October 1989 +quot;BASIS+quot;, newsletter of the Bay Area Skeptics Bay Area Skeptics Info
October 1989 "BASIS", newsletter of the Bay Area Skeptics
Bay Area Skeptics Information Sheet
Vol. 8, No. 10
Editor: Kent Harker
[Mensa is an organization comprised of those whose I.Q.'s test
above 135. While it is easy to think that high intelligence,
especially when coupled with special training, might provide some
measure of inoculation against irrationality, it is often wrong.
Every area of nonsense has its proponents. Often the purveyors of
nonsense are highly intelligent and educated at some of the best
schools. How and where does solid thinking go awry is one of the
more vexing questions we would like to understand. -- Ed.]
The May issue of the "Intelligencer", the official publication of
that elite society of the superintelligent known a Mensa, carried
an announcement by editor Burt Schmitz inviting the membership to
participate in some remote-viewing experiments at SRI. In the
article, Schmitz asks, assumptively, "Why does RV [remote viewing]
work?" The researchers at SRI apparently expressed an interest in
having some cerebral types participate, perhaps reasoning that high
I.Q. might in some way produce high Psi-Q.
"BASIS" contacted Mr. Schmitz by phone and found that he is a
believer. From informal conversation, his assessment was that if
there was not outright acceptance of psi among Mensa membership,
certainly a large proportion are sympathetic. If Schmitz's
evaluation of the extent of psi belief in Mensa is correct, what
it establishes for sure is that there is little correlation between
I.Q. and what we would like to see as careful skepticism.
It turns out that the SRI invitation was offered by Dr. Edwin May
(himself a physicist, out of his area of specialty), Director of
the Cognitive Sciences Program. May is working to establish
evidence that remote viewing is real. This is the same Dr. May
about whom the January issue of "BASIS" recounts the skeptical view
(investigations done by Don Henvick) of the same kind of test that
the Mensa group would encounter.
While some in Mensa might not like the tenor of that article,
several points Don made are well taken: 1) Dr. May has not
published his findings in over 12 ("BASIS" mistakenly told Schmitz
7) years, 2) protocol for a scientific test were almost entirely
lacking, and 3) it looks for all the world as if May's work at SRI
is about equivalent to looking at Rorschach Ink Blots: Whatever one
sees is a hit.
Schmitz said that Dr. May was quick to make it clear that the tests
would not be "formal scientific tests." This is another problem
that exists all too often in parapsychological experiments: the
"official" part begins when it looks like something unusual is
happening. This has the effect of "accentuate the positive,
eliminate the negative, and don't mess with mister in-between."
This business of twelve years of work just to see what happens, or
for the sheer experience is a bit much. It is all supposed to fall
under the rubric of scientific experimentation.
In the course of the conversation, Schmitz said that ESP (or, as
parapsychologist prefer, "psi") is an "intuitive field" and hence
not amenable to scientific investigation. That directly contradicts
his "Intelligencer" article, viz., " . . . and [May's] continuing
SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH is eminent in this field. . . ." and " . . .
this is a rare opportunity to become an actual participant in an
ACCREDITED FIELD OF SCIENTIFIC INVESTIGATION. . . ." (emphasis
Schmitz's assessment (that psi isn't subject to scientific
analyses) is a rather common pronouncement. However, it does seem
that the believers in psi want to have the respectability of
science but few of the rigors required thereof. If parapsychology
is indeed "an accredited field of scientific investigation" we
wonder why, in well over 100 years of concentrated, worldwide
research there is not a SINGLE replicable (by non-
Schmitz mentioned the cold-fusion controversy on the phone. "BASIS"
offered that the backbone of scientific method is replicability -
- the cold-fusion debacle so beautifully demonstrated this by its
failure. In over 100 years there is not even a working theory of
psi: "Parapsychology is the study of psychic or `psi' phenomena
(pronounced `sigh'). We have no central theory of psi functioning.
There, I've said it, plain and simple" (Auerbach, "Handbook of
Parapsychology", 1986, p. 97).
Loyd Auerbach is an active parapsychologist doing research. Is
there any other accredited field of science that has continued for
so long with so little to show for it? Schmitz had no answer other
than to say that it is a new field of inquiry (they laughed at
Galileo) and that hard evidence will soon be forthcoming.
The other problem "BASIS" has with psi is that if there is such a
force or energy it must necessarily countermand almost everything
we currently hold about the laws of physics:
- All of nature's forces with which we are familiar diminish in
intensity with time and distance.
