Adventures in Christianist Earth Science Education XXXIII: Wherein We See the Light

So. Physics.

Earth Science Fourth Edition and Science of the Physical Creation have a bit of crossover here, which we’ll eventually get to, but SPC covers the subject a lot more thoroughly. So, while we’re still bogged down in ES4’s interminable (and very, very wrong) chapters on Geology, we’ll see what the creationist textbook writers at A Beka have to say about physics.

We start with Chapter 14, “Light and Color.” I’m sure you can all guess which verse they use to get us going the godly way.

Of course.

Directly after, they completely ignore the existence of blind people by waxing lyrical on how light allows us to see all sorts of things. When you’re talking about God’s perfect creation, best leave out the fact he doesn’t allow everyone to enjoy it, I guess. At least they do mention that light is good for more than sight: they mention photosynthesis, “the ultimate source of food for mankind.” Because, you see, humans are the only things that matter.

They also introduce us to things which we don’t normally think of as light, like “radio waves, microwaves, and x-rays.” Valid.

What follows is a perfectly serviceable history of the theories of light. We learn how Newton thought it was particles, and Huygens thought it was waves. They talk about James Clerk Maxwell’s work with light and his prediction of light outside the visible spectrum. Hertz and his experiments proving Maxwell right are introduced. Wavelength and frequency are quickly explained. And then they tease us into the photoelectric effect and quantum theory of light with an effective hook: “But light was to surprise us again.” As I’ve said before: the SPC writers are actually rather excellent when they stick to pure science. These are smart and talented people. It’s a shame dogma keeps them from using their skills to reveal rather than obfuscate.

We see the effects of their creationist claptrap in the next section, “Light and Color.” They start off with an accurate definition of visible light, but they go right off the rails while trying to explain what color is:

The perception of color is not a property of light itself, but rather the way God designed our eyes and brain to respond to that light. In other words, there is nothing inherently “green” about a wave of green light: the only difference between it and a wave of violet light is the way in which our eyes and brain respond to the different frequencies. The vast gulf between the physical nature of light and our experience of color is one proof that the human mind is more than a biological organism; rather, it operates largely in the realm of the soul, into which God has implanted certain ways of perceiving and interpreting reality.

Image shows a white girl with black hair and clothes, rolling her eyes. Caption says, "I just rolled my eyes so hard, I saw my brain."

It proves no such thing, you bloody obstinate fools! And this idea that our perception of light is a soul thing rather than a physical thing is painfully easy to refute. Let’s begin with colorblind people. Are their souls defective? Did God screw them up?

If perceiving color is a human soul thing, they should be exactly the same physically as non-colorblind folk. But they’re not. The ones who are colorblind from birth have mutations in the genes coding for the opsin pigments in the cones, which are the structures in our eyes that allow us to see in color. Funny how the soul relies so much on genes, innit?

That’s not even to mention other causes of color blindness, like macular degeneration. Very strange how physical disease and injury can fuck up the soul, eh?

But what really destroys this argument is neurological disorders that can knock out our color perception even if our eyes are in tip-top condition, with all rods and cones present and operating to spec. If color perception were a matter of soul, I shouldn’t be able to screw it up by knocking out a few specific brain cells.

These folks really need to read some books by Doctors Oliver Sacks and V.S. Ramachandran before they continue babbling about things the soul does. Unless they’re prepared to redefine the soul as a physical thing, or explain in detail how the soul’s functions are connected to all these rods and cones and neurons and stuff, they’re just going to continue to look spectacularly ignorant to everyone with even a casual knowledge of this stuff.

And they never do explain why God gave bees’ souls the ability to see ultraviolet while denying that blessing to ours.

They finish the section with a long discussion of how we can produce various colors in our art by using either additive or subtractive primary colors, which contains no creationist fuckery. It’s actually fun and interesting. The whole beginning of this chapter has basically been a demonstration of how science is completely better and more productive when we don’t try to shove God into it.


Stay tuned for a veritable rainbow of nonsense headed our way.

Adventures in Christianist Earth Science Education XXXIII: Wherein We See the Light

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