August Berkshire in the news

August Berkshire of Minnesota Atheists gave a talk at Northwestern College, one of our regional evangelical Christian colleges, and the Star Tribune has a story about it. He gave the students a list of very poor religious rationalizations—it’s a strange and interesting story, and a little sad, since the students don’t seem to have learned anything at all.

There are also peculiar little twists to everything that reflect how blinkered people can be. Berkshire was invited by the instructor in a theology class, and look how unaware this guy is:

Johnson told the group that his association with Berkshire began when a student went to a debate at the University of Minnesota and brought him Berkshire’s card. “I had a strong urge to call him up and tell him to leave my student alone,” Johnson said. “But I was curious, too — I’d never really rubbed shoulders with an atheist.

Isn’t that odd? The student had gone to a debate and met Berkshire, and the instructor’s first thought is to tell the atheist to leave the poor kid alone. And then for a theology teacher to have never met an atheist…these people are all hothouse flowers, aren’t they? They get brought up in avoidance of anything that might challenge their delicate beliefs.

He shouldn’t have worried. There’s a series of student responses at the end of the article, and it’s clear that they have all developed very strong denial mechanisms, and not a word sunk in.

“I appreciated that he was very approachable, not hostile,” said Andrew Olson, 20, of Long Prairie, after class. “I was curious about his motivations, though. Why was he here? I felt like he came to try to convince us there is no God, even though he said he hadn’t.

Yeah, and like he didn’t have fangs and claws or anything. I thought the article clearly laid out why he was there: the instructor invited him, and as usual, August laid out his case quite clearly:

Berkshire told the students he wasn’t trying to talk them out of their beliefs. “I don’t care if you accept my arguments or not,” he said. “I just want to show you that yours are based on faith, not reason. And that’s OK, as long as you don’t try to force them on me or our government.”

Pay attention, take better notes, and think, kid.

“I wanted to ask him more about the Bible, if he thinks it’s all deluded,” Olson said. “He groups all religions together. I’d have liked to discuss the merits of salvation by grace, a truly unique concept.”

Maybe thinking isn’t an option, then. He didn’t follow Berkshire’s points 1 and 2. “Salvation by grace” is nothing but unjustified dogma, a bit of empty noise. I am a little curious what possible arguments he would use to justify it, but I suspect it would be nothing but a bunch of quoted Bible verses.

Krista Baysinger, 20, of Benson, Minn., said, “I really enjoyed it. He was noncondemning and presented his arguments well. But nothing he said shook my faith — not at all. Actually, this is a way to help us strengthen what we believe, by thinking it through.”

Unfortunately, none of the students quoted are actually thinking.

Betty Kraus, 20, of Prior Lake, wondered why Berkshire “has invested so much of his life in this. I mean, he comes in and lays out argument after argument that he wouldn’t accept from us. What would he have us do?”

Wait a moment…a student who has enrolled in a Bible college is wondering about an atheist spending so much of his life on something? Does she think he spent his childhood going to atheist school on Sundays and atheist camp in the summer, after high school he went off to atheist college to get a degree in atheism, and now goes to atheist services a couple of times a week and sings in the atheist choir? These kids really need to get more exposure to the non-Christian life.

Oh, well. One can always hope that there were a few kids there who were using their brains…but they were probably not the ones who would glibly parrot a string of rationalizations to the reporter afterwards.

Teach weakly…errrm, weaknesses

Texans for Better Science Education is one of those strident creationist fronts that tries to undermine science teaching in favor of religious nonsense while pretending to be promoting rational thinking—they might as well have called it Sound Science, that sneaky and misleading label conservatives like to toss around. Their site is a collection of half-truths and quote-mining, one of those places you have to visit just to gawp at the awe-inspiring ignorance and dishonesty on display.

However, as a reader pointed out to me, there is one shining ray of truth in the whole site. They have a new project that they proudly announce in several places: Operation Teach Weaknesses! You got it, their goal is to teach more weak science in Texas classrooms.

I’m so sorry your state is infested with these clowns, Texans. I hope you can throw a few of them out in the next round of elections.

Friday Random Ten: Taking it easy edition

For some reason, this has been a draining week, and I’m just slumped in my easy chair with the iTunes entertaining me…so let’s toss up a Friday Random Ten.

Blade Of Grass Asylum Street Spankers
Prayers for Rain The Cure
Skåne Hedningarna
Whip It Devo
My Generation Patti Smith
Hallelujah Leonard Cohen
Logon Rock Witch Alarm Will Sound
Show me forgiveness Bjork
Stripper Lords Of Acid
Dr.Sayus Simpsons

Tomorrow is another day in the office, whipping up this talk for Cafe Scientifique, and I think I’ve got a science post or two fermenting up in my cranium.

Hey, school board members: remember this about Holt, Rinehart, and Winston

What’s wrong with this statement?

“We’re very pleased,” said Rick Blake, spokesman in Chicago for Holt, Rinehart and Winston. “Science is a very strong area for Holt.”

Since it is in response to Holt’s decision to water down biology textbooks in Florida, it’s wrong.

I’m sorry, Mr Blake, but science is not a strong area for Holt. You wouldn’t be listening to the Discovery Institute if it were.

(via Red State Rabble)

A novel situation

This is remarkable: I actually have all of my grading done, and even have Monday and Wednesday’s lecture all ready to go. I’m. All. Caught. Up. I think this means the Apocalypse will be coming along shortly.

I don’t quite have all my responsibilities out of the way yet, though. Next week is time for Cafe Scientifique Morris, and I’m the guy giving the talk this time. If you’re somewhere in Western Minnesota or Eastern Repressive State of South Dakota, come on down to the Stevens County Historical Museum (116 W 6th Street) in Morris around 6ish. The Morris Area Arts Boosters will be selling tasty baked goods and coffee, so show up for good food even if you don’t want to hear me trying to convince the community that Evolution Is A Good Thing.

And then, of course, I’ve got assignments due and exams to give on Thursday and Friday, so the crushing burden will resume soon thereafter.

What controversy?

Creationists have been chanting, “Teach the controversy” at us for some time, to which most biologists simply look puzzled and ask “What controversy?” There is no ongoing debate about the ideas peddled by the Discovery Institute within the scientific community, because, well, there have been no data presented to suggest that it would be a worthwhile and productive discussion.

That’s what I say, but I’m just one peon in the academic complex. But now Bob Camp has done a comprehensive survey to assess whether there actually is a controversy. He wrote to the department heads of a number of biology departments, and asked this simple yes/no question:

Q: Regarding the issue of “Intelligent Design theory” vs. current biological consensus on the mechanisms of evolution – is there a difference of professional opinion within your department that you feel could be accurately described as a scientific controversy?

97% said no. Only one said yes, and that was from a theological medical university.

That’s a handy piece of information. When we’re told to “teach the controversy” in the future, one good answer is to reply that there is no controversy to teach.