Tag Archives: Creationism

I think Bill Nye is great, but I think he's making a mistake.

Word on the street is that Bill Nye is going to debate Ken Hamm at the Creationism “Museum” on February 4th. This is a bad idea for several reasons.

First, Bill Nye is not really an expert on evolution and is actually not that experienced in debates. Being really really pro science and science education isn’t enough. When they went in after Osama Bin Laden (my errand distant cousin) they did not send people who are really really against terrorism. They sent in Seal Team Six with a huge amount of support such as Army Rangers and such and even that was risky.

Second, there isn’t a debate so why debate?

Third, creationists can pretty much win any debate because they are not talking about science. See this post for a more detailed explanation for how any anti-science spokesperson can win a debate against any pro-science person.

I once debated a creationist and it went OK. But when I was first invited to the debate I contacted my friend Genie Scott who had this organization called the National Center for Science Education for advice and the first thing she said to me is that I was an idiot for agreeing to the debate (or words to that effect). Why? See this post if you haven’t already. In that case the good christians setting up the debate lied to me about the format and carried out other forms of trickery. They can’t be trusted.

Fourth, if I understand the situation correctly this will be a fundraiser for the Creation “Musuem.” Bad idea.

Very bad idea.

UPDATED: Bill Nye talks about the upcoming debate.

A rollicking adventure through the rift valley and rain forests of Central Africa in search of the elusive diminutive ape known locally as Sungudogo.
A rollicking adventure through the rift valley and rain forests of Central Africa in search of the elusive diminutive ape known locally as Sungudogo.
More on science education HERE.

Also, check out my novella, Sungudogo, HERE. It is an adventure story set in Central Africa which ultimately turns out to be a parody of the skeptics movement. It seems to have struck a nerve with a few of the skeptics, while others seem to have enjoyed it. Who knew?

Theater owner bends to creationists’ demands, cancels “Inherit the Wind”

From the Minneapolis City Pages:

The New Ulm Actors Community Theater has decided to cancel its planned production of “Inherit the Wind” thanks to pressure from local evangelicals who object to the way the play portrays the evolution/creationism debate.

And from the New Ulm Journal:

NEW ULM – The New Ulm Actors Community Theatre’s production of “Inherent the Wind” was canceled last week due to cast dropouts stemming from objections by Martin Luther College professors and local WELS members over the play’s depiction of the evolution/creationism debate.

A typical day in New Ulm, Minnesota.
A typical day in New Ulm, Minnesota.
NUACT originally slated the play as its fall production with MLC student Zach Stowe as director. The play deals with a fictionalized version of the evolution/creationism debate in the 1925 Scopes “Monkey Trial.” The play is also a metaphor for criticizing the suppression of free expression under the McCarthyism of the 1950s.

So, this was college professors who are normally about academic freedom and such acting like McCarthy about a play that among other things criticizes McCarthyism.

After seeing the poster for the audition, several MLC professors raised objections about the play’s subject to the administration.

Jeffrey Schone, MLC’s VP of Student Life, declined to name the objecting professors, but stated the administration similarly became concerned about being associated with the play.

The college is part of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, the above mentioned “WELS.” They hold Genesis as literally true. Ironically, the court case depicted in this play found in favor of the creationist argument made at the time. These people, the WELS people, are not only medieval they are also ignorant and offensive.

“We felt it was not compatible with what [the school] teaches the Bible says about the universe and the world,”? said Schone. “This is a ministerial school. People employing our students need confidence about their views.”

Which, of course, is best managed by not allowing anyone to be exposed to anything but the standard approved dogma. Good luck with that in 21st century America!

Schone, being all magnanamous and stuff, told the director that the play audition for the play could be held off campus. How nice of him to acknowledge that his draconian reach ends at the boundary of the backwards thinking private school he is VP of student activities for.

But, things did not end there. Members of the broader community of Yahoos living in the quite little Minnesota town of New Ulm harassed director Stowe into pulling the plug on the whole project. On September 3rd,

…Stowe resigned from the play. He cited a flood of e-mails and letters objecting to his association with the play from MLC professors and local WELS members for his decision. He was also concerned that MLC administration would maybe take their concerns further if the outcry kept growing, so he decided to focus on the more important issue of his schooling.

The Dark Ages.
The Dark Ages.
However, he said he felt his creative freedom had been stifled and that he was very disappointed that some of the criticism seemed to come from MLC. He said he shares WELS’ belief in creationism. He said he believes open discussion about the topic is essential to proving its validity.

