Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Christianity Today: A New Creation Story

A reader was kind enough to pass this story on today.  Christianity Today has decided to follow the Atlantic's lead and has published a story subtitled Why do more homeschoolers want evolution in their textbooks?  Sarah Zylstra writes:
Christian homeschool science textbooks have long taught young earth creationism (YEC) almost exclusively. But observers say a growing number of parents want texts that also teach evolution.
"Homeschooling has broadened so much, and now includes many Christian groups who have never adopted [YEC]," said homeschool pioneer Susan Wise Bauer, a history professor at Virginia's College of William and Mary. "Also, there are a lot of younger evangelicals who have come to a different way of understanding Genesis, while still holding [on to their] evangelical roots.
Numbers on the trend are hard to pin down. Still, BioLogos president Deborah Haarsma says that it's "fairly common" for homeschooling families to request materials from her organization, which promotes theistic evolution. Some of these parents still believe in a young earth, says program director Kathryn Applegate, but they want their children exposed to different perspectives.
This is good news.  Although the magazine historically has not supported EC/TE, that they are tackling it at all is worth taking notice of.  Like the historical Adam issue, this will only increase in visibility within the Christian community.  The lock that YEC has on home schooling must be broken if there is to be any progress in this area.

What remains to be seen is if some of these curricula that address evolution do it honestly.  I already know that Abecka does not.  There is evidence that BJ does not either.  Still, this is a movement in the right direction away from the YEC gnostic perspective.

This magazine has come a long way from their anti-evolution diatribes of the 1990s.  I got fed up with it and canceled my subscription right around then and have not picked it up since.  I might have to.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Teachers and Evolution: Coming Through the Back Door

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has an interesting editorial on the creation/evolution question as it pertains to science teachers and, in the process, points out an insidious back-door approach that some teachers take. The article chronicles the experiences of a woman who took an AP course in biology that gave evolution short shrift.  When she got to college, she realized that she had been under-educated.  David Templeton writes:
Her experience represents the ill-kept secret about public school biology classrooms nationwide -- that evolution often isn't taught robustly, if at all. Faith-based belief in creationism and intelligent design continues to be discussed and even openly taught in public school classrooms, despite state curriculum standards.
This is not new per se. This particular issue has been fought in Louisiana, Tennessee, and, of course, in Pennsylvania.  But this represents an additional facet of the problem.  Even though quite a few teachers are following the mandate to not teach creationism, that does not cover how they teach evolution:
But Mr. Berkman said their most alarming finding was that teachers need not introduce creationism in class to undercut interest and belief in evolution."You just have to throw doubt and downplay evolution," he said. "The idea that teachers are doing a really weak job -- many a really weak job -- of introducing evolution, we think, is because of reactions they get and maybe because of the lack of confidence in what they are teaching. That especially is the case with evolution, where many students have been primed by parents and youth groups to raise difficult and challenging questions."
This produces students who have little to no knowledge of evolution when they reach college. If they skip through college with minimal biology (engineering majors, let's say) and then end up in school boards later in life, they won't have the knowledge to make educated decisions about how evolution should be taught.  Thus, the cycle simply continues.

Another issue at work is that high school teachers differ from college professors in how they are trained.  High school teachers go through a curriculum that is heavily geared toward the facets of pedagogy and less, if at all, towards the particular subject they will be teaching.  Basically, they are taught to be teachers, not biologists, or chemists, or what-have-you.  We ask how, of those polled, 19% of science teachers can believe in young-earth creationism?  That's how.  

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Pew Quiz on Science and Technology

The Pew Trust quizzed 1000 randomly-selected people about general knowledge of Science and Technology and then invited people interested in the report to take the quiz, themselves.  The quiz, as well as the report is here. The results tend to be all over the map and only one of them has to do with the history of the earth.  I think that if you structured a quiz around that topic, the results would be much worse. 

For the quiz, almost 80% of people knew that the main role of red blood cells is to carry oxygen to the cells, while only 20% of those quizzed knew that nitrogen makes up most of atmospheric gas.  The only prehistorically-based question: "The continents have been moving over millions of years and will continue to move" was good, with 77% of people correctly answering it. The sobering take-away message, though, is that if you got all of them right (I did), you did better than 93% of those quizzed.  I wonder how people would do on the Dinosaur quiz (yesterday's post)?

