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

Keeping Up With the Creationists, Vol. I, Issue 3: Special Nye Smoked Ham Edition

I’ll admit, I thought Bill Nye was making a huge mistake when he agreed to debate Ken Ham. I thought this would be a fiasco when I found out he’d agreed to debate Ken at Ken’s own Creation Museum, with only Answers in Genesis putting out DVDs, and when it seemed like only creationists were getting in the doors. And I’m still not happy this stunt will pull in some dollars for that epic fail of an organization. But to go on the creationists’ own turf, and still hand Ken Ham his ass in a sling, that’s some serious good-for-science there.

No, Bill probably didn’t convince anyone who isn’t already convinced. But we don’t aim this stuff at the people who have their minds set in stone (although even those minds may form a tiny stress fracture that will, with further weathering from gentle rains of science freezing and thawing in that tiny crack, break the whole thing open). When we take on creationists, whether it’s through a debate like this, or by fisking Christianist textbooks, or ripping their supposed science to shreds in blog posts, we’re aiming at the people on the fence – and some of them will get knocked right off that comfy perch. We’re handing information over to people who know creationism is wrong, but not why that’s important, or how to present the truth to others who don’t know it. And we’re doing it in an entertaining fashion that will get people who maybe aren’t passionate about science completely hooked. Watching scientists take on creationists was one of my gateway drugs, you know – I probably wouldn’t be a science blogger today if it hadn’t been for Barbara Forrest and PZ Myers and others showing me why it’s important to know this stuff, then showing me how amazing science actually is.

And this debate, my darlings, appears to have hit the target nearly dead-center.

It showed, clearly, that there’s no valid science in creationism. It’s religion all the way down. And that’s going to be invaluable in future battles with creationists over science education. We have that lovely unbroken line tracing the evolution of creationism from its origin through its various mutations as it attempted to survive First Amendment challenges, all the way up to and including Intelligent Design, which is creationism watered-down and disguised. At core, it’s all about what Ken Ham’s about: the Christian god.

That ain’t science.

Even without that, there was this moment, where the debate showed in stark clarity the difference between a scientist and a dogmatic jackass.

Image has Ken Ham's photo on the left and Bill Nye's photo on the right in a black frame. The caption reads: The main difference between young-earth creationism and mainstream science in a nutshell. When asked what would change their mind, they respond... (Under Ken Ham's photo) "Nothing." (Under Bill Nye's photo) "Evidence"   I swear to you, I’m printing this out on my snazzy new all-in-one printer and framing it on my wall. I can paste in any two images I want, and the result will always be the same. The Discovery Institute people, the Answers in Genesis people, the Institute for Creation Research, any number of the assclowns writing the Christianist textbooks Jonny, Dok and I excoriate, those people on school boards and in classrooms who think the First Amendment doesn’t apply to their god…. I could put any of their photos on the left. No amount of evidence will convince them (they say – I will always leave room for a tiny crack of doubt that will widen into a chasm). I can put any scientist on the left. It would take clear and convincing evidence, but given that, yes, their minds would change.

That moment, to my mind, is the one that made this whole debate worth it. It demonstrated to over a million people just how stark the difference is between science and creationism. It will make it that much easier for them to realize that creationism and its descendants like ID don’t belong in science classrooms.

That’s huge.

And Bill Nye has undoubtedly cracked some previously impervious foundations. We’ll see an influx of people months, even years, from now, who will trace their journey from dogmatic religion to freethought and learning actual science, back to this moment. The only question is how many.

So yeah, pretty stoked. So are many others.

For those who want to relive the live experience, here’s a few select liveblogs of the event:



Friendly Atheist

And others, I’m sure – feel free to add your favorites below.

For those still getting round to watching the debate, you can find some good drinking suggestions at Wonkette and in the comments here.

There’s a reason why I’m so pleased with the way things turned out: David MacMillan shows us how, when a bit of genuine information slips through, creationist minds can change.

For an idea of just how badly Ham got trounced, see the end of this Christian Science Monitor article, where a blogger for Powerline Kingdom Ministries acknowledges Ham lost, but claims he deliberately threw the debate, because reasons. Tee-hee.

Sara Lin Wilde thinks the debate sowed some science seeds that may grow inside some creationist noggins, which wouldn’t have happened if Bill Nye hadn’t stepped onto AiG’s turf.

