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A Travesty of an Education

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Would you be upset if I told you millions of kids are being taught that the earth is less than 10,000 years old? This is happening in Christian schools and homeschools* throughout America and the UK. Textbooks used in these schools are written from a biblical literalist viewpoint. To them, Genesis is a scientific treatise. The myth of Noah’s Flood is taken as the event that formed most of the geologic record. Scientists, we’re told, are “subject to the sin of pride,” and the world they study is “a fallen, dangerous world,” “cursed and broken.”

Imagine millions of kids emerging from their primary education believing that if science gives results different from a peculiar interpretation of the Bible, then they must either discard those results or twist and torture them to fit. Imagine those kids trying to get into college with that “education,” trying to have careers in a scientific field they may love, but which cannot support their interpretation. Imagine kids being taught that global warming isn’t a problem because God promised he’d never destroy the earth again, then going on to become policy makers in a warming world.

This is happening.

Because creationists so aggressively attack evolution, many people don’t realize the damage they do to the other sciences. But geology is almost as fatal to their faith as evolution is. Geology shows a world that’s billions of years old. Its rocks give no support to the story of a catastrophic, worldwide flood that killed all but a handful of living creatures on a wooden boat. The geologic column doesn’t only fail to support the Genesis myth, but disproves it with every lithified evaporite, desert dune, raindrop impression, and mud crack.

The rocks hold the radioactive minerals that dispute the literal biblical age of the earth. They preserve the fossils that show, starkly, that God couldn’t have everything into existence in its present form. There’s nothing in geology that proves their beliefs about physical reality are correct. Nearly everything proves them wrong.

So they distort everything we’ve learned about the earth, discard settled science where it won’t fit no matter how it’s twisted, and sell the resulting wreck as “real” science.

And those are actually the better creationist textbooks. There are some materials used in fundamentalist Christian science education that are so awful even young earth creationists can’t stand them.

Illustrations from A Beka Book's Science of the Physical Creation in Christian Perspective, BJU's Earth Science 4th Edition, and ACE Science PACE 1096. The misinformation presented to students in these books is breathtaking.

This is something all of us should be aware of, and prepared to effectively counter when it’s thrust on us by politicians, creationists on school boards, the pseudoscientists who infiltrate our professional spaces in order to boost their credibility with the church folks back home. We need to know what we’re facing when people raised on these lies bring that distorted understanding of earth science to our classrooms, museums, and legislatures. We need to know how to counter their misinformation when we make an effort to clean up the environment and mitigate the damage humans cause. We need to be able to understand where kids spouting this stuff are coming from if we’re to have any hope of repairing the damage done to their science education. And, ultimately, I believe we need to be asking ourselves some very hard questions about whether this stuff should be allowed to be the only science kids in private schools and homeschools are allowed to learn.

This issue concerns all of us. No matter your personal religious beliefs, if you believe science should be evidence-based, if you think reality matters, then you should be ready to counter attempts to deny that evidence and reality. You need to know that some truly incredible lies are being taught in the name of religion.

I’ve been reviewing three textbooks used in fundamentalist Christian schools and homeschools. You can find that series here. It’s often absurd, sometimes funny, at other times outrageous. There are even some times where I’ve discovered these textbooks doing a great job at teaching some difficult concepts, so this project isn’t just finding things to dispute, but things to emulate, too. You’ll see places where our worldviews – straight science vs. a contorted, damaged version filtered through “biblical glasses” – clash. You’ll also see some surprising areas of agreement.

Check it out.

My stack of creationist textbooks, with a legimitate textbook as a control.

 

*There are many private and homeschools that teach excellent science. The schools using these books are not among them.

Dana Hunter About the Author: Dana Hunter is a science blogger, SF writer, and geology addict whose home away from SciAm is En Tequila Es Verdad. Follow her on Twitter: @dhunterauthor. Follow on Twitter @dhunterauthor.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. robert.bright20 7:02 am 03/13/2014

    As a practicing Christian, and a scientist (retired now) I consider these people’s views nothing less than blasphemy! The God I worship is one whose laws allowed the creation of out universe about 13.8 billion years ago and its evolution into the universe we see today. They allowed the creation of the Earth and the evolution of life up to a thinking species – us – with whom God could converse. ‘He’ (gender is actualy irrelevant for God) is so vastly greater than the second rate tinkerer that creationists imagine!

    To those who say that the Bible is literally the unalterable Word of God, I must point out, for one example, that it describes Abraham as coming from “Ur of the Chaldees” The Chaldeans do not appear in the records we now have now until the ninth century BC. Abraham would have come from ‘Ur of the Akkadians’. Do they believe that God would make such a schoolboy error? (Don’t tell me – we forged the cuniform tablets.)

    How do these people square a belief that God will not destroy the Earth again with the Last Judgement?

    I believe that God expects us the help ourselves! He may inspire us and lead our thoughts, but it is up to us to do the hard work! When you were a baby you needed your nappies (diapers) changes, but now you are adult you are expected to be able to keep yourself clean, and do other chores, for yourself.

    Please do not lump all believers together!

    Link to this
  2. 2. tuned 10:38 am 03/13/2014

    Seems to me if there is a God then He gave us a brain with a sense of humor to be amused at such nonsense. What the Bible IS really good at is political control.
    The New Testament is even more fun. Human sacrifice? Really? With a side of cannibalism? Even as symbolism it’s a bit horrific.
    I’m a Utopian (my own term, not really the utopian socialist). I also think there is God, but He is neither omniscient, all powerful, nor particularly “moral”. Just “supremely” intelligent. I think He set things spinning and just watches ’till the end. Then justice.
    I have no scientific proof however. Just experiences.

    Link to this
  3. 3. M Tucker 3:08 pm 03/13/2014

    All of the various creationist’s nonsense has been repeatedly debunked long ago. Any person with a curious, open and logical mind will see the truth of the evidence that is presented and discard unsupported beliefs or crazy theories that do not stand up to the light of day. Those who wish to study a particular science at university will not have too much trouble working out the truth. They may at that time discover that the Bible was not written in English. Their curious mind might lead them on a wonderful journey into the history of Earth and the Bible.
    Others will cherry pick the science to fit their religious beliefs. Would you think it possible for a geophysicist to also be a young earth creationist? Sure! I know you have heard of John Baumgardner. He had no trouble getting his PhD from UCLA. Is that proof of a miracle or simply evidence that you can have wacko beliefs and still do well in science?
    Some fields of science will have very few if any young earth creationists. I doubt you will find many geologists, who do actual field work, who also have those beliefs. I know you read David Bressan’s latest post about William Buckland. He started out as a flood geologist who attempted to fit field observations into his beliefs and ended up his life doing an about-face. Evidence and a logical mind will tend to work those kinds of transformations.
    The Rocks Don’t Lie: A Geologist Investigates Noah’s Flood by David R Montgomery of UW in Seattle is a great book that I am willing to bet you have already read. So, as you know, these YECs are on a merry-go-round that will never stop and the bright ones who happen to be their offspring will either become enlightened by science and the evidence or become scientists anyway and still hang onto their wacko beliefs. The not so bright ones will ignore the majority of what goes on in science and live out their lives in blissful ignorance.

    Link to this

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