The Skeptical Teacher

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

Archive for March, 2013

Creationist Proposes Show Trial to “Disprove” Genesis

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 29, 2013

Okay, so this news has been all over the Internet in recent days: a California creationist is challenging anyone to disprove the literal  interpretation of the book of Genesis.  More on this:

Creationist Wagers $10,000 That No One Can Prove Genesis Wrong

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…The wager is $10,000, the arena is a minitrial (featuring a  bailiff and a court reporter along with the judge), and the rules state that  evidence must be “objective, valid, reliable and calibrated.”

“They [evolutionists] are not stupid people, they are bright, but  they are bright enough to know there is no scientific evidence they can give in  a minitrial,” Dr. Joseph Mastropaolo,  who has a PhD in kinesiology and taught biomechanics and physiology at a  California University for more than 25 years, told The Guardian.   “It turns out that there is nothing in the universe [that] is evolving — everything is devolving, everything is going in the opposite  direction.”…

And here are the rules as outlined by Dr. Mastropaolo…

  • The non-literal Genesis advocate puts $10,000 in escrow with the judge.
  • The literal Genesis advocate and contributing writer for the Creation  Science Hall of Fame, Joseph Mastropaolo, puts $10,000 in escrow with the  judge.
  • If the non-literal Genesis advocate proves that science contradicts  the literal reading of Genesis, then the non-literal Genesis advocate is awarded  the $20,000.
  • If the literal Genesis advocate proves that science indicates the  literal reading of Genesis, then the literal Genesis advocate is awarded the  $20,000.
  • Evidence must be scientific, that is, objective, valid, reliable and  calibrated.
  • The preponderance of evidence prevails.
  • At the end of the trial, the judge hands the prevailing party both  checks.
  • The judge is a superior court judge.
  • The venue is a courthouse.
  • Court costs will be paid by the prevailing party.

Please make note of that bolded point in particular, because it really begs the question as to what exactly Dr. Mastropaolo (and other Young-Earth Creationists) consider to be “scientific evidence”.  And this is nothing new, as Mastropaolo has been here before, calling this challenge the Life Science Prize in the past.  As this excerpt from an article by Dr. Michael Zimmerman (creator of the Clergy Letter Project) details, in his previous attempts to put on these show trials, Mastropaolo seems to play fast and loose with definitions:

… When I proposed that we agree on definitions of evolution and creationism as a starting point, things went awry pretty quickly.  In response to my suggestion that we use the classic textbook definition for evolution (a change in allele frequencies in a population over time), Mastropaolo’s second argued that “change in allele frequency is about as meaningless a definition of evolution as can be offered.”  Mastropaolo himself countered with the following:  “evolution is the development of an organism from its chemicals to its primitive state to its present state.”  My Ph.D. in evolutionary biology didn’t help me make any sense out of that definition.  Mastropaolo went further and said that I “may not be competent to contend for the Life Science Prize.”

He very much liked the phrase “competent to contend for the Life Science Prize, also warning me that “Evolutionist hallucinators so out of touch with reality are psychotic by medical dictionary definition, and therefore not mentally competent to contend for the Life Science Prize.” … [emphasis added]

This displays a flaw common to creationist thinking: they define evolution to be something other than what scientists (or “evolutionists”, as they call them) define it to be!  So by playing around with the definitions like this, the creationists can stack the deck in their favor through simple equivocation.

But it gets better.  This whole thing seems to be copied from the famous JREF Million Dollar Challenge; a problem with how this is set up which is different from the JREF challenge: it is asking the challenger to prove a negative, whereas the JREF challenge is asking the challenger to demonstrate a particular claimed ability. This is a big difference, because by asking the challenger to prove a negative, it allows the creationists in this case to play fast and loose with definitions, standards of evidence, etc. – just as Mastropaolo has done in the past.

Last, but certainly not least, creationism has been put on trial as recently as 2005, and it lost quite badly.  Does anyone remember a little thing called the Dover v. Kitzmiller trial? 🙂

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Next Generation Science Standards Fight Back Against Creationism & Global Warming Denial

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 27, 2013

Some time ago I posted about the Next Generation Science Standards (in the United States) and how important it is for teachers and those who support science and education to speak up about the NGSS.  Since then I have been fortunate enough to get more involved with this process, learn more about NGSS, and think ahead about its implementation.

First of all, let me note that I got all this information first-hand from Dr. Carol Baker, who is a member of the writing team for the NGSS and who also gave me and my colleagues an excellent presentation on the topic.  Some facts I think are important for everyone to know about the NGSS:

*It is not a federal mandate.  The NGSS is funded by private organizations – most especially by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching – and it is a collaborative effort between these private sources and a number of states in the U.S.  States may choose to accept the NGSS or not, but it should be noted that if they do accept them it will cost the states nothing.  Essentially, they get the standards for free!

*Right from the outset, the people organizing and drafting the NGSS wanted to get “buy in” from the states, so they invited every state in the country to send representatives to serve on the writing team for the standards.  26 states (called Lead States) sent representatives and have been directly involved in drafting thse standards as a result.  Here is some more information about these states (highlighted in blue below)

NGSS Lead States

So you can see that these states have a broad demographic representation, are bipartisan in breadth, and they also account for over 58% of public school students, and most require three years of science for high school graduation.

*As the NGSS were drafted, the writing team sought feedback from educators in the Lead States, and after the second round of such revisions almost 95% of the original draft has been reworked based upon this feedback.  So this is definitely a bottom-up process!

Now, I’d like to mention something very interesting about that last point: it ends up that one of the states which gave the most feedback was Kentucky (which was actually 3rd – beat out only by California and New York).  And it appears the vast majority of the feedback from Kentucky educators was in support of emphasizing evolution within the NGSS.

In fact, Dr. Baker (and I agree) seems to think that this is, in effect, a reaction to the Creation Museum residing in Kentucky and the subsequent trouble it makes for science teachers in that state.  It also appears that many teachers from many other states are likewise fed up with the political tactics employed by creationists and global warming deniers in their attempts to dumb down the teaching of evolution, climate science, etc.

Bottom line: Teachers are getting tired of this nonsense, and the NGSS is giving them a way to fight back in a very broad manner.  The NGSS emphasizes, unflinchingly and unapologetically, evolutionary and climate change science; the states that choose to adopt the NGSS will have the most up-to-date science standards that show creationism and global warming denial to be the pseudosciences that they are.  And they will be held to those standards.  Good, it’s about damn time!

I would like to close by sharing Dr. Baker’s response when questioned on this topic about the fight this could create.  She said, “Bring it on!” 🙂

Posted in creationism, education, global warming denial, science funding, scientific method | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

Breakdown of Anti-Science Legislation in the States

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 15, 2013

Tonight I stumbled across an excellent blog post from the Skeptical Raptor on the most recent spate of anti-science bills (i.e., anti-evolution, anti-climate science, etc) that have cropped up all over state legislatures in the United States so far in 2013.  Rather than rehash what is an already well-researched and written post, I shall simply reblog it below:

Antievolution legislation update–five states kill anti-science bills

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It’s a new year for the individual US state legislatures, and after a relatively unsuccessful 2012 in passing anti-science laws (with the notable exception of Tennessee’s Monkey Bill), the conservative Republicans are back trying to remove real science teaching from our kids. The anti-science legislation comes in the form of either teaching creationism (or more subtle forms, like intelligent design), usually combined with climate change denialism, and, strangely, anti-human cloning (which is not exactly a serious line of research today). But the goal is, and will probably always be, to teach creationism.

Creationism refers to the belief that the universe and everything in it were specially created by a god through magic, rather than natural, scientifically explained, means. Creationism implicitly relies on the claim that there is a “purpose” to all creation known only to the creator. In other words, creationism is a religious belief, and no matter what argument is made (and I could write 50,000 words on the topic), creationism is not science because it relies upon a supernatural being, which means it can never be falsified, one of the basic principles of the scientific method. The supporters of creationism attempt to claim that creationism is a scientific theory on the level of evolution, ignoring the fact that a scientific theory is ”a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world, based on a body of facts that have been repeatedly confirmed through observation and experiment.” Creationism is generally based on a fictional book.

The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, specifically prohibits any government entity from establishing a religion (which courts have ruled to include teaching religion in schools). Decades worth of Supreme Court rulings have found that teaching creationism in schools is equivalent to teaching religion. As recently as 2005, in Kitzmiller v Dover Area School District, a Federal Court continued the tradition of considering creationism as religion, and ruled against a school district, costing the Dover Area School District nearly $1 million in legal fees. That money probably could have been used to teach their students better science.

Despite these legal rulings, eight states have introduced antievolution or anti-science bills since the beginning of the year…

Click here to read the rest of Skeptical Raptor’s post

Posted in creationism, education, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

More Evangelical Homeschoolers Accept Evolution – We Should Consider Them Allies

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 14, 2013

In a bit of unexpected good news, I ran across this recent article from The Atlantic magazine which outlines a new trend within the circles of evangelical Christian homeschooling.  If you know anything about the United States homeschooling movement, you know that it tends to be dominated by evangelical or fundamentalist Christians who eschew evolutionary science in favor of teaching some varient of psuedoscientific creationism.  However, it seems that this unfortunate trend could be under challenge from a new generation of evangelical homeschoolers who are, quite frankly, tired of all the science-bashing from their fundamentalist brethren.  Read on 🙂

Old Earth, Young Minds: Evangelical Homeschoolers Embrace Evolution

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For homeschooling parents who want to teach their children that the earth is only a few thousand years old, the theory of evolution is a lie, and dinosaurs coexisted with humans, there is no shortage of materials. Kids can start with the Answers in Genesis curriculum, which features books such as Dinosaurs of Eden, written by Creation Museum founder Ken Ham. As the publisher’s description states, “This exciting book for the entire family uses the Bible as a ‘time machine’ to journey through the events of the past and future.”

