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Liberty’s Falwell to lead task force on US Higher Ed

Answers in Genesis recommends Liberty University, of which Jerry Falwell is president, because

One of the unique features of Liberty is its strong stance on the literal creation account in Genesis. Every Liberty student is required to take a course called “History of Life.” The faculty of the Center for Creation Studies, led by Dr. David DeWitt, teaches this course. The arguments for biblical creation are drawn from science, religion, history, and philosophy.

refutingevolutionThe course textbooks, as Dr DeWitt describes them on the Creation Ministries International website, are Refuting Evolution by Jonathan Sarfati, and The Creation Answers Book (Sarfati et al), which tells you among other things, how all the animals fit into the Ark and why radiometric dating is unreliable.

Liberty University has some 15,000 on-site students, with a further 100,000 on-line, and claims to be the largest Christian university in the world. Forbes ranks Liberty #651 among US Universities, and its graduation rate (48%) is among the lowest for private universities. However, the Young America Foundation places it among the top 10 choices for conservative students. Glasgow readers may remember it as the alma mater of Pam Stenzel, who told horror stories about sex to Catholic school children bussed in to hear her (more here and here). Read the rest of this entry

Global warming: Science-denying Senator tells scientist Pope to listen to scientists

Coat of arms of Franciscus.svg

Pope Francis’ Coat of Arms

Well, perhaps not quite a scientist, but Pope Francis really does have, on his CV, a chemistry lab technician’s diploma and related work experience. And Rick Santorum is not quite a Senator, either, more of an ex-Senator, having lost his seat in 2006, but nonetheless a candidate (yet again) for the Presidency of the United States.

Pope Francis also worked for a while as a nightclub bouncer. Nothing to do with the matter in hand, but I thought I’d mention it.

One further irony is that Santorum is a devout Catholic, who describes Catholicism as the source of his politics, and attends Mass almost daily.

Galileo Galilei, age 60, by Ottavio Leoni

As Santorum should know, Popes have for quite a while had a reasonably good record of listening to scientists. There was, of course, that unfortunate business of Galileo, but that was 380 years ago, his Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems was taken off the Index of Prohibited Books in 1835, and perhaps we should let bygones be bygones. More recently, the Big Bang Theory was first put forward by a Catholic priest, Georges Lemaître, working in a Catholic university. The Catholic Church has also accepted the fact of evolution for many decades, as laid out notably by John Paul II in his 1996 address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.

Here, in contrast, is part of Santorum’s record of science denial. He was responsible for what became known as the Santorum Amendment. This said that students studying evolution in US publicly funded schools should also study the “controversy”, i.e. Creationism and Intelligent Design. This passed the Senate in 1991 by a vote of 92-8, but failed to become law, in part because of the opposition of a coalition including 96 scientific organisations.  Its spirit lives on, despite this opposition, in the “teach the controversy” campaign that continues to bedevil US science education.

However, it is not evolution that has led Santorum to upbraid the Pope, but the environment. Santorum stated during his last Presidential campaign that the idea of man-made climate change was

just patently absurd when you consider all of the other factors …  a beautifully concocted scheme because they know that the earth is gonna cool and warm… just an excuse for more government control of your life, and I’ve never been for any scheme or even accepted the junk science behind the whole narrative.

Obviously, Santorum, unlike the Pope, was able to come to a conclusion about climate change without consulting any scientists. But if he was unwilling to listen to the scientists, one might have hoped that he would by now at least have listened to the Pentagon, which warns that

Pentagon on global warming: “we are already beginning to see some of these impacts”

rising global temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, climbing sea levels, and more extreme weather events will intensify the challenges of global instability, hunger, poverty, and conflict. They will likely lead to food and water shortages, pandemic disease, disputes over refugees and resources, and destruction by natural disasters in regions across the globe.

In our defense strategy, we refer to climate change as a “threat multiplier” because it has the potential to exacerbate many of the challenges we are dealing with today – from infectious disease to terrorism. We are already beginning to see some of these impacts.

Santorum, however, knows better. So when Pope Francis recently said, regarding the damage we are dong to the environment,

We are Custodians of Creation. But when we exploit Creation we destroy the sign of God’s love for us, in destroying Creation … is sin! … Safeguard Creation. Because if we destroy Creation, Creation will destroy us! Never forget this!

(and there’s more to come; the pope is expected to release a strong statement on climate change in an encyclical by June 18)

Santorum felt it his duty to put His Holiness straight, by reminding him that

the church has gotten it wrong a few times on science, and I think that we probably are better off leaving science to the scientists and focusing on what we’re really good at, which is … theology and morality.