- Transmission of information cannot take place at speeds faster
than that of light.
In great contrast to this, psychic information is alleged to occur:
- Instantaneously across any distance
- Backward and forward in time.
Paraphysicists have tried to enlist the apparent paradoxes of
quantum theory, such as the EPR thought experiment, to support psi
function. Most physicists agree this is bankrupt.
Our cosmology would have to undergo a complete paradigm revolution.
Schmitz did not disagree with this, which is refreshing. Most
believers think there is nothing extraordinary about psi function.
Of course, such a revolution is possible, but we suggest to Mensa -
- and anyone else interested in the question -- that we proceed
rather skeptically, faced with such a drastic alternative.
Schmitz mentioned that he had had several personal experiences so
powerful that they left him helpless to find any rational
explanation. (This makes it clear that there is what may properly
be called a spiritual component to belief in psi.) Nearly all of
us have had some kind of strange experience.
However, one must be wary, because personal experiences are
subjective, and "accredited fields of science" shun subjectivity.
Scientific examination absolutely requires objectivity. It has been
demonstrated to the satisfaction of most that human subjective
human experience is prone to the most egregious errors. As the
scientific method is understood today, it is of singular importance
to eliminate any subjective bias that may skew the results of an
Another point to make about the Utah group is that they are out of
their area of expertise: they are both electrochemists, and they
made some very bad physics errors -- errors that are understandable
precisely because they aren't nuclear physicists. Their problem was
that they would not collaborate with experts in relevant fields.
We see the same thing happening in laboratories in which
physicists, for example, who have little or no understanding of the
best research available in psychology -- and, alas, trickery --
conduct tests that have very much to do with human psychology and
trickery. Russell Targ's and Hal Puthoff's work at SRI in the 70's
was so heavily flawed in these regards that they have almost become
classics of just how shabbily things can be done. They are models
of how personal belief and desire can destroy objectivity.
Of course the question is still open. We in the skeptical community
hope to see some of the legitimate scientific results that should
come from an "accredited field of science." Until such evidence is
forthcoming, we suggest all should keep an open mind -- especially
those in Mensa -- and not jump to conclusions based upon the mere
hopes and wishes of subjective experience.
Those unfamiliar with the scientific process are impatient with the
sometimes lumbering body. This conservative approach is necessary
to keep the halls clear of the debris and chaff that would quickly
clog if the door is thrown open to everything. (There are some
eminent philosophers of science, notably Paul Feyerabend, who have
advocated that the portals should be thrown wide-open -- nothing
excluded. This is tempting, and sounds like it might produce many
new theories, but it doesn't work.)
The Pons-Fleishmann experience should teach us that it is better
to withhold judgment about the existence of some extraordinary
phenomenon until there are replicable, verifiable scientific tests,
the requirement of any "accredited field of science."
BAS IN THE NEWS
BAS makes a splash at the American Association for the Advancement
of Science (AAAS) meeting in Chico, California.
BAS founder Robert Steiner, BAS advisor Dr. Wallace Sampson, BAS
board member Lawrence Jerome, former board member Don Henvick, and
Sacramento Skeptic's Terry Sandbeck were panelists for a special
session at the AAAS, the most prestigious science organization in
Steiner began with a display of some of his best magic routines to
demonstrate how easily he can lead someone to believe he has
paranormal powers. When Bob does his thing before an audience of
believers the common reaction is anger; to anyone else, wonderment
and delight are the enthusiastic responses. One way or the other,
he stirs things up.
Dr. Sampson (oncologist at Stanford) talked about the dangers of
medical quackery and the most common pitch the quacks throw: The
medical establishment is wicked and entirely consumed with the
desire to make money, which it can only do by keeping people sick.
Sadly, large segments of the population have bought this. When that
notion is coupled with the fact that many quacks truly believe that
they have found a remedy means that we may win some battles but
lose the war. The quack's most powerful weapon is the happy client
-- someone who felt better after a visit.
What can be said about Don Henvick? He told an amused audience of
the many ministrations he has received at the hands of some of the
most illustrious faith healers. He showed some of the video tapes
he has of the whole charade. It was clear that Don's charade was
the only honest thing that happened at those crusades.
Lawrence Jerome used his statistical studies of astrology to show
the emptiness of astrological claims, reiterating the point that
there is not a single shred of evidence to support the assertion
that astrological bodies have any control over our lives.
Dr. Sandbeck, a psychologist, spoke about why we believe as we do.
