Brand-New Blogger, Y’all

You may have noticed the list of blogs got one longer. We were lucky enough to snag Kaveh Mousavi, and his blog On the Margin of Error is absolutely fascinating. You know an atheist in Iran has got stories to tell. He’s got insights only a person living under a theocracy can have. Head on over, say howdy, and help me encourage him to post lots.

On the Margin of Error blog header.

Adventures in ACE V: Senseless About St. Helens

We have arrived at the section of Science PACE 1086 wherein someone who knows bugger-all about rocks will proceed to explain rock types. There is so much wrong we’ll have to split it into groups, and even then, I’m not sure the posts will be short enough to prevent acute creationist crap poisoning. I do know I just spent the better part of five hours dealing with just the errors in the opening paragraphs.

I recommend padding all hard spaces within a 12-block radius before we begin.

Mr. Wheeler, the ocean floor driller, is the narrator. It is apparent the instant he opens his mouth that the writer is not competent to write from the POV of a supposed expert, even a creationist one. “Igneous rock,” he pontificates, “is formed by heat.”



Metamorphic rock can be formed by heat, too, so that definition is worse than useless. Let’s see how real geologists define igneous:

Rock formed when molten rock (magma) that has cooled and solidified (crystallized). See intrusive (plutonic) and extrusive (volcanic) igneous rock.

I’m afraid to check his other two definitions. We shall skip lightly past them singing “la la-la la-la” and continue with his slaughter of all things created by magma.

Image is a thin stream of lava descending a volcano. Caption says, "You make volcano cry."

Volcanoes are likened to squeezed tubes of capped toothpaste, with no nod towards those that erupt rather more gently than St. Helens and Etna. Mr. Wheeler would also like us to believe that magma is formed “when subterranean igneous rock is heated to such high temperatures that it melts.” In creationist world, then, it appears sedimentary and metamorphic rocks never melt. Geologists actually define magma as

Molten rock. Magma may be completely liquid or a mixture of liquid rock, dissolved gases and crystals. Molten rock that flows out onto the Earth’s surface is called lava.

Mercifully, the ACE writers understand that magma becomes lava when it gets to the surface.

We’re told that volcanoes erupt because lava forms a cap over the magma and the pressure builds until the volcano (which is never actually defined) spews. We’re not told why the pressure builds. Perhaps they want us to think God’s squeezing the magma chamber, trying to get that Lava™ brand toothpaste out, half-asleep and not realizing the cap’s still on until splurt – lava’s spewed everywhere. But I suspect it’s mostly because they have no fucking clue why volcanoes actually erupt.

Take their “Facts From Science” Mount St. Helens sidebar. There are 8 sentences. 5 of them contain egregious errors. Let us dissect them.

Mount St. Helens in Washington State erupted on May 18, 1980, causing a tremendous explosion and earthquake.

No. The earthquake caused the explosion. Criminy, you’d think they’d at least be able to get the order right. It’s bloody everywhere. Even other creationists know this. Don’t they get Acts & Facts? FFS.

Okay. Deep breath.

The force of the explosion was as great as that of 400 million tons (400 megatons) of TNT, a high explosive.”

*CLONK* *ow* Fuck, I forgot to pad my desk.

It took me a long time to trace that figure – creationists cream their shorts over it, but I couldn’t find it cited in any papers by actual scientists. It seems to have come from this 1981 Scientific American article. And yes, the authors are indeed estimating the energy at 400 megatons – for the entire eruption. The lateral blast, or “explosion”? A mere 24.

At 8:32 am, the earthquake broke loose about one-half cubic mile (2 km3) of rock and ice, allowing liquid water inside the mountain to flash into steam.

Ah, finally, an essentially-correct – if extremely simplified – set of facts. Bravo.

Releasing 20 megatons of energy within six minutes, the northward-directed steam blast leveled 150 square miles (390 km²) of prime forest.

Sigh. 24 (Twenty-four) megatons, we knew that even in 1980, you have no damn excuse – and what happened to your 400, hmm? Also, no paper I’ve seen gives a 6 minute figure for the time that energy was expended, and I’ve read the paper that 24 megaton estimate came from several times. Additionally, it was 250 square miles (650 km²). And it wasn’t a “steam blast” – it was a pyroclastic density current full of burning-hot gasses, ash, rock, tree bits, and whatever else it picked up and hurled along the way.

Also, the avalanche violently disturbed the water of Spirit Lake, rolling a wave 860 feet (260m) high upon the lake’s northern shore.

Close enough to reality, I suppose.

