More creationist lunacy in Texas

UPDATE:  David Hillis just finished meeting with the committee in charge of designating these charities and sent me this dispiriting email:

The State Policy Committee, which oversees the State Employees Charitable Campaign, “thanked me” for “bringing the problem of the ICR listing to their attention”, and noted that “hundreds of other charities on the state list are similarly problematic” regarding the state law requiring groups to provide health and human services. They agreed that it is a problem, but noted that their committee is being dissolved, and that the new Texas Sunset Advisory Commission will take over overseeing the list next year. They declined to take any action, and left it up to the TSAC to fix next year. In my opinion, they demonstrated an amazing lack of responsibility to do what they were appointed to do.

Not surprising, perhaps, but an amazing example of ineffectiveness by a state-appointed committee.

_______________
The latest evolution-related travesty to come out of Texas—and there have been many—involves a bizarre discovery by UT Austin biology professor David Hillis, who has been featured on this website. Poring over a list of state-designated charities providing “direct or indirect health and human services”, Hillis discovered an odd inclusion: the Institute for Creation Research (ICR).  Like the other “charities” on that list, the ICR is approved for state employee donations, which can come as a direct deductions from the employee’s payroll.

As the Austin Statesman reports:

“The Institute for Creation Research is an anti-science organization,” Hillis said. “They work to undermine the mission of the university and of science in general, and especially the science that is the very basis for health and human services. How could such an organization possibly be listed as a charitable organization to be supported by state employees?”

Officials of the institute did not respond to a request for comment.

The organization’s listing in a brochure distributed to state employees offers the following description: “Science strongly supports the Bible’s authority and accuracy. With scientific research, education programs, and media presentations, we equip Christians to stand for the Truth.”

You can see the ICR website (the outfit is in Dallas, Texas) here; they even have a research page, as well as an “Evidence for God” page.

If you’ve been involved in fighting creationism, you’ll know that the ICR, headed by Henry Morris, was once a very influential outfit (Ken Ham once worked for them).  The ICR’s metier was “scientific creationism,” the view that the very facts of science actually supported the narrative of the Bible.

One of the ICR’s “classic” publications was Morris and Whitcomb’s The Genesis Flood, arguing that the facts of geology supported the story of Noah’s flood (Morris was a hydraulic engineer).  Another book, which I used as a text when I taught “Evolution vs. Creationism” at the University of Maryland, was Scientific Creationism, which came in two versions, one including religious material and the other, intended for public school classrooms, leaving out the Jesus stuff.

(I should say a word about that class, which was one of the most engaging teaching experiences I’ve ever had. It was a nonmajors course intended to inspire students to think critically about evolution and creationism.  Every Monday I would lecture as myself, giving the evidence for one aspect of evolution, such as radiometric dating or the fossil record.  On Wednesday I would lecture as a creationist, trying to overturn all the stuff that crazy evolution guy said on Monday. [I was very well versed in creationist arguments.]  This, of course, deeply confused the students.  On Friday we would all sit down and talk about the conflicting viewpoints, trying to adjudicate them. [We also had debates, in which I assigned all the creationist students to defend evolution, and the evolution-accepting students to defend creationism.]  And although the class began with a nearly equal mixture of evolution-accepters and evolution-deniers among the students, by the end of the class the discussions had convinced more than half of the creationists of the truth of evolution. It was a deeply satisfying result.)

At any rate, the ICR is now headed by Morris’s son, John D. Morris, and has fallen on hard times since “scientific creationism” became supplanted by ID as the au courant form of creationism.

One would think that allowing state payroll deductions for donations to a creationist organization would violate the First Amendment, but other religious organizations are also on the list.

Charities included in the program range from the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund , which supports injured or ill service members, to Vegan Outreach , which promotes “ethical eating.” A number of charities have religious leanings, including the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the Jewish Community Association of Austin.

But scientists are arguing—and this may be a tactical mistake—that the ICR is too religious.

But the Institute for Creation Research espouses such a strongly sectarian view of the origin of life that its inclusion “was enough to get me riled up,” said Daniel Bolnick , an associate professor of integrative biology at UT who studies the evolution of autoimmune disorders. “It gives them legitimacy they really don’t deserve.”