Well, he’s benighted but half way out of that hole, maybe. We’ll see.

But it didn’t end there; apparently the harassment continued because ….

…In the following two weeks, six NUACT members dropped out of the cast after consulting their WELS pastors or officials about being in the play after Stowe’s departure.

On Sept. 16, the NUACT board voted to postpone the show indefinitely due to insufficient time to replace and retrain the lost staff before Oct. 4, which would have been opening night. NUACT Executive Director Paul Warshauer said the group still hopes to put on “Inherit the Wind,” but no date has been determined.

Schone said he feels MLC did not put any pressure on Stowe or the NUACT cast. But, he said he feels it is appropriate for the college to voice concerns about the extracurricular activities of its students.

Schone’s only regret was the timing of the decision due to when the administration learned about the audition. He said he apologized to NUACT for the inconvenience. He said NUACT and Stowe can use the MLC campus for future plays, and that the concerns were only with the content of “Inherit the Wind.”

Indeed. Next time you want to do something subversive, LET US KNOW IN ADVANCE.

I weep for New Ulm.

Zack Kopplin Files Public Records Lawsuit Against John White

This just in to the newsroom…



September 10, 2013

Re: Zachary S. (“Zack”) Kopplin, Citizen versus John White, in his Official Capacity as Superintendent of the Department of Education, a Department of the Executive Branch of the State of Louisiana

Baton Rouge, Louisiana—On Monday, September 9, 2013, education activist Zack Kopplin filed suit against Louisiana Superintendent John White and the Department of Education in order to compel White to release a series of public records concerning the school voucher program, teacher evaluation methodology, the Louisiana Science Education Act, the influence of lobbyists on policymaking, and policies related to the retention and destruction of public records. The suit is designed—at long last—to ferret out what the process was leading to Jindal’s sweeping education changes—including whether there was a lack of record making or so-called “off campus” records retention, which is a particularly non-transparent practice of some government officials to hire consultants or third party firms to develop and store policy in order to shield policy making from the public.

In late May and early June, Kopplin submitted a number of requests pertaining to education policy, the overwhelming majority of which were either ignored or improperly answered. Kopplin alleges that, during the last several months, Superintendent White and officials at the Louisiana Department of Education have attempted to conceal, delay, and deny the production of public records.

About the Parties

The parties to the proceeding are a Louisiana citizen and the State of Louisiana, through its executive Department of Education. The Department is the highest unit of executive organization for education policy in the state, other than the office of the Governor. The Department is a line-agency-level unit responsible for education policy and is, or should be, the custodian of records related to this suit.

Mr. Zachary Kopplin has been engaged in a citizen campaign to access public records regarding two significant pieces of legislation in Louisiana, which are key “education reform” policies of Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal: the Louisiana Science Education Act and the Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence Program (better known as the “school voucher program”).

At long last . . . .

The suit is about citizen access to public records and the information surrounding the formulation of controversial government education policy. In addition, if the suit lends itself to the issue, Zack intends to challenge the Governor’s appointees’ use of the recently enacted “deliberative process” privilege—a new privilege in Louisiana ironically borne from claims of opening up additional gubernatorial transparency. The policy does anything but that according to experts and legislators feeling the pangs “fool me once
. . . .”

Zack contends the actions of the Governor and his appointees are part of a custom, policy, and practice to deny civil rights to people similarly situated to Zack, specifically to deny persons seeking public information (in the pursuit of criticism of government policy, First Amendment rights, and the right to petition government for redress of grievances)—and such practices and customs were demonstrably apparent and had occurred in other cases in that: (i) a general pattern of unlawful refusals to grant public records requests, improperly handle them, or invoke the “deliberative process” privilege exists, (ii) a pattern of misconduct toward Zack exists, and (iii) the denials and patterns of misconduct commenced because of protected speech flowing from, and arising out of, Zack’s repeated criticism of the policies at issue in the Public Records Requests.

Definitely the Governor’s process . . . .

In 2009, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal publicly asked members of the Louisiana legislature to pass Act 495, a law amending La.R.S. 44:5 in order to carve out specific exemptions for public records disclosures in the Governor’s office. Although Governor Jindal, at the time, claimed the amended law would result in greater transparency, throughout the last four years, he and members of his administration have relied on a tortuous interpretation of the law in an unprecedented attempt at preventing citizens and members of the media from accessing and reviewing a significant number of statutorily defined public records.

