The Questionable Authority

From the archives – the following article was originally posted on my old blog back in August of 2005. For reasons that will become clear shortly, I’m going to repost this and a couple of follow-ups to the story over here.

In a post earlier today, I noted that a group of creationists are suing the University of California system in order to force UC to accept several of their classes that are currently not considered adequate. One of the courses in question is biology. As I already pointed out, UC is not discriminating against Christians by refusing to accept the class; it is simply living up to its responsibility to ensure that applicants are adequately prepared for university study. Nevertheless, I was curious as to what about these particular biology classes was so poor as to attract attention.

The LA Times reported that:

According to the lawsuit, UC’s board of admissions also advised the school that it would not approve biology and science courses that relied primarily on textbooks published by Bob Jones University Press and A Beka Books, two Christian publishers.

Now, given what I’ve heard about Bob Jones University, I figured that any biology text that they produce would be unlike any I’d read before. So I trotted on over to the Bob Jones University Press website to see what I could find. Looking over their list of books for “conventional schools”, I found a textbook for a 10th grade biology class. The price is a bit high for me, given the quality, so I didn’t order it. However, the website has a nice “see the inside of this book” feature that gives access to the frontmatter, preface, introduction, and a sample chapter. After looking at it, I think I understand why UC has problems with it.

From the Introduction:

Biology for Christian Schools is a textbook for Bible-believing high-school students. Those who do not believe that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God will find many points in this book puzzling. This book was not written for them.

That’s funny. There I was thinking that science is a universal concept, open to anyone who is willing to study the natural world. I had no idea that there are things in science that can only be understood if you believe what these folks do.

The people who prepared this book have tried consistently to put the Word of God first and science second…If…at any point God’s Word is not put first, the authors apologize.

Let’s see. What we have here is a “science” textbook, written by people who have made a conscious effort to put science second. Wow. What possible reason could the University of California have for being concerned about the quality of classes using this book?

The same encyclopedia article may state that the grasshopper evolved 300 million years ago. You may find a description of some insect that the grasshopper supposedly evolved from and a description of the insects that scientists say evolved from the grasshopper. You may even find a “scientific” explanation of the biblical locust (grasshopper) plague in Egypt. These statements are conclusions based on “supposed science.” If the conclusions contradict the Word of God, the conclusions are wrong, no matter how many scientific facts may appear to back them.

It’s nice to see how willing they are to keep an open mind about things.

Believe it or not, the book actually seems to get worse. The sample chapter provided on the website is Chapter One: The Science of Life and the God of Life. Page nine is a box that is labeled as one of the book’s “Facets of Biology”. The title of this particular facet is: “How God Communicates with Man”. In it, we find:

Was Joseph Smith’s [founder of the Mormons -tqa] revalation from God? Based on Scripture, one must say no! The apostle Paul says that if anyone (including Paul himself or even an angel) comes and preaches any other gospel, he is to be accursed (Gal 1:8).

If you want to know what this has to do with science, or why it appears in a science book, you’ll have to ask someone else, because I’ve got no clue. It must be one of those aspects of science that perplexes those who lack the BJU-approved beliefs.

There’s another Facet later in the chapter, dealing with spontaneous generation. It spans three pages, and concludes with this creationist gem:

After Pasteur’s swan-necked flask experiment and thousands of other experiments supporting biogenesis, do people today still believe in spontaneous generation? Yes. Anyone who believes in evolution believes that spontaneous generation has occurred. … If they can create life, they think they can support their belief in life’s beginning without God.

This chapter of the text also has some material that discusses evolution:

The idea that life comes from similar life is important. God created humans and all of the other kinds of organisms with the ability to reproduce after their own kind (Gen. 1:12, 21, 25, 28); therefore, humans reproduce humans, oak trees reproduce oak trees, and cats reproduce cats. The idea of all life forms descending from a common ancestor cell that originated from non-living chemicals is absurd.

Right. It’s completely absurd to believe that humans have descended from chemicals through a long line of ancestors. It’s much more reasonable to believe that humans came directly from dirt which is made from…

Looking at just the available samples from this text, I’m not surprised that UC declines to accept courses using it as the primary material as valid. I am surprised that there are apparently some schools that do.