John Hoberman, a UT professor of Germanic studies, said the institute is “an adversary of the values a research university stands for” and that its activities “do not qualify as the sort of humanitarian activity we associate with charity in the proper sense of the word.”

Perhaps it would be better just to mount a general First-Amendment challenge on the grounds that the state should not be involved in promulgating religion of any sort. The committee that decides who’s on the list is electing a new chairman this week, and Hillis and other UT biology faculty have filed a formal complaint against the ICR’s inclusion.

The response: according to the Texas Freedom Network, a state representative, Leo Berman, has called for Hillis—a tenured full professor, highly respected evolutionary biologist, and member of the National Academy of Sciences, to be fired!

Berman is a piece of work:

Rep. Berman on Thursday sent a statement to the Austin-based political news website Quorum Report (subscription required), charging that Prof. Hillis “fears debate on evolution vs. creationism” and that “Godly professors of science who are creationists fear retribution” from scientists like Hillis:

“Professor Hillis would do well to take a sabbatical from science and do a little research in the social studies. … The meaning of Academy, or University, or College, is a place to seek the truth.  How can you determine the truth when you only hear from a Professor Hillis and his joy of shoving evolution down someone’s throat.

If I were Chancellor, I would fire him for trying to deny individuals of their first amendment rights.   As a legislator, I think removing tenure if he has tenure and putting him back to work, would be the best thing the state can do.”

Rep. Berman is one of the most extreme right-wing lawmakers in Texas. This past spring, for example, he promoted anti-Muslim hysteria by proposing legislation he said would ban Sharia law in Texas (even though the First Amendment already bars religion-based laws). His legislation failed to pass. He also insists that President Obama wasn’t born in the United States and has even suggested that the president’s election represented “God’s punishment on us.”

Ceiling Cat bless America, and best of luck to Dave and his colleagues. They might not win the battle, but I’m sure Hillis’s job is safe!

37 Comments

  1. Posted December 2, 2011 at 5:21 am | Permalink

    Anything that Texas residents can do to help? I’m here in Dallas and this makes me sick.

    • David Hillis
      Posted December 3, 2011 at 7:28 am | Permalink

      You could let your state representatives know that you think state law should be followed, and that only non-profit groups that provide health and human services should be promoted in the state employees charitable campaign.

    • Doc Bill
      Posted December 4, 2011 at 11:24 am | Permalink

      Yes, you can support the Texas Freedom Network at tfninsider dot org. They are on the front line fighting to keep creeps like the ICR from diluting science education in Texas.

  2. Posted December 2, 2011 at 5:50 am | Permalink

    The “scientific” statements on the ICR website are just so horribly wrong… 

    /@

  3. Diego
    Posted December 2, 2011 at 6:18 am | Permalink

    I started to count the number of overtly religious groups and what they do in my state’s employee charitable contribution list. But it became too depressing.

    • eric
      Posted December 2, 2011 at 7:28 am | Permalink

      Yeah, given the other stuff on the charity list, its going to be difficult to make a case that only the ICR merits removal.

      Perhaps instead of removal it may be better to fight by addition. Have secular, atheist, and nonchristian religious charities request they be added to the list. Force the State into deciding whether the list is truly open, (in which case, you have to give the atheists and muslims the same access you give the christians), or state-controlled (in which case any charity collecting money to promote religion should probably be excluded).

      • Emily Jane
        Posted December 2, 2011 at 9:24 am | Permalink

        The issue with inclusion of ICR specifically is not that it is religious, as noted many of the charities included are, but that is does not in any way contribute to “health and human services”, a criterion for the campaign.

        • eric
          Posted December 2, 2011 at 10:55 am | Permalink

          Emily, just look at any of their lists. I picked Houston. On that list, I see the Texas State History Muesum and Adopt-a-Beach.

          It seems clear that this charity drive is interpreting “health and human services” in the most liberal sense possible. ICR is going to have a legitimate defense in saying they are as relevant to H&HS as many of the other this on the list.

          IOW if you try and go that attack route, you’re going to lose.

