DEGREES OF FOLLY: PART VI by William Bennetta The first five parts of this article ran in

Master Index Current Directory Index Go to SkepticTank Go to Human Rights activist Keith Henson Go to Scientology cult

Skeptic Tank!

DEGREES OF FOLLY: PART VI by William Bennetta The first five parts of this article ran in "BASIS" in February, March, April, May and July. They told how the Private Postsecondary Education Division (PPED) of the California State Department of Education, in August l988, staged an "assessment" of the ICR Graduate School (ICRGS). The school is an arm of the Institute for Creation Research, a fundamentalist ministry promoting the religious pseudoscience called "creation-science." The assessment was made by a five-man committee that had been chosen by, and was managed by, a PPED officer named Roy W. Steeves. The committee included two ringers -- George F. Howe and G. Edwin Miller -- who had been linked closely to the ICR or to the ICR's president, Henry Morris. The committee produced a false, misleading report that concealed the real nature of the ICR, promoted the ICR's scientific pretensions, and said that the Department's chief, Bill Honig, should approve the ICR as a source of master's degrees in biology, geology, "astro/geophysics" and science education. Two of the committee's legitimate members, James Woodhead and Stuart Hurlbert, then sent separate reports to Honig, telling the truth about the ICR. Steeves -- writing to the PPED's director, Joseph P. Barankin -- endorsed the ICR and urged that Honig should grant the approval that the ICR wanted. Honig, at least in statements that he gave to the press last December, refused the approval. In January, however, the Department drew back from that decision and began to negotiate with the ICR; and on 3 March, Barankin and the ICR reached an agreement. The ICR would revise its curriculum, purging the "ICRG's interpretations" from all courses that would count toward degrees. (The ICR claimed, and Barankin evidently believed, that science courses purged of interpretation would be like courses at accredited schools. I asked Barankin, in a letter, whether he had had advice from anyone who knew about science, but he did not answer.) To learn whether the ICR had made the contemplated revisions, the Department would send a new examining committee; one member would be selected by the ICR. The new committee is now at work, and I shall tell something about it here. I assume that my readers have seen the earlier parts of this article. -- W.B., 12 August A QUESTION OF INTENTION Did the ICR ever really intend to revise its "science courses" and curriculum, excise "ICRGS's interpretations" from degree programs, and (in the words of its agreement with the Department) "conform the classroom lectures, course textbooks, and other course aspects" to science courses at accredited schools? Documents issued by the ICR may suggest an answer. On 8 March, mere days after the agreement had been reached, the ICRGS's dean, Kenneth Cumming, sent a letter and a brochure to a prospective applicant for admission to the ICRGS. The brochure conspicuously proclaimed that the ICRGS's "Purpose" was: "Education, research, and publication in scientific and Biblical creationism." (Both the letter and the brochure said that the ICRGS's programs were approved by the State of California. They told nothing about the events of 1988, nor did they tell that continued approval depended on a new review by the Department.) In June, when the ICRGS had begun its summer session and presumably was running its revised and conformed degree programs, the ICR mailed the June-July-August issue of its quarterly devotional booklet, "Days of Praise". The back cover bore the same boiler-plate that had appeared on all the earlier issues. It described the ICR as "A UNIQUE complex of evangelistic, missionary and educational ministries," and it listed the "ICR Graduate School of Creationist Science" as one of those ministries. I speculate, then, that be ICR -- regardless of what its agreement with the Department said -- may actually have intended to continue doing business as usual, dispensing the same old stuff. SOMETHING DIFFERENT In parts IV and V of this account, I told of the Department's efforts to obscure and rationalize the fiasco of last August. Department functionaries first had issued evasive, false or misleading statements and then had simply ignored inquiries. In early June, when I was writing Part V, they had failed to acknowledge several letters that asked how G. Edwin Miller had got onto the committee that Steeves had assembled for assessing the ICR. Later in June, however, the Department resumed answering mail, and at least two people who had inquired about the matter of Miller received a form-letter signed by Shirley A. Thornton, Bill Honig's "Deputy Superintendent, Specialized Programs Branch." It said, in part: At this point, it seems irrelevant to discuss the relationships of Mr. Howe or Mr. Miller. The committee on which they served has written its report and been disbanded. The final committee decision was to deny reapproval. . . . ICR is now in the process of taking corrective measures which shall be verified by another qualitative review and assessment committee this August. Consequently, we are focusing our efforts on ensuring that the most qualified and impartial panel possible will be selected for [the new assessment committee]. You have my assurance that extra diligence will be taken to ascertain whether committee members have any affiliation whatsoever with ICR or related organizations; if you have any recommendations on how to do so, please share them with Dr. Joseph Barankin, Director, Private Postsecondary Education Division, . . . This seemed to say that the Department was taking a different stance. It was not admitting that the 1988 committee's proceedings had been defective, but neither was it still trying to justify them. And it evidently saw that the picking of the new committee would demand care and expertise. THE NEW COMMITTEE As I write this, the members of the new committee have just finished their visit to the ICR. They were there on 7, 8, 9 and 10 August, and they now will give some weeks to the writing of their report. The members are: Christopher J. Wills, a geneticist from the