Creationist Home Schooling Science Fair

“You will be a restless wanderer on the earth” -Genesis 4:12

Today, a few of us visited the Twin Cities Home School Creation Science Fair of 2013 at its new location. The fair used to be held in the historic Har Mar Shopping Mall but for some reason it has wandered up the road and across Snelling Avenue to a nearby Christian college on the shores of beautiful Lake Johanna Lake, in Roseville, Minnesota.

We were, verily, Mike, Angry by Choice, and me. Angry arrived separately and reviewed the exhibits on his own, and Mike and I visited nearly all of the 23 posters together and spoke to many of the kids presenting their science projects.

… pay no attention to lies. -Exodus 5:9

Let’s be clear right away: This science fair advertises itself this way:

Unlike Some Science Fair Sites
We Are For Real!
Unlike Many Secular Educators
We Teach The Scientific Method!

I don’t now which “some” science fairs or “secular educators” shun the scientific method, so I’ll take that as a lie by the organizers, who are Young Earth Creationists with a rather weak grasp on reality. Also, there was clearly no requirement that the scientific method be used in these projects as many did not. Having said that, a number of the student’s projects rose above the organizers’s self-hobbled concept of science and were pretty good, and in two or three cases the kids were able to answer questions that probed beyond the script and addressed things not explicitly shown in their posters. For instance, the project on “getting electricity from plants” which examined the difference between various roots and fruits elicited the question “What would happen if you attached a grapefruit to a potato in series” and the student was able to explain the results of trials, not shown on the poster, of mixed plant tissue batteries that he had messed around with.

World Views In Collision: “But Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.” -Genesis 19:26

Only one poster only was pure creationist nonsense; the student wasn’t there and I think it was a young kid (judging by the style). This was a poster that set out to “prove” that stalactites and stalagmites formed very quickly and not slowly like geologists claimed. The student’s work did in fact seem to demonstrate that stalactites and stalagmites could form very very quickly. Unfortunately, those quick forming formations made by the student were Lotswifian (made of salt!) and not the usual limestone. Also, geologists are well aware that limestone deposits can in fact form vey quickly. As I recall, it was Isaac Asimov that caused the trouble with the stalagmites, going up against Immanuel Velikovsky with the claim that “Worlds in Collision” could not have happened because STLAGTITES!!!1! … Velikovsky was able to show Asimov stalagmites that were rather long formed beneath the foundation of the Lincoln Monument. This has been used by creationists since to prove that geology is wrong.

It, geology, is not wrong. Limestone deposition can be a highly dynamic process. We knew that.

(Note: Asimov, brilliant, everybody loved him, bla bla bla, was not actually a geologist…)

“Rise Up and Stop Sleeping” -Ephesians 5:13-14

Despite the fact that many of the kids did, as stated, rise above their mentors, there were some sad moments when this did not appear to be the case. One child faced with a not to difficult question about animal behavior suggested that a certain problem would be solved because “God put something in the animal to make that happen.” Other students produced experiments without controls, or with multiple conflicting results, but chose to “believe” the results that fit expectations.

Having said that, many of the limitations and shortfalls of the less than stellar posters were typical of small scale school science fairs in general, not peculiar to these students. And, a couple of the students were clearly destine for future … well, thinking and maybe even free thinking. One student was the offspring of a person who could be classified as scientist, which is a bit disturbing. But that kid is clearly going to walk right out of the religious fetters she is already clearly tossing off and do interesting things. When asked if she might pursue science she said yes, and when asked what kind, she said “the interesting stuff” and proceeded to go on an on about what was interesting.

“When Esau heard his father’s words, he burst out with a loud and bitter cry” -Genesis 27:34

Each of the posters had to have a biblical quote on them. That’s part of the scientific method, apparently. Scientific method, god style. The quotes generally had about as much to do with the project as the quotes I’ve playfully putting here have had to do with the various sections of this blog post. The nefarious thing working here, of course, is tricking the students into going through the bible one more time while they are dealing with what is clearly an alternative to biblical or religious thinking. Well, in some cases, I suppose the quote was relevant. But generally, disappointingly, not.

