Abducted by Aliens…and Dropped Off at the Grand Canyon

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North American Geology. It’s complicated.
I’m pretty sure Amanda and I were abducted by aliens this morning. This is not the first time for me. I was abducted with two others about 20 years ago in Southern Maine while looking for antiques, back when you could still get them cheap even in antique stores (inexpensive antiques, not aliens). You can tell you were abducted because one moment it is a certain time and the next moment is it much later in time and you have no memory whatsoever of he ensuing span of minutes or hours. Since that is essentially impossible, alien abduction is pretty much the best possible explanation.

Back in Maine, it caused us to miss a critical turn just by the Big Red Barn antique store. This morning, it caused Amanda to go rushing out of the house only half ready for a day of teaching Life Science and me to sit here wondering, “Why did I just spend 20 minutes reading pages in this creationist web site called Answers in Genesis?”

Well, I’m not sure how Amanda’s day is going to go, but I’m going to make use of this abduction and talk about the Grand Canyon.
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“No Dinosaurs in Heaven”

The latest film by Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Greta Schiller “No Dinosaurs in Heaven” will be screened September 26 at 6:30 pm at the Black Box Theater on the Healdsburg High School campus.

Schiller’s film explores the issue of creationists who earn science degrees in order to present their anti-evolution beliefs in the classroom. Schiller is also a science educator and came up with the idea for this film when one of her graduate school biology professors commented that evolution was a “theory” he didn’t believe in.

The movie will be shown in conjunction with the National Center for Science Education in Oakland, a non-profit organization whose stated goal is “promoting and defending the teaching of evolution in our public schools,” said Robert Luhn, the group’s director of communications.

If you get to see the play, write write up a short review and we’ll post it here!

Why do newspapers still publish anti-evolution crank mail?

Bigfoot is not real, yet there are many believers.  And some of these believers write letters to the editors of local newspapers.

No one has ever been abducted by aliens.  Alien abductees certainly write letters to newspapers.   I knew a guy who could see and hear scenes from ancient times on the surfaces of some round rocks he found, and as his disease progressed, on the tiles in his bathroom.  I know he wrote letters to the editors because he cc’ed them to me!

Yet, we do not see these emails published in the newspapers. The newspapers weed them out.

Evolution is real.  Creationism is not.  Why are emails from creationists often published in respectable newspapers? There is a reason, and I’ll tell you what it is below. (Preview: It is your fault.)

Yes, yes, I get that creationism is part of certain religions, and therefore newspaper editors may feel obliged to print this material. But there are many other things that are part of various mainstream religions that we do not see in letters to the editors of modern newspapers.  Newspapers are not printing any rants about food taboos not being followed; or about people failing to take their hats off or put them on in the correct setting, or forgetting to cross themselves at the altar or eating fish on Thursday instead of Friday.  Few letters say anything overt about being saved by Jesus, and none that I know of say what I hear the street-corner soap-box preachers telling me as I walk by them.  These are all things that are part of religion but being part of religion does not get them on the editorial pages of modern newspapers.

OK, a quick caveat.  Yes, you do see crazy stuff in the letters to the editor section of newspapers, and perhaps you know of (and can point to) examples. But major cities have “local” newspapers that are supposed to be above all this. Minneapolis’ Star Tribune (“The Strib”) is one of those.  

Yet we saw this just the other day:

EVOLUTION
What is unobservable is a theory — no more

Within the species, evolution can be observed and scrutinized in the development of new life forms such as variants of corn and cattle. … However, evolutionists and creationists diverge where observation ends and ideology takes over.

… One does not actually see a life form generating the next level from conception to birth outside of its boundary that serves as an invisible wall.

But where it is unobservable, it may still be considered a construction of the mind — a theory. Political candidates who refer to creationism in less than a negative manner need not be demeaned.

JAMES SCHACHER, Blaine

In this case, the Strib ran this rant side by side with an “evolution is for real” letter written by Arnold Erickson of Mesa, Arizona. Nice. The two letters were debating the validity of a point made by Richard Dawkins concerning the lack of understanding of science by Michel Bachmann, Ron Paul and other political candidates running for the Republican nomination this election cycle.