In so doing, Governor Jindal has blockaded the public’s ability to truthfully and accurately evaluate policy and fiscal determinations on a wide range of issues, including, but not limited to, health care, hospital privatization, Medicaid spending, higher education, public education, school vouchers, taxation, prison privatization, and coastal restoration efforts. This beckons all to consider Justice Brandeis’ famous admonition: “Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.”

In the Capital City Press, LLC v. LSU case, on April 25, 2013, the Nineteenth Judicial District Court ruled that records of the selection of the LSU president were public records, were not exempt, and were subject to a grant of mandamus—ordering production of certain records as requested.

Setting aside the merits of the legislation—which are not at issue for purposes of this lawsuit—Zack alleges the office of the Governor and the Louisiana Department of Education have maintained a stance tending away from transparency and cooperation when it comes to the public’s right to gain records. Importantly, Zack maintains there seemingly is also a thicker wall when it comes to learning how decisions are made—or the process to create certain policies. Zack and his associates believe the public is better served when the process is illuminated, as well as the records provided, because in the public domain the process by which decisions are made can be as important as the final decision. Along the decision continuum, many important public policy debates may be central to discussions like academic policy.

Indeed, in an LSU Law Review comment, titled, “From Sunshine to Moonshine: How the Louisiana Legislature Hid the Governor’s Records in the Name of Transparency,” author Kevin Blanchard provides the basis for much of the backdrop for the deliberative process and methodically uncovers the ways in which Governor Jindal and his legislative allies colluded to undermine the state’s public records laws.

Zack thinks the Governor’s (or his appointees’) failures to provide requested public documents, or failure to sufficiently, properly, or unconditionally respond, or provide proper objections, renders the State liable. Relatedly, to the extent improper objections or claims of privilege, e.g., the “deliberative process,” were used explicitly or internally, Zack intends to use this action to have those matters declared violative of statutory and constitutional law of the State of Louisiana, as applied and facially, because—

  • Deliberative process, as created by Louisiana statute, has been used (as applied) in a manner violating the fundamental right to public records guaranteed by Article XII of the Louisiana State Constitution;
  • Deliberative process, as created by statute, is facially unconstitutional and violates the fundamental right to records guaranteed by Article XII of the Louisiana State Constitution; and/or
  • Deliberative process, even as created by statute, is being used in a manner beyond the scope of its limited authorization by statute, and is therefore, as applied by the Department of Education, unconstitutional and violates the fundamental right to records guaranteed by Article XII of the Louisiana State Constitution.

Technical Notes

Some technical points about this suit:

  • In Louisiana, any person of age can make a request; one does not have to be a Louisiana citizen.
  • <li>The law is construed liberally in favor of the requestor, so that doubts must be resolved in favor of the requestor.  Any claims of privilege or exemption must be proved conclusively by the custodian.</li>
    <li>There is a long line of decisions holding that record keeping cannot be delegated away to circumvent the public records laws.</li>
    <li>In Louisiana, public records information is a fundamental right, not merely a statutory one.  See generally La.Const. art. XII, § 3 provides, in part, as follows: “Right to Direct Participation.  No person shall be denied the right to … examine public documents, except in cases established by law.”  </li>
    <li>This suit claims the Department of Education is engaged in a pattern of misconduct relating to the dissemination of public information.  See La.R.S. 44:31-32. </li>
    <li>Citizens aggrieved can file special, or extraordinary relief, proceedings in Louisiana courts.  Courts of record within their respective jurisdictions may declare rights, status, and other legal relations.  La.Code Civ.P. art. 1871.</li></ul>

    Thoughts and Comments

    Throughout the last three years, Kopplin’s research and advocacy have generated national and international attention, and his ongoing campaign to repeal the Louisiana Science Education Act has attracted endorsements from nearly eighty Nobel laureates and the world’s leading science organizations.

    “In May, Zack asked the Department of Education for e-mail records about his repeal campaign against the LSEA. A few weeks later, they responded to him. They sent him one e-mail exchange about the Louisiana Science Act, between two of their staff members, and twenty pages of news alerts,” said Greg Rozas, Kopplin’s lead attorney. “The repeal campaign was making international news. Three years in a row, Superintendent John White and Governor Bobby Jindal sent staff members to testify about these bills in front of the Senate Education Committee. Yet, if the response is credited as true, it means the Department of Education only had one e-mail discussion responsive to his request.”