He was careful to separate belief from faith, pointing out that
our beliefs are subject to questioning whereas faith is outside the
realm of scientific scrutiny. He suggested that many believe in
demonstrably false things out of simple intellectual laziness and
willingness to accept authority without question.
The consensus of the panelists was that when faced with something
amazing, one should accept the most reasonable answer before
searching for a supernatural explanation.
The BAS presentation made the front page in local papers.
[Ramparts is a regular feature of "BASIS", and your participation
is urged. Clip, snip and tear bits of irrationality from your local
scene and send them to the Editor. If you want to add some comment
with the submission, please do so.]
Our word "gypped" did not come into existence without a venerable
background. Gypsy scammers are still on the loose, reports the L.
A. "Herald Examiner". Since Gypsy lore seems to be the embodiment
of everything mystical, it may come as no surprise that Gypsy
crimes often involve supernatural claims.
One Olga Cruz, an illegal immigrant, allegedly swindled well over
$300,000 in cash and jewelry from people who responded to her
advertised powers. She claimed to be able to "cure illnesses, make
women fertile, keep husbands faithful, bless valuables to make them
even more valuable, and make things purchased with blessed money
Her victims brought money, jewelry -- even credit cards -- for her
blessings. Olga would retire to a private room to perform the
benediction and quickly continue her retirement from the building
through a back door. When the police caught up with her she was
wearing several rings on every finger and had her whole body draped
with gold chains, bracelets and necklaces. Her dog was wearing
several gold chains.
A lot of people could save a whole lot of money by subscribing to
"BASIS" and "The Skeptical Inquirer".
Organic foods are not enough. The very word "organic" has lost some
of its punch over time. It has a nice visceral appeal, but it isn't
technical-sounding enough. The public's quest for superlatives in
insatiable, which is reason enough for wackos to concoct whatever
formula to tap into popular gullibility. The latest is "biodynamic
farming," a term which seem to have captured the hearts of some who
want nature AND something that sounds high-tech. In marketing, we
learn that what you call it is more important than what it is.
The "Wall Street Journal" did a high-visibility piece on this
latest wrenching irrationality. The method combines spiritual and
"potentizing" rituals in connection with SUPER-organic methods -
- ordinary organic stuff is not adequate. The fertilizers are
evidently the key to this latest horticulture horror, and it is
about as far-out as one can imagine: "Dandelions aged in cow
membrane, yarrow blossoms that have lain all winter in a stag
bladder, and oak bark that has spent the solstice in an animal
skull buried by a stream."
Natural pesticides include such things as a snail brew, "collected
from five gallons of the slimy creatures, thrown into a pot and
stewed for a month." The farmer claimed it worked, but the stench
was so powerful she gagged whenever she went to the field where it
Give us alar any day.
If you are all breathlessly interested in looking for the roots (no
pun intended) of this farming method, it turns out to be no less
an infamous figure than Rudolph Steiner, the founder of
anthroposophical medicine as reported by Dan Dugan in our July
Rudy, (no relation to Bob) placed his mark on just about every
aspect of human health and the lack thereof. Steiner's treatises
on biodynamics are so arcane that special schools operate to
explicate them. In one conducted in Mission Hills, CA, farmer
Claire Mamakos reports "it has taken 12 weekly sessions to get
through the first 31 pages."
That can't be because these clodbusters are dumb, either. No, no.
The price for their wares is about three times that of "ordinary"
organic crops, and the demand is increasing all the time,
especially in Europe. No wonder this article was reported in the
WISE HE'S NOT
Former NASA engineer Edgar Whisenant is on a new space career. He
launches himself into thin air with no discernible means of
support. His antics have succeed remarkably, and he may have broken
a space record for just how far into the nether parts of the galaxy
mankind can travel without a spaceship.
"BASIS" reported the failure of his first prediction in our
November 1988 issue. Ed, upon careful exegesis of the entire Bible
and world chronology, discovered that the curtain was going to come
down in September of 1988.
Now one would think that such a proposition is eminently
falsifiable, viz. by the fact that this is written and you are
reading it here a year after. Dreamers, we are. Space cadet
Whisenant was not wrong. Our CALENDARS are wrong, according to the
seer. Since our calendars are off by a year, we're still in for it
around the first part of September 1989 -- soon (the preparation
of this article took place near the end of August). Well, maybe
soon. We may be nonetheless fortunate to have some time left to
repent. Chicken Little ain't got nothin' on Whisenant.
