICR Graduate School. And he promptly sought approval from the Department of Education to award masters' degrees -- not in Bible- study or religion but in geology, biology, "astro/geophysics" and science education. The Department's record of what ensued is far from complete, but it does retain the names of the people whom the Department picked to evaluate the four degree programs that the ICRGS had proposed. I have checked on those people, and I have found nothing to suggest that they were qualified to assess programs in science or in science education. There is, however, evidence that at least one of them was connected with the ICR or with some of the ICR's leaders. The result of their efforts was a signal event in the annals of quackery: In June 1981, Wilson Riles gave his Department's endorsement to the ICR and, in effect, lent the prestige of the state of California to the whole nonsensical business of "creation- science" -- talking serpent, shrinking sun, fantastic photons, and all. Like all approvals granted under the Act of 1977, the ICRGS's approval had a term of three years. If things had proceeded normally, the school would have had to apply again, and would have been examined again, in 1984. But in that year the legislature was amending the Act, so all existing approvals were extended for three years. The ICRGS did not have to re-apply, then, until the end of 1987. Its application, signed by Henry Morris, was submitted on 24 December. Consider the context in which that new application was received. During the preceding few years, "creation-science" and the men who purveyed it had been repeatedly exposed and publicly denounced by scientists and jurists alike. One of the most potent analyses had been issued in January 1982 by Judge William Overton, of the U. S. District Court in Little Rock, when he ruled unconstitutional an Arkansas statute that would have authorized the teaching of "creation-science" in that state's public schools. Overton wrote a highly readable, analytical opinion that considered the nature of science and showed repeatedly that "creation-science" was not science at all: It was biblical religion in disguise. His text described tactics by which specific creation-scientists had distorted science and had misrepresented their own enterprise; and among the people whom he named were Henry Morris and two other preachers who worked at the ICR -- Duane Gish and Richard Bliss. (Bliss, who was and is the ICR's "professor of science education," thus became (as far as I know) the only such professor whose weird writings about science have been excoriated by a federal court. Creation-science soon suffered further debunking in a number of trenchant books, most of which analyzed specific antics of Morris, Gish and the ICR. These books included Niles Eldredge's "The Monkey Business" (1982), Norman Newell's "Creation and Evolution" (1982), Philip Kitcher's "Abusing Science: The Case Against Creationism" (1983) and Ashley Montagu's "Science and Creationism" (1984). In 1987 an especially conspicuous blow was dealt to "creation- science" by the Supreme Court, which upheld two lower courts in finding that a Louisiana creationism law -- very similar to the Arkansas statute that Overton had nullified -- was unconstitutional. Again, "creation-science" was found not to be science but to be an anti-scientific religious doctrine. (3) The Court's ruling preceded, by some six months, the ICRGS's application for renewed approval by California's Department of Education. The application was governed by section 94310.2 in Article 1.5 of the state's education code. Article 1.5 incorporates the Act of 1977 and amendments to it. Section 94310.2 provides that the superintendent of public instruction shall not approve the granting of degrees by an unaccredited institution unless an assessment of each degree program has shown that "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. . . ." In the processing of the application, decisive roles were played by three officers of the Department. Bill Honig, who succeeded Wilson Riles in 1982, is the current superintendent of Public instruction. Joseph Barankin works directly for Honig, in Sacramento, as an assistant superintendent and as the director of the Department's Private Postsecondary Education Division (PPED), the branch that handles all applications from postsecondary schools seeking state approval. Roy Steeves works for Barankin, at the Department's Los Angeles office, as an assistant director of the PPED. In March 1988, Barankin gave the ICRGS case to Steeves. Henry Morris and his associates by then had begun to amend their application to meet the PPED's standard requirements for documentation. They resubmitted it, in final form, on 9 June. During the next few weeks, Steeves recruited the committee that would visit the ICR, examine its programs, and recommend whether approval should be granted. By law, the actual decision about approval would rest wholly with Bill Honig, notwithstanding any finding or recommendation that the committee might report. The members of the committee were: Robert L. Kovach, professor of geophysics at Stanford; Stuart H. Hurlbert, professor of biology at San Diego State; G. Edwin Miller, vice-president for administration at United States International University (in San Diego); James A. Woodhead, professor of geology at Occidental College; and George F. Howe, professor of biology at The Master's College, a religious