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Science!

July 7th, 2010

Imagine one of your children brings home their 4th grade science textbook. You decide to have a look at it, and on page 40, you read this:

Electricity is a mystery. No one has ever observed it or heard it or felt it. We can see and feel and hear only what electricity does. We know that it makes light bulbs shine and irons heat up and telephones ring. But we cannot say what electricity itself is like.

We cannot even say where electricity comes from. Some scientists say that the sun may be the source of most electricity. Other think that the movement of the Earth produces some of it. All anyone knows is that electricity seems to be everywhere and that there are many ways to bring it forth.

Now, what exactly would you think of that text? Me, I’d immediately contact the school and ask what the hell they’re teaching my kids. Of course, if that were the text that was used, it would mean that the religious fundamentalists had gotten control over the school system and were using textbooks published by Bob Jones University. The textbook in question–“Science 4: Students Text”–is home-schooling fare, or, in other words, texts for parents so extremist that they go to radical lengths to prevent their kids from getting exposed to the secular wickedness served up at public schools, and there are no private religious schools nearby with a fanatical-enough curriculum to satisfy them.

The passage above (seen scanned here) has been raising a lot of attention since PZ Myers featured it a few days ago on Pharyngula. You gotta know that it has led to a lot of attention because BJU Press has yanked the “Look Inside” feature for that one book’s class set off their web site, one would assume to avoid more embarrassment.

However, it doesn’t take much searching of their site and leafing through sample chapters of other texts to find stuff that’s interesting, though nothing quite as spectacularly buffoonish as that 4th-grade passage on electricity. Certainly the text is, to say the least, suspect as “Science.” Take this page from a 6th-grade text on goelogy:

Places where the plates meet are called plate boundaries. Scientists think that currents in the molten rock of the earth’s mantle may move the plates a few centimeters each year. This movement may cause the plates to separate, to collide, or to slide along their plate boundaries.

Some scientists believe that at one time the earth could have been a single large landmass that they call Pangaea (pan JEE uh). Because there was no recorded observation, we cannot be sure that such a landmass existed. We also cannot know how the landmass may have broken into pieces. However, the Bible tells us in the book of Genesis that God sent at great flood to destroy the wickedness on the earth. Genesis 7:11 states that “the fountains of the great deep [were] broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened.”

Many Creation scientists think that the earth’s surface went through catastrophic changes during the Noahic Flood. These deluges could have caused the great landmass to break and separate. The plates may have moved with such tremendous force that landforms such as mountains could have been formed as plates collided.

Some scientists claim that landforms took millions of years to form, but it is likely that they formed in a much shorter period of time.

Note the determined dissembling and introduction of doubt when it comes to facts not embraced by the church. “Because there was no recorded observation,” and “we cannot know,” in addition to the insertion of biblical events to explain the form of the Earth. Not to mention the cute capper at the end, “it is likely that they formed in a much shorter period of time.” Yeeess, that is “likely.” Not that we’re making any claims here! We report, and you, the student, decide!

If nothing else, it is an interesting look at how the fundie crowd teaches “science” to their kids–with enough of the subject matter intact to make them aware of all the basics other kids know, but with just the right amount of fundie flavor to keep them out of hellfire.

Also note the repeated use of “some scientists think,” “some scientists believe,” and “some scientists claim” liberally applied to almost every statement of scientific fact, no matter how established or non-controversial. (Note, however, that when creation scientists are mentioned, it’s “many,” not “some.”) The intent is, naturally, to create a sense of doubt concerning anything that mainstream scientists say, as if everything is the field of science is just speculation, nothing more than theories and opinions, and therefore one can take creation science or other fundamentalist biblical interpretations just as, if not more seriously.

Or, I should say, some bloggers think that it is likely that these texts are full of it.

Of course, I am sure that these home-schooled kids will be set straight when they eventually attend Glenn Beck University (accreditation pending).

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  1. Tim Kane
    July 7th, 2010 at 11:12 | #1

    We had a chemestry teacher in high school that tried to tell my class that the color of water was blue. I, ever the geographer, promptly spoke up and said, no it isn’t, it’s clear.

    My High School is today one of those expensive private catholic high schools. These days they charge over $5,000 a year (I think).

