The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Posts Tagged ‘freedom’

Trio of Good News in the Battle Against Creationism!

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 12, 2013

I am happy to report to you that there have been three really good developments in the scientific and skeptical battle against one of the worst bug-a-boos: creationism.  Rather than go into a huge amount of detail about each one, I’ll give a few of my own comments and link to the original sources on each.  Read on to the end – the best one is last :)

1.  Ball State University Takes a Stand for Science and Kicks “Intelligent Design” to the Curb

In this article from Inside Higher Ed, a very positive development is outlined wherein the university made a very strong statement against the inclusion of so-called “intelligent design” as science under the auspices of academic freedom.  I think this was so well done on the part of the university leadership that it should serve as a template for other institutions to follow.  In part, the article states:

In what First Amendment watchdogs called a victory, Ball State University’s president on Wednesday spoke out against intelligent design as a viable scientific theory. At the same time, the university announced that a professor accused of proselytizing remained part of the faculty but was working with administrators to ensure his courses aligned with Ball State’s view that science instruction should be about science and not religion.

“Intelligent design is overwhelmingly deemed by the scientific community as a religious belief and not a scientific theory,” President Jo Ann Gora said. “Therefore, intelligent design is not appropriate content for science courses. The gravity of this issue and the level of concern among scientists are demonstrated by more than 80 national and state scientific societies’ independent statements that intelligent design and creation science do not qualify as science.”

The question is not one of academic freedom, but one of academic integrity, she added. “Said simply, to allow intelligent design to be presented to science students as a valid scientific theory would violate the academic integrity of the course as it would fail to accurately represent the consensus of science scholars.” … [emphasis added]

Read the entire article here

2. Christian Publisher Removes Loch Ness Monster From Biology Textbook

You may recall that some time ago, I reported about how some creationists were going to such ludicrous lengths to undercut the teaching of evolution that they were actually selling textbooks which taught that the Loch Ness Monster was real and evidence against evolution.  Apparently, the publishers of those same textbooks are now omitting any mention of dear ol’ Nessie since it seems that would be a claim too outlandish even for reality-challenged creationists.  Here’s more:

A Christian education publisher based in Tennessee has removed references to the existence of the Loch Ness Monster from a biology textbook.

According to Scotland’s Sunday Herald, Accelerated Christian Education, Inc. has opted to remove a statement from a textbook used in Europe and will likely do the same for American textbooks.

“Are dinosaurs alive today? Scientists are becoming more convinced of their existence. Have you heard of the ‘Loch Ness Monster’ in Scotland?” reads the deleted passage.  “‘Nessie’ for short has been recorded on sonar from a small submarine, described by eyewitnesses, and photographed by others. Nessie appears to be a plesiosaur.”

Mark Looy, chief communications officer for the Young Earth Creationist organization Answers in Genesis, told The Christian Post that he approved of ACE’s decision.

There are just so many of these legends, like the dragon mentioned in Beowulf, the numerous accounts of St. George and the dragon, and so on, that they can’t be dismissed,” said Looy. … [emphasis added]

If the bolded statement above is any example of the shoddy standards of evidence adhered to by creationists, it is no wonder they don’t have a scientific leg to stand on.

3. Creationists and Climate Change Deniers Lose in Kentucky

Some time ago, I wrote a post about how the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are going to push back hard against anti-scientists like creationists and global warming deniers.  Well, our friends from the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) are reporting that a significant victory has been achieved in a state that you might not associate with strong science standards: Kentucky!  A few weeks back, creationists and global warming deniers attempted to derail the adoption of the NGSS by the Kentucky State Board of Education, and they were rebuffed :)

The Kentucky Board of Education declined to make any changes to a proposed regulation that would enact the Next Generation Science Standards as Kentucky’s state science standards, despite the protests of evolution deniers and climate change deniers. In a lengthy document dated August 1, 2013, the Kentucky Department of Education summarized the thoughts of all who submitted comments on the regulation, and provided detailed replies. On the topics of evolution and climate change in particular, the department wrote (PDF, p. 139):

“The agency also received statements of support related to the inclusion of particular science topics such as climate change and evolution, stating that meaningful scientific debate on the validity of evolution and climate science has ceased. Proponents of the continued inclusion of evolution pointed to the overwhelming acceptance of evolution in the biological science community. Proponents of the inclusion of climate change education contend that Kentucky students deserve the most up to date science education, which includes climate change. [The department agreed with these comments: see, e.g., pp. 104 and 105 on evolution, and pp. 115 on climate change.]

Over one hundred substantially identical emails were received stating an opposition to the continued inclusion of evolution in the proposed standards, characterizing evolution as a theory and not a fact. These commenters asked that intelligent design be added to the standards. Other commenters questioned the scientific validity of evolution. The agency also received several comments specific to the inclusion of climate change in the proposed standards, including concerns that climate change science was overemphasized to the neglect of other science concepts or that climate change is not a settled issue in the scientific community.”