school in Newhall. The committee had no professor of education, even though one of the ICRGS's programs was in "science education" and was aimed chiefly at preparing teachers. The five men of the committee, along with Steeves (who was their coordinator), visited the ICR on 3, 4 and 5 August. Their report was typed in final form, and was signed by all five and by Steeves, on the 5th. It was spread over ten pages, but it had much blank space and several unfilled sheets; if competently designed, it would have fit onto six. The text of the report was, in a word, baloney. It continually omitted or obfuscated any information that might have told the real nature or aims of the ICR, the ICR's graduate school or the men on the schools's faculty, and it repeatedly promoted the pretense that the ICR was doing scientific work. For example: Since the spring of 1985, the ICR has published a quarterly booklet of devotional readings called "Days of Praise". Each issue has had, on its back cover, a some boiler-plate that calls the ICR "A UNIQUE complex of evangelistic, missionary and educational ministries" and lists the "ICR Graduate School of Creationist Science" as one of the "Typical ICR Ministries." Yet the report never told that the ICR itself calls the ICRGS a religious outlet. On page 2, the report said: "The stated purposes of ICR are twofold: to conduct research (and educational programs) with the goal of validating the theory of creation science and to conduct education programs primarily designed to train science teachers in elementary and secondary schools. . . . (4) The three master's degrees in science relate to the first stated objective and the degree in science education relates to the other objective." THAT THROW-AWAY LINE ABOUT "VALIDATING THE THEORY" WAS THE ONLY REFERENCE TO "CREATION-SCIENCE" IN THE ENTIRE REPORT. THERE WAS NOT A WORD ABOUT ITS CONTENT OR ITS SORDID, RICHLY DOCUMENTED HISTORY. The report absolutely avoided a question that any alert reader must ask: If the "three master's degrees in science" were related to the objective of validating "creation-science," why were the degrees to be awarded in biology and geology and astro/geophysics and not in "creation-science"? Page 4 said: "We commend the institution for having recruited faculty members who have demonstrated academic and research capabilities." Yet the report did not cite any academic or research achievement by any member of the ICRGS faculty, nor had any such thing been claimed in the ICRGS's application. Indeed, one of the striking features of the application was that its resumes of faculty members FAILED TO SHOW ANY SCIENTIFIC PUBLICATION OR PROJECT. Page 5 said that the ICR's courses tried "to present a two-model evaluation addressed to the origin of life." There was nothing to tell what that meant. There was no explanation that the "two-model" system is the doctrine saying that every person must embrace either godless, pernicious, evolutionary science or fundamentalist Christianity. (No other religions merit consideration; this is why, conveniently, the number of models is only two.) There was no explanation that "two-model" nonsense had been soundly discredited and that Judge Overton had called it "a contrived dualism which has no scientific factual basis or legitimate educational purpose." The report was baloney through and through. Was it intended for a reader who knew nothing about the ICR and would rely on the report for all his information? If so, it would thoroughly mislead him. Was it intended for a reader who already knew much about the ICR? If so, it could only lead him to conclude that it had been composed by six rubes who had not done their homework and had been fully fooled by the ICR -- or that it had been composed by the ICR's own public-relations specialist. The report did include some comments that were critical of the ICR, but they were uniformly cryptic and incomprehensible. They mentioned for example, course titles that "did not accurately define course content"; courses that were "unstructured, with variable instructor contact time and inadequate or lacking classical textbooks"; "a great need to strengthen laboratory instruction and improve lab facilities"; and a failure to make an even presentation of "conventional interpretations of scientific evidence." But they never cited examples or told what they really were talking about, and so they never told what really was going on at the ICR. The report ended with a one-sentence paragraph: "The committee recommends to the superintendent by a vote of 3 to 2 that full institutional approval be granted." The superintendent, Bill Honig, was not misled. And professors Hurlbert and Woodhead, the two committee members who had voted against approval, soon submitted documents that furnished Honig with real information -- not only about the ICR but also about the fatuous proceedings of the committee itself. End of Part I NOTES: 1. See chapter 3 of his book "The Troubled Waters of Evolution (second edition; 1982). 2. See Henry Morris's book "The Remarkable Birth of Planet Earth" (1972). 3. For a detailed account of the Louisiana case, see my two-part piece in the July/August and September/October 1988 issues of "Terra", the bimonthly of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. 4. Notice how the report adopted creationist lingo in falsely suggesting that the creationists have a "theory."


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