Whisenant's last monogram was titled "88 Reasons Why The Rapture
Will Be In 1988". (If the calendar is wrong, that should only knock
out one reason. What about the other 87?) If Ed learned nothing
else from his first embarrassment, he learned how to hedge his
bets. The title of his current attempt to wipe the egg of his face
is "The Final Shout: Rapture Report 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993". The
format of the title has the years in a perspective, receding and
fading into the horizon. Presumably we can take that to mean that
if not '89, '90 might go, etc.
It won't make any difference anyway, because if Whisenant has his
latest arithmetic straight (and if there isn't another mistake
lurking in the calendar), you won't be reading this -- at least
not with mortal eyes. Ed might laugh at us, telling us that he
warned us in plenty of time for us to be taken up in the clouds
with the faithful.
A call to the Whisenant publishing house (in Tennessee) was placed
on 16 August to ask if they thought there would be enough time to
send material, with what may only be a couple of weeks left. The
woman taking orders asked for a Visa account number and did not
seem at all amused when told to send the stuff without billing
because there wouldn't be enough time for the transaction to be
processed anyway. After a long moment of silence, she said, "Sir,
do you want to place an order or not?"
Now for a prophecy by "BASIS": Whisenant will find more reasons
why things didn't happen this year and more reasons we should buy
his books explaining why this book overlooked something. Whisenant
is definitely wising up on how to include lots of maybes, ifs,
buts, and et ceteras. He is also learning how to sell lots of
Maybe Whisenant is pretty sharp after all. -- Ed.
In a word: WOW!
The July meeting consisted of a veritable feast put on by BAS's own
BEN AND CAROL BAUMGARTNER. With over 75 to cook for, Ben and Carol
provided and prepared ALL the food, and they did not skimp on
quality or quantity. Barbecue and teriyaki beef and chicken,
skewered seafood, salad, delectable desserts were enjoyed by all.
If Ben and Carol hadn't done enough, they gave prizes in several
categories (who had come the farthest, etc.).
At about 3 pm, a stuffed crowd of relaxed people lost their
skepticism when BAS co-founder Bob Steiner performed a great magic
routine. Someone yelled out that he could duplicate psychically
whatever Bob could do by sleight of hand.
We all enjoyed wonderful food and great camaraderie. It is not
decided what we will do next year, but it will certainly be
difficult to top this.
Again, a hearty and heart-felt "THANK YOU" to Ben and Carol.
We call for some help with the information deluge. We have a
backlog of tapes, articles, etc. that are sitting for want of a
write up. We would like to keep a little more current on the
results of BAS's encounters with the media. People from BAS have
had newspaper, radio, and TV interviews; several BAS people have
been called to appear on talk shows to debate the other side or to
answer questions from the listening audience. We have video and
audio tapes of some these sessions. They are interesting,
informative, and tangible evidence that we are having an impact.
We think that the rest of the BAS group would like to read about
If you would like to do write ups from these tapes and articles for
"BASIS", please write to Kent Harker at Box 32451, San Jose, CA
A TRUTH PATROLMAN TRACKS PROF. JOHN
by Frank Zindler
(introduction by William Bennetta)
[The September issue of "BASIS" had a short piece -- "Meet
Professor John" -- in which I described a radio interview given by
John Morris, who is an officer and a "full professor of geology"
at the Institute for Creation Research. Soon after I wrote that
piece, I received from Frank R. Zindler, of Columbus, Ohio, a
report about another of Prof. John's ventures in broadcast
quackery. Zindler had confronted Morris in February on "AM
Indiana", a television show produced in Indianapolis. Their topic
was the "creation-science" that seeks to validate the biblical
story of Noah and the Flood -- one of Morris's specialties.
After the broadcast, Zindler investigated some of the
misrepresentations that Morris had peddled. Then, in July, when
Morris went to Yellow Springs, Ohio, to give a talk, Zindler was
ready with a handout called "Truth-Patrol Report on John D.
Morris". Here are edited excerpts from the handout, all dealing
with what Zindler observed during and after the "AM Indiana" debate
in February. -- W.B.]
While trying to substantiate his absurd claim that humans and the
ancient dinosaurs once coexisted, and that the dragons of legend
were in fact dinosaurs, John Morris stated matter-of-factly, during
our debate, that "Alexander the Great has a very sober history of
an encounter with a dragon, and most of the historians of the day
list dragons as if they were real."
Unfortunately for Morris, no writings of Alexander have survived.
