And That’s Why They’re Going to Hell: Teaching Literature in Bobby Jindal’s Louisana

April 21, 2013

In an interview with NBC’s Hoda Kotb on April 12, Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal defended two anti-education elements of Louisiana’s education system: the Louisiana Science Education Act and the Louisiana voucher program. Asked if he thought it was acceptable to teach creationism in public schools, Jindal responded:

We have what’s called the Science Education Act that says that if a teacher wants to supplement those materials, if the school board is okay with that, if the state school board is okay with that, they can supplement those materials. … Let’s teach them — I’ve got no problem if a school board, a local school board, says we want to teach our kids about creationism, that people, some people, have these beliefs as well, let’s teach them about “intelligent design”…. What are we scared of?”

The Louisiana Science Education Act allows teachers to bring in supplemental reading materials to critique controversial scientific theories, such as evolution, the origins of life and global warming. In practice, this act allows teachers in public schools to counter approved science textbooks with anti-science and to present creationism as a viable alternative to evolution by natural selection.

The voucher program allows funds set aside for public education to pay for students to attend private, religiously-based schools. In November a state judge ruled the voucher program unconstitutional, but did not end or suspend the program. This issue is now before the state Supreme Court.

Last year, Mother Jones compiled a list of “facts” included in textbooks that are used by some of the schools receiving public funds from the voucher program. Among those facts: dinosaurs and humans co-existed; fire-breathing dragons may have been real; slavery and the KKK weren’t that bad.

I purchased copies of two of the books Mother Jones listed: Life Science 3rd ed. by Brad R. Batdorf and Thomas E. Porch, published by Bob Jones University Press, and the teacher’s edition of Elements of Literature for Christian Schools by Ronald A Horton, Ph.D., Donnalynn Hess, M.A. and Steven N. Skaggs, also published by BJU Press.

The life science textbook is as horrible as you would expect, but I am going to focus on the literature textbook. It is intended for high school freshmen and sophomores, and it isn’t really about literature: it’s about the bible. Oh, other literary works are included, but they’re really only there to shed light on the Bible.

In the “To the Teacher” section, the authors state:

The serious study of imaginative literature opens the door to a vast new realm of reading comprehension and pleasure. All artful writing takes on greater richness and breadth of significance. Improved Bible study will be an inevitable benefit of developing these skills. Students will be sensitive and responsive to meanings in the Scriptures…that were beyond them before. Students will be aware of the beauty and power of Biblical expression and understand how artistry clarifies and reinforces meaning. For sheer variety and magnificence of artistic effects and structural finesse, the Bible is incomparable. It supernaturally excels in artistry of form as well in truth of content.

Every section begins with a selection from the Bible which exemplifies whatever literary device is being discussed. Then other selections are introduced. In this way, say the authors, “the students are learning that they may take the Bible as their standard in every area of their experience–that it should, in fact, be the center of their entire mental and emotional world.”

Of course, in juxtaposing the Bible with other works of literature, there is a danger that students might come to see the Bible as being simply literature: a collections of stories using metaphor, allegory, symbolism and other literary devices, little different from the works of Shakespeare or Edgar Allan Poe.

No fear. As the authors explain:

[T]his book is careful to maintain the distinction between the Bible and other literature. The Christian teacher of literature cannot afford to leave any doubt about his belief in the uniqueness of the divinely inspired writings of Scripture. The study of Biblical metaphors, allegory, irony, allusions, and themes can otherwise be construed to imply that the Bible is only a work of man and differs from other human writings only in degree. Secular courses in “the Bible as literature” raise doubt about the supernatural nature of Scripture simply by ignoring it. If the artistry of Scripture and its divine origin are disregarded, literary analysis can promote unbelief.  Just as it degrades the character of Christ to speak of Him simply as a great man (although He was that), so it degrades the nature of the scriptures to speak of them as simply great literature (although they are that). For this reason, [this book] continually points out the supportiveness of Biblical artistry to the Biblical message and to its intentions concerning the reader or hearer. It also makes frequent reference to the supernatural origin and character of the Scriptures.

Much of this is repeated verbatim in the introduction to the student edition.

The teacher’s edition includes suggestions for class activities and warnings of “potential problems.” These warnings sometimes involve terms or ideas that students may find confusing, but often they are warnings about moral dangers. For instance, in discussion of a passage from Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer, the authors warn teachers, “You may wish to caution your students about indiscriminate reading of Twain’s works….Several of Twain’s works would be considered inappropriate for recreational reading.” Because, you know, you wouldn’t want to encourage indiscriminate reading in a literature course.

