US Government Employs Creationist Scientists

Thanks to the ever-watchful Sensuous Curmudgeon, we learn of plans to open a new, enormous creation museum near Boise, Idaho.  But in exploring the announcement of this planned mega-museum, we came across an interesting tidbit: Two of the creationist scientists involved in this project worked for the US government as geologists.  Does this mean that the government is funding creation science?  And does it prove the creationist claim that their experts are engaged in “real” science?

As reported yesterday by the Boise Weekly, the Northwest Science Museum has big ambitions.  Its founders want to open an enormous display area, 300,000 to 450,000 square feet.  They hope to build a full-size replica Noah’s Ark that could rival the plans of the more-established Creation Museum in Kentucky.

Big Plans for Boise

Big Plans for Boise

Whether or not the Idaho creationists succeed in their lavish plans, they will likely end up adding another stop to those who want to tour the nation’s many creation museums.  More interesting, the announced plans also raise crucial questions about creationism and government support for religion.

In their attempt to raise funds for their new project, the leaders of the Boise museum published a prospectus that includes information about themselves.  According to this document, the leadership team includes two experienced geologists.

Douglas J. Bennett, founder of the museum, has degrees in geology and science education from Boise State University.  For the past eighteen years, Bennett has worked as a geologist for the US Bureau of Reclamation.  Similarly, museum founder Brent Carter earned a degree in geology from a large public university and worked for 42 years as a geologist for the same US Bureau, retiring with the title of Chief Geologist of the Pacific Northwest Region.

More than the opening of a new creation museum, these careers raise important questions for those of us interested in issues of evolution and creationism.

First, some might suggest that long governmental careers for these ardent and active creationists implies government support for religion.  But does it really?  After all, the government likely hired them to do specific jobs.  They had the necessary qualifications.  Whatever they chose to do in their private lives wouldn’t be any of the government’s business.  Nor would the government be supporting these men’s religious work, as long as each geologist didn’t do his creationist research while on the clock.

More interesting, we have to ask what these careers tell us about the intersection of mainstream science and creation science.  In the recent debate between leading creationist Ken Ham and leading science pundit Bill Nye, Nye repeated his charge that creationism blocked kids from learning science.  Ham retorted with several examples of successful creationist scientists and engineers.

The careers of Bennett and Carter seem to help the creationist case.  After all, if they have both had successful careers as geologists, how can we say that creationists can’t do science?  One might suggest that the sorts of engineering tasks these creationists engaged in were not primary science.  But it seems to me a stretch to say that these creationist geologists did not have careers specifically in the science that is contested.  In other words, both of these men worked as geologists, though their religious beliefs gave them very non-mainstream ideas about that geology.

Consider—again from the museum prospectus—the tasks Bennett claimed to have worked on for the US government.  As part of his job, Bennett

Performed surface and subsurface geotechnical studies and exploration programs utilizing diamond drill, power-auger, test pits, tunnels, and other processes to secure data for seismotectonic, ground-water, and other special studies of dams, reservoirs, canals, tunnels, spillways, power plants, and related structures.

One might say that none of this engineering work includes primary geological research.  And if it did, someone who believed in a young earth and a recent world-wide flood would be at a crippling disadvantage.  But anti-creationists sometimes make a different point.  Bill Nye, for instance, has warned that a creationist nation will soon fall behind in technology and engineering.

The careers of Bennett and Carter seem to demonstrate the weakness of that argument.  Indeed, Nye argues that creationism will turn kids away from science-related careers.  But in the case of these two men, at least, it was precisely their religious beliefs that led them to careers in geology.

So does this case show government support for creationism?  Not really.  But it does offer evidence that creationism does not necessarily deter young people from going into science-related careers.  Indeed, because of the tumult over the nature of biology and geology, perhaps creationist beliefs actually drive some young people into careers in science.




You Won’t Believe What This Poll Found Out About Dumb Americans

Thanks to the ever-watchful Sensuous Curmudgeon, we see a new poll: Only ¾ of Americans know that the Earth goes around the sun.  Dur.  But this sort of ignorance raises important questions about what it means to know something and, crucially, what it means to not-know.

The poll was conducted in 2012 by the National Science Foundation and apparently shared at the recent meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.  [Editor’s note: we couldn’t find the original poll results themselves, but we found reports of them from sources such as National Public Radio and Phys.Org.]

According to this survey of 2,200 American adults, only 74% correctly answered that the Earth goes around the sun.  For those of us who get depressed about the great US of A, we might take some comfort that similar results have been reported from similar polls in the European Union and China.

But here’s the kicker: There are lots of ways to not-know something.  As Robert Proctor called it a few years back, there are many different meanings to agnotology, the science of not-knowing.  In the case of this survey, we see a crucial detail of great interest to all of us interested in American education and culture.

Though Americans, Europeans and Chinese displayed similar levels of what Proctor might call “native-state” ignorance about the fact that the Earth goes around the sun, Americans had much higher levels of “non-knowledge” about human evolution.  According to the NPR report, 66% of Chinese respondents thought humans had evolved from other animals.  Seventy percent of European respondents thought so.  But only 48% of Americans did.

For those of us interested in education and culture, this suggests a different sort of non-knowledge.  Americans who don’t “know” that humans evolved from animals might simply not know it.  They might be simply, naively ignorant.  But those folks will be joined by large percentages of Americans who don’t “know” humans evolved from animals because they firmly “know” that God created humanity by fiat.

So are Americans dumb?  Yes, of course we are.  But are we DUMBER than Chinese people or Europeans?  This is where it gets tricky.  When knowledge is simply absent, that’s one thing.  But when correct knowledge is knowingly replaced by counter-knowledge, we have a much more complicated situation.


White House Petition: A Creationist Scheme?

Is the White House petition to ban creationism and intelligent design just a creationist scheme?

That’s the question asked recently by the ever-vigilant Sensuous Curmudgeon.

Here’s an update for those just joining us: Two weeks ago, someone filed a petition with the White House to ban creationism and intelligent design in the US.  These petitions need 100,000 signatures in 30 days in order to guarantee consideration by the Obama administration.  So far, this petition has 39,080 signatures, with 60,920 more needed by July 15.

The Sensuous Curmudgeon‘s blog is a must-read for anyone who follows creationism issues.  The Curmudgeon tracks and ruthlessly pillories creationism wherever and whenever it raises its head.  Yet the Curmudgeon opposes this petition.  The Curmudgeon argues that such things are not only useless to stop creationism or intelligent design, they actually help creationists paint themselves as victims.

We agree.

The Curmudgeon, however, goes one step further.  This petition is such a bad idea for those who support evolution education, the Curmudgeon believes, that it smells like the work of a creationist provocateur.

As the Curmudgeon puts it,

We suspect that it’s really something concocted by a small group of “clever” creationists — possibly in some dingy Seattle “think tank” — who want to demonstrate how “intolerant” we “Darwinists” really are, and how we want to suppress their glorious insights about creation science and intelligent design, and how we’ll resort to governmental force to maintain our “atheistic monopoly” on public education.

What do you think?  Is this petition just a creationist scheme?

Darwin Denounced as “Jew” in Turkish Textbooks

Every now and again we hear from evolution educators that creationism is somehow unique to the United States.  In his recent popular video denouncing creationism, for instance, Bill Nye “The Science Guy” said exactly that.

Not so fast!  As scholars such as Ronald Numbers have documented, creationism has long been an international affair.  In places such as Australia and Turkey, for instance, creationism has strong and apparently growing support.

And, thanks to the Sensuous Curmudgeon, we come across a story from the international edition of the Financial Times demonstrating the durability of Turkish anti-evolution education.

The FT story demonstrates both the similarities and differences of creationism across national and cultural boundaries.  In some senses, the story could come straight out of the USA.  Other parts seem uniquely Turkish.

For instance, the story describes a controversy over the use of anti-evolution textbooks in Turkish schools.  A teachers’ union has taken legal action to block schools in Istanbul from using anti-evolution textbooks.  Just as in the USA, the Turkish government has made moves to loosen Turkey’s traditional government secularism in a strongly religious nation.  The government, according to the FT article, has allowed more schools to favor religious themes.

All of this sounds like it could have come directly from the evolution/creation controversies in the USA.

But other parts of the story have a uniquely Turkish twist.  The schoolbooks, for example, denounce Darwin as Jewish.  According to the FT, the textbooks warn students that Darwin “had two problems:  first he was a Jew; second, he hated his prominent forehead, big nose and  misshapen teeth.” The books mock Darwin’s lack of formal education, noting strangely that he preferred to spend his time with monkeys in the zoo.

Such anti-Semitic attacks do not usually appear in America’s evolution/creation controversies.  More common would be attacks on Darwin’s atheism.  For the record, Darwin was not Jewish.  However, a creationist attempt to discredit Darwin by “accusing” him of Jewishness makes some sense in a Turkish context.

Clearly, context matters.  Students in Louisiana’s publicly funded schools might read textbooks promoting creationism and evangelical Protestantism.  Students in Istanbul’s publicly funded schools had read that Darwin could not be trusted because he was Jewish.