Skepticism

A Skepchick visits a Creation Science Fair

This past Saturday, Tim3P0 and I decided that there could be no possible better way to spend Valentine’s Day than to check out a creationist homeschool science fair. We were all ramped up for some mega crazy, after Skepchick reader QuestionAuthority sent this list of suggested topics from the TCCSA. A quick perusal of the list makes it pretty clear that the organizers of this event strongly encourage kids to take on topics in direct opposition to established science.

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Walking into Har Mar Mall, I practiced my serious face, as I didn’t want to laugh openly at some well meaning kids’ hard work. After all, it’s not their fault if they are being denied a proper science education. As we worked our way around to each of the thirty or so displays, anticipating something truly awesome in its ignorance of the way science actually works, we were continually disappointed. The projects almost invariably showed a decent understanding of the scientific method, and none of the kids picked any of the hot button creationist topics present on the list of suggestions.

The range of topics selected was broad, and covered all major branches of science. Here are some of my favorites:

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You can visit my Flickr stream to view the complete set of full size photos from the event.

The presence of a required bible verse on each display, the citation of god’s design as the ultimate reason for findings in a few projects, and religious tracts on several of the tables served as reminders that this was indeed a creation science fair, but in many cases these seemed almost perfunctory. My impression of at least half of the displays was that the child had first picked a topic they found interesting, and then dug up a bible verse that correlated. In several cases the verse had nothing at all to do with the research, and in at least one case, the results actually contradicted it.

I have to say that for the most part I was very impressed with the work these kids did. I expected to leave the mall feeling sad and disgusted, but I actually came out of it feeling quite a bit of hope for humanity. Whatever else they are being taught, these kids are learning the scientific method, and regardless of the big fat god wall it comes up against in the worldview being imparted to them, I can’t help thinking it’s not that big a leap for them to apply it to that as well. Obviously not all of them will do so, maybe none will, but they are being given the tools.

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32 Comments

  1. I have hope too, as the feeling I got from the whole thing was that the kids were interested more in science and that it was the elder parents/people that seemed to be pushing the religion (like the bible verses, or the judges asking the kids questions). All in all, it was certainly a unique experience that surprised me in ways I was not expecting.

  2. @Rebecca: in the nature vs nurture display, the verse was proverbs 22:6: “train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he shall not depart from it”. In the conclusion, the student says that although the results are not conclusive, they believe that nature and nurture are both significant contributors to behavior, not just nurture as is suggested by the bible verse.

  3. The fact that the kids are being taught good science is very reassuring. I was a creationist not too long ago (thank you SGU and skepchick), and a lot of my church friends were and still are really into science. It’s just that, they are not into the areas of science that directly contradict their beliefs. I’m sure that’s not true for all creationists growing up, but that was my experience, at least.

  4. Thanks for braving what could have been a traumatizing experience Carrie. It is interesting to note that the presence of actual science means these children may be able to break away from the road to creationist fundamentalism. On the other hand it could be the last critical thought in their heads, but one can always hope.

  5. Yay! Something mildly positive out of the Har Mar Mall! Every Christmas when we go to visit the Twin Cities we end up doing something last minute at the Har Mar. And I’m always vaguely creeped out and saddened. Like it once was a place where teenagers romped in their pastel Gap shirts listening to their Walkmans and chewing Bubblicious and now only sad clowns go to cry quietly in the corner over lost puppies and dreams….

    Though I did buy a purple shirt with a unicorn and a castle on it this year from a temporary vendor! And that made me happy. So yay for kids being raised by creationists but having a chance to grow up into thinkers…or maybe I’m just being overly positive from the memory of my unicorn shirt purchase.

  6. “8. How much voltage or current can a human take before he is killed? Could do experiments on a plant.”

    How much stupidity can a human take before he is killed? Could do experiments on a homeschooler.

    I was expecting that list to include “HOW IS BABBY FORMEd?”

  7. My impression of at least half of the displays was that the child had first picked a topic they found interesting, and then dug up a bible verse that correlated. In several cases the verse had nothing at all to do with the research, and in at least one case, the results actually contradicted it.

