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Rosetta Stones

Rosetta Stones

Adventures in the good science of rock-breaking.

A Travesty of an Education

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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.

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

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