So there you have it. Santorum can denounce climate science as a leftist conspiracy. But the Church made a fool of itself over Galileo, so it should leave science to the scientists, and should therefore ignore what those same scientists say about the most pressing problem of our time.

rick-santorum-popeOne unexpected critic of Santorum’s position is Chris Wallace of Fox News Sunday, who reminded him that the Pope really does have a science qualification, and that 80-90 percent of scientists agree that humans contribute to climate change. [Actually, Wallace inflated the Pope’s diploma to a degree, and it’s more like 97% if we consider the scientists best placed to judge, but by Fox’s standards these are minor details].

Wallace: If he shouldn’t talk about it, should you?

Santorum: We have to make public policy with regard to the environmental policy. Whether we like it or not, people in government have to make decisions with respect to our public policy that affect American workers. The pope can talk about whatever he wants to talk about — I’m saying, what should the Pope use his moral authority for?

Wallace: He would say he’s protecting the Earth

Santorum: There are more pressing problems confronting the earth than climate change.

Such as Santorum’s Presidential bid, perhaps.

There is a scene in the BBC comedy Yes Minister, where a top civil servant is advising his Minister on how to react to a scientific report critcal of his policy.

The three main characters in the Minister’s Office of the Department of Administrative Affairs: from right, im Hacker, his private secretary Bernard Woolley, and Sir Humphrey Appleby,

Sir Humphrey, Civil Servant: Say there is debate among the scientists. Say more research is needed.

Jim Hacker, Minster for Adminstrative Affairs: But…

Sir Humphrey: I assure you, Minster, there is always debate among the scientists. And there is always a need for more research.

I do not know if Santorum has seen that episode, but when Wallace said that the science was settled, Santorum replied

Any time you hear a scientist say the science is settled, that’s political science, not real science, because no scientists in their right mind would say ever the science is settled.

One would like to be able to dismiss Santorum as lunatic fringe. Unfortunately, in the context of US presidential politics, he is nothing of the kind, as was can see from the following quotations, all from fellow-contenders for the 2016 Republican Presidential nomination.

Governor Jindal in 2015.jpg

Bobby Jindal, Governor of Louisiana, speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2015

Among these, Marco Rubio, Junior Senator for Florida, thinks we shouldn’t do anything about climate change because “all science deserves scepticism”. Rubio, incidentally, currently chairs the Senate Subcommittee on Oceans and the Atmosphere, responsible for climate data. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, who does actually have a university degree that includes biology, signed into law the Louisiana Science Education Act, which, in the spirit of the Santorum Amendment, states that

the teaching of some scientific subjects, such as biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning, can cause controversy, and that some teachers may be unsure of the expectations concerning how they should present information on such subjects

and extends permission to Louisiana’s teachers to

help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories pertinent to the course being taught.

Those unfamiliar with US creationist tactics may not recognise what is really going on here, so let me spell it out. The Act allows teachers (and the school boards who employ them) to lie to children, by pretending that there are fundamental weaknesses in our understanding of evolution and global warming.

Mike Huckabee, former Governor of Arkasas, shows no such subtlety. In his own words,

 I think schools also ought to be fair to all views. Because, frankly, Darwinism is not an established scientific fact. It is a theory of evolution, that’s why it’s called the theory of evolution. And I think that what I’d be concerned with is that it should be taught as one of the views that’s held by people. But it’s not the only view that’s held. And any time you teach one thing as that it’s the only thing, then I think that has a real problem to it.

refer to captionAs for climate change, Huckabee has attacked President Obama for saying that climate change is a more serious than terrorism, on the grounds that “a beheading is much worse than sunburn.” Huckabee, apparently, doesn’t know his carbon dioxide from a hole in the ozone. Nor do I expect him to notice the exceptional extreme heat in India, officially described as having killed over 2,300 people before the merciful arrival of last week’s monsoon.

Rick Perry, Governor of Texas, said in a 2011 newspaper interview

I am a firm believer in intelligent design as a matter of faith and intellect, and I believe it should be presented in schools alongside the theories of evolution.

As for the environment, he also said, earlier the same year,

There are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects

and, more recently,

I don’t believe that we have the settled science by any sense of the imagination to stop that kind of economic opportunity…Calling CO2 a pollutant is doing a disservice the country, and I believe a disservice to the world.

And so on. Jeb Bush, former Florida Governor, says

I don’t think the science is clear what percentage is man-made and what percentage is natural. It’s convoluted. And for the people to say the science is decided on, this is just really arrogant, to be honest with you.