“The breath of God produces ice, and the broad waters become frozen.” -Job 37:10

Oh, there’s also this: I’m happy to report that the student that did the obligatory study to determin which freezes faster, hot vs. cold water, discovered that water that starts out colder reaches freezing sooner, though he was shocked by the rate at which hot water almost, but not quite, caught up.

‘The king said to him, “How many times must I make you swear to tell me nothing but the truth in the name of the Lord?”’ -1 Kings 22:16

We go to this fair to encourage students to think about science, to be possibly the only people who ask questions that may lead beyond the poster or the bible quote on the poster, but not to harass the students. Angry, Mike and I did not mention evolution vs. creationism. We just talked about the science.

There is another reason we go: To keep the creationists honest(ish). A few years ago, a group of us went to the fair and noted 20-something posters, and in that year the organizers, unaware of our presence, reported a much larger number, thus lying about the level of participation in this event. When I pointed out on my blog that all the posters depicted in all the photographs they took and we took combined did not add up to the number they claimed, the organizers of the creationist science fair deleted all their photos from their web site and accused me of being a child abuser.

Well, screw that. What we do now is we go and count the posters. Last year, no one from our group went and the organizers took the opportunity to claim that there were 60 posters. I’m thinking that is a lie because there’s never been that many. This year we counted the entries. Twenty three. There were 23 of them. We’ll swear to it. And we were able to count all the way to 23 without abusing a single child.

Comments

  1. #1 gwen
    February 9, 2013

    So, what was the worst ‘science’ poster there? And what did you discuss with the young poster, and what were his/her responses. Do you think you taught him/her anything?

  2. #2 Greg Laden
    February 9, 2013

    The student was not present for the worse one. Also, keep in mind that the age range is all over the place, from pretty little kids to what must be Jr in High school;without calibration it might not be fair to rank them too explicitly!

  3. #3 Michael R Haubrich
    United States
    February 9, 2013

    The youngest seemed to have been in second or third grade, I think. The presenter had learned a lot about cranberries, and talked about them very thoroughly but there was no experiment; I think her curiosity will lead her to ask critical questions when she gets older and perhaps goes into a science field.

    There was a marked lack of explanations for why the data turned out the way that it did. Why does salt inhibit fungal growth, for example, was a question that didn’t seem to have occurred to the guy who did that experiment.

  4. #4 shadowspring
    February 10, 2013

    Former home schooling parent here, and I’ve got to say: THANK YOU for taking the time to do this!

    I thought I was doing a pretty good job of home educating my kiddos. We were pretty religious at the time, and while I saw all kinds of holes in creation science, I did not take a hard line stance against them. I didn’t heartily endorse creation science, but I didn’t take them on in our curriculum either. Honestly, I figured my students were smart and would figure it all out by high school.

    My younger student did exactly that, but my older student had a really hard time with college science classes. It had nothing to do with the scientific evidence. (Ironically enough, it was a geology class. =) She had a negative gut reaction to her professor anytime she heard certain phrases. It wasn’t logical, it wasn’t something she thought about. It was an immediate negative emotion that just sprang up when she heard these phrases.

    One of those phrases was “billions of years”. She had sat through so many home school and/or church presentations in which those words were mocked and ridiculed, that strong negative feelings would pop up spontaneously when she heard those words. I had no idea how damaging to her psyche exposure to creation science had been.

    So, kudos to you for walking around, asking about people’s projects, and commending students who think for themselves. These children have had no choice about what ideas they have been exposed to, and the home school and religious worlds are so saturated with the ill will of creation “science” that many of them will be unable to listen to a direct challenge with an open heart and mind.

    Thanks for caring enough, about our society in general and these kids in particular, to get involved.

  5. #5 Bob gorge
    February 10, 2013

    Just another blog picking on the kids. Quite frankly, I the quality of public school science fairs isn’t any better.

