Biblically Correct Tours

This article by Catherine Tsai on ghastly creationist museum tours is getting syndicated all over the place, so I’m getting lots of mail from people complaining about this dreck appearing in the local paper. Basically, there is a group, Biblically Correct Tours, that is parasitizing museums, leeching money off people and leading them on tours through the museums while coughing up idiotic religious interpretations of their contents. It’s not just lying about the age of the earth, either; it’s accusing scientists of deep evil.

The tours are not all fun and games, with the guides claiming that evolutionist thinking supports racism and abortion. This happened on a recent NCAR tour, when Carter told a dozen children and their parents abortion was an act of natural selection carried out by humans.

Other tours suggest Hitler was playing his version of survival of the fittest by favoring whites, and note that museum dioramas of early humans have black “subhumans.”

“My contention is evolution kills people,” Jack said in an interview. “It’s not that evolutionists don’t have morality, it’s that evolution can offer no morality. Ideas have consequences. If you believe you came from slime there is no reason not to, if you can, get away with anything.”

One interesting comment is from one of the tour guides who is spewing this nonsense.

Carter, who has a degree in biblical studies, admits feeling somewhat intimidated when he first gave tours, knowing scientists were listening. “I used to think, ‘What are they thinking? Are they going to come out and correct me?'” he says.

I don’t think he needs to worry. Most people will simply ignore other people saying stupid things—why, it would be rude to correct misinformation—and even the people behind these museums make excuses for them.

Teri Eastburn, an educational designer at NCAR, said she would never engage in such discussions during a tour. She said the complex welcomes anyone, but notes in-house tours only espouse scientific views of the world.

“We try to explain it using evidence that we find in the natural world, whereas religion is dealing more with spirituality, ethics and morality, which science does not deal with at all,” she said. “It’s different ways of knowing. How people reconcile the ways of knowing is an individual choice.”

I would direct your attention to the quote a couple of paragraphs above, where the clueless twit from Biblically Correct Tours is telling people that the science of evolution is tied to abortion and Hitler and killing people. If religion is involved with “spirituality, ethics and morality”, this is a clearly a case where its influence is pernicious and vile. A museum is a place that is supposed to be dedicated to informing and educating the public (yeah, and making money…), and this is a case where a contemptible group is perverting its purpose to misinform and miseducate (and make money for itself.) I would consider it an obligation of the staff to speak out against it, not to make excuses.

That nice article by Matthew Nisbet I cited earlier has a fourth point: GOING ON THE OFFENSIVE IS GOOD. This is an excellent example of a place where the public and scientists and our institutions ought to be going on the offensive: when one of these tour groups goes through, and some biblical studies major babbles stupidly and misstates a scientific fact, everyone around him should turn around and shout, for the benefit of the group, “THAT’S NOT TRUE!” Make ’em sweat. Make the tour groups realize that all these smart people visiting the museum are looking at them like they’re a mob of dumb hicks and gomers, if they aren’t willing to listen to legitimate scientific explanations. And take the time to tell them what those scientific explanations are—they’re far more interesting and satisfying than the Biblically Correct Nonsense the guide is giving them.

A better strategy for advancing science

Matthew Nisbet has a good list of things we ought to be doing. Number one on the list is what I also think is the biggest thing we have to do:


And I have to admit that educating you, the readers of this weblog, is actually a small part of the task. The real job lies with our public school teachers—they’re the ones shaping the education of the next generation—and no matter what we do right now, the evolution-creation struggle in the public consciousness is going to be going on for at least the next 20 years. It’s very easy to wreck a school and foster ignorance; it’s very difficult to crawl out of the rubble.

The cephalopod sex series

As part of the ongoing migration to the new site, I’ve brought over some strangely popular articles: Tentacle sex, Tentacle sex, part deux, Squid nuptial dances, and Octopus sex. All across the world, people are wondering what the etiquette is if they should find themselves in a romantic situation with an amorous cephalopod, and it is my duty to provide the answers.

If only I’d thought of bringing these over last week, in time for Valentine’s Day. I hope no one made any beastly gaffes because they couldn’t find these articles in time…

Octopus sex


I rather like this illustration I ran across in some reading. It’s a bit risqué, and reminded me of some ukiyo-e…the kind of thing you don’t usually expect to find in a biology journal.

This line drawing was made from a photograph of a male H. lunulata (shaded) copulating with a female. The arrow points to the male’s hectocotylus, which is being inserted into the female’s mantle cavity.

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Tentacle sex, part deux


When male squid get together with their female friends, they have a couple of nuptial options: they can go ahead and use their charm to court the female, or they can just start poking her with tentacles full of sperm in mating frenzy. Now some of you guys might be thinking the latter option sounds good (what’s the point of living the life of a squid if you can’t be selfish and uninhibited, right?), while the ladies and gentlemen here might think the former is better. A study of the mating behavior of squid close-up and in the lab suggests that it’s true: taking one’s time and mating cooperatively is much more likely to get the sperm in the right place and improve the likelihood of reproductive success. And as a bonus it’s got some lovely photos of squid caught in flagrante.

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Squid nuptial dances


Yesterday’s [21 November 2005] post about squid had a most unsatisfying conclusion, so I feel compelled to mention two things: squidblog has a brief explanation of squid jet propulsion, and I’ve dug up another older paper on squid movement. Even better, it’s about squid nuptial dances and mating.

Here, see? Pretty squid post coitus planting a string of fertilized eggs on the sea floor.

Photo of a large male escorting a female squid (Loligo vulgaris reynaudii) as she attaches an “egg finger” of about 100 eggs to an egg bed.

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Tentacle Sex



Doesn’t everyone just love cephalopods? I find them to be a fascinating example of a body plan radically different from our own, the closest thing to a truly alien large metazoan on our planet. I try to keep my eyes open for new papers on cephalopod development, but unfortunately, they are rather difficult to study and data is sadly thin and tantalizing.

I just ran across a pair of papers by Jantzen and Havenhand (2003a, b) on squid mating. That’s close enough to development for me!

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Give me creaturely over preacherly any day

You can tell when a dogmatic theist has to review a book by an unapologetic atheist: there’s a lot of indignant spluttering, and soon the poor fellow is looking for an excuse to dismiss the whole exercise, so that he doesn’t have to actually think about the issues. That’s the case with Leon Wieseltier’s review of Dennett’s Breaking the Spell—it’s kind of like watching a beached fish gasp and flounder, yet at the same time he apparently believes he’s the one with the gaff hook and club.

It’s full of self-important declarations that reduce to incoherence, such as this one:

You cannot disprove a belief unless you disprove its content. If you believe that you can disprove it any other way, by describing its origins or by describing its consequences, then you do not believe in reason. In this profound sense, Dennett does not believe in reason. He will be outraged to hear this, since he regards himself as a giant of rationalism. But the reason he imputes to the human creatures depicted in his book is merely a creaturely reason. Dennett’s natural history does not deny reason, it animalizes reason.

One moment he’s telling us that just tracing the origins of an idea is insufficient to disprove it (sadly for Mr Wieseltier’s argument, there is no sign that Dennett disagrees), the next he’s telling us that the origin of Dennett’s reason is “creaturely” and “animalized”, and therefore of a lesser or invalid kind. I had no idea we could categorize reason by the nature of its source (I’d like to know what varieties of reason he proposes: “creaturely”, “human”, “divine”? Is there also a “vegetable reason”?), but even if we could, by his initial premise, it wouldn’t matter: he needs to address its content, not carp against it because it is the product of natural selection rather than revelation.

Then there’s this rather bewildering build-up. Wieseltier carefully builds a case that he has caught Dennett in an internal contradiction, an idea he pounces on with a kind of petty triumphal glee…but all it shows is that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

Like many biological reductionists, Dennett is sure that he is not a biological reductionist. But the charge is proved as early as the fourth page of his book. Watch closely. “Like other animals,” the confused passage begins, “we have built-in desires to reproduce and to do pretty much whatever it takes to achieve this goal.” No confusion there, and no offense. It is incontrovertible that we are animals. The sentence continues: “But we also have creeds, and the ability to transcend our genetic imperatives.” A sterling observation, and the beginning of humanism. And then more, in the same fine antideterministic vein: “This fact does make us different.”

Then suddenly there is this: “But it is itself a biological fact, visible to natural science, and something that requires an explanation from natural science.” As the ancient rabbis used to say, have your ears heard what your mouth has spoken? Dennett does not see that he has taken his humanism back. Why is our independence from biology a fact of biology? And if it is a fact of biology, then we are not independent of biology. If our creeds are an expression of our animality, if they require an explanation from natural science, then we have not transcended our genetic imperatives. The human difference, in Dennett’s telling, is a difference in degree, not a difference in kind—a doctrine that may quite plausibly be called biological reductionism.

To declare that we are not limited by our genetic imperatives does not in any way contradict the statement that we are material, biological beings with behaviors that can be explained scientifically, without recourse to the supernatural or any other kind of immaterial vitalism. Opposing simplistic genetic reductionism—which, by the way, is good to see from Dennett, because he has a bit of a reputation for being far too narrowly reductionist in his views—is not the same as denying a natural, biological basis for behavior. When Wieseltier tries to insist that genetic determinism is the same as biology, he’s just flaunting his own ignorance.

The whole review reads this poorly, and I suppose I could take it on paragraph by paragraph…but nah. Brian Leiter has already torpedoed it, so even this much seems like excess. The New York Times really needs to do a better job of finding qualified reviewers—it seems in this case they just found a guy anxious to posture against the ungodly, with no competence to actually judge the book.