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Feb 12 2014

Adventures in Christianist Earth Science Education IIa: In Which We Are Told About Science!

The best thing about being an adult is that I get to read textbooks by choice*, something my younger self would find fairly horrifying. The other best thing is that I don’t have to read them sober.

When it comes to Christianist educational materials, it’s best to be slightly sloshed. Less painful that way. Novocaine for the brain. So, let us lift our trusty glasses of whatever aids our concentration, and find out What Science Is.

In our A Beka Book, Science of the Physical Creation (SPC), we learn that physical science is “the systematic study of God’s physical creation and how it works.” Ah. Not even a paragraph into the book, and it’s got God all over it.

The subsequent section on mathematics as the language of science isn’t bad, and I like the clear and simple explanation of how equations work. However, comma, we then come to “Limitations of Mathematics,” which goes all on about how “people are not bound by the laws of the universe to act a certain way,” which seems kinda inappropriate in a straight-up science textbook: free will belongs in philosophy class. SPC also wants to assure us mathematics can’t “prove or disprove the existence of God.” Glad we got that cleared up. We’re then treated to several paragraphs about how scientists can make mistakes (egads, stop the presses!), are “subject to the sin of pride,” and can totes use math and data “to deceive people or distort the truth.”

Certain information may be purposely or erroneously omitted from a presentation of data, or it may be presented in a way that appears to favor the viewpoint of the one presenting it.

And after pounding on this point for a bit, they finish with this flourish:

Sometimes an error occurs because of false assumptions made by a scientist who is attempting to solve a problem. In geology, for instance, there are a great number of scientists who assume that evolution is a fact and that it has actually occurred. This assumption often leads to erroneous conclusions about the earth’s crust and its history.

Image is of a squinting white kitten with its mouth open is a sort of grimace. Caption reads, "You hurt my brain."

Whelp. That well is well and truly poisoned. And we’ve only just finished section 1.1. Oy.

In 1.2, “Science and Measurement,” we learn that “Measurements must be precise because God’s physical creation and the Laws He established to govern it are precise.” Nothing to do with not being sloppy because you’ll get wrong answers, right? And it’s right back in to banging the “scientists are fallible” drum from there. Methinks they wish us to think scientists are a bunch of silly bastards who are nefarious and almost always wrong.

Accuracy and precision are illustrated by several rifle targets wot have been shot at. I wish I was kidding.

The discussion of scientific notation seemed fairly standard, but things get mildly interesting again with Systems of Measurement, which goes on for half a page about cubits and short people cheating tall people in the measurement department. One gets the sense that A Beka writers don’t see the human glass as half-full. It’s more like they see a half-empty glass and are convinced some evil sinner’s been stealing their tea.

I’m a history nerd, so the discussion of the… dare I say, evolution, ah-ha-ha… of the foot-pound-second system was fascinating, and, as far as I can tell, accurate. And their discussion of the metric system’s origin and uses was surprisingly sensible – I guess I’d expected a dig at the atheists in the French revolution who came up with it, but it was free of that sort of sniping and completely helpful. I loved that section – right up until the final paragraph, where they just had to slip firearms into a discussion of the places where the metric system has become standard. Gun nuts, much?

Image is Jesus sitting with an assault rifle held in one hand, its butt resting on his thigh. Caption says, "Let's arm every person with a firearm. Just like Jesus wanted.When talking about measuring mass, they did an excellent job showing the difference between mass and weight. And when it came to measuring time, they said atomic clocks “are accurate to within one second every six million years” without flinching. We don’t, in fact, see anything that makes us blink until we get to temperature, and they just have to emphasize that Lord Kelvin was a Christian physicist, thanks ever-so-much. But that’s it. I’ll give ‘em this section. It’s actually quite good. Hat tipped.

But of course, the good times can’t last. Brace yerselves: we’re on to the scientific method.

They’ve got the basic observation → hypothesis → experiment thing down, but don’t admit science isn’t quite that rigid. And they completely bork the difference between a theory and a law. Observe:

When a hypothesis passes the test of many experiments and has the support of other scientists, it is referred to as a theory.

Um. No. NCSE, help us out here: what’s a theory?

In science, a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, inferences, and tested hypotheses.

So, yeah. SPC’s definition is so limited as to be useless. But it gets worse:

If a theory is verified by enough observations and experiments, it may become accepted as a scientific law.

Image is split: top half shows a kitten with its mouth open, looking like it's laughing. Bottom shows the same kitten with its mouth closed. Caption reads, "Haha... No."

Take it away, NCSE:

Law: A descriptive generalization about how some aspect of the natural world behaves under stated circumstances.

So kids being slow-poisoned by this textbook are going to emerge thinking hypothesis begets theory begets law, and that’s just remarkably wrong. But of course they have to muck up the definition of what a theory is, or their running about shrieking “Evolution is only a theory!” would fail and their kids might start calling chimpanzees “Cousin!”

SPC then proceeds to engage in a bit more well-poisoning by diverting into a discussion about how Johann Bode was totes wrong†, by way of getting kids to distrust successful science predictions.

And then they pile on a heaping helping o’ God:

One of the most basic of all scientific assumptions is that the universe is lawful, orderly, and operates according to physical laws. We cannot prove this assumption: however, everything we do in science is based upon it. As Christians, we have the utmost confidence in the validity of this scientific assumption because it agrees completely with what the Bible tells us about the universe and God, its Creator.