The three important antievolution goals — banning the teaching of evolution; balancing the teaching of evolution with creationism, whether in the form of “creation science” or “intelligent design”; and belittling evolution as controversial — were in evidence. So were all three of the pillars of creationism — arguing that evolution is scientifically controversial; arguing that teaching evolution is linked with negative social consequences; arguing that it is only fair to teach “all sides” of the supposed controversy. The same themes were also reflected in the comments about climate change.

The Kentucky Board of Education approved the department’s report on August 8, 2013, so, as WPFL in Louisville, Kentucky, reports (August 8, 2013), “The regulation now heads to Kentucky’s Administrative Regulation Review Committee. If approved in the Kentucky General Assembly, the new standards would go into effect during the 2014-2015 school year.” Kentucky would join Rhode Island, Kansas, Maryland, and Vermont as the first five states to adopt the NGSS — unless the legislature, which includes vocal critics of evolution and climate change, refuses its approval. [emphasis added]

I want to jump on the bolded part above; the battle in KY still isn’t finished.  It will require people to lobby their state legislators in Kentucky in order to encourage them to accept the NGSS.  No doubt the anti-science lobby will pull out all the stops to derail this process, but we have to speak up and encourage the legislature to accept the NGSS as written.

And think of this: if the NGSS is accepted in Kentucky, then it will be a huge defeat for creationists and climate science deniers all over the nation.  That’s because if a religiously conservative state like Kentucky can do it, then any state can do it.

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The State of Louisiana Comes Lurching into the 20th Century!

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 5, 2012

My friend and skeptical colleague Phil over at Skeptic Money has passed along some welcome news: the Louisiana private school voucher program has been found to be unconstitutional!  Whoo-hoo!!!  :)[**Aside: If you recall, the state of Louisiana has been a hotbed of creationist activity over the years; more on that here and here.  And yes, that fact is important.  Read on...]

This is news partly because the program was being used to funnel public school money to private religious schools which specialized in indoctrinating children into fundamentalist forms of Christianity which taught, among other things, creationism as “science”.  In addition, let us also not forget that this was the award-winning 21st century educational plan which would teach that the Loch Ness Monster was real as a way of supporting creationism.  Phil has some more interesting information on these developments:

Louisiana $11 Million Creationism Give Away 

News from the State of Louisiana today!

“A state judge on Friday shot down Louisiana’s sweeping school voucher program, ruling that the state could not use funds set aside for public education to pay private-school tuition…”

This is huge.  They were going to spend $11 Million to teach creationism.

“Louisiana is preparing to spend over $11 million to send 1,365 students to 20 private schools that teach creationism instead of science as part of Governor Bobby Jindal’s new voucher program.”

This $11 Million is to come out of the public schools.  According to a report from “American Legislative Exchange Council” Louisiana ranks 49 out of 51 (They also ranked the District of Columbia).  I guess they want to race to the bottom.

The governor is not happy about the ruling.

“Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, who had championed the program, called the ruling “wrong-headed” and “a travesty for parents across Louisiana who want nothing more than for their children to have an equal opportunity at receiving a great education.” “

A great education?  These children are not being educated.  They are being thrown back to the bronze age.  We might as well teach them that 2+2 equals “fish”.

“While State District Judge Tim Kelley ruled the voucher program unconstitutional, he did not issue an immediate injunction to stop it. The 5,000 students currently receiving vouchers will be able to continue attending their private schools pending an appeal, state officials said.”

What?  The state creates a blatantly illegal program and a judge rules against it but yet it continues.  It looks like they are still going to spend that $11 Million on creationism.  I feel like we live in some kind of bizzaro world.

This is all promoted by a guy that wants to be the next President of the United States Bobby Jindal.

So… the program will continue for the immediate future (probably until the end of the current academic year), which will no doubt give Jindal and his political allies time to come up with another cockamamie scheme that will bilk the taxpayers and direct their money towards religious zealots who have no interest in teaching their kids (or anybody else’s kids) science.

I agree with Phil.  The irony here is that Jindal and his religious right allies go on and on about “giving the kids a great education” but it’s apparent they wouldn’t know good science education if it bit them squarely in the ass.  Remember folks, these are the same people who want to give public tax money to schools that teach the Loch Ness Monster is real.  Just chew on that for a bit, folks…

In conclusion, I think it is appropriate to end this post with the following clip from Bill Maher’s movie Religulous.  In it he is interviewing a U.S. Senator (Mark Pryor from Arkansas) who is trying to justify creationism.  When challenged by Maher, the Senator responds with the following, quite telling, line: “You don’t have to pass an IQ test to be in the Senate…”

Yup, he really said that.  Watch for yourself (the dialog leading up to the line starts at 4:00):

Wow.