department of Biology, University of California at San Diego; Richard E. Dickerson, chief of the Molecular Biology Institute, University of California at Los Angeles; Everett C. Olson, a vertebrate paleontologist from the Department of Biology, University of California at Los Angeles; Lawrence S. Lerner, a physicist and historian of science from the Department of Physics- Astronomy, California State University at Long Beach; and Leroy E. Eimers, from the Department of Science and Mathematics, Cedarville College. Eimers evidently is the member who, under the agreement between the ICR and the Department, was chosen by the ICR. Cedarville College is a Bible school in Cedarville, Ohio. (During a period in the 1950s it was called Cedarville Baptist College and Bible Institute.) I do not know why the ICR picked an Ohioan rather than a Californian, nor do I know much about Eimers himself. Unlike the four others on the committee, he is not listed in the 1989-1990 edition of "American Men & Women of Science"; and neither he nor his college department is in the 1986-1987 edition (the most recent one available to me) of "Directory of Physics & Astronomy Staff." At least two of the Californians on the committee have had earlier experience with creationism and can be expected to show some special understanding of creationists and the ICR. Dickerson has served as a scientific expert in two legal actions that arose from creationists' attacks on science education in public schools, and Learner was a member of the state panel that recently drafted the new "Science Framework" to guide science instruction in the public schools of California. The draft has been opposed strenuously by creationists, because it lays strong emphasis on forthright teaching of scientific information about the history of Earth and the history of organisms. (See Diane Curtis's story "The Evolution Battle Evolves," in the "San Francisco Chronicle" for 20 July.) Lerner also has written at least two articles that dealt wholly or partly with creationism, and I have had the pleasure of being the co- author of one of them. (See "The Treatment of Theory in Textbooks," which ran in April 1988 in "The Science Teacher", the monthly of the National Science Teachers Association.) The committee is being managed by Jeanne Bird, who joined the PPED, as a staff consultant, this spring. She is now one of the PPED's assistant directors. When I talked with her by telephone on 21 July, she was cordial but reticent. She said that she held no degree in science or in law, but she would tell no more about her education. Nor would she say what kind of work she had been doing for the PPED, or whether she had had any experience in managing the assessment of degree-granting institutions. SIDEBAR: MEET PROFESSOR JOHN D. James Kennedy is a fundamentalist preacher who makes commercial religious programs for both television and radio. His headquarters operation, Coral Ridge Ministries, is in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. His enterprises include a daily, half-hour radio show called "Truths That Transform". On 10 May, that show offered an interview with Henry Morris's son John. John Morris has worked at the ICR for some years and now holds at least two jobs there: administrative vice-president and "full professor of geology." One of his geological specialties is discovering that humans and the great dinosaurs lived, very recently, side by side. (See his book "Tracking Those Incredible Dinosaurs and the People Who Knew Them", issued in 1980 by the ICR's publishing arm, Master Books.) He also searches for the remains of Noah's ark. The interview on "Truths That Transform" was conducted by one of D. James Kennedy's associates, who asked: "What does evolution have in common with the New Age and Marxism?" The putative answers were provided by John Morris, who also promoted a religious video in which he recently had appeared. The video is called "The Evolution Conspiracy: A Quantum Leap into the New Age". After telling his radio audience that there was no evidence for organic evolution, and that "doctrinaire evolutionists are also doctrinaire atheists, and most of 'em are Marxist," he tried to link evolutionary science to the New Age: It's just -- you know, there's no evidence in the fossil record that [organic evolution] ever did occur; scientific law shows that it couldn't occur, statistics show that it's highly unlikely -- impossibly unlikely -- and so evolutionists, even, are abandoning this concept of pure naturalism, of naturalistic evolution. What they're doing, though, instead of moving over into the creationist camp, they're moving into another sort of evolution. Uh, instead of being naturalistic evolution, they're -- they're saying now that these sorts of things couldn't happen without an overriding mind, without a design. But instead of attributing that to God, they're -- they're basically saying that nature is alive, that Mother Nature is thinking -- that -- this is the essence of Eastern mysticism. Uh, it's the New Age movement. You would be surprised how much of the technical, scientific literature talks about this idea that nature is alive, that it thinks and it does this on purpose. . . . So the New Age movement is very definitely evolutionary, and modern evolution is moving in the direction of the New Age. In fact, they used to show the -- the monkeys, you know, getting bigger and bigger and turning into man. Well, now the drawings, they go beyond man into man in a lotus position. My goodness, this is the essence of the satanic world-view. All this was news to me. I had not known of any scientific law showing that organic evolution could not occur; I had not noticed that scientists were flocking to the New Age movement; I had never seen scientific drawings in which monkeys (or anything else) got bigger and bigger until they turned into a man in the lotus position; and I surely had not know that this was "the essence of the satanic world-view." I hope that John Morris explained all those things to the new visiting committee that the Department of Education sent to the ICR on 7 August, so that the committee's members could fully appreciate the work and intellect of the ICR's "full professor of geology." -- W.B.


E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank