Creationism as Charity?

by Dan Quinn

Texas state Rep. Leo Berman, R-Tyler, clearly has a problem with scientists who — go figure — support science. Rep. Berman is calling on the University of Texas at Austin to fire a tenured biology professor who objects to including an anti-science creationist group on a list of state-approved charities that are supposed to be involved in delivering health and human services.

The Austin American-Statesman has reported that biology professor David Hillis and other UT-Austin faculty members are trying to get the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) removed from the charity list. Employees can have donations to charitable organizations on the list deducted from their paychecks.

According to the Statesman, state law requires that charities eligible for the list provide “direct or indirect health and human services.” But that’s not what ICR does. The Dallas-based nonprofit promotes biblical creationism and rejects mainstream science about evolution.

Hillis told the Statesman:

“The Institute for Creation Research is an anti-science organization. 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?”

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.”

The Institute for Creation Research has also been in the news in recent years. In 2008 the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board wisely rejected an absurd application by ICR to offer master’s degrees in science education. Then two years later a federal court dismissed an ICR lawsuit that would have forced the Coordinating Board to reverse its earlier decision.