A lot of us were worried Bill Nye would go in unprepared. If we’d known the NCSE spent an entire day coaching him, I think we would’ve relaxed. Josh Rosenau’s inside scoop and analysis is great.

Mark this in your calender o’ significant things, because this may be the only time I link to Chris Moody and say nice things about him. His piece on the debate was great. And he brings up another reason why this debate worked in our favor: it stripped creationism of its cover, and left it fully exposed to national attention. This is a good thing.

ZOMG. I agree with Chris Moody on something. *ACK* *thump*

This piece may interest you: a Christian explains why a literal reading of Genesis makes no sense, not just from a scientific standpoint, but because of its literary genre. This is something people terrified of science may be able to grasp. Another crack in the foundation.

You might have seen and giggled over these messages from creationists, including such greatest hit gotchas as explaining sunsets without God, 2nd law of thermodynamics, it’s only a theory, and why are there monkeys.

Phil Plait very patiently and gently answered all 22, in his patented style of sincerity and excitement.

So did Ethan Siegal, setting up a dedicated page for it: 22 Messages of Hope (and Science) for Creationists.

Those are the two to send to creationist friends and relations who need someone to gently open their minds and pour the wonder in. If you need someone with a sledgehammer, turn to Amanda Marcotte, who had rather less patience, and is a snarkmeister supreme.

And Libby Anne advises, with insider knowledge, how and how not to answer such questions sincerely. She urges us not to be just as ridiculous: if you’re going to challenge a creationist, you need to know their arguments, and you need to know the commonly-posed questions from science supporters that they already have answers to.

Finally, who do you think was the biggest loser? Jason Rosenhouse thinks it was Intelligent Design and its proponents. I agree. Ken Ham ripped the fig leaf off the anti-evolution crowd and torched it.

All in all, this turned out far, far better than I think any of us expected. I still think it’s not usually a good idea for scientists to debate creationists, and especially not on creationist turf – that does indeed give creationists more attention than they deserve, and people who do science rather than entertainment for a living might not do as well presenting in a way that holds even hostile attention. But professional science popularizers like Bill Nye should probably have little hesitation rolling up their sleeves, preparing thoroughly, and then bringing on the real science.

Sorta Live-Blogging the Nye-Ham Debate

I’m slowly getting through this debate thingy. I’d be further along, but Saturday afternoon’s plans turned into Saturday evening and then up all night watching Doctor Who and smashing religious and corporate bullshit to bits, so…. here we are. I’m blogging it on G+ as I go: that’s the rough-and-ready, get-their-words-down version with the bare minimum of research. I’ll then go back through, pull out the stuff that needs some loving attention from the Smack-o-Matic, and give it what it deserves.

So far, I’ve determined that Bill Nye doesn’t tell tie jokes all that well, but at least doesn’t sound like a sleazy used-car salesman, and Ken Ham is either the most ignorant fucker on earth, or a huge-ass con man, or both. He sure as shit doesn’t know how actual science works. Do try to contain your shock.

Image is a headshot of Ken Ham. Caption reads, "Will debate against science. Doesn't understand science."

However, one thing about idiots like this: you can learn a lot of great and entertaining science by refuting them. That’s one of the reasons I’m actually going to enjoy this. After I take an icepick to both ears to get the drone of Ken Ham’s voice out of them, that is…

What Should I Drink for the Nye Smoked Ham Event?

Tonight, after some nice Indian food and some chill time with a friend or two, I’m going to install myself in my workspace, clamp headphones over my ears, and attempt to get through as much of the Nye-Ham debate as I can. Most reports I’ve read say Nye did very well. But the bits I managed to catch on breaks at work were all Ham, and less than half an hour of him had me wanting to extract my brain with an icepick in order to make the pain stop. I’m not sure Nye wasn’t feeling much the same.

Image shows Bill Nye looking sternly at Ken Ham during their debate. The caption says, "Say historical science one more time."

Bill Looks a bit fed up. What say you?

But I am determined to thoroughly fisk this debate. It is my sworn duty as a science blogger taking apart Christianist textbooks.

In order to survive this, I will probably need something to dull the pain. Suggestions?

Image shows a white and gray kitty sitting in front of store shelves stocked with alcohol.  Caption reads "Liquor store cat wants to card you."

