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Lone Star vs creationism

The battle against anti-scientific literalism continues. Next stop Texas.

The creation–evolution debate in the United States is ever-changing: any given week might bring good news for science advocates in some states, but bad news in others. At the moment, the good news is coming from Florida, which on 19 February voted to adopt new science standards that significantly strengthen the role of evolution in the state's biology curriculum (see page 1041.

But the next round of news will undoubtedly come from Texas, where a state agency faces a decision whose ramifications could resonate across the United States for years to come. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board is considering an application by the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) to grant online master's degrees in science education. And an advisory panel to the board has recommended that Texas should accept the application.

The ICR accepts the Bible as literal truth on all topics. According to its website, the palaeoclimatology class covers “climates before and after the Genesis Flood”. Anatomy lab includes “limited discussion of embryology and accompanying histology, specifically in regards to evolutionary theory and its alternative — the creation of fully functional major groups of animals”.

For most of its existence the ICR was ensconced in the San Diego area, but in 2007 it relocated to Dallas, in an apparent move to expand its national reach. California may have been glad to see it go; the state had been battling the ICR over accreditation since 1981, when, under a sympathetic official, the institute first got the go-ahead to offer degrees. But in Texas the ICR must win approval from the state board to continue setting up its graduate programmes before seeking permanent accreditation.

The decision falls to the nine-member higher-education board. It had been expected to vote on the issue in January, but instead asked the ICR for more information — about the research done by its faculty members, about how an online course would teach experimental science, and about why its curriculum is so different from other degree-granting institutions in science education. A vote is expected at the board's 24 April meeting.

High-powered scientists in Texas are already weighing in, asking board commissioner Raymund Paredes to deny accreditation. And there are signs that the board is listening. In a response to Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg, Paredes wrote that “our primary criterion will be how the proposed program will contribute to preparing high school students to do rigorous science in higher education”. One can only hope such rational approaches will outweigh the primary ICR reaction, which has been to send out a call for prayer.

Scientists in Texas and the rest of the country must continue to make it clear to Paredes why the board should deny accreditation to this organization. The ICR has managed to con its way into the California educational system for decades. Texas must not succumb as well.

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Lone Star vs creationism. Nature 451, 1030 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1038/4511030a

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