An Offensive Strategy for Dealing With Creationist Attacks on Science

I’ve been doing quite a lot of reading about the failures of creationist geology. Many people have come before me, tearing this nonsense down bit-by-bit. It’s an extraordinary amount of work, and leaves Flood geology scrambling for ever more bizarre ways to overcome the laws of science.

But maybe we don’t do quite enough. We defend science, we present the reality, we knock down bits of their structure, but there may be an easier way to deal with the creationists and Intelligent Design proponents attempting to force their nonsense into science class, and hanging round the fringes of our professional meetings hoping some credibility will rub off on them. I quite like Donald Wise’s proposals:

If such activities are to be opposed effectively, a first step is to learn the ideas, history, and underlying assumptions of their proponents. A second step is to devise an effective counter strategy. To date, the scientific community has been woefully inadequate in the Creationist battle on both counts. This paper is an attempt to focus our opposition, (1) by providing some readily accessible information on the Creationists, (2) by making a proposal for an offensive rather than defensive strategy, and (3) by giving some background facts to implement the strategy. In public forums, the Creationists should be challenged to defend their total model of earth history, difficulties and all, and to give their supporting “evidence” on an item-by-item basis. Again and again, we should force the point that extraordinary claims require extraordinary levels of proof. Such public confrontations with Creationists may have only the scientific depth of disputes between three-year olds, but at least the proposed strategy will force those fights to occur with their toys in their sandbox rather than ours. [emphasis added]

Yep.

And this strategy is gorgeous for two reasons:

1. It shows up creation science for the incoherent farce that it is,
2. If by some miracle the buggers turn out to be right, it forces them to do the hard work of good science and provide the kind of overwhelming proof it would take to revolutionize science.

So keep after them, when you get chances to confront them in public, or even just casually. Demand the mountains of rock-solid data. Demand the models that explain and predict more elegantly than our current ones. Demand they confront and solve the major problems with their models. Demand the peer-reviewed papers that specifically back up their claims, and if they haven’t got them, demand they write up and submit their work to the reputable professional journals. Settle for nothing less than valid science of such quality that it can win majority support amongst the professionals. If they can’t provide that, too bad for them. They’ll have to come back when they can.

Image is a cat with narrowed eyes. Caption says, "Skeptic Cat demands proof."

This doesn’t mean we don’t stop crushing their arguments. It’s fun and valuable work, and like we saw in the Kitzmiller trial, not to mention the Nye-Ham debate, shooting this stuff down can be a fantastic opportunity to teach real science to the public. But we need to make sure we’re putting the creationists on the defensive at the same time.

They want their version of science accepted? They’ll have to do the hard work, and provide the kind of undeniable evidence it takes to change well-supported scientific paradigms. Until then, they have no place in our scientific spaces.

Adventures in ACE IV: When Creationists Drill the Ocean

I’m assured by Jonny that Science PACE 1086 is something special in the bizarreness department. I can see this is true by all the crosses on the cover. The impression given is that they’re so threatened by the implications of a man standing on the moon that they have to spray the scene with god symbols, sort of like a dog dehydrating itself in order to advise other dogs that this is definitely its territory. So there!

The Table of Contents doesn’t give much away. We’re going to learn about “The Foundations of the World,” which seem to be the basics of geology: the crust-mantle-core stuff, rock types, and topography. One wonders how they’re going to spray god everywhere. I’m confident they’ll find a way.

We’re also going to learn to be dependable, and our verse is I Timothy 6:20:

O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called…

I feel a disturbance in the Force. Avoid “oppositions of science so-called,” eh? Could we be about to trash secular science? (For those wondering, the word “science” here means “knowledge,” without implying the scientific method and what we’ve come to call science. It didn’t, of course, have the same meaning then as it does now.)

The facing comic depicts Racer and his dad going to Guatemala to inspect sample cores brought up from ocean drilling. It begins with them choosing suitcases. I think they’re shopping – most people don’t have shelves full of luggage rather than books – but as we only get a glimpse of a fraction of what might be a sales lady, it’s hard to tell. She and the back of an elderly woman’s head on the plane are the only women. We spend so long in airplanes and helicopters that we’re out of room for anything but greetings when we finally arrive at the drilling platform. I think it’s supposed to get us all pumped about learning about the earth’s insides, but it just makes me reflect on the absurdity of people who don’t know how to do science zooming around self-importantly on sophisticated aircraft, using expensive equipment to pretend they’re actually scientists.