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Private School Vouchers in Louisiana and the Dumbing Down of Curricula: Not Just for Creationism!

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 8, 2012

This past June, I reported that the science curriculum in Louisiana was on its way to going down the proverbial tubes, and evidence of this fact was made available through the uncovering of a creationist curriculum which wants to seriously teach the “reality” of the Loch Ness Monster.  Well, as I predicted over a year ago, due to the stupidity of Louisiana’s so-called “academic freedom” law, the state will now be funding (with taxpayer dollars) private school vouchers which will be used to push all manner of nonsense, far beyond your usual garden-variety young-earth creationism, in Louisiana schools.  It seems that the door to all manner of flummery and idiocy has been thrown wide open, and the students of these Louisiana voucher schools will be subjected to some truly unbelievable “facts” in their education; just get a load of these (from Mother Jones)…

14 Wacky “Facts” Kids Will Learn in Louisiana’s Voucher Schools

—By

Separation of church and what? Currier & Ives/Library of Congress

Thanks to a new law privatizing public education in Louisiana, Bible-based curriculum can now indoctrinate young, pliant minds with the good news of the Lord—all on the state taxpayers’ dime.

Under Gov. Bobby Jindal’s voucher program, considered the most sweeping in the country, Louisiana is poised to spend tens of millions of dollars to help poor and middle-class students from the state’s notoriously terrible public schools receive a private education. While the governor’s plan sounds great in the glittery parlance of the state’s PR machine, the program is rife with accountability problems that actually haven’t been solved by the new standards the Louisiana Department of Education adopted two weeks ago.

For one, of the 119 (mostly Christian) participating schools, Zack Kopplin, a gutsy college sophomore who’s taken to Change.org to stonewall the program, has identified at least 19 that teach or champion creationist nonscience and will rake in nearly $4 million in public funding from the initial round of voucher designations.

Many of these schools, Kopplin notes, rely on Pensacola-based A Beka Book curriculum or Bob Jones University Press textbooks to teach their pupils Bible-based “facts,” such as the existence of Nessie the Loch Ness Monster and all sorts of pseudoscience that researcher Rachel Tabachnick and writer Thomas Vinciguerra have thankfully pored over so the rest of world doesn’t have to.

Here are some of my favorite lessons:

1. Dinosaurs and humans probably hung out: “Bible-believing Christians cannot accept any evolutionary  interpretation.  Dinosaurs and humans were definitely on the earth at  the same time and may have even lived side by side within the past few  thousand years.”—Life Science, 3rd ed., Bob Jones University Press, 2007

2. Dragons were totally real: “[Is] it possible that a fire-breathing animal really existed? Today  some scientists are saying yes. They have found large chambers in  certain dinosaur skulls…The large skull chambers could have contained  special chemical-producing glands. When the animal forced the chemicals  out of its mouth or nose, these substances may have combined and  produced fire and smoke.”—Life Science, 3rd ed., Bob Jones University Press, 2007

3. “God used the Trail of Tears to bring many Indians to Christ.”—America: Land That I Love, Teacher ed., A Beka Book, 1994

4. Africa needs religion: “Africa is a continent with many needs.  It is still in need of the   gospel…Only about ten percent of Africans can read and write.  In some   areas the mission schools have been shut down by Communists who have   taken over the government.”—Old World History and Geography in Christian Perspective, 3rd ed., A Beka Book, 2004

[And, believe it or not, it actually gets worse from here... :( ]

Click here to read the rest of the Mother Jones article

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Thoughts on Calling the Creationist Bluff

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 2, 2012

I’m happy to say that I received a bit of a shout out from my scientific and skeptical colleague Greg Laden over at Science Blogs for my recent JREF Swift post “Is It Time To Call Creationists’ Bluff And Push For “Teaching All Views”?” I think Greg makes some excellent points and observations about my post in his analysis, so I wanted to return the favor and make note of some of his points.

[**Aside: If you're in the Minneapolis area this July 5-8th, drop by Convergence 2012 and see both Greg and me.  We're both participating in the Con, and I look forward to discussing these topics with him (plus anyone else interested) more there.]

For Greg’s full breakdown, check out his entire post…

Should the Flying Spaghetti Monster Rear his Awesome Noo-Noo?

My comment: What’s next? Teaching “The Flintstones” as scientifically-verified, historical fact?  *facepalm*

Matt Lowry, whom I hope to be seeing in a couple of weeks, has written an article on his blog and republished on the JREF web site, called Is It Time To Call Creationists’ Bluff And Push For “Teaching All Views”?

The idea is this. There has been a recent change in strategy among creationists (which, I’m sorry, but I may have started a few years back for which I apologize). Instead of pushing creationism per se, they push “academic freedom” which doubles as a way to repress the teaching about climate change, evolution, and other inconvenient science, and a way to introduce whatever other “alternative view” a creationist or anti-science teacher might pull out of his or her nether regions. An by “nether regions” I mean material provided by the Heartland Institute, stuff they picked up at the Creation Museum, or took off the Answers in Genesis web site.