By the way, the examples that I’ve quoted are by no means a comprehensive listing of everything that’s wrong with the material I read. They are simply a few of the more egregious examples illustrating the comprehensively unscientific nature of this book. A thorough examination would have taken far more time than I have, and would simply have depressed me further.

Comments

  1. #1 Ex-drone
    August 30, 2007

    Who wouldn’t want to go to a university called BJU?

    In any case, the Biology textbook writes:

    The people who prepared this book have tried consistently to put the Word of God first and science second …

    I used to put sleeping-in first and science second.

  2. #2 Burt
    August 30, 2007

    It seems that there is a great deal of misinformation about the ACSI court case against the University of California. To really understand what is going on, please go to: http://www.acsi.org/~UCcase and do some reading. Item #1 gives a brief 4-page overview of why the case was filed. Item #6 is a 14-page brief that summarizes the legal issues. This is not a creationism case, per se. It is a case of illegal viewpoint discrimination by UC against private school students.

  3. #3 Stephen
    August 31, 2007

    Actually they get one bit right:

    You may even find a “scientific” explanation of the biblical locust (grasshopper) plague in Egypt. These statements are conclusions based on “supposed science.”

    Given the complete lack of data, any explanations of such purported events are indeed based on “supposed science”.

  4. #4 Francois
    August 11, 2008

    “It is a case of illegal viewpoint discrimination by UC”

    UC decided that their mission is not to indulge “viewpoints”, but to educate based on scientific theories. BTW, there is a BIG (make that HUGE) difference between a scientific theory and an opinion.

    We already have enough problems by allowing the Law to trump scientific facts. We don’t need to add more by enabling reality-deniers to screw up the education system more than it is now.

  5. #5 richCares
    August 11, 2008

    so having an ignorant view of science should be accepted for UC credit? Sorry, that viewpoint does not pass the smell test!

  6. #6 MLee
    August 12, 2008

    Wow, UC has really missed an opportunity. They should accept the courses but only allow them to be applied to a B.S. in Ignorance, a degree in stupidity! (and get the idiots’ money too!)

  7. #7 Thom Denick
    August 12, 2008

    Burt,

    This is a clear-cut creationism case. The children were taught from creationist text books and UC will not accept that as an accredited HS course. It doesn’t matter how their defense group spins it, Creationism is not valid science, and cannot count towards science credit at any school level.

    Why must the Christians continue to hide behind these ridiculous terminologies? “Viewpoint Discrimination?” Why can’t they be proud, and just that they are Christians who do not believe in mainstream science? That they want their creationist views to be accepted by mainstream curriculum. This sinister double-speak and deception has not done any creationist group any good in court, yet it persists.

    In their own world-views, they are sending themselves to hell with these absurd practices.

  8. #8 Thom Denick
    August 12, 2008

    Wow, looking that textbook over, there is a 10 page chapter called “The Species and the Kind.” I would love to see that.

  9. #9 Jason
    August 14, 2008

    What is science but a METHOD by which we use to break down and explain what we think is true about our physical world based on observable data? By definition, Right? So what happenes when an observable truth does NOT hold up within the scientific model? (ie. we are still trying to fit quantum mechanics into this tiny little box), we simply dismiss or at best, postpone it, right? Now, I’m not saying science is a weak model, but it is incomplete at best. It seems to me the closed-minded ones here are the “Orthadox Scientists” who claim monopoly on the means to truth. I do not know the details about this particular textbook and/or lawsuit. I propose we all drop the hubris; perhaps its alright to consider ALL possible points of view within the realm of education.

  10. #10 Summer Seale
    August 14, 2008

    Anyone who thinks that this texbook should be considered science and given a chance is a complete and utter idiot.

    How about we consider the viewpoint of believers in Vishnu as well? Or…let’s consider biology from the viewpoint of Zeus? Let’s teach Astronomy with tarot cards and horoscopes…just in case “science got it wrong”. I’m sure loads of patients would absolutely fucking love it if we started teaching Leeching and Bleeding once again to medical students. Let’s consider that, shall we?

    And how about Geology? Can’t have “Orthadox Scientists”(sic) going around spreading rumors about what causes earthquakes, can we? No, I suggest we start lobbing unwed virgins into a volcano to quell any potential angered tribal gods which may or may not exist.

    After all, what the hell do scientists know, right?