The historians Plutarch and Arrian quote from alleged letters of
Alexander, but the letters do not tell of any meeting with a
In an effort to discredit radiometric dating, Morris said: "In the
Grand Canyon there are two different lava flows that can be dated
by the radiometric dating methods. The one is at the very bottom,
one of the oldest rocks, and is probably, you know, one of the very
earliest rocks down at the way bottom of the canyon. And the other
lava flow is on the very plateau, . . . And it is thought by normal
dating methods that that should be just a couple million years old.
But with the dating methods, down at the bottom, we've got a whole
slew of dates, but basically they -- now, by using the best methods
of geology today, the rubidium-strontium method, they dated that
at 1.1 billion years. Using that same method, the very same method,
the same technique, same accuracy, they dated the one at the top
at 2.6 billion years."
Later, in a telephone conversation with me on May 10, 1989, Morris
gave the age of the upper lava as 2.5 (not 2.6) billion years.
After considerable prompting to give a reference for this
astonishing item, he said that the "Arizona Geological Survey" had
published a list of all rubidium-strontium dates for Arizona.
As nearly as I could determine, Morris had in mind the "Compilation
of Radiometric Age Determination in Arizona," by S.J. Reynolds and
colleagues (Bulletin 197; 1986; Arizona Bureau of Geology and
Mineral Technology). When I checked that source, I found no date
of 2.5 (or 2.6) billion years -- by any method of dating -- for
any formation in the entire state of Arizona. The lavas in question
date from 0.01 million to 1.18 million years ago; and these are
potassium-argon dates, not rubidium-strontium dates.
(Morris is not the only ICR faker who distorts information about
Grand Canyon lavas. In the April 1989 issue of the ICR's pamphlet
"Impact", Steven A. Austin implies that radiometric dating has
shown the upper lavas to be 1.5 (not 2.5) billion years old; and
he cites data published by W.P. Leeman, in 1974, in the "Bulletin"
of the Geological Society of America. In fact, however, Leeman
reported no such finding.
The false age of 1.5 billion years has been calculated by Austin
and is based on only six of the twenty data-points that Leeman
showed on a graph. Worse yet, the six points picked by Austin
represent samples for which Leeman presented conclusive evidence
Early in our "AM Indiana" debate, I asked Morris for details about
the fossiliferous sedimentary rocks which, in his book "The Ark on
Ararat", he had falsely claimed were to be found near the top of
Mt. Ararat and were proof that this volcanic peak had once been
under water. To my great astonishment, Morris denied that he had
ever written such a thing:
"I have never said that those fossils were on top of Mt. Ararat,"
he declared. "Those fossils are IN SIGHT OF Mt. Ararat." When I
disputed his denial, he continued: "I reported that in 1969 a
glaciologist claimed he found a fossil layer about the 14,000-foot
level. The fossil layers that I'VE studied are some ten miles
Morris's denial was false. On pages 10 and 11 of "The Ark on
Ararat" -- written by Morris and the preacher Tim LaHaye, and
issued in 1976 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. -- we find:
A great deal of evidence exists indicating that not only
was Mt. Ararat once covered by water, but it even erupted
while submerged under great depths of water. In common
with many mountains around the world, Mt. Ararat exhibits
fossil-bearing strata. Sedimentary rock (by definition
laid down by flood [sic] waters) containing the
fossilized remains of ocean creatures has been found as
high as the snow line, approximately a 14,000-foot
elevation. Furthermore, on the exposed northeastern face,
layers of lava are intermingled with layers of sediments.
I copied that passage, sent it to Morris, and asked again for
documentation. He replied, in a letter sent on March 15, that the
supposed discovery was the work of the creationist Clifford Burdick
and had been described in the "Creation Research Society
According to Morris, Burdick "conducted a rather extensive geologic
survey over the space of several summers. He not only has written
that he discovered fossil-bearing strata, on the west flank of Mt.
Ararat, but he has told me so personally. . . . The discovery was
included not only in Burdick's CRSQ articles, but also in the
official report by the Archaeological Research Foundation to the
Turkish Government, resulting from their expeditions in the
Because creationist journals are not carried by legitimate science
libraries, I sent Morris a $5 bill and a request for a photocopy
of Burdick's report. (I did not mention the fact that Morris, in
his letter to me of March 15, had tacitly admitted that he HAD
written about fossils on Mt. Ararat.) Morris returned my $5, on May
4, 1989, with a rude note: "Keep your money. The materials you
requested are part of the public record and available in many
places. I have no intention of doing your work for you."