Liberty University’s Vines Hall, where Ted Cruz announced his Presidential candidacy on March 23, 2015

And what of Ted Cruz, another Texan. He chose to launch his campaign at Liberty University, an academic atrocity that I have written about before, where a course on “Origins” (i.e. Creationism) is compulsory. Liberty, incidentally, is the alma mater of Pam Stenzel, whom Scottish readers may remember for her sex-ed disinformation horror show. Anyway, here’s what Cruz has to say about global warming:

I’m a big believer that we should follow the science and follow the evidence. If you look at global warming alarmists, they don’t like to look at the actual facts and the data. The satellite data demonstrate that there has been no significant warming whatsoever for 17 years…. Today the global warming alarmists are the equivalent of the flat-earthers. You know it used to be: ‘It is accepted scientific wisdom the Earth is flat.’ And this heretic named Galileo was branded a denier.

We have come full circle, back to Galileo. Ted Cruz tells us that Galileo was condemned for denying that the Earth was flat. But the trial was In 1633, 141 years after Columbus had sailed to America, 111 years after Magellan’s expedition completed the first circumnavigation of the globe, more than 1800 years after Eratosthenes had correctly calculated the Earth’s radius from the difference in the length of noonday shadows between Alexandria and Aswan, and over two millennia since the roundness of the Earth had become common educated knowledge.

Ted Cruz is Chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Science. And like all the politicians quoted here he has managed to find backers willing to put up millions to help him become the next President of the United States, and, as such, responsible for negotiating the US position in climate negotiations. Be afraid, be very afraid.

Latest updated predictions from NASA at https://nex.nasa.gov/nex/projects/1356/

Sex, education, Pam Stenzel (Pt 2), evolution, and reality, with a footnote on the Faroes

A few days ago I reported , cued by Garry Otton’s eye-witness account on the Scottish Secular Society web page, on a nightmarish “sex education” lecture delivered in Paisley, near Glasgow, to an audience of schoolchildren rounded up from all the Catholic schools in the district, by the abstinence-only campaigner Pam Stenzel. The story has since been picked up and further commented on by the Daily Record, a popular Glasgow-based newspaper with a circulation of over ¼  million, and featured on the BBC. You may recall that Ms Stenzel is based in California, and that her crusade (that seems to be the correct word) against sex outside one partnership per lifetime is endorsed by Sean Hannity and the Family Life Council. Also that she imposes her own very personal view on facts. Notably, she tells us that HPV can cause cancer, and that vaccination only protects against four of the many strains. True, and bound to be true, since the vaccine is, by design, specific against the strains most liable to cause cancer. Of course, if disease prevention were her real concern, she would be advocating Pap smears and condom use. But such reality-based information is not on her agenda.

So what has this got to do with evolution, and in particular with what we know about what Pam Stenzel has been told about evolution? Absolutely everything.

The only professional qualification mentioned on Ms Stenzel’s website is a degree in psychology, from Liberty University. This institution, founded by Jerry Falwell Sr. and rescued early in its life from bankruptcy by the Rev Sung Myung Moon, is regarded as among the most conservative institutions of higher education in the US. “Conservative” in this context means, among other things, commitment to a biblical literalist theology. Even more, in the case of LibertyUniversity; commitment to a version of reality in which Young Earth creationism is better science than all that stuff about radiometric dating and strata and unconformities and deep time that stupid people like you and me find so convincing. This commitment is embodied in an Institution for Creation Studies (yes, that really is what it is called), whose course “History of Life” is obligatory for all students, and whose stated function (http://www.liberty.edu/academics/?PID=9821) is “to promote the development of a consistent biblical view of origins in our students. The center seeks to equip students to defend their faith in the creation account in Genesis using science, reason and the Scriptures.”

So Ms Stenzel may not have learned very much about the biology of sexually transmitted diseases, but she will certainly have learned how to use what she does know to defend a pre-determined faith-based position. This is called, in the language that Liberty University uses to describe its position on the age of the earth, “perspective”. She has faith that God has told us that having more than one sexual partner in a lifetime is wrong (He doesn’t seem to have given quite the same message to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but let that pass). So this is the conclusion, and it only remains to muster the evidence. The resulting concatenation of half-baked horror stories may only occasionally make contact with reality, but that’s not the point; it defends her faith, and that is the one thing that she has been admirably equipped to do. Nor, I’m sure, is she being consciously dishonest. There is black and white, right and wrong, safe and unsafe, so if condoms are not entirely safe (they’re not), we should not be telling young people to use them. On this logic, we shouldn’t be telling them to use seat belts, because they won’t always save your neck, and if everyone drove perfectly safely we wouldn’t need them, either.