    To be fair, I think the guy was a last minute sub, and that the real chemestry teacher had either quit or retired, of was transfered by the religious order to another high school. I can’t recall that part. Just the hilarity of the mistake.

  2. K. Engels
    July 7th, 2010 at 11:46 | #2

    Sadly, this isn’t any worse than the crap science textbooks I had in high school which talked about how we might, someday, put a man into space. (This was in the late 1990s.)

  3. Stuart
    July 8th, 2010 at 03:40 | #3

    Yeah, really we should read “some” scientists as “100% of the scientists who study this particular field”. Science isn’t guesswork, but that’s what these fundamentalist textbooks present it as, to make religion and science have equal footing even though one is based on evidence and the other on faith without evidence. Just ignore all the data scientists have collected over years of study. What the hell is science anyway? Can we be sure that this so-called “science” even exists?

    “No one has ever observed [electricity] or heard it or felt it.” They don’t want you to know who Ben Franklin is, because he is a commie librul.

  4. Jim
    July 8th, 2010 at 07:04 | #4

    I’m not surprised. My daughters went to this horrible school for years. I’m just grateful that they had the good sense to move on. Imagine this though, Bob Jones U is considered to be a better alternative than the South Carolina public schools! what a joke! (on many levels)

  5. Jim
    July 8th, 2010 at 10:34 | #5

    I posted a link to this article hoping to get my daughters to weigh-in. A good friend of mine posted a good point as well. Though I thought you just got carried away and really didn’t mean to write “theories”. Anyway, here is his text:

    PET PEEVE ALERT: While disputing creationism, this writer falls into a Creationist trap, saying, “[creationists are putting forward evolution as] nothing more than *theories* and opinions.” He needs to look up the word “theories” and stop using it when he really means “hypotheses.” Gravity is a theory. Relativity is a theory. Evolution is a theory. Creationism is a hypothesis – a disproved one. Creationists are working hard to weaken what the word “theory” really means. “A theory is a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world. A theory applies in a variety of circumstances to explain a specific set of phenomena; a theory is substantiated by facts, laws, and/or proven hypotheses.” You can disbelieve in the theory of evolution all you want, but, brother, you still evolved from an ape-like being.

  6. Luis
    July 8th, 2010 at 10:58 | #6

    A lot that happens on the conservative / fundamentalist side of things is about using language to fit and shape perceived realities. Since you cannot fight the facts themselves (they tried with ID, for example, and failed horribly), simply redefine what everything means. The latest ID scheme is called “Academic Freedom,” which traditionally means the ability of scholars to wander where they will, so long as they respect fact; the ID form is to allow creation scientists to have the freedom to teach classes in which they trash the facts so the proselytization that follows will gain greater credence.

    In the end, it’s simply about believing what you want to believe, which is why the pseudo-scientists from the creationist side are such an interesting phenomenon. Belief in the Bible is supposed to be a matter of faith; faith requires no proof. So why all the attempts to ‘prove’ what they’re proselytizing? If their faith was truly strong, they would not argue; they would simply say, “I believe, despite all that you have found” and leave it at that. The only answers are (a) their faith is so weak that they have to do something to prop it up, or (b) the whole creation science thing is a scam to sucker people in to the church–a recruiting tool. Or both.

    What is most sad is that these people are going through all of this inanity due to a fundamental error: assuming that the Bible should be the primary source of scientific revelation. Or, for that matter, believing that every word of the Bible is God’s literal truth, not a smidgen of allegory to be found. Alas, read in such a way, the potent allegory of the Garden of Eden transforms into a sickening tale of God as Manipulative Sociopath. In terms of science, what makes perfect sense and provokes awe and wonder at what could be seen as a fantastic creation of God is transformed into a pathetic con game. The whole literalist movement is like the punchline to that old joke–”Who are you gonna believe, me, or your lyin’ eyes?” Understand the Bible for what it is, be willing to read it critically with the understanding of how it came to be, and value can be found. Try to justify every word no matter how terrible, then also shape them to undergird your worst fears and darkest prejudices, and you get fundamentalism.

    Where science tries to dictate the nature of religion, it fails, just as when religion tries to dictate the nature of science. Only when either respects the nature of the other instead of trying to reinvent it do you get synchronicity.

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