We turn to a page headed by a cartoon of South America and Africa waving goodbye to each other, with the factoid that these continents are drifting apart and the South Atlantic expanding by 2 inches (5 cm) per year. I can’t wait to see them explain the math, which by my calculations makes the Atlantic 56,073,600 years old at the very least. (This map of seafloor ages shows it’s actually older.)

The vocabulary words are slightly more on-topic this go-round. I didn’t see anything overtly religious. I do wonder what “toxic goiter” and “ulcer” have got to do with the earth sciences, but I suppose we’ll find out.

Right, then: onward to the Foundations of the World.
Dramatic Hamster

We run aground on creationist crap the instant we set sail. Mr. Ed Wheeler (hwē lər)* is explaining the core sample, and sez,

At the present rate of sedimentation (the settling of sediment), about four thousand years would be required to deposit the amount of sediment found today on the ocean’s floor. This means that sediment began to be deposited onto a clean ocean floor just after the Flood and has been building up ever since.

Ha ha ha ha no.

No, Mr. Hwē lər, it has not. In fact, let’s have a look at what we really discovered when actual scientists drilled into the ocean floor in the Guatemala Basin, about where this book places its fictional pseudoscientists. Hmmm. Ocean crust formed 11-13 million years ago at the Galapagos hotspot… 446 meters of pelagic sediment on to of the crust, which dates from the late Miocene to the Pleistocene, which is only about, oh, from 11 million to 2 million years ago. Never mind there’s no uniform rate of sedimentation across the entire ocean: the data in this location alone leaves them dead in the water.

Image is an e-card with a drawing of a professional woman writing in a notepad and removing her glasses. Caption says, "Sorry, creationists! Science says you're full of shit."

This is one of those things creationists have to lie about. If the ocean floors have ancient sediments upon them, the Flood didn’t happen and creationism fails. Ergo, when they drill up cores of deep-sea sediments, they assume they’re all post-Flood no matter what eleventy-billion other lines of evidence say.

And this, kids, is why we shouldn’t let creationists play with expensive scientific equipment.

They stay reasonably close to the realm of fact when discussing the thickness of the crust. They give a mostly-okay – if terribly over-simplified – description of the Moho, and really, it might’ve been nice if they’d graced Mr. Andrija Mohorovičić‘s name with the proper accent marks. And saying he’s from Yugoslavia when it’s more like he was from Croatia is a bit silly, but these things haven’t been revised since seven years after the Cold War ended and Yugoslavia broke up, so okay.

After some bland, factual blabber about the mantle and core and how it’s like a baseball and it’s really hard to drill through to the Moho because of dense rock etc. etc., we get hit from absolutely nowhere by Racer’s dad babbling biblical nonsense:

Mr. Loyalton said, “God promised to preserve Israel as a nation for Himself forever. The prophet Jeremiah used the difficulty of measuring the foundations of Earth to show the sureness of this promise. He declared, ‘Thus saith the LORD; If heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off all the seed of Israel for all that they have done…’ (Jeremiah 31:37).”

Which is why, he sez, thoroughly investigating the earth’s foundations is impossible. Yep. Because God.

And these people are allowed to operate heavy machinery. Lord, have mercy.

I begin to see why Jonny was promising me such fundalicious fuckery. I also see they’re on about volcanoes next, with a special focus on Mount St. Helens. Spoiler alert: it’s drastically wrong. We’ll take this PACE slowly, then, with frequent pauses to replenish our outraged howling reserves.

 

 

* Yes, they thought it necessary to tell 8th graders how to pronounce “wheeler.” It’s that bloody sad.

 

Christianist Textbooks Revealed

Adventures in Christianist Earth Science Education IIb-1: In Which I Advise You to Buy Shares in Columbia Valley Vineyards

What could be worse than ACE, amirite? After that fuckery, BJU’s Earth Science Fourth Edition will be a breath of fresh air. I mean, A Beka’s Science of the Physical Creation wasn’t unmitigated horror, and Bob Jones University’s history books aren’t as frothing fundie as them, so this might not be utterly awful. One may even begin to believe this can be got through without undue damage to the liver.

Until we open to the first chapter.

And begin to wonder if the products of one vineyard will be enough.

I’m afraid this will be long, even though I’m splitting this chapter in two. Get comfy. Find a stress ball to squeeze and something to bite down on. Ready? Let’s go meet the BJU Science Dudes.