    This doesn’t surprise me, children have been weaselling around their parent’s rules since there have been children, parents, rules and weasels.

  8. This is really pleasing to know. I tend to assume “creation” = “dislike of science.” It’s good to know that the scientific method is being absorbed at a young age.

    Sadly, in looking at these projects, I’m reminded how lame my own were at that age.

  9. “How much voltage or current can a human take before he is killed?” is the number one project suggested by my senior high students for their electronic projects, and they’re not talking about testing on plants. Maybe if I tell them that’s a typical creationist project they’ll get off my back and make blinking LED name tags instead.

  10. What voltage to kill someone? Nay! Much better is:

    “11. Make an experiment to show how Boyle’s law applies to nebula.”

    First, build a faster-than-light spaceship…

    “46. Where are teeth stored?” WTF?

  11. Hey, I think I’ve got the answer to several of the questions they pose:

    10. What was life like before the Flood?

    According to the Bible, awesomely fun. Then along came God, the Celestial Party-Pooper, and quite literally rained on the parade.

    17. Does geography affect health?

    Yep. I’ve known people who used to get sick the very same day of a geography test.

    30. Why does the ocean appear blue but when it is in a bucket it is clear?

    This one I don’t know, but it has to be a hell of a bucket to have the ocean inside it.

    40. Does sea currents affect climate?

    “Do bad grammer affects how learned we seems?”

    49. How does friction work?

    By demanding schools to “teach the controversy”.

    56. Why do plants and insects die in the Fall?

    Plants die because someone passes electricity through them pretending to be doing an experiment. Insect die because of the Fall of the dead plant on them.

    58. Why did God create the moon to control the tides?

    We Argentines generally answer this kind of question with: “What color was San Martín‘s white horse?”

    72. What is God made of?

    Hot air.

    77. How do we get headaches?

    By getting in arguments with creationists.

    81. Why are there joints and cracks in the earth’s crust?
    82. Why do our joints crack?

    “When we made this questions list, were we smoking crack or a joint?”

  12. I’d like to make a suggestion for Skepchick or the skeptical community at large — a recurring prize for the exhibit at Creation Science Fairs that best exhibits the real scientific method and mainstream scientific thought.

    Obviously, since many of the contestants are already “subverting the paradigm” of the Creation Science Fair, this would give them a well-deserved reward.

    This would have to be an unofficial, guerilla effort – a skeptical observer/judge (or several) would surreptitiously enter the fair, select a winning exhibit, and contact the winner, outside of the “official” fair process. (And also mention the award to the local press. :-) )

    This would be along the lines of the liberal/progressive actions one sometimes sees in response to rightwing/repressive speakers, where donors promise to donate x dollars to a liberal/progressive cause for every minute the “bad guys” speak – the more they do their thing, the stronger the automatic response against them.

    The prize would ideally be big enough to be noticeable, small enough to be generated by collecting small contributions from ordinary skeptic shmoes, and something that the kids would appreciate. (Gift certificate for books or CDs or something like that.) (And come to think of it – an award that also doesn’t look too bad in the college applications.)

  13. I hate to be the lone downer here but I can’t help but think of the conversation with my co-worker where he said the college his daughter was attending was the only one he would pay for because it was the only college in the area where she could get a “good biology degree without all of that evolution crap being shoved down her throat.” I just wonder how many of these kids will get a chance to learn sound science before it’s too late.

    Or maybe I’m just grumpy because I haven’t had my morning coffee yet.

  14. The practice of maintaining a dogma requires the active rejection of new and contradictory information. It seems to me that the collision of dogma and science will inevitably lead to a rejection of dogma, a rejection of at least some of science or the apparently more common practice of deciding science doesn’t speak to matters of faith and faith is a separate issue from science which would include an active ignoring of the obvious conflicts. I expect most religious people just make maintaining family , community and friendship connections within the church a priority over holding their beliefs up to rational scrutiny.

  15. Kids tend to be natural scientists, so I am glad their projects are reflecting more science than we might have thought! Go kids!

    @Augustus Regarding your co-worker – Ask him how in heck can you be a biologist without the “evolution crap”? I may need that explained to me – I guess my science-based biology classes failed to present that option.

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