There’s a big kerfuffle in the world of Creationists and it has to do with Christian academics not taking them seriously… because they shouldn’t.
This started a month ago when Dr. Joshua Swamidass, a professor at Washington University in St. Louis, wrote an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal all about accreditation and Creationism.
In a nutshell, he believes the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools (TRACS) should be allowed to give its stamp of approval to Creationism-teaching schools like Bob Jones University even if secular organizations would look down on the school and the group. (TRACS may lose its ability to grant such accreditation this October precisely because of its lax standards.)
However, as a compromise, and in order to uphold “higher standards on science education,” Swamidass suggests TRACS should only grant accreditation to Christian schools that are transparent about their beliefs on transcripts. For example, BJU shouldn’t be able to just give a student an “A” in Biology. They should make it clear the student got an “A” in Biology that was built on a Creationist framework. Swamidass says that would allow the schools to remain accredited, for TRACS to maintain its ability to grant accreditation, and no one would be automatically punished for promoting biblical views regarding science.
As a matter of academic freedom, scientists should tolerate institutions that teach creation science. But deviations from national norms in a science curriculum need to be prominently disclosed, tracked and reported. In practice, that means transcripts that clearly state which courses and degrees include creation science. Credit from courses that include creation science should not be used toward science degrees. Nor should they be eligible for transfer to secular institutions.
I disagree with him about scientists tolerating those schools. If you went to a fundamentalist Christian college, no graduate program or secular employer should take your degree seriously, at least not if you’re planning a future in science. That’s a separate debate for another time.
But Swamidass is right to say that a course tainted with Creationism shouldn’t earn students any credit if they transfer to a real school.
Stepping away from the accreditation argument, what Creationists are furious about is Swamidass’ belief that a Creation-based science class doesn’t meet “higher standards on science education.”
BJU president Steve Pettit responded with a letter in the WSJ saying his school already had high standards:
Dr. Swamidass’s “compromise” — excluding credit from courses presenting evidence for multiple models — would marginalize outstanding scientists with biblical viewpoints about origins. We prefer that adherents to both creation and evolution models continue to coexist as neighbors, friends and, yes, science educators in our pluralistic nation. It does not appear Dr. Swamidass truly shares this desire.
Pettit’s argument boils down to this: We teach real science, but we also sprinkle in a lot of Christian bullshit, so that should count!
Swamidass says Pettit is missing the point. Either his school teaches legitimate science, in which case he has nothing to worry about, or he’s not, in which case those transcripts ought to come with a bunch of asterisks. But he says there’s also another path forward:
If it were true that BJU does not teach creation science, why is President Pettit objecting to the policy? If all the science courses at BJU are aligned with national norms, the policy I suggested does not apply to them.
More likely, BJU actually is teaching creation science in science courses. Their course catalogue describes Bio 300 as “Evolution and Origins,” a course which promises to evaluate “the theories of evolution, the intelligent design movement, and special creation” and to explore “a creationary model of the diversity of life.”
In that case, on this policy, BJU would have two options. They could transparently label the course on transcripts as “deviating from national norms.” A better approach would be to change the designation of Bio 300 from biology to philosophy or religion. Then the course would not be a science class, and would not need to be labeled.
Ken Ham also posted a lengthy rant about all this last week — and he’s been hammering away at it in the days since:
… In his commentary [Swamidass is] ultimately saying that Christians can have the “academic freedom” to believe what they want but, really, they should be required to teach evolution as fact. And, if they’re going to teach creation (he specifically singles out young earth creation) to students, those classes should be “prominently disclosed, tracked and reported,” including on students’ transcripts. Such an approach would harm students who studied at a Christian college from being able to transfer to a different school (e.g., for grad work) and would require them to take more classes since their hard-earned credits wouldn’t transfer to “secular institutions.” So he’s not really “for” Christian colleges or academic freedom whatsoever!
That’s not what Swamidass is saying. (Ham would know this if he knew how to read critically.) Swamidass is saying those schools should be allowed to teach Creationism without losing their accreditation… but no one else should be obligated to treat those courses as legitimate science classes since they’re not.
He has since elaborated on this topic:
This is about science curriculums, not beliefs. National norms do not apply to content of belief statements or personal beliefs, but they do apply to curriculumns. So I am not asking creationists to change their beliefs in order to be accredited.
Whether we disagree with creation science or not, everybody agrees that creation science is not aligned with national norms in science curricula. While no one should label or denigrate creationists, secular institutions are not obligated to accept credit from courses that deviate from national norms
Ham is also wrong to called those credits “hard-earned.” A science course steeped in Creation is like an algebra class that only allows one-digit numbers and addition signs. You can ace it without really learning much at all. Just ask anyone who was homeschooled using the Accelerated Christian Education textbooks. Passing those courses doesn’t mean you’ve actually received a meaningful education.
And then Ham went after the professor for being unqualified to write about this subject at all:
It’s worth pointing out that this researcher isn’t qualified to even write on the question of creation science in the classroom or to “recommend” anything pertaining to, what he calls, young earth creation science because he really doesn’t know the creationist arguments well at all and frankly doesn’t know what he is talking about. What do I mean? Well, he has already demonstrated that he really doesn’t know what biblical creationists (young earth creationists) believe. He has written on the topic but makes no attempt to engage any of the scholarly creationist literature published on Adam and Eve, either scientific or theological, and his numerous attacks on biblical creation science are nothing more than strawmen.
Excuse me while I step away to laugh at the notion of “scholarly creationist literature published on Adam and Eve”…
Swamidass is a professor of “laboratory and genomic medicine and biomedical engineering.” If nothing else, he knows the difference between real science and pseudoscience. But you don’t need an advanced degree to recognize that there’s no evidence of the world being created in six days, as written in the Bible.
Students are free to hold that belief, but they don’t deserve to be rewarded for it with a science degree. At least not one that is meant to be taken seriously by the greater academic world.
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