Matt is re-suggesting and giving new air to an idea that we all mutter under our collective breath about now and then; If they want to teach their particular religion in the classroom, then fine, but then we also must teach the origin stories of every one of the thousands of distinct tribal groups documented by anthropologists, all the other non-Abrahamic state level religion such as Hinduism, the much-hated1 Islam, and, of course, we must provide the origin and evolution related parts of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. …

Exactly.  The basic premise is this: if you want to allow one non-scientific “alternative” (such as young-earth creationism, the standard form of creationism pushed by fundamentalist Christians in the United States), then you’d better be damn well ready to allow every other alternative that comes knocking at the public school door.  That means, as Greg points out, Islamic views of creationism (that’ll get the Christian fundies’ knickers in a twist), Raelianism (basically the atheistic idea that aliens, not God, created humankind – kind of like in the science fiction movie “Prometheus”), and perhaps even Scientology (which is so nutty I’ll just refer you here for more on that weirdness) should be expected to receive “equal time” in the public school science class.

Greg goes on…

… Matt is obviously being both serious and not serious at the same time. Sometimes this seems like a strategy one should try, a sort of massive passive aggressive attack. “Well, then, fine. Let’s just do that. Let’s see what the Bhagavad Gita says about cellular biology,” is how we would say it here in Minnesota, where Passive Aggressive originated and is still a refined art….

Exactly, again.  Of course, I’m not being serious – at least, I’m not being serious in the sense that I actually want our public science education system to collapse into a deepening, spiraling abyss of stupidity.  Which is what would happen if we allowed every goofball with a hare-brained “theory” to promote their nonsense as science.

Finally, some closing points from Greg on precisely why we shouldn’t be allowing YECs (or Islamic creationists, or Raelians, or Scientologists) to push their religious/pseudoscientific agenda in our schools:

… First (but not most important), the curriculum is full. Only time neutral suggestion are reasonable. At times it seems like everyone has a thing they want taught in school. … [emphasis mine]

Yup.  Just picture this… we allow the pseudoscientists to push whatever nonsense they wish, under the auspices of “equal time” and “teaching all views”.  If we were to seriously do that, how much time do you think would be left over to teach actual science to kids in our schools?  I’m thinking… around two weeks… which should really boost those ACT scores!

Greg continues:

… Another reason is the simple fact that if we let one of the hoard past the moat the rest will feel like they’ve been invited. The wall between church and state would actually have to be breached, or at least, a gate lowered, to let this happen. That can’t be allowed. This has happened already; at present, there are religiously based charter schools in the US being funded by tax dollars that give religious instruction and don’t teach evolution because the religion of the school does not accept it. …

I spoke to this above, but it bears mentioning again because Greg nails it here.  The danger to our public school system goes beyond watering down the science curriculum in school; it also goes to the broader question of funding.  If we allow these creationists to get away with pushing their nonsense as science in schools, then we will reinforce their arguments that funding should be deviated from the public schools to the kinds of blatantly religious schools Greg mentions.  And the less money for the public schools, the less they can afford to teach science (because it’s expensive!), and so on… I think you get the idea.

Greg’s last point, which is also (in my opinion) the most important one:

… Another reason which is the secret reason Matt would never really accept teaching the Origin Story of the Iroquois, as interesting and culturally relevant as it may be, as a scientific theory in a life science class, is because it is not science. A closely related but distinctly different reason is that it is not true.

One of the most important points Matt makes, and that I imply above, is that we are no longer talking about creationism vs. evolution. Increasingly we are talking about science in general. …

That’s it, in a nutshell.  We teach science in science classes, period.  If you want to talk about religion and God, there’s a place for that, even in our secular public schools: it’s called comparative religion or philosophy/humanities class.  And if you want to worship a particular deity, there’s also a place for that: it’s called church.

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Creationists Push for the Loch Ness Monster: How Pseudoscience Cross-Pollinates

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 25, 2012

I’ve written here before about the state of Louisiana’s so-called “academic freedom” law which is essentially a backdoor attempt to push creationism as science in public school science classes.  As many critics of the law pointed out when it was passed, this would serve to dumb-down science standards and inevitably harm the education of students in Louisiana by placing pseudoscientific notions such as creationism on an equal (or better) footing than accepted evolutionary science.  Well, as predicted, the consequences of this law are now becoming realized, and I’m sorry to say that things in Louisiana are getting even more stupid than I had predicted.  Read this article for more detail:

Christian fundamentalist textbooks touting the Loch Ness Monster as proof of Creationism

For the 2012-2013 school year, thousands of Louisiana students will receive state-funded vouchers to attend private schools, many of which hold religious affiliations.