Image is a cartoon of two bearded white men standing at a table scattered with equipment for doing geology in the field. The secular scientist is tilting something on the table to get a good look at it. The creationist is just standing deep in thought.

Our BJU cartoon scientists. I’d like to point out that the secular scientist is the only one in the photo actively doing stuff. This was a Freudian slip I’m not sure they intended to make. The black splotch on the creationist’s face is supposed to be a beard.

Yes, my darlings, in the ES4 universe, science is only done by bearded white dudes. And they haven’t got names. The guy in green, we are told, is a scientist. We’ll call him Mr. Green. He’s the secular scientist, who accepts the actual age of the earth. His, um, buddy in red – we’ll call him Mr. Red – is a scientist, too.

He loves God and the Bible, which he holds to be the only absolutely reliable source of truth. And because of this, he also loves what he does. He believes praising God through his discoveries and helping people to live better lives are his highest callings. He is certain the world is “young” and a special place because the Bible teaches us these things.

Oh, right. A “scientist.”

We are then informed that “people’s views affect how they see and study the world and the universe,” followed by a cartoon of Mr. Green and Mr. Red looking at Earth from orbit, and variously marveling how it’s a product of random chance/design. All of you who heard Ken Ham and company spew know where this is going.

Image is a sign at the Creation Museum. There are two columns of conclusions about dinosaurs. On the left is one headed "Starting with Human Reason" and containing mostly facts.  The right is headed "Starting with God's Word" and contains creationist crap about how this Utahraptor died in the Great Flood.

Image of this ridiculous Creation Museum propaganda sign shamelessly filched from PZ.

We’re four paragraphs in, and I advise you now to buy stock in Columbia Valley vineyards specializing in Riesling grapes. You should also invest in the companies who make Captain Morgan and Malibu. This is going to take oceans of alcohol to endure.

Right. As we read more about what this book’s got in store, we learn that we’ll learn “how the earth was really designed for life.” Goody. We’re warned repeatedly to “stay on the path.” Don’t stray, kiddies – thar be atheists! They’ve “organized different kinds of information in special boxes,” which seems to be a fundie specialty. One bright spot is the promise to include the etymology of words “so that you can learn to decode similar words using common roots, prefixes, and suffixes.” That’s actually quite helpful. But they go and kill my buzz by having little boxes with a Bible icon “that give you practice explaining something from a biblical viewpoint.” And there will be info boxes on the climate change “debate.” I see we’re busy churning out far-right Godbots, then. Blatantly.

It turns out that review questions that “really challenge your thinking” or “require outside research to answer” are optional. Of course. Mustn’t encourage the kiddies to look too diligently for answers.

And, after hoping “that your faith in God’s truths will be greatly strengthened when you come to the end,” it’s on to Unit 1, which is introduced by “Dr. Jonathan Sarfati, Chemist and Creationist.” Who tells us all about logic, reason, and the Bible (“the Christian’s final authority,” doncha know). And how it just makes sense to accept the Bible as absolute truth. Also, the Earth is young. And we know Dr. Jonathan Sarfati is a really-real scientist because he is a bearded white dude, so we can trust him.

Is anyone else wondering if Ken Ham lifted his entire side of the Nye-Ham debate from this book?

Take a drink. Another drink. Turn the page…

For two refreshing paragraphs, we are not pounded over the head with God. We meet a little girl who saved people from the Boxing Day Tsunami by remembering a geography lesson about tsunamis and getting people to high ground at the first sign of this one. Cling to this. It is the last bit of God-neutral stuff for a long while.

We learn next that we should learn Earth science because Genesis (dominion over the earth and all that): the Creation Mandate. Also, made in God’s image. And, flat-out:

“So we need to engage in dominion in a way that helps other people because people are important to God, and they should be to us, too.”

Jesus said so (Mark 12:30, Deut. 6:5, Mark 12:31, Lev. 19:18). Four paragraphs in to Unit 1, and we already have six times the Bible citations as SPC.

Then we’re told we do science to declare God’s Glory (Rom. 11:36), too.

So how can humans declare God’s glory in earth science?

Discovery and imitation. Earth science is a wonderful tool of discovery. As we study cave formations, lightning, ocean currents, and nebulas, we learn about God through what He’s created. This gives us a sense of awe and wonder that helps us glorify Him.

This isn’t the introduction to an Earth science textbook. It’s a bloody sermon.

