Schools
 

Why fight it? Let’s embrace textbooks Loch, stock and barrel

This may or may not be the Loch Ness Monster, which may or may not exist. But please consult your local science textbook for further information. Image by Mr Moss via Flickr.

Say you’re an executive for a growing company that intends to relocate to the Southeast. One morning, while perusing your robust web news round-up, you click on a Business Insider article. It’s labeled “Hot,” because it’s being so widely viewed and shared. The first sentence begins:

Thousands of children in Louisiana are being taught that the Loch Ness monster – part of the famous Scottish legend – is a real, living dinosaur to debunk evolution…

Now, do you feel more or less inclined to relocate to Louisiana? Reading through the story, you learn that Bible-influenced textbooks used in some Louisiana private schools make numerous other false claims, such as:

  • In 1977, a Japanese whaling vessel hooked a dinosaur carcass.
  • Evolution and Solar Fusion are myths.
  • Homosexuality is a learned behavior.

Here’s the kicker: the article says Louisiana parochial schools teaching this codswallop will soon receive tax dollars to expand instruction of this bogus curriculum.

The textbooks are currently used in private Christian schools such as the Eternity Christian Academy in Westlake, Louisiana.

Perhaps most shocking, in the upcoming school year Louisiana residents will be able to attend Eternity Christian Academy and other Christian private schools using state sponsored school vouchers.

Surely, you’d think, Bobby Jindal – Louisiana’s ballyhooed “whiz kid” governor and potential vice presidential candidate – must be embarrassed by this story on schooling in his state. After all, educational initiatives were the centerpiece of his 2012 legislative agenda.

Actually, not so much! Jindal, an Ivy League biology major, is totally on board with oxymoronic “creationist science.” He thinks local schools should be empowered to “teach the controversy” surrounding evolution – the foundational theory of all life sciences – even though no scientific controversy about evolution exists! And that’s just for starters. Other “controversies” may include the age of the earth (which geologists use to find the oil that powers the state economy) and global warming (which raises the sea level and threatens life-as-we-know-it in the southern third of the state).

Jindal’s a big cheerleader for the voucher program, which lets students transfer from failing public schools to private institutions that accept vouchers, such as Eternity Christian Academy. In fact, Eternity Christian’s enrollment will skyrocket next year due to the voucher program, as Walter Pierce explained earlier this month in The Independent Weekly:

[Eternity Christian Academy] has been approved to accept 135 new students. That’s a considerable uptick in enrollment, which at the end of this school year stood at 38 – a more than 300 percent increase. Talk about buttressing the budget; $1 million in tax dollars will be diverted from the public school system to Eternity Christian, a school that, according to its mission statement, offers “a quality faith-based curriculum that is soley [sic] based on principles from the Bible …”

The Accelerated Christian Education program used at Eternity Christian reportedly  “originated in Texas in the 1970s.” Part of the curriculum claims that those with liberal beliefs are basically stupid and unholy. “Men on the left cannot walk in wisdom,” the text intones. Other materials from the program include “cartoon strips used for the teaching of ‘Godly character’… [which]  depict students attending racially segregated schools.” Similar fundamentalist schoolbooks  claim that the Ku Klux Klan was a reform organization, and that “God used the ‘Trail of Tears’ to bring many Indians to Christ.”

So, the Loch Ness Monster claim isn’t an isolated blunder.

In order to assuage fundagelical parents, our tax dollars are funding false instruction about a sea monster (that somehow lives in a heavily visited tourist attraction and is never reliably glimpsed or photographed). Worse yet, in addition to being scientifically fraudulent, some of this “biblical” instruction appears to be reactionary and racist, as well.

Previously I’ve ranted about creationists who used philosophical skepticism to raise doubts about evolution theory. They couch them in disingenuous questions, like “How does something as complex as an eye evolve?” (Gov. Jindal used that one, on occasion.) But perhaps I’ve neglected to make another point that’s dear to me, having attended parochial as well as public schools.

I respect faith. But I greatly respect faith that includes a little or (a lot of) doubt. For example, Mother Teresa had doubts about God’s presence in her whole life, because she’d never heard from Him. I even like religious studies – preferably some instruction that includes non-Christian faiths. Zoroastrianism, for example.

But scientific education is another matter. There’s an established method that makes use of evidence, logic, transparency, peer review. It has served us well. But some believers sense a threat from modern science. (Darwin’s time-tested and unrivalled theory of natural selection comes immediately to mind.) To avoid cognitive conflict, and a crisis of faith that Mother Teresa admirably endured, they’d prefer to mangle science education to soothe their adamantine religious beliefs. Their children won’t come home from school with uncomfortable questions.

So I want to ask: whoever said faith was supposed to be easy?