Friday, April 26, 2013

Internet Monk: "The Disney-ization of Christianity Continues Apace"

In his "Updates on the Creation Wars," Chaplain Mike airs his thoughts on the new Noah's Ark theme center at Cornerstone Church, in San Antonio, Texas.  He writes:
Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas, famous for Pastor John Hagee and his over-the-top dioramic teaching on prophecy and the End Times, is about to treat us with a 28,400 square foot building portraying Noah’s Ark, complete with “true-to-size animatronics animals…to underscore the Bible’s authenticity.”...I guess if your goal is to sell a product, Disney is the way to go; after all, they’re pros at it.

If your goal is to follow Jesus, I’m not so sure.
Agreed.  Don't miss his definition of "Disney-ization."  This is the direction modern evangelical Christianity is headed. 

Urban Legend? Hopefully, But Probably Not.

A friend of mine sent this to me from Snopes.com.  It is, purportedly, a quiz given in a fourth grade science class at a school in South Carolina.

As Snopes points out:
The title of the quiz is the same as that of a DVD produced by the group Answers in Genesis and hews closely to the material presented therein, including the admonition that "if someone tells you the earth is millions of years old, what should be your reply? Were you there?" and the reference to the Bible as the History Book of the Universe.
Snopes does not come down either way on the authenticity of the quiz, but suggests that the source of the information is credible. They list it as "probably true." I think it probably is also, and is not far from what quite of a few of these private schools likely teach. I have no empirical evidence for that, however. If this is true, once again, this is what will kill the voucher program. All that the opponents of vouchers have to do is point out this kind of use and it is lights out. That is a shame.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Musings On Death and The Garden of Eden

I recently read a paper by John Lynch called “PREPARE TO BELIEVE”: The Creation Museum as embodied conversion narrative." The paper is behind a subscription wall so I cannot link it but I will post one paragraph. Lynch is discussing the young earth creationist penchant for disregarding modern scientific thought. He writes:
The amplifıcation of leveling into a disregard for all empirical observations creates a Manichean worldview. Part of this worldview is the Creation Museum’s problematic vision of human reason and sacred texts. Human reason, according to the museum, cannot function accurately or effectively when divorced from God’s Word as manifested in the Bible. Yet, which version of the Bible and what interpretation of the various biblical verses is appropriate? The Creation Museum offers no explicit answer, but its theological edifıce rests on the assumption that God’s Word—a collection of texts written in multiple languages and continually translated, retranslated, and revised in English as well as other modern tongues—is transparent and perhaps even self-interpreting. Human reason plays no role in interpreting or understanding the Bible. Any relationship between human reason and God’s Word is unidirectional. Human reason accepts the self-evident and transparent implications of the Bible and uses those ideas to understand the world. This assumption is the point where those concerned about or opposed to the worldview of the Creation Museum can make their stand. Given the diversity of biblical interpretations within Protestant Christianity, as well as Roman Catholicism and Orthodox Christianity, the assumption of transparency is not tenable.1
I have been rattling around in my head for some time the notion that modern young earth creationism is not just off the rails but gnostic in thought.  They cannot be reached by the science because of what Lynch mentions in the passage.  Can they be reached theologically?  Dunno.  But this whole hermeneutic plays itself out in weird ways in my daily life.

Beispiel: I have been going to a series of sessions called GriefShare, which is a program that helps people deal with the loss of a loved one and, by and large, it has been helpful but something keeps nagging at me.  There is a repeated assertion that we really grieve in ways that we were never supposed to grieve because physical death was something we were never supposed to experience. Physical death was not part of the plan.  This particular hermeneutic keeps reappearing. 

