[Originally posted 2 May 2007. Reed Braden’s blog no longer exists, nor does the Internet Archive have a copy of this particular post, so I’ve left it unlinked.]
igh school senior Reed Braden (Unorthodox Atheism) gives us a glimpse into the scientific knowledge of a high school girl whom he refers to as “Dinosaur Girl”:
Are we ignoring the third law of thermodynamics? [she asks rhetorically.] Any scientist with the slightest bit of intelligence will tell you that every single molecule, atom, and electron moves from a state of order to entropy (which is defined by Merriam-Webster’s dictionary as “the degradation of the matter and energy in the universe to an ultimate state of inert uniformity,” in case you weren’t aware). Evolution directly contradicts this inherrent law of the universe. But I guess you’re probably smarter than Albert Einsten, who am I kidding…
I know you’ve heard the rock stratification argument, but it just makes sense. Why isn’t the earth in neatly arranged layers? Why are dinosaur fossils next to fossils from other periods… Speaking of fossils, why haven’t they found a complete fossil of a prehistoric human. And Lucy doesn’t count—she was a hoax, after all.
Where are you getting your dates from. I know you would probably cite C-14 dating, but are we really sure that’s accurate? After all, a California redwood was dated to be 4.6 million years old. I know they live a long time… but that old? Still not convinced? A monarch butterfly was dated to be 1200 years old. What's their lifespan again? Seems this technique may need reexamining.
Now this girl confuses the second law of thermodynamics (which she gets wrong) with the third; she erroneously thinks that it somehow contradicts “evolution”; she is under the impression that fossils from different periods appear mixed together; she suffers from the illusion that Australopithecus afarensis is a hoax, and then she babbles crazily about radiocarbon dating.
Okay, so what’s the punchline, you’re probably wondering. The girl’s got a lot to learn, but a decent introductory science class should clear up most of her confusion. Or so one would think. That’s what high school’s for, right? Replacing ignorance with knowledge? Turning kids on to the wonders of the natural world? Equipping them with the tools that will enable them to evaluate problems that will confront them as citizens in an increasingly complicated world?
The thing is, this girl is a senior. She is about to graduate. In my book, anybody this pig-ignorant shouldn’t be receiving a high school diploma. But it gets worse. This girl is apparently a salutatorian in her school. She is right at the top of the graduates there. (I wonder what the kids who didn’t make the honor roll are like.) A school turning out products like this has clearly failed across the board, and a diploma from this institution is worth somewhat less than piece of toilet paper.
Now “Dinosaur Girl” goes on to remark rather fatuously that she enjoys “learning material I disagree with. You have to know the other side in order to effectively combat it.” I would be interested to know what “other side” she has learned, since she plainly knows nothing about physics, biology, or ancient history. All she is doing here is parroting creationist talking points, and she can’t even get them right.
Now what “Dinosaur Girl” needs to realize—and this is a tough one—is that people are lying to her. These are people she presumably trusts and believes in, but they aren’t doing her any favors. They are filling her mind with garbage. She needs to do her own research. She should ask the person who told her that Lucy was a hoax what evidence there is to support this notion? What do actual scientists say about it? How does the second (or third) law of thermodynamics “contradict” evolution? If “every single molecule, atom, and electron moves from a state of order to entropy” how is it possible for a crystal to grow? Or for an embryo to grow into a human being? Each of these involves a local decrease in entropy. Since these things do happen, does that mean the second law of thermodynamics is full of holes? Or what? How does radiocarbon dating work? How has it been tested? What other ways are there of dating objects from human history and prehistory? What is dendrochronology? Why is the bristlecone pine significant in calibrating the radiocarbon date? As she herself observed, “I could go on and on and on … but I won’t.”
Now of course, this being from a random internet site, it could well be a hoax. Frankly, I hope it is. I’d like to think that Reed Braden made up “Dinosaur Girl,” or that maybe somebody hoaxed him with a bogus letter. But I’m very much afraid that somewhere in America there is a high school senior this ignorant about science who is graduating near the top of her class. It’s a frightening thought, and a sad commentary on the failure of the American school system.
[Comments on the original post:]
Being a valedictorian is pathetically easy in the average American high school. The primary requirement is to 1) show up, 2) perfectly regurgitate the Reader’s Digest Edition Educational lessons that they only have time to give you, 3) Pass a series of standardized tests featuring the above information. 4) dont piss off any Authorities.
Maybe some day they’ll split up classes into the smart kids and dumb kids again, but these days they’re all mixed up, so all you have to do to be a “smart kid” is learn all the stuff they’re trying to teach the dumb ones.
I’m not sure what the effect of NCLB was supposed to be (really supposed to be, not whatever crap they claimed), but what it’s led to is to remove the emphasis from teaching the best and brightest to making sure that the kids who cant or wont learn get more attention than the kids who actually ask questions and are interested in knowledge, because the ones who dont learn are now the measuring stick against which teachers are measured.
Conspiracy? Well, as anything involving BushCo, one has to wonder, especially considering Bush connections with (now) highly profitable testing companies, but I think this has been more of the usual case of trying to take the easy road out of a messy, complicated problem (like bussing). Still, you have to wonder about a policy which de-emphasizes thinking in favor of rote learning of a set of “approved” lessons.
That particular stupid, brainwashed girl may or may not be real, but there are thousands, if not millions out there just like her. They never question authority, something which I once would have said was the most distinguishing characteristic of being an American (ah, foolish youth…)
Now “Dinosaur Girl” goes on to remark rather fatuously that she enjoys “learning material I disagree with. You have to know the other side in order to effectively combat it.”
Classic fundie presuppositionalism. The very antithesis of a scientific approach, whereby one tests one’s ideas about the world against the facts. But in the fundie universe, opinions and rhetoric are more important than facts.
(I’d say she’s on the debating team. Researching opposing views so can rebut them is standard in debate preparation—but participants are supposed to be aware that debating is an exercise in rhetoric, not truth-seeking.)