(Repost) Adventures in Christianist Earth Science Education IIIb: In Which BJU Goes Yellow-Green

After A Beka’s nonsense about humans being able to do anything they want to the earth’s atmosphere because God will save it, it’s a bit of a shock to open to the Earth’s Atmosphere chapter of our BJU Earth Science 4th Edition textbook and see, before anything else, a bit about “Killer Air.” Sure, they talk about how God wants to fill the earth right up with people. But they admit air pollution is a problem. They even admit it kills people. And they want their readers to join in fixing it. They don’t leave the whole thing up to God.

Image is a gray cat looking very shocked. Caption says, "I am not often shocked. Right now I am totally flabbergasted."

ZOMG. Is BJU full of environmentalists? (Answer’s “not really,” but we’ll get to that).

Even flipping back a page to see the Unit 5* introduction doesn’t whack us in the face with God. They have a blurb from Michael Oard, Meteorologist, heading up this unit on the atmosphere. I know Oard’s a firm Young Earth Creationist. I’m currently reading an extensive treatise tearing his dumbassery apart. But all he talks about in ES4 is how weather is complicated and we don’t know a lot about it. Unlike SPC, ES4 saves the atmosphere for late in the book, so maybe they figure we know all the featured scientists are YECs by now.

But it’s clear from the beginning that, unlike A Beka, they’re keeping their indoctrination hammer in hand at all times, despite this rather mild start.

The first thing you notice when you get into the meat of the chapter is that whoever’s writing it has a much more informal, engaging style. In comparing our atmosphere to Jupiter, the author says, “Have fun trying to get a breath of fresh air there!” Shame about the “God created our Earth to be inhabited” schlock harshing the mellow towards the end. But the mellow’s unharshed by the next paragraph, which sounds like it was written by a leftist. I mean, they’re going on about reducing emissions and getting away from fossil fuels! I thought that was heresy.

They have my full and unstinting support right there. I can absolutely get behind the reduce-emissions-and-get-away-from-fossil-fuels agenda, and I’m thrilled to see it here, where I least expected it. More, please!

It’s BJU, so of course there’s a little cross-box trashing the Urey-Miller experiment, but the main text goes on to present “The Old-Earth Story.” They pollute the atmosphere a wee bit by saying secular scientists think everything is “pure chance” and “coincidence,” but then they do an honestly great job presenting the secular science understanding of Earth’s history, complete with bacteria evolving and pumping the atmosphere full of oxygen. Not a distortion, sneer, or smear throughout.

Nice. I hope that lodges in some young brains and gets the old synapses firing.

Next, “The Young-Earth Story” is told. It’s simpler, they say, and then go on to say they “don’t know when God created the atmosphere because it is not mentioned in the Creation story in the Bible.” They go on to assume God got round to it during all that firmament-forming, because plants would “need carbon dioxide and water vapor to live,” not to mention animals and humans definitely needing air to breathe the rest of Creation Week. And, of course, the atmosphere was “very good.” So good that “the Fall probably didn’t noticeably change the atmosphere very much.” But man, all that volcanic activity and changing oceans stuff during the Flood sure did! “We can still see the effects of these changes today,” but even though the Flood mucked it up, it’s still a pretty great exhibit of God’s design.

I invite you to compare and contrast Old vs. Young, and decide for yourselves which has got actual science in it.

Image shows a praying person on the left, and the Large Hadron Collider on the right. Caption says, "Questions about the nature of the Universe? Religion prays for answers... Science builds a 17 mile long, $5bn machine and gets them."

You know what’s totally sciencey, though? The imaginary space elevator we’ll be exploring the atmosphere in! But don’t jump in just yet – first, we have to learn about atmospheric chemistry, how it was discovered by several 18th century scientists, and that the abundance of nitrogen is all down to God. Nitrogen has a purpose, people: it’s there to dilute the oxygen so we don’t all burn to death. EVIDENCE!!!

The cross-box sidebar presents the vapor-canopy idea and points us to Chapter 21, where problems with it will be discussed. They’re not having any of that foolishness. Very refreshing.

They settle down to a sober discussion of the homo- and heterospheres. But to make up for three whole paragraphs without god, they have a big ol’ box on Larry Vardiman, who nearly lost his faith studying for a PhD in atmospheric science. Darn those pesky science facts and their refusal to conform to the Bible! But he chose the Bible, to hell with actual science, and went on to become COO for the Institute for Creation Research. Alas for him, he has a modicum of scientific integrity left, and so he’s had to accept that the vapor canopy is impossible due to the fact the earth would’ve boiled under it. ES4 is totally down with booting the canopy. (They’re more reticent about his admission that the YEC helium argument is total bullshit.)

But the real spit-take moment comes in the final paragraph of the blurb:

Our culture constantly attacks the Bible and its teachings. If you are ever in a situation that makes you question God’s Word, do what Larry Vardiman did. The Bible is rock-solid, worthy of your faith and belief!

And this, class, is why biblical literalists can never be actual scientists. This book is trying to ensure the poor kids reading it will never have a full and rewarding career doing genuine scientific research. They’ll never be complete, competent researchers if they take this advice. They’ll end up like Larry Vardiman, puttering around finding out that fables aren’t science but refusing to admit it at the Institution for Creation Research. It makes me sad.

Image is a cat lying down with its ears flat and looking rather depressed. Caption says, "You make kitty sad"

After that steaming pile, we go back to riding the space elevator (on a carbon nanotube tether!) through the various bits of the atmosphere distinguished by temperature. In fact, it’s all facts for this next section, which is about how atmospheric carbon and nitrogen get into living things. God gets a tiny incidental mention in a sidebar about fertilizer, but is otherwise absent. They make up for the lack at the beginning of the “Special Zones in the Atmosphere” part. We’re told those special zones “help improve our ability to put dominion into practice.” And since they’re there, God probably designed them. O-kay.

Amazingly, unlike A Beka’s SPC, ES4 admits the ozone layer not only had a hole in it, but was thinning, and this was no bueno. They even admit CFCs cause ozone to break down. But they stop just short of saying that banning CFCs was necessary. “Time will tell,” they say, “whether this was good and wise dominion or just scientists using an incomplete scientific model.” And they want us to hem and haw and play 20,000 Questions before we get crack-a-lackin’ on dealing with climate change.

It’s so very hard for these poor fools to accept overwhelming scientific consensus, innit?

Next, we learn that Christian missionary radio stations can use the ionosphere rather than communications satellites to spread their noxious bullshit. Joy. Also, God designed the magnetosphere to shield Earth and its passengers from intense solar radiation. Never mind that lifeless planets have got magnetospheres and Van Allen belts! They’re not exactly the same as Earth’s! We’re special, damn it!

Like SPC, ES4 acknowledges that most of the energy at the surface of the earth comes from the sun. Hello! Not a closed system!! Look, you guys just admitted the sun sustains “virtually all life on Earth”! That means there’s energy coming in from outside Earth, which powers this order from disorder thingy, which means you can stop babbling about the Second Law of Thermodynamics now. Wakey wakey!

Oh, who am I kidding? They’ll never admit their own facts contradict their thermodynamic nonsense.

They have a little info-box about the amount of solar energy reaching the earth’s surface. Unfortunately, they completely bugger the facts about the Krakatau eruption: yes, surface solar illumination was reduced, but not as drastically as they claim. Also, 1883-4 wasn’t the “year without a summer.” Wrong volcano and wrong part of the century, numpties.

The end of this chapter is a sad display of cognitive dissonance. On the one hand, the greenhouse effect is real. Thank God that God designed such a great atmosphere, which gives us sunny days without frying us in daytime and freezing us solid at night. That’s Gods Love, that is! And we’ve got to protect that atmosphere. But not so fast on the linking CO2 to global warming! What about water vapor, huh? Why don’t the scientists talk about that? (Um – perhaps because humans are pumping enormous amounts of CO2, not H2O, into the atmosphere?). And. And:

Living things need carbon from carbon dioxide. Efforts to reduce carbon dioxide into [sic] the atmosphere may actually be harmful, not helpful.

Image is a demotivational poster showing a forest canopy. Caption reads, "Al Gore Hates Trees. Carbon dioxide is plant food. Without it, plants die! With more CO2, plants grow faster! Being too "Green" isn't Green!

Apparently, they haven’t read SPC, which assures us nature pumps plenty of delicious CO2 into the atmosphere without us. So it’s okay, ES4 authors. We don’t need to spend the next several decades studying the effects of CO2 while the planet fries. We can reduce our emissions without starving plants, I promise.

Whelp, that was quite the odd mix. At least it appears environmental science is finally beginning to penetrate BJU brains. That’s far more than I could have hoped for.

Now if we could just wean them off the literal interpretation of Genesis…

*We’re going to be skipping round a bit so that we’re comparing topics. All the books have things in a different order from each other, but they’ve got the same basic stuff, and I thought it best to follow topics rather than chapters. Makes the differences and similarities between them all stark and stuff.

(Repost) Adventures in Christianist Earth Science Education IIIb: In Which BJU Goes Yellow-Green