One of these schools — Eternity Christian Academy, in Westlake, Louisiana — utilizes the A.C.E. Curriculum Program, a Christian fundamentalist course of study that teaches students to “see life from God’s point of view.” And unbeknownst to most theologians, scientists, and amateur monster hunters, the Lord’s viewpoint apparently incorporates Scotland’s favorite cryptid.

Herald Scotland reports that a certain textbook in the A.C.E. curriculum transcends standard Creationist teachings and instead informs students that the Loch Ness Monster is proof positive that evolution never happened. (And here I always assumed Nessie was The Great Beast from the Book of Revelations.) Explains Herald Scotland:

“One ACE textbook – Biology 1099, Accelerated Christian Education Inc – reads: “Are dinosaurs alive today? Scientists are becoming more convinced of their existence. Have you heard of the ‘Loch Ness Monster’ in Scotland? ‘Nessie’ for short has been recorded on sonar from a small submarine, described by eyewitnesses, and photographed by others. Nessie appears to be a plesiosaur.”

Another claim taught is that a Japanese whaling boat once caught a dinosaur. It’s unclear if the movie Godzilla was the inspiration for this lesson.

Jonny Scaramanga, 27, who went through the ACE programme as a child, but now campaigns against Christian fundamentalism, said the Nessie claim was presented as “evidence that evolution couldn’t have happened. The reason for that is they’re saying if Noah’s flood only happened 4000 years ago, which they believe literally happened, then possibly a sea monster survived.”

The Loch Ness Monster as “evidence” of creationism?!!… Oh… my… FSM.

So it’s come to this, folks.  As a direct result of the “academic freedom” law in Louisiana, some versions of creationism which are probably even too extreme for many creationists are being seriously pushed as part of the “alternate science” curriculum available to teachers and students…

Apparently, this is the new cover for biology textbooks in Louisiana – image source

I wish I could say that I was surprised, but honestly I’m not.  This sort of development is the inevitable result of making science standards so loose (through the invocation of so-called “academic freedom”) that just about any kind of stupid, pseudoscientific nonsense which is completely unsupported by the scientific community can pass muster and be taught as if it were science.  As I wrote recently, perhaps this is just the kind of thing we need to have happen in states like Louisiana that try to give a thinly veiled wink and nod to creationists under the auspices of “academic freedom”; perhaps it is time to advertise far and wide that any kind of nonsense can be taught in Louisiana schools.  And perhaps there will be a point where the politicians in Louisiana may become so terribly embarrassed at what is passing for “education” (after all, one has to wonder how amenable they would be to Islamic creationism, for example) in their state that they might act to remedy the situation.

Until that day comes, however, I think we should be prepared for much more silliness to come out of Louisiana.  One thing’s for sure, it will be entertaining.

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Is It Time To Call Creationists’ Bluff And Push For “Teaching All Views”?

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 6, 2012

[**Note: The following post is a guest post hosted over at the James Randi Educational Foundation's blog.  Enjoy! :) ]

Is It Time To Call Creationists’ Bluff And Push For “Teaching All Views”?

Many readers of this blog are no doubt, like me, a bit disappointed (though not entirely surprised) that a creationist-friendly law protecting so-called “academic freedom” of teachers is now on the books in Tennessee. The “Monkey Law”, as has been labeled in honor of the famous Scopes Monkey Trial from 1925 , would seek to encourage teachers in the state’s public schools to present the “scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses” of topics that arouse “debate and disputation” such as “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.”

Indeed, as the National Center for Science Education notes:

“Maybe it has a no-religion clause,” the Tennessean characterized the law’s critics as arguing, “but it gives a wink to teachers looking to promote their beliefs in the classroom — a move that would launch costly lawsuits that history shows school districts tend to lose.” Hedy Weinberg, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, told the newspaper that her group is in touch with concerned parents across the state, “waiting for one to report First Amendment violations teachers could make under the mistaken notion that they now have full protection.”

A very similar law promoting this somewhat Orwellian notion of academic freedom was enacted in Louisiana in 2008. Of course, anyone who has followed the creationist movement for any amount of time sees quite clearly what is going on here: after their high-profile defeat in the Dover v. Kitzmiller trial in 2005, where they tried to push for explicitly including creationism (under the re-labeling of “intelligent design”), creationists are now falling back on an old, but tried and true, tactic – attacking and attempting to weaken the teaching of evolution. [Aside: Note that when I mention “creationists” I am referring to the usual, fundamentalist Christian variety so common in the United States, the young-earth variety. This is quite important, for reasons you’ll see later.]

My guess is that the thinking from the creationists is probably along these lines: we have these children in our churches where we can teach them the “truth”, so all we need to do is discourage the schools from teaching evolution. By keeping these children ignorant of evolution (and science in general), the creationists win by default; hence the language in the “Monkey Law” emphasizing the teaching of the non-existent “scientific weaknesses” of evolution. This is basically code telling the creationists to make up whatever fiction they wish about evolution and teach these straw man notions in public school science classes. And by doing so, the creationists then automatically steer the students in the direction of non-scientific alternative explanations.

