My friend Molly has carried on a rather interesting “5 Facts” meme. Instead of tagging people to see if they respond, those who want to participate present one “random” fact about themselves, and in turn they’re asked five questions by the blogger who’s carrying on the meme (Look at the bottom for the formal rules if you want to jump on in). Here’s what Molly asked me;
1. How did you get interested in evolution/creationism?
Ever since I was young I’ve been implicitly interested in evolution; dinosaurs were among my first obsessions as a child (after trucks and elephants), and since they weren’t around anymore I knew they much have lived a long time ago and evolved. The real story, however, started in April of 2006. I was taking a course on communicating ocean science to the public, and part of our assignment was to create a lesson to teach fifth grade students at a local elementary school. I chose whale evolution, figuring it would be a fun way to interest kids in an important biological topic. When I submitted my proposal, however, I was told by my professor that the school principal didn’t want me teaching evolution; I might offend someone (or rather, someone’s parents). The teachers of the class, however, had no problem with the proposed lesson, and despite the objections of my professor and the principal I taught the lesson any evolution anyway. I never heard back from anyone saying that there was a problem.
But I was a bit concerned as to why I could teach evolution to students in a science class, even in just a cursory function. “How can anyone have a problem with evolution?” I wondered. At about that time my wife’s family was getting ready to move and there were books strewn all over the house, one of which held the title Icons of Evolution by a certain Jonathan Wells, purchased by my then-fiancee at a Christian book store years before and subsequently forgotten. The book looked like it might serve as an interesting introduction, the subtitle reading “Why much of what we teach about evolution is wrong.” So, on a warm summer afternoon I cracked open the book and could not believe what I saw. Evolution, according to Wells, isn’t real; it’s all a sham, and there’s a conspiracy amongst scientists to cover up any opposing hypotheses. As if the bad science wasn’t enough, Wells’ charges of a “Darwinist conspiracy” nearly had me in laughter, and so I decided to find out who in the hell would publish such a horrible book. After a little bit of searching, I found that a group called “The Discovery Institute” was behind it.
“The Discovery Institute” sounded like an innocuous name for an organization, at least until I dug a bit deeper and came across “The Wedge Document.” After reading the Discovery Institutes’s own propaganda (I wasn’t familiar with Pharyngula, The Panda’s Thumb, Talk Origins, or any science blogs up to this point) I knew I had to get the word out about his this phony bunch of cranks was lying through their teeth, trying to dupe school boards into keeping evolution out of classrooms and overall inhibiting understanding of our natural world. The summer I ordered a pile of creationist literature, mostly AiG’s booklet-sized tracts like The Lie and Refuting Evolution (although I also picked up Dinosaurs by Design, The Amazing Story of Creation, It Couldn’t Just Happen, etc.), as well as a few books that would keep my brain functioning like Niles Eldredge’s The Triumph of Evolution and the Failure of Creationism and Functional Anatomy of the Vertebrates.
I was appalled by what I saw, although I mostly kept things to myself. That is, until a creationist speaker calling himself the “Dino Pastor” was going to come to my church in October. I had a look at some of his sample videos online, and there was quote-mining and misleading statements galore. After notifying my pastors of what I intended to do (the service I went to was something of a nondenominational sub-church of a Baptist church that was its home), I e-mailed the main church’s head pastor with a list of problems and lies with the Dino Pastor’s presentation. I even said that I didn’t expect the event to be canceled, but I would gladly give a lecture on evolution if he would like. He said he would take it under advisement, my pastors said they declined the offer to have the Dino Pastor speak to the children of their smaller congregation, and the Dino Pastor came to town anyway.
So, I showed up on a gloomy Saturday morning, carrying my copy of The Dinosauria to read as I waited for the “sermon” to start. Much to my chagrin, the Dino Pastor came over and started talking to my wife and I how he was more concerned with saving souls than scientific accuracy, and I know that he must have known that I was the rabble-rouser who tried to shut him down. After the presentation I was invited to go to dinner with him and one of the former presidents of the Creation Research Society, and for whatever reason I decided to go. Upon meeting later in the day in the church parking lot, I discussed some new paleontology discoveries with the Dino Pastor to see what he had to say; it had been found that a good number of mastodons (the Dino Pastor’s professed specialty) had been afflicted with tuberculosis and a new theropod was said to have been discovered in the American West. He mostly said “Ah, those scientists are always trying to come up with something new. Whatever happened to that big meteorite that they were always talking about? No one talks about it anymore. They just make stuff up as they go.”