This enormous wave stripped trees and soil from slopes and returned it to its basin with thousands of floating logs, forming a large floating log mat.

You sorta kinda forgot to mention that the debris avalanche had raised the lake bed by around 200 feet, but whatever.

The soil from the slopes caused mudflows in six major rivers, resulting in great destruction, and the upheaval formed sixteen new lakes in the area.

One clause in that sentence is all you got right. Were you trying to win the prize for the World’s Most Ignorant Sentence, ACE writer?

  1. The soil from the slopes did not cause the mudflows. Water from melting ice and snow, buried streams, and pre-existing lakes mixed with debris avalanche and pyroclastic deposits to form the mudflows.
  2. Six major rivers, eh? Name ‘em. Yeah, you padded that number, jumping a couple of forks and a small river up to “major” status. Really, at most, it was three “major” rivers: the Toutle, the Cowlitz, and the Columbia.
  3. 16 new lakes, eh? Name ‘em. There were two: Coldwater and Castle. The rest of what you’re counting are probably ponds.

I know you’re allergic to real science, but honestly, it wouldn’t kill you to look at the USGS page, would it?

In addition, increased water erosion disfigured enormous pumice and landslide deposits.

After the eruption, yes. And don’t think I don’t see what you’re doing there. You’re trying to claim Mount St. Helens proves the Flood or whatever bullshit it is. It won’t work. Dramatic as Mount St. Helens seemed, it was a tiny blip in the vast sweep of geologic history. It’s a mere bit of dust the planet brushes off, an instant’s incident, barely of note.

All that, and we’re only a few paragraphs in. Sigh. We haven’t even gotten to how Racer is like a volcano, and their extraordinary inability to understand any volcano ever. I shall leave you breathless with anticipation…

Image is a kitten emerging from the top of a conical lampshade. Caption says "Oh noes! Volcano cat is erupting!!1"


Adventures in Christianist Earth Science Education IIb-2: In Which We Reclaim Earth Science for God’s Glory

Remember how awful the first half of this ES4 introductory chapter was? It gets worse. Find something to clench while screaming, “Dana, you did this to me!”

I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. But this is what kids in Christianist schools and homeschools are getting taught.

We’ve reached 1B, “A Christian Approach to Earth Science,” and I believe it is a measure of the trauma caused by the previous section that I am hopeful that a section with a title such as this will contain some actual science, even if by accident. But the beginning is not encouraging, as it states it’s not what we look at, but how we look at it, that’s important. Ken Ham said it best when he said

We’re treated to a hypothetical discussion between two scientists about the Grand Canyon: a secular one, and a biblical Christian, who

will describe how God created a very good earth and everything in it from nothing about 7,000 years ago. He notes that man’s sin brought God’s judgement on the world through a global flood. That flood probably formed the layers of rock, and the retreating flood-waters gouged out the canyon. And seeing this canyon reminds us that God judges sin.

Which worldview is right? The worldview that accepts the Word of God is the right perspective.

And these people have the unmitigated gall to talk about bias.

Finally, in 1.5’s opening description of scientific models, we get a brief bit of honest, actual science. But by the 3rd paragraph, they’re back to harping on worldviews. They accuse secular scientists of deliberately using models to disprove the Bible. Any notion that the models disagree with the Bible because reality does, and it’s reality that secular scientists are exploring, is dismissed. They’ve got their Bible goggles firmly on and Bible plugs in their ears. And they say straight up that biology and earth science are where “the models created in the two worldviews” differ drastically. This, my dear geologists, should warn you about the violence biblical literalists do to your beloved discipline.

There’s a charming sidebar laughing at those silly secular scientists and their ridiculous “big bang theory.” It’s totally unpossible! Where’d the matter come from, huh? There wasn’t enough gravity to compress everything into the singularity, but if there was, it was too much to let it expand, but if it could expand, there’s now way it could’ve clumped into stars, because “debris from explosions keep [sic] moving farther away.” Duh. Checkmate, atheists!

Remarkably enough, the description of scientific models and so forth isn’t completely awful. They even very nearly define “theory” correctly, in a limited fashion (“models that scientists use as frameworks to explain their observations”). However, the sidebar illustration showing the progression from worldview to models shows they’re just being sneaky. Define all this science stuff as various kinds of models, stamp models as coming from yer worldview, and boom – you can do violence to theories such as evolution while being able to usurp the authority of the word “theory” for your own creationist purposes. Also, scientific laws “are our imperfect attempts to describe the laws known only to God by which He governs the universe.” All Ur Science R Belong to Us.