It’s no secret that the majority of homeschooled children in America belong to evangelical Christian families. What’s less known is that a growing number of their parents are dismayed by these textbooks.

Take Erinn Cameron Warton, an evangelical Christian who homeschools her children. Warton, a scientist, says she was horrified when she opened a homeschool science textbook and found a picture of Adam and Eve putting a saddle on a dinosaur. “I nearly choked,” says the mother of three. “When researching homeschooling curricula, I found that the majority of Christian homeschool textbooks are written from this ridiculous perspective. Once I saw this, I vowed never to use them.” Instead, Warton has pulled together a curriculum inspired partly by homeschool pioneer Susan Wise Bauer and partly by the Waldorf holistic educational movement. … [emphasis added]

Further on the article goes on to outline the interesting history of the anti-evolution movement…

… Theologically conservative Christians were not always so polarized. “By the late 19th century,” says David R. Montgomery author of The Rocks Don’t Lie: A Geologist Investigates Noah’s Flood, “evangelical theologians generally accepted the compelling geological evidence for the reality of an old earth.” However, Darwin’s idea of natural selection scared away many fundamentalists, who saw “survival of the fittest” as an atheistic concept. Over time, those who insisted on a literal interpretation of the Bible’s account of creation came to reject both geology and evolutionary biology. …

Which was, to say the least, an unfortunate development that has led to a multi-generational effort to dumb down the teaching of evolutionary theory in particular and the teaching of science in general in the United States.  But perhaps these new evangelicals can change the movement from within.  I think they can have some success, but only with some help from those of us who are the traditional champions of evolution.

Despite my atheism, I think those of us within the skeptical/atheist community should embrace these “evolutionary evangelicals” and consider them allies.  Rather than focus on what divides us (i.e. differences on belief or non-belief in God, etc), I think our efforts can be better served by allowing our common desire to see evolutionary science taught properly to unite us.

Now I know there are some “purists” within the skeptical/atheist community who would likely shudder to see me suggest allying ourselves with evangelical Christians, at least in part because our theological/philosophical differences are so vast.  But I take the attitude that, even within the skeptical/atheist community there are deep divisions on a variety of topics, but I don’t find myself turning my back upon it; so if I can find some common ground with an evangelical Christian on a pro-science issue, why not pursue some bridge-building?

Good question.

Posted in creationism, education, religion, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

March Madness: Vaccinate Your Bracket!

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 5, 2013

I am happy to announce that the Women Thinking, Inc skeptical organization (of which I’m the secretary), in conjunction with Skepchick, is holding its annual March Madness bracket challenge to help raise funds for our efforts at promoting vaccines.  My colleague Jacqueline elaborates:

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Every year Women Thinking Inc. hosts a March Madness bracket challenge. This year is no exception. Compete with us to help a good cause and have tons of fun with your fellow Women Thinking Inc. super-heroins and superhero. Half of the proceeds go to the Hug Me! I’m Vaccinated campaign and the other half go to the super genius winner. This bracket challenge is also being adopted as the We Have Sports internet radio show (like us on fb!) official bracket challenge.

To enter donate $10 at womenthinking.org. Your Paypal email address (or add a different one in the message) will be sent an invitation to join our bracket challenge. When brackets come out on the 17th, go to the website in the following days and simply fill out your bracket by cutest mascots, best uniforms, sexiest point guard, or with teams you actually think will win.

Join us! This was so much fun last year and I can’t wait to lose again. In the end, no one is actually losing because you are helping a great cause. Do it now!!!

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Chicago Skepticamp 2013: Creationism, Evolution, and Our Communication Gap

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 4, 2013

This past weekend I had the honor of speaking at the Chicago Skepticamp 2013, and I chose to do my talk on a topic on which I’ve written before here – the communication gap that we skeptics and science-supporters have with creationists and other psuedoscientists.

I recorded the talk (which is only about 16 minutes long), and I include that along with the slide presentation I made below.  Audio is on the first slide.  Mouse over it and you should see the tab for it.  Enjoy! 🙂

Creationism, Evolution, and Our Communication Gap – WITH AUDIO

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Posted in creationism, psychology, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

 
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