I usually write my annual back to school post earlier than this, but I was distracted by various events. There are three themes here.

1) You are a science teacher and I have some stuff for you.

2) You have a student in a school and you want to support the school’s science teacher.

3) You have a student-offspring or elsewise and are looking for a cool back to school gift.

First, for themes 1 and 2, a mixture of traditional back to school blog posts and some items that may be useful and happen to be on sale at the moment so now’s your chance.

My For Teachers Page has posts providing some science content in evolutionary biology (about Natural Selection and some other topics)

On the same page are essays on teaching philosophy, supporting life science teachers, and evolution and creationism in the classroom, including this famous video.

Books that teachers might find helpful. Consider sending your kids in to school with one of them, focusing on evoluton-creationism and climate change-denial:

Classic text on fighting creationism: Evolution vs. Creationism: An Introduction by Genie Scott

This book should be on the shelf or in the classroom for every teacher in science, or even social science. It is essentially the highly digestable (and illustration rich) version of the IPCC report on the scientific basis for climate change, written by one of that report’s famous authors: Dire Predictions, 2nd Edition: Understanding Climate Change

Teachers and parents of kids in school are in the trenches in the war on science. So you need to know what the war on science is and how to fight it. So, read Shawn Otto’s book The War on Science: Who’s Waging It, Why It Matters, What We Can Do About It

The Manga books on science and math. See this review of Regression Analysis, where you’ll find a list of others. Most recent and hot off the presses is The Manga Guide to Microprocessors

A handful of recent science for various ages (Links are to my reviews):

The Outdoor Science Lab for Kids
Monarch Butterflies and Milkweed: An amazing new book

The Grand Canyon: Monument To An Ancient Earth. Great new book.

And finally, how to not get caught plagiarizing, and what does that pillow that says “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops” really mean? Not what you think!

And now for the fun part, the toys. Amazon is having a huge sale on refurbished devices that you may want to have. I assume they are getting ready for the holidays or something. Go to this link to see what they are

I myself got a Kindle Paperwhite E-reader a while back, and I love it. Then, for her birthday, I got one for Julia. I recommend starting out with the one with “special offers” which are basically ads that are not there when you are reading. The device is cheaper this way, and if the ads really annoy you, you can pay them off to upgrade to the no ad version.

I’m seriously thinking about getting Amanda one of these refurb-Kindle paperwhites. She likes the Kindle just enough for a refurbished one, maybe not enough for a new one…

At the very least, when you meet your teacher at the beginning of the school year, say to them what I say or something like it. “If you ever get hassled by anyone — parent, administration, other teachers — about teaching real science, let me know, I’ll be your best ally. Of course, if you are a science denier or a creationist so the situation is turned around, let me know, I’ll be your worst nightmare …” Then kind of pat them on the shoulder, flip your cape to one side, get on your motorcycle, and drive off.

Righting America at the Creation Museum (Medicine, Science, and Religion in Historical Context) is a strange book and I do not fully approve of it, even though I’m mentioned in it (not in a bad way).

Here is the write-up of the book provided by the publisher:

On May 28, 2007, the Creation Museum opened in Petersburg, Kentucky. Aimed at scientifically demonstrating that the universe was created less than ten thousand years ago by a Judeo-Christian god, the museum is hugely popular, attracting millions of visitors over the past eight years. Surrounded by themed topiary gardens and a petting zoo with camel rides, the site conjures up images of a religious Disneyland. Inside, visitors are met by dinosaurs at every turn and by a replica of the Garden of Eden that features the Tree of Life, the serpent, and Adam and Eve.

In Righting America at the Creation Museum, Susan L. Trollinger and William Vance Trollinger, Jr., take readers on a fascinating tour of the museum. The Trollingers vividly describe and analyze its vast array of exhibits, placards, dioramas, and videos, from the Culture in Crisis Room, where videos depict sinful characters watching pornography or considering abortion, to the Natural Selection Room, where placards argue that natural selection doesn’t lead to evolution. The book also traces the rise of creationism and the history of fundamentalism in America.

