Credit where none is due; creationist colleges and courses

by Paul Braterman

ScreenHunter_416 Nov. 25 09.21I am browsing school science textbooks published and marketed by an influential and nationally accredited US university. Here is what I find.[1] Satan wants people to believe in evolution. This is probably the main reason that evolution is so popular. Evolution relies on processes that cannot be observed, therefore it isn’t a scientific theory but depends on faith. The theory of biological evolution is not true because it contradicts the Bible. Many people believe in the evolutionary theory because they feel it eliminates God and lets them do what they want. Evolutionists are constantly finding evidence that runs counter to their claims, but discard it because of bias. The Flood is a better explanation of the fossil record than evolution. Missing links and common ancestors are absent from the fossil record because these organisms never existed. Radiometric dating involves so much guesswork that it is unreliable. Earth Day is the Festival of a false god; but a Christian must be confident that the God who made the world is able to maintain it. And much more in the same vein.

I came across all this rather indirectly. I recently saw a reference to someone, teaching at a non-accredited University in Albuquerque, who described himself as a Fellow of Oxford Graduate School. Having myself, many years ago, tried to become a Fellow of an Oxford college, and dismally failed, I was ready to be impressed. But then it occurred to me that Fellowships are not awarded by Oxford University, but by each of its component colleges. Moreover, despite six years at Oxford and two graduate degrees, I had never heard of the Graduate School as a separate entity. So I decided this was worth looking into. And so it proved. Oxford Graduate School may be of little importance in itself, but it pointed me to a world of absurdities, where a university can only win accreditation by denying scientific reality, where such accreditation is recognised by the US government, and where those at institutions accredited in this way have exerted influence out of all proportion to their numbers.

Oxford Graduate School (OGS), like that place in England where they have been teaching since 1096, has the name “Oxford” in its title, and according to its web site it also calls its doctorate degree D.Phil. rather than Ph.D. And there the resemblance ends.

OGS, according to its Wikipedia entry, has about 100 graduate students. Its website tells us that “Although it has cordial links with various departments and Colleges of the University of Oxford, it has no formal connection with the University,” but its courses include “seminars at … the Bodleian library of the University of Oxford (Oxford, UK).” I expect they hire a room there from time to time, or lead a tour group. Its degree programs “are designed to enable students to become active Christian leaders within their current occupation and spheres of influence. … Studies in the areas of the curriculum combine to qualify students to teach leadership studies at the graduate level and solve problems and resolve conflict in the workplace.”

To qualify, in whose opinion? In the opinion of a body known as the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools (TRACS). TRACS' published accreditation criteriainclude meeting its definition of Christianity. This requires a Biblical Foundations Statement “which defines its Christian nature by affirming those doctrinal matters to be true which identify it as part of the evangelical tradition in education.” More specifically, TRACS offers the following tenets:

The Bible. The unique divine inspiration of all the canonical books of the Old and New Testaments as originally given, so that they are infallibly and uniquely authoritative and free from error of any sort …

Historicity. The full historicity and perspicuity of the biblical record of primeval history, including the literal existence of Adam and Eve as the progenitors of all people, the literal fall and resultant divine curse on the creation, the worldwide cataclysmic deluge, and the origin of nations and languages at the tower of Babel….

Biblical Creation. Special creation of the existing space-time universe and all its basic systems and kinds of organisms in the six literal days of the creation week.

Satan. The existence of a personal, malevolent being called Satan who acts as tempter and accuser, for whom the place of eternal punishment was prepared, where all who die outside of Christ shall be confined in conscious torment for eternity.

So if you think that the world is more than around 6,000 years old, or that the story of Adam and Eve is an allegory of our complex, flawed moral nature, or that the Earth is not cursed, or that there wasn't really a world-wide flood, or that the division between the Indo-European and the Semitic-Hamitic language supergroups (to say nothing of Native American and aboriginal Australian languages) goes back to before the building of Babylon, or that there is any truth in the cosmologists' succession of eras from Big Bang through quark soup to normal matter to galaxy and star formation to the birth of our own third-generation Sun seeded with the elements of dying supernovas, or that the terrestrial continents are not somewhere between 24 and 48 hours older than the Sun and Moon (depending on the exact chronology of Days 3 and 4), or that different kinds of organism share a common ancestry, or that Satan is not a real person, or that unbelievers will escape an eternity of conscious torment, then I'm sorry; you are just not measuring up to TRACS' high standards.

Who is responsible for this sadistic nonsense? We know the answer; a civil engineer called Henry Morris, co-author of The Genesis Flood, founder of the Institute for Creation Research (ICR), and probably the largest single contributor to the strange 20th Century cult known as Scientific Creationism. As he said on the ICR website,

Because of the prejudice against creation-science, outspoken creationist schools such as ICRGS [Institute for Creation Research Graduate School] used to stand little or no chance of getting recognition through accreditation. But after an eleven-year effort, involving much prayer and hard work, as well as strong opposition, TRACS finally gained acceptance by the U.S. Department of Education and then by CHEA (Council on Higher Education Accreditation), the umbrella organization serving all accrediting bodies.

Acceptance by the U.S. Department of Education stems from a surprising 1991 decision taken, in the face of advice, by Lamar Alexander, Bush Sr.'s Education Secretary at the time. It may be relevant that he is an elder of the Westminster Presbyterian Church, whose Covenant states

In accordance with the Holy Scriptures, we promise to proclaim creationism within the space of six normal length 24 hour days (Gen. 1:1 to 2:3; Ex. 20:11). We reject all other views of creation, including day age and framework hypothesis.

Lamar Alexander, wearing signature plaid

shirt while campaigining

Whatever the reasons are for Alexander's commitment to this position, stupidity is not among them. He is Phi Beta Kappa (the most intellectually prestigious of all US Honor Societies), J.D. from New York University's Law School, and sometime Visiting Professor at Harvard. I can only suggest that the belief is functioning as a badge of group membership, further emphasised here by the use of words like “Covenant” and “proclaim”. On this view, for which I claim no originality, the belief should be considered as the price to be paid for belonging. If so, it has to be implausible, so that membership is not too cheap.

Accreditation will spell credibility, for those who don't know better. It also conveys material advantages, since students at an accredited institution are eligible for educational grants and loans. ICGRS closed its doors in 2010, in large part because Texas doesn't recognize TRACS. Its offspring, the School of Biblical Apologetics, survives. Its principles include belief in an everlasting fire for unbelievers, and, following the ICR tenets, that

There are many scientific evidences for a relatively recent creation of the earth and the universe, in addition to strong scientific evidence that most of the earth's fossiliferous sedimentary rocks were formed in an even more recent global hydraulic cataclysm.

However, the School realises that this evidence may not be strong enough for any Texas-recognised accreditation agency.

TRACS, meantime, continues to exist, and to accredit, and at the time of writing lists 55 separate institutions as accredited and 10 candidates. Liberty University, which I have written about elsewhere, carried its accreditation from 1984 to 2008, when it resigned; this establishment requires all students to undergo a course in “Origins”, taught from a Young Earth Creationist perspective. Membership, however, was purely symbolic, since its primary accreditation comes from the normally respectable Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACC). (Disclosure – it is SACC that accredits the University of North Texas, where I worked for many years.) The resignation, I suspect, was just one move in the strange feud between the Creation Research Institute and Answers in Genesis.

Patrick Henry College (photo Patrick McKay,

through Wikipedia)

Two universities accredited by TRACS and nobody else captured my particular attention. Patrick Henry College was established in large part to meet the needs of the home schooled, specifically those who had been taught according to “Christian” (i.e. politically right-wing creationist) curricula. Students are required to subscribe to the College's Statement of Faith, which declares among other things that

Satan exists as a personal, malevolent being who acts as tempter and accuser, for whom Hell, the place of eternal punishment, was prepared, where all who die outside of Christ shall be confined in conscious torment for eternity.

Trustees, Administrators, and Faculty are, in addition, required to subscribe to statements of Biblical Worldview and its applications, according to which

Husbands are the head of their wives just as Christ is the head of the church.

God created man in a distinct and supernatural creative act, forming the specific man Adam from non-living material, and the specific woman Eve from Adam. The first man and woman were therefore the progenitors of all people, and humans do not share a common physical ancestry with earlier life forms. (Biblical Worldview)

PHC in particular expects its biology faculty to … teach creation as both biblically true and as the best fit to observed data. (Biblical Worldview Applications)

Notice; creation is to be taught, not only as the revealed truth, but also as the best available science.

The College has around 450 students. With such small numbers, and such atavistic beliefs, you might imagine it to be a fringe institution of no importance. You would be wrong. The trustees include Janet Ashcroft, wife of John Ashcroft who was US Attorney General during George W. Bush's first term as President, and the College sent seven interns to the Bush White House, as many as Georgetown University, a world-class institution with over 15,000 students.

