Creation Science 101 offered at MPCC

7 05 2007

Chris at Interrogating Nature has the scoop about a creationism course being offered at a community college. The man teaching the course, Jim Garretson, claims that;

I’m not going to attack Evolutionists and I’m not going to try and convert people to the Creationist view, I just want offer a different viewpoint.

A creationist who isn’t going to speak ill of evolutionary scientists and not try to convert anyone to his point of view? That’s funny. I somehow doubt that Garretson will be impersonal and objective as he pontificates about how dinosaurs lived in the Garden of Eden and were brought aboard Noah’s Ark, and I would find it interesting to see if he rails against people like Dawkins, Harris, and Dennett given the recent spate of atheist literature available. I had a look at the website for McCook but I could not find any class schedule or course catalog available to me, so I can’t say whether the course will be count towards science credit, although I would not be surprised if it did. You can contact the MPCC board of governors about this intellectual fumble via boardofgovernors@mpcc.edu

Update the 1st: I did manage to find a MPCC course catalog for 07-08 but Physics 2990 is not listed anywhere. The catalog does mention, however, that a course marked as 2990 is;

A course, seminar, or workshop within a subject area or at a subject level not available in regular catalog courses.

Such a course is reported to give students from 0.5-3 credits depending on course hours (I assume it’s 3 for the creationism course), but I have yet to find anything suggesting that students can receive actual science credit for taking the course (although it is being reported as such by Chris and PZ) outside of it being listed as a Physics course. I too am surprised that such a course would fall under “Physics”, but I assume that this is tacking it on to a particular area of study rather than an accurate description (the summary given in the initial news report made it seem like it was a general seminar dealing with various creationist claims rather than specifically looking at physics, biology, history, or anything that would require the instructor actually opening up a book on such subjects).

But wait, there’s more! In doing some digging I was able to find some editorials about the course, one blasting the course and another supporting it, via the McCook Daily Gazette. The first, written by Dr. Robert I. Price of the University of Nebraska at Kearney, is to the point and even a bit nasty, once again (perhaps) reinforcing the idea that scientists are a bunch of cranky men with doctorates. He writes;

Clearly, no one would ever propose teaching the above-mentioned Chemistry 2990, so why is Mr. Jim Garretson proposing to teach Physics 2990 as described? Perhaps I should conclude, he does not understand what constitutes science. I would be very distressed to learn that he actually does understand what constitutes science. Because, if he actually does understand what constitutes science, then I must conclude that he is guilty of exceptional academic dishonesty! If the first conclusion is true, then he should be supervised by a more competent individual. If the second conclusion is true, then?Mr. Jim Garretson should be relieved of his teaching duties.

Yikes; not only is a bit of a personal attack, but all the “I concludes” make Price’s point harder to reach than anything else. Is this the kind of representation science needs? I’m not suggesting that Garretson’s class should not be questioned and fought against, but I think we can do a lot better than what was offered up by Price.

By contrast, a reply written to Price’s editorial was quite different, and while I disagree with the conclusions of the writer I can see how his style might appeal more to those who are unfamiliar with the debate. Here’s a snippet from the response by Father Lawrence Ejiofo, who essentially says (science – wonder = nothing, therefore wonder + religion = science);

We simply need the Creation Science to help us get answers to many of our scientific questions. Though Creation Science has much to do with religion, it should not be automatically discounted. After all, religion has always been a part of the sciences. Many scientific laws, observations and norms have arisen from religion. Newton’s third law of motion, which states that, action and reaction are equal and opposite, developed from religion, the law of karma, the law of retributive justice. Even Einstein, the renowned scientist of our time is quoted to have said, “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.” Science, Philosophy and Religion: a Symposium (1941) ch. 13

Ugh; Father Ejiofo clearly has not been paying attention to the history of science and how it has developed. Indeed, science and religion were once inseparable under the banner of “natural theology”, but such a system was more of a hindrance than a help. If scientists weren’t so concerned with trying to make geology, paleontology, and other fields fit into biblical framework, perhaps they could have developed even more advanced ideas than were actually put forth. I wouldn’t suggest that saying fossils are essentially commemorative medallions God struck to mark each age of Creation (as in Gideon Mantell’s Medals of Creation) was a huge advancement in scientific thought. Should we recognize the contributions that faithful scientists have made? Certainly, but we are not obligated to honor their religious leanings (I don’t see Ejiofo suggesting that we look at the work of Muslim scholars and recognize the way their religion and science intermingled).