This compelling book reveals that the Creation Museum is a remarkably complex phenomenon, at once a “natural history” museum at odds with contemporary science, an extended brief for the Bible as the literally true and errorless word of God, and a powerful and unflinching argument on behalf of the Christian right.

So, having read that, what do you think the book is about? What do you think the motivations of the authors are? Do you think this book is pro or con on the museum, on creationism, on evolution, on science, on science education?

Can’t tell, can you?

I am going to guess — and this is just a guess but an educated one — that the authors have intentionally made the position on creationism and evolution as ambiguous as possible in order to allow themselves to carry out, or to appear to carry out, a truly dispassionate and fair analysis of an interesting phenomenon, as academics with expertise in certain areas.

That sounds like a good thing, right? Well, it sounds like a good thing because I made it sound like a good thing. Let me try again.

It seems to me that these authors have carried out a real act of damage against the integrity of the academic enterprise, and against education and society in general, by failing to take a reasoned and fact based stand against what is widely recognized and easily proven as a huge stinking pile of dreckory. (We are open to suggestions on the spelling of “dreckory.”)

The Mennonite News review of this book says:

The book is not a defense of evolution but a comprehensive critique of the museum and the movement behind it. The writing is measured, devoid of bombast and bile, which makes the book effective as the authors rely on facts and cogent arguments. They describe exhibits that don’t adhere to stated principles, opportunistic applications of Scripture and dubiously employed uses of theology, history and science — all in a facility that douses visitors with a flood of information in a fast-paced environment that obscures the shortcomings. The Trollingers “slow it all down” so readers can more fully understand the Creation Museum.

But when we read these parts of the book, we do not see the authors describing exhibits or other aspects of the museum in a negative way, but rather, almost perfectly neutral.

One conservative Christian reviewer wrote:

At the outset let me say that this is not a book that I would recommend for your bedside table. It is neither enjoyable as a reading experience nor does it present a convincing argument. However, for Christians, especially conservative Christians who aim to take the Bible seriously, this book is important. I chose to read and review this book because I believe that it is vital for Christians to be aware of how liberal Christians and unbelievers talk with each other about us, conservatives. We need to know what arguments they find convincing. Don’t be mistaken, this book was not written for conservatives; it was written by two liberal Christians for liberal Christians and unbelievers.

… but when I read the text, while I don’t see apologetics, I see very little negative about fundamentalism (though Ken Ham himself takes some criticism).

Another review:

This is a thorough book, a measured book, a calm and reasonable book. It examines the young Earth Creationism of Answers in Genesis from both a social and a historical perspective, pointing out the gaping flaws in its own internal logic (for instance, placards warning that the physical process of the Flood was unlike anything else in history and placards comparing it to rain washing out a gully are about ten feet away from each other in the same room) and rounding things off with a mild admonition about how far such lunacy strays from the true essence of contemporary Christianity…a comprehensive, you-are-there overview of the center of what Ken Ham clearly hopes to be a network of such faux museums.

This reviewer finds lunacy in the flood myth, but if you didn’t know about the flood myth, fundamentalism, creationism, all that, and read large passages in Righting America, you would not find a reference to lunacy, and it would be hard to find an argument against the flood myth’s veracity.

People are seeing what they want to see in this book. I’m seeing balance and restraint. I don’t like balance and restraint when it comes to vicious, well funded, and coordinated attacks on education and society, and on science.

Here’s some more text from lay readers (not professional reviewers) to give more of a flavor:

This excellent book provides insight into fundamentalism, creationism and Ken Hamm’s “Answers In Genesis” organization. The book describes in detail the contents and informational structure of the Creation Museum and examines both the museum itself and the arguments presented within. The book presents analysis of the space as a museum, the arguments as they pertain to science and the Bible, and the overall movements of fundamentalism and creationism as they impact America’s political landscape.

This is an incredibly informative read for anyone curious about fundamentalist Christianity and the baffling arguments of young Earth creationists. I’m incredibly proud that the book’s two authors are faculty of my alma mater, the University of Dayton!