Okay, lets back that one out a bit.  Just for the sake of argument, let's say for a moment that Adam and Eve didn't sin and so, as this theological hermeneutic goes, didn't experience "death."   Say Adam and Eve decide to just have two children, and their children have two children (by some, as yet undiscovered spouses).  Assuming a generational time of twenty years, within a thousand years, you have well over fifteen billion people on the world because nobody is dying.  it becomes much worse if you place Adam and Eve back some ten thousand years.  One of two things is then true: 1). At some point, God would have had to say: "Quit having children right now!"  or 2). God never intended for Adam and Eve to ever have children, in which case, none of us were ever in the plan from the beginning and God's word is something we were never supposed to have.  When Adam and Eve sinned, God "improvised." 

Does this make sense??    Is this, in any way, theologically sound??  This is the fruit of modern fundamentalist evangelical Christianity, a theological construct whereby most of those that practice it don't think it all the way through.  Can they be reached theologically?  Dunno.

Somehow I think I should try...

1Lynch, J. (2013). "Prepare to Believe": The Creation Museum as Embodied Conversion Narrative. Rhetoric & Public Affairs, 16(1), 1-27.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Joe Barton, Climate Change and Noah's Flood: More Beclowning

U.S. Representative Joe Barton, of Texas (do I need to give the party affiliation?), has made the news based on his views on climate change. It is not just that he disagrees with the consensus about climate change, it is why he disagrees. As the Star-Telegram puts it:
Environmentalists have railed against the Keystone pipeline, which would carry natural gas from Canada to refineries in Texas.

"I would point out that if you're a believer in the Bible, one would have to say the Great Flood is an example of climate change and that certainly wasn't because mankind had overdeveloped hydrocarbon energy," said Barton, chairman emeritus of the energy committee.

Barton's allusion to the Great Flood and, by extension, Noah's Ark, sparked lots of online commentary and a jab from 2012 Democratic opponent Kenneth Sanders.

"Joe Barton is a disappointment to Texans who count on him to represent their interest; his understanding of God's holy word is somewhat suspect as well," Sanders said in a statement. "As a person of faith, I'm personally disappointed that he has looked into the Good Book and found evidence to deny any human impact on climate change.
I am always a bit suspicious when people use the phrases "person of faith" and "The Good Book" because it usually means they don't take much stock in either. However, Barton's interpretation of the scriptures is suspect and his understanding of climatology even more so. Here is what you find when a real geologist examines the geological record:
No geologic evidence whatsoever exists for a universal flood, flood geology, or the canopy theory. Modern geologists, hydrologists, paleontologists, and geophysicists know exactly how the different types of sedimentary rock form, how fossils form and what they represent, and how fast the continents are moving apart (their rates can be measured by satellite). They also know how flood deposits form and the geomorphic consequences of flooding.1
How do you make a reasonable assessment of climate change when you have Noah's Flood as your point of reference? The scientific problems in accepting that version of events are insurmountable. He has no basic understanding of modern geology or climatology. How do people like this get on science and energy committees in the first place? We need a basic science literacy test for these committees. As Glenn Reynolds would say "Faster, please."

1Hill, Carol A. (2002) The Noachian Flood: Universal or Local? Perspectives on Science and the Christian Faith, 54(3): 170-183


Back from the conference!  Okay, so it was in my back yard.  I still didn't get a lot done while it was going on.  The American Association of Physical Anthropologists convention had some great papers, including a wholesale reevaluation of the Australopithecus sediba skeleton, in which it was suggested strongly that the hip was NOT built for running as was originally thought.  There were also some very interesting papers on the acquisition of complex language and a tie-in to the advent of complex stone tool construction reflected in the late Acheulean.  My friend Art Durband also gave a good poster on the evidence for discontinuity from the Ngandong archaic Homo sapiens remains to the modern-day Australasians.  All in all, a good set of papers.  The conference circular, with abstracts is here

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

More on Joseph Mastropaolo...

One of my readers posted a link to an earlier article, by Michael Zimmerman, on HuffPo about Joseph Mastropaolo, the creationist I wrote about yesterday, who is asking to debate the literal reading of Genesis. Zimmerman writes:
Almost a decade ago, on Valentine's Day of 2004, I was invited to participate. The rules were very similar to what The Guardian presented. In both cases, $10,000 would be put in escrow by the participants and the outcome would be determined by a judge. Rather than proving that science contradicts the literal interpretation of the Bible, the Life Science Prize challenge focused on the nature of science and creationism. Here's how the challenge was framed back then: "If the evolutionist proves evolution is science and creation is religion, he wins the $20 000. If the creation scientist proves that creation is science and evolution is religion, then the creationist collects the $20 000."

