Skepticism, Religion Archive

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Another Surprise at the Bookstore

I wrote an entry a while ago, about finding some religious inserts in Lyra's Oxford, a short book written by Phillip Pullman as a kind of mini sequel to the His Dark Materials trilogy, as well as a few other children's books. Just recently, on the advice of several people (including Eric of the New Minority blog), I finally decided to purchase The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins' book on religion. (I'm already most of the way through it, and hope to put up a review some time within the next couple months. In short, I agree with most, though not all, of what Dawkins has written.) Just about the time I was halfway through the book, a little card fell out into my lap:

Living Waters IQ Test - Front of Card
Living Waters IQ Test - Back of Card

The card was printed by the same organization, Living Waters Ministries, headed by the same person, Ray Comfort, as the cards I found in Lyra's Oxford and the other books I mentioned in that entry (man, that took some restraint on my part not to use a different noun to describe Comfort). Given Dawkins' subject material, I wasn't nearly as surprised this time as when I found the inserts in the children's books, and this insert isn't nearly as disengenious. Still, it seems we have a misguided busybody at our local bookstore. Plus, it's always a bit unpleasant to be reminded of the inventor of the argumentum ad bananum.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Website Update - New Factoid Debunking Page

Factoids?I've been neglecting the main part of my website a little too long, but I've finally made an update. I got another factoid e-mail in my inbox that was just too ripe to pass up, so I now have Factoids Debunked & Verified, Part III. This was one of the worst factoid e-mails I've ever received. Usually, there are at least some germs of truth. This one seems to be fabricated through and through.

Updated 2008-06-30 - corrected the link to go to the proper page.

Friday, June 13, 2008

No Big Entry This Week, But I Did Leave a Good Comment

I've stated several times that my goal for this blog is to make at least one good substantive post per week, or to at least make an update to the regular part of this website. Well, I've spent my lunch breaks this week typing up a response to two comments left on one of my older blog entries, Problems With Day-Age Interpretation of Genesis. Basically, I expanded on the original essay with a few more issues. My main problem with a day-age interpretation is that it's still not consistent with the actual history of the universe and our planet. But I pretty much didn't address that in my response, to concentrate on two issues that I thought were most troubling even ignoring actual history - what does the wording in the second day even mean? And how could plants have survived without the sun and without pollinators? If that's the type of thing that interests you, you may want to go check it out.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Shenanigans in the Texas State Board of Education

TEA LogoThis is a story that's already made its way around the skeptical neighborhoods of the blogosphere, but it definitely bears repeating for anybody that hasn't heard it yet. Last Friday, the Texas State Board of Education approved the new English Language Arts and Reading curriculum standards.

According to the news release put out by the Texas Education Agency,

A less repetitive, more grade-level specific set of English Language Arts and Reading curriculum standards will go into use in Texas classrooms in the fall of 2009 after having been approved by the State Board of Education May 23 on a 9-6 vote.

The process of revising the 1997 standards began in 2005. Hundreds of teachers, numerous experts, national facilitators, and State Board of Education members worked on many drafts of the document over that time.

The standards ultimately approved by the board represent a blending of a document crafted by teacher work groups, with the help of facilitators from StandardsWork, and a version drafted by a coalition of English teachers. Many of the same teachers worked on both documents.



That release also states

Other board expressed strong concerns about being asked to approve a draft document that emerged on the final day of deliberations. Consequently, the board agreed to go through the document page by page, spending several hours looking at the latest revisions.

After working two and a half years on curriculum standards, I can imagine that board members would have "strong concerns" over a document that they'd had less than a day to review. There's an article in the Dallas Morning News that lists more details of how that document was released:

"I find it's really wild that we can work for three years on a project and then the board is so qualified they can pull it out of their hat overnight," said board member Pat Hardy, a Fort Worth Republican who, like other board members, received the substituted document when it was slipped under her hotel door less than an hour before their meeting was set to convene Friday morning.

The article also discusses how the "seveal hours" were spent reviewing the new document.

After first saying he would not give board members time to go over the new document during the meeting, Chairman Don McLeroy, a Republican from College Station, eventually relented, allowing a quick run through of the new document with an explanation of the changes.

But the squabbling did not end there.

"Mr. Chair you're going so fast ... you're moving so fast we can't find it in the other document," Berlanga said, shortly after the page-by-page explanation began.

After more complaints, McLeroy declared that he would continue at the fast pace.

"The ruling is you're being dilatory in dragging this out," McLeroy said.

The Houston Chronicle also has an article on what happened, with an opening paragraph that sums up the situation quite nicely.

A three-year effort to rewrite English language arts and reading standards for the state's public schools came down to a last minute cut-and-paste job Friday.

The way the Board of Education handled this was completely improper. Don McLeroy, the head of the Board of Education (who also happens to be a creationist, and a dentist, with virtually no qualifications for heading that board) should resign, and if he doesn't do so voluntarily, should be removed by the governor.

And don't forget that the science standards are the next in line to be reviewed. If the board can be so underhanded on a topic as uncontroversial as English, I fear just what stunts they're going to pull when it comes to subjects like biology and geology.

The best write up I've seen of this in the blogosphere comes from Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy Blog

Friday, May 16, 2008

Global Warming - It's Real, And We're Causing It

Global WarmingI was with a group of people yesterday, and one of them brought up the recent news of the U.S. listing polar bears as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, due to their expected decline as global warming melts the arctic sea ice they depend upon for survival. And of course, this got the conversation going on global warming. Out of the six of us, one guy thought that scientists just didn't know what the hell was going on with the climate, that there wasn't any real consensus on global warming at all, and that even if global warming were real, which he doubted, polar bears would find a way to survive, anyway. Another guy seemed more open to the idea that global warming could be happening, and could be human caused, but wasn't entirely convinced. I tried my best to defend the science, while the other three people stayed pretty quiet on the subject (although from a previous conversation, I think that one of them at least accepts that global warming is happening). Later on, when I told another guy about this conversation, he seemed to think that the current global warming might just be a natual cycle, and that it's not human caused. So, out of 7 people, I was the only one to strongly accept that current global warming is human caused.

Now, I'll admit I'm no expert on global climate. Not only am I not involved with the field at all, but I haven't really studied it in depth on a lay level, either, like I have other fields such as evolution. So, I guess I need to ask myself, how can I go on accepting that humans are causing global warming, and that it is a major problem?

First, I'll defer to the experts. I realize this isn't exactly a sound logical approach - after all, evidence is evidence no matter who discovers it. But, in the same way that I'll take my doctor's advice on what effects different medicines and procedures have, I'll put a fair amount of weight on the statements of the people who devote their careers to studying climate.

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