Adventures in ACE II: In Which We Inherit the Earth

All right, then, my darlings: time to start acing ACE. We’re right at the beginning of our 8th grade-ish* science edimicashun. What has Science PACE 1085 got to teach us?

  • “Earth and Its Neighbors,” in which we learn the earth is our inheritance. Just like the Bible says!
  • “To learn to be willing to work or dwell with others in unity – to be cooperative.” M-kay.
  • “To memorize and say Psalm 133:1.” Oh, yes, very sciencey.

This is a very… interesting… table of contents for a science text.

Image is a white and brown kitty looking upward, caption says, "LOL WUT"

Right, let’s move on. Page (two) 2 has a cartoon wherein creepy-looking boys in identical clothes, Reginald and Pudge, tell us how interesting our current PACE will be. Pudge is skeptical at first, the little devil, but is soon won over by Reginald’s Facts. Many facts. Like the geochemistry terms “sial” and “sima,” which I did not know, because in all my time palling around with geologists, I’ve never seen them use them. Hooray, facts! I’m amazed I’ve learned some actual ones from an ACE PACE.

Let’s see what else we can learn about God’s world.

Our vocabulary words from our Science PACE include: awesome, eraser, handiwork, meek, and pencil. Meek has a particular definition in ACE: “Obeying God in everything without thought for self.” Did I mention this is the science PACE? 8th grade? Jus’ checkin’.

Now we begin our lesson in earnest. It’s in the form of a story about Pudge and other students being instructed by Mr. Friendson. By the end of the third paragraph, you’ll be marveling at the complex storytelling demonstrated in Dick and Jane books, and admire the superior dialogue skills of George Lucas. That’s how terrible it is. But at least we find out why they think “meek” is a science word. It’s because of the “meek shall inherit the earth” stuff. But not if they’re irresponsible meek people who don’t learn the stuff in their Science PACE – which so far hasn’t got much science in it.

But now we learn what earth science is: considering the earth as a unique planet wot was created by God exactly like it says in Genesis 1:1-10. Geologists learn about God’s handiwork, like Job 38:4 says. Job 38:34‘s all about meteorologists, apparently, since God says about clouds. Minerals are “substances obtained by mining,” and a mineralogist specializes in stuff like the precious stones referenced in the first sentence of Revelation 21:19. (The mineralogist is helpfully illustrated by a cowboy-hatted cartoon miner, as no real mineralogists could be found, apparently). And you map-making cartographers got a shout-out from God in Job 38:5. If you’re a geographer, “your specialty would be geography,” just like the stuff in Psalm 65:13. Oceanographers: your specialty is oceanography, studying things in Psalm 93:4. And seismologists (who study seismology, in case you were wondering): your verse is Psalm 60:2. Those are the main fields. I suppose there might be others, but the writers got tired of looking up tangentially-related Bible verses.

All of the scientists pictured, live and cartoon, are white males.

Next we explore all of the ways earth science is important to other branches of science. This is where we learn we’d plump for physical science if we “should want to study the effects of the Flood upon Earth.”


I do have to admit: there’s a nice moment of secularity where the two characters are marveling at how “earth science is so important to many other sciences.” There’s even a nod to ecology that acknowledges people care about preserving the earth’s biodiversity and people’s impact on the environment. That was quite refreshing, considering many fundies either think Jesus is coming so soon it doesn’t matter if we wreck the planet, or God won’t let us wreck it in the first place because he totes promised he’d never do it again. The authors of ACE apparently realize that a) dude never said when he’d get here and b) only said the whole Earth wouldn’t be destroyed by a global flood again – never said nothing about global warming or nuclear holocaust or any other damn fool thing people can think up.

That was quite refreshing.

The bit on the earth’s motion through space isn’t terrible.There are cringe-worthy moments where the Christian-inanity shines through: God keeping the earth moving; circadian rhythms because God planned for us to rest at night, that wort o’ thing. But it’s a relief to see the sun orbiting the earth in ACE-world. And good news for Pluto-lovers: it’s still a planet in ACE.

They have a nice blurb about Eratosthenes, who calculated the circumference of the earth. Same the cartoonist didn’t know the quill pen wasn’t invented until around 700 AD

Eratosthenes beavering away at his nice desk with a quill pen that won't be invented for another thousand years.