At this point, I turn weeping to the adorable photo of a diver holding a clipboard and chucking a curious manatee under the chin, and burble, “Why? Why must I go on?”

Because the earth science community needs to know what violence is being done to it.

Section 1.7 is a mercy, a discussion of data and its uses that doesn’t mention god once. O sweet relief!

But then we read the question that heads 1.8 with dread: “So, What is Science?” Science, according to ES4, is all about collecting data and stuff for God. We are introduced to a new term: dominion science, “science done to accomplish the work of biblical dominion…”

They’re not scientists. They’re the Christian version of the Borg.

Image is a Borg cube with a cross, with the caption "Resistance is futile." Via

At the end of 1.8, we are treated to a sidebar about The Gap Theory, wherein we are told we must completely and totally believe the Bible, which means believing the earth is 7,000 years old (where are they getting that figure? I thought it was 6,000!). We also learn that the Christians who believe things like the Gap Theory in order to account for the ancient age of the earth are dangerously wrong.

So glad we cleared that up.

After all that, it’s jarring to get to section 1C and find a decent description of the scientific process, wherein it is admitted science isn’t a checklist. They can’t resist inserting a plug for biblical dominion in there, of course, but otherwise it’s reasonably good. We learn about forming scientific questions, doing initial research, stating our hypothesis complete with explanations we can test, and collecting data. Here, they even admit experiments aren’t the be-all and end-all of data collection. Amazing. Maybe Ken Ham didn’t read this far. They even resist burbling about god during the steps about analyzing data and making models, probably trusting we remember the relationship between worldviews and models. There’s not another headdesk moment until we get to the final step: publication in a scientific journal – such as the Creation Research Society Quarterly.

Image is a kitten with its face tucked in its paws on a table. Caption says "head-desk"

And their photo of scientific journals includes the Answers Research Journal. As in, the Answers in Genesis cheap imitation of a scientific journal.

Image is a demotivational poster of a crowd of people face-palming. Caption says, "Epic facepalm. You fail that much."

Let us raise our bruised and bloodied foreheads and gaze ahead to 1.10, wherein we learn “What Scientists Do.” Now, here’s where it’s useful to have become wise in the ways of creationists, because we see a term that looks all sciency: “operational* science.” This, I’m afraid, is not a real real science term. It’s bullshit. It’s meant to distinguish between “real” (as per creationists) science and that fake sorta stuff Darwinists do. Which is a problem for creation earth scientists, because they, too, have to rely on “historical science,” which isn’t as real as real science. And so worldview is called upon, because historical science done with a biblical worldview is totes okay.

I wonder if they’ll revise this section in light of the spanking Bill Nye delivered Ken Ham over just this sort of inanity….


They give a very terse, narrow definition of the principle of uniformity: “assumes that the world operates in a reliable and unvarying way.” One suspects groundwork is being laid for future fuckery.

A prosaic section describing various branches of earth science lulls us into a false sense of security, from which we are rudely jolted by this chapter’s parthian shot:

Tragically, many earth scientists have an atheistic, secular worldview. True dominion science needs people with a biblical worldview to take up careers in earth science as their calling in life. We need to reclaim earth science for God’s glory and for good and wise dominion. Who knows how God can use you in the future.

Pay attention, people. This is what kids are being taught in fundamentalist Christian schools and homeschools. They’re being turned out thinking this is what science really is. They’re being taught to take dominion over the earth, including secular science.

You should bloody well be concerned by now.



*Ken Ham calls it “observational” science. It’s all the same creationist bullshit.

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]


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?”


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.

Congratulations! You’re Going to Hell! 4: Remaking Hell

Does the threat of hell still terrify you even though you know, consciously, it’s an imaginary place?

Imaginary situations can be terrifying and vivid. Even when you know they’re not real, they may continue to haunt you. Sometimes, it’s a fleeting fear; sometimes, it digs talons in and won’t let go.

I had a recurring nightmare as a child. For weeks, my 6 year-old self was plunged into the same terrifying situation every time I tried to sleep. My mom and I had gone shopping. It was a lovely, sunny day, and we were happy – until we pulled up to our house, and found it in flames.

My little brother was trapped in there.

House on Fire. Crop of image by Joseph Krawiec via Flickr. (CC BY 2.0)

House on Fire. Crop of image by Joseph Krawiec via Flickr. (CC BY 2.0)

And this is where I always woke up: with flames roaring out of those windows, threatening to consume us all. Horrified, helpless, knowing my brother was burning to death. Sometimes, I could see him in his rim, see him helpless in his crib, see the flames coming to kill him. I’d wake, sweating, heart racing, wanting to cry and scream, wanting it to stop – but the instant I closed my eyes, the fire was there, coming closer, closer.