    In addition to Rozas, Kopplin is also represented by Chris Roy Sr., the vice chairman of the Louisiana State Constitutional Convention, and Allen Smith, both of whom are civil rights attorneys based in Alexandria.

    “In Louisiana, a citizen’s ability to access public records is considered a fundamental right,” said Chris Roy Sr. “From almost the second after he took the oath of office, Governor Jindal and officials in his administration have tried to re-interpret well-established law in order to stifle our fundamental right to be informed. As an attorney and as someone who was fortunate enough to help craft our State Constitution, once I was asked, I felt personally and professionally obligated to help represent Mr. Kopplin. This is larger than education policy. It’s about the integrity and durability of our public records laws and ensuring that there are meaningful ways to hold our most powerful officials accountable.”

    Last year, in response to a similar public records request submitted by the Associated Press, Superintendent White’s office asserted that the requested records were protected by the “deliberative process privilege.” White’s denial of the request and his attempt at invoking the “deliberative process privilege” made national news, and subsequently, he claimed he would release the records after the school year began. “To me, the manner of response distorts settled law and the purpose and intention of our State Constitution,” said Rozas. “Believe it or not, Louisiana has always enjoyed robust public records laws. A few years ago, Governor Jindal pushed through and enacted an extremely vague statute on ‘deliberative process.’ He told legislators it would increase government transparency. Instead, they’ve repeatedly attempted to convince us that this ‘privilege’ is actually a blanket exemption, covering practically everything that Governor Jindal, anyone on his executive staff, and anyone under the direction of his executive staff have ever read on any and every policy issue. It’s not only absurd; it’s shameful and undemocratic. They’re not basing their argument in Louisiana law; instead, they’ve constructed this ‘privilege’ around the deteriorating scaffolding of a single paragraph presented as dicta in a relatively obscure thirty-three year old D.C. Circuit case involving the relationship between FOIA and the Department of Energy.”

    Kopplin’s petition is expansive and includes more than 80 pages of exhibits. “It’s one of the most extensive and meticulously researched pleadings on a public records dispute that I’ve read,” said Chris Roy Sr. “Even if a court never needs to get to the Constitutional merits, this case provides a blueprint for others, and it shows how a straightforward law can be distorted and misapplied.”

    Added Roy, “I have often thought debate is the lifeblood of democracy and proper compromise its soul; but deceit is its true threat, that the other two in their proper spheres routinely countervail.”

    Allen Smith III, attorney for Kopplin, said his “involvement is based on his commitment to public interest suits and the ‘David and Goliath’ aspect of the case.” Smith also said he enjoys any chance he gets to work with his family and a legal mentor, referring to Chris Roy Sr. About Kopplin, Smith said, “You have to respect a young man who wants to take on ‘city hall’ based on principles. It is what people try to instill in young persons all the time—so, I felt like I should do my part to promote good trouble making,” Smith said jokingly referring to Kopplin’s grant.

    “Pretty early on, I knew this would be a ‘war of attrition,’” said Kopplin. “The hope was that if they didn’t legitimately respond to my questions, then I’d eventually stop asking them. But I never thought I’d need to file a lawsuit, and I never imagined the Department of Education would attempt to conceal so much. I had tried working with them. I even drove in from Houston to meet personally with their staff.”

    In February, Kopplin won the first-ever national “Troublemaker of the Year” award in recognition of his efforts on behalf of science education in Louisiana. The award also included a $10,000 prize to be used to make “the good kind” of trouble. “It’s the single biggest paycheck I’ve ever received in my life, and I had intended to use most of it to build a website and purchase and publish public records on science education policies across the country,” said Kopplin. “Instead, I’m being forced to sue my own home state. I’d prefer to spend my time and energy in the classroom and not the courtroom, but the records I am requesting are absolutely crucial to understanding issues and policies that affect the quality and the competitiveness of our entire state elementary and secondary education system. I want to thank Semyon Dukach and the Troublemaker Award for making this case possible. The Troublemaker Award is meant to help students cause positive ‘trouble’ to support the public good. I can think of no better way to do this than to launch this suit for transparency and public access to information.”

    “Evolution vs. Creationism” free book exerpt

    In honor of Genie Scott’s imminent retirement as Executive Director of the NCSE, you are hereby offered a free downloadable PDF excerpt form Genie’s classic book.

    Click here to download the PDF.

    Click here to read my review of the book.

    Click here to find out about other books and resources related to creationism.

    Click here to find some resources for life science teachers.