Eratosthenes beavering away at his nice desk with a quill pen that won’t be invented for another thousand years.

According to the planetarium dude delivering the lecture that is Section Two, Venus has to do with our Lord’s glory (Revelation 22:16b). In ACE-world, everyone’s a fundamentalist Christian, including the public science-presenter peopleβ.

They’re very behind the times on moons with atmospheres, saying Titan’s probably the only one. There are, in fact, no fewer than (seven) 7 moons with atmospheres. And for some reason, they skim Uranus, not even giving it a photo-op – afraid of “Ur-anus!” jokes, mebbe? Pluto is also not pictured. But we can look forward to it once again being the furthest planet from the sun in 1991! Oh, wait…

And, of course, the tour of the planets must end with our supposed planetarium guy concluding that bit on planets with a little homily on Earth’s uniqueness. No, really super-duper-God-made-it-just-for-us unique! Of course, the others are also unique, but God didn’t make them for life. Oh, and if God “break[s] the hold of solar gravity,” we’ll fly off into space like an untethered tetherball. True fact.

I see they very carefully note that Copernicus, Galileo, and Keplar had ideas that “were not readily received.” We’re not told that good old Nick C. was too shit-scared to publish for years, going to far as to write a cringing apology of a dedication to the Pope, and that Galileo was nearly barbequed by the Church dudes for the terrible crime of accurately describing the natural world. Bruno gets no mention at all. Nope, nothin’ to do with religion at all! Nosir, it’s just that real scientists with real science ideas sometimes aren’t accepted by, like, people, y’know… the ground thus being laid for the implication that the creation scientists are just like these brilliant actual scientist guys wot everybody believes now.

Isaac Newton, of course, is given a loving tongue-bath for being a Christian who believed in God, and knew God created the universe all orderly-like, and did we mention he was a Christian?

But all of that is just appetizers, my darlings. Now comes the real creationist howler:

“The sun is getting smaller for two reasons. First, the sun is consuming its own fuel to give off light and heat energy. Second, the sun is composed largely of hydrogen gas under great pressure due to gravity. Gravity causes the sun to contract at the rate of 5 feet (1.5 m) per hour. Due to the way in which the sun is consuming its own fuel and contracting, many scientists agree that the sun can only be a few thousand years old.”

No. Not even close to reality. The sun’s not shrinking. It’s not a few thousand years old. The only scientists who think so are creationist gits. The authors of ACE are either completely ignorant dupes, or liars for Jesus. Not sure which yet, but I know one thing they’re definitely not: science educators.

After we’ve stopped twitching, we encounter Moar Great Christian Science via the kids at lunch. Ace (isn’t that clever?) delivers his own little sermon: we’ve only got one sun, ergo, one God, and one Jesus, because reasons, and also I Timothy 2:5. “The sun also shows us that God is no respecter of persons,” cuz even the non-Christian nations get sunlight, like it says in Matthew 5:45. Also sez so in Acts 10:34, don’t it? God’s always awake because the sun and Psalm 121:4. He definitely prevails over the powers of darkness cuz the sun’s bright, also I John 1:5.

Then we’re given a little light comic relief with a toaster joke before moving on to things like eclipses. The children (all boys, of course) continue to hurl long chunks of exposition at each other. We even get a treatise on the moon’s phases – including the, um, fact, that they “illustrate Christ’s life and ministry.” See?

Jesus and the Moon's Phases, a totally scientific set of illustrations. There are little cartoons with the phase of the moon and the coresponding phase of Jesus's life: New Moon = Christ in Eternity; Waxing Crescent = Birth of Christ; First Quarter = Early years of Christ; and Waxing Gibbous = Christ's popularity growing.

Jesus and the Moon’s Phases, a totally scientific set of illustrations.

After pages relating the phases of the moon to Jesus, the kiddies wax eloquent on the fact that life is short, as per James 4:14, Job 8:9, and John 9:4. They babble about lunar calendars (props for mentioning Islam without nattering on about false religion, boys!), and then about how the moon reflecting sunlight is Just Like Jesus. And Jesus is just like the moon also because tides. One day y’all are going to recognize this fact. Sez so in Philippians 2:10-11.

Oh, and the planets teach us about unity and obedience, Just to, y’know, achieve that goal about cooperation.