The Trollingers take their subject at hand seriously. After visiting the Creation Museum several times, thoroughly examining their literature (journals and elementary education pamphlets), discovering influential individuals’ histories, they spend several chapters simply laying out a comprehensive picture of the Creation Museum. They compare it to evolutionary natural history museums, then compare the museum with their own stated goals. The whole book is thoughtful, does not come to conclusions easily, and is respectful of the whole evolutionary/creation debate throughout. Highly recommended

And here’s another:

But Susan and William Vance Trollinger, married scholars (of English and history, respectively) at the University of Dayton, 70 miles from the Petersburg, Kentucky museum, do not ridicule this cultural phenomenon (as, for example, A. A. Gill did in Vanity Fair: “It is irredeemably kitsch…This cheap county-fair sideshow – this is their best shot?”). Perhaps the Trollingers assume that we readers will supply such disparagement ourselves. But their academic detachment and methodical critical assessment offer the best way to penetrate the topic. “As bizarre as the museum may seem to many Americans,” they write, “what happens inside its doors matters to all of us.”

I think you get the point.

I regard this aspect of the book as either a conceit of the academic, and that annoys the bejesus out of me, or a smoke screen. I’m pretty sure it is the former but I can not be sure, and that is the price one pays for this approach; uncertainty about motivation and intended meaning.

Other than all that, it is an interesting book and an interesting analysis. But, marred by what seems to be a motivated encasement in an unnecessarily ambiguous framework.

I know what you are thinking. An excellent piece of academic work should be dispassionate, should be ambiguous about taking sides, or avoid taking sides at all, bla bla bla.

To that I respond that for one, a piece of academic work that appears to not be taking sides is always taking sides. For two, this is not an issue in which one does not take sides.

I do think most people interested in the issue of creationism and evolution will find Righting America at the Creation Museum (Medicine, Science, and Religion in Historical Context) to be an interesting read. But I did not want to let this particular fastball go by the plate without smashing it with a bit of reality.

Did you ever wonder? And if you did wonder, did you Google it? And if you did google it, did you get the results shown above? And if you did, did you click “feedback” and do something like the following?

Screen Shot 2015-05-26 at 2.02.10 PM

No? Do so now, please.

This is important. Why? Because we have been hearing rumors lately that Google intends to change the way it produces searches to bias the search results in the direction of more reliable sites. But the number one search result for a key question that a lot of people ask about evolution is a bogus creationist site.

I’ve never, for one moment, gone along with the idea that Google can pull off a better, more reliable search based on the Google view of what sites are more reliable. My position on this has annoyed many of my colleagues. The promise of the Internet being less bogus and more educational is attractive. But it is a siren call. Regarding this particular issue I’ll claim the role of Galileo until proven otherwise.

Screen Shot 2015-05-26 at 9.57.27 PM

Also of interest: In Search of Sungudogo: A novel of adventure and mystery, set in the Congo.

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    The Louisville Insider is reporting that Answers In Genesis has filed an injunction to try to force the state of Kentucky to help pay for their religious theme park. The State had chosen to pull back from the project because Answers in Genesis would not guarantee that there would be no discrimination in hiring based on religious belief. Now, Answers in Genesis is claiming that having taxpayers not pay for a part of a religious spectacle is discrimination based on religion.

    From the Insider:

    In its motion on Monday, Ark Encounter seeks to force the Tourism Cabinet to send the incentives application to the Tourism Development Finance Authority for approval, making the project eligible for $18 million in sales tax rebates.

    “The state gave us no choice but to bring this legal action,” said AiG president Ken Ham, the self-described “visionary” behind the park, in a news release. “We, along with our attorneys, tried for many months to show these officials why their actions are blatantly violating our rights under the federal and state constitutions, as well as the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Kentucky Civil Rights Act. The law is crystal clear that the state cannot discriminate against a Christian group simply because of its viewpoint, but that is precisely what is happening here.”

    Ed Hensley of the Kentucky Secular Society said in a news release following AiG’s February lawsuit that the ministry’s acknowledgment of backtracking on the pledge proves that their logic is twisted.

    “Claiming it is religious discrimination not to let Ark Encounter, a for-profit company, practice religious discrimination in employment while receiving public tax incentives is the very definition of irony,” said Hensley.

    Hat Tip: Joe

    You will recall that last February, Bill Nye, the Science Guy, debated Ken Ham, the Not-So-Science Guy, on the question of creationism as a viable explanation for the Earth’s history. The debate was held in Ham’s home territory, at the infamous Creation Museum in Kentucky. Nye didn’t really debate Ham. He ate him for breakfast. Form now on we shall call him Ken Bacon and Eggs.

    Anyway, people, including me, who have been engaged with the “debate” between science (evolution) and not-so-science (creationism of one kind or another) were very concerned when we heard that this debate might happen. There are reasons to not engage in such a debate. We worried. But then the debate happened and we saw the debate and the debate made us glad. Word.


    Well, in May 2014, which as far as I can tell is in the future (Bill Nye has some amazing powers!) Bill Nye published an Article in the Center for Inquiry’s Skeptical Inquirer about the debate: Bill Nye’s Take on the Nye-Ham Debate. In it, Nye gives the story of how the debate came to be, what his concerns and hopes were, how he prepared, what happened during the debate, and the debate’s aftermath. I think Nye’s explanation for his decision to debate is very much worth a read and can be appreciated by anyone interested in this topic. His description of the debate itself is fascinating, as inside stories often are. Also of great interest are Nye’s comments on an aspect of this debate that concerned several people: The way in which the debate was used, or perhaps, was not used, as a means of fund raising. Nye opens up questions that he suggests may be best addressed by the community of journalists in Kentucky. Hopefully that will happen.

    I strongly recommend that you read Bill Nye’s essay. It is very interesting, and I very much appreciate his writing it.


    As PZ Myers points out, it is time for the Twin Cities Creation Science Fair! It is this Saturday, details here. Lorax is going.

    Normally, those of us from the science community who go to this simply show up and wander around looking at the exhibits and talk science to the kids. No shenanigans. Also, we often go to a nearby venue and get lunch. Last year it was Grumpy’s.

    Over the years, I think, the quality of the exhibits has gone up and the attention to the usual “creation science” myths has gone down. I like to think that a bunch of evolutionary biologists showing up every year has made a difference.

    They still put Bible quotes on every exhibit, of course.

    Bill Nye “The Science Guy” went to the Creation Museum to debate “is creation a viable model of origins in today’s modern scientific era?” After the debate, Bill Nye came to the Last Word to discuss his faceoff with the founder of the Creation Museum, Ken Ham.

    Nye said he accepted the debate challenge because the spread of creationism “frightens” him. “I don’t think I’m going to win Mr. Ham over any more than Mr. Ham thinks he’s going to win me over,” Nye said. “Instead, I want to show people that this belief is still among us. It finds its way onto school boards in the United States.”

    Ham, on the other side, told TheBlaze why he challenged Nye to the debate. “I just think it’s really healthy for the public to actually hear two people like this that are really polar opposites in many ways,” he said, “because what you believe about who you are [and] where you came from affects your whole worldview.”

    In the Spring of 2010, evangelical Bible scholar Bruce Waltke, in speaking about the overwhelming evidence for evolution, said “To deny that reality will make us a cult, some odd group that is not really interacting with the real world.”

    In response to this, Ken Ham, president of Kentucky’s Creation Museum, commented, “What he is saying ultimately undermines the authority of God’s word.”

    Both statements seem to be true. (I don’t think you necessarily need to have faith in a god to accept the basic logic of Ham’s statement.) Also, that’s really all you need to know about young earth creationism. It is God’s word, and the FAQ on the matter is the Bible.

    Last night, science communicator Bill Nye debated Ken Ham at Ham’s Creation Museum in Kentucky. This debate came about because of a statement Bill Nye made not long ago suggesting that creationism, and in particular efforts to force creationism into textbooks and, via other means, into classrooms, does harm to children and ultimately to society. Ham took that statement as a cue to challenge Nye to a debate, and Nye accepted.

    Many people, myself included, objected to Bill Nye’s acceptance of this challenge. The reasons for that objection are outlined here, and here. I need not repeat them.

    The debate happened last night. When it comes to creationism, I admit that I am not an objective observer, but I can try. I think Ken Ham did fine in that debate. He spoke before his own audience. A remarkably white but gender and age diverse gathering of followers of the Bible and believers in creationism seem to have responded well to Ham. His rhetoric was consistent. We know everything, we understand the most important issues of origins, creation, and evolution, and all of this information comes mainly from the Bible. There are a few other details.

    At the same time, however, Bill Nye also did well in this debate, objectively speaking. He presented science, science, science and more science. He presented the science clearly, convincingly, chose his examples well, personalized the discussion wherever possible even to the point of doing a Lewis Black moment (pulling out a fossil he had picked up earlier in the week!). During the few moments when we were allowed to see the evangelical audience during Bill Nye’s presentation they looked, frankly, charmed. And how could they not be, Bill Nye is a charming guy!

    In my view, again biased in favor of science because, well, because it’s the correct view, Bill Nye won the debate by a large margin. Friends on Twitter and Facebook equated the debate to the Superbowl, with Bill Nye being the Seahawks and Ken Ham being Denver. Apt. Perhaps even an understatement. Even a poll on a Christian web site gave a strong win to Nye

    One could say that it was easy. Bill Nye made it look easy. He focused on the science, as I mentioned, but he also frequently applied that science to Ken Ham’s young earth creationism. One might wonder if Noah’s Ark could have stayed afloat during the great flood, with all those animals on it, for as long as the Bible says it did. But during this debate, Bill Nye sunk that Ark again and again. In addition to an excellent and convincing high altitude view of evolutionary science, and effective deconstruction of young earth creationism, Nye also made frequent and engaging references to the amazing outcome of unfettered scientific study and technology, which I think helps people appreciate and personalized science. He even made an argument from patriotism (not a scientific argument for evolution, but an argument for honest pursuit of knowledge).

    Ken Ham’s argument for the young age of the Earth was unassailable. The Bible tells us the age of the Earth, period. Ham claims all of the dating methods are fallible, none are as good as eye witness evidence. (That would be God.) This is unassailable because it is untestable, but based on good science, we can say it is wrong. But you can’t really do much about a religious belief. Ham presented counter evidence contrary to the generally accepted science, but it was the usual bogus, incorrect, easily dismissed set of arguments. For example, some really old stuff was dated to really old (as it is) with the potassium argon method but to only 40-something thousand years using radiocarbon dating. The reason for that, of course, is that radiocarbon dating generally does not function beyond 40-something thousand years old, so all older material produces a young date with that particular method. If you measure the height of a great mountain with a ruler, the mountain will come out to be one foot tall, unless you get a bigger ruler. Also, somewhere in there I think Ken Ham made the argument that we should not wear clothes. Yet he was wearing clothes. Please explain.

    An edited version of this debate, with just the Bill Nye parts, will make an excellent overview of why evolutionary biology is the way to go and young earth creationism is not.

    There were definitely several moment where I wish I could have jumped on the stage and given Bill’s answer for him. For example, Ham scored a point by deconstructing functional interpretations of mammalian dental anatomy, in relation to the question of whether all the animals were vegetarians during Ark-times. I could have crushed that response in a way that would introduce even more evidence for evolution. But Bill Nye is an expert in other areas. Moreover, Bill Nye did the right thing by not responding to most of Ham’s specific points, but rather, continuing to return to his own main points. Nye, in a sense, provided a slower and more ponderous, and well done, science version of the Gish Gallop. He had a number of powerful points and stuck to them, and mostly avoided going off track.

    The fact that Bill Nye did very well in this debate does not mean that we should all start debating creationists, especially at events with a door charge that goes to support an entity like the Creation Museum. Put a different way: Bill Nye is a professional. DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME. But the widespread concern, including that expressed by yours truly, for this particular debate was wrong. I will be happily be dining on crow today at lunch.