Speaking of non-scientific alternatives, let us note that the new Tennessee law also makes specific references to the science of global warming and human cloning, both increasingly hot-button issues for social and religious conservatives in the United States. But, interestingly, the language is more open-ended and doesn’t stop explicitly at those topics; in fact, the language states that “scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses” of topics that arouse “debate and disputation”. Note that the law doesn’t specify among whom these topics can arouse debate and disputation. And I think it is on this point that the Tennessee lawmakers may end up getting hoisted by their own petard. I’m not referring to the inevitable lawsuits which will come along once some teacher starts to teach creationism explicitly (lawsuits which the state will, in all likelihood, lose). Rather, I am referring to the potential lawsuits that other wacky and non-scientific ideas are not being taught in Tennessee public school science classes. …

Click here to continue reading the entire post

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Indiana Creationist Bill is DOA: Good Riddance

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 7, 2012

I recently blogged about the pending creationist legislation in the Indiana legislature and its radically stupid “teach all views” language.  Well, now there’s some good news: apparently, even though the bill (SB89) passed the IN Senate, it was too stupid for the IN House :)

Creationist School Bill Looks Doomed in Indiana

… On Tuesday the Indiana Senate approved a bill, S.B. 89, that would have allowed schools to teach “various theories on the origins of life.” It didn’t specify whether the instruction should occur in a science class or in another setting, but its sponsors made clear that they saw it as a way to challenge prevailing views on scientific evolution. The bill, which passed 28 to 22, drew widespread media coverage and triggered condemnations from scientific organizations in the state and across the country.

The original measure had mentioned “creation science” as one idea that could be taught. But before the vote it was amended to require that teachers also discuss “theories from multiple religions, including Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Scientology.”

The next day, however, the speaker of the Indiana House of Representatives decided that the legislation, which had triggered national media coverage, had become too hot to handle. As reported by Dan Carden of the The Times of Northwest Indiana, House Speaker Brian Bosma, a Republican from Indianapolis, said at a press availability on Wednesday that “delving into an issue that the U.S. Supreme Court has, on at least one occasion, said is not compliant with the Constitution may be a side issue and someplace where we don’t need to go.” He was apparently referring to a 1987 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that a Louisiana state law requiring the teaching of creation science violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment by advancing religion. …

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Indiana’s New Creationism Bill Leads the Way into an Abyss of Stupidity

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 2, 2012

**Update (2/4/12): It seems the inclusion of the “teach all views” amendment to SB89 was actually an attempt to sabotage the creationist bill, for the very reasons I have outlined below.  Read more at this link.

***********************************

There’s been a lot of news lately about a new creationism bill coming out of Indiana.  Yesterday (Jan. 31), according to the National Center for Science Education, it seems the Indiana Senate has passed the bill, and the Indiana House is also expected to pass the bill (my guess is that Gov. Mitch Daniels will also sign it into law).  If this idiotic bill becomes law then there is going to be a whole mess of trouble coming to Indiana; for the reasons why I say this, take a look at some details from the NCSE…

Indiana creationism bill passes the Senate

On January 31, 2012, the Indiana Senate voted 28-22 in favor of Senate Bill 89. As originally submitted, SB 89 provided, “The governing body of a school corporation may require the teaching of various theories concerning the origin of life, including creation science, within the school corporation.” On January 30, 2012, however, it was amended in the Senate to provide instead, “The governing body of a school corporation may offer instruction on various theories of the origin of life. The curriculum for the course must include theories from multiple religions, which may include, but is not limited to, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Scientology.” … [emphasis added]

Note the bolded text above.  That one line in the legislation is going to be the source of much mischief, and it is going to eventually cause really big headaches for the Indiana legislature. Unfortunately, in the meantime there are going to be a lot of kids in that state who are going to receive a more than substandard science education.  Allow me to elaborate:

1. The first thing to note within the bold text is that a requirement is to include religious explanations for the origins of life. Pardon me, but I thought we were supposed to be teaching science, not religion, in science classes.  If only there were a place to give religious views on these matters within the public schools… like in a comparative religion or philosophy class, perhaps?

So the way this bill is worded it actually requires the muddling of science and religion in the public school science classroom, which will only lead to much confusion on the part of students about what is and isn’t science.  The inevitable result will br a more scientifically illiterate populace in Indiana, one which isn’t prepared to compete in the 21st century.

But it gets worse…

2. Make note of the following text in bold above: “… include theories from multiple religions, which may include, but is not limited to, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Scientology.