    Genie Scott: Denialism of Climate Change and Evolution

    Here is a presentation by Genie Scott of the National Center for Science Education.

    Far more people are climate change deniers than evolution deniers, but both camps use similar strategies to promote their views. Genie Scott explores the connections, the similarities, and the divergent ideologies. Where: New York. When: 10/23/2011. Hosted by the New York City Skeptics.

    NCSE’s Genie Scott will Retire

    My friend and colleague, executive director of the National Center for Science Education’s Genie Scott, will retire by the end of the year. She’s been director of the NCSE for 26 years. Genie is a key player, perhaps the key player, in the battle to keep science in the classroom and other things that are not science out of the classroom, in public schools. She’s gotten piles of awards and has done a huge amount of great work. While a lot of people have been involved in this fight, I think it is fair to give Genie top billing in such major and momentous efforts as the fight in Dover (which sealed the fate for creationism in public schools forever). She is author of Evolution vs. Creationism: An Introduction and Not in Our Classrooms: Why Intelligent Design Is Wrong for Our Schools.

    Genie was Julia’s grandfather’s undergraduate advisee, and back in the day, was a key influence on my personal interest in creationism (and the fighting thereof). Thank you Genie for everything.

    She’ll be missed. Although maybe she’s not really going away, just doing other great things.

    There are more details here, as well as info on the job announcement, in case you were looking for something new!

    Antiscience bill dies in Oklahoma

    From the NCSE:

    Senate Bill 758 (document), the so-called Oklahoma Science Education Act, which would have undermined the integrity of science education in the Sooner State, is dead. February 25, 2013, was the deadline for Senate bills to pass their committees, but the Senate Education Committee adjourned its February 25, 2013, meeting without considering it. Still active in the Oklahoma legislature is House Bill 1674 (document), styled the Scientific Education and Academic Freedom Act, which differs from SB 758 primarily in mentioning “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning” as supposedly controversial topics. HB 1674 passed the House Education Committee on a 9-8 vote on February 19, 2013.

    As usual in Oklahoma, resistance to the antievolution bills was spearheaded by the grassroots organization Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education, whose board of governors includes a former member of NCSE’s board of directors, Frank J. Sonleitner, and a recipient of NCSE’s Friend of Darwin award, Victor H. Hutchison. “OESE has been a model of effective advocacy for supporting good science education,” commented NCSE’s executive director Eugenie C. Scott. “Unlike evolution and climate change, cloning isn’t something that NCSE is really interested in,” she joked, “but we might make an exception if we could clone people like Vic and Frank and all of the hardworking and vigilant folks they work with in Oklahoma.”

    SB 758 would, if enacted, have required state and local educational authorities to “assist teachers to find more effective ways to present the science curriculum where it addresses scientific controversies” and permitted teachers to “help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories pertinent to the course being taught.” Unusually but not uniquely, no scientific topics were specifically identified as controversial, but the fact that the sole sponsor of SB 758 was Josh Brecheen (R-District 6), who introduced specifically antievolution legislation in the two previous legislative sessions, is telling.

    In late 2010, Brecheen announced his intention to file antievolution legislation in a column in the Durant Daily Democrat (December 19, 2010): “Renowned scientists now asserting that evolution is laden with errors are being ignored. … Using your tax dollars to teach the unknown, without disclosing the entire scientific findings[,] is incomplete and unacceptable.” In a subsequent column in the newspaper (December 24, 2010), he indicated that his intention was to have creationism presented as scientifically credible, writing, “I have introduced legislation requiring every publically funded Oklahoma school to teach the debate of creation vs. evolution using the known science, even that which conflicts with Darwin’s religion.”

    What Brecheen in fact introduced in 2011, Senate Bill 554, combined a version of the now familiar “academic freedom” language — referring to “the scientific strengths [and] scientific weaknesses of controversial topics … [which] include but are not limited to biological origins of life and biological evolution” — with a directive for the state board of education to adopt “standards and curricula” that echo the flawed portions of the state science standards adopted in Texas in 2009 with respect to the nature of science and evolution. SB 554 died in committee. In 2012, Brecheen took a new tack with Senate Bill 1742, modeled in part on the so-called Louisiana Science Education Act; SB 1742 likewise died in committee.