Whal o-kay then. Guess I’ll just sit in the corner here with my assumption that the universe is lawful etc. because it’s never proved to be otherwise, then.

You’ll love the concluding special section on “Mathematical Patterns in Creation.” After a long fap over “golden numbers,” “golden spirals,” and “the golden ratio,” SPC would like you to know scientists can’t explain that. “Nevertheless, their appearance in the world of nature reveals that God is a God of order and mathematical precision as well as a God of variety and beauty.” He totes created the universe this way on purpose, and here’s the Bible verse to prove it. Checkmate, atheists!

And just think: our BJU textbook promises to be even moar God-soaked. We shall tackle it next…

 

*Okay, maybe not the best thing. There’s being able to drive and buy stuff and have sex and not do what my parents tell me. But reading textbooks for fun and profit is right up there.

†He wasn’t actually completely wrong. His “law” did successfully predict Uranus, after all, and this Cornell source sez it works well for moons. Funny how scientists are almost never as wrong as the Christianists claim they are.

 

Christianist Textbooks Revealed

10 comments

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  1. 1
    Marcus Ranum

    I can think of nothing more pernicious than ‘education’ that pretends to teach, but actually sets a student up for failure.

    I remember my first physics professor, who was very careful to explain at various parts of the curriculum, that he was teaching something that will later turn out to be wrong, or not quite correct, but that it was a reasonable way to present the material for now. Years later, listening to the Feynman lectures on physics, I realized where that approach came from, and – if it was possible – I was even more impressed with how Feynman taught.

    Teaching someone how to do science wrong in the service of propagating an ancient lie is one of the most disgusting betrayals of responsibility that I’ve ever encountered.

  2. 2
    rq

    Interesting, when we were explained hypotheses and theories in high school, it was more along the lines of this textbook (experimentally proven hypothesis –> theory). Though that may be the simplified version. We did get more in-depth and accurate definitions in university.

    Still too much god in all of this.

  3. 3
    richardelguru

    Do they explain why this ‘God of order and mathematical precision’ screwed up the day, month and year (OK the motions of the earth and moon) so badly? You’d think a God of order and mathematical precision would have them all exactly match up—neatly.

  4. 4
    Trebuchet

    A little off topic, but yesterday’s XKCD What If has an interesting combination of astronomy and geology!
    http://what-if.xkcd.com/83/

  5. 5
    busterggi

    A god who demands precise measurements but uses cubits (not even any specific cubit) is not very precise.

    But then, how else would one measure a mustard seed?

  6. 6
    alanuk

    In geology, for instance, there are a great number of scientists who assume that evolution is a fact and that it has actually occurred. This assumption often leads to erroneous conclusions about the earth’s crust and its history.

    Wrong way round of course. Evolution as a fact was discovered by scientists studying the Earth’s crust long before the Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection was put forward to explain it.

    In 1.2, “Science and Measurement,” we learn that “Measurements must be precise because God’s physical creation and the Laws He established to govern it are precise.”

    Pi=3

    I loved that section – right up until the final paragraph, where they just had to slip firearms into a discussion of the places where the metric system has become standard.

    I thought that firearms was just the place where the metric system was not standard. The bullet has to fit the gun and the gun has to fit the bullet.
    If by metric system you mean that garbled thing that Americans know by that name, then it is standard nowhere. If you mean the use of SI units, then it is standard throughout science. It is also standard in most countries and the others are working towards making it standard.

    …the universe is lawful, orderly, and operates according to physical laws.

    I have no idea what an unlawful universe would look like. But this statement needs to be understood in terms of creationist thinking. Laws are good, laws speak of authority, permanence, divinity, and certainty. Theory speaks of things temporal, human, and uncertain. According to creationism, God makes the Laws and nature has to obey them. According to science, a law may be a succinct expression of a consequence of a theory, or it may be just a placeholder that indicates something that seems to be so but awaits a full theoretical explanation. Newton’s Law of Gravity is a good example of the latter.

    … Johann Bode was totes wrong…

    This is a hard one for creationists. Nature just did what it did and the planets arranged themselves in some sort of pattern. Bode merely noted that this pattern followed a simple mathematical relationship. The law applied to the planets that he knew – good. It also applied to the next planet out that he did not know – better. It also pointed to something existing between Mars and Jupiter – interesting. It breaks down beyond Uranus – that’s funny. To a creationist, Bode is a failure. But for all the imperfections in the law, there is still a degree of order in the Solar System. The concept of order evolving in a chaotic system is completely beyond the understanding of the creationist mind. Goddidit is their only response.

  7. 7
    heliconia

    Their insistence on the universe’s “lawfulness” as evidence for God confuses me to no end, given that they also claim God keeps breaking those rules willy-nilly in the form of miracles.

    1. 7.1
      rq

      Ah, but laws are only for us material folk. God doesn’t have any, doesn’t need any, and wouldn’t know any if you quizzed him on it.

  8. 8
    moarscienceplz

    Accuracy and precision are illustrated by several rifle targets wot have been shot at. I wish I was kidding.

    Well, Chemistry the Central Science uses darts sticking in a dartboard. I’m just glad that A Beka didn’t use Trayvon Martin targets.

  9. 9
    Blake Stacey

    Much of what is claimed on behalf of the “golden ratio” is mythical.

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