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Electricity? It's a mystery!

From The Pharyngula blog comes this little gem, a page from a Fundamentalist Christian textbook about electricity.

Now, anyone who's read my blog for any length of time will know I'm no fan of right-wing religious zealots. But occasionally they manage to surprise me. Sadly, they tend to surprise me by not even rising to the bar of my already abysmally low expectations; no matter how bad, how ignorant, how credulous, or how dishonest I think these guys are, they somehow manage to be worse.

Here's the page, scanned from a fourth-grade home-schooling textbook on science (click for a larger version):

This kind of thing is the reason I cringe whenever I hear the phrase "home schooling." I know there are home schoolers who aren't ignorant Fundamentalist boobs, but damn, they sure do seem to be a small percentage.

The notion that someone can spout nonsense like "We can not even say where electricity comes from. Some scientists think the sun may be the source of most electricity. Others think that the movement of the earth produces some of it" interspersed with Biblical passages and call the result a science textbook is, to me, beyond belief.

A part of me wants to think that whoever wrote this nonsensical tripe was deliberately lying, because the notion that the author genuinely doesn't know what electricity is, and furthermore can't be arsed to look it up on Wikipedia or something, blows my mind. But, no, I do think it's at least possible that whoever wrote this passage sincerely believes what he wrote.

Taken in a larger context, though, it doesn't matter whether or not he believes it, or understands enough basic science to understand what electricity is. ("We cannot say what electricity itself is like"? Seriously?) The goal of this book is not to educate the reader about science; indeed, I think the goal of any home-schooler using this material is not to educate their child about science.

No, the goal is something very different. It's twofold, really. The most obvious intention here is to present the world in a way that makes it as opaque as possible, while simultaneously denigrating the ability of science to make any sense of it; science, in the minds of the Fundamentalists who write and teach drivel like this, is a haphazard conglomeration of a bunch of competing wild-ass guesses about the way things might work, each of which has no real basis in fact. Some scientists think our electricity was produced in the sun; others think that some of it might have come from the movement of the earth. (As a person in the dismal movie Jesus Camp says, "science doesn't prove anything."1)

The second aim of this textbook is something more subtle. There is an axiom among many religious Fundamentalists that we can never know something which we do not observe directly. This argument pops up in Creationist arguments with depressing frequency; since we can not go back and directly observe, as a firsthand eyewitness, the creation of the earth or the advent of life, we can never know how it went down; ergo, all ideas about what might have happened are equally likely. And since only one of those ideas has the imprinteur of God, that's the most likely one. All the other ideas are merely idle speculation; since we can't go back and see it happen, we can't actually say we have any evidence for it. Only eyewitness evidence2 matters.

And on those counts, I think this passage does precisely what it intends to do.

1 Which might be true from a particular perspective, in the sense that the scientific method seeks hypotheses which are falsifiable, and model is only as good as the next data point which contradicts it. But the Fundies who spout "science doesnt prove anything" mean something quite different; they're basically saying that science is not useful as a tool to understand the physical world. And that blatantly isn't so.

2 Or the scribblings of a bunch of barely literate Bronze Age tribesmen which have been shuffled around, rearranged to suit various political factions several times throughout history, and then badly tanslated into a succession of languages, presumably.


( 35 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 8th, 2010 11:45 pm (UTC)
How to make people stupider, step one: write a terribly cruelly misleading homeschool book.
Jul. 9th, 2010 12:01 am (UTC)
These idiots have never been around any welding, have they.

Trust me. You can see and feel that electricity pretty damn easily.

(Protip: You can weld while standing in a puddle of water. You just have to make sure your boots are very, very waterproof.)
Jul. 9th, 2010 12:11 am (UTC)
If you want to aggravate yourself further, check out BJU Press (the publishing arm of Bob Jones University, right here in beautiful South Carolina). The page you chose is from one of their older "science" books. If you'd like to see more, click around their site - you can actually read sample chapters. It's terrifying...
Jul. 9th, 2010 05:44 am (UTC)
It's tempting to click on that link, but I value my sanity.
Jul. 9th, 2010 12:16 am (UTC)
former homeschooling mom here - and I can say with confidence that I'm one of those homeschooling parents that makes the fundies really really uncomfortable.
Also my 2nd and 4th grader went back to public school this year and the 2nd grader tested at a 6th grade science level and the 4th grader at a 10th grade science level. Unlike their current schools... We do experiments LOL.
Also the one with the kids who could just NOT get what Easter was about because to any child not raised Christian - you say the phrase 'rose from the dead' and what do they think? Zombies!
(Deleted comment)
Jul. 9th, 2010 01:22 am (UTC)
I'm still stunned at the phrase "No one has ever observed [electricity]."

Jul. 9th, 2010 02:25 am (UTC)
I would suggest checking sources! When you click on the book referenced in the article, the sample chapter is on electricity and magnetism, and does not include the page that is claimed to come from it.

Is there a reliable source on this? Or is it from a different book than the one linked?
Jul. 9th, 2010 03:25 am (UTC)
This unintentionally hilarious comment by a Bob Jones University apologist claims that the picture above was from an older edition of the book—and then says, "I'm not apologizing for what was written in the earlier editions."

Oh, there's plenty of religious propaganda that's as bad as "we don't know anything about electricity" in the current editions. Scope this page from an 8th-grade science book. You'll notice, if you can stand to look through much of the introductions of the more advanced books, that real scientists are often given labels that include evolution, even if they're not biologists. The page linked refers to cosmologists as "evolutionary scientists." The word evolution is obviously a scare term meant to connote atheist.

Edited at 2010-07-09 03:27 am (UTC)
Jul. 9th, 2010 03:44 am (UTC)
But that does mean it's not from a current edition of the book, which the original poster failed to point out.

If you go to the actual site and look at the sample pages, they're not unreasonable: http://www.bjupress.com/product/239145?path=229810&samplePage=2#lookInside
Jul. 9th, 2010 02:55 pm (UTC)
The grade 4 book isn't too bad in the sample chapter, apart from the obligatory "God did it" disclaimer.

My point was that even though the example cited isn't current, the level of ignorance and religious indoctrination displayed there is not completely atypical of the current editions, either.
Jul. 9th, 2010 09:18 am (UTC)
I'm most interested in finding an accurate source for the electrical page itself (for example, knowing which specific edition it came from.)

I'm trying to 'spearhead' a group through the local chapter of the IEEE to start teaching basic K-12 science for (non-religiously motivated) homeschoolers at a local museum, and have been looking for good examples of why parents can't just blindly trust purchased lesson plans. This seemed like a good example of the obvious flawed ones (I have plenty of the subtle flawed ones, but...)

I'm mainly concerned in pieces addressing issues that have nothing to do with evolution (preferably, not including the words evolution or creation.) We already deal with enough of that through the radio astronomy program, and I'd like to weasel in through a less political method. Electricity seemed like a relatively safe starting point!
Jul. 11th, 2010 06:31 pm (UTC)
Even if the current edition is not as bad.. there is a distinct possibility that this edition is still making the rounds via book/curriculium swaps. Something lots of homeschoolers do.
Jul. 9th, 2010 04:59 am (UTC)
minor point
then badly tanslated into a succession of languages, presumably.

To be fair, it's generally not a Succession of languages, per se. At least, not in serial. Most competent bible translators translate directly from the oldest extant version of the text to the target text (hence the reason finds like the dead sea scrolls are so spiffy).

Bad translations? Translations with an agenda? I'll grant those, but the succession of languages the bible is translated into are in parallel, not series, because churches have known about error propagation/amplification for centuries.

...of course Muslims get around that problem by not allowing translations of the Koran at all...
Jul. 9th, 2010 05:18 am (UTC)
So I suppose my immediate question is, how pervasive is something like this? There are crazypants peoples all over the world, and they come in all colors and creeds. So it doesn't surprise me that the United States has its quota filled as well. But is this literally sweeping the nation, is it sweeping Protestant Christianity so much that we can start making generalizations about the faith as a whole, or is it merely part of a small enclave of particular fundamentalist religious extremists?

I liken this sort of thing to the Nation of Islam's belief that white people were the laboratory creation of an evil scientist. It's fun to pull out and mock now and again, but in the grand scheme of things their influence is limited enough that they are not much more than a sideshow curiosity.
Jul. 9th, 2010 05:48 am (UTC)
I would venture to say that crazy fundie creationists *are* exerting a considerable influence on our country, particularly in Texas where most of the nation's school textbooks are produced.

Jul. 11th, 2010 06:38 pm (UTC)
Unfortunately it is very pervasive. I'm sorry to say I have relatives who are creationists. I spent one drive to the zoo explaining evolution to my one college educated aunt. I felt like crying.

And here is an excerpt from a documentary that I found on youtube from a science classroom in TN: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L640vc_XBjk
Jul. 25th, 2010 03:23 am (UTC)
I'd say, based on experience growing up Southern Baptist in a very predominantly Christian city, that this sort of extreme anti-science homeschool thing is not just super-widespread among general Protestant Christians. I mean, the numbers of people who can really afford to have one parent home all day to school their kids? Not terribly large, really, and really most people, regardless of religion, just plain don't care that much. BUT, the type who do homeschool their children this way are EXTREMELY vocal, eager to drag other believers into this way of thinking, and unfortunately seem to make up the whole of the school board in Texas, from what I've heard. And Texas is a large state with lots of buying power, so what they want is what gets printed.

I myself was raised by a somewhat fundamentalist dad who was, nevertheless, a scientific-minded sort who saw nothing wrong with evolution, and a lot wrong with young-earth creationism. And my mom was one who really didn't see the big deal arguing with something so abstract, that didn't affect her daily life in the least. Except having to listen to my dad whine about the anti-science faction.
Jul. 9th, 2010 05:29 am (UTC)
I've said for a while that in order to be consistent these fools should extend their 'creationism' crap to other sciences as well, particularly astronomy and geology. Honestly, I didn't expect them to attack chemistry, but I guess I really shouldn't be too surprised.

So you haven't felt electricity, huh? Well hey, here's a fork, there's a wall socket. Let's try a little experiment ...
Jul. 9th, 2010 08:45 am (UTC)
fuckin' electricity, how does it work?
No no no, you see, that's what electricity DOES, it's not what electricity IS.... or something. :P
Jul. 15th, 2010 11:54 am (UTC)
A lot of 'em DO extend creationism to astronomy and geology. Wander onto a Young Earth Creationism forum some time and you'll see what I mean. Don't stay too long, though, or you'll start bleeding from your eyes.
Jul. 9th, 2010 10:54 am (UTC)
i can't help but think it would be funny to dare the author to stick a fork in an outlet.
Jul. 9th, 2010 01:54 pm (UTC)
Last month I was thinking about how SCO is secretly funded by Microsoft and gets to cause tons of trouble in courts. And I was thinking about how the skeptic community occasionally sues one or two charlatans but only rarely.

That's when it hit me: Why don't we start a non-profit legal defense fund that starts suing every fucking crazy anti-science group in the planet? We'd have a great business model: start with some donations; use the winnings from each suit to fund future suits.

SPLC did this with the KKK. One suit got the entire property and assets of a KKK leader. They liquidated it all and used it for future suits. Now they fund all sorts of programs to fight hate.

If we win a law suit, we set a precedent. If we lose, at least we get PR.

It isn't illegal to say something that is factually untrue about science, but there are tons of other things these groups do that are illegal. What if we set a legal precedent that established that made it fraud to teach untrue science to children (where "untrue" is isn't an edge case like string-theory)?

That's just one precedent I'd like to see. I'm sure smarter people with bigger legal creds than me could come up with better ideas.
Jul. 12th, 2010 06:16 pm (UTC)
I like your ideas, and would like to subscribe to your newsletter. ;)

Once again proving my point of why someone should give me obscene amounts of money... I'd make a fantastic philanthropist. Funding a foundation like this would be in my top 5 of things to do with obscene amounts of money.

Of course, buying a tropical island, installing a Sooper-Seekrit LaBORatory in it, and importing tacit to help me out with all my Mad Scientist and Sexy Assistant/Victim fantasies is also on my top 5, which is why they probably never would give me obscene amounts of money... philanthropists are supposed to be above reproach. :P
Jul. 9th, 2010 02:24 pm (UTC)
I'm not going to lie, this is the kind of "education" I grew up with. When I finally wiggled out of my mothers iron fist and refused to go to a Christian high school she let me enroll in my first public school for grade 10. I failed geography as I was never taught it at all. I barely passed history...and I failed science. I failed grade 10 science because "God" was NOT the right answer. It was horrible.

I also had to do devotionals every night called 'Keys for Kids" and I was forced to teach Sunday School, do VBS and went to a Christian camp every summer. Horrible, evil waste of my life.
Jul. 9th, 2010 07:08 pm (UTC)
interesting. i read the text before i looked at the illustration. from the tone and content, i'd figured it was from an antique text that you were posting for our amusement.

when i was in grade school in the 70's, our textbooks were from the 30's through 50's (it was a poor school district). i think i saw the same claims about electricity's 'unknownness' in them. i don't know much about the history of science; is it possible that electrons' nature and role was not understood when they were written? or was our school district just using weird fundie texts?

based again on stylistic clues, i'd suggest that the posted text was written by an elderly man, who was repeating what he'd learned in his youth. and had no motivation to seek out newer ideas :).
Jul. 9th, 2010 07:09 pm (UTC)
the above comment was from me
LJ logged me out while i was typing.
Jul. 15th, 2010 11:53 am (UTC)
Re: the above comment was from me
The basic properties of electrons were pretty well established (to within less than a percent) in 1909, so books written in the 40s or 50s can't claim ignorance in that regard.

In fact, the existence of electrons was first proposed in 1897, and experimentally confirmed by the turn of the century. Not only that, by 1900 models of the atom that were essentially correct had been deduced, and experiments had demonstrated the wave/particle duality of electrons in 1937.

So short of either astounding ignorance or deliberate and willful anti-intellectualism, it's hard to see a textbook from the 30s through the 50s seriously claiming that electrons, or electricity, was a "mystery."
Jul. 15th, 2010 05:02 pm (UTC)
Re: the above comment was from me
wow. i wonder what else was in those textbooks we had. i did get funny looks sometimes, when i would say things in class after transferring to a real school...
Jul. 10th, 2010 10:37 pm (UTC)
Unbelievable. All the people I know who home-school are Pagans, not Christians, but I don't know that many Fundamentalist Christians.

I've heard that a small group of very religious Christians in Texas essentially choose the textbooks that are used in public schools throughout the country. I read an autobiography years ago -- it may have been Richard Feynman, but honestly I can't remember for certain. Whomever it was -- he was invited to be on the textbook committee, so he carefully read all the books to make genuine recommendations, and refused all the "perks" the manufacturers offered him, so as to remain unbiased. He complained that his fellow committee members apparently recommended their books based upon the "perks" (aka bribes) the book manufacturers offered.
Jul. 18th, 2010 12:12 am (UTC)
It's always interesting to watch the socialization when the Pagan and Christian home schoolers end up at the same event. I'd say there are about equal numbers where I live.

My uncle has been a text book writer for at least 25 years. He once explained to me that the TX state board of superintendents chooses the textbooks for the state, and because they are the largest buyers in the nation, they more or less decide what gets published.

It is one of the reasons that we home school. :)
Jul. 11th, 2010 06:47 pm (UTC)
Jul. 12th, 2010 04:00 am (UTC)
I think you may be giving the authors too much credit. It is just barely possible that they are repeating what they were told, but the only way I can see that this meme could be born is by a philosopher deliberately creating anti-epistemology so as to justify dismissing a contrary argument without regard for truth.

It makes me sick.
Jul. 13th, 2010 05:05 pm (UTC)
Doncha just love those people who use the expression, "But it's right there, in black and white!"
I had some fella the other day try to tell me, "I'm reading Obama's policy, and I don't see what you're telling me anywhere in it. Therefore, he couldn't have done what you're telling me he did"...despite the fact it was plastered all over the news.
Some people are just plain delusional, I swear.
Jul. 16th, 2010 06:02 am (UTC)
do you know and recognize miracles?

I <3 ZJ :)
( 35 comments — Leave a comment )