    With SB 758, Brecheen seemed to be following the lead of Tennessee’s “monkey law” (as it was nicknamed by House Speaker Emeritus Jimmy Naifeh), enacted (as Tenn. Code Ann. 49-6-1030) over the protests of the state’s scientific and educational communities in 2012. The major difference is that SB 758 omitted the monkey law’s statement of legislative findings, which cites “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning” as among the topics that “can cause controversy” when taught in the science classroom of the public schools. The history of Brecheen’s legislative efforts clearly demonstrates that it is evolution which was primarily the target of the new bill, however.

    Click through for links and stuff.

    Antiscience bill dies in Arizona

    From the National Center for Science Education:

    Arizona’s Senate Bill 1213 died on February 22, 2013, when the deadline for Senate bills to be heard in their Senate committees passed. A typical instance of the “academic freedom” strategy for undermining the integrity of science education, SB 1213 specifically targeted “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming[,] and human cloning” as supposedly controversial. Unusually, however, a sponsor of the bill, Judy Burges (R-District 22), told the Arizona Star (February 5, 2013) that climate science was her primary concern, complaining of imbalance in the presentation of climate change

    But Andrew Morrill, the president of the Arizona Education Association, told the Star that there was no need for the legislation. “The curriculum for teaching science is already balanced,” he said. “If there’s overwhelming evidence on one side, then within the science curriculum there’s going to be a look at that evidence.” He added, “The controversy is at the political level, not the scientific one.” (Morrill misattributed the language of the bill to the American Legislative Exchange Council; it is, rather, based on the language circulated by the Discovery Institute.)

    The prime sponsors of SB 1213 were Judy Burges (R-District 22) and Chester Crandell (R-District 6), with Rick Murphy (R-District 21), Steve Pierce (R-District 1), Don Shooter (R-District 13), and Steve Yarbrough (R-District 17) as cosponsors. The bill was the first antiscience bill introduced in Arizona in at least the past decade; the last statewide controversy over the teaching of evolution was evidently in 2004, when the Arizona state board of education was lobbied, in the end unsuccessfully, to include a directive for teachers to discuss “intelligent design” in the state science education standards.

    Click through for a link to the bill and other sources.

    Reflections on Darwin’s Origin of Species

    The The Origin Of Species by Charles Darwin was published over 150 years go. At the time, several different alternative theories of the origin and history of life were being discussed in the West. Some of these theories were theological. Theological ideas included a literal translation of the bible, with the flora, the fauna, and humans created in three separate but related creation events on a freshly made earth just a few thousand years ago. Another theological idea had an Abrahamic God’s hand involved in the history of life but in ways we were not likely to understand until after death. Still another idea, championed by the influential Louis Agassiz, had several God-made origins each representing a different combination of habitat, ecology, climate, and human race. Ice ages would periodically wipe everything out and then God would replace the bits, much like how a gamer re-creates a simulated landscape after system crashes or save failures in SimCity (See Reef Madness: Charles Darwin, Alexander Agassiz, and the Meaning of Coral for an excellent overview of this and related issues). Maybe the gamer does it a little differently each time, and maybe god did that too. Non theological ideas were emerging at the time as well including some like Darwin’s, but Darwin refocused and created de novo several of the key models that are part of Evolutionary Theory today, and it was Darwin and Wallace who advanced the specific theory of Natural Selection. These evolutionary ideas rested within a broader panoply of evolutionary ideas, some of which have faded away, others incorporated, others waiting to be reconsidered.
    Continue reading Reflections on Darwin’s Origin of Species

    Creationist Home Schooling Science Fair

    “You will be a restless wanderer on the earth” -Genesis 4:12

    Today, a few of us visited the Twin Cities Home School Creation Science Fair of 2013 at its new location. The fair used to be held in the historic Har Mar Shopping Mall but for some reason it has wandered up the road and across Snelling Avenue to a nearby Christian college on the shores of beautiful Lake Johanna Lake, in Roseville, Minnesota.

    We were, verily, Mike, Angry by Choice, and me. Angry arrived separately and reviewed the exhibits on his own, and Mike and I visited nearly all of the 23 posters together and spoke to many of the kids presenting their science projects.

    … pay no attention to lies. -Exodus 5:9

    Let’s be clear right away: This science fair advertises itself this way:

    Unlike Some Science Fair Sites
    We Are For Real!
    Unlike Many Secular Educators
    We Teach The Scientific Method!