Suspecting that Morris was trying to hide something, I eventually
obtained a copy of the Burdick article to which Morris evidently
was referring: "Ararat -- the Mother of Mountains," which had
appeared not in the "Creation Research Society Quarterly" but in
the Society's "1967 Annual". As I read it, I saw why Morris had
not wanted me to get a look at it. Nowhere in the article did
Burdick claim that there were fossiliferous, sedimentary layers on
Mt. Ararat! He simply gave a list of fossils found in 1845, by one
H. Abich, in sedimentary rocks that were at least ten miles from
To sum up: John Morris falsely wrote, in "The Ark on Ararat," that
Mt. Ararat exhibited fossiliferous rocks. Then he falsely said,
during our debate, that he had not written that. Then he falsely
claimed that fossiliferous rocks on Mt. Ararat had been reported
in an article by Clifford Burdick. If Morris were limited to
telling the truth, how far would he get in his efforts to gull
unsuspecting people with his pseudoscience?
DEGREES OF FOLLY: PART VII
by William Bennetta
The first six parts of this article ran in earlier issues of
"BASIS", starting in February. Here is a summary:
By law, no unaccredited postsecondary school in California can
issue degrees unless the school has been approved by the
superintendent of public instruction -- the chief of the State
Department of Education. In August 1988, the Department's Private
Postsecondary Education Division (PPED) staged an "assessment" of
the ICR Graduate School (ICRGS).
The ICRGS is an arm of the Institute for Creation Research, a
fundamentalist ministry that promotes the religious pseudoscience
called "creation-science." The assessment was made by a five-man
committee that had been chosen, and was managed, by a PPED officer
named Roy W. Steeves. The committee included two ringers who had
been linked closely to the ICR or to the ICR's president, Henry
The committee produced a false, misleading report that hid the real
nature of the ICR, promoted the ICR's scientific pretensions, and
said that Bill Honig, the superintendent of public instruction,
should approve the ICR as a source of masters' degrees in biology,
geology, "astro/geophysics" and science education. But two of the
committee's legitimate members then sent separate reports to Honig,
telling the truth about the ICR.
Roy Steeves, in memoranda to the PPED's director, Joseph P.
Barankin, endorsed the ICR and urged that it should be approved.
Honig, in statements that he gave to the press in December 1988,
refused the approval. In January, however, the Department drew back
from that decision and began to negotiate with the ICR. On 3 March,
Joseph Barankin and the ICR reached an agreement. The ICR would
revise its curriculum, purging "ICRGS's interpretations" from
courses that would count toward degrees. To learn whether the ICR
had made the revisions, the Department would send a new examining
committee; one member would be selected by the ICR.
The new committee visited the ICR in the second week of August 1989
and now is writing its report. Four of its five members are
scientists from campuses of the University of California or the
California State University. The fifth, evidently the one chosen
by the ICR, is from an Ohio Bible college. The committee is being
managed not by Roy Steeves but by another PPED officer, Jeanne
The ICR men, as I now shall tell, have publicly predicted that the
committee's report will be damning and that Honig again will deny
In writing here, I assume that my readers have seen the earlier
parts of this article. -- W.B., 13 September
A LETTER FROM PROF. JOHN
The new committee's visit consternated the ICR men, for the
Department had taken important steps to ensure that the new
examination of the ICRGS would be legitimate. The ICR's sweet-
heart, Roy Steeves, was no longer in the picture; the new committee
was dominated by respectable, perceptive scientists; and the
committee would have abundant time for writing a respectable,
All this was different from the cozy proceeding that Steeves had
conducted a year earlier, and it left the ICR men dismayed. They
foresaw that the committee would report that their school was
defective and unworthy of approval, and that Bill Honig would
follow the committee's judgment.
With this vision of doom before them, they began an effort to win
the sympathy of the press and the public, presumably in the hope
that a rash of newspaper articles and letters would sway the
committee or Honig.
Late in August, news organizations in southern California got a
notice of an ICR "news conference" that would be held on the 31st.
The ICR, said the notice, would "respond to the imminent State
decision to shut down ICR's graduate school of science."
The notice was accompanied by two other items: a letter from John
Morris, the ICR's administrative vice-president and "full professor
of geology"; and a handout, headlined "Basic Freedoms Under Attack
at ICR," that offered a fiercely misleading account of the ICR
case. These items merit attention, for they seem to foretell the
tactics that the ICR will use if Honig does indeed deny approval,
and if the ICR appeals his decision.
The heart of John Morris's letter was in three paragraphs. Here
they are; the superscript numerals refer to my comments, which will
Enclosed is evidence(1) of improper action of a
particularly disturbing sort, that of an adversarial
attitude on the part of the State toward an approved(2)
school in good standing, which has led to the threat of
immediate closure, all the while ignoring our fully
qualified faculty,(3) the excellent records or our
graduates and our large and concerned constituency.(4)
The underlying reason for the action is that our small
graduate school in the sciences(5) holds a perspective
on science(6) different from that of Honig. He claims
that allowing our perspective to exist in California is
tantamount to state agreement with our position.(7)
However, censoring minority opinions(8) violates
academic(9) and religious freedoms,(10) and in effect
establishes a state religion, with no dissenting voice
If Honig is allowed to silence our minority views on
controversial scientific concepts,(11) what is to keep
him from decreeing that only certain political views can
be taught in California or a certain philosophy of
economics, or religion, or psychology, or journalism?
Will accounts of historical events be revised next?
Remember, this is America, a pluralistic society, . . .
I comment on Prof. John's text:
(1). The enclosed item was not evidence at all; it was merely the
"Basic Freedoms" handout. (2). In calling the ICRGS "approved,"
Prof. John begs the question: Whether the ICRGS should be approved
is the very thing that the Department is investigating. Prof. John
also omits that the proceeding by which the ICRGS first got its
"approved" status, in 1981, was a sham. (3). I'll be surprised if
the committee's report ignores the ICRGS's faculty or fails to tell
how qualified they are. (4). The law governing approvals does not
tell the Department to assess the size or emotional state of a
(5). This is more question-begging: Whether the ICRGS is really a
"graduate school in the sciences" is one of the things that the
Department must judge. (6). This would have meaning if it were
illustrated by some examples of the ICR's "perspective" -- a
Noah's-ark story, for instance, or some proprietary raving about
organic evolution, Marxism and satanism. (7). Whether the ICR's
"perspective" should exist is not in question. The only issue is
whether the ICR should pass out degrees in science and in
education. And if the Department were to say YES, the Department
surely WOULD be lending the state's imprimatur to the ICR's
(8). The proceeding at hand has nothing to do with censorship. It
is concerned only with academic quality and with the legitimacy of
degrees. Honig has said often that the ICR can run its programs,
teach its beliefs and issue degrees, as long as it does not
mislabel them as scientific. (9). What can "academic freedom"
possibly mean to men who each year, lest they be sacked, must swear
their overriding devotion to Bible stories and their concomitant
rejection of basic principles of modern science? (10). "Religious"
freedoms? Prof. John forgets that the ICR claims to be teaching
science, denies that it is teaching religion, and refuses to be
certified as a religious school. (11). Again, examples would help.
Reporters surely would enjoy learning about such "scientific
concepts" as imaginary fossils on Mt. Ararat, or visions of
dinosaurs roaming the Garden of Eden with Adam.
A CONSPICUOUS HEDGE
The other document that the ICR distributed to news organizations -
- the "Basic Freedoms" handout -- was comparable to Prof. John's
letter in both falsity and hysteria. Its most significant paragraph
was its last:
Does the state have the power to tell a private Christian
school such as the ICR (which has never accepted a penny
of state or federal money)* that it cannot teach as its
conscience dictates? Is this the beginning of the end of
our cherished American freedoms? Will all Christian
education soon come under similar attack if this
precedent is allowed? Maybe so, but please be aware that
ICR will not accept these rulings without exhausting
every reasonable and feasible avenue of appeal. We hope
concerned individuals everywhere will realize the serious
implications of this precedent. . . .
The signal phrase here is "every REASONABLE AND FEASIBLE avenue of
appeal." If Honig denies approval, the ICR presumably will invoke
the administrative appeal processes provided by law. (The first
would be a plea to the state's Council on Private Postsecondary
Educational Institutions, which has no power over approvals and can
merely advise Honig.) But what if the administrative appeals were
to be unsuccessful? Would the ICR men take Honig and his Department
I do not think so. I think that they recognize that a lawsuit, too,
would fail and would also engender a new, ruinous expose of
creationism and "creation-science." And I think that this
recognition is reflected in their hedge about "reasonable and
The ICR's effort to gain attention from news organizations achieved
only modest success -- perhaps because the ICR men's only "news"
was their desperation.