Wow, talk about opening a BIG can of worms!  This phrasing, in my view, seeks to allow the creationists (most likely those of the young-earth fundamentalist Christian variety) to have their cake and eat it too.  They are going to use this phrasing as a kind of political cover for Christian YEC school board members, classroom teachers, and parent groups to put maximum pressure on local schools to favor their particular religious view of creationism to the exclusion on all others.  Here’s why I say this…

The purpose of that particular wording is to give the impression of being completely open-ended (the so-called “teach all views” argument), but note the key word: may.  That’s not a “shall” and that makes a huge difference.  By saying “may” instead of “shall”, the legislation gives free reign to the Christian YECs to include their views on creationism in public science classes (“It says we may do this…”) while coming up with a thinly veiled legal rationalization for excluding every other creationist view (“Sorry, we just don’t have the time to go into all of that now…” wink-wink).  By this dishonest sleight-of-hand, I suspect the Christian fundamentalists hope have the law pass constitutional muster since it doesn’t, on it’s face, appear to favor one religious group over another (and thus violate the separation of church and state).  Of course, how the law would actually be implemented is another story… wink-wink…

Read the rest of this entry »

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Creationists Whining About “Censorship”

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 1, 2011

You may have already seen it: the video of would-be Republican presidential candidate Michelle Bachmann commenting that not teaching creationism (or, “intelligent design”, as she calls it) in public school science classes is “government censorship.”  Check it out…

 

Wow, there are so many things wrong with what she’s saying, it’s hard to know where to begin.  While these arguments from creationists are nothing new, I’ll just hit some of the high points:

1. The “Teach All Views” Argument: I think this one bugs me more than any others, because it is a disingenuous attempt to play off the American sense of fairness.  “Just teach all the theories” says Bachmann, but she makes a very interesting omission – what she omits in her argument is that creationists don’t actually want “all ideas on the table” as she states.  What they really want is to insert their very narrow religious ideology (typically, the view of young-Earth creationism) into public school science classes.

If Bachmann and her ilk were really genuine in their argument, then they would have no problem with “equal time” for a large variety of creationist ideas: old-Earth creationism, day-age creationism, gap creationism, flat Earth creationism, geocentrism, Islamic creationism, various Native-American creation myths, Scientology, and even Raelianism.  I especially like proposing “equal time” for Raelianism under Bachmann’s plan, because the Raelians are an atheistic UFO-cult which believes that humans were not created by God but aliens.  You have to wonder how willing Bachmann and her pals would be to give “equal time” to the Raelians!

So, I say to Bachmann: go for it, but if you really mean “teach all views” then be prepared to open the door to every kind of creationist idea out there.  And perhaps after all views have been equally represented, the science teachers in U.S. public schools just might have a couple of weeks at the end of the school year to teach actual science.  Who cares if our students will be effectively scientifically illiterate and we start to have massive brain-drain as compared to China and India?  At least we can all feel warm and fuzzy inside knowing that we “taught all views”.  Gee whiz, thanks Ms. Bachmann!!!

The logical conclusion of applying the creationist idea of “teaching all views”…

2. The Whiny “Censorship” Argument: here again we have another facepalm moment.  These creationists actually believe, or they try to make us believe, that just because the U.S. government doesn’t give their particular set of religious beliefs some kind of priviledged status in public schools that it means they are being “censored.”  Purre rubbish, plain and simple.  For one thing, there is this little thing in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which is called the separation of church and state.  It basically means, in this particular context, that the public schools don’t get into the business of favoring one particular religion over another – that is, the government remains neutral on the question of the “correctness” of various religious beliefs in the public school classroom.

And that means specifically not giving any previledged status to a particular religious view in schools.  So while it would be appropriate to have a class on, say, comparative religion where the topic of creationism is studied, it wouldn’t be appropriate to insert those views into a science class since that crosses the boundary between science and religion.  Religious ideas are taught in religion class, and science is taught in science class!

3. “Scientists don’t agree on the origins of life”: while this is technically true, because the subject of abiogenesis (the study of life’s origins) is a subject of much discussion in the scientific community, Bachmann plays fast and loose with the facts by erroneously equating abiogenesis with the well understood and accepted theory of evolution.  These are not the same thing, and it is a common tactic of creationists to equate the two in an effort to give the sense that the scientific community doesn’t support evolution.  That’s just plain wrong, because – as these statistics point out – evolution is well-established in the scientific community.

4. Evolution is “just a theory”: this is another tried and true argument used by creationists to denegrate evolution.  They try to make it sound like a “theory” in scientific terms is equivalent to a hunch or a guess, but this is incorrect.  In science, a theory is a well-established and tested set of ideas that ties together a large set of observations and evidence into a coherent explanatory framework.  An analogy in physics would be to talk about the theory of gravity – would Bachmann or her creationist ilk try to seriously argue that gravity is “just a theory”?

If so, I invite her and anyone who agrees with her to take a dive off the nearest tall building without a parachute :)

I jest, of course, but in my jest there is a note of seriousness: if these creationists truly believe that evolution is “just a theory” (that is, a guess) then why do so many of them continue to use modern vaccines and antibiotics which are made as a direct result of the application of evolutionary theory?  If we didn’t understand evolution, we simply wouldn’t have those medicines.  So to avoid being labeled as hypocrites, I think creationists need to at least acknowledge that evolution is more than just a simple guess.

But I won’t hold my breath.  One thing’s for sure: creationists certainly are persistent, and as long as they’re up to their shenanigans we have to be equally vigilant.

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Our Godless U.S. Constitution

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 4, 2011

Okay, for some weird reason, I’m on a religion kick this evening, so I’m going to be publishing three (count ‘em: THREE) blog posts that are pretty much explicitly about religion.  The first one has to do with a really good article I read on the Slacktivist blog (?) about the United States Constitution.  These days you’ll hear all manner of nonsense coming from various members of the religious right – you know, the in-your-face, fundamentalist Bible-thumping types who think that everyone in the country should cater to their particular whackadoodle interpretation of Christianity… because they say it’s in the Constitution.

Except, according to Slacktivist, it’s NOT in the Constitution; and I know that is correct, because I’ve checked it for myself.  If you read through the entire U.S. Constitution – which I have done, TWICE – you will not find one single mention of God, the Ten Commandments, Jesus, Christianity, or the Bible.  Nothing, zilch, nada! (You hear that, Glenn Beck?)  If you don’t believe me, read it for yourself!

So… that kind of makes it hard to argue that our laws should be based upon the various nutball interpretations of Christianity coming from some loons in the religious right; you know, seeing as how the Constitution is the very basis for all of U.S. law – duh!

In any case, I mentioned the really good Slacktivist article previously, so I should probably point out some of my favorite excerpts…

Reading the Godless Constitution

… What I’m most interested in watching for during this stunt, however, is to see if any of the more theocratically minded members of Congress notice what the Constitution does not say. Unlike these pious politicians, the Constitution never mentions God. At all.

The intellectual ancestors of the evangelical religious right once regarded this as the most glaring and dangerous supposed flaw in America’s governing document. But the godlessness of the U.S. Constitution was not an oversight, it was a matter of deliberate design — a principled choice for which the framers fought passionately. …

The bottom line is that when our Constitution was being hammered out way back in the late 18th century, there was a fundamental philosophical battle between the secularists and the ancestors of the religious right; the secularists won that fight – hence our Godless Constitution…

… But what is most valuable to me in this unfailingly interesting book is the collection of voices from the opponents of America’s “Godless Constitution.” I had read most of the other side of this argument — the side that won the argument because it was right. But I hadn’t previously read the vehement objections of the losing side.

The viewpoint of that side is echoed today in the voices of the evangelical right calling for religious hegemony. Then, as now, the argument was that such hegemony was necessary to provide social order and a basis for morality without which the nation would be ungovernable. Then, as now, the advocates of a sectarian Constitution believed that only sectarian religion could provide a basis for such morality. And only their own sectarian religion at that.

So for the sectarian opponents of the Godless Constitution, then as now, the stakes were enormously high. The Constitution proposed by the framers in 1789, they said, was a form of national suicide. That Godless document — with its separation of church and state, its disregard for the overarching sovereignty of God, its absolute prohibition against religious tests for public office and against the establishment or privileging of any official sect — would bring rapid calamity and doom. Their warnings of the consequences of such a Constitution were dire, apocalyptic and unambiguous. If the Constitution did not establish an official sectarian Christian religion, they believed, then Christians would find themselves subjugated to some other established sect. …

But I think the most interesting part is the analysis of historical accounts whereby the extreme religionists who wanted to “Christianize” the Constitution made all manner of goofy claims about how the country would fall into ruin for dissing God so blatantly :)

… The Anti-Federalists, and especially those who argued for a sectarian Constitution with religious tests and established religion, were wrong. Demonstrably wrong. More than 200 years later, the Constitution still stands as the guiding document of a free and democratic nation and none of the calamities and apocalyptic consequences that they prophesied have come to pass. “If X, then Y,” they said, without reservation or qualification. If the godless Constitution is ratified, then America will break apart into ungovernable anarchy, or it will be subjected to the tyranny of Jews or pagans or some other established official religion. That is what will happen, they said, what will certainly and inevitably happen.

And it did not happen. They were wrong. They were proven wrong. And their heirs, the hegemonic evangelicals of the religious right, are just as wrong today.

Yup, the end did not come for the United States upon ratifying our Godless Constitution, much to the chagrin of those religious doomsayers who insisted that God’s wrath would surely rain down upon us.  Of course, there are those who keep on claiming that “any day now”, God’s gonna smack us good – more on that in my next post.

Posted in politics, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

 
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