Saturday, January 31, 2009

SBOE Member Gail Lowe: A Life of Smug Ignorance

Looking back on the recent Texas SBOE foray in their religious war with Darwinian evolution I fell across some audio snippets from the January 19th hearing where “strengths and weaknesses” was voted out of existence, only to be supplanted later on by “sufficiency or insufficiency.”

These snippets can be found here.

I was particularly taken by a brief exchange between creationist board member Gail Lowe and a retired clergyman, John Yeaman. Yeaman testified to the awakening experience he had while taking a geology course when he was in college, and how knowledge of rocks and fossils had enhanced his and his family’s life experiences while visiting the mountains and canyons across the nation.

Mainly, the exchange conveys a sense of smug snarkiness that creationist members of the state school board possess.

It also conveys their wretched ignorance of science.

I transcribed the exchange which appears below.

Yeaman (concluding his 3 minute remarks)…to compete in the twenty-first century, we must prepare and inspire...

McLeroy: Thank you

Yeaman: …all of our youth to open and inquiring minds,

McLeroy: Thank you. Ah, Miss Lowe?

Lowe: I’m sorry I’ll make it brief. When you studied geology did you study about the theory of graduated accumu. . . gradually accumulated geologic columns … you know … that obviously the strata developed over millions of y... did you also learn about polystrate fossils?

Yeaman: Well fossils are in those layers.

Lowe: Did you learn about polystrate fossils?

Yeaman: Not specifically but . . .

Lowe: That would be a really interesting thing for you to . . . to look into

Yeaman: Good.

Lowe: Polystrate fossils

Yeaman: OK, Thank you

Lowe: See how that fits in with the theory of the gradually accumulated geologic columns.

Yeaman: Good, thank you.

Lowe: Welcome.

For those of you still scratching your heads over this exchange, I will translate.

Lowe was illustrating how science cannot explain certain geologic phenomena, but creationism can. She did this by offering the “theory of gradually accumulated geologic column,” a theory that cannot be found in any geology textbook – by that name, anyway – and the observation of polystrate fossils, fossils that are seen by creationists as proof of the occurrence of Noah’s Flood.

The “theory of gradually accumulated geologic column” is a now-discredited theory that is better-known by its more often used name Uniformitarianism. This was a revolutionary geological theory proposed in the early 19th century by natural philosopher Charles Lyell. Before Lyell, sedimentary rocks were all thought to have been deposited by Noah’s Flood, and that theory went by the name Catastrophism.

Lyell’s theory was revolutionary because for the first time a scientist was disputing the idea that Earth is young. Lyell held that sedimentary rocks were all deposited under conditions that exist in the present day, slowly, gradually, and continually.

This would make Earth at least in the millions of years in age.

Polystrate fossils are mostly fossilized tree trunks that are found upright in solid rock, usually within sandstone but sometimes in or near coal deposits. Polystrate fossils are creationists’ proof of Catastrophism in that it would appear that they were deposited all at once in a violent event – like a flood – and may extend through two or more distinct sedimentary layers.

I saw one of these once, in a road cut exposure of Cretaceous deltaic sandstone in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah.

Lowe was pointing out that we can’t have it both ways, slow sedimentation and upright fossilized tree trunks.

But as our newly elected President would say, Yes We Can.

The linear thinking that goes part and parcel with being a conservative evangelical does not allow for acceptance of the fact that indeed, we can have it any way we want.

And this is because the “theory of gradually accumulated geologic column” or Uniformitarianism is only one in a great spectrum of sedimentary mechanisms that have occurred.

You see, Lyell was only partly right. Some sedimentary rocks are emplaced by present day processes. Some sedimentary rocks are emplaced by catastrophic floods. Some rocks are emplaced by catastrophic submarine landslides. I would say most of the geologic record, in terms of volume, is a record of successive catastrophic events. I would also say that most of geologic time is spent by slow deposition of intervening fine-grained rocks that we call shale.

And some portion of geologic time is taken not depositing any sediment at all.

But these things are unknown and unknowable by Gail Lowe, one of 15 who will be deciding the fate of science education in the state of Texas. Unknowable because in her world of reactionary religious dogma such thoughts are far too complex.

No, Gail Lowe is doomed to a life of smug ignorance. Texans can only hope that this in turn does not doom our school children to a substandard education in the 21st century – when competition to succeed in life and in careers is becoming truly Darwinian.

More than ever before, Americans are engaged in a global competition for resources, where only the strong – and the educated - will survive.

UPDATE: And now, a little more than 6 months after I put this posting on the blog, Governor Perry has elevated Gail Lowe to chairman of the State Board of Education. Discussed here. God help us all.


crackbaby said...

Too Bad for the kids of TexASS that they have to be subjected to the imbecilic ideas of magic (e.g., creationism, etc.) in place of the scientific method and factual knowledge. The dogmatic fools who are intent of pushing this BS are in it for one thing and one thing only: Power. Like any good cult, if they can wipe away past knowledge, they can replace it with beliefs that they can later mold, manipulate and exploit.

But remember, this is ok. As long as they are teaching their own offspring this swill, they will increase the probability that those kids will not survive in our novel evolutionary environment. Go ahead, don't use vaccinces, stay away from medicine, pretend that you are immune from natural selection and take your chances that those kids will be able to compete in a world of science.

Frankly, now there is another reason not to visit the Lone Star state in addition to the fact that they produced the worst president ever - bush. It's simply too dangerous to risk the religious lobotomy that so many fools in the South seem to have been subjected to.


Anonymous said...

I don't understand how people can be willfully ignorant and justify passing it on to their children.

Kerry said...

I am ashamed of my state (Texas). Maybe we should physically move the accredited schools of higher education in Texas to another state, and then let Texas secede from the union. Or maybe instead of building the border wall at the Mexican border, we can just build it around Texas to contain the stupidity.

agent_buzz said...

Now, now, crackbaby. Just because Texas contributed a "President" to the American political system who is slightly less likely to compose a single well-formed sentence in English than an Orang-Utan, that doesn't mean all Texans' knuckles drag the ground!

As for religious cults, all of America has been a fertile breeding ground for them. Jehovah's Witnesses began in Pittsburgh. Scientology was incorporated in New Jersey. The headquarters of Christian Science is in Boston, Massachusetts. The Mormons were organized in New York State. Madame Blavatsky's "Theosophy" was founded in New York City.

The creationists' movement in Texas still takes in only a small minority of the populace. I know personally of very few who would confess that God created all things suddenly, ex nihilo.


Hal said...

I have to agree with Mark, crackbaby. With one difference. That being there are a whole raft of reasons not to make Texas a destination, but their creationist content is not one of them.

There are actually only two reasons to visit Texas: Blue Bell Ice Cream and barbecue. They do both in spectacular fashion.

Stuart said...

This is what happens when self-serving politicians, and their lap-dog appointees get involved with educating our children.

Scientific theories, in this case evolution, have withstood the openness and critical application of the scientific method.

Perry and Lowe are examples of ignorance in action. Fortunately, we have a way to correct this atrocity -- vote Perry and all the other idiotic "creationists" politicians out of office next election.