  11. #11 Mark Ward Jr
    August 15, 2008

    The spontaneous generation point in the BJU text stands. Those who believe the Bible’s testimony that God created the world have an explanation for how dirt became man, but those who rule out the supernatural a priori have no explanation. They insist on uniformitarianism in all other areas of science but origins: they adopt as a presupposition that life came from non-life despite never observing such a phenomenon.

    Admittedly, those who knowingly accept the set of worldview presuppositions taught in the Bible have difficulties to explain: star light and the age of the earth, for example. Our best scientists and theologians have explanations, but they aren’t claiming to have easy ones.

    But the current paradigm of scientific method also adopts presuppositions: naturalism, materialism, uniformitarianism, even the essential trustworthiness of man’s reason. The difference between the mainstream scientist and the faithful Christian is that the latter acknowledges her presuppositions, accepting them on authority from God. The former affects an impossible objectivity by claiming that all of his truth-claims are empirically verifiable.

    The Bible teaches that the fall of Adam–the first human, and recognized by Jesus to be historical and not legendary–brought effects not only in the area of morality but in thinking. Acknowledge God’s gracious rule, adopt His presuppositions, and you’ll be tapped into the one and only objective view of the universe.

  12. #12 Science Avenger
    August 15, 2008

    You’ve got it exactly backwards. It is religion that believes in essential trustworthiness, either in their chosen holy figures (eg papal infallability) or holy texts (the supposed inerrant nature of the Bible). Science, by contrast screams doubt of man at every turn. This is the secret of it’s success: it’s constant doubt and challenge. This is why when science makes a mistake (say Piltdown man), it is science that corrects it, whereas when religion makes a mistake (say, with Galileo), it is also science which provides the evidence for correction. Science works, and no amount of sophistry about naturalism and presuppositions can change that.

  13. #13 Michael
    August 15, 2008

    Science itself is not at odds with religion. The beef is between religion and NATURALISM.

    Those who have studied the development of science and modern thinking must concede the vital role that religion has played in its development. However, there seems to be this fascination in recent times that necessarily associates atheism with science.

    Indeed, in my personal opinion, atheism undermines science, making it extremely complex and ambiguous. Philosopher David Hume’s writing on bring up two points: firstly, is reason itself independent of human passions; secondly, why is it that the laws of nature necessarily remain constant and ordered, despite there being no logical reason for it to remain so?

    Under the Christian premise of an omnipotent, ordered God, these issues are swiftly dealt with. Reason is a faculty independent of the body and a reason will be provided for the universe to stay constant. Anomalies like the Big Bang and universal fine tuning suddenly no longer seem inexplicable.

    Under naturalistic evolution however, people must scramble for explanations that are sometimes contradictory. Reason is a product of our evolution, so we cannot trust it to necessarily deliver Truth (with a capital T); after all, if reason is a product of our minds, we have no objective means for us to interpret the subjective data of our senses. The Big Bang is puzzling under this world view, and explanations such as multiple universes or oscillation are mere guesswork. The fine tuning remains a statistical impossibility; arguing that somehow it worked is silly; imagine a poker player dealt 20 hands in a row of royal flushes, would YOU think that statistical impossibility just happened to happen, or would you think he cheated?

    Then there is morality and other transcendental properties, things science itself, by design, has no means to explore.

  14. #14 Bill M.
    August 16, 2008

    >The spontaneous generation point
    >in the BJU text stands. [mark]

    No, there is a difference between abiogenesis and “spontaneous generation” (SG). SG is the old superstition that maggots appear on rotting meat because they somehow CAME from the meat, or that frogs all died in the winter but new ones spontaneously came from spring mud itself, etc. No scientist is proposing that non-living objects suddenly created the first fully-functioning ameoba. More on this later.

    >Those who believe the Bible’s testimony
    >that God created the world have an
    >explanation for how dirt became man

    Claiming “a magic invisible man breathed into it” is not an explanation, nor does having such an answer automatically make one better than somebody who doesn’t propose such an answer.

    >they adopt as a presupposition that life came
    >from non-life

    Even if that were to be taken as a pure presupposition in biology (and it isn’t), it doesn’t change the mountains of evidence that point to the fact that evolution has happened, and that a literal interpretation of the Book of Gensis simply doesn’t match up with what we find in the real world. But again, abiogenesis isn’t the same thing as SG. The only problem is that the line between “life” and “non-life” isn’t so well-defined when you’re looking at the history of the first amino acids (simple compounds that form the building blocks of DNA).

    >despite never observing such a phenomenon.

    Boy I’m sure glad our justice system doesn’t think like that. Otherwise we’d never be able to convict a criminal unless there was always an eye-witness! The reality is that you can still piece together the evidence and come up with an explanation that works beyond a reasonable doubt.

    >The difference between the mainstream scientist and the
    >faithful Christian is that the latter acknowledges her
    >presuppositions, accepting them on authority from God.

    “God” and “authority from God” are themselves presuppositions, so you just contradicted yourself. You are trying to make the old trite argument of reducing everything to solipsism and then claiming that this gives credibility to your own view that you want to present as being objective. That doesn’t work.

    It’s true that the scientific method is based on a few core assumptions, e.g. the laws of chemistry are consistant for two different observers. But that’s hardly on par with the leap of faith made by crediting things to a deity (whose existence, oh so conveniently, isn’t welcome to further quesitoning).

    >Acknowledge God’s gracious rule, adopt His
    >presuppositions, and you’ll be tapped into
    >the one and only objective view of the universe.

    In other words: take some things on faith, and you’ll get the “one and only” objective view? See above. Your claims are no better founded than those of other religions.

  15. #15 Mark Ward Jr
    August 18, 2008

    Bill M.,

    I appreciate the courtesy in your reply, I really do. You didn’t resort to mocking derision, the most common response on comment pages frequented mainly by proponents of one view (whether scientific naturalism or, sadly, biblical theism). You were exasperated with my view: fine.

    I confess I’m not a scientist, so the word “abiogenesis” has never been part of my active vocabulary. However, I find that the latter is defined by my Mac’s OAD as a “technical term for spontaneous generation.” So we’re talking about the same thing, but I’ll adopt the technical terminology of today-abiogenesis. That’s fine with me.

    I, however, never said that your position requires that life created non-life, only that life came from non-life. My confessed terminological anachronism notwithstanding, will you at least admit that having to posit abiogenesis is a difficulty for scientific naturalism? Perhaps it’s not a deal-breaker for you, but doesn’t your confidence in your position despite this serious weakness betray your own leap of faith into naturalistic presuppositions?

    As for the supposed circularity of my presuppositions, I grant it. I accept the Bible’s testimony about itself, namely that it came from God. But my view does not reduce to solipsism because I live in a universe created and ruled by the One Objective Viewer. (By the way, I’m not claiming to have that objective view, only to have access to it.) I’m charging that your view reduces to solipsism because you cannot account for your presuppositions. You cannot justify the trustworthiness of your own sense data, much less that of others.

    For example, you view it as a justified assumption that “the laws of chemistry are consistent for two different observers.” You defend this assumption because you trust your sense data: day after day you observe it working. You charge that for me the existence of God is not open to further questions. But is this “core assumption” of chemistry open to further questioning for you? No, the assumption that an experiment run today and duplicated exactly tomorrow will yield the same results is not open to question in your worldview. This is uniformitarianism, a presupposition taken on faith. If it were jettisoned, you’d have no Baconian modern science. You can’t not believe it in your worldview.

    But then what do you do with “facts” which cannot be validated empirically? Murder is wrong-I think you’d agree. So is stealing. So is consistently taking more chocolate than your fair share. But none of these things is empirically demonstrable.

    I’m saying I have justification for the existence of scientific laws and moral laws. Do you?

    I’m saying, more importantly, that the God who creates and maintains scientific laws has a moral law which you and I both know deep down that we violate. Denying God’s rule over scientific laws is merely a means of rejecting his claim on our consciences for violating his moral ones.

  16. #16 Science Avenger
    August 18, 2008

    “But then what do you do with “facts” which cannot be validated empirically? Murder is wrong-I think you’d agree. So is stealing. So is consistently taking more chocolate than your fair share. But none of these things is empirically demonstrable.”

    Those are not facts, they are definitions: murder is wrongful killing, stealing is wrongful taking, unfair taking is wrongful taking. They are also defined differently in different cultures, which reveals their subjective nature.

    The moral law argument is a semantic game, unimproved on since CS Lewis’ question-begging attempt, since morals are not like laws in any way that is important. The only fact concerning morals is that we can have any kind of morals we wish.

  17. #17 Mark Ward Jr
    August 21, 2008

    Science Avenger,

    I did borrow from Lewis, as well as Tim Keller (author of recent NYT best-seller The Reason for God), in my argument.

    Do you really believe we can have any kind of morals we wish? Back to Lewis, is there any culture in which bravery is denigrated and treachery exalted? Is there any culture in which you can have any woman (or man!) you want at any time?

    The moral law is not a semantic game, but God’s claim on your conscience according to Paul in Romans 1-2. Not knowing you at all, I am still sure that you don’t live as badly as your a-theology would lead you to if you were logically consistent.

    I do want anyone who’s reading my post to see what you have stated publicly: morals are utterly liquid. If they serve your evolutionary progress, fine. If not, to oblivion with those who stand in your way.

    It is manifest that we do not live in the world you describe. Utter scientific naturalism brings results none of us would be willing to live with. And it doesn’t match with what every human knows to be the case in his heart about his obligation to do good.

    God says we must submit to him if we are ever to do good. See Romans 8:8.

  18. #18 Science Avenger
    August 22, 2008

    Yes I do believe we can have any morals we wish. Your evidence that we can’t? The only thing that stops us is the repercussions, which covers the examples you give. Obviously a society that exalted treachery wouldn’t last very long. This is the problem with all Lewis-esque arguments – they pretend repercussions don’t matter.

    The moral law argument is a semantic game, because it isn’t like a law at all. It is merely asserted to be so, with nonsense to follow, such as the baseless claim that an atheistic life is a bad one. Look around you man, atheists live just fine.

    I said nothing about evolutionary progress, and for good reason: evolution does not dictate morals, those arguments also being crap as I detailed here. I do however understand it is a straw man you guys like to knock down.

    On the contrary, what is manifest is that, as usual, people like you can’t deal with what people like me actually argue, so you go making shit up.

  19. #19 Mark Ward Jr
    August 24, 2008

    Science Avenger,

    1. Do you believe that there’s anyone in the world doing things you think are wrong and should stop—no matter whether they believe they are right or wrong? If so, you do believe there is a moral standard people should abide by.

    2. To borrow from Lewis again, let’s take a situation where there would be no repercussions from doing the “wrong” thing. A man sees a woman drowning in a dangerous whirlpool. He has two impulses at that moment: one to save the woman and another to preserve his own life. Each is viewed as a good impulse everywhere in the world. But there’s something telling every man in the world that he OUGHT to follow one impulse—to save the woman—rather than the other. Where did that “ought” come from?

    Science Avenger, you cussed at me and tried to blow me off. You’ve done the same to God and to the conscience he placed inside you. Read Romans chapters 1 through 3, I challenge you.

  20. #20 Science Avenger
    August 24, 2008

    You don’t need to go inventing gods to understand why social animals would evolve impulses to save each other. Those that did so would outcompete and eventually overrun/destroy those that didn’t. This goes for practically any social norm you care to mention. Again, once one considers ramifications, not to the individual, but to the group, Lewis’ arguments fall apart. They only have appeal to people who think of humanity as something that was created in a puff of smoke, and therefore there would be no reason to expect evolved social behavior.

    Of course I believe there are people in the world doing things I don’t want them to do. You are one of them. I never said I didn’t have a moral standard I thought people should live by. I just don’t pretend it has any purely nonarbitrary objective basis, which is just fine because most people don’t respond to logic when it gets in the way of what they want anyway.

  21. #21 Bernard Bienstock
    September 2, 2008

    As an observer from Canada it is sad to see the American public being bamboozled by the advocates of Creationism and Intelligent Design.

    Their distortions of logic and of the English language to distort the meaning of science is amazing to read. They may be charlatans and liars but they can certainly be clever in their lies.

    The world looks on in disbelief to see that these people are actually proffered any legitimacy at all. They are wasting your country’s resources, money and minds.

    Two suggestions:

    1. Perhaps you can pass laws stipulating that, when they cross a certain line of stupidity and deceit, the courts can hit them with large fines to compensate for their frivolous actions and for the damage they are doing to your society.
    2. You can use their writings in teaching courses of logic. They offer wonderful and clever examples of faulty thinking.

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