    I don’t now which “some” science fairs or “secular educators” shun the scientific method, so I’ll take that as a lie by the organizers, who are Young Earth Creationists with a rather weak grasp on reality. Also, there was clearly no requirement that the scientific method be used in these projects as many did not. Having said that, a number of the student’s projects rose above the organizers’s self-hobbled concept of science and were pretty good, and in two or three cases the kids were able to answer questions that probed beyond the script and addressed things not explicitly shown in their posters. For instance, the project on “getting electricity from plants” which examined the difference between various roots and fruits elicited the question “What would happen if you attached a grapefruit to a potato in series” and the student was able to explain the results of trials, not shown on the poster, of mixed plant tissue batteries that he had messed around with.

    World Views In Collision: “But Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.” -Genesis 19:26

    Only one poster only was pure creationist nonsense; the student wasn’t there and I think it was a young kid (judging by the style). This was a poster that set out to “prove” that stalactites and stalagmites formed very quickly and not slowly like geologists claimed. The student’s work did in fact seem to demonstrate that stalactites and stalagmites could form very very quickly. Unfortunately, those quick forming formations made by the student were Lotswifian (made of salt!) and not the usual limestone. Also, geologists are well aware that limestone deposits can in fact form vey quickly. As I recall, it was Isaac Asimov that caused the trouble with the stalagmites, going up against Immanuel Velikovsky with the claim that “Worlds in Collision” could not have happened because STLAGTITES!!!1! … Velikovsky was able to show Asimov stalagmites that were rather long formed beneath the foundation of the Lincoln Monument. This has been used by creationists since to prove that geology is wrong.

    It, geology, is not wrong. Limestone deposition can be a highly dynamic process. We knew that.

    (Note: Asimov, brilliant, everybody loved him, bla bla bla, was not actually a geologist…)

    “Rise Up and Stop Sleeping” -Ephesians 5:13-14

    Despite the fact that many of the kids did, as stated, rise above their mentors, there were some sad moments when this did not appear to be the case. One child faced with a not to difficult question about animal behavior suggested that a certain problem would be solved because “God put something in the animal to make that happen.” Other students produced experiments without controls, or with multiple conflicting results, but chose to “believe” the results that fit expectations.

    Having said that, many of the limitations and shortfalls of the less than stellar posters were typical of small scale school science fairs in general, not peculiar to these students. And, a couple of the students were clearly destine for future … well, thinking and maybe even free thinking. One student was the offspring of a person who could be classified as scientist, which is a bit disturbing. But that kid is clearly going to walk right out of the religious fetters she is already clearly tossing off and do interesting things. When asked if she might pursue science she said yes, and when asked what kind, she said “the interesting stuff” and proceeded to go on an on about what was interesting.

    “When Esau heard his father’s words, he burst out with a loud and bitter cry” -Genesis 27:34

    Each of the posters had to have a biblical quote on them. That’s part of the scientific method, apparently. Scientific method, god style. The quotes generally had about as much to do with the project as the quotes I’ve playfully putting here have had to do with the various sections of this blog post. The nefarious thing working here, of course, is tricking the students into going through the bible one more time while they are dealing with what is clearly an alternative to biblical or religious thinking. Well, in some cases, I suppose the quote was relevant. But generally, disappointingly, not.

    “The breath of God produces ice, and the broad waters become frozen.” -Job 37:10

    Oh, there’s also this: I’m happy to report that the student that did the obligatory study to determin which freezes faster, hot vs. cold water, discovered that water that starts out colder reaches freezing sooner, though he was shocked by the rate at which hot water almost, but not quite, caught up.

    ‘The king said to him, “How many times must I make you swear to tell me nothing but the truth in the name of the Lord?”’ -1 Kings 22:16

    We go to this fair to encourage students to think about science, to be possibly the only people who ask questions that may lead beyond the poster or the bible quote on the poster, but not to harass the students. Angry, Mike and I did not mention evolution vs. creationism. We just talked about the science.

    There is another reason we go: To keep the creationists honest(ish). A few years ago, a group of us went to the fair and noted 20-something posters, and in that year the organizers, unaware of our presence, reported a much larger number, thus lying about the level of participation in this event. When I pointed out on my blog that all the posters depicted in all the photographs they took and we took combined did not add up to the number they claimed, the organizers of the creationist science fair deleted all their photos from their web site and accused me of being a child abuser.

    Well, screw that. What we do now is we go and count the posters. Last year, no one from our group went and the organizers took the opportunity to claim that there were 60 posters. I’m thinking that is a lie because there’s never been that many. This year we counted the entries. Twenty three. There were 23 of them. We’ll swear to it. And we were able to count all the way to 23 without abusing a single child.