Bonobo_sexual_behavior_1 (1) And I bet she doesn’t know about bonobos.

Footnote: a few months ago, Jerry Coyne reported with justifiable pride that his site, Why Evolution is True, had just got its first hit from Greenland (population 56,000). On Wednesday, I got my own first hit from the Faroe Islands (population 49,000). Beat that, Jerry!

[Image source:JaxZoo_12-16-12-4579.jpg through  http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bonobo_sexual_behavior_1.jpg This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.]

A Sex Education Horror Story (Stenzel Horrors Pt 1)

[This follows up on an eye-witness account described in his article on the Scottish Secular Society web page by my good friend, Garry Otton: ] The speaker, specially flown in from California, grins at the audience and rubs her hands together in holy zeal, as she tells her little anecdote. A young man is offering his beloved a diamond engagement ring. Unfortunately, he is also offering her genital warts, which, she tells her captive audience of schoolchildren, will last like the ring for the rest of her life, be incurable, and make her sterile. No one, she repeatedly says, can have more than one sexual partner in a lifetime, and not pay a price for it.

Her name is Pam Stenzel, and she runs a California-based business that makes more than a quarter million dollars a year, educating children worldwide about sexual health.  What are her qualifications for doing this? None whatsoever. She has no formal training in medicine, public health, any other area of health science, or education. The only academic qualification listed on her own website is an undergraduate degree in psychology, from Liberty University, an ultra-conservative evangelical establishment in Virginia, founded by Jerry Falwell Sr., in whose view pagans,  lesbians and the ACLUhelped 9/11 happen”, and financed by the Rev. Father Sung Myung Moon, who considered that “romantic love leads to promiscuity”. As for her training in biology, she will have taken a course called Origins, which is compulsory for all Liberty University students. This course, from a professor whose advertised job requirements were “Ph.D. and compatibility with a young-earth creationist philosophy”, is highly recommended by AnswersInGenesis, and will have told her that evolution and deep time geology are bad science and that the Earth is 6,000 years old. (This of course is completely incompatible with Catholic teaching on the subject, although on the occasion I am discussing, it is a Catholic school that has invited her.)

One also wonders about her training in arithmetic. “14,000 teanagers every day”, she tells her audience (and she puts on exactly the same show whether she is speaking in the US, or in Scotland) will contract a sexually transmitted disease. Shock, horror! 14,000 a day x 365 is more that 5 million a year; 25% greater than the entire US birthrate.  On the other hand, if she means worldwide, it’s about one in 30, which as a lifetime risk factor, given her extremely broad definition of sexually transmitted disease, seems far too low.

When and where did all this happening? Somewhere in the rural American deep South, and some time in the last century but one? No; it happened on May 8, 2013, as had been advertised beforehand here, at St Andrew’s Academy in Paisley, a township of some 75,000 inhabitants, and part of the Glasgow conurbation. And were the audience drawn from fringe educational establishments? No; they came from the area’s denominational (in this case, Catholic) schools, which form part of the mainstream publicly funded Scottish educational system.

How is this possible? Well may you ask. Indeed, I have submitted a Freedom of Information request to the school that hosted the event, where I question them as follows:

Who is paying for all this? Who was consulted? Did anyone ask any of the teachers involved in biology or health-related subjects? Did anyone ask the parents? Did the school know that she would talk a lot of dangerous nonsense,

claiming that a third of sexually transmitted diseases were incurable,

repeating the long-refuted claim that the abortion leads to depression,

saying that chlamydia, even when cured, causes sterility,

repeatedly asserting that everyone who has more than one sexual partner in a lifetime must pay a price (what of bereaved parents, remarrying with the blessings of the Church? What are their children in the audience supposed to make of this?)

misdescribing HPV vaccination for cervical cancer protection as ineffective because it guards against some strains only; indeed it does, but that is because it specifically targets the cancer-causing strains, and, throughout,

giving the strong impression (while choosing words selected to confer deniability) that condoms were ineffective for disease prevention, in direct contravention of Scottish Government educational guidelines and specific guidelines relating to HIV?

I will let you know when the school replies. As an educational establishment, they are entitled to take more time than other publicly funded agencies over answering, so don’t hold your breath.

Tags: 9/11Answers In Genesiscervical cancercondoms,Freedom of InformationHIVHPVJerry Falwell Sr.Moral Majority,Paisleysex education

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