I am terrified of fire. Back then, it bordered on phobia. I could imagine nothing worse than burning to death. I also badly wanted a brother. It didn’t matter this one was imaginary: in that dreamspace, he was my brother, and I loved him, and he was about to die in the most awful way possible.

After a week or two, I couldn’t take it. I was getting seriously sleep-deprived. Mom telling me it was just a dream and not real and I shouldn’t be afraid wasn’t helping. Trying to sleep only when exhausted didn’t work. Telling myself not to dream, abject failure. Trying to stop the nightmare when it started, no use. So one night, desperate, despairing yet determined, I decided I’d finish the dream.

I laid down on our old brown tweed couch, closed my eyes, but didn’t sleep. Instead, I pictured the fateful scene. House afire. Flames pouring through the window. Little bro trapped.

Then I found the door. Imagined the flames hadn’t reached it yet. I fought my fear of fire and got inside. I imagined myself a safe path through it, up the stairs, into my brother’s room. He was alive! I picked him up, and carried him outside. We were all right, now. We could live happily ever after.

Image shows a little girl carrying her little brother across a lawn.

“Portage.” Photo by Gordon (Monkey Mash ) via Flickr. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

I never had that nightmare again.

So here’s what I propose, for those haunted by hell: let’s remake it.

There we are, souls condemned to hell because we didn’t believe in God. Down we go to wherever hell is. Oh, it looks grim. A blasted wasteland stinking of sulfur, and horrible spiky black gates that are opened by a huge horned demon. He grabs us in his massive-taloned hands and howls, “Wretched sinners, now you will BURN!!” We are yanked inside, through a curtain of flame, as the demon shrieks about eternal torment at deafening volumes….

And we scream, but…

…the flames don’t burn.

And the talons don’t pierce us.

The gates slam shut with a reverberating boom. We blink our dazzled eyes as we are set gently down. Balmy breezes (or cool, crisp ones, if you like – any sort of breeze, really) waft our favorite scents to us. An attractive person of indeterminate gender, dressed very fashionably and sporting two tasteful horns dusted with tiny rhinestones (or polished to a high sheen, if you don’t like glittery things), gives us a warm welcome.

So sorry about all that drama-llama-ding-dong just then. Can’t let on to the Big Butthole in the Sky what kind of place this really is, or he might shut us down. Or we’d end up with everybody from the Family Research Council. Nobody wants that here.” A delicate shudder quivers our host’s frame. “Welcome to Hell! I’m Lucifer. Call me Luci. Come have the time of your afterlife!”

We’re given a whirlwind tour of the place, which has got everything we loved most in life. The best beaches, mountains, meadows, libraries, stadiums, feats of engineering, anything you like. The food and drink are abundant, incredibly delicious, and 100% enjoyable due to having none of the bad features of earthly food. All of the people we ever loved are there. All of the people we ever wanted to meet wander in. All the the people we couldn’t stand mingle, too, only now they’re great good fun.

And we have all of eternity to hang out.

We have an infinitely awesome realm to explore.

Astral Landscape by Comphone, via DeviantART. CC BY-ND 3.0

Astral Landscape by Comphone, via DeviantART. CC BY-ND 3.0

All of the animals we loved are there, too, plus some mythical beasts, and fascinating ones we’ve never heard of.

We can go anywhere, do anything, be anything. Every day is like living your favorite fantasies. Luci, it turns out, likes people a lot, and loves making them happy, so everything in hell is geared toward that. And what we do here sends out ripples that makes the world we left behind better.

Meanwhile, up in heaven, the sterile streets are sparsely populated by the handful of people rigidly saintly enough for their legalistic bastard of a god, mostly folks who were lifetime members of the FRC. They spend their days digging at specks in their neighbor’s eyes, finding more rules that will get people sent to hell if they break them (which, fortunately, never make it to Earth), and praising God. They, too, are blissfully happy.

Everybody wins.

Everybody lives happily ever after.

That’s one way of re-imagining this imaginary place. You may rather go in all heroic, and quench the unquenchable fires, and slay the worm that dieth not. You may come to those gates in fear and trembling, open them – only to find the place empty. You may imagine it in ways I can’t even dream of.

Just imagine it. Imagine how it never was. Imagine how you would like it to be.

Give the nightmare a happy ending.

Open your eyes.

And go on with your life, free of that nightmare, forever.

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.