          • David Hillis
            Posted December 3, 2011 at 7:25 am | Permalink

            The State Policy Committee is basically saying that the criteria established by state law have been applied unevenly and irregularly, and that there are probably many additional non-profits on the list that do not fit the state law, in addition to ICR (although the Chair of the Committee could not name any others). They will now be required to do a thorough review in conjunction with the Texas Sunset Review Commission to fix the problem so that the list does match state law. Clearly ICR does not meet the requirements; there well may be other groups that should be deleted as well. It is an odd argument to say that state law should not be followed in this case because there are additional cases where it has not been followed. That is like arguing that if one person gets away with theft, it should be OK for anyone else to get away with theft.

  4. Brian Utterback
    Posted December 2, 2011 at 6:38 am | Permalink

    What is the implication of being included on the list of charities? What is the criteria for inclusion? If it does not imply any particular state endorsement, then I don’t see any problem with ICR being on the list. Certainly state employees may give money to any charities they desire. If the list merely provides a number or something to allow the gift to be done by payroll deduction I just don’t see the problem.

    On the other hand, Berman is out of line. Questioning the inclusion of a charity that holds beliefs that are antithetical to the goal of your institution is perfectly reasonable. Hillis is not trying to stifle debate (as if there was one), or anything like that.

    • Tulse
      Posted December 2, 2011 at 7:15 am | Permalink

      If the list merely provides a number or something to allow the gift to be done by payroll deduction I just don’t see the problem.

      I agree. There are plenty of charities whose work I don’t care for, and I’m sure there may be some folks who don’t like the charity that I work for. But if an organization has independently been designated a legal charity, I don’t want the government determining which legal charities its employees can support. That’s placing restrictions on public employees as individuals that aren’t present for those who happen to work in the private sector.

      In other words, the problems isn’t with state employees making donations, but with the ICR being a charity in the first place.

      • David Hillis
        Posted December 3, 2011 at 7:36 am | Permalink

        The criteria for listing are actually quite clear, and it is equally clear that they were not met in the case of the ICR. In particular, no one argues that the ICR provides “health and human services”. The ICR is clearly a religious organization that exists only to promote its own religious ideology. By state law, to be included on the list, an organization is supposed to provide charitable services such as feeding the poor, doing health research, etc. Clearly, the “health and human services” requirement was meant to exclude groups like ICR that exist only to promote their religious ideology.

    • jay
      Posted December 3, 2011 at 6:35 am | Permalink

      I’m not sure that having religious groups on an optional deduction actually is a 1A problem. If the criteria for inclusion on the list is open and non-judgemental, it may not be government endorsement.

      • David Hillis
        Posted December 3, 2011 at 7:15 am | Permalink

        The problem was that the criteria for inclusion on the list were not followed in the case of ICR. THAT is the basis for the complaint. State resources were used to solicit funds for this particular religious cause, whereas other religious causes that did not meet the state guidelines were excluded. That is indeed implied government endorsement of a particular religion.

  5. steve oberski
    Posted December 2, 2011 at 6:39 am | Permalink

    Did any of the evolution accepting students in your course switch to creationism ?

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted December 2, 2011 at 10:37 am | Permalink

      As I recall (and it’s been a long time), no. The thing that turned the creationists around, to a large extent, was the “hydrodynamic sorting argument” that creationists advanced for the geological record: they represented animals simply sorted out by the Great Flood, with marine ones at the bottom and terrestrial ones, who could escape the rising waters, at the top, and of course humans, who are the cleverest at taking shelter, at the very top. The problems with this, of course, are obvious, beginning with the position of the whales.

      • Julien Rousseau
        Posted December 2, 2011 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

        Yeah, and why would the marine animals, who already live in water, die first in a flood?

        They should be dying last when the salinity of the water is too low (due to dilution by the flood waters) for them to survive?

  6. JBlilie
    Posted December 2, 2011 at 6:54 am | Permalink

    And although the class began with a nearly equal mixture of evolution-accepters and evolution-deniers among the students, by the end of the class the discussions had convinced more than half of the creationists of the truth of evolution. It was a deeply satisfying result.

    Well done! Satifying indeed!

  7. Posted December 2, 2011 at 7:35 am | Permalink

    I love your approach to teaching your “Evolution vs. Creationism” class. Brilliant!