The text itself included biographies of many of the authors whose works appear in the book. These bios always end with a moral and religious assessment of the author. I find it helps to mentally add the words “and that’s why the author is going to hell” to the end of these bios.

John Ruskin:

“Ruskin’s personal religion emphasized a love for beauty and goodness and a thorough knowledge of the English Bible. However, his writings also show that he espoused empiricism, a philosophy which teaches that knowledge stems directly from man’s experience. According to this dangerous doctrine, we can only trust what is felt or seen.” And that’s why he’s going to hell.

James Joyce:

“Although a comprehensive knowledge of Joyce’s writing is not a necessary or even a healthy goal, a general awareness of his literary impact helps us better understand contemporary trends in literature…. [M]ost of [his] works hold little ideological value. Joyce’s use of cryptic allusions and veiled obscenities as well as his inflated sense of self-importance…preview both the style and attitude of many twentieth-century writers.” And that’s why he’s going to hell.

John Updike:

[A recurring theme in Updike’s work] “concedes that man must possess the hope of immortality and a cosmic design. Unfortunately, his observations…fail to acknowledge God’s provision of salvation through Christ and man’s individual responsibility to accept what God has graciously provided through His Son.” And that’s why he’s going to hell.

Walt Whitman:

“Although we can appreciate the literary quality of many Whitman poems, we must, of course, be careful to evaluate their message in light of Scriptural standards. Unlike Whitman, we as Christians recognize that ‘there is a way which seemeth right unto man, but the end thereof are the ways of death’ (Proverbs 14:12).” And that’s why he’s going to hell.

Emily Dickinson:

“Dickinson’s year at Mount Holyoke Female Seminary further shaped her ‘religious’ views. During her stay at the school, she learned of Christ but wrote of her inability to make a decision for Him. She could not settle ‘the one thing needful.’ A thorough study of Dickinson’s works indicates that she never did make that needful decision. Several of her poems show a presumptuous attitude concerning her eternal destiny and a veiled disrespect for authority in general. Throughout her life she viewed salvation as a gamble, not a certainty. Although she did view the Bible as a source of poetic inspiration, she never accepted it as an inerrant guide to life.” And that’s why she’s going to hell.

The condemnation of Twain is too lengthy to quote in full, but it concludes:

“Twain’s outlook was both self-centered and ultimately hopeless. Denying that he was created in the image of God, Twain was able to rid himself of feeling any responsibility to his Creator. At the same time, however, he defiantly cut himself off from God’s love. Twain’s skepticism was clearly not the honest questioning of a seeker of truth but the deliberate defiance of a confessed rebel.” And that’s why he’s going to hell.

To be fair, some authors, such as poet John Greenleaf Whittier, squeak by without condemnation, but all authors and their works must be assessed according to moral and religious worth, and the primary purpose of literature is to better understand the Bible.

The pedagogic material in the book and in the teacher’s section is designed to guide students to a particular interpretation of individual works of literature. It is overtly intended to further inculcate a narrow religious view of the world. This approach is antithetical to what a good literature course should do. There are many valid interpretations of any literary work: students should be encouraged to think for themselves, to provide an interpretation supported by evidence from the text. They should also be encouraged to read great literature as indiscriminately as they wish, not merely those bits that are deemed biblically inoffensive according to a very narrow definition.

ES

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Ken Ham’s World of Wonder and Bollocks (written on the way to #TAM2012)

July 11, 2012

Recently Ken Ham, the founder of Answers in Genesis, published an article where he wagged his finger at the “secular world” following the widely publicized revelation that a Christian “science” textbook suggesting that plesiosaurs might be alive in Loch Ness. As I have spent the last couple of days working with my students on logical fallacies, the deep logical errors in his argument popped out like…big…popping things.

Part of the problem that Ham has with coverage this goofy not-a-science-book has garnered, I suspect, is that he sees that his claims are not so very different, and that creationism has always been allied with cryptozoology. If you visit the Creation Museum, it quickly becomes clear that its directors believe almost exactly what the Louisiana textbook claims, that humans coexisted with dinosaurs in the recent past. So fervent is their belief that the Creation Museum actually presents medieval dragon stories like Beowulf as evidence of recent dinosaurs.

Mess with the Bible all you want, Ken, but when you start messing with Beowulf, you have English majors to contend with.

According to Ham:

As I wrote on Facebook last week, there is no textbook, whether Christian or secular, that is perfect! But what’s more is that the secular world has often put forth numerous scientifically untenable theories.

This is damned close to the tu quoque fallacy, which says, “Yeah, well, you’re wrong too!” This of course does not make the original proposition any more true or acceptable, but he seems not to realize the depth of the ridiculousness of even his medieval “dragons.” Pointing out problems with “secular” theories, does not give any credibility to your monumentally bizarre assertions. I like how he says that putting the Loch Ness Monster in a biology text makes it merely “not perfect,” not “completely laughable and misguided from its ill-conceived botch of a conception. Let’s take his examples of “secular theories” one by one:

1) Aliens seeded life on earth (known as directed panspermia). Francis Crick, a codiscoverer of the structure of DNA, promoted this idea.

Indeed, this assertion strikes me as unlikely as it is so unnecessary. Everything that we need for life is found in abundance throughout the universe. But the funny thing is how closely it mirrors the creationist argument: some mighty person from elsewhere shows up and seeds the planet with life. By your own logic, Ken, the only thing different between what you’re saying is feeble and what you preach is the fact that you believe it! And the other thing is that I suspect directed panspermia is more likely than the God hypothesis because you don’t need to invoke a deity to get that process started.

2) Birds are essentially modern, short-tailed feathered dinosaurs.

How is this scientifically untenable? This is actually pretty close to the standard model of evolution. Without evidence that it is merely fanciful thought, the claim that birds are little dino descendants is a bald assertion.  Life arose from non-life. (This goes against what biologists call the Law of Biogenesis, which says that living things can only come from other living things.)

Life arose from non-life. (This goes against what biologists call the Law of Biogenesis, which says that living things can only come from other living things.)

Alright. Let’s go back to Louis Pasteur. Pasteur’s formulation certainly still applies to complex life like bacteria, which was the original model. We’ll never see a bacterium spontaneously jump together out of atoms. However, we’ve learned things since the 19th century about the origin and nature of life. Science has moved well beyond the 19th century, Bucko. By suggesting that the Law of Biogenesis applies to the most simple chemical replicators out of which life evolved, Ken has created a straw man and demolished a weakened form of the argument that actual scientists make.

Humans evolved from an ape-like ancestor (which really means humans are just apes).

Yes. We’re apes. Apes with iPads and mortgages, but apes. The problem with this is that this is another bald assertion. It’s a lot like an argument from personal incredulity. “It’s untenable because I don’t accept it.” Wrong, kiddo. The universe is utterly indifferent to your malformed opinion of it.

Aliens from outer space built the pyramids.

Oh, that’s hardly mainstream evolutionary theory! This is not a bad argument because of its being secular. It’s a bad argument because it flies in the face of all available evidence. If the intended argument is: “Secularists produced ancient astronaut theories, therefore secularism is bad and somehow evolution is false…” Yeah, this is just a non sequitor. I’m not even sure that it counts as a thought.

Secularists can often say outlandish or wrong things—and get away with it. For instance, noted evolutionist Richard Dawkins admitted in an interview with Ben Stein that life could have been “seeded” on earth by aliens. And yet Christians are highly scrutinized in this very secular world.

Of course it “could” have happened, but what do you think the chances are that he thinks it is “likely”? I mean, we could have left some sort of hardy critter on the moon when we visited there. Such a development is completely plausible within living memory, and in the eyes of the descendants of the bacteria that we left there, we would have been aliens that seeded life there. So, what you are mocking might actually have already happened in recent human history!
Furthermore, Dawkins is scrutinized. He is a peer-reviewed professional. He doesn’t have to rely on an in-house vanity press like the Answers Research Journal. What makes you sad, it is clear, is that your religious beliefs are at all subjected to critical examination, and that when they are held up to the light of serious (or even casual) scrutiny, they are invariably rejected.
RJB

Crypto-Creationism 2: Return of the Killer Crapgasm

February 16, 2012

A couple of days ago, I gave you all a big, steaming Valentine in the form of an overview of Claws, Jaws & Dinsaws Dinosaurs by William J. Gibbons and famous felon “Dr.” Kent Hovind. “Dr.” Crypto and “Dr.” Dino. I’d like to assure everyone I didn’t in any way enrich the authors by my purchase of the book. I bought it used for about a buck.

Today, I’d like to introduce you to some of the highlights of the book, if “highlights” is the right word (it isn’t). The first chapter concerns the Loch Ness Monster. The Scottish Gibbons finds it necessary to add the word “lake” in parentheses after “loch.” Again, I wonder who their intended audience is. The account itself is fairly typical. It begins with St. Columba in the 6th century. They don’t mention that the account was written a hundred years later or that the creature in the account appeared in the River Ness, not the loch (lake). Indeed, they say specifically that “the saint decided to cross the loch (lake).” Oh, well.

The story then jumps to the 1930s, “[a]lthough the local people often discussed the giant creature that many of them had seen in the lake [loch].” Naturally, they offer no evidence for this. What follows is a string of anecdotes (which could be a description of the whole book). They also mention the famous photograph taken in 1934 by Dr. Robert Kenneth Wilson. Gibbons and Hovind describe him as a dentist. According to Wikipedia, however, he was a gynecologist. Take it from me, you don’t want to get those two confused. Anyway, you know the photo we’re talking about: the big fat hoax. Or is it?

Some people claim that the dentist’s nephew (on his death bed) said that the photos were faked, but there is no one alive today who was there at the time the photographs were taken. It is not possible to know who is lying now. Even if Dr. Wilson’s picture were fake, there are many thousands of other witnesses who say they have seen Nessie. (13)

For starters, they’ve gotten the details of the hoax wrong (see Wiki article linked above). Second they use the ever popular argument “You weren’t there man–you don’t know!” Of course, they weren’t there when St. Columba allegedly banished a monster on the River Ness either. They follow this up by arguing that the plural of “anecdote” is, indeed, “data.” And that pretty much sums up the methodology of the book (“Sadly, most scientists will not accept eyewitness accounts, photographs, or even film as evidence that large unidentified animals inhabit the depths of Loch Ness” 16. A sentence similar to this appears in pretty much every chapter).  Of course, the photo is a pretty obvious hoax. The object is quite small and doesn’t even resemble most of the accounts of Nessie. So, it’s very bad evidence, but apparently, the plural of “bad evidence” is “good evidence.”

So, let’s say there are plesiosaurs hanging around in lakes (lochs) the world over. What is the significance? “Perhaps, one day the Lord will allow some intrepid monster hunter to capture one of these amazing creatures as testimony of His awesome presence and power!” (17). Well, the Lord has been allowing the damn things to roam about unmolested in the River Ness, Loch Ness and environs (sometimes it walks around on land) since the 6th century, so we may have a bit a wait until we’re able to see His awesome presence and power.

The next chapter is my favorite. It’s called “Sailors, Sea Serpents and Dragons,” and it features Beowulf. It seems obvious really, what with “dragons” in the title and everything. Yeah, they don’t mention the dragon in Beowulf. Which is odd when you think about it, because dragons are meat and drink to creationists with a cryptozoological bent. They’re big reptiles that in a number of ways resemble dinosaurs. Of course, in a number of ways, they don’t resemble dinosaurs, but that’s okay because–hey! look over there! Is that the Holy Spirit?!

Uh, no, I guess it was just an albino pigeon. Anyway, what was I saying? Oh, yeah. They don’t mention the dragon in Beowulf in either the dragon chapter or the pterosaur chapter (“Those Terrible Pterosaurs.” I can’t imagine how they resisted the urge to call it “Those Pterrible Pterosaurs”). So, if you eliminate the dragon, where are the dinosaurs in Beowulf? Well, there’s the creature known as “The Grendel.” Yup, they added a definite article and italicized it. No, I don’t know why.

“Grendel a dinosaur,” I hear you scoff, “Surely not.” I sympathize with your scoffing. They seem to have cribbed much of the “information” about Beowulf from Bill Cooper’s magnificent octopus, After the Flood: The Early Post-Flood History of Europe Traced back to Noah. Now, I’ve got 20+ pages of well-researched rant about Cooper and Beowulf, so allow me to summarize:

How does he come to this brilliant conclusion? Again, I shall summarize: dude’s an idiot. I should note that Hovind and Gibbons nowhere credit Cooper although it’s clear they are influenced by him, but–hey–what’s a little plagiarism between zealous loons? Gibbons and Hovind, perhaps realizing that the T. Rex was a North American creature, actually suggest that “the Grendel” was a “fearsome Megalosaurus, a dinosaur found in Britain and similar to Tyrannosaurus-Rex” (19). Still dumb, but very slightly less dumb.

But they’re not through with Beowulf yet because Beowulf also slew some sea serpents. After Grendel’s mother attacks,* the Geats and Danes go to the mere (loch [lake]) where they see these creatures which “were said to surface at dawn and attack sailing ships” (19. This is only slightly garbled). For some reason they don’t mention that one of the Geats killed one of the critters. Pffft, details.

But this, apparently, was only the beginning of Beowulf’s career in the sea-serpent slaying business:

After his victory over Grendel [apparently Beowulf ripped off Grendel’s “the”], Beowulf turned his attention to the dragons and serpents that continued to menace ships in the sea. Using large spears that were normally reserved for killing boars, Beowulf and his men began clearing the shipping lanes between Denmark and Sweden. He managed to kill at least nine of the monsters. As a reward for his courage as a monster-hunter, Beowulf was later crowned king of the Geats… (19-21. For anyone  wondering how this passage can span three pages, most of p. 20 is taken up with a long caption explaining a picture of a kronosaur and an elasmosaur apparently kissing in the shadow of the Ark).

At first I was wondering if Gibbons and Hovind had gotten hold of some copy of Beowulf with which I was not familiar. Perhaps an old manuscript of Beowulf II: The Lost Years. But the number nine rang a bell. Could they somehow be talking about Beowulf’s swimming match with Breca? It seems unlikely, but it’s all I can come up with.

The swimming match with Breca happens before the events of the poem take place, not after Beowulf’s fight with Grendel (and his mother, whom Gibbons and Hovind don’t mention). In fact Beowulf tells the story before the fight with Grendel. According to Beowulf, he spent five days in the water swimming (with his sword in his hand). Then the seas became rough, he and Breca were separated and a sea monster dragged him down to the bottom but he was able to kill it and eight other monsters with his sword (no idea where the boar-hunting spear comes from, sorry). There is no mention of shipping lanes that I can see, and it certainly wasn’t because of this feat that Beowulf became king–the swimming match occurred when he was very young. How did he become king? Hygelac, the king, was killed in battle. His widow Hygd offered Beowulf the throne because her son was a child. Beowulf refused. Years later after Hygelac’s son, Heardred, was also killed in battle, Beowulf, Hygelac’s nephew, became king.

So Gibbons and Hovind get the plot wrong, make a bunch of stuff up, ignore two-thirds of the major monsters in the poem and say silly things about the other monsters. Great. Let’s see how they do with Norse sagas:

In 1001 AD, Leif Erikson, a Viking commander, stepped ashore on a rich wooded land which lay far west of his native Iceland. He called the new land Markland (Woodland). Today, we this call this area [sic], Newfoundland, situated on Canada’s east coast. (41)

Where to start? Well, there’s the garbled sentence and unfortunate punctuation. Then there’s a sort of geographical imprecision. They make Newfoundland sound like Labrador, rather than an island off the coast of Canada. And I suppose this is nitpicky, and Iceland and Norway do both claim Leif, but he had settled in Greenland at this time, not Iceland.

And then there’s Markland. The Norse explorers** certainly did see a forested land they called Markland (as well as a place they named Helluland–Flat Rock Land), but their main settlement, the one in Newfoundland, was called Vinland. Oh, well, it’s all Canada. Anyway while in Canadaland, guess what Leif saw:

Erikson and his men encountered hairy, ugly giants that uttered harsh cries. This is the earliest recorded encounter with Bigfoot, or Sasquatch…. (41)

I’ve read the Vinland sagas. I don’t remember any Bigfeet (Bigfoots?). I’ve just skimmed them again. Guess what I haven’t found. In particular, Leif himself encountered nothing especially odd, though during a later voyage, one of his brothers was killed by a Uniped:

[I]t came bounding down towards where the ship lay. Thorvald, Eirik the Red’s son, was sitting at the helm. The Uniped shot an arrow into his groin. Thorvald pulled out the arrow and said, “This is a rich country we have found; there is plenty of fat around my entrails.” Soon afterwards he died of the wound. (Eirik’s Saga 102)

But that’s just one foot of indeterminate size. Bigfoots are traditionally described as bipeds. The only large, loud hairy beasts in the Vinland sagas are the livestock brought to Vinland by the Scandinavians. That seems to leave the Skraelings, a word that, according to everyone–everyone–refers to Native peoples.

They were small and evil-looking, and their hair was coarse; they had large eyes and broad cheekbones. (Eirik’s Saga 98)

So, kind of insulting and offensive, but not very Bigfooty.

So what’s the creationist point of all this Bigfoot stuff? Damned if I know. After discussing the Russian Alma, however, Gibbons and Hovind say,

Some scientists think that the alma might actually be a surviving race of “primitive” humans–such as the Neanderthal Man. This could be another nail in the coffin for evolution proving that Neanderthals were just odd-shaped humans who lived in the same time frame as the rest of society in the rural areas of Europe. (48)

I don’t even understand that. Does the alma “prove” that Neanderthals were just odd-shaped humans, or is evolution trying to prove that Neanderthals were just odd-shaped humans, and somehow the Alma proves that they weren’t? This shows why it’s so important to be clear when you’re being idiotic.

People tend to maintain that modern man knows all there is to know about this world. (49)

Who are these mysterious people made of straw?

This type of proud and haughty attitude is ungodly and unhealthy. God made a great and beautiful world full of marvels and surprises. Science is the study of God’s creation and should draw us closer to the Creator. Until a Bigfoot is captured and closely examined, the creatures will continue to be one of the Creator’s mysteries. (49)

Okay, first, you might want to look up “science” in a dictionary (different from a creationary). Second, yeah, I’m sure a Bigfoot will be captured any day now.

*Gibbons and Hovind say Beowulf and his men track “the Grendel back to its lair” (19), placing the encounter with the sea monsters directly after Beowulf’s fight with Grendel and before Grendel’s mother’s mission of vengeance. They are mistaken.

**In The Saga of Eirik the Red, Helluland and Markland are actually named during Thorfinn Karsefni’s expedition, not Leif’s.

ES

References:

Cooper, Bill. After the Flood: The Early Post-Flood History of Europe Traced back to Noah. Chichester: New Wine, 1995. This book is available online. Reading this book may cause delirium and extreme stupidity. If you choose not to heed my warning, you can find it for yourself.

Gibbons, William J. and “Dr.” Kent Hovind. Claws, Jaws and Dinosaurs. Pensacola: CSE Publications, 1999. Also potentially dangerous to your sanity and well-being.

Magnusson, Magnus and Hermann Pálsson, tr. The Vinland Sagas: The Norse Discovery of America (Grænlendinga saga and Eiríks saga rauða). Penguin Classics. London: Penguin, 1965. This book is safe to read.


Creationism + Cryptozoology = Crapgasm

February 14, 2012

Recently, I’ve started reading Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels. Indeed, I may have developed a bit of a Pratchett addiction. I just can’t stop reading his novels because they are really, really funny.

But nothing produced by Pratchett, Douglas Adams, Monty Python or even Ernest Scribbler can compare to the gigglefest that is Claws, Jaws & Dinosaurs by William J. Gibbons and “Dr.” Kent Hovind. The fun begins with the title. Is “dinosaurs” supposed to rhyme with “claws” and “jaws”?

Then there are the author bios. Hovind, of course, is a world-renowned felon and author of one of the funniest dissertations ever written for a diploma mill, but, according to the blurb on the back of the book, he is also “considered by many to be one of the leading authorities on ‘Science and the Bible.'” I’m not sure who considers him this. Maybe a bunch of evangelical Bigfoots. But, wait, there’s more:

As a fifteen year veteran high school science teacher, his love for science sparked his interest in creation vs. evolution. He saw the tremendous need for exposing evolution as a dangerous, religious world-view, and for arming Christians with scientific evidence that there are no contradictions between true science and the Bible.

So…uh…evolution is religious (and being religious is dangerous) and the bible is scientific. Welcome to Bizarro World!

More than half of William (Bill) Gibbons’ bio is taken up with accounts of his expeditions to find the Mokele-mbembe and living Dodos. No luck so far. But we also learn that

Gibbons became a born again Christian in 1986 during his first Congo adventure, and has since acquired his bachelor and master degrees in Religious Education from the Immanuel Baptist College in Atlanta, Georgia. He is currently [1999] pursuing a Ph.D. in Cultural Anthropology with Warnborough College, Oxford.

I haven’t been able to locate Immanuel Baptist College, but there is an Immanuel Baptist Theological Seminary. According to ethicsdaily.com,

Three of Immanuel’s faculty members, including its president and executive vice president, are family members. Many faculty members appear to have residences in Ghana, India, Indonesia, Korea and Nigeria. An Internet search of a number of faculty members turned up only links to Immanuel…. [It fits]  into a category known as “diploma mills,” entities that demand little, if any, real academic training, enable students to bypass rigorous education, have no legitimate accreditation and award impressive sounding degrees.

But, on the other hand, an Oxford Ph.D.–that’s pretty impres….wait, what? Warnborough College is in no way affiliated with Oxford University? They got into a heap of financial and legal trouble for suggesting they were? They stopped even implying the connection in 1996? Huh. Well, just because it’s not Oxford doesn’t mean it’s not a real college. What? It’s not?

Yep, that’s right–it’s another diploma mill, and Gibbons is another “Dr.” Some bios of him still say that he has a Ph.D. from Warnborough College, Oxford.

Hovind wrote the introduction to the book and “contribute[d] information from my research” (5), so it’s difficult to tell how much involvement Hovind had in the actual writing of the book, Still, the intro’s a hoot:

It is my studied opinion that although most scientists in this field [cryptozoology] do extensive research, they start with the assumption that the earth is billions of years old. (5)

So, while they may be a bit loopy, they’re not completely delusional. Good to know.

Hovind follows this up with an illustrative anecdote showing how science works. It involves scientists studying the jumping abilities of a frog “as his legs were removed one by one.” The scientists yell “Jump frog” before each test. The distance diminishes as each leg is removed until the frog stops jumping completely after it has lost its last leg. The scientists conclude that “The frogs all jumped a shorter distance each time a leg was removed [and a] no-legged frog becomes deaf!” (5).

See, he made a funny about how scientists are stupid. Of course the anecdote doesn’t show that the scientists went into the test with a preconceived notion (that the distance of a frog’s leap is in some way related to shouted encouragement) which is what he claims scientists do, but that doesn’t matter because it makes them look bad.

This is an example of how to do good research, keep careful records and still come to the wrong conclusions! Nearly all of the authors who write on the cryptozoology topic do great research on living dinosaurs. They keep careful records and then conclude two things:

  1. There are probably some small dinosaurs still alive. (Good observation)
  2. This proves they survived for millions of years. (Bad conclusion) (5-6)

Okay, I’ve seen MonsterQuest, and if proving that the earth is really old is one of the prime motivations of cryptozoologists, I’ve missed it.

These authors seem blinded by the theory of evolution. The evolution theory, which is actually a religion, not a scientific theory, has been a great hindrance to scientific research in many fields, including cryptozoology. (6)

You’ve got to admit, he has a point–look at all the advances in biology that have sprung from Creation Science. Oh, wait. Yeah, he’s a bozo. But, hey, at least he didn’t say that “evolution is just a theory.” Apparently, it’s not a theory at all.

As for the great research cryptozoologists (and creation scientists) do: Claws, Jaws and Dinosaurs has no index; its bibliography is made up of ten books (all on cryptozoology); and the authors rarely if ever cite sources in the text for the fairy tales they tell evidence they provide, making it difficult to verify what they say or, in many cases, to figure out what the hell they’re talking about. On top of that, they are baffled by the mysterious cryptid known as the Apostrophe, the organization within chapters doesn’t make sense and both Hovind and Gibbons should be denied access to exclamation points. I know it seems cruel, but really, they’ll be better for it.

After attacking “evolution theory,” Hovind offers a “much simpler” explanation for why there have been so many modern sightings of dinosaurs. This explanation involves the story of the creation and the Flood. It’s pretty standard Young Earth Creationist fare, the sort of thing that one can find on Answers in Genesis any day of the week (and that’s a literal 24 hour day, seven day week). The only difference is that both Hovind and Gibbons write in an awkward, immature style (“[Noah] probably took babies or young ones in order to save space, weight and food”). I still can’t quite figure out if the book is intended for children or adults.

The other problem with his explanation is his conclusion: “The idea of a few small ones [dinosaurs] still being alive today is perfectly reasonable from this Biblical perspective” (6). Why? I mean, yes, if the earth was created “fully formed and fully functioning about 6000 years ago” (6) then the dinosaurs haven’t been extinct for all that long, but in the  extremely unlikely event that there is a plesiosaur  swimming about in some Scottish lake, does that prove that the earth is 6000 years old? No, of course not. It would be weird, but it wouldn’t prove creationism or disprove evolution. It would just be weird.

And, all right, I kind of see the point when they’re talking about dinosaurs (though I think they’re wrong), but this book has a section on Dodos. Dodos! We all know that Dodos existed until quite recently. What the hell does that have to do with creationism? I suspect that it just means that Gibbons really likes cryptids and wants to find a Dodo and slipped it into the book whether it fit or not.

The last page of the introduction is pure evangelizing and sermonizing, as is the conclusion, co-written by Hovind and Gibbons. It includes this paragraph:

The Bible teaches that God will restore the earth one day for His children to live here for 1000 years! Won’t it be great if there are dinosaurs here for us to have as pets during that time! If you have accepted Jesus as your Savior, then you are one of God’s children and have a wonderful eternity to look forward to. If you have not accepted Jesus, the Bible teaches that you will be in hell forever. God does not want anyone to go to hell and neither do we. Please call or write if you are not sure where you will spend eternity. We would love to help you know for sure that you are going to heaven or answer any questions you may have.

So, if you don’t accept Jesus, you’re going to hell forever, but if you do accept Jesus, you get to spend a thousand years playing fetch with velociraptor puppies. I’ve got to admit, that’s an unusually appealing pitch.

Tune in for our next installment when we will learn about Leif Eiriksson and the Bigfoot and discuss a portion of Beowulf that I didn’t even know existed.

ES

For part two, click here.


Christianity Ends Today!

October 11, 2011

The future of Christianity depends on this guy

And YOU can make it happen!

I don’t mean to sound like a skeptical version of Harold Camping. Indeed, I was quite surprised when I discovered the fatal fragility of Christianity. It must be true though–a creationist says so.

I have been attempting to read Darek Isaacs‘ book Dragons or Dinosaurs? Creation or Evolution?* Woo Hoo, two question marks in one title: you know it’s going to be good. I mean it’s clear that he is keeping an open mind and will consider all the evidence before deciding the answers to these questions. Wait, what’s that in his author bio?

He is the President and Founder of Watchmen 33, an organization that is focused on defending and confirming the authority of the Bible. Darek maintains that the great mysteries of human existence are only answered through the knowledge of Jesus Christ.

Oh well.

I’m finding this book difficult to get through because Isaacs employs a bombastic rhetorical style that, if anything, is even more painful than Bodie Hodge’s semi-literate ramblings. An example:

From this summit [“the Mount of Dragons”], I cannot recant the truth of dragons in the Scriptures. I am not ashamed of the Bible, its words, its meanings, and its assertions. So, to the temporary hope of secularists, and to the anxiety-riddled, uninformed Church, I will shine a spotlight for all to see that the Bible speaks of dragons as real.

Yet, there is such a beautiful thing about illumination. Light chases away the darkness. Light reveals all that is visible, and nothing concealed by the dark can remain in such a state. So now, what if, when a tiny flame is sparked, we catch a pair of glimmering reptilian eyes staring back at us? (p. 2)

He flits from metaphor to metaphor and conceit to conceit like a…giant flitting thing. He begins one paragraph by saying, “But let us carry that note and add the orchestra” (p. 3). You might think that he is continuing a musical metaphor from the previous paragraph. Nope, that’s a brand-spanking new metaphor. The previous paragraph asserts that Christianity is built on a foundation of dragons and will collapse if those dragons prove mythical:

Dragons were either real, or they were not. The Bible, on that fact, is either deemed an irresponsible myth in its full breadth, or it contains a vast treasure of human knowledge–knowledge that outpaces the high ivory towers of modern academia to this day. (p. 3)

Yup, those are the only two possibilities. Even more astonishing is this revelation:

These dragons, if unfounded and unreal, shall be most unforgiving. They would inevitably force Christianity, and all of its “baggage” to fade into oblivion before the next dawn. (p. 2)

Holy crap! If we can prove that dragons aren’t and never were real, Christianity will disappear over night. Get on it, people: by the time I get up tomorrow, I expect to find that Christianity is a distant memory. Then on Thursday and Friday, we can take care of Judaism and Islam. It shouldn’t be too difficult: once one of the Abrahamic religions has fallen, the others should follow pretty quickly, especially since the creationist dragon/dino hypothesis depends primarily on the Old Testament rather than the New. Then, just for a change of pace, we can take down Hinduism over the weekend.

MWAHAHAHAHA, foolish Creationist, you should not have revealed to us that Christianity’s Achilles’ Heal was dragons. Who knew it would be so easy to destroy a major world religion?

ES

*Tragically, I have the version without the DVD.