Then they babble on about how when we make stuff, we’re imitating God, and how all this is totes worshiping God, which has very nearly put me off doing anything ever again. Talk about laying it on thick. And every single caption on this page is full of more of the same. F’rinstance, on a photo of a street devastated by an earthquake, we’re told earthquakes “remind us that we live in a fallen, dangerous world.” Section 1.3 expands on that, moaning that dominion ain’t easy in this fallen world. Because Adam fucked it all up, “everything you will study this year is cursed and broken.” We’re born sinners, baby, and “can’t see the earth as it should have been.” But, baby, there’s God’s redemption. And we “should see earth science as part of God’s ongoing work of redemption – restoring people to the work of biblical dominion.”

It’s now that I flip back a page to confirm this chapter is, indeed, called “The World of Earth Science” and not “Pastor Bob’s Searing Sermon on Bible Stuff, With a Few Nods to the Notion of Earth Science, Cuz It Sounds All Smart That Way.”

We next learn about all the preaching and healing Jesus’s disciples did, and how Christianity spread over the whole world, and how earth science lets us be just like ‘em. But you don’t help people by predicting tsunamis and providing clean water just because it’s the right thing to do, nossir. It’s because

If Christians do this with love and concern, they can show others – the people they work with or the people who benefit from their labors – that Christianity is no storybook fable. It is real. Jesus has redeemed their lives, and He wants to redeem the lives of many other people, too.

It’s starting to feel like a punch card that’ll get Jesus a free coffee after so many people redeemed, or one of those green stamps we used to get with our grocery purchase, that we could paste to little cards and redeem for housewares when we had so many cards filled. Earth science, I’m not feeling.

Image is a loyalty card with ten smiley faces with haloes, and a star with the word FORGIVEN!. Bottom of card says, "Redeem 10 Souls, Get 1 Sin Free! (Restrictions apply - see Bible for details)

Soul punch card wot I made. You can filch it freely.

Then we’re on to Redeeming the Mind, in which we are told God “redeems people from a guilty conscience (Heb. 10:22) and a sinful way of life (1 Pet. 1:18). But He also redeems His people from wrong thinking.” We’ve gotta “think the way Christ would have” us think. And, we’re told, “Wrong thinking is easy to spot in earth science.” Check out the chica in fig 1-7, who foolishly thinks the fossil she’s working on “is many millions of years old. But does her belief agree with God’s thoughts?”

Z.O.M.G.

Yeah, that was totes earth science. And I’m the Queen of Atlantis. It’s true. Send me cash money.

Next week, we will be told how we’re supposed to approach earth science as Christians. Will my liver survive? Will my brain explode before the end of the chapter? Stay tuned!

 

Christianist Textbooks Revealed

Keeping Up With the Creationists Issue I, Vol. 4: College Sexual Assault Scandal Edition

I think we like to think that what happens inside of fundamentalist subcultures doesn’t really matter to the wider world. But there are people trapped, suffering, inside, and they need folks to pay attention, raise a fuss, shine a light so that they can achieve some measure of justice, and so that other people never become victims at all.

Bob Jones University needs a lot of public condemnation right now. They started out trying to appear they were doing the right thing, and hired an independent group to investigate the way they handle sexual assault reports on their campus. But when it became clear they wouldn’t be able to keep on keeping on as they have been, and whitewash the problems, they fired GRACE. Our own Libby Anne, who will always be ours although Patheos stole her, reports on their nefarious assholery, and there’s a scorching open letter to BJU you really shouldn’t miss. As for BJU trying to play the “Other people fired GRACE, too!” card, keep in mind the other fundie fuckwads who fired GRACE like to have tween girls who’ve been repeatedly sexually assaulted by 60 year-old men confess to adultery. For being assaulted. Yep.

Image is the Bob Jones University sign, with "School of Accountability Avoidance" added under the name.

There, I fixed your sign for you.

And you know Patrick Henry College, the place founded by the head of the Home School Legal Defense Association and meant to train homeschool kiddies how to infiltrate every aspect of our culture in order to turn it to their appalling version of God? Yeah, they’ve got a huge problem with sexual assault on their campus, too. You’ll be happy to know, though, it’s never the dude’s fault. It’s all those slutty-sluts who wear clothes that reveal a trace of collarbone and let themselves get drugged unconscious. We know this because the dean sez God will keep girls conscious to bear witness to the abuse against them if it’s really-real rape.

Excuse me while I go tamp down the overwhelming urge to raze Patrick Henry College to the ground, and send its faculty and staff to prison for life.