The Strib has demonstrated that it subscribes to the policy of there being “two sides” to every story (even though this is not true) and they’ve demonstrated that they can’t find anyone in Minnesota who thinks evolution is real. Thanks for that, Star Tribune.

But enough complaining. It seems to me that it is quite possible to do something about this, and here’s where we see how this is all your fault, and that only you can fix it.

The logic is simple: Major, credible newspapers do not publish letters to the editor from those with delusions, poorly informed individuals, or plain old cranks who think they’ve seen bigfoot, were abducted by aliens, have proof that Jimmy Carter was seen in Fukushima’s nuclear power plant just before the meltdown or insist that rocks speak to them. Why, then, would they publish letters from people who deny basic science, including well established aspects of Evolutionary Biology as well as the firmly established findings of Climate Science?

They avoid the former because it would be embarrassing, they practice the latter because it brings in readership and so far has not brought sufficient ire to bear on the editorial staff. Because you haven’t told them that they are doing it wrong.

As a person with fingers and an internet connection (or equivalents) you can tell them how you feel about this. If you happen to subscribe to a newspaper that has published this sort of drek, you can tell them that their credibility is at risk and this causes you view renewal of your subscription as unlikely. This might be especially effective if you currently subscribe to your local newspaper via one of these new, experimental iPad or Smart Phone apps.

In this case, the offending newspaper is the Star Tribune of Minneapolis, Minnesota. You can send off a few emails and tell them what you think. I make it easy for you:

The letter in question, quoted in part above, is here. Right at the top of the page.

Here are some suggestions as to whom you might email:

Michael J. Klingensmith
Publisher and CEO
612.673.7576
michael.klingensmith@startribune.com

Nancy Barnes
Editor and Senior Vice President
612.673.7937
nancyb@startribune.com

Scott Gillespie
Editor
612.673.4516
sgillespie@startribune.com

Jeff Griffing
Chief Revenue Officer, Advertising
jeff.griffing@startribune.com

Don’t just sit there. Take action!

Should a teacher be sued for describing creationism as “superstitious nonsense”?

Steven Newton has an interesting piece on the case of James Corbett, who was sued for “improper disapproval of religion in violation of the Establishment Clause.

In 2009, a judge considered Corbett’s statements and found only one — that creationism is “superstitious nonsense” — to be an “improper disapproval of religion in violation of the Establishment Clause,” and therefore an infringement of the student’s rights. To the amazement of educators and scientists across the country, the court ruled against Corbett and found this one statement in class to have been unconstitutional.

One issue raised by this case is how far educators should modify class content to anticipate potential offense to the faith of their students.

I feel a chill running up and down my spine. And not in a good way.

Have a look at the original piece.

Intelligent Design

Here is a preliminary list of resources for people to find out more about Intelligent Design. Please feel free to put this on your own site. If you want, email me and I’ll send you the HTML code to make this one step easier. But you can also, if you are using Firefox, use “ctrl-u” to display the code and cut and paste it from there.Please feel free to add to this resource for people who want to learn more about Intelligent Design. (more…)

Green light for teaching creationism in public schools?

[Repost with minor modifications form gregladen.com]image.jpg width=”250″/>As indicated in a press release by the National Center for Science Education, the National Council for the Social Studies has released a position statement on Intelligent Design.

…There have been efforts for many decades to introduce religious beliefs about the beginning of life on Earth into the science curriculum of the public schools. Most recently, these efforts have included “creation science” and “intelligent design.” Following a number of court decisions finding the teaching of creationism and intelligent design in the public school science curriculum to be unconstitutional, there have been efforts to introduce these beliefs into the social studies curriculum….BackgroundThe American Heritage Dictionary (2007) defines intelligent design as the “belief that physical and biological systems observed in the universe result from purposeful design by an intelligent being rather than from chance or undirected forces.” Attempts to introduce this doctrine, originally termed “creationism,” then “creation science,” and most recently, intelligent design,” into public school curricula have been found unconstitutional in state and federal courts….These decisions have struck down state attempts to interfere with the teaching of evolution in the public school science curriculum….Because federal courts, to date, have ruled against the teaching of creationism and intelligent design in the science curriculum, an approach called “critical analysis” has been introduced to get around these decisions. This approach seeks to incorporate what the courts have ruled to be religious belief into the public school curriculum by contending that public schools should take a critical view of the theory of evolution. In this critical view, particular attention is to be focused on any uncertainties in the fossil record as well as what are contended to be examples of “irreducible complexity.” This view then introduces intelligent design as an explanation addressing these uncertainties.This “critical analysis” approach to teaching intelligent design has attracted political support in several states and districts. It was a motivating force behind former Senator Rick Santorum’s unsuccessful attempt to include a statement that evolution was a controversial scientific theory into the original No Child Left Behind legislation. It has also figured prominently in the much-publicized battle over the treatment of evolution in the Kansas science standards. In Ohio, the state board of education has suggested that although a critical analysis of the theory of evolution with the teaching of intelligent design should not be put into the science curriculum, “social studies appears to be a good fit” (Columbus Dispatch, September 2002).Rationale for RecommendationsSocial studies may, at first glance, seem to be a better fit for this approach to teaching intelligent design, but the same constitutional issues arise whether religious beliefs are taught in science or in the social studies curriculum. While the social studies classroom is the proper forum for the discussion of controversial issues, educators should be wary of being used to promote a religious belief in the public schools. This unintended outcome can be the result of teaching students that a scientific controversy exists between intelligent design and the theory of evolution when, in fact, no such controversy exists.Teaching about religion in human society is an important component of many social studies courses (see the NCSS position statement “Study about Religions in the Social Studies Curriculum,” revised and approved by the Board of Directors in 1998). However, teaching religious beliefs as the equivalent of scientific theory is not consistent with the social studies nor is it allowed under the First Amendment. Evolution is a scientific theory subject to testing by the scientific method. In contrast, religious teaching based on the existence of a supreme being does not allow for the scientific processes of hypothesizing, gathering evidence or questioning as they are based on faith, not scientific observations or experimentation.Nonetheless, social studies may have to contend with these issues because of local or state mandates. The curricular recommendations that follow allow for substantive discussion of the issues surrounding intelligent design, while avoiding First Amendment problems. Most significantly, these recommendations prevent the social studies curriculum from being a repository for intelligent design instruction in the public schools, while still allowing students to analyze the political, legal, and historical issues involved.Teaching RecommendationsPrior to teaching about intelligent design, social studies teachers should check their district?s policies related to teaching controversial issues and teaching about religion. There are a number of ways in which social studies teachers might introduce the issues surrounding intelligent design in their curriculum. The following recommendations examine the issues from a social studies, rather than a religious, perspective.* Constitutional perspective: …* Historical perspective: …* Sociological perspective: …* Anthropological perspective: …* Public issues perspectives: ……© Copyright 2007 National Council for the Social Studies. All rights reserved.

This is a partial reproduction of the original statement. If you are a teacher or school administrator, you obviously will want to read the entire document, here.I disagree with their recommendations, or at least, think something should be added. It is part of the strategy of many pro-creationism groups to bring in creationism as a sort of “innocent bystander” in a broader discussion, but once it is in the classroom, it is easy for a teacher who wants to teach creationism to do so. The teacher can keep the actionable information … handouts, words written on the boards, other teaching material … within “legal limits” but allow or even encourage the conversation to go places it should not go. Given the fact that a significant percentage of teachers in public schools are, in fact, creationists, I think this is a dangerous and potentially ineffective policy.No, it is not true that the NCSS has given the green light to creationism in schools. But Creationism is a Boston Driver on Mass Ave at 4:00 AM on a Wednesday morning … where red lights are only vague suggestions. They will, I promise you, take advantage of, and even be encouraged by, this policy statement. Expect trouble.