And there we have Science PACE 1085. Of all the Christianist texts I’ve got, this one is easily the worst. (Strangely not as terrifying as Earth Science 4th Edition, though.)

But wait. We’ve not done the activities yet….

Lemme go get drunk first.


*ACE is self-paced. If a child wants to escape the torture early and had a titanium stomach, they can work ahead.

Not their word.

No guide to pronunciation of his name, although they’ve told us how to pronounce Arizona, and will later tell us how to say Nicolaus Copernicus, Johannes Kepler, New Orleans, and Atlanta.

β Okay, technically, there are non-fundies, but they’re bad, bad people. All the good people are Bible-believin’ Christians.

What Do You Think – Did Bill Nye Smoke Some Ham?

I only got to watch bits of the debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham, and caught the gist of it from the Pharyngula live blog and comments there. It was enough to realize that I’m going to be able to debate that little shit just as soon as I finish with these Christianist textbooks, because he’s regurgitating most of the same bullshit I’m finding there. I’ll be watching the debate later and going over the geology bits in some detail. Well, as much as I can stand – I don’t think I’ll be able to take much of that pompous windbag at a time. Which means, actually, I won’t be able to debate him, ever – I’d end up pouncing on him, slapping duct tape over his cake socket whilst screaming “The Bible is not science you dipshit!”

Y’all would pay to see that, and then pay to get me out of jail, right?

Anyway, if you wish to torture yourselves, the debate is supposed to be available here for a short time. Let me know about any bits you want me to pay particular attention to. I want my Ham smoked, cured, and sliced. Heh.

While you wait for me to get crack-a-lackin’, feel free to suggest captions for this excellent image Hemant caught:

Image is Bill giving Ken a profound WTF stare as Ken arranges something on his podium without meeting Bill's eyes.

[Your Caption Here]

Oh, and Bill?

Learn some bloody geology. Sheesh. From what I understand, that’s the topic he flubbed the worst, and it’s ridiculous – doesn’t everyone realize geology is the creationists’ favorite target just after evolution? I know folks kinda disregard the earth sciences whilst lusting after physics and biology, but for fuck’s sake…

Adventures in Christianist Earth Science Education I: In Which First Impressions Are Made

Welcome to the first installment of our down-to-earth analysis of Christianist earth science textbooks*, in which we learn what good Christians™ are teaching the kids these days.

Let’s take a moment to acquaint ourselves with our three texts. Two are for Christian schools; the third is a secular control. At first glance, it’s quite easy to spot one of the Christianist books. Try for yourself!

A choice selection of Christianist textbooks, plus one secular. Can you spot the odd book out? The book on the far left has a white cover with a photo of a geode. The title is Earth Science Fourth Edition. The middle book shows a picture of planet Earth as the sky behind one of the formations in Monument Valley. The title is "Science of the Physical Creation in Christian Perspective. The third book shows a glaciated mountain, and is entitled Earth Science: Geology, the Environment, and the Universe. It is stamped with the National Geographic logo.

A choice selection of Christianist textbooks, plus one secular. Can you spot the odd book out?

Yep. A Beka Book’s Science of the Physical Creation in Christian Perspective (SPC) stands out like a street-corner doomsday preacher. I mean, it’s got some sciency-sorta pictures on it, but that font, not to mention those words, give the game away.

The other one’s better camouflaged – beautiful, even – but I’ll give you a hint: it’s the one that hasn’t got the National Geographic logo on the cover. Yes, our dear BJU Press Earth Science 4th Edition (ES4) is doing its damnedest to look like a legitimate science textbook. It’s even far larger than the Glencoe Science Earth Science: Geology, the Environment, and the Universe (GEU). (It has got to be, on account of all the God stuff they’ve shoved in. Foreshadowing, people!)

Time to get to know them better. Let us open our textbooks to the Table of Contents.

SPC seems positively normal here. We trip merrily through the chapters – Introduction to Science, The Atmosphere, Earth’s Weather, A Survey of the Seas, and so on, with nary a care. Chemistry (chapters 5-7) looks fine. But I hear a rumble when I get to Unit 3, Geology, and see a wee photo of Mount St. Helens there. Creationists love Mount St. Helens. They think she proves stuff, like how the Grand Canyon was totes formed superfast. Sigh. I can feel it coming… and then we reach Chapter 11: Interpreting the Fossil Record, and our carefree skip totally trips.

