Not a Poe


So I did a thing.

I bought a copy of the infamous Science 4 for Christian Schools from Amazon for about a penny plus shipping. This is the book known best for not being a hoax when people share an image of a page with a girl blow drying her hair, and telling readers that 'Electricity is a mystery' (this thread shows how popular this meme is and how many people think this nonsense is a Poe.)

That this book is used in any classroom is not funny. I'm not sure what the target age is, but I'm guessing 4th grade. Holy shit is this bad. There are bible quotes everywhere. Sure, I don't expect Hawking or even Nye level explanations for a grade school book, but this is just ridiculous. Some quickly picked gems include

"God designed each animal with the equipment and behavior it needs for survival"


"God has given you two such marvelous pieces of equipment---your eyes. Scientists cannot explain everything about how the eyes work. They can only describe what happens when light enters the eye."


"Creationists look into the [Grand] canyon and see the power of God and find evidence of the great Flood."

Of course, I don't expect anything other than this from a textbook produced by Bob Jones University (side note, there is a phone number in the cover to call them, 1-800-BJ-AND-ME , I wonder if a happy ending is available). The problem, of course, is that fiat statements claiming 'God did it' isn't science. A textbook aimed at fourth graders is not the place for extensive documentation of the evidence for or against a position, but the students deserve more than is found here.

Just as bad, here are the chapters of this 'general science' textbook:

1. History of the Moon
2. Insects, Arachnids, and Myriapods
3. Electricity
4. Plants
5. Length, Area, and Volume
6. Digestion
7. The Moon's Structure and Motions
8. Animal Defenses
9. Light
10. Machines
11. Trees
12. How Earth's Crust Wears Down

Seriously. There are chapters on 'Animal Defenses', 'Digestion', and two different chapters on the Moon. Where is the geology? Astronomy? Marine sciences, atmospheric sciences, paleontology? Not fit for 4th grade, apparently.

The order above is the actual order of the chapters, as if they were randomly assigned a spot in the final work. There's no direction, no flow, no introduction to science as a process, no history of the ideas being discussed, no reason not to just jump into the history of the moon as the first topic on the board. And, as you might imagine, there is zero about the arguments and evidence for evolution.

The writing is Fifty Shades of Grey quality, meandering from factoid to banal question to factoid without any structure or point. Example:

"The curled-up fronds are called fiddleheads. Can you guess why? In the northeastern United States people eat fiddleheads. You can buy them there in some grocery stores."

I feel incredibly sad for students who are given this and only this during their 4th grade year. They are misinformed, misled, and 'left behind' by others who get a better textbook.

The book I purchased has a name inside the cover, a girl who I assume had to use this textbook to "learn" something at some point in her young life. I really, really hope she got an opportunity to learn real science, to explore more than just fiddleheads are sold in grocery stores, and had a chance to question whether the evidence showed that "God did it."

Anyway, I bought a copy of this book not to make fun of it, but to have a tangible example of what we are up against.

Also, now there is one less copy of this bullshit available on the market. That's a win in my book.

Suncoast Skeptics Speaker Series #1: The 'Evolution' of the Creationist Agenda

Our first Speakers Series event took place today at Selby Library and was an educational look at the attempts to thrust creationism and intelligent design into public classrooms. The video is below. We'll add notes and references very soon. Please let us know if you enjoy this talk and what subjects you would like to see in the future. Thanks again to Tyne Hopkins Venzeio for her time and efforts on this! 

A Flood of Millions of Years

As part of my preparation for being on the Stratosphere Sarasota radio program last Wednesday, I brushed up on common arguments from creationists. The topic was to come up in the context of education, and though we didn't talk much about the details and descriptions of creationism, it helped to have their arguments straight before going on. 

And this ties in nicely with our first Suncoast Skeptics Speaker Series event on creationism in the classroom, which I hope you'll all attend on August 16, 2014, 1:30pm, in the Geldbart Auditorium at Selby Library in downtown Sarasota. 

MissMandiMae's blog post on the history of the Grand Canyon made me look more deeply into the creationist view. First, Mandi's thoughts:

Now, fast forward to only 5.5 million years ago. the Colorado River begins to form and flow. According to a theory formulated by geologist John Douglass, the river flowed and then pooled into an area, which is now referred to a Lake Bidahochi. This lake was larger than Lake Michigan in size and spanned over 20,000 square miles. This lake butted right up against the raised plateau of rock raised from the collision. The force of the water still pouring into the lake pushed until it began to pour up onto the plateau. It was this incredible outpouring of an expansive lake, and not just a river that carved what we see today.

The scientific consensus on the formation of the Grand Canyon provides an intriguing scenario, one which throws into question our ability to comprehend the scales of time and attrition involved. Five and a half million years isn't something we can understand. It's too long, makes no sense to creatures that live only a few decades. The raw power of water moving against rock causing erosion over that time frame is immense, likely several orders of magnitude beyond what we experience in our own lives. Creationists seize on that natural reaction to insist that a timeframe of thousands of years, a range more comfortable in our daily lives, is the only answer. 

But the theory that the Grand Canyon was carved out over millions of years is not only plausible, it's supported by uranium-lead dating, the Law of Superposition, and paleontological finds. (Side note, there is controversy over the age of the Canyon, a subject I may tackle in a followup post. What is not in question is that the formation is millions of years old, not thousands.) If it was a flood, in the most generous sense, it was one which lasted millions of years.

The creationist argument goes something like... well, there isn't one cohesive argument, really. The basic premise is always that the Biblical flood created the Grand Canyon and it didn't take millions of years. There are several 'gish-gallop' style talking points that are typically ignorant (willfully or otherwise) of the actual science. Here are a few, like the Mount St. Helens analogy:

The Grand Canyon was not laid down slowly then etched out over the course of myth-ions and myth-ions of years. Rather it was carved so rapidly that the sediment was not deposited in a delta downstream. Buy a map and take a look. No river delta. The Grand Canyon was mostly carved quickly shortly after the Great Flood in a similar fashion to the "mini-grand-canyon" on the north side of Mount St. Helens. 

Naturally, science disagrees:

When Mount St. Helens erupted, one side of the caldera was blown out, and the resulting rush of water from melted snow, plus the blast of hot ash, carved out 300 feet of recently laid loose ash and sediment. area.

How about this argument?

Flowing rivers or streams, even if they meandered for millions of years, would not uniformly sweep 1,000 feet or more of material off almost all of these 10,000 square miles of the fairly flat Kaibab Limestone. Besides, meandering rivers would produce meandering patterns. Therefore, before you can excavate 800 cubic miles of rock below the rim to form the Grand Canyon, something must sweep off almost all the Mesozoic rock above—a much larger excavation project.

Note the juxtaposition of "uniformly" and "almost all." By what I know as the common usage of "uniformly," the Grand Canyon is no such thing. If by "uniformly," the author means the effect I'd expect from water erosion over millions of years, then I suppose we could agree it is. Note the lack of sources which support these claims, which tie into the 'No Delta Hypothesis.' 

Later in that same source:

Fossils are found only in the layers above an almost perfectly horizontal plane named the Great Unconformity. In the Grand Canyon, it lies about 4,000 feet below the rim and is exposed above the Colorado River for 66 miles. Above the Great Unconformity the layers are all sedimentary and almost always horizontal; below the Great Unconformity lie either basement rock or thick, steep (10°–20° slope) sedimentary layers with no fossils.

Again, this idea runs counter to a great many scientific arguments, including this one:

Stephen Meyer pointed out in response to the questioner that the "Great Unconformity" may be "worldwide" in the sense that it's found in many parts of the world. But that doesn't mean it's found everywhere. As Meyer explained, the Great Unconformity cannot be universal, otherwise we wouldn't have strata from the Ediacaran period, and we wouldn't know about Ediacaran-age fossils, such as the Precambrian sponge embryos...

The problem, of course, with this creationist argument is that it ignores what it doesn't want to acknowledge, in this case, that fossils are found older than this Unconformity, even if not in the Grand Canyon itself. If the claim is that the presence of fossils above but not below the cutoff means that a catastrophic even occurred to lay down the bones, how does one explain the Precambrian fossils we find elsewhere in the world? Geographic features are often unique, and the Grand Canyon is no different. We don't find a 'lack' of fossils below this layer in other locations, and those, as in this case, are not addressed in this one talking point.

I get tired of doing the Googling for these people. There are many more of these talking points. I saw them on signs when I went to the Creation Museum in 2009, describing, in all seriousness, the 'proof' of a flood-originating Canyon. I've seen them on blog posts, comments on videos, in debates. The problem is always a lack of understanding about the science behind the structure. The Grand Canyon's evidence points strongly toward a long-period erosion on the scale of millions of years. Each time I find a new creationist argument, it takes only a few minutes to find a scientifically-plausible explanation that doesn't require a magic critter punishing his sinners.

Further Info on Topics Discussed on Stratosphere Sarasota

I was a guest on the WSLR radio show Stratosphere Sarasota this morning and I'd like to offer sources for more information on the subjects that came up. 

Creationism in Public Education:

  • Butler Act: The Tennessee law that prohibited teaching of evolution and lead to the events in the Scopes Monkey Trial.
  • Scopes Monkey Trial: The famous trial that found John Scopes guilty of violating the Butler Act (later overturned on a technicality). 
  • Tennessee 'monkey bill': Recent Tennessee law that opens science classrooms to the injection of creationism and 'teaching the controversy.'
  • Schools teaching creationism and taking tax money to do so.
  • The Revisionaries:  Documentary which recorded events at the Texas School Board meetings which lead to insertion of pro-creationist verbiage in science textbooks.
  • Kitzmiller v Dover: The landmark case that stripped the Dover School District of the ability to insert creationism into public school science classes.
  • Of Pandas and People: The creationist-guided textbook which Dover attempted to provide to students and which popularized the term 'Intelligent Design.'

Town of Greece v Galloway:

The Hobby Lobby Decision:

  • The case which established the right of some corporations to refuse to cover some health care on religious grounds.
  • Satanists protest 'informed consent' based on this decision

Dr. Oz Appearing Before Congress:

Suncoast Skeptics Speaker Series: