WSJ: A Compromise on Creationism

And thanks, Tim! You provided space for my first ever participation in a Peaceful Science discussion.

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You’re welcome :slight_smile:

I have to admit that, in stating that bridge-building isn’t in CHEA’s remit, I don’t know of either (i) any organisation whose remit it is, nor (ii) any organisation I could point to and say that I think they’d be well-placed to make it their remit. It may well be that such bridge-building is best achieved by a ground-up, rather than top-down, approach.

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I teach science at a fairly conservative Christian university - not as conservative as Bob Jones or Liberty, but definitely conservative. When I interviewed for my job, I made it clear that I was not YEC and that if that was a deal breaker, we didn’t need to waste everyone’s time. Access to federal funding that is tied to accreditation and transfer of courses is a major concern of the administration. I’ve spent a lot of time convincing our accrediting body that my courses are academically rigorous.
I do get a lot of YEC students who balk at learning about evolution. No semester is complete without at least one student complaining to my dean. He tells them to get over it and learn it empirically. He points out that they learn about different religions in their required Western Civilization course and that one does not need to agree with an idea to study it.

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As I said to Josh on Twitter: I think secular humanism can, should, & does imply mutual tolerance & freedom of thought, which we can do while defending evidence-based science instruction for accreditation purposes. Let them teach what they want in theology class; as long as its transparent, students will know that when they enroll in the university, and theology rarely matters for accreditation anyway.

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@stlyankeefan the fact that faculty like you are at greater risk as you serve these institutions is a real problem. My hope is that there would be clear policy established that would protect you, even in institutions more conservative than the one in which you find yourself now.

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Commenting without being able to see the entire article . . .

If their science classes meet the standards of the institution granting accreditation then it shouldn’t be a problem. If there are additional classes on creationism it shouldn’t take away from what students learned in the other science classes.

I would hazard a guess that there is more than one student who wants a quality science degree, disagrees with YEC, and wants to attend a Christian school where YEC may be taught. I think there should be a path for those students to pursue a career in the sciences.

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Indeed. I am blessed to have a supportive administration. I have colleagues at less tolerant institutions who are afraid to come out as rejecting YEC.

ETA: That being said, I have had my run ins with my administration over academic freedom issues. They are less tolerant when it comes to questions about homosexuality and gender identity.

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Based on my experience, there are also a fair number of students who have doubts about YEC but are afraid to say so. I have several of them in my class every semester.

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Currently those students have almost no protections from accrediting organizations, they are not informed of the protections they do have, and that isn’t right.

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I agree. So how do we fix that? I’m all for reaching out to YEC’s and I’ve tried to engage my YEC colleagues, but what else can we do?

Well, consider writing an open letter to the CHEA board, asking them to lay down standards that protect students in those situations.

If you do that, we will help get it in front of them.

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Except YEC is institutionally strong. Flat-earthism has no institutions. That is a critically important difference, which needs to reshape our response.

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@swamidass don’t tell him about the bet I made on FB or I’ll be out another $20! :laughing:

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Well said.

AND Welcome to Peaceful Science :slight_smile:

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I’d love to hear Adam Laats’ take on this (he’s a Ronald Numbers disciple and a fair-minded secular historian who writes on Christian institutions, specifically concerning creation/evolution).

Before 2013, Bryan College had an interesting co-existence of an in-house YEC organization (CORE, first led by Kurt Wise and then Todd Wood) and an allowance of broader perspectives on creation among the regular faculty (me included). The school produced some very good science majors; no grad school looked askance at these students because of their undregrad institution. (Also, when Wise and Wood taught science classes, they taught mainstream science, even if they offered their YEC response to it.) But when everything hit the fan (Spring 2014), causing many professors to scatter (replacing science and Bible professors with hardcore YECs), the administration tethered themselves publicly to AiG, and changed the introductory biology course to Creation Biology (unrelated, CORE had been defunded the year previously, so Todd Wood was no longer there). From that point on, some grad schools began rejecting Bryan’s science courses (I knew of several prospective students who no longer considered Bryan College as an option because of this). Internally, some non-science departments changed the science requirements for their majors, in order to avoid potential problems for their majors going to grad school.

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We’ve been looking at Bob Jones University as the exemplar of a TRACS-accredited institution. Thinking about this reminded me of the Institute for Creation Research’s problems (2007-09) seeking state accreditation after their move from California to Texas (hardly a liberal hotbed). Looking up the Wikipedia article to refresh my memory turned up the fact that the ICR is (or was) TRACS accredited, and that Texas does not (or did not) accept TRACS accreditation.

From memory of the write-ups of the time, I think a considerable amount of the evaluators’ criticism centered around lack of lab-based science education.

The result of this was that ICR ended up closing their post-graduate programme in Science Education, and replacing it with one in Biblical Apologetics.

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I appreciated @swamidass’ op-ed but I must say up front that I’ve always been a rather crusty curmudgeon when it comes to TRACS. Perhaps my opinions are outdated—indeed, even I would admit that they are covered in cobwebs and reflective of the fact that I retired from academia long ago and my opinions are frozen in the 1990’s—but I’ve never been impressed with their standards and the fact that TRACS has basically been a way for non-accredited schools with poorly designed curricula to say to the parents of prospective students: “Sure we are accredited! Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise!”

Also, the fact that Henry Morris and ICR (Institute for Creation Research) played a huge role in founding and running TRACS still sets off loud claxons in my head. (So loud that they drown out the annoying voices I’m prone to hear.) What a great way to gain accreditation for one’s institution: start an “alternative” accreditation organization and then predictably award your education program accreditation in good standing. Brilliant!

Wikipedia summarizes that history much better than I could so I recommend that section of the article:

It is also worth mentioning that the best evangelical Christian educational institutions have long been recognized by the most respected accreditation agencies. In my day credits from TRACS schools were regarded with great suspicion by just about every colleague who didn’t have such an alternative pedigree in his own academic background.

POSTSCRIPT: I suppose things have changed but in the old days I had the impression that a school had to work really really hard NOT to get and keep TRACS accreditation.

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I am not familiar with the US educational system, but I would oppose accrediting colleges that teach creationism as if it were solid science, the same way I oppose the accreditation of colleges that teach homeopathy, acupuncture, functional medicine and other forms of crankery. I understand you intend to build bridges between warring parties on both sides, but the cost is too much IMO.

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I want to agree with you, but can’t. Evolution could be taught empirically, and students from these religious school programs could understand the theory as well as any other student from a secular university. The students from religious schools may have also taken all the other quality classes we know and love (Organic chem, histology, comparative anatomy, immunology). Are we going to tell those students all of their hard work is going to be thrown out because some other class teaches some pseudoscience that they may not even agree with?

Let’s take it one step further. If a student graduates from a secular university with accreditation, do we strip that degree away if we find out they attended Sunday School classes where creationism was taught as a science? I don’t think that degree should be taken away, so why would it matter if they attended these classes before or after they got their degree?

The criteria I think we should be looking at is the like to like comparison of education between religious and secular schools. If those match up, then they should get a degree that is accredited.

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