Nor do the graduates lack impact. The College reports that “one year after Commencement, approximately 54% of graduating seniors who had applied to graduate/law school were accepted to one of their top three choices”, while others have positions as associate producers at news outlets, or as editors in publishing houses. The College may have only a weak grasp of the last two centuries of scientific or biblical scholarship, but seems to have a very good understanding of networking and the nature of power.

Finally, Bob Jones University (BJU), a sometime powerhouse in Republican politics (both George W. Bush and Ron Paul spoke there while campaigning), although it has more recently taken a back seat. This is also accredited by TRACS and no one else.[2] It has a relatively short written Doctrinal Statement, which specifies belief in “the creation of man by the direct act of God”, and spoken messages referring this to the literal Garden of Eden story.

How do you manage to teach science at degree level while maintaining this position? By an ingenious combination of spiritual blackmail, quote mining, misrepresentation, obfuscation, and selection of sources, all on open display in the BJU website section, Christian Teaching of Science. Here we learn that

[T]he Christian teacher of science … must have firmly implanted in his mind a biblical framework of truth which serves as the touchstone for his decision making. True science will fit that framework; anything that fails to fit the biblical framework must be rejected as erroneous.

Thus we are told that radiometric dates are unreliable because they are outliers and disagree with Kelvin's cooling rate estimates (described [!] as being anywhere between some 40 million and a few thousand years), and that the sedimentation rate estimate of tens of millions of years fails to take into account the effects of Noah's Flood. As for the fossil record, “taken on [sic] a whole, the fossil record makes a dramatic statement against evolution.” For example, Archaeopteryx had fully formed feathers, with no precursors. Even cosmology supports biblical creation, because, as the section revealingly labeled “Distinctiveness” tells us,

[O]nly degenerative processes are observed in stars and interstellar clouds. Nevertheless, it is speculated that such clouds are capable of organizing themselves into stars, a suggestion that flies squarely in the face of three and a half centuries of telescopic observations. Regrettably, evolutionary theory has been exalted to the point where men trust it more than their own eyes.

From a scientific standpoint, evolution is at best an unsupportable and unworkable hypothesis, at worst a reprehensible lie that … runs exactly counter to the actual observations. Organic evolution, if it were ever to occur, would require the violation of certain well-established principles of genetics and thermodynamics. Paleontology (the study of fossils) likewise militates strongly against evolution: the mediating links required by the hypothesis are systematically missing from the fossil record.

In reality, of course, radiometric dating uses multiple cross-comparisons between different methods, all scientific methods since the mid-1800s have given ages (free abstract here) in at least the tens of millions of years, Flood stratigraphy is incompatible with three centuries of detailed geological observations, and what we know about the evolution of feathers would fill a book. As for the last comment quoted, its conflation of astronomy with evolution is the least of its problems. Whoever wrote it must have been either strangely unaware of the Hubble telescope observations of stellar nurseries, and also of the long established richness of the fossil record itself, or else deliberately lying.

The political agenda is also close to the surface. Consider, for example, what the same web page has to say about environmentalism:

The modern environmentalist movement has its roots in pantheism, materialism, and evolutionism…. Only when we realize that environmentalism is part of the humanist's religion can we begin to understand the zeal with which he pursues it.

It would take a very courageous and resilient student, well informed about current science, to emerge unscathed from four years of this kind of nonsense, and such a student would be unlikely to have chosen BJU in the first place.

LifeSciScanned at 23-11-2013 17-19

Should we be concerned by all this, given that the University has fewer than 3,000 undergraduate students on campus? Yes, for many reasons. Its main impact is through distance learning, at both school and college level. BJU Press produces books aimed at all school levels, supplemented by homeschooling kits and a testing service. It is no accident that BJU's own positions echo those in the school textbooks that I cited at the beginning of this article, since it was BJU that produced all of them,[1] and these books are used, worldwide, by over a million students. And the cooling time argument for a young Earth, taught at BJU, was trotted out again this November in an attempt to sabotage the Texas schoolbook adoption process. These things matter.

[1] Satan … popular; Life Science for Christian Schools, 2nd ed., 1999 (LSCS) 161. Evolution … faith; LSCS 22. The … Bible; LSCS 146. Many people … want; LSCS 133. Evolutionists … bias; The Physical World etc. for Christian Schools, 2000 (PWCS) 12. The Flood … existed; LSCS 150. Radiometric dating … unreliable; LSCS 159, PWCS 125. Earth Day … maintain it. Science 6 for Christian Schools 236.

[2] The Greenville News reported in 2011 that BJU would seek accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, but I can find no more recent live links, other than hostile commentators. Some of its programmes, however, are recognised by professional bodies.