I’m sure the news about this course is going to proliferate through the blogosphere today, but I am a little concerned about knee-jerk reactions to it. According to what I’ve seen, instructors are allowed to hold courses like these for two years, at which time the course is considered for adoption, but we’re 3 semesters short of that review. It’s likely, being a Physics course, that students may get science credit for taking the class but that is not a definite and I have not seen it marked anywhere as such; it might only count as a topics or colloquium course or elective. Should we be writing letters to the school and board of governors? Certainly, but I think we would do well not to repeat Dr. Price’s mistakes that I pointed out above. We should take the most of this opportunity to bring evolution to the forefront in Nebraska (and perhaps elsewhere) but likewise we should be sympathetic to the religious leaning of who were’ talking to, otherwise we’ll likely come off as a bunch of rabid science-nuts who want nothing less than the destruction of religion rather than the responsible science education.

Update the 2nd: Chris O’Brien scooped us all on this story; he posted about it on March 28th. Just goes to show that just because you post something important doesn’t mean it’s going to get the attention it deserves.

Update the 3rd: I just received an e-mail from a student advisor from MPCC who has clarified things a bit. I asked if the course, Physics 2990, could be used for science credit. I received a reply with the title Physics 2990 Creation Science (so perhaps it has not been moved to philosophy) and the advisor notified me that it is a special topics course, and therefore not eligible for science credit. It was noted that the course could count as elective credit if in the proper area of study (i.e. it wouldn’t count towards a business degree), and so it does not appear that this course is as significant as originally thought. Should we still care about this and e-mail the school? Certainly, but I think it’s important to keep in mind how much weight such a course is being given.


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10 responses

7 05 2007
Chris Harrison

Thanks Brian. Here’s what the college’s physics classes will look like for the Fall ’07 semester:

PHYS 1020 MC 1L Astronomy
PHYS 1410 MC 01 General Physics I
PHYS 1411 MC 01 General Physics I Lab A
PHYS 2410 MC 01 Gen Phys Calc Supplement
PHYS 2990 MC 01 ST: Creation Science

Pathetic.

7 05 2007
laelaps

Thanks Chris; I managed to track down the course catalog and posted a link above as well. I also e-mailed the school to find out if students would be getting science credits for taking such a course or whether it was a topics-style class (which doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t still oppose it, but I think it’s an important distinction). I’ll keep updating as I find out more.

7 05 2007
Chris Harrison

Oh, and here’s a document that shows the class on the college’s schedule:

http://209.85.165.104/search?q=cache:dvw8vnZmgGAJ:www.mpcc.edu/pdfs/Fall%2520Night%2520Schedule%2520MC.pdf+%22PHYS+2990%22+Garretson&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=5&gl=us&client=firefox-a

It’s toward the bottom and reads:

PHYS 2990 MC 01 ST: Creation Science

11 07 2007
Martha Heil

In view of the fact that the course catalog no longer lists PHYS 2990 Creation Science, I called McCook Community College yesterday (7/10/07). I spoke to a woman who lays out the course catalog, and asked her if the course was still being offered. She said now. I believe her name was Wilma. i have put in several calls to McCook CC administration to confirm this. I have not yet recieved a call back, but intend to keep calling until i get an answer.

Martha Heil
American Institute of Physics

11 07 2007
laelaps

Thank you for the update, Martha! This story was largely forgotten after it was first discussed in numerous blogs, and it appears that the course has either been removed or changed. While it seemed like the course was an indulgence to the professor (if I understand correctly many can teach a course they design for a semester or two, which then gets the option of being adopted by the school or not), I certainly would hope that creationism doesn’t get its foot in the door in a place of higher learning. Thank you for keeping up with things, and good luck getting responses from the administration!

29 10 2007
Amanda

I’m currently taking an Astronomy class with this instructor, he’s mentioned his creation theory class and has initiated a couple discussions asking students to discuss their opinions on evoution versus creation. However, the information he provides us with is in definate opposition to evolution with very watered down explanations to back up his anti-evolution sentiments. It’s not the fact that he’s bringing this subject up which is conscerning me, it’s that fact that he doesn’t seem to provide much information to back up his statements and the discussions do not seem to encourage critical thinking or in depth, open minded discussion. They simply instil doubt about the very subject we are learning about. If he wants to teach creation theory, I do not have a problem with that, but I signed up for an Introduction to Astronomy class, with the understanding that it was from a scientific perspective, and although he tests us on the information from the book he’s focused two discussions on creation vs. evolution. And in his latest discussion he has contradicted the text by stating simply that stars do not evolve. He’s made his personal opinions clear, but that is not what I’m there to learn.

He’s not containing his veiws or his teaching to his creation theory class, the funny thing is I would have been curious and willing to take his Creation class. Because I’m open to, and fascinated by all perspectives. However, after reading his posts in my Astronomy class, I’m very positive that he is contradicting his statements about attacking evolution and simply shining light on a different veiw.

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