A few days ago I was browsing Reddit and came across a snapshot of what was supposed to be a 4th grade “science” quiz from a private religious school in South Carolina. The questions, as you can see, are pretty ridiculous: “… the Earth is billions of years old (false)”, ” … dinosaurs lived millions of years ago (false)”, etc. So much so, in fact, that I for one thought the whole thing was just some Photoshop job to score points on the atheism subcommunity they have. (It’s not as if it hasn’t happened before.)
Apparently I was wrong, and it’s actually real … or at least very likely real, anyway. Snopes did some investigating, made contact with the father of the girl whose test was originally posted, and managed to get a copy of the second page of the quiz:
I’m so glad to know that these religious “schools” are fighting the evil indoctrination of the secular educational system by drilling into these kids’ heads that they’re not supposed to trust science. Instead, they’re supposed to put their faith in a 2,000 year old Middle Eastern text during a time when there was no such thing as “science” at all. Instead, bats are birds, hares chew their cud, light refraction (i.e. rainbows) didn’t happen before the flood, and illness could be cured by laying on of hands and the anointing of oil.
That’s real science, I tells ya!
The harm being done to these children by institutions that are dead set on lying to them in order to spread a nonsensical interpretation of an archaic religion cannot be overstated. They are putting their trust in their parents and their teachers to educate them and prepare them for the real world. Instead, they’re being fed – at the only age at which they are receptive to such ideas – that they should not and cannot trust the only method by which we have come to understand anything about the natural world, and instead rely completely on faith.
They are being told that in a world that does not necessarily have certainty or easy answers, they can have both. By blindly following the bible and the authority of people like Ken Ham, Kent Hovind, and other Young Earth Creationists, they will not only receive salvation, but the moral and supposedly intellectual certainty that tends to make people feel so satisfied with their position that they shouldn’t bother looking any further.
That complacency and certainty resulting from believing one has knowledge direct from a (presumably) divine source of is one of the biggest dangers of religion in modern society, and it’s encapsulated by both how their only source of information is being viewed (the “history book of the Universe”?) and the deliberate misrepresentation and misunderstanding of how the entire scientific process works. Note the last question:
Q: The next time someone says that the earth is billions (or millions) of years old, what can you say?
A: “Were you there?”
Apparently Ken Ham got a letter from a young girl who did just that when she went to a NASA display of some moon rocks. This is what she supposedly had to say:
I went to a NASA display of a moon rock and a lady said, “This Moon-rock is 3.75 billion years old!” Guess what I asked for the first time ever?
“Um, may I ask a question?”
And she said, “Of course.”
I said, in my most polite voice, “Were you there?”
Love, Emma B
I can’t vouch for the validity of the letter, but let’s just assume it’s genuine. It’s also a pretty ballsy move, considering that none of the people who crow about how devastating this question is to atheists apparently stopped to consider that they weren’t around for the allegedly “empty” tomb. Anyway, PZ Myers got wind of the letter and Ken’s chest-beating, and decided to craft a response to young Emma. I won’t post all of it here (it’s long), but here’s a piece of it:
[…] I’d like to teach you a different easy question, one that is far, far more useful than Ken Ham’s silly “Were you there?” The question you can always ask is, “How do you know that?”
Right away, you should be able to see the difference. You already knew the answer to the “Were you there?” question, but you don’t know the answer to the “How do you know that?” question. That means the person answering it will tell you something you don’t know, and you will learn something new. And that is the coolest thing ever.
You could have asked the lady at the exhibit, “How do you know that moon rock is 3.75 billion years old?”, and she would have explained it to you. Maybe you would disagree with her; maybe you’d think there’s a better answer; maybe you’d still want to believe Ken Ham, who is not a scientist; but the important thing is that you’d have learned why she thought the rock was that old, and why scientists have said that it is that old, and how they worked out the age, even if they weren’t there. And you’d be a little bit more knowledgeable today.
I’ll assume you’re actually interested in knowing how they figured out the age of the rock, so I’ll try to explain it to you.
… and he proceeds to do so, giving Emma a far more informative, rational, practical, and useful answer that is supported by observations, experiments, and the collective expertise of thousands of professionals in the fields of physics and geology. Instead of simply giving her an answer of 3.75 billion years, he explained why it was that old, and how we know. That’s how you learn, and that’s how you get the desire to want to know more.
Like PZ Myers, I feel bad for Emma, and I hope someday she realizes that she’s being lied to by her teacher(s) and parents about the way the world works. If we are to avoid being in a position where we fall behind China, Russia, India, Europe, and the remainder of the English speaking world in education and science, this brand of indoctrination needs to be put to an end now.