Friday, December 21, 2007

Creationism degrees in Texas?

Reprinted from the NCSE newsletter:

The Institute for Creation Research is seeking to grant graduate degrees in Texas. Meanwhile, Glenn Branch offers his take on the Comer controversy, the Alliance for Science is holding its second annual essay contest, and new content from Reports of the NCSE is available on the NCSE website.


The Institute for Creation Research, a young-earth creationist organization, has cleared the first hurdle in its quest for authorization to issue master's degrees in science education in Texas. The Dallas Morning News (December 15, 2007) reported, "The nonprofit Institute for Creation Research in Dallas wants to train future science teachers in Texas and elsewhere using an online curriculum. A state advisory group gave its approval Friday; now the final say rests with the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, which will consider the request next month." According to a December 17, 2007, report by Steven Schafersman of Texas Citizens for Science, THECB will meet on January 24, 2008, to consider the ICR's application. If approved, the ICR will have two years to obtain accreditation for its graduate school from an independent accreditation agency.

ICR recently moved its headquarters from the San Diego, California, area to Dallas. In the October issue of ICR's publication Acts & Facts, its president John Morris explained, "The possibility of moving to Dallas surfaced when my brother, Dr. Henry Morris III, discerned that a central location would be beneficial for ICR, with several possibilities for student services at nearby affiliated colleges. The many good churches and large numbers of ICR supporters living in North Texas made it a natural fit for the ministry. When my father [Henry Morris] was still alive he approved the move to Dallas, especially as a way to strengthen the graduate school. In 2006, ICR opened a distance education effort in Dallas, as well as the hub of ICR's internet ministries. ... As additional operational functions were assigned to the new Dallas office, the Board concluded that it was in ICR's best interests to move the entire ministry."

The ICR's graduate school was previously accredited by the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools (TRACS), a group founded by Henry Morris; Henry Morris III presently serves on its commission. Texas does not recognize accreditation by TRACS, forcing the ICR to seek temporary state certification while it applies for accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). As a first step toward certification, a committee of Texas educators visited the ICR's facilities in Dallas to evaluate whether the ICR meets the legal requirements for state certification. The report described the educational program as "plausible," adding, "The proposed degree would be generally comparable to an initial master's degree in science education from one of the smaller, regional universities in the state."

NCSE's Eugenie C. Scott disagreed, telling the Dallas Morning News, "It sounds like the committee may have just taken at face value what the ICR claims ... There's a huge gulf between what the ICR is doing and what they're doing at legitimate institutions like ... [the University of Texas] or Baylor." (The committee members were a librarian, an educational administrator, and a mathematician; none was professionally trained in biology, geology, or physics.) Inside Higher Ed reported (December 17, 2007), "Some science groups are aghast by the idea that Texas would authorize master's degrees in science education that are based on complete opposition to evolution and literal acceptance of the Bible. And these groups are particularly concerned because the students in these programs would be people who are or want to be school teachers."

Although Patricia Nason, chair of the ICR's science education department, told the Dallas Morning News, "Our students are given both sides. They need to know both sides, and they can draw their own conclusion," the ICR's statement 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." Similarly, 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."

According to the Dallas Morning News's article, the ICR's graduate program "offers typical education classes, teaching such fundamentals as how to use lab equipment, the Internet and PowerPoint in the classroom. But it also offers a class called 'Advanced studies in creationism.' And the course Web page for 'Curriculum design in science' 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?'" The ICR's graduate school's website repeatedly declares, "ICR maintains that scientific creationism should be taught along with the scientific aspects of evolutionism in tax-supported institutions."

The Texas Commissioner of Higher Education, Raymund Paredes, is to study the ICR's application and offer his opinion to THECB. He told the San Antonio Express-News (December 19, 2007), "Because this controversy is so potentially hot, we owe it to both sides to be absolutely fair in evaluating it. ... 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." The New York Times (December 19, 2007) reported, "Asked how the institute could educate students to teach science, Dr. Paredes, who holds a doctorate in American civilization from the University of Texas and served 10 years as vice chancellor for academic development at the University of California, said, 'I don't know. I'm not a scientist.'"

For the Dallas Morning News's article, visit:

For Texas Citizens for Science's report, visit:

For the THECB committee's report (PDF), visit:

For Inside Higher Ed's article, visit:

For the San Antonio Express-News's article, visit:

For The New York Times's article, visit:

Saturday, December 1, 2007

and now for some serious news...

From NCSE newsletter, reprinted with permission...sad sad state of affairs!


Chris Comer, the director of science curriculum for the Texas Education Agency, was forced to resign after forwarding a short e-mail message announcing a presentation in Austin by Barbara Forrest. The Austin American-Statesman (November 29, 2007) reported, "Comer sent the e-mail to several individuals and a few online communities, saying, 'FYI.'" Less than two hours later, Lizzette Reynolds, the TEA's senior adviser on statewide initiatives, complained to Comer's supervisors, writing, "This is highly inappropriate ... I believe this is an offense that calls for termination or, at the very least, reassignment of responsibilities ... it assumes this is a subject that the agency supports."

The e-mail was then cited in a memorandum recommending Comer's termination, the American-Statesman noted: "They said forwarding the e-mail not only violated a directive for her not to communicate in writing or otherwise with anyone outside the agency regarding an upcoming science curriculum review, 'it directly conflicts with her responsibilities as the Director of Science.' The memo adds, 'Ms. Comer's e-mail implies endorsement of the speaker and implies that TEA endorses the speaker's position on a subject on which the agency must remain neutral.'" Other reasons for recommending her termination were listed in addition.

But Comer told the newspaper that she thought that the long-standing political controversy over evolution education in Texas was
responsible: "None of the other reasons they gave are, in and of themselves, firing offenses," she said. NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott suggested that Comer's termination seemed to be a warning to TEA employees. "This just underscores the politicization of science education in Texas," Scott said. "In most states, the department of education takes a leadership role in fostering sound science education. Apparently TEA employees are supposed to be kept in the closet and only let out to do the bidding of the board."

Kathy Miller of the Texas Freedom Network, which advances a mainstream agenda of religious freedom and individual liberties to counter the religious right, also expressed her concern. "It's important to know whether politics and ideology are standing in the way of Texas kids getting a 21st century science education," Miller told the American-Statesman. Alluding to previous battles over the place of evolution in Texas science standards and textbooks, she added, "We've already seen a faction of the State Board of Education try to politicize and censor what our schoolchildren learn. It would be even more alarming if the same thing is now happening inside TEA itself."

In a report dated November 29, 2007, Steven Schafersman of Texas Citizens for Science contended that the real reason that Comer was forced to resign was her defense of the integrity of science education during her long tenure at TEA. Describing Comer as a martyr of science, he added, "But she will not be a victim," predicting that scientists and science teachers in Texas will be "outraged by her treatment by a state agency that is now publicly and officially forgoing accurate and reliable science to serve the ideological and religious biases of a small minority of state public education officials."

Barbara Forrest herself was aghast at the news, telling NCSE, "In my talk, I simply told the truth -- about the history of the 'intelligent design'
movement, about the complete rejection of its claims by the scientific community, and about the Kitzmiller trial and my involvement in it. Maybe the TEA can't afford to take a position on what constitutes good science education -- maybe it must remain neutral on whether or not to lie to students about evolution -- but if so, that's just sad." A professor of philosophy at Southeastern Louisiana University and a member of NCSE's board of directors, Forrest is the coauthor (with Paul R. Gross) of Creationism's Trojan Horse.

Comer's resignation comes a few months before the Texas board of education is expected to review the science portion of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, the state science standards that determine both what is taught in Texas's public school science classrooms and the content of the biology textbooks approved for use in the state. In 2003, there were concerted if ultimately unsuccessful attempts to wield the TEKS to compromise the treatment of evolution in the textbooks then under consideration, and it is expected that such attempts will recur -- especially since the new president of the board is himself a vocal creationist.

For the story in the Austin American-Statesman, visit:

And in the New York Times

flying spaghetti monster hat

"The Pope has a special hat. Rabbis have special hats. Rastafarians have special hats. Why not Pastafarians?"

MSNBC also has an article on the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster getting some academic attention: