Saturday, September 20, 2008

How to teach Creationism

Some guys named Jimmy Hobbs and Joel Fanti are enjoying their 15 minutes of fame after a Wilmington, North Carolina area school board meeting:

The Brunswick County school board is looking for a way for creationism to be taught in the classroom side by side with evolution.

by Ana Ribeiro

"It's really a disgrace for the state school board to impose evolution on our students without teaching creationism," county school board member Jimmy Hobbs said at Tuesday's meeting. "The law says we can't have Bibles in schools, but we can have evolution, of the atheists."
This makes me so insane on so many levels. Evolution is no more atheistic than linguistics and optics are atheistic. It's like saying that gravity is libertarian, or that death is illiterate.

Evolution is an explanation of how species have changed and developed through a process that took millions of years. Unless God chooses to reveal himself/herself, it's the only explanation out there.

I've been in and out of churches that had varying degrees of loyalty to the Biblical stories most of my life. I've taught the stories to kids - in some of the least dogmatic ways possible - as narratives about what life might mean.
But they aren't science !
You can go to seminaries (as I did briefly) and learn that they didn't happen ! They are metaphorical, not factual.
Here's more Ana Robeiro:

When asked by a reporter, his fellow board members all said they were in favor of creationism being taught in the classroom.

Oh, for the love of God. All of them said that? The whole school board?
The topic came up after county resident Joel Fanti told the board he thought it was unfair for evolution to be taught as fact, saying it should be taught as a theory because there's no tangible proof it's true.
"I wasn't here 2 million years ago," Fanti said. "If evolution is so slow, why don't we see anything evolving now?"
Please, please, please let that be a typo. "If evolution is so slow, why don't we see anything evolving now?" Joel, you don't see anything evolving because it IS so slow.

The board allowed Fanti to speak longer than he was allowed, and at the end of his speech he volunteered to teach creationism and received applause from the audience. When he walked away, school board Chairwoman Shirley Babson took the podium and said another state had tried to teach evolution and creationism together and failed, and that the school system must teach by the law.
If Mr. Fanti or Ms. Babson need help teaching creationism, let me propose the following lesson plan:

Give the class a copy of Genesis, Chapter 1, and Chapter 2, verses 1-3, along with the following outline:

Genesis 1:1-5 God said "Let there be light"
Genesis 1:6-8 God then created the Firmament, or "layers of sky" (as it was then understood) Genesis 1:9-13 Next, God made land, water, trees and plants
Genesis 1:14-19 God then made the sun, moon, and stars (disregard that he created "light" in verse one)
Genesis 1: 20-23 Fish and birds are created
Genesis 1:24-31 God made cattle, creeping things, and finally, man.

Discuss the writing style. The students will probably agree that the author of Genesis chapter one is giving a dry, somewhat bland account of God's actions at the beginning of time.

Discuss the lack of original manuscripts for the book of Genesis.

Discuss the difficulty of translating unpunctuated Hebrew.

Discuss the order in which God created life on earth: light, sky, land, water, plants, sun, moon, and stars, fish, birds, cattle and other wildlife, and man. Write this sequence on the blackboard or dry erase board as a timeline.

Ask a volunteer to read the first three verses of Genesis 2:1-3 to the class.

1 Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.
2 By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.

3 And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.

Ask the students if they understand this to be the creationist explanation for the origins of all life and all species. Ask if they know the meaning of the word "infallible". Ask if "infallibility" could apply to this narrative. Discuss at great length. Be gentle.

Distribute the text of Genesis 2:4-9.

4 This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created. When the LORD God made the earth and the heavens-
5 and no shrub of the field had yet appeared on the earth and no plant of the field had yet sprung up, for the LORD God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no man to work the ground,
6 but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground,
7 the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.
8 Now the LORD God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed.

9 And the LORD God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
10 A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters.
11 The name of the first is the Pishon; it winds through the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold.
12 (The gold of that land is good; aromatic resin and onyx are also there.)
13 The name of the second river is the Gihon; it winds through the entire land of Cush.
14 The name of the third river is the Tigris; it runs along the east side of Asshur. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.
15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.

16 And the LORD God commanded the man, "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die."
18 The LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him."
19 Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.

20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field. But for Adam no suitable helper was found.
21 So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man's ribs and closed up the place with flesh.
22 Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.

Ask the class if Genesis chapter 2 seems to offer a contradictory account from chapter 1.

Discuss the writing style. Ask which story uses more emotion.

Ask why chapter one, in this translation, consistently uses the word "God", and chapter two always uses the phrase "the LORD God".

Explain that the original Hebrew word for God used in chapter one is "Elohim", while chapter two uses the word "Yahweh". Ask if the writers were talking about the same Deity. Ask one of the music geeks in the class to give the current definition of the word "mashup".

Mention the differences in writing style between, say, Shakespeare and Snoop Dogg. Ask what makes their writing distinctive and recognizable. Then ask the class if they think the first Genesis story and the second Genesis story were written by the same person. Be gentle.

Return to your blackboard timeline from Genesis chapter 1. Create a second timeline based on the account in Genesis chapter 2. Note the contradictions. Once again, be gentle.

Homework assignment: Ask the students to write a 250 word essay about which timeline is more convincing. Give 5 extra points for the correct use of the word "infallible" in each essay.

When grading, be very gentle. You are planting a seed. It will grow.

End of lesson plan.

Mr. Hobbs and Mr. Fanti, are you sure that you want North Carolina's biology professors to teach creationism? Or do you think that the Bible should be taught in churches, and science should be taught in schools?

Have you paid off your Subprime Mortgages?

Subprime Mortgage.
Subprime Mortgages.
The Subprime Mortage crisis.

That's one of those politically correct phrases that adds a scent of respectability to gambling. The phrase "loaning your savings and insurance money to unqualified people at higher interest rates for houses they can't afford" just seems too harsh.
What would happen if the print, TV, radio, and online journalists started referencing the "Government guaranteed loans to shiftworkers so they can buy McMansions" crisis?
Would that change our perception of the current problems?
Would we be less charitable about the ongoing bailout?

I admit that I can barely allocate my 401K funds properly, but here's the problem as I understand it:

Joe Bob wanted a McMansion. He couldn't afford a McMansion. But we were in the middle of a housing bubble, where prices were doubling every 6 years. Plus, the bank was going to charge him higher Mafia-style interest rates. Prices were going up so fast that if Joe Bob couldn't make the payments the bank would still own a house that was worth far more than its value when Joe Bob moved into it. They could always find someone else to sell it to.

Then everyone woke up and realized that there were too many McMansions on the market, and they weren't worth the asking price. Oops.

I have a lawyer friend in Mississippi who recently got into trouble for falsifying documents on subprime mortage deals - it didn't matter if Joe Bob had never held a job for more than 3 months. It didn't matter if his only job was pulling Curly Fries out of the grease when the timer went off. My lawyer buddy would fix the paperwork so that Joe Bob's employment record could at least fit the "subprime" standard for a Mississippi McMansion Mortgage. When the loan invariably went into default, my friend had his sales commission, Joe Bob had partied his ass off in a new house for 6 months, and the bank was stuck with a devalued house in Crotch Rot, Mississippi.

Because of this scam, my friend has lost his license to practice law, and he's lost his real estate broker's licence. He's now avoiding prison by playing Hannibal Lecter to the FBI's Clarice Starling. Agent Starling comes to his house a couple of times a week with files from mortgages gone bad. My buddy, after putting Miggs in the back yard and offering Agent Starling some Fava Beans and a nice Chianti, looks through the mortgage files and tells Clarice whether they were legit subprime loans or fraudulent subprime loans.

At the time when my friend got into trouble, the bank was responsible for the legitimate loans that went bad, and criminals were responsible for repaying the fraudulent ones.

As of this week, you're responsible for all of them.

And you're still going to keep voting for Democrats and Republicans, aren't you?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Democrats and Republicans forgot to file to be on the ballot !

This could get interesting.
The Mommy Party (D) and The Daddy Party (R) both failed to do their filings on time with the elections commission in Texas.
Therefore, their presidential candidates have no right to be on the Texas ballot in November.
Libertarian presidential candidate Bob Barr has filed a lawsuit to hold the Bipartisans to the strict letter of the law. For decades, in the name of preserving power for themselves, the Democrats and Republicans have held all 2nd Parties to an incredibly strict ballot access standard. Turnabout is fair play, don't you think?

I remember High School Civics class discussions about the difference between democracies and totalitarian governments. We were taught that Cuba, China, and The Soviet Union had elections, but that only members of the ruling party had access to the ballot, a situation that made a farce out of the elections.

Can anyone see any real difference between those scenarios and the current situation with Republicans and Democrats locking up access to debates and ballots? Heck, it's probably easier for a renegade to get on the ballot in China than it is in the U.S.

Check out this link to the discussion on Samizdata. I hope you'll pay particular attention to the comments. Many U.S. voters - Obama supporters - are hoping that Barr is successful, since McCain is otherwise likely to win in Texas.

Do you have any idea why the Democrats won't go along with Barr and his lawsuit? Not now, not ever, not in a million years, even if it means Texas goes Republican?

It's because they're the other half of the Republicans. It's like a tag team wrestling match. The Mommy Party (D) gets to be in the ring until their shtick grows tiresome. Then they're sent to the corner and the Daddy Party (R) goes in for a while.

They don't want anyone from the crowd jumping into the arena. God knows what goodies and freebies could be taken away from them if that were to happen.

Think about it. This is a golden opportunity for the Democrats to neutralize 34 Republican electoral votes from Texas! The law is on their side! The law is on Bob Barr's side. 34 ELECTORAL VOTES ! ! !

The Democrats will never support him in this lawsuit. Yin will attack Yang, and Heads will attack Tails before anything like that happens.

The Democrats and Republicans, especially after the stunts they've pulled during this shameful week, can no longer be considered opponents. They are partners.

Go Bob Barr.

Donkelephant pic from The Indiana University Alumni Association, of all places....

A moment of silence, please....

Please take a break from your normal activities to mourn the absence of The Dreaded Fembuttx from our lives.
She has been an unrestrained Serial Commenter on these pages from the beginning. For examples of her handiwork, check out my two previous posts. Banish small children from the room.
She is the only Caption Contest competitor to ever be banished to the next league.
She is leaving my employer to work in the Customer Service department of another company, one that manufactures Ventilation Hoods for kitchens.

Considering her skills at Blowing Smoke, she should do well there.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Sarah Palin had a tanning bed installed in the Alaska Governor's mansion ! ! !
She paid for it with her own money ! ! !
What does it all mean ?
Why are we learning this?
Why does ABC News think anyone cares?


Instead of:



I promise you that by this weekend, more Americans will know about The Barracuda Tanning Booth than know about her position on reforming Social Security.

Ok, back to all capital letters:


i might move to Australia.
update from 12:07 a.m., after surfing the net for about ten minutes....

Monday, September 15, 2008

The "Change" Candidate

It's time to pay your bar tab, sir....

Ever go out with a bunch of friends, set up a bar tab on your credit card, eat and drink for hours, only to have a few of your "friends" excuse themselves to go to the restroom and then leave the premises when it came time to pay the tab?

No? Well, look again.

If you're a U.S. citizen, some people from Bear Stearns recently came to your table and ordered appetizers, multiple entrees, enough drinks to float a small fishing boat, and some desserts for the group in the next booth. They lived like kings.

A few minutes before closing time, they excused themselves and ran for the parking lot. There you sat, wondering how to to explain all those credit card charges to The Little Woman Back Home.

Then, to add insult to injury, a husband and wife named Fannie and Freddie sat down with you the next night, ordered everything "to go", left the table to make some phone calls, and were never seen again. They apparently took their food with them. You're even more concerned this time, because you already talked some of your Chinese buddies into co-signing for this particular credit card.

Your Chinese buddies aren't very happy, and they're thinking of swinging by your house to pick up the dinette set you used as collateral.

You see, this is all fair. Fannie and Freddie have known all along that no matter how much debt they get into, or how many bad decisions they make, you're going to be there for them.

Here's where it gets really interesting. You are going to go out to yet another bar tonight. Yes, tonight. And this bar has it all ! ! ! The Lehman Brothers (see the excellent Michael Lewis book "The Money Culture" for tales of LB excess) are going to sit down at your table. They're going to ask if you're running a bar tab. You, like an idiot, are going to affirm that you're running a tab. Your credit card is there behind the cash register for The Lehman Brothers to see.

The Lehman Brothers are going to order food, drinks, birthday cakes, and promise the waiters very generous tips. They're going to bring in strippers from next door and purchase lap dances.

They're going to leave you with the bill. This is going to happen. And you're going to bend over and take it.

Because they can't be allowed to fail. You can, but they can't. They are the ones who have been making campaign contributions to their buddies in high places. All along there has been the unspoken promise that they can always put their expenses, their mistakes, and their bills on your bar tab.

It's a concept called "Privatize the profit; Socialize the risk".

Why aren't people rioting in the streets? Because we know the government will eventually print more money to pay for all this? Because the transactions are too complicated for us to understand? Because we're the ones who've been voting for Republicans and Democrats all these years?

Or perhaps it's because we're a nation of sheep.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

John Shelby Spong's 12 Theses

John Shelby Spong, the former Anglican/Episcopalian bishop of Newark, New Jersey, created one of his signature whirlwinds ten years ago by proposing the following "12 Theses".

Modeled on the 99 Theses that Martin Luther nailed to the Wittenburg door in 1517, Spong claims to have written these in the most provocative language possible in order to provoke internet debate. Here's just one link to some of the many responses he provoked. (I apologize ahead of time for the blaring background on that site....)
Spong has been accused of atheism and heresy, but his critics have difficulty attacking his arguments. They usually end up attacking the implications of his arguments.

Here are Bishop Spong's 12 articles for debate. All italics are mine.

1. Theism, as a way of defining God, is dead. So most theological God-talk is today meaningless. A new way to speak of God must be found. In other words, it makes no sense to speak of God in terms of a personality with likes and dislikes.

2. Since God can no longer be conceived in theistic terms, it becomes nonsensical to seek to understand Jesus as the incarnation of the theistic deity. So the Christology of the ages is bankrupt. Once you come to terms with the idea that God doesn't intervene, you're probably going to look into when the concept of the Trinity came into being. The answer is somewhere around 300 A.D., and it remained vague until 451 A.D.

3. The biblical story of the perfect and finished creation from which human beings fell into sin is pre-Darwinian mythology and post-Darwinian nonsense. Yeah, it's mythology, and it's nonsense, but most cultures have a creation story. These stories were useful devices for the patriarchy to blame women for the ills of the age - whether the story is of Eve and the apple, or Pandora opening a box and allowing sin and evil into the world.

4. The virgin birth, understood as literal biology, makes Christ's divinity, as traditionally understood, impossible. If you accept the idea that God does intervene, I guess that it's possible. However, virgin birth stories were already in place long before the birth of Christ. Only two of the four gospels mention a virgin birth, and the apostle Paul acts like he never heard of it. Plus, the idea that it's the fulfillment of a prophecy is on very shaky linguistic ground. Most evidence points to the virgin birth as a late arrival in the Jesus story.

5. The miracle stories of the New Testament can no longer be interpreted in a post-Newtonian world as supernatural events performed by an incarnate deity. When you think about it, they do seem kind of random. Plus, after an astonishing number of his miracles, Jesus instructs bystanders to tell no one about the miracle. 40 years from now, people could write stories about Bill Clinton healing people in Rosebud, Arkansas. You don't remember Bill Clinton healing anyone in Arkansas? Of course you don't. He told us not to tell anyone about it.

6. The view of the cross as the sacrifice for the sins of the world is a barbarian idea based on primitive concepts of God and must be dismissed. Yeah, if I've offended you in some way, I can't make up for it by going into the back yard and slaughtering a few dachshunds. The substitutionary atonement idea doesn't hold up very well in the 21st century.

7. Resurrection is an action of God. Jesus was raised into the meaning of God. It therefore cannot be a physical resuscitation occurring inside human history. How can we know that Lazarus wasn't physically resurrected and that Jesus wasn't physically resurrected? The same way we know that a talking snake didn't trick Eve into eating an apple. It just doesn't happen. Perhaps I'm oversimplifying Bishop Spong's statement here....

8. The story of the Ascension assumed a three-tiered universe and is therefore not capable of being translated into the concepts of a post-Copernican space age. We can look everywhere for heaven (and hell), but never find either of them.

9. There is no external, objective, revealed standard writ in scripture or on tablets of stone that will govern our ethical behavior for all time. By the time Jesus was born, parts of the Old Testament were already seen as barbaric, a pain in the rear to deal with, or a control mechanism. If Jesus (with Paul's help) hadn't found a way to circumvent them, someone else probably would have done so.
Many conservative theologians call these different time periods "dispensations", and argue that God has interacted with man at different times in different ways. They say that the Old Testament era was one dispensation under one set of God's rules, and the New Testament was another dispensation. Spong argues that we simply outgrow our theologies, and they need replacing just like we continually replace outdated scientific beliefs.

10. Prayer cannot be a request made to a theistic deity to act in human history in a particular way. Well, it can be, but nothing comes of it. I can't conceive of an all-powerful God who would respond to a pre-game prayer for the health of football players, but who would not intervene to prevent the death of a child.

11. The hope for life after death must be separated forever from the behavior control mentality of reward and punishment. The Church must abandon, therefore, its reliance on guilt as a motivator of behavior. Plus, the eternal reward/eternal punishment concept was a fairly recent development in the Jewish worldview. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob never heard of it. The idea that God will allow an eternal punishment puts him in a far worse league than Hitler, Stalin, Mao, or whoever was responsible for Abu Ghraib.

12. All human beings bear God's image and must be respected for what each person is. Therefore, no external description of one's being, whether based on race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, can properly be used as the basis for either rejection or discrimination. The Jews aren't God's chosen people, the Germans aren't the Master Race, China isn't halfway between earth and heaven, Men aren't necessarily superior to women, heterosexuality is no more normal than right-handedness, and God didn't curse the African race by turning one of Noah's sons black. End of story.

Some friends of mine lost a child to Leukemia this morning. I'm at a loss for something meaningful to say to them. Maybe that's why I'm seriously digging into John Spong again.
I wish I could tell my friends that their daughter's gone to be with God, or that there's a higher purpose involved here, or that this is all part of a plan.
The theology of my childhood seems like a random collection of superstitions and dogmas, and doesn't do me much good any longer.

I believe that someone named Jesus lived, taught, and died, and that he was probably killed for standing up to the religious system of his day.
I'm sorry, but I refuse to believe that any God wanted, or even allowed, Jesus to die.

I don't believe that the being known as "God" wanted my friend's daughter to die. I can't go there.

It's time for a new way of looking at the world.
The old one doesn't work any more.