11.3 Effects of the Flood

11.4 Lack of Transitional Fossils: Evidence Against Evolution

11.5: The Evolution of Man: A Mistaken Belief

Whal, I think we all know where this is going.

The Physics unit returns us to the appearance of a normal table of contents in an ordinary science textbook. But the Special Features following are special indeed. There’s an entire section of them called “Science and Creation,” which contains such delights as “Radiometric Dating: Is It Reliable?” and (not kidding) “Monkeys and Typewriters.” Awgawds. And then there’s the wee Environmental Issues section, which has got “The ‘Ozone Hole’ Controversy” and “Global Warming: Fact or Fancy?”

I’m going to be a certified alcoholic before the end of this, aren’t I?

Image is a little gray kitty sleeping with its arms around a wine bottle. Caption says, I iz not alcoholic, I'z passionat bout wine."

We turn now to ES4, which looked rather normal on the outside. But the contents… they make A Beka’s SPC look practically secular, and A Beka is affiliated with Pensacola Christian College. Yes, the PCC that is so uptight it’s gender-segregated its elevators and stairwells. Indeed, the PCC whose take on psychology is only matched by that of the Scientologists and whose textbooks for Christian schools are so bad universities refuse to give students credit for studying from them. Well, BJU’s also not accepted as kosher curriculum by the U of C, and ES4 gives a good idea of why. Keeping in mind, this book was created after they lost that lawsuit.

Chapter One, “The World of Earth Science,” has a section called “A Christian Approach to Earth Science.” Hoo-boy. In Unit 2, Chapter 4, we encounter “The Earth, a Special Place,” which certainly causes some eyebrow-tectonics. Many of the chapters seem normal, but let your eyes drift right, where the little “Going Further in Earth Science” sections make sure we know it’s all about God God Goddity-God-God-God God:

“Biblical Origins: The Gap Theory”

“Life Connection: The Flood, the Ark, and Species Today”

“Careers: Serving God as a Seismologist”

and other such, um, amazing explorations, plus good creationist favorites such as radiometric dating and overthrusts. All that, and we haven’t even made it past the first page of the ToC – three more to go. Oy. It don’t get any better, let’s leave it at that.

And so, battered about the brain by biblical BS, I turn wearily to our secular control, the lovely GEU. And here I find only science. Science that unflinchingly mentions geologic time – in fact, a whole unit is devoted to it. There is no religion in the Appendices. Critical thinking gets its very own mini-book at the end. No supernatural forces in the mini-labs. The features do not feature a designer. Nor do the Science in the News or Science and the Environment topics. And the extra-awesome National Geographic Expeditions do not take us anywhere near Noah’s Ark. The entire book seems carefully constructed to present nothing but pure geoscience. This is, of course, horrible bias, according to the people who create unabashedly biased textbooks.

I’m out of alcohol. We’ll tackle the Introductions once I’ve restocked.


*h/t to Doktor Zoom, who planted the seed within me.

Keeping Up With the Creationists Vol. I Issue 2: Busy, Busy

My, but these creationist buggers are prolific. There’s a second let’s-fuck-up-science-education worming its way through the Missouri legislature right now. This one likes to make its intentions known by intentionally singling out evolution as “controversial.” That’s a mighty thin fig leaf you’ve got there, Mr. HB 1587.

Our own Ed Brayton has a nice synopsis of the silliness that is HB 1472, HB 1587′s elder sibling. Poor creationists, wanting to pull their kiddies out of school so they don’t hear about that awful evolution. Actually, I think this may end up being a good idea. Educational contraband, man. You know many of those kids will be curious about this Forbidden Knowledge. It’s kinda like when your parents don’t want to know about certain magazines…

South Dakota, engaged in a game of mine’s-bigger-than-yours, has introduced SB 112, which gives a giant fuck-you finger to the Supreme Court and Kitzmiller by stating, sans fig leaf, “[n]o school board or school administrator may prohibit a teacher in public or nonpublic school from providing instruction on intelligent design or other related topics.” I do hope they love throwing away millions of dollars in legal fees, because that’s precisely what they’ll do if this nonsense passes.

