Stupidity On Stilts

Some background: I attended public schools in this country for all of my academic career, such as it was. Coming from a small town, I had not much of a clue of the real world, and it was some time before the facts of private and religious schools came to me.

Run the tape forward, and public education has gotten real, leading to objections from many who take religion seriously, more so than sometimes seems healthy. Public schools now teach the Earth is 4.5 or so billion years old and that all living things on this planet share a common ancestry. Those who hold truth in lesser regard than tradition and who could afford it have started to pull their children out of public schools and to place them in private schools that accommodate, even emphasized, religious instruction. Regrettably, academic instruction tends to suffer in these schools. I’m going to say this lapse is unavoidable due to the very reasons these schools were established.

Twelve years ago I dropped in to observe a presentation at a Bible church in Dallas. The presentation was by Richard Stepanek from the Alpha Omega Institute in Grand Junction, Colorado. He had some interesting things to say:

The woes of modern life were laid at the feet of evolution. Evolution is the foundation of New Age we were told. Richard should know. He once taught New Age at a Coptic church before coming over to Christian fundamentalism. Turned out not to be a long journey.

Demons are bad we now know. Cult symbols tattooed onto the hands and bodies of young people or carried on ornaments are used to summon up demons. You have seen them all. There’s 666 for sure plus the pentagram and the “peace sign.” The latter is a broken cross Richard told us, a slight against Christianity. Apparently it doesn’t stand for the semaphore ND (for nuclear disarmament) as we were led to believe in the ’60s. Also there is, shudder, the “hook’em horns” hand sign made famous by University of Texas football fans. I feel compelled to feed my diploma to the shredder.

Worse, yet, these symbols have real power to invoke demons to deal death to others. Richard vouched this had actually happened in Tanzania where he visited and took testimony. They are in the air, demons are. Ghosts are part of the demonic realm, as well, and UFOs are manifestations of spiritual life in outer space.

Associated with the church was a religious school, and prior to the presentation children trooped over to the church from the school to obtain the benefit of Stepanek’s talk. I made the comparison of this religious school to the madrasas of the Muslim Middle East.

Bible church file photo

Bible church file photo

Going even further back, seventeen years ago I attended a presentation by David Bassett at a young Earth creationist meeting. At the time Bassett was in charge of science education at one of the private religious schools in the Dallas area. That given, here is an excerpt from the February 1997 issue of The Skeptic.

Additionally, there is the remarkable evidence of living dinosaurs in the Congo region. Although Polaroid photos of these specimens were ruined by the awful climate there, Bassett did have a copy of a copy of an audio tape that was made by a recent expedition. On this tape we could clearly hear the popping sound made by the dinosaurs as they bellowed just a short distance away in the forest. The high atmospheric pressure in this region accounts for the viability of these ancient species. The pressure there is 1.3 to 1.5 times normal atmospheric pressure. This is because of the dense vegetation, which keeps the air quite humid. Of course, water vapor is denser than dry air, David Bassett told the audience.

When he is not contributing to the science education of students at Ovilla Christian School, Bassett works the front desk at Carl Baugh’s Creation Evidences Museum near Glen Rose. Check it out.

I took from such as this that science education in religious schools can suffer gravely, and I lay this mess at the feet of the general disregard for fact embedded in religious thinking.

I continually receive encouragement for my conclusion. Raw Story carries a piece by Johnny Scaramanga relating his personal experience in a religious school in the UK:

I went to an Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) school from the age of 11 to 14, and I can think of many reasons why this kind of education is a poor preparation for university. I spent half of every school day alone in a cubicle, working silently though PACEs (Packets of Accelerated Christian Education) – workbooks that incorporate religious instruction into every academic subject, for example teaching that evolution is a hoax.

The author has more to say and much of it is down right scary:

In all of this, however, little attention has been paid to the pseudoscience that ACE passes off as education. PACEs sometimes get basic science wrong, but more importantly they demonstrate that ACE can’t tell the difference between science and nonsense obscured with long words. For example, ACE’s Science 1087 (aimed at students in year 9) suggests it might be possible to generate electricity from snow:

The explanation was essentially this:

  • From science we know that snowflakes are six-sided.
  • “Some scientists have theorised” this six-side arrangement is due to the three orbital paths of electrons in water molecules.
  • The air pockets between the spokes of snowflakes contain increased concentrations of oxygen.
  • There is a relationship “a snowflake’s attraction to oxygen and magnetism’s attraction to oxygen.”

Now, here is where it gets interesting:

Job 38:22-23New International Version (NIV)

22 “Have you entered the storehouses of the snow
    or seen the storehouses of the hail,
23 which I reserve for times of trouble,
    for days of war and battle?