The "San Diego Union" for 31 August offered a report by Michael
Scott-Blair, who had skipped the "news conference" but had
conducted interviews on the preceding day. He recounted various
statements by John Morris and the corresponding comments by Bill
Honig. For example:
John D. Morris . . . yesterday accused state
Superintendent of Public Instruction Bill Honig of
intervening in one evaluation [of the ICRGS] and of
"stifling academic freedom." Morris said the state had
used "dirty tricks" in an attempt to force the institute
out of business.
"Nonsense," said Honig, reached by phone at his
Sacramento office yesterday.
"I gave them a full year to prove they are offering
acceptable quality science courses toward their master's
degree. But a preliminary indication from a team of
scientists that visited the campus earlier this month
suggests the institute comes up short by a long way." .
. . .
Honig said he has no wish to close the institute, but
disagrees with "teaching creationism and calling it a
science degree. . . ."
Similar stories ran on 1 September in "The Tribune" (another San
Diego paper) and in the San Diego edition of the "Los Angeles
Several papers (e.g., the "San Jose Mercury News" for 1 September)
ran foolish puff-pieces that simply promoted the ICR's views. They
were based on an Associated Press story that evidently had
consisted wholly of assertions by the ICR men, with nothing from
anyone else. On 8 and 11 September I called David Sedeno, the
correspondent in charge of the AP's San Diego bureau, to ask about
the defective dispatch. He said that he would review his files and
then call me, but I heard no more from him.
*The ICR advertises that its students can get educational benefits
from the Veterans Administration. But the matter of government
money is really irrelevant: The law governing approvals applies
equally to schools that get such money and schools that do not.
BAS BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Chair: Larry Loebig
Vice Chair: Yves Barbero
Secretary: Rick Moen
Treasurer: Kent Harker
William J. Bennetta, Scientific Consultant
Dean Edell, M.D., ABC Medical Reporter
Donald Goldsmith, Ph.D., Astronomer and Attorney
Earl Hautala, Research Chemist
Alexander Jason, Investigative Consultant
Thomas H. Jukes, Ph.D., U. C. Berkeley
John E. McCosker, Ph.D., Director, Steinhart Aquarium
Richard J. Ofshe, Ph.D.,U. C. Berkeley
Bernard Oliver, Ph.D., NASA Ames Research Center
Kevin Padian, Ph.D., U. C. Berkeley
James Randi, Magician, Author, Lecturer
Francis Rigney, M.D., Pacific Presbyterian Med. Center
Wallace I. Sampson, M.D., Stanford University
Eugenie C. Scott, Ph.D., Anthropologist
Robert Sheaffer, Technical Writer, UFO expert
Robert A. Steiner, CPA, Magician, Lecturer, Writer
Lowell D. Streiker, Ph.D., Anthropology, Religion
Jill C. Tarter, Ph.D., U. C. Berkeley
Loyd Auerbach is an active parapsychologist who teaches and does
research at JFK University. He will be the featured speaker at our
Loyd is not a stranger to skeptics. He has always attempted to
build and maintain a bridge between people on both sides of
paranormal questions. It would behoove every skeptic to keep as
current on parapsychology literature as Loyd is on skeptical
literature. Most -- on either side -- prefer not to read what does
not conform to their thinking.
We will be able to see what is happening inside parapsychology
laboratories from inside a parapsychologist's head. Loyd does not
shrink from the most penetrating questions posed by hardened
skeptics, so get your best ones ready and bounce them off a man
whom most of us consider a friend.
There is something else important about this meeting: it will be
co-sponsored by the Berkeley Skeptics, a student skeptic group
organized on the Berkeley campus. The organization and operation
of university student groups has long been a goal of BAS, so we are
happy to see this fledgling organization prosper.
Opinions expressed in "BASIS" are those of the authors and do not
necessarily reflect those of BAS, its board or its advisors.
The above are selected articles from the October, 1989 issue of
"BASIS", the monthly publication of Bay Area Skeptics. You can
obtain a free sample copy by sending your name and address to BAY
AREA SKEPTICS, 4030 Moraga, San Francisco, CA 94122-3928 or by
leaving a message on "The Skeptic's Board" BBS (415-648-8944) or
on the 415-LA-TRUTH (voice) hotline.
Copyright (C) 1989 BAY AREA SKEPTICS. Reprints must credit "BASIS,
newsletter of the Bay Area Skeptics, 4030 Moraga, San Francisco,
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank