(Repost) Adventures in Christianist Earth Science Education IIIa: In Which A Certain Atmosphere is Created

After the absurdities of ACE and the travesty that is Bob Jones University’s idea of the earth sciences, it is almost with relief that I turn back to A Beka’s Science of the Physical Creation. Oh, granted, it is also full of creationist crap – but there were some useful, even educational, bits, and I hope to find more.

Alas, my hopes are dealt a blow by the introduction to Unit I: Meteorology and Oceanography. Beneath the facing photo of sailboats, Psalm 115:16 sez God gave humans the earth, and the first sentence of the chapter is, “God created the earth’s atmosphere…”

Let us pause here to observe just how such a statement can send you haring off in the wrong direction.

We’re assured that the atmosphere’s got all the right stuff for people and animals and plants. Inquiry shuts down here: you’re left with nothing to do but describe what that right stuff is. You don’t get to ask the critical questions that can lead to so much discovery: why is it the right stuff? Was it always this way? Could it have been another?

Nope. God made it this way because it’s the right stuff for the living things he made. That’s the way he made it, and of course it wasn’t ever different. Turn off the lights and lock up the lab: we’re done here.

Image shows a priest at left saying, "No question!! God did it!! God wills it!!" and a professor at left holding chalk in front of a chalkboard and saying, "Do you have any questions?" Caption says, "Religion vs. Science. Faith does not give you the answers; it just stops you asking the questions."

Many true facts about the atmosphere are hurled at us. Creationists love facts: they feel all sciencey when they recite them. After lotsa facts, we’re told, “Oxygen and carbon dioxide are kept in balance through God’s provision,” which probably isn’t a testable hypothesis. (However, if we can determine what the proper balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide are, we can certainly find out if they are in balance, and if they are not, we know either that there is no God, or he’s a lazy bugger who doesn’t do his job.)

SPC manages to avoid god-talk for several paragraphs while describing the troposphere and stratosphere, but loses its restraint when it comes time to talk about the ozone layer. That’s the shield God gave us to protect us from UV, you see. Also, apparently, doctors only recommend that people at lower latitudes wear sunscreen. (Newsflash: everyone should wear sunscreen.)

I hope the poor fools have more sensible doctors in real life. I may disagree with nearly everything they teach and believe, I think their views are toxic, and I want to see their numbers dwindle, but I’d rather that happen because they figure out fundamentalism is a crock and leave it for happier worldviews, not because they’re all dying of skin cancer.

The next several pages, which describe the rest of the atmosphere, are factual and god-free. It’s about what you’d expect from a secular textbook – I kept having flashbacks to my Physical Geography class, although that was college level and had Jim Bennett to make it more interesting.

Section 2.2, Heat and the Atmosphere, begins well – the first paragraph, in which we’re told “large hurricanes release the energy of 400,000 atomic bombs in a single day,” grabs the old attention. But since they conclude that all this fantastic energy comes from the sun, I’m left with a question: how the fuck do creationists not get that Earth isn’t a closed system? I mean, seriously. The proof that it isn’t is right there in their own book.

They even understand the greenhouse effect. They manage to describe all about insolation and perihelion vs. apehelion and the greenhouse effect, including some of the primary greenhouse gasses like CO2, without going goddy once. Then they go completely off the rails in their “Global Warming: Fact or Fancy?” special segment. Seriously. They hit all the AGW Denier/Fundie Christian high points, like Nature contributes lots more CO2 than humans do! And freakouts over national sovereignty, and temperatures fluctuate anyway, so there! They even hit the Republican senatorial asinine high point by declaring that more CO2 is just awesome for the plants! Then they finish with this jaw-dropping statement:

As Christians, we can rest in God’s promise that “while the earth abideth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.” (Gen. 8:22) While it is our responsibility to do all within our power to protect the world God has given us, we must always remember that the fate of the earth rests in the hands of its Creator.

You know, I peeked ahead in our BJU book, and guess what? They’re actually somewhat sensible about this shit. They don’t exactly admit that we’re fucking our shit up, but they’re all about the getting off the fossil fuels, cleaning up the environment, and keeping the pollution down to a minimum, because that’s what sensible and responsible stewards should do. I don’t want to give too much away here, but let’s just say I can see myself having a sensible, practical conversation with a BJU ES4 student about ways we can reduce our impact on the environment, even though we agree on virtually nothing else. But SPC students?

Image is split: top half shows a kitten with its mouth open, looking like it's laughing. Bottom shows the same kitten with its mouth closed. Caption reads, "Haha... No."

SPC’s no more than I expected. I’m finding it interesting, though, that in this chapter, most of the God crap has been corralled off to the side. The main text sounds like it was written by a sensible secularist. We’re treated to a reasonable description of how heat is distributed around the planet, and general atmospheric circulation. After a long and helpful description of high and low pressure regions and the Coriolis effect, they seem to remember they’re a Christian textbook and pop a little box with Eccl. 1:6 in it, but it’s easily ignored. The only bit that’s a bit off in all the talk of winds is that they get the etymology of the horse latitudes sorta wrong, repeating the folk notion that it was about actual dead horses, when the more likely explanation is a bit more bizarre. But really, it’s of critical importance only to people who care deeply about etymology, so I can give that a pass (sorry, etymologists!).

And… that’s it. Wot an anticlimax. This is practically public school education, if you skip the goddy bits at the beginning, and avoid the special sections on the ozone layer and global warming. I feel cheated. I didn’t even have to abuse my liver to survive this!

But I’m also glad the kiddies are getting a bit of good, useful instruction on how the world works with only a few spots of right-wing indoctrination. Hopefully, enough of a solid foundation will be laid for some of them to go on to get a real science education later, complete with the truth about ozone layers and AGW.

Or maybe we’re just being lulled into a false sense of security before being hit with the indoctrination hammer…

(Repost) Adventures in Christianist Earth Science Education IIIa: In Which A Certain Atmosphere is Created

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