    Evolution Debate Ends in Turkey?

    According to the Turkish Daily News

    The Scientific and Technical Research Council of Turkey … has put a stop to the publication and sale of all books in its archives that support the theory of evolution, daily Radikal has reported.

    The evolutionist books, previously available through TÜB?TAK’s Popular Science Publications’ List, will no longer be provided by the council.

    The books have long been listed as “out of stock” on TÜB?TAK’s website, but their further publication is now slated to be stopped permanently.

    Titles by Richard Dawkins, Alan Moorehead, Stephen Jay Gould, Richard Levontin and James Watson are all included in the list of books that will no longer be available to Turkish readers.

    Religious Politics and Secular Values

    Why is the inclusion of creationism and “intelligent design” still a viable proposal for American biology curricula? What other secular policies are at risk of religious intrusion? NCSE board member Barbara Forrest dissects the issue with a panel of experts, including Barry Lynn, Chris Mooney, and John Shook. Where: Center for Inquiry, Washington, DC. When: 10/22/2011

    New Evidence that the Bible is Wrong on Evolution

    I find the following bit of video to be very interesting. The letter itself, which they read at the beginning, is instructive of why many people are creationists or otherwise anti-science. They are afraid to go to hell. The idea that a person will go to hell for believing in science is something you have to be taught. The people who teach this should … well, they can go to hell, as far as I’m concerned. Continue reading New Evidence that the Bible is Wrong on Evolution

    Empowering the individual does not equal ensmartening the individual

    Imagine the following scenario. Two guys are walking down the street, in different cities. Guy A has two PhDs, one in quantum physics with a focus on dimensionality dynamics, the other in astrophysics with a focus on relativistic aspects of gravity and black holes. She has published dozens of peer reviewed papers on both topics and is a brilliant mathematician. Guy B never took a physics class but yesterday he finished reading large parts of The Elegant Universe. Suddenly, at the same moment, they each have an idea (they do not have the same idea … they have different ideas) about how to unify quantum level and cosmic level dynamics.
    Continue reading Empowering the individual does not equal ensmartening the individual

    How old is the Earth?

    I can’t believe we still have to cover this. We know how old the Earth is. The science on this is pretty darn good. It is 4.54 billion years old plus or minus about 1%.

    Florida Senator Marco Rubio does not know how old the earth is. Here is what he says about it:

    I’m not a scientist, man. I can tell you what recorded history says, I can tell you what the Bible says, but I think that’s a dispute amongst theologians and I think it has nothing to do with the gross domestic product or economic growth of the United States. I think the age of the universe has zero to do with how our economy is going to grow. I’m not a scientist. I don’t think I’m qualified to answer a question like that. At the end of the day, I think there are multiple theories out there on how the universe was created and I think this is a country where people should have the opportunity to teach them all. I think parents should be able to teach their kids what their faith says, what science says. Whether the Earth was created in 7 days, or 7 actual eras, I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to answer that. It’s one of the great mysteries.

    Phil Plait has responded with this:

    Actually, it’s not a great mystery. It used to be … a century ago. I am a scientist, and I can tell you that nowadays—thanks to science—we know the age to amazing accuracy. The age of the Earth is 4.54 billion years … plus or minus 50 million years. That’s a number known to an accuracy of 99 percent, which is pretty dang good.

    Sen. Rubio’s answer, however, is so confused and error-riddled its difficult to know where to start.

    And then, Phil goes ahead and addresses that, HERE.

    The Maddow Blog also addresses Senator Rubio’s miscarriage of intelligence.

    And, the thing is, the actual story about how we know about the age of the earth is not only well established science, but it is intrinsically interesting. Following is from a post I wrote about this a while back, slightly edited:

    How old is the earth?

    Short answer: 4,540,000,000 Earth-years, plus or minus 1%.

    Long answer: We don’t know exactly because direct dating of the earliest material on the surface of the Earth will only tell use a minimum age; Prior to that, the Earth’s surface was probably molten, and even after that, it may be that the earliest non-molten material has been recycled into the planet’s interior by tectonic processes. Also, the earth is a big round ball of stuff that condensed into this shape from part of a large disk-shaped blob of stuff known as the Solar Nebula. When exactly, given this, did the Earth become the Earth? Since the process took millions of years, we can’t pinpoint the age of the Earth more exactly than a certain range.
    Continue reading How old is the Earth?