The conclusion is obvious:

How can this scripture, along with these observations about snowflakes, show us a physical truth? Scientists at Virginia Tech have produced electricity more efficiently from permanent magnets, which have their lines of force related to each other at sixty-degree angles, than from previous methods of extracting electricity from magnetism. Other research along this line may reveal a way to tap electric current directly from snow, eliminating the need for costly, heavy, and complex equipment now needed to generate electricity.

The writings of an early Iron Age tribesman from the Eastern Mediterranean region now trump modern science. That’s simply fantastic.

For a reality check, Scaramanga relayed this priceless knowledge to Professor Paul Braterman of Glasgow University. “Bullshit on stilts” was the response. Braterman contradicted the deepest sense of this bit of hogwash. For starters, “snow has no magnetic properties.” The bullshit flows downhill from there.

You may wonder, as I do, what value are students getting from education at these religious schools? There are extremes. Some of the top universities in this country are church supported or church founded. I can name:

  • Baylor
  • Notre Dame
  • Princeton
  • Brigham Young
  • Southern Methodist University

Even some of the lesser lights are not soft on science. A television news-documentary item a few years back highlighted the experience of Christian students who attended Wheaton College in Illinois and had their religious fundamentals challenged. They came home and informed their staunch Christian parents that evolution was true. Other of the lesser lights are less than lesser lights. Liberty University was founded by Christian televangelist Jerry Falwell and takes no stock in scientific modernism:

 Liberty University teaches young Earth creationism as an explanation for the appearance of life on earth. The university works with young Earth creationist organizations including Answers in Genesis. In biology classes students are taught both creationism and evolution and that creationism offers a better explanation of biological diversity than evolution. In October, 2006 the university published an advertisement in The Chronicle of Higher Education in an attempt to recruit staff to its biology department. The advertisement stated that the university was “seeking faculty who can demonstrate a personal faith commitment to its evangelical Christian purpose” and specified that “compatibility with a young-earth creationist philosophy [is] required.”

In the same month, prominent biologist Richard Dawkins was quoted saying the following about Liberty University: “If it’s really true that the museum at Liberty University has dinosaur fossils which are labeled as being 3,000 years old, then that is an educational disgrace. It is debauching the whole idea of a university, and I would strongly encourage any members of Liberty University who may be here, to leave and go to a proper university.” In December, 1991 Creation reported, Arlton C. Murray “excavated a dinosaur for Liberty University’s museum”, which proclaimed “this dinosaur was the first of its kind in any creationist museum.”

[Some links deleted]

The sorry academic standards at religious schools came to a head in this country eight years ago when the University of California system rejected some of the college preparatory courses at Christian schools:

The suit filed in the United States District Court for the Central District of California alleged that the university system’s rejection of several courses, including a history course, a government course, and science courses, was “viewpoint discrimination” that violated the constitutional rights of applicants from Christian schools whose high school coursework is deemed inadequate preparation for college. The books in particular were published by A Beka Books and Bob Jones University Press. They contained problems such as statements that where science and the Bible contradict, the student must choose the Bible, and judgment of the value of American historical figures on their religion. The UC board concluded that those books did not offer proper preparatory instruction for the university. The lawsuit was brought by the parents of six children who had not been rejected from the university, but were required to take additional, remedial courses. In August 2006, the case was allowed to proceed against the university while lawsuits against individual school officials were thrown out.

The Association retained leading intelligent design proponent Michael Behe to testify in the case as an expert witness. Behe’s expert witness report claimed that the Christian textbooks were excellent works for high school students and he defended that view in a deposition.

[Some links deleted]

The choice of Michael Behe was probably not a wise one. Behe is a legitimate college professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University, but he has some bizarre views of science. I have previously reviewed his book Darwin’s Black Box and also his The Edge of Evolution. When parents sued the Dover Area School District over the introduction of Intelligent Design into the science curriculum in 2005 Behe was one of the defense witnesses. The PBS documentary Judgment Day re-enacted Behe’s testimony wherein he had to defend his statements regarding some basic biochemistry. Despite claiming there was no published science contradicting his position, he had to admit he had not read anything from a pile of published material presented to him on cross examination.

There are many who do serious science while holding deep religious convictions. One such would be Kenneth Miller of Brown University, who is the co-author of a series of biology texts and who also continually works in the public defense of modern biological science, especially against attacks by creationists. Miller also testified at the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District case, wherein the plaintiffs won their case while key defenders of creationism were exposed as perjurers.

I followed the Kitzmiller case in the news as events unfolded and was not surprised at the finding of perjury on the part of the creationists. My observation has long been that you cannot do very much religion without a load of perjury.


2 thoughts on “Stupidity On Stilts

  1. Pingback: Stupidity on Stilts | Skeptical Analysis

  2. Pingback: Stupidity on Stilts | North Texas Skeptics

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