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Adventures in Creationist Earth Science Education IVb: Wherein I Forecast a Crisis of Faith

After the desert of Science of the Physical Creation, I’m hoping Earth Science Fourth Edition doesn’t let me down. When I read Christianist textbooks, I expect them to incorporate a bit more God into the instruction, but it seems like no one wants to admit that they think God controls the weather. Sad.

And the beginning of ES4′s chapter on Weather is positively crunchy. It’s all about wind as an alternative to fossil fuels. The authors insist we come up with better, cleaner solutions to humanity’s energy needs. Even the cross-box doesn’t gabble about God – it just wants us to consider the benefits and drawbacks of wind power. That’s… positively sensible.

Oy.

It doesn’t get any godlier as temperature, pressure, and wind are discussed. They even tell us why wind is named for where it’s blowing from rather than the direction it’s going: it’s because weather vanes point in to rather than away from the wind.

Image shows a cat standing on a scratching post, staring intently at something off-camera, with its tail held nearly horizontal. Caption says, "Weather vane kitteh smells tuna from the west."

That would make the wind a westerly, even though it’s headed east.

Thanks to ES4, something formerly nonsensical will now be a breeze to remember. Hur hur hur… sorry.

The chart showing us how to determine wind chill is also a nice touch. Very useful.

A sensible explanation of air pressure, winds, and prevailing wind directions ensues. Alas, they repeat the myth of the horse latitudes. Does no one check their etymology?!

In discussing local winds, they forgot to mention the warming powers of a chinook, but that’s small taters. I just remember it from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Long Winter. Kinda sticks in your mind after it seems like the world will remain frozen forever, and then this lovely wind appears and you hear dripping from the eaves and yay! everybody won’t starve to death in a snow-covered wasteland.

Speaking of wastelands, it sure does feel like we’re in a godless desert. But at last, in the Life Connection section on Winds and Migration, we get a little God!

The ability of many kinds of animals to migrate long distances and around seemingly impassible barriers are truly amazing. We don’t know if animals had to migrate when they were first created [Migration? In Eden? Srsly?! -ed], but if not, God certainly designed in them the ability to develop this essential skill.

Wait wait wait wait wait. So you’re saying here that God either a) created these critters as migratory animals or b) had ‘em programmed for it. Now, option A seems bloody stupid – where the fuck would they be migrating to in the Garden of bloody Eden? Hmmm? And why? No seasons, right? Always lovely? So that means option B. But B means God was setting up his creation to fall. Wot a rat bastard.

You know what? I bloody love that above-quoted paragraph. After pages and pages of basic weather, it sticks out like a burning bush, and I hope it cracks at least a few kids over the noggin with a meaningful knuckle and shouts, “Wakey wakey! Your entire fucking religion makes no damn sense!” It’s this kind of thing that can cause the hairline fracture that eventually causes the whole edifice of faith to shatter.

The god-talk ceases during the bits on humidity, clouds, and precipitation. There’s a wee bit o’ religion in the text box on acid rain, where the author says how we need to reduce pollution to get rid of acid rain:

For those sources under our control, we are obligated to reduce these emissions in order to exercise good and wise dominion in the world (Gen 1:28).

Yes, indeedy. Could you give your fellow Christianists at A Beka a ring and ‘splain this to them? That would be lovely. The jerkwads think they can run around polluting willy-nilly because God promised never to destroy the earth again (until he destroys it again, of course), so they could do with a stern “good and wise dominion” lecture. The environment thanks you.

Image shows a cat on a roof with its back legs extended, toes spread. Caption reads, "Solar collectors activated"

Seriously loving their environmentalism. I just wish their obligation extended to recognizing the actual age of the earth and stuff. Oh, and treating their fellow humans better would be lovely. But I haz a hope. If the idea that the environment is something we should take care of got through, perhaps it’s just a matter of time before the next generation of BJU kids are on about hippie Jesus and cry happy tears at gay weddings.

And, kudos where due, they get the difference between sublimation and deposition right.

Overall, not a bad chapter. A little light de-godding, and it would be fabulous for any secular school, even one with a great big social conscience. Flipping through the next chapter on Storms and Weather Prediction, it seems to be similar. I mean, they even go so far as to admit we may see more maritime Arctic air masses form as the Arctic ice cap melts.

They’ve also got what SPC hasn’t got: a discussion of orographic precipitation and rain shadows, a subject near and dear to the Pacific Northwest’s heart. They also talk about convergence, which is nice. Living in a convergence zone, I can tell you it has a hell of an impact on weather.

Thunder storms, ice storms, and snow storms are very well-described. And – brace yourselves – one of the photos shows a pair of black hands holding the hailstones that shattered a windshield. They actualy acknowledge that people of color exist! This is quite huge for a university that only began admitting some black people in 1975.

The section on tornadoes is lively and informative, with excellent pictures illustrating their power, and the Enhanced Fujita-Pearson Scale is shown and explained. A text box advises kids not to try being storm-chasers themselves, which is very sensible advice. Hurricanes bring on an excess of exclamation points, but aside from that, well done – especially explaining why the same type of storm has different names in different regions (“This policy became standard after studies indicated Asian people didn’t heed warnings of storms with unfamiliar Western names.”). They accept “culturally appropriate” without a quibble. Dominion doesn’t seem to extend to forcing the entire world to revolve around western naming conventions, then. Whether this is because of an acceptance of diversity of the soft bigotry of low expectations, I’m not sure.

