FEd Summer 2002 Newsletter - Letter

Summer 2002



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Letter to the Editor of the FEd Newsletter:

Raymond Hall's article (Spring 2002, pp. 7-11) presented four excellent student activities for promoting critical thinking. Hall mentions quite a few pseudoscientific beliefs that are professed by many Americans: astrology, psychic contact, extra sensory perception, ancient astronauts, big-foot, out of body experiences, etc. To this depressing list, I would like to add one item that should be in every list of significant pseudosciences.

Creationism, the belief that the Bible's Old Testament can be read literally and that Earth and the main biological types (especially humans) were created separately just a few thousand years ago, is arguably America's most important pseudoscientific belief because it is held so dogmatically by so many people, its base lies in mainstream religion, and it cripples science education in the public schools. Especially when disguised as "creation science" or "intelligent design," creationism fits perfectly the standard definition of pseudoscience as "any claim that is presented so that it appears scientific even though it lacks supporting evidence and credibility." Its negative effect extends explicitly to all the sciences, including physics. For example, creationists in 1999 in Kansas removed from the state science standards all mention of the big bang, radioactive dating, continental drift, the age of Earth, global warming, and biological evolution. Although this rule was rescinded in 2001, similar laws and rules exist in many states. Polls consistently show that roughly 50% of all Americans believe that "God created man pretty much in his present form at one time within the last ten thousand years."1

Creationist nonsense remains endemic because we scientists have failed to teach good science to all students. All of us should follow Raymond Hall's suggestion by teaching critical thinking in our general science courses. In addition, there are at least four specific opportunities to introduce evolution-related topics into physics courses: First, teach radioactive dating as an application of nuclear physics, and present the main geological ages along with supporting radioactive and non-radioactive evidence. Second, discuss the consistency between the second law of thermodynamics and increased organization in open systems such as a growing leaf, and counter the fallacious creationist argument that evolution contradicts the second law. Third, present big bang cosmology and the supporting evidence: the expanding universe, the three-degree microwave background radiation, "ripples" in this radiation, and quantitative agreement between big-bang isotope-formation predictions and observed isotope ratios in our galaxy's oldest stars. Fourth, discuss (perhaps in the context of possible life elsewhere in the universe) the hypothesis of the chemical origin of life on Earth and supporting experimental and fossil evidence.

Art Hobson, Professor Emeritus of Physics, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, AR 72701 ahobson@uark.edu


1. Michael Shermer, Why People Believe Weird Things (W. H. Freeman and Co. New York, 1997), p. 156.