Let’s move on to the less rage-inducing stuff.

If you need a really good, righteous smackdown followed by a hilarious own goal, check out Jonny’s article in the New Statesman, and Christian Education Europe’s ridiculous response. I feel like asking that poor jackass representing CEE if he needs us to take up a collection to replace the rope he hung his organization with. I appreciate his so carefully proving Jonny’s point, though!

Did you know it was the Crystal Anniversary of the Wedge Document? For those of you who don’t know what that document is, it’s basically Intelligent Design’s cunning plan for overthrowing science. It’s all going great – except where Intelligent Design got smoked out as religion-not-science by the courts and how all that science they thought they would lead off with never happened because religion-not-science. On this anniversary, it pays to remember that these folks are dirty scheming rat-fuckers, and plan accordingly.

Speaking of scheming rat-fuckers, let’s see how they’re doing. Hmm. Not too good! South Dakota’s intelligent design bill got killed. So did Dickie Bell’s Virginia bill, which died of neglect. In South Carolina, a brief kerfluffle caused by a bloody ignorant senator has resolved with strong science standards being left in place – Senator Fair apparently learned that spouting creationist bullshit about Darwin in public makes you look like Ken Ham. Alas, the forces of enforced idiocy are still busy trying to undermine science education in Missouri and Oklahoma. You really need to read the statements by the bullshit artists advocating them: you can see where good Christian indoctrination leads.

The battle, then, continues to rage. And we aren’t going to win it by letting science guy’s debate ignoramuses. However, it can be helpful, and also cathartic, to thoroughly demolish their foolishness, as our own Avicenna has done to Todd Friel’s ridiculous bullshit. For added amusement, watch frothing fundie Rev. Mark Creech scream “BLASPHEMY!!!” at Pat Robertson. Who brought the popcorn this time?

And, finally, a critically important point: as noisy as they are, it’s not just fundie religion that’s got issues with evolution. The problem runs much, much deeper. Let’s not forget.

Adventures in ACE III: In Which We Are Sorely Tested

ACE is famous for asinine questions. You may remember some of the greatest hits from Jonny’s blog. In this edition of AiACE (pronounced Ay-ace, with ay being that syllable you utter when something has pained you), we shall deep-dive the Science 1085 Activity PAC, and ascertain just how inane it is.

Vocabulary Section One

1. We are to match words with definitions such as “Obeying God in everything without thought for self.” Out of ten vocabulary words, four have bugger-all to do with science, two are iffy, and four are actually words one might expect on a science test.

2. Fill-in-the-blank using above vocabulary words. This section consists of completing sentences such as “One _______ of our church-school is the reading program.” Whal, that tips feature from possible science to Christianist schlock. Other sentences are great for English vocab, but don’t show how the words might be used in a scientific context. Final score: 3 blatant Christianist fuckery, 3 not-science, 4 plausible for a science test.

Section One Activities

I. After reviewing the dreck in pages 3-6, we are to fill in the following blanks:

Exercise 1: To be successful in the plan that God has for your life, you need a teachable spirit.

Exercise 4: Pudge showed meekness by listening to and carrying out Mr. Friendson’s Godly instructions.

There are twelve of these. Precisely 0 (zero) have anything to do with science. The tenth “activity” on is to memorize and write down Psalm 133:1, including the correct spelling and punctuation. The word “obey” appears twice, and is reinforced by all this “meek” and “teachable spirit” schlock. This is how I have begun to envision Mr. Friendson:

 II-B. Next, we fill-in-the-blanks (fitb) for the divisions of Earth science. There are 21 of these soul-killing “activities;” six are merely religious indoctrination. See 31, for example:

The LORD on high is mightier than the noise of many waters, yea, than the mighty waves of the sea.

Oh, yes. So crucial to science, that.

I-C does remarkably well, considering: only one howler out of 24:

48. If you should want to study the effects of the Flood upon the earth, you would study physical science, an important part of Earth science.

Riiiight.

We’ve now arrived at II. It is… more fitb. Do try to contain your surprise. Again, the “activity”-makers at ACE practiced remarkable restraint and only included one item of blatant indoctrination:

60. God made Earth, set it going, and keeps it going.

Don’t worry, though. There’s a banner at the bottom of most pages telling us to read Psalm 133:1 thrice, so God’s still everywhere!