There is no Loch Ness monster. It’s a myth. If you choose to believe, against all the available evidence, that one miraculously exists, be my guest. Heck, I might even admire your faith in “Nessie.” But don’t teach your unfounded beliefs under the rubric of science. And if you do, don’t ask me to pay for it.

It’s fraudulent to falsify science and history in order to avoid religious discomfort. Without the friction of doubt, there’s only thoughtless belief. And inculcating such beliefs isn’t educating. It’s brain washing.

For me, the issue goes beyond the fact that Louisiana tax dollars will be used to fund a voucher program that allows such miseducation. As a churchgoer and the grandson of a pastor, I’m outraged that ANY parochial school teaches this bunk. Such “instruction” may be legal, but it’s false, it’s an embarrassment, and it poorly serves the young minds inhabiting those classrooms. Further, the bad international publicity surrounding parochial schools like Eternity Christian tarnishes the perception of student achievement throughout Louisiana. It’s an insult to all the hard-working teachers, in public and private schools alike, who do their best to educate their students.

It’s like a self-inflicted “brain drain” without the travel expense.

Ultimately, embarrassments like Eternity Christian risk short-circuiting Jindal’s reform idea of offering (some) students a viable private alternative to failing public schools. If the nation is too busy laughing at Louisiana’s taxpayer-funded “Loch Ness” education in Westlake, it will undercut the perception of the entire voucher program, whether or not it succeeds at other schools.

There may be a silver lining to this unholy mess. The Business Insider article concludes:

Many people are outraged that an education system based on the bible is being funded by the state government.

The Herald, however, found a bright side as “the Scottish tourist industry might well reap a dividend from the craziness of the American education system.”

I think there may be a corollary upside for Louisiana’s tourism business. Let’s just go with it!

Embrace our backwardsness. Tell the fundagelicals “you win,” and turn the state into one big, living museum of the 19th century. We could reinvent our tourist economy and invite fascinated tourists to come and ask the locals to opine about their intense suspicion of non-Christians and other minorities, and offer their thoughts about liberals and those who “choose” non-straight “lifestyles.” I suppose New Orleans would remain the Sodom, and the rest of the state would be God’s country. Perhaps a virtuous circle would develop where modernists would leave while the region’s fundagelicals would influx the state.

Colonial Williamsburg, eat your heart out: You have to hire actors; we can just act normal!

Meanwhile, our schools would offer top-shelf biblical science courses on sea monsters, and the very best history lectures on the benefits of apartheid. And why not also an economic course extolling the Market Forces of the Gilded Age, for good measure?

Who needs those business executives from other states, with their fancy ideas about a well-educated workforce, anyway?

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  • Peter

    Creationism makes people stupid and incompetent.

    Critical thinking isn’t necessary because the Biblical basis of Creationism can’t be challenged. Creative thinking isn’t necessary because the Bible answers everything.

    People who don’t think lose the ability. Creationists are discouraged from thinking, so they don’t think. Instead they become stupid.

    Richard Feynman wrote “Nature cannot be fooled.” But Biblical foolery is the crux of Creationism. When faced with a question, Creationists take the Bible, pull out some quotations, throw them at whatever question they face, and take the result on faith.

    When issues in biology, geology, and astronomy arise, Creationists will invoke the magic of Biblical analysis, just like pagans invoke the magic of a secret talisman, and toss the Biblical joss-sticks to arrive at an answer completely divorced from reality. Whether or not it makes any sense is entirely up to chance. That’s incompetence.

    “Nature cannot be fooled,” not even by the Bible.

  • JosephU

    The article’s writer includes the question:
    1.) “How does something as complex as an eye evolve?”
    A. It doesn’t…The Bible tells us God made seeing eyes:
    “Ears that hear and eyes that see –
    the LORD has made them both.”
    Proverbs 20:12 (NIV1984Bible)
    http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Proverbs%2020&version=NIV1984

    Also, the writer mentions he has “attended parochial as well as public schools” and the Catholic nun: Mother Teresa.

    A few magisterial (official)teachings of the Catholic Church on creation and the origins of man and the universe include:
    – God created everything “in its whole substance” from nothing (ex nihilo) in the beginning. (Lateran IV; Vatican Council I)
    – Genesis contains real history – it gives an account of things that really happened. (Pius XII)
    – Adam and Eve were real human beings – the first parents of all mankind. (Pius XII)

    – All the Fathers who wrote on the subject believed that the Creation days were no longer than 24-hour-days. (Consensus of the Fathers of the Church)

    – Evolution must not be taught as fact, but instead the pros and cons of evolution must be taught. (Pius XII, Humani Generis)

    See:
    What Does the Catholic Church Teach about Origins?
    http://www.kolbecenter.org/images/kolbe/pdfs/what_church_teaches.pdf
    and
    Genesis 1-11 (NIV1984 Bible):
    “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. …”
    http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis1-11&version=NIV1984

    In order to have a “well-educated workforce” schools should teach cutting-edge science.
    A few examples include:
    – Molecules-to-man evolutionism violates the Law of Biogenesis: Life does not come from non-life.
    – The specific complexity of genetic information in the genome does not increase spontaneously. Therefore, there is no natural process whereby reptiles can turn into birds, land mammals into whales, or chimpanzees (or any other kind of creature)into human beings.

    See:
    What Does Cutting-Edge Science Teach about Origins?
    http://www.kolbecenter.org/images/kolbe/pdfs/what_church_teaches.pdf

  • Nighthhaawk

    As Mumharr Khadafi said to the Prime Minester of Israel :
    “Let’s see whose imaginary friend exists” once we are gone.

    The Bible was a great piece of liturature for keeping the serfs in line for their “reward” in the afterlife, and I admit a nice way to keep people from small arguments. But inthe end all it has done, is divide groups based on how legittmate “their God” is.
    I will take legittmate SCIENCE any day of the week.

    and as to origins – no one ever said that understanding evolutionwas easy..you are a perfect example of that.

  • Nighthhaawk

    ..and the Loach Ness Monster too!

  • I concur heartily with all the major points you make. But you and those you criticize are both wrong about Nessie. She’s not a myth, and she’s also not a surviving dinosaur. Loch Ness happens to be the home of a population of as-yet-unidentified creatures, which can be of quite large size and whose appearance — but not behavior or physiology — resembles in some respects that of the extinct plesiosaurs. The evidence on both sides of the controversy over Nessie’s existence is set out in my book “The Enigma of Loch Ness” (University of Illinois Press)

  • Mark Moseley

    Thank you for the comment, Prof. Bauer! That’s… an interesting belief.

    I’m not convinced there’s a controversy

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/3096839.stm

    but will have to check out your book.

  • Paul Burnett

    JosephU: Are you aware that Saint Augustine opined that the Biblical text should not be interpreted literally if it contradicts what we know from science and our God-given reason – or have you ever heard of Saint Augustine?

    Are you aware that Pope John Paul II officially opined that the author of Genesis did not intend to provide a scientific explanation of how God created the world?

    Are you aware that Saint Thomas Aquinas opined that the Book of Genesis was not a treatise on cosmography for the use of scholars. It was a statement of the truth
    intended for the simple people whom Moses was addressing. Or have you ever heard of Saint Thomas Aquinas?

  • Hey speaking of critical thinking skills,

    http://www.presstv.ir/usdetail/248395.html

    The position causing the most controversy, however, is the statement that they oppose the teaching of “higher order thinking skills” — a curriculum which strives to encourage critical thinking — arguing that it might challenge “student’s fixed beliefs” and undermine “parental authority.”

    Admittedly, “higher order thinking skills” does sound suspiciously elitist. I wonder what Dr. Morgus would say.

  • Whew, Thanks GOD for JosephU and his two count’em TWO sources of information!

    I knew the millions of scientists, decades of research, & mountains of evidence across multiple scientific disciplines was all a big sham.

  • Aaron Schmidt

    The most frustrating part about being a creationist is the fact that I haven’t found someone who believes evolution that will legitimately discuss the topic. They will sit down and say they will, but I am given rules. I can’t use the Bible. I can’t mention God. I can’t use any unknowns. However, Evolutionary theory is full of unknowns and assumed information. They will cite textbooks that have outdated and KNOWN inaccurate information. The even sadder part of this, that same information is still included as proof for evolution, even though the “fact” has been shot down many years prior.

    Evidence is all around for a young earth. From the moon, to the planets spinning in opposite directions. Niagara Falls. Colorado River. Etc.

    Do you even look into the information? Or do you shoot it down because it involves God? How close minded can you be?

  • Ah C

    TO Aaron Schmidt:

    Do not be surprised if in your lifetime there will be GREAT things that ALL SIDES of this Creation/Evolution argument will soon be made aware of.

    (ALL SIDES means: creationists, evolutionists, and those who say it is somewhere in between or outside.)

    Great things are soon to come, indeed……

  • Don Richardson

    I first had a required religion course in collage (methodist) and enjoyed emensly and have studied belief systems ever sense. Steve Jobs died recently because of his belief that he could treat his cancer with herbs.
    It does little good to debate creationism with true believers since they only quote the bible, which is a series of writings from the post christ period much like the Koran is used today, a 1200 year old text. Both containing tails of magic, miracles, rising from the dead, cures etc., and trying to answer Why are we born, Why do we suffer and Why do we die. There are no real prophets, religion is man made and science a bitter pill for true believers, but as the church found out you can not dictate truth in the face of reality… ask Nicolaus Corpernicus.

  • I believe in Evolution. I support having Creation done in the Universe so that it is not Inferior.