  8. Posted December 2, 2011 at 8:16 am | Permalink

    From their site:

    For 40 years, the Institute for Creation Research has led the fight to defend the faith by exploring and explaining God’s matchless creation as expressed in Scripture. Through the years, many have partnered with ICR by “sowing bountifully” with their resources, enabling the Creator’s mighty message to be sown in the hearts of mankind through our vital and unique work. For this, we are deeply thankful.

    ICR is especially pleased when our partners in ministry are able to “reap…bountifully” with their gifts as well. We invite you to explore the different ways listed here to “sow and reap bountifully” with your gifts to continue the work within the Kingdom.

    As a federally recognized 501(c)(3) nonprofit ministry, all gifts to ICR are completely tax deductible to the fullest extent allowed by law. We will mail you a receipt.

    **************
    As a small local business owner I resent them not having to to pay taxes. I don’t see any indication on their site that they are providing any “health or human services.” Am I missing something? Does defending creationism count as a human service? By contrast, our small business is a medical practice. We gladly pay our taxes and do several hours of “charitable” work a month. I don’t have any problem with them accepting donations, but why the “free pass” on taxes?

    • tomh
      Posted December 2, 2011 at 10:18 am | Permalink

      I don’t have any problem with them accepting donations, but why the “free pass” on taxes?

      Because that’s the way things work in America. As a religious>/i> 501(c)(3) nonprofit, they are shielded from more than the federal income tax exemption they share with all nonprofit groups; every state also grants them exemption from property taxes; they don’t have to file those pesky IRS reports about where the money goes, and Congress has limited the IRS’s ability to audit them. They’re also shielded from complaints about discrimination (in hiring, for instance), whether based on race, nationality, age, gender, medical condition or sexual orientation, besides being exempt from federal laws meant to protect pensions and unemployment benefits. This is America, the land of separation of church and state (well, that’s the theory, anyway.)

      • tomh
        Posted December 2, 2011 at 10:19 am | Permalink

        oops, sorry about the italics

  9. Hempenstein
    Posted December 2, 2011 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    Berman sounds like the sanctimonious state representative in Virginia who was part of the cabal that instigated sacking Gene Nichol, the energetic president at Wm&Mary (a state institution) after he directed that the cross be removed from permanent display at the chapel there. (The chapel dated from 1693. The cross apparently dated from the 1930’s, a point that was completely over the heads of the apoplectic crowd.)

    • eric
      Posted December 2, 2011 at 9:20 am | Permalink

      IIRC, he merely ordered it to be stored somewhere else when the room was not in use for christian ceremonies. That’s the “permanent” part. Under his order it was still available for display and use during church services.

      IOW, what the opponents were so offended about was the thought of it not being in the room when someone else was using the room.

      • Hempenstein
        Posted December 2, 2011 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

        Right, it wasn’t ditched. If someone wanted it for eg getting married there, it was in a closet somewhere, along with other such symbols. It was just that the default situation was no longer that it was parked on the altar. Nichol was a law professor – he knew what he was doing.

  10. Posted December 2, 2011 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    For those of you who may truly care to know more about this issue, here is the official ICR press release:

    State University Professor Sponsors Religious Discrimination

    DALLAS, December 1 — A University of Texas biology professor is hoping that he can tell all Texas state employees where they can and cannot give their own money this Christmas.

    Professor David Hillis, who teaches integrative biology at the school, said that no state employee in Texas should have the right to donate their own gifts to the Institute for Creation Research (ICR), a 41-year-old non-profit educational organization based in Dallas. State employees are allowed to designate charitable gifts as deductions from their payroll each year through the State Employees Charitable Campaign. ICR has been an approved charity in this program for the past two years.

    Professor Hillis, in his role as a representative of the university, stated of ICR’s educational programs to the Austin American Statesman: “They work to undermine the mission of the university and of science in general….”

    It is unclear if Hillis was acting on his own initiative or if his public statements were sanctioned by UT administration officials.

    The University of Texas does, in fact, teach religion, and has an established Department of Religious Studies, which instructs students every day about various religions around the world, including evangelical Christianity, but all of which invoke some sort of supernatural deity into their belief systems. Evolutionary biology teachers like Hillis believe science has no room for a supernatural deity or designer.

    ICR is concerned that a state employee is attempting to dictate to his fellow state employees how they give their own money to charities, or whether it is ethical for a state employee to sponsor discrimination against a Christian or other religious entity.

