I’m So Embarrassed for My Birthplace

I grew up in Southwest Louisiana and I’m so embarrassed by all of the recent shenanigans being pulled by the state legislature. The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) has an ongoing series about the ignorant behavior by the state government. The state government has decided to pass Senate Bill 733 into law. Now, any teacher can completely ignore science and reality and teach “alternative” theories for evolution, global warming, geology, cloning, etc. Any half-baked idea can now be taught instead of the science.

Senate Bill 733 is called the “Louisiana Science Education Act”. It should be called the “Louisiana Rectal Extraction Education Act”. This is what the bill allows teachers and students to do. Never mind what the scientists actually say, if it conflicts with someone’s religious views, then they are allowed to make up anything they want as an alternative.

According to the NCSE:

Ars Technica’s John Timmer points out (June 27, 2008), however, that “most observers are expecting the passage of the LSEA by the state to unleash a series of Dover-style cases, as various local boards attempt to discover the edges of what’s constitutionally allowable.” Timmer cites a letter from Alan Leshner, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, who told Jindal that the bill would “provoke an expensive, divisive legal fight.”

Of course it would, and since a Federal court has already ruled that “Intelligent Design” is simply creationism, and since creationism was ruled a religious teaching by the Supreme Court in 1987, there is no way for the state of Louisiana to avoid expensive lawsuits. Lawsuits they would almost certainly lose.

Local teachers are concerned that the bill could open the door to creationism. As the Lafayette Daily Advertiser put it on June 26, 2008, “The possibility of the introduction of ‘wacko’ theories of the origins of life Carencro High School science teacher Warren Sensat.” Sensat told The Advertiser, “When you open the door to bring in unapproved curriculum, you can bring in some wacko stuff.” Other teachers are less worried. Tim Tate, a science curriculum supervisor for the Lafayette Parish schools told The Advertiser “he’s not worried about teachers using inappropriate materials. He expects teachers to only focus on the state curriculum, but acknowledges that different ideas will always be brought into the classroom.”

Teachers and students who support good science should bring in fringe, off the wall information. Materials that even the fundamentalist Christians object to. This is similar to how the school fliers pushing religion were stopped. It was only after the inclusion of Camp Quest for atheist kids and activities for Pagan kids were included in the backpack program. The Christians were all in a bother over the non-Christian ads and then demanded that all of the ads be stopped. Perhaps teach the “theory” that space aliens started life on earth. That would make the Raelians and Scientologists happy, and completely piss off everyone else including the Fundamentalist Christians. But perhaps this would spur the majority of moderate Christians to then push for good science to be taught instead of allowing nonsense as an “alternative theory”.

Home State Woes

It’s been a crazy news week for my home state of Louisiana. These stories are the reason why I will never return to live there. I lived there for the first 25 years of my life, going to school, then college until I went into the Air Force.

Wacky Pentecostals in Shreveport, LA had themselves a book burning, a real good old-fashioned mini Nazi-style book burning. The guy on the right needs to close his fingers to give a proper Nazi salute. And a burning cross or a couple of swastikas would give the book burning that special fascistic atmosphere. Hitler would feel so at home there.

According to the preachers at this insane church:

“It is allowed for Harry Potter to be taught in our schools, but not the Bible,” International House of Prayer pastor James Crawford said during the Shreveport Regional Unity of Faith Revival.

The book burning was a statement to reach out to people in Shreveport-Bossier City against sin, Crawford said.

Yeah, reach out and scare someone shitless. And some of the comments on the Shreveport Times website are scary indeed.

And on the creationism front, the NCSE has the latest news about the so-called Louisiana Science Education Act. La Senate Bill 733 singles out evolution from any other scientific theory and lets teachers use non-scientific materials to critique it.

After the bill passed the state Senate, Alan Leshner, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, wrote to the New Orleans Times-Picayune (May 6, 2008), and echoed the same sentiments. “Proponents offer deceptive arguments about encouraging students to think critically,” he observed. “But Louisiana’s education standards already do that. The real intent is to introduce classroom materials that raise misleading objections to the well-documented science of evolution and offer a religious idea called intelligent design as a supposed alternative. That would unleash an assault against scientific integrity, leaving students confused about science and unprepared to excel in a modern workforce.”

When I attended high school in Louisiana, evolution was not taught. Our biology teacher told us he was not allowed to teach about evolution. He said that out of class he could discuss it and answer any questions. I feel I was lucky that my parents encouraged questions and learning about science.

We watched science shows at home and my favorite books were the Time-Life Nature series that came in every month. That was my favorite present at Christmas. Those books taught me more about biology than ever I learned in high school. To me, evolution was a basic fact of biology. How could it not be? There is simply too much evidence in favor of evolution and no evidence for any alternative.

Great Videos from the NCSE

The National Center for Science Education has a series of great little videos covering the various ways that creationists are incorrect. The best way to frame the creationist’s efforts is to show that Intelligent Design (ID) = Creationism, which is exactly what the latest video does.

There is a very simple counter argument to ID (which is simply Paley’s watchmakers argument from the 1800’s). Paley’s argument states that a watch found on a beach is clearly designed and there must be a watchmaker. The watch (designed) is compared against the beach and surrounding environment (not designed), so the watch is observed to have a design. Fortunately for Paley, the watch is known beforehand that it is designed, and there are the designer’s (watchmakers) that are clearly in evidence. Unfortunately for Paley and the ID people, there is no evidence of a designer of plants and animals. And in Paley’s argument, the environment is considered as not designed, so there is something to compare the watch against.

ID is simply moving the designed item from the watch to plants, animals, and the environment. There is nothing not designed to compare design against so how can we even define what “designed” means? If we can’t even describe this “design”, then we can’t even begin to postulate a “designer”. So we end up with a postmodernist argument of “something might have seemed to have made things, but we have no evidence of this, and we don’t have a mechanism, and can’t predict when something designed will pop into existence”. A philosophic argument that is hardly scientific, or even a well constructed philosophic argument.