Anyway, dinner generally went off without too much of a hitch, although I ruffled the Dino Pastor’s feathers a little when I called him out on a lie he had told earlier in the day, involving a mammoth at the Waco site that was saving his “girlfriend” from mud. In reality it was likely parents trying to save a young mammoth from the mud, not the tortured tale of heroism and romance that was told earlier in the day. Afterwards, parting ways, I said to the Dino Pastor “It was nice to have met you, even though I certainly don’t agree with you.” He replied “Just wait until tomorrow,” when the “adult” sermon was supposed to take place. So I came back (sporting my AMNH Darwin t-shirt)and listened, and not only was the whole sermon full of discredited creationist dogma, but the Dino Pastor made some major blunders like calling Icthyosaurs “fish.” At the end of the sermon I found out that the Dino Pastor actually had been a member of the church years before, a good friend of the church’s head pastor, and the day’s money collection was going to him as a “love offering” to help in building a Creation Museum. Disgusted, my wife and I left.
Around that time I started blogging, won a $500 scholarship for writing about evolution/creationism on the ProgressiveU website, and made the move over to wordpress around the beginning of the New Year. The rest, as you might say, being history.
2. What do you want to do after you graduate?
I actually have no idea. I would love to go back to graduate school, but not at Rutgers; I’ve been RU-Screwed enough for now. Working at a museum would be great; I wouldn’t mind being a preparator of some kind, but I don’t think I’d get hired with so little experience. Being work is scarce right now in NJ, my wife and I might move, although I don’t know where. The overall direction of the move would likely be south, though, and eventually we hope to move somewhere in the Carolinas. As for right now, though, I can’t really say I have a plan, and much of it will depend on where I settle and (probably most importantly) where I can get a job.
3. Where’s the furthest from home you’ve ever traveled? What brought you there?
The furthest I’ve ever traveled from home was probably Key West, Florida. My mother had won a cruise on a Royal Caribbean ship, and given I loved the ocean so much she wanted to take me. The best part of the trip was actually in the Bahamas where I got to snorkel among the reefs, but I think the overall farthest place I’ve been was the tip of Key West, where she and I walked amongst the shops and stopped into the aquarium for a bit. Still, I’ve never left the eastern time zone and I am hoping to eventually fix that.
4. Kittens or cats?
Well, I actually have the best of both; Charlotte.
We adopted her last October and she was the runt of the litter. She’s grown since, but not very much, and she definitely looks closer to a kitten than an actual cat, even though she’s almost a year old now. Still, if I really had to choose, I’d probably choose cats over kittens. Kittens are certainly fun and cute, but I generally like the adults just a little bit better.
5. How did you and your sweetie meet?
Oddly enough, we met at my ex-girlfriend’s birthday party. I didn’t really want to go (I won’t go into my short and very hurtful relationship with this particular ex) but mutual friends asked me to come by and play “happy birthday” on my guitar. So I did, and afterwards I sat in the kitchen area of the college apartment playing songs, every once in a while glancing at a woman I had never met before on the other side of the room. She looked like she was with a rather scruffy guy sitting next to her though, so I thought that I would just sit by myself and play, and if she was interested (or was single) maybe she’d come over. I guess it worked, because Tracey did come over and we became fast friends, talking over AIM (and occasionally on the phone) almost every night. We were friends for about 6 months, during which I had another relationship or two (Tracey said she didn’t date outside her religion, and being an agnostic I basically took this as the nice way of saying “no” to me), but in July of 2004 we went to the AMNH and decided to date each other, and we got married just over a year ago.
So that’s my story. If you want in on this, here’s the more formal version of the rules;
1. Leave me a comment saying anything random, like [the food you hate most in all the world]. Something random. Whatever you like.
2. I respond by asking you five personal questions so I can get to know you better.
3. You will update your [blog] with the answers to the questions.
4. You will include this explanation and offer to ask someone else in the post.
5. When others comment asking to be asked, you will ask them five questions.