    Whether UT officials will hold a formal hearing on Professor Hillis’ conduct is yet to be seen. It is also unclear what steps state educational agencies will take against the UT professor or the school if it shown that a state employee or entity sought to sponsor religious discrimination against an approved charity. ICR also wonders if Professor Hillis or other UT employees have previously attempted this type of discriminatory action, essentially trying to make Christian organizations “back of the bus” charities.

    The Institute for Creation Research, founded in 1970, conducts scientific research in geology, genetics, astro/geophysics, and much more, communicating its results through a variety of degree and non-degree programs, and through books, magazines, videos, and radio broadcasts.

    For more information, visit http://www.icr.org.

    • Doc Bill
      Posted December 2, 2011 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

      Not really, Henry. Why don’t you do us all a favor and move out of Texas. You’re stinking up the place.

      Love and kisses,
      Doc Bill

      • Posted December 2, 2011 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

        Hmmm…that figures. Merry Christmas anyway Bill.

        • Julien Rousseau
          Posted December 2, 2011 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

          Happy Holiday. ;-)

    • Sastra
      Posted December 2, 2011 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

      The objection is not the the ICR is religious. The objection is that it’s pseudoscience.

      You have to learn to make your claims more vague.

    • Ichthyic
      Posted December 3, 2011 at 12:09 am | Permalink

      Henry Morris – conning gullible suckers for generations.

      are you Morris the IVth, or the Vth?

      Quite the family business.

  11. David Hillis
    Posted December 2, 2011 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    The issue is that this is a state list of charities that is supported and distributed to state employees, and funds are requested of those state employees to help these charities, and the campaign uses state resources to do so. Given that, the state law that authorized this campaign included rules about what charitable entities could be listed. Religious organizations are not excluded, but any group that is included must (by law) provide “health and human services”, which the ICR obviously does not. The intention of the law was to provide support for charitable organizations that helped the poor and unfortunate; no one has argued that the ICR has that as a mission.

    This morning, the State Policy Committee, which oversees the State Employees Charitable Campaign, thanked me for “bringing the problem of the ICR listing to their attention”, and noted that “hundreds of other charities on the state list are similarly problematic” regarding the state law requiring groups to provide health and human services. They (or at least the individuals on the committee who spoke) agreed that it is a problem, but noted that their committee is being dissolved, and that the new Texas Sunset Advisory Commission will take over overseeing the list next year. The SPC declined to take any action, and left it up to the TSAC to fix next year. The Policy Analyst for the new Texas Sunset Advisory Commission was also at the meeting, and he also met with me and thanked me for bringing the problem forward, and said that they would indeed be working to enforce state law next year. In my opinion, the SPC failed to do what they were appointed to do, but individuals on the committee who spoke did acknowledge the problem of many “charities” that are currently listed not complying with the “health and human services” requirement (which is obviously in violation of state law). So at least the problem seems to be in the open and on the table for discussion now, although any action is delayed until the SPC is replaced by the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission.

    • Ichthyic
      Posted December 3, 2011 at 12:19 am | Permalink

      Keep on truckin’, David.

      don’t let the idiots get you down.

  12. Screechy Monkey
    Posted December 2, 2011 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    I hope there wasn’t any videotape or transcripts of Creationist Coyne — our quote-mining friends would have a field day!

  13. Posted December 2, 2011 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

    “And although the class began with a nearly equal mixture of evolution-accepters and evolution-deniers among the students, by the end of the class the discussions had convinced more than half of the creationists of the truth of evolution. It was a deeply satisfying result.”

    I would have thought that would be impossible. I suppose if anyone is able to convince a science denier to grow up it would be the author of Why Evolution is True.

    • Tim
      Posted December 2, 2011 at 8:45 pm | Permalink

      Jerry pulled it off because he’s the Prince of [f**king] Darkness!

  14. David Hillis
    Posted December 2, 2011 at 11:18 pm | Permalink

    Here is a link to the article describing the outcome of the State Policy Committee meeting Friday, in which several SPC members agree that there is a problem, but note that many other groups probably also do not meet the state guidelines for inclusion:

    http://www.statesman.com/news/local/state-payroll-gift-program-to-be-reviewed-2009350.html


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