Catching up with our old friend Virgina HB 207: our own Callan Bentley has torn it to shreds. I’m going to unrepentantly filch the picture he made because it sums everything up nicely:

Image is a photo of Del. Bell, with a word bubble saying, "I'd like to make it much harder for Virginia students to be leaders in the science and tech workforce."

Callan Bentley would seem to be displeased with Del. Bell.

I’m not hip to the Virginia General Assembly lingo, but as far as I can tell, this atrocity is going to make it out of committee. If you live in VA, you might wish to give your delegate a ring-a-ding and howl in his or her ear until they promise to make it stop.

Those interested in the history of anti-science bills in Virginia are gently encouraged to go read Glenn Branch’s excellent exploration.

Now, just so as you can see the scope of the problem, I’m going to steal this map of American schools wot are officially teaching creationism. Mind you, this doesn’t show the ones where it’s not official but the teachers do it anyway.

Map of schools teaching creationism in these United States. Not just confined to the South, people. Image filched from PZ, who got it from Slate.

Map of schools teaching creationism in these United States. Not just confined to the South, people. Image filched from PZ, who got it from Slate.

Click here for a large version of this travesty, plus an article about how your hard-earned tax monies are getting poured in to schools that turn around and tell kids lies about science, thus ensuring that America’s future is full of people who are not just science illiterate, but think they know the Truth Scientists Don’t Want Us to Know.

Remember the school that told a little Buddhist kid he was stupid not to believe in God? Yeah. They are very interested in taking taxpayer money and pissing it away on legal fees: “The school system recognizes the rights of all students to exercise the religion of their choice and will defend the lawsuit vigorously.” The two halves of this statement do not make a whole, and when taken together, spell disaster for the school’s budget.

In other schools-wishing-to-spend-their-entire-budget-on-legal-fees news, Florida’s Orange County Public Schools is happy to let the Bible be distributed for free on its school grounds – but no other literature. This, alas for them, is a rather blatant violation of the separation of church and state, and considering a lawsuit regarding it is already in progress, is likely to be a quite expensive mistake.

On the homeschooling front, it seems there will be no possibility of live-and-let-live, even if we wanted to let homeschool parents teach their kiddies nothing but empty crap (or not at all), seeing as how they don’t even want to make it easier for public school kids to report abuse, violence, and potential massacres.

And, just in case you haven’t had enough bad news, Jonny’s put together a guide to Christian reform schools that will cause your brain to boil with rage.

Right. Now that you’re incandescent, let’s cool down with a little something nice: if Congress can stop acting like a bunch of spoiled brats 3/4 of the way through an 8 year tantrum over not getting to finish ruining the country, they could pass this Darwin Day resolution that would make Darwin Day all official-like. That would be lovely. I wish I could believe the Cons in Congress would let it happen…

And, to top you off: Doktor Zoom’s got yer Christianist cold war history right here.

FtBCon2′s Religion and Homeschooling Panel Shows Why Secular Folk Need to Pay Attention

We all know neglecting to feed your kids is wrong, right? Neglecting to give them shelter, or medical attention (unless you’re religious in some states – a blind spot in the law we need to fix), or any other basic necessity of life is illegal. You might even get popped for emotional neglect. But in some states, you’re legally allowed to steal a child’s future. Extremist homeschool parents and their allies call it a right. They decide what their children get to learn, or if they get to learn at all. Educational neglect, to them, is their right. A child’s right to the future an education can give them is beneath their consideration.

If you get a chance, and you care about educating children, you should spare an hour for this video. It will horrify you.

Kim Rippere and Elsa Roberts from Secular Woman, Vyckie Garrison from No Longer Quivering, and M.A. (Marian) Melby from Sinmantyx discussed the reality and effects of religious homeschooling. Note that the problem isn’t with homeschooling per se – Marian talks about the fact that most of the homeschool kids she sees in her university classes are well-educated and do well. But she points out that the subset of homeschoolers being discussed are not ones likely to end up at a state university.

Vyckie, having been the homeschool mom at one point, provides insight into homeschooling for fundamentalist religious reasons. She pointed out that the enormous emphasis on gender roles meant that girls often weren’t educated at the same rate or quality as boys. They were being prepared to become homemakers, mothers, helpmeets – why prepare girls for a career? Even if parents are well-intentioned at first, the size of the families in the sects that emphasize a “quiver full” of children means older girls end up becoming stand-in moms to the younger kids. The chores involved with feeding, cleaning, and clothing so many kids means that education is often sacrificed. Elsa experienced this firsthand: raised in a relatively small family of four kids, she was in charge of all the meals by the age of 11. For a while, her family lived in a house with no electricity. The kids had to haul water up from the creek, do laundry by hand – those tasks took a long time, with little left for education. So girls’ educations could slide. They would learn what they needed as they went along; they could learn fractions when they cooked.