As I explained in an article I published in 2006, I engaged with Mastropaolo for about two months attempting to come to an agreement on terms for the contest. (If you read the article I wrote, you'll see that from the outset I had no belief that my interactions would be productive but I thought they would be both interesting and edifying, and they most certainly were.) Rather than making any progress, I was berated, abused and had complaints filed with the person I reported to at the university at which I worked at the time.
The rest of the article is a sobering account of how twisting the scriptures to make them fit a particular young-earth hermeneutic eventually leads to a completely warped view of science. Zimmmerman writes that Mastropaolo's views are "far from the mainstream." Judging from what emanates from AiG and similar sites, and what I have read and seen in homeschool textbooks, I am not so sure. It is what makes me think that young earth creationism is, at the very least, gnosticism, and quite possibly heresy.

Peter Hess: Science, Catholicism and the Papacy in the New Millennium

Peter Hess, the Director of Outreach to Religious Communities for the National Center for Science Education, has written a nice piece chronicling the acceptance of science in general and evolution in specific, with some very good quotes from the popes of the last decade or so. He writes:
John Paul II's principal theological advisor was Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, whom he named prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1981. Cardinal Ratzinger wrote an insightful theological reflection on the early chapters of the Book of Genesis, in which he noted that "the Holy Scripture in its entirety was not written from beginning to end like a novel or a textbook. It is, rather, the echo of God's history with his people."
Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI, was a clear supporter of evolutionary theory. All is not wine and roses, however, in Catholic-land.  Hess continues:
However, despite this solid support by recent popes for understanding of our ancient, dynamic and evolving universe, there remain within the Catholic Church elements that are intransigently opposed to modern science. The oddly-named Kolbe Center in Virginia is a young earth creationist group committed to defending "the literal and obvious sense of Scripture" as upheld by Pope Leo XIII in his encyclical letter Providentissimus Deus (1893). Not only do the Kolbe Center rival Protestant fundamentalists in rejecting the evolutionary assumptions of modern biology, but they also pretend that "the modern 'anti-culture of death' grew out of the macro-evolutionary theory" -- a typical piece of bombastic creationist illogic.
That this organization relies on an out-dated encyclical is not surprising, since most of modern creationism is stuck in a 19th century understanding of science.

Although the article ends on a positive note, in the end, we still do not know anything about what Pope Francis thinks about evolutionary theory or about how best the Catholic church should interact with the world of science.  I guess we will just have to wait a bit longer.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

In the Spirit of Kent Hovind...

A reader sent me a link to this story about a man who is daring anyone to "challenge the literal interpretation of Genesis in court." Eric Pfeiffer of Yahoo News writes:
And for a man wanting to debate the very nature of human existence, Joseph Mastropaolo is taking a decidedly happy-go-lucky approach, saying he hopes the contest will improve future discussions on both sides of the argument.

"The evolutionists thereafter could read that transcript and make their case a bit stronger on the next one they contend against and we can do the same," Mastropaolo told the Guardian. "We can read the transcript and not have to go through the same process over and over and over again without any let up, without any resolution."

Mastropaolo’s plan is to put $10,000 of his own money into an escrow account. His debate opponent would be asked to do the same. They would then jointly agree on a judge based on a list of possible candidates. Mastropaolo said that any evidence presented in the trial must be “scientific, objective, valid, reliable and calibrated."
Although the trial would have no legal standing, Mastropaolo wants there to be a judge that would adjudicate matters and award the $10,000 to the winner of the trial. I am curious to see if anyone will step up. This is not so unlike the proposition that Kent Hovind put forth in the 1990s, except that Hovind defined the opposing side in such a way that the only person who could have marshalled the necessary evidence would have been God, Himself. That didn't stop Hovind from crowing that nobody would take up his challenge. That is, until the authorities hauled him off to jail.