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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.


Comments

solar_diablo
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.
red_girl_42
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.

shevabree
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
seraphicfeathers.blogspot.com
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.