News of the week: new life forms and Noah’s Ark in Kentucky 8

JISHOU, HUNAN — You win some, you lose some. In the nifty cool corner, we have NASA scientists discovering a strain of bacteria that actually likes arsenic so much to incorporate it in their DNA. No word yet on their reactions to old lace. Or elderberry wine. In the dunce-cap corner, we have Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear crowing that the Commonwealth is giving millions of dollars in tax breaks to a Noah’s Ark-themed (as in religious) amusement part. The first bit of news is exciting, because until this week biologists believed all life on Earth is based only on CHONPS (carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorus and sulfur). Now we know some bacteria can live on CHONAsS. (I can just hear the jokes in high school biology classes now …) Phosphorous and arsenic are neighbors in the periodic table, with similar chemical properties. It’s what makes arsenic (As) poisonous. Our cells grab hold of the arsenic, thinking it’s phosphorus, but, alas, it’s just different enough that it kills us. These bacteria, found in an arsenic-laden lake in California could care less. Arsenic, shmarsenic. Chances are, they were not aboard the Ark with Noah’s kin and all those animals. Genesis says nothing ...

Science thoughts from underground 6

Science thoughts from underground
WULINGYUAN, HUNAN — One of my last stops before classes resume was Yellow Dragon Cave (Huang Long Cave) here, near Zhangjiajie. The cave itself is stupendous. The tour includes a short boat ride on the underground river and a lot of stair climbing. For me the highlight was this stalagmite, the “Sacred Needle for Stabilizing the Sea,” which rises 19.2 meters from the cave floor. The tour guide rattled off two impressive figures relating to this structure. One is that it is insured for several million dollars. The other is that the Sacred Needle is about two million years old. This blog has highlighted the sheer silliness of creationism over the last four years, especially the ludicrous claims of Ken Ham’s Creation Museum in northern Kentucky. Ham (among others) figures the world was created in exactly six days about 6,000 years ago. To bolster their claims that the Bible accurately describes the creation of Life, the Universe and Everything, Ham and Co. try all kinds of hand-waving arguments to counter reams of contradictory evidence from astronomy, geology, paleontology and biology, like The flood in the story of Noah created the Grand Canyon, aided in the dispersion of humans across the ...

Kentucky’s Creation Museum, a young Earth propaganda tool 5

JISHOU, HUNAN — The Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky, is NOT a science museum. It is a tool to publicize a narrow religious view of the world and our place in it. Thus, I found this comment by a Kentucky State Department of Education official particularly disturbing. [From the Louisville Courier-Journal] Kentucky Department of Education spokeswoman Lisa Gross said nothing in state law would bar public schools from visiting, if it were part of “a lesson” on “how some perceived the world’s beginnings.” Kentucky does not require the teaching of evolution or creationism (or even science at all) in private schools. And public-school science teachers aren’t prohibited from mentioning creationism, but lessons often include concepts behind evolution, Gross said. Maybe Ms. Gross was tiptoeing around the religious bias of Kentucky’s bureaucrats, legislators and population. Maybe she has never been to the Creation Museum. Maybe she is just plain stupid. Whatever the case, there should be no reason to bring any public school group to the museum, unless that purpose is to indoctrinate the students in an overtly religious world view. If a high school teacher, having done a LOT of preparation, intended to use the museum as an example of ...

Proselytizing teachers need to stuff it

JISHOU, HUNAN — Public school teachers — in fact most teachers — should just shut up about their religious preferences. Proselytizing is an abuse of their “bully pulpit.” The Panda’s Thumb has two articles this week demonstrating the misuse of teacherly authority. One is an update on the ever-continuing John Freshwater saga; the other a report on one teacher’s attempt to haul students to the Creation Museum in Kentucky. Freshwater is a seventh-grade science teacher in Mt. Vernon, Ohio, who has paraded his particular brand of Christianity — and anti-evolution propaganda — in front of his students for several years. His superiors looked the other way until Freshwater used a Tesla coil to burn a cross shape on the arm of a student. The student and his parents cried foul, and the parties involved are now in a legal thicket. Freshwater has been the subject of hours of administrative hearings regarding his continued employment. The boy and his family have filed a civil liberties suit against Freshwater and the school system. Freshwater himself has filed his own civil liberties suit against his employers, and another civil suit against the family, alleging they have slandered him. During the administrative hearings, witnesses ...
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