Friday, March 12, 2010

Educational malpractice at Liberty University

The internet news site Common Dreams carried an article recently about a group of students from Liberty University visiting the Smithsonian Institution. Students at LU are encouraged to fit natural history, and especially biological evolution, into the fantasy religion-based creationist biblical literalism advocated by the school's founder, the late fundamentalist evangelist Jerry Falwell. And, as an Indonesian fundamentalist Islamic saying goes, "when faith and facts conflict, faith wins."

Illustrating how faith wins over facts, LU students scoffed at the Smithsonian's model of a 210 million year old rat-sized creature hypothesized to be the common ancestor of all mammals. First, there's no way a ratty-looking thing could ever become a human being. Second, the 210 million year window for this to happen violates the young earth creationism taught at LU, which is based on arithmetical gymnastics of Archbishop James Ussher (1581-1656) who calculated that God created Everything on October 23, 4004 BC, making the Earth only around 6,000 years old.

Further reinforcing the triumph of faith over facts, Marcus Ross, an Assistant Professor of Geology at LU, made this comment about Adam and Eve:
"I feel they were real people, they were the first people."
OK, then. But there's a problem. "I feel..." is not a legitimate way to introduce a scientific proposition. "The evidence suggests..." would be more appropriate. But for these folks, evidence is not required. In fact, evidence that conflicts with "faith," which really means unquestioning obedience, is ignored, disparaged, ridiculed, tossed aside. It doesn't matter that the evidence suggests that there really never was, at any single point in time, a "first woman" or "first man." When evidence conflicts with faith, faith wins.

Anyway, I was intrigued by this article, so I went online to look for course descriptions at Liberty University. After all, LU is accredited by the same agency as my school, the University of North Florida.  I found a course called History of Life, and here are the description and "rationale" for that course:
An interdisciplinary study of the origin and history of life in the universe. Faculty of the Center for Creation Studies will draw from science, religion, history, and philosophy in presenting the evidence and arguments for creation and against evolution. This course is required for all Liberty students. 

This course is designed to instill in our students a clear understanding of the relationship between science and Scripture as it pertains to the study of origins. In particular, it is designed to help students develop a clear and consistent Biblical creationist worldview and defend it.
Wow. The "History of Life" is essentially a course designed to show students how to ignore almost everything we know about the history of life in favor of a rambling collection of myths written down by some Middle Eastern nomads centuries before anyone even knew that life on Earth is carbon-based. And just to drive the point home, here are the course's "measurable learning outcomes" (at least they have the academic assessment jargon down pat):

A. Students should be able to discuss and contrast creation science and evolution worldviews.
B. Students should be able to discuss the creation science view from Biblical accounts and rebut creation compromise views. 
C. Students should be able to discuss the theories of natural selection and evolution. 
D. Students should be able to discuss scientific evidences in support of a recent creation. 
E. Students should be able to discuss the evidence of the fossil record and its implications of origins. 
F. Students should be able to discuss evidence for the unique creation of man. 
G. Students should be able to discuss evidence for creation using concepts such as irreducible complexity. 
H. Students should be able to discuss the importance of the Biblical creation message in understanding major doctrines and application for personal evangelism.
Why is this "educational malpractice," as I suggested in the title of this post? It's malpractice because this university's faculty are lying to their students, just as egregiously as if, in an astronomy class, they taught them that the Sun revolves around the Earth. And, by the way, this would be true even if the lies were not based on religious dogma.

The empirical, objectively valid facts about the history of life on Earth, the falsifiable hypotheses that scientists create to describe and explain those facts, and the theories that result when related  unfalsified hypotheses converge on the explanation of some set of those facts, cannot be evaluated by what's in the Bible, any more than they can be evaluated by what's in Lord of the Rings.

I believe that the accrediting agency should put Liberty University's program in biology on probation until those who teach in that program stop lying to their students.

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At March 12, 2010 at 3:00 PM , Blogger Anne Gilbert said...

About all I can say is, what appalled me the most was what students were supposed to learn from this "History of Life" course. Which is, apparently creationist apologetics. IOW, whatever else they are learning, it isn't science.
Anne G

At March 12, 2010 at 3:05 PM , Blogger Jessica Gray said...

This is terribly depressing. I agree with your assessment and your proposed solution.

At March 12, 2010 at 3:16 PM , Anonymous Phil Young said...

Very well put, Ron. I seriously think you should send a copy of this blog, or a letter with similar content, to the accrediting agency.

At March 13, 2010 at 3:58 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is pointless to argue or reason with people whose doctrine is based on an eggregious mistranslation of the first sentence in Genesis. Their ideological bankruptcy is manifest in their recitation of slogans. Their beliefs are deemed true, and no conceivable observation or discovery is relevant, unless it is apparently supportive of the doctrine, perhaps a Neanderthal cave painting of the holy trinity--Try this one on them and see what happens "In the beginnnings, the gods created the sky and the land." Poof, their ideology evaporates.

At March 17, 2010 at 11:10 PM , Anonymous Mike Haubrich, FCD said...

I am not sure they are "lying" to the students, except in saying they are qualified to teach at a college level. Is it lying to pass along a lie if one was lied to? Is it lying if these colleges truly "feel" like the facts are irrelevant in the face of biblical "truths?" After all, what does it profit to learn science if it means being farther from "The Word?"

They aren't lying, they are blinded by religion and passing out blindfolds to protect these students from getting too much knowledge of the world.

At March 20, 2010 at 4:42 AM , Blogger Ed Darrell said...

Is that a course for biology credit?

At March 21, 2010 at 6:28 PM , Blogger Ronald Kephart said...

"Is that a course for biology credit?"

I don't know, but maybe not. It has a "CRST" prefix, and it's required of all students. However, their BIOL 101 "Principles of Biology" states that students will:

"Acquire a conviction that life is significant because it is created by God. He designed living things for the joy it brought Him and for His first great gift to His greatest creature, Man."

Not science.

At March 24, 2010 at 2:42 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is as disturbing as everyone has already said. I can't imagine, as a student, looking at this course description and thinking this is acceptable. What's tragically ironic, though, is that this institution is doing a disservice not only to their students and to science but also to their own religion. They are creating large quantities of "believers" who are taught to distrust science, fact, and common sense, thereby making themselves targets of ridicule rather than respect. They're "teaching" students to defend themselves against evolutionists but not actually equipping their students with an intellectual edge (because they can't).

I wonder: Does the school provide research databases with scholarly, peer-reviewed, scientific journals? What are the instructors' expectations when it comes to scientific research? I'm not sure I want to know.

At April 19, 2010 at 10:45 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I actually think the learning outcomes are quite good; in fact I think all biology students should be able to "Discuss" the issue -- and hopefully come to the same conclusions that Darwin and countless others since have. Nothing wrong with discussing. The problem comes with whether the outcomes of the discussion are a requirement for a pass in this course. What would LU faculty do if a student could demonstrate competence in discussing "evidence for the unique creation of man" and then coming to the conclusion that it wasn't true?


At April 19, 2010 at 11:18 AM , Blogger Ronald Kephart said...

Note objective B, especially the word "rebut":

Students should be able to discuss the creation science view from Biblical accounts and rebut creation compromise views.

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At May 9, 2010 at 6:06 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

What is most disturbing is that the majority of people take the THEORY of evolution as FACT and completely are afraid of any sort of discourse that it is THEORY. Why? As for facts that PROVE that evolution is absolutely, positively true...bring them on now. They are all intellectual gymnastics and posturing. And now, we have Carl Sagan saying that we came from aliens! Come on...let's do some real and actual dialogue and look for truth and stop the name calling of those who point out obvious flaws in the belief system of evolution.

At May 9, 2010 at 6:30 PM , Blogger Ronald Kephart said...

Anonymous: The fact that you can write your first sentence above shows that you do not understand what a fact is, what a theory is, or what science is. You might want to go back in the archives and read my posting on from July 2009 titled "Creationism in not a theory." Here's the link:

You're out of your depth here. Go back to school.

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At December 6, 2011 at 2:24 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

The students at LU know they are going to a Christian University. And they will not be shocked at what they are taking. For me a student of Religion, this sort of teaching will only help me. If you dont like what they teach dont go the school. Just like i wouldnt want to go to a public university to major in religion

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At June 11, 2012 at 7:29 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Liberty isn't such a bad school... You pay your money, get your degree which is probably more marketable than most colleges if the people hiring you are Christian (reverse discrimination?)

plus not only do we spend less time having to learn (since there are no classes to attend) but also because roughly 1/3 of the learning isn't factual but training in how to respond to "the devil's mouthpieces like yours".

I'm not saying that your the Devil but Jerry probably would have thought your going to spend eternity in his company. If there is a hell, IMHO, Jerry's pretty darn hot!

At November 13, 2012 at 9:49 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, Did you take this course? I didn't think so, therefore I don't think you have any real idea what the class is teaching.

You believe in tolerance but when anyone disagrees or allows freedom of thought beyond YOUR view you feel offended and want to shut them up. Your hypocrisy is appalling.

At November 14, 2012 at 6:47 AM , Blogger Ronald Kephart said...

Utter nonsense.

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