  6. #6 bcw
    February 10, 2013

    I’ve had a chance to judge a few science fairs in Yonkers: a few kids with parents with some science, most not so and poor. One thing I’ve seen is that it is often the 7th and 8th graders with the best projects and understanding; the upper level students are too cynical and cool to do a good job. They mostly get their projects off the internet and some have thought but most have not. Often their science teachers don’t understand the projects even as well as their kids do. Sad but not always hopeless, some have real enthusiasm.

  7. #7 Liath
    Oregon
    February 10, 2013

    Hi Shadowspring, Was your daughter able to move past the early creationist teaching? I can certainly see how classes such as geology and palentology must be tough for kids who have been indoctrinated early. Over the years I have frequently run across folks who have overcome that early indoctrination but I have never asked whether the move from religion to science was sudden or gradual. Anyone have any thoughts on that? I’ll have to ask more questions in the future.

  8. #8 Liath
    February 10, 2013

    Hi bob gorge, I don’t think greg is picking on the kids, but I do think the quality of the presentations at science fairs is a reflection on teachers and parents who are guiding the children. In this case the presenters are giving back exactly what they have been encouraged to give back, i.e., creationism. A very sad state of affairs and a great disservice to young minds. Although, greg did point out that there was a glimmer of hope for one or two.

    bcw, Thankfully most of us survive our adolscence. I’m a little surprised that the science teachers don’t bother to learn from their students.

  9. #9 Neil Schipper
    February 10, 2013

    .. most of us survive our adolscence. I’m a little surprised that the science teachers don’t bother to learn from their students.

    If by survive, you mean intellectually advance beyond, there’s a bit of tension between those two thoughts.

  10. #10 Cheryl
    Canada
    February 10, 2013

    Thank you for this. I happen to be a Christian who loves science, but HATES the ridiculous lengths other Christians go in order to validate their agenda and worldview, as though, somehow, God is not in the truth or facts or if their theories are wrong, somehow God will disappear.

    Thanks for working to keep things honest and authentic.

  11. #11 Karl Bunday
    Twin Cities, Minnesota
    February 10, 2013

    Thanks for the detailed report. Just as food for thought, I’ll mention that all of the most influential creationists I’ve ever met in person, including a childhood best friend who used to take me to “creation science” conferences in the Twin Cities when we were both in high school, are people I met through public school. (Kindergarten through law school, I only attended public schools, never private schools. Homeschooling was all but unknown when I was growing up.) Now as a homeschooling parent, I am over my exposure to creationism through my public school friends (as is that childhood best friend), and I proactively use Jerry Coyne’s Why Evolution Is True and Richard Dawkins’s The Greatest Show on Earth as homeschooling textbooks for all of my children. I have also taken my two younger children on the long car drive from the Minneapolis suburbs to Morris, Minnesota to see the Midwest Science of Origins conference last year, and have brought various children to other events where PZ Myers speaks. In other words, seem people homeschooling to make sure that their children know the scientific facts about biological evolution–I know of other examples around the country. The key idea of homeschooling is flexibility in pace of learning, perhaps allowing a great deal more depth than the lockstep school curriculum. I look forward to hearing about a new generation of biologists who communicate well to the public about the facts of evolution, and I’m sure that new generation will include some alumni of homeschooling, and perhaps one or more of my own children.

  12. #12 Greg Laden
    February 10, 2013

    Karl: Indeed. Although this has been called the homeschooling science fair they do invite non home schoolers and I’m not sure how many of those kids are actually home schooled. Maybe all, maybe a smaller percentage.

  13. #13 Kevin Sanders
    February 10, 2013

    I am glad that this science fair was at a Home school event and not public school event. That way, the secularists and darwinists like you all had absolutely no say so in any of it. Not a thing yoiu could do about it. No seperation of church and state crap. No “this is not science” crap. Nothing. You just had to accept it or leabve denying it, but at least you could not change it. Now, you all know why we on the right push private schools and home school so much. It gives the kids an opportunity to shun the ways of the secualr world in exchange for the real world.

  14. #14 Ed Darrell
    Dallas, Bible Belt
    February 10, 2013

    There’s a viral video of a kid’s balloon launch of a Hello Kitty! doll and at least four GoPro cameras that offers me at least a tinge of hope. Provided with enough money, kids could actually do science that doesn’t have to deny the existence of fact nor claim that religion has a monopoly on knowing, especially knowing stuff that ain’t so.

    But of course, all we’ve seen is the viral video, and not the actual write up turned in to the Christian school.

    And, it has nothing to do with creationism.

    How much science does a kid have to do before s/he understands that what matters are the facts, and not what scriptures say about them?

    You can see the video, and a couple of others of similar ilk (but in “secular,” public schools, here: http://timpanogos.wordpress.com/2013/02/08/science-project-hello-kitty-at-94000-feet/

    I mean, how could Christianity screw up a balloon trip to measure atmospheric temperature and pressure?

  15. #15 Paige
    February 11, 2013

    @Kevin – I don’t understand why you chose to post that comment? This article just talked about a group of people going to a science fair and asking the kids about their projects. It was interesting to see what they chose for their project and to hear how they answered the question. In the real world… that is what scientists need to do: answer questions posed by other people in a public forum. IMO this was a great opportunity for them to practice.

  16. #16 Karst
    February 11, 2013

    The long formations beneath the Lincoln Memorial are stalactites (with the form of narrow soda straws) which grow from the top downward. Stalagmites, which are generally much wider (greater diameter) grow upward from the floor, beneath the stalactites. If the stalactites merge, they are called columns.

  17. #17 shadowspring
    February 11, 2013

    Liath,

    Eventually. I have to admit that her difficulties are all my fault. The factual flaws were easy enough to correct. She’s a smart girl. It was the emotion that was hard to overcome. Sad to realize that my daughter was infected with contempt for her professor (by people who were supposed to be teaching love!) a decade before she ever got to college. That was the difficult part.

    When she was in 6th grade, when we took visited a local archeological site , a shell midden that was over 15,000 years old. I asked her why she thought there was such a difference between what she heard at church and what science reveals. This started the conversation.

    She seemed at the time to understand at the time- one is based on the accumulated wisdom of the learning of the best minds of the past thousand years, and the other (Genesis) is a collection of stories that couldn’t possible be a first hand account put to pen by people living in the Bronze Age. I kept emphasizing the difference when we went to museums and when we studied World History. By high school, I was using only secular textbooks like Holt Rinehart Winston (from memory, sold the books).

    It’s the shame and ridicule that she was exposed to that wasn’t cleared away by realities. She could accept the realities, but still had a gut reaction of ill will. I think she has gotten over it, but she’s not a scientist so who knows? She was a Japanses language major. :)

    I am still a person of faith, but when I was a child this nonsensical claim that the old stories were hardened facts wasn’t necessary to be a Christian. Myths, allegories, cautionary tales still contain truth and can be inspiring to generations. It was (and still is to many) not essential to think that whatever that ancient author put to pen was an eye witness account instead of a story.

  18. #18 shadowspring
    February 11, 2013

    PS I guess I answered the sudden or gradual question for you already: gradual. Her little brother, who stopped being exposed to the creation science people in grade school, has had no problem with it at all. He wants to be either a biologist or a chemist. He’s a freshman in community college now. I am training for a career as a medical tech so I can send him off to state. <3

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  20. #20 Politicalguineapig
    February 13, 2013

    Cheryl: I happen to be a Christian who loves science.

    I realize you’re Canadian, but how does that work? From my understanding, it’s one or the other. Kinda like being a Christian and an environmentalist- can’t really do both.

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  23. #23 GregH
    February 13, 2013

    Politicalguineapig: “I realize you’re Canadian”
    WTF? Does that mean you’re afraid of our education system?

    “From my understanding, it’s one or the other.”

    This doesn’t make any sense to me. I always thought science was a way of understanding God’s creation. I mean, God gave us this world, this universe, to explore and to understand, right? Surely God wouldn’t be against science, which is only a way of trying to get at the truth, or maybe even The Truth. Science is a way of organizing and uncovering facts that we might not be able to understand or see with just one pair of eyes. Is that wrong? Didn’t God give us a brain to understand the world?

    And what about the environment? Didn’t God say, “I give you dominion over pretty much everything?” That’s kind of like saying, “Here, this is your house”. Are you trying tell me that God is an absentee landlord and you’re just a renter and it doesn’t matter if you make a mess in his house? Because that sounds kind of irresponsible.

    Are you SURE that being an environmentalist is incompatible with being a Christian? Because what if he comes back and says, “Dude, you’re going to have to pay for the clogged sink and those holes in the drywall. Or else I’m keeping your damage deposit.” Then what?

  24. #24 Politicalguineapig
    February 13, 2013

    GregH: The discourse regarding Christianity and the education system is very different in other countries- as I understand it, Canada doesn’t have a loud creationist movement as we do here. That’s what I was trying to get at.

    First of all, from all that I’ve heard, God doesn’t actually want us to use our brains. Christianity is a monarchy, not a democracy, and kings notoriously got twitchy around scientists. After all, if you start questioning ‘why does this work and the other thing doesn’t?’ there’s no telling where the questions will lead.

    Secondly, to use your landlord metaphor, why would He care if He’s just going to tear the house down anyway?

    I think you’ve got my perspective wrong; I’m very much in favor of science and the environmentalist movement, but not so much in favor of God. I just keep an eye on his believers, partly for my own amusement, partly so I can organize rescue parties when the bonfires are lit.

  25. #25 GregH
    February 13, 2013

    Sorry – I did misconstrue your perspective.

    We do have a creationist movement here, although the shouting we hear is largely from the US.

    To answer your original question, I don’t believe in Him (ironic capital) either, but I did grow up in a church (Anglican) that seemed to have no problem with science or evolution. I would say that the moderate voices in Canada are being drowned out by evangelical groups, so, as a society we’re much more polarized than we were. Having said that, I think we still have a smaller percentage of evangelical voters than the US does (although Evangelical Christians seem to be overrepresented in our current government).

    We have Christian charter schools, and a home-school movement too, so there’s plenty of room for kids to avoid the fell influence of secular society.

  26. #26 Politicalguineapig
    February 14, 2013

    GregH: No problem. I wasn’t very clear in that post, so I understand your confusion.

  27. #27 RavynSkye
    United States
    February 16, 2013

    @Kevin Sanders – I feel so sorry for you. You actually CHOOSE to live in ignorance and believe fairy tales, and what’s more, I feel sorry for your children.

    In my opinion, indoctrinating young, impressionable children to believe fairy tales and creation myths, and teaching them to deny facts, evidence, and not use critical thinking skills, and instead smile, nod, and blindly follow the ignorant is a from of child abuse.

    Teaching your children that if they don’t make themselves willfully ignorant, and imposing blindness to reality on them, thus warping their minds and their ability to think critically should be criminal child psychological abuse.

    Do you have any idea the amount of effort, and the HARM it does to a person’s psyche to always have to operate using doublethink, and to have to live in such deep levels of denial, and the psychological dissonance it causes (Which is why many creationists get violently angry when presented with the truth that their myths can’t hold up to scrutiny… because being presented with such truth and having to accept it could shatter their world view, and their view of themselves, irrevocably), whenever they’re presented with evidence and facts that contradict their silly stories about invisible sky-daddies that make things by magic presumably because they’re either incredibly bored or incredibly arrogant, and then, also decide to screw with their creations by supposedly putting dinosaur bones here on earth to ‘test faith’?

    When you teach a child that their ‘God’ operates that way, they think it’s okay to screw with people and bend the truth, twist facts, and manipulate evidence, so long as it’s for some higher religious purpose. After all, God did that, just to ‘test people’s faith’.

    Wanting the right to screw your children up for life – see shadowspring’s posts as a cautionary tale – is not a noble pursuit.

    Have fun wasting your life trying to please an invisible sky-daddy that, in all likelihood, doesn’t even exist, and if there IS a divine being, then it’s a sociopath, to be able to see the suffering of starving children, war, disease, famine and drought, and to be able to help, and yet, do nothing about it… So I wouldn’t want to worship such a being anyway.

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