A Christian research institute seeking to grant science degrees in Texas is asking for prayers and support as it faces the final hearing before state education officials next week.
The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) will decide at its regularly scheduled meeting next Thursday whether The Institute for Creation Research (ICR) can grant an online master's degree in Science Education.
For the past few months, the school experienced several setbacks in getting state approval for its programme, mostly due to a heightened battle between intelligent design and evolution playing out in the state and in Florida where public schools were recently required to teach evolution in science classes.
The Dallas-based school has already cleared several hurdles, including an on-site evaluation by THECB Advisory Committee and the submission of a comparison study. Next Wednesday, ICR officials must also pass a cross-examination hearing in Austin that will determine THECB Commissioner Raymund Paredes's recommendation to the board.
A e-mail update sent Thursday by Dr Henry Morris, founder of ICR, reported that the April 23 hearing will also include an "unusual" half-hour session which will be open to public comments.
Morris told Christian Today that his contact, who has worked with THECB for 15 years, informed him that the Board never before authorised such a public comment session.
Nevertheless, he said he was "confident" that the school's graduate programme meets all the state standards for private higher education in Texas.
"We think we have everything in order and then some," said Morris, who will be among the ICR representatives participating in the hearing.
In his e-mail, which concluded with an endorsement of the film "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed", the ICR CEO invited nearby supporters, particularly educators who taught science or higher education in Texas, to consider signing up for one of the 10 slots for public comment. He also appealed to supporters to pray for an orderly and fair hearing.
The science degree in question has been offered by ICR, which teaches from a literal biblical worldview, in California since 1981. The programme has four concentrations: Astro-Geophysics, Biology, Geology and General Science, according to the institute's Web site.
Critics of the ICR programme have mainly questioned the science label of the degree.
Eugenie Scott, executive director of National Center for Science Education, alleged the institute taught "distorted science", the Dallas Morning News reported earlier.
Despite such criticism, Morris said the school will seek state approval for a science degree.
"We have been told second-hand, through our contact, that their objection is that we are using the word 'science', If we would just drop the word science," the approval would go through, said Morris.
He argued that students exercise critical thinking skills when they are taught how to compare an evolutionary mindset to a creationist mindset.
"How can you be a critical thinker if you don't know what the other side is?" he asked. "We think it makes a better student."
After Wednesday's hearing, the Advisory Committee is expected to issue a formal recommendation to Paredes who will in turn present his own take on the ICR graduate program to the full Board on Thursday. The Board will then rule on whether to approve the school's science degree offering.
The ICR has the option to appeal within 45 days and/or to reapply within 180 days if the Board rejects the application. In the case of approval, ICR will begin its effort to obtain accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
Texas creation college to defend science degrees
Published 19 April 2008