II-B. Someone call the God Squad: the “activity” people forgot the indoctrination! It’s only eleven items, so I guess they just didn’t have room.

Now we’ve reached a section called a “Checkup.” We get a list of words, and a list of items to slot them in to. Oh my heck how exciting. Here’s where all that constant reading of Psalm 133:1 pays off, folks – we get to recite as much as we can from memory! Then check it in our Bibbles! Then copy it from the Bibble into the PAC! The excitement – I can’t stand it.

Then we, zomg, fill in moar blanks. These “activities” are the greatest!

In case you’re wondering, it’s a “checkup” because we’ve already done all these. They’re just scrambled a bit.

Section Two Activities

Out of eleven vocab words, 5 have got zip to do with science, 5 are legit, and one’s iffy – now, that’s what I call balance! We don’t get to use ‘em all in fitb, alas. Of 9, 2 are used in a science context, 4 belong in the English PAC, and 3 are outright indoctrination.

Quality sci-ed Christianist style, my darlings.

III A, B and C

Yet moar fitb! By now, it’s giving me fits: I can only imagine the effect on a kid. This curriculum is certainly perfectly designed to turn them off learning for life – feature or flaw? Hmm. Anyway, after 10 exercises in finding the word from the text that’s to be slotted in, we get to exercise our sentence-composing muscles by writing “what it means to be cooperative.”

 

Image is a drawing of a Dalek, surrounded by the word OBEY

Black Dalek by RandomSketchGeek247, words by moi.

 IV-A. Here we fitb again. Three of the questions are nothing more than religious b.s., such as:

35. Sir Isaac knew that the more he could learn about God, the more he could understand about science and its laws.

And WTF is this obsession with titles? Copernicus, Keplar, and Galileo are all Drs. now, and Newton’s always Sir Isaac. I mean, who the honest fuck goes around talking about “Dr. Galilei”?

IV-B. Oh, what a section – all that creationist drivel about how the sun is shrinking, and just to drive the stake through the heart of actual science, we’ve got:

44. Many scientists agree that the sun can only be a few thousand years old because of the way in which the sun is consuming its own fuel and contracting.

Areyoufuckingkiddingme? Alas, no. They are serious.

IV-C & D make it out with only this howler:

66. The sun shows us that God is able to prevail over powers of darkness.

Go, Apollo!

Awgawds, here’s yet another checkup, same as the old checkup. I need an icepick for my brain…

Section Three

Pleaseohplease tell me this is the end…

Vocab: 6 of 10 are totally non-science.

Vocab fitb: 5 science, 4 silly, 1 howler:

14. As unworthy sinners, we do not deserve God’s forgiveness.

Ah, yes, the Christianist approach to self-esteem. Totally belongs in science class. Yes.

MAKE IT STAHP.

Image is a terrified black kitty with a hilarious expression trying to escape from its owner.

V – A-C. Lotsa fitb about eclipses, and also, read Mat. 13:3, Psalm 103:1, and Philemon 21, and underline which one is about cooperation, Because That’s Science. Then Moon phases. Hey, kiddies!

29. The next new moon could represent Christ being in Heaven.

And then “write Psalm 133:1 2x” because Science. Also, don’t forget:

39. As the moon reflects light from the sun, so God the Son reflects the light of God the Father.

BUT WE ARE TOTES MONOTHEISTS!!11!

Next, we have a fitb about tides:

41. The moon masters the tides of Earth, but Jesus Christ masters the tides of life.

You know what the scary thing is? The above proves the writers of ACE know more than Bill O’Reilly.

Image is Bill O'Reilly. Caption says, "Tide goes in, tide goes out. You can't explain that." And now we’ve reached the final Checkup. You know what this means? You should now be able to “write the PACE Scripture from memory.” How scientific is that?!

Then follows your multiple-choice, fitb self test, in which you are not allowed to think any planet other than Saturn “is the most beautiful.” Religious questions are strangely absent: I suspect they may be trying to seem somewhat educational to review boards, who can probably overlook that memorized verse, which you will write and recite to your supervisor.

On to the real test!

Thank time that’s over.

See how sneaky that is, though? If all inspectors look at are the test results, what will they see? Hmm? Two pious cartoons, lots of sciencey facts, and a memorized Bible verse. They won’t see the creationist crap, or the vigorous indoctrination. They may end up thinking these kids are getting something resembling an education, with a sprinkle or two of good clean Christianity.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

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:

Pharyngula

Skepchick

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.”

Riiiight.

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.