Pseudoscience

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"

and

"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."

and

"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.

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.

Ludicrous Speed: The Hollowness of the Hollow Earth Hypothesis

You know what the original Hollow Earth Hypothesis (HEH) claims about the Earth, even if you don't realize it. Remember the fundamental feature from Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth and you'll have an idea. The basic premise is that inside the planet there is a significant 'hollow' portion, a donut hole of sorts. Basic science has found significant contrary evidence for the idea for hundreds of years, especially in sesmology and gravity measurements. The Jules Verne version of this theory holds no water, so to speak, but, ironically, it is water found deep in the Earth that led me to write this post. You may have seen something about it when this news item made the rounds:

Four hundred miles beneath North America, Schmandt and Jacobsen found deep pockets of magma, which indicates the presence of water. However, this isn’t water in any of the three forms we are familiar with. The pressure coupled with the high temperatures forces the water to split into a hydroxyl radical (OH) which is then able to combine with the minerals on a molecular level.

This water, which is bound up in rock, could indicate the largest water reservoir on the planet. It is believed that plate tectonics cycle the water in and out, and the water affects the partial melting of rock in the mantle.

Dubbed a 'new ocean,' researchers have found evidence that large volumes of water are inside the planet, locked away in rock four-hundred miles beneath the United States. An amazing discovery, assuming that further research confirms the finding, and not all-together a surprising one, as some theoriests have long-speculated that such a find would happen. It lends credence to the hypothesis that water didn't solely arrive from comets but could have been present already when the planet formed around 4.5 billions years ago.

Regardless, I read articles on the discovery in June, chalked it up to 'interesting if confirmed,' and thought little more about it. Then on Facebook, I spotted an article posted by a casual friend detailing the finding, the website being thespiritscience.net. Red flag:

A reservoir of water three times the volume of all the oceans has been discovered deep beneath the Earth’s surface. The finding may explain where Earth’s seas came from, and lend some interesting evidence to the Hollow Earth Theory.

Back up. Wait, what? Wouldn't the presence of something inside the Earth do a lot to provide evidence contrary to the HEH? I checked the link to the site's earlier post on the HEH, and to my surprise, the article's author has significantly redefined the hypothesis:

It’s unlikely that the earth is physically hollow – and by that I mean 3rd Dimensionally Hollow.

Ugh. Ok... go on...

... Now, what if there was a frequency or dimension that was almost invisible to us, at least with our current technology and awareness – and one that functioned almost as an inner earth. A space where the laws of physics as we know them don’t function the same. A place where the basic laws of gravity and practically everything was just a little bit different. At least enough to create a different representation of the consciousness that exists inside the planet.

So a 'Hollow Earth' has now been shifted from a physical, "3rd Dimensionally Hollow" (the Jules Verne version) to one "where the laws of physics as we know them don't function the same," altered in a way that can "create a different representation of the consciousness..." blah blah... sorry, you lost me at "3rd Dimensionally Hollow."

To summarize what Spirit Science is claiming: the discovery of a non-hollow Earth (by way of a massive volume of crystalline rock water) has provided evidence for the idea that the laws of physics are different in the middle of the planet and therefore, "hollow" in some dimension other than the normally reliable ones we know and love. 

Got it? Physics, as we understand the laws thereof, was used to detect the presence of a substance which suggests that the laws of physics don't apply to what we detected. 

Please pass the aspirin...

Some 'theorists' take the Hollow Earth idea even further, suggesting that there is more of a Dyson Sphere structure going on, where the crust covers an 'inner world' where there is no weather, no plate tectonics, and (hopefully), no Justin Beiber. Even stranger are the "concave hollow Earth" ideas which suggest that the surface of the planet is the "interior" and the universe is "inside" the spherical world. Seriously.

If you want the "Ludicrous Speed" version of a Hollow Earth, wrapped deliciously into conspiracy theories involving governments, churches, and the illuminati, and where a "complete understanding needs a fully opened mind, power of conception, and spiritual abilities" (as well as the ability to read past typos), check out the video below:

If you want more information about the Jules Verne version of the Hollow Earth, the Wikipedia article is an excellent place to start.

If you want to save yourself ten minutes of shaking your head and prefer to learn more about the consensus of planetary scientists regarding the structure of the planet, check out this video: