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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.


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.