Parents rationalize the educational neglect of their children by telling themselves it’s far more important to inculcate character and Biblical/Godly principles than reading, writing and arithmetic.

There’s also the fact that children are being taught by parents who aren’t qualified to teach. Elsa’s parents were creationists who taught her creationism instead of science, and that only for a scattershot few months. Because she loved science, she ended up teaching herself all she could from a thrift store biology textbook and a few popular science magazines. Her father told her she couldn’t become a doctor – it would place her in authority over men, and that wasn’t allowed. By the time she reached college, she had wide gaps in her education. She didn’t know what a beaker was. She couldn’t follow lab procedure. It was hard to overcome the deficiencies in her knowledge, and some gaps she will never be able to fill. You can tell she’s angry about it: it rings out loud and harshly clear in her voice. And she’s not alone in that. Many kids who have suffered educational neglect are angry, and using the activism their parents taught them to press for reform to educational laws and regulations, much to the horror of the parents who thought they were turning them in to soldiers for God.

And the isolation these kids experience leads to abuse. They think what they’re experiencing is normal. Marian, who grew up in a family that was liberal for the area they lived in, and went to a public school that wasn’t shy about blurring the lines between church and state, was so under-exposed to other types of families that she found the idea of atheist families strange. We all have those sorts of blind spots.

Now imagine being raised in a subculture like Elsa’s. She was surrounded by the fundamentalist idea that women must have a submissive spirit, which left them ripe for abuse. You could end up believing abuse was love. When her parents beat her, that was what she thought. She and Vyckie went over the rituals of punishment in those cultures thoroughly. It begins with disrespect – and disrespect can be something like not having a cheerful enough expression. Before disciplining you, your parents would make you pray, asking them and God for forgiveness. You were then spanked (Elsa used the word beaten) until your will was broken, after which you were expected to engage in reconciliation with the people who had just beaten you. If you didn’t reconcile to their satisfaction, you would be beaten again.

And this is considered Godly.

There’s far more. All of it will be familiar to people who follow Love, Joy, Feminism and No Longer Quivering. Most of it is horrifying. You can find plenty of information and links at Secular Woman’s Religion and Homeschooling page. I encourage you to arm yourself with some knowledge, and when bills come up in your state requiring better education standards and regulations, support them. There are kids who are being robbed of a future, because freedom of religion means freedom from education for some parents.

We need to do better for those kids.

Sad child by Axel via Flickr. Image is of a small, dark-haired child sitting on grass with his head in his arms, looking very forlorn.

Sad child by Axel via Flickr.




ACE Revealed by Its Own Cartoons

Jonny sent me this rather eye-popping critique of several ACE cartoons. It’s got a jaunty little title – Life According to the Christian Education Curriculum, in Cartoons! – but don’t be fooled into thinking you can read this if your stomach is in an easily-nauseated condition right now. Fortify yourself before clicking.*

You’ll have to let me know which your favorites are. So far, I can’t decide between ACE’s Evil Atheist With Great Hair vs Lil Godbot, or Who Will Feed Me Now That Mommy’s a Feminist?! I do know the winner in the creep category for me, though:

Cartoon is two panels. The first shows a family in a living room. The dad is reading the Bible, saying, "'Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right.' Racer, God is pleased when you obey your parents." The second panel shows Racer sitting on his bed in his PJs and robe, reading his Bible. Thought bubble reads, "I will listen and obey my parents."

Image courtesy Jonny Scaramanga.

To the people who write this stuff, this apparently isn’t horrifically creepy indoctrination – it’s just a good education. Show a kid evidence for evolution, on the other hand…

And to think I’ve signed on to read a whole grade of this shit. Including the tests. And those terrible cartoons. I’d ask you to save spare change for the Replace Dana’s Liver fund, but you’re probably going to need that money for your own transplant. I’m so, so sorry.


*If the pics don’t show, just click where they should be – they’ve been temperamental.