They fall at the fence in their little text box about Hurricanes and Global Warming. Well, stumble. They try to play up the whole “we haven’t seen definitive evidence of a link yet” thing and downplay the fact that our climate models are saying but we’re definitely fucked later in the 21st century – the only question is how fucked? Current consensus hovers somewhere around fairly and very, with a possibility of very-very. But since ES4 wants to decrease emissions anyway, I’m content to let them work themselves gradually up to accepting anthropogenic global warming as reality. They’re getting there, and doing some of the right things along the way.

We don’t get god-smacked until the end of the hurricane section. Even then, it’s not “God sends hurricanes to punish us for Gay Pride parades,” but simply saying that “we have a duty both to God and to our neighbors, to understand severe weather so we can prevent loss of life and minimize damage where possible.” They emphasize not sacrificing life for property. It’s wrapped in godly language, but the sentiment is fully in line with humanist goals.

Their Facets of Meteorology box gives advice on staying safe in storms. They give many practical tips. They don’t advise you to pray. The only time they mention God is in the Life Connection bit about animals impacted by hurricanes, and there, they aren’t spewing nonsense about God specifically creating special senses or any of that rot. They’re saying animals suffer in natural disasters, too, and good stewards care for them like God commanded. These are good things to encourage people to do.

The info on weather maps is good and includes how meteorologists can use GIS for predicting weather and how it helps government officials plan their emergency response to major storms. That was very neat.

Now we learn how we can “Serve God as a research meteorologist.” Don’t get excited. God isn’t mentioned once outside of the title. It’s all about what research meteorologists do and how many different ways their research is useful, and what you need to study to become one. Le sigh. I expected more, ES4!

And the book even shows you can be a meteorologist if you’re black. What’s next, showing lady scientists?

(I snark, but I’m pleased. Very pleased. I love it when we’ve progressed so far even BJU’s trotting to catch up. I’m happy to see at least some influential fundies incorporating good ideas like equality and reducing pollution into their worldview. Perhaps someday they’ll catch all the way up.)

They end the chapter with a flourish of God’s commands and dominion and stuff, but it seems here like a formality. Meteorology seems one of those branches of science even creationists can’t fuck up too badly. I love watching the BJU folks get excited over the technology and encouraging kids to learn more. That passion may lead a few of them to delve deeper and discover actual science, which is so much better than most of the crap they get fed. Even if not, at least creationist kids who pursue a career in meteorology have a chance to make a useful contribution to the world. Shame some of them will use their weatherperson cred to prop up ridiculous bullshit in other scientific disciplines.

But if they read their review questions thoroughly, and really think about #10, we may find more of them losing their faith than we might expect:

Why does God permit destructive storms, especially those that result in huge losses of life?

A dangerous question, that, but one they must confront. I encourage them to consider it carefully.

The image shows a Roman mosaic of a skeleton lying on the ground. The caption contains a quote from Epicurus: “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”

Realizing this set me free of the fear of God. Once that bond was loosened, the others unraveled.

 

Comments

  1. rq says

    First, Solar Collecting Kitty just reinforces my belief that all cats are photosynthetic, and that all this begging for treats (ALRIGHT ALRIGHT DEMANDING, cats don’t beg!!) is just a front to make us feel better in the face of their alienness…

    … And this christian text sounds positively sensible! How strange.

  2. says

    Well these guys got the whole “Christian stewards” thing right. I get bothered by people who say “God set us up to be stewards of the Earth, so we can fuck it up if we want.”

    If you asked someone to housesit for you (which is kind of what a steward is) and found it all fucked up afterward, you’d be livid. What would an all-powerful god be like if he found what the “stewards of the Earth” did and are doing to it?

    A steward is supposed to care for what they’ve been entrusted, not do whatever they goddamned well please.

  3. moarscienceplz says

    They even tell us why wind is named for where it’s blowing from rather than the direction it’s going: it’s because weather vanes point in to rather than away from the wind.

    Ehhh, I’m not so sure about this explanation. It would be easy to make a weathervane that points away from the wind. Just make the arrowhead much larger than the tail.
    My guess would be that it became customary to define a wind by its source direction because using your face or a wet finger works best when the wind is blowing onto it. Plus, using your face to feel when the wind is blowing directly on it automatically means you are looking towards the wind source.

    • moarscienceplz says

      Furthermore, knowing where a wind comes from tells you something about your future weather. A wind out of the north is likely to bring cold temperatures (if you live in the northern hemisphere). If you live on the coast, a wind from the ocean is likely to bring clouds and rain while a wind from inland is likely to bring a warm sunny day.

  4. petemoulton says

    Those lovely warming chinook winds are a bit different along the Front Range of Colorado, where I lived until 1985. There, they come howling out of the foothill cañons at better than 100 mph (that’d be about 160 kph for sane people who use the metric system). Yes, they’re warm and melt all the snow and ice (Boyle’s Law rules!), but they’re also the first stage of the next snowstorm.