The scary pseudoscience I was taught at a Christian fundamentalist creationist school
Students at Accelerated Christian Education schools don’t graduate with GCSEs or A levels: they complete the International Certificate of Christian Education. As BBC Newsnight pointed out last month, the ICCE is unrecognised by the qualifications authority for England, Ofqual. Nevertheless, according to responses to Freedom of Information requests received by the British Humanist Association in recent weeks, four universities – Bath, Cardiff, Essex and Nottingham – recognise the ICCE as an entrance qualification.
I went to an Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) school from the age of 11 to 14, and I can think of many reasons why this kind of education is a poor preparation for university. I spent half of every school day alone in a cubicle, working silently though PACEs (Packets of Accelerated Christian Education) – workbooks that incorporate religious instruction into every academic subject, for example teaching that evolution is a hoax.
These bastions of fundamentalism have been operating in Britain since the early 1980s. In 2010 the BBC reported that there were 60 in the UK.
In 2012 I began a PhD studying ACE, and discovered that little had changed since I left in 1999. I have campaigned against ACE, with some success. The shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt has described its stance on homosexuality as “dangerous” and “backwards”; the Advertising Standards Authority ruled last month that some ACE schools were mis-selling their qualifications; and the press finally noticed they were teaching that wives must submit to their husbands.
In all of this, however, little attention has been paid to the pseudoscience that ACE passes off as education. PACEs sometimes get basic science wrong, but more importantly they demonstrate that ACE can’t tell the difference between science and nonsense obscured with long words. For example, ACE’s Science 1087(aimed at students in year 9) suggests it might be possible to generate electricity from snow:
Scientists have known for years that snowflakes are shaped in six-sided, or hexagonal, patterns. But why is this? Some scientists have theorised that the electrons within a water molecule follow three orbital paths that are positioned at 60° angles to one another. Since a circle contains 360°, this electronic relationship causes the water molecule to have six ‘spokes’ radiating from a hub (the nucleus). When water vapour freezes in the air, many water molecules link up to form the distinctive six-sided snowflakes and the hexagonal pattern is quite evident.
Snowflakes also contain small air pockets between their spokes. These air pockets have a higher oxygen content than does normal air. Magnetism has a stronger attraction for oxygen than for other gases. Consequently, some scientists have concluded that a relationship exists between a snowflake’s attraction to oxygen and magnetism’s attraction to oxygen.
Job 38:22, 23 states, ‘Hast thou entered into the treasures of the snow? or hast thou seen the treasures of the hail, which I have reserved against the time of trouble, against the day of battle and war?’ Considering this scripture, some scientists believe that a tremendous power resides untapped within the water molecules from which snowflakes and hailstones are made.
How can this scripture, along with these observations about snowflakes, show us a physical truth? Scientists at Virginia Tech have produced electricity more efficiently from permanent magnets, which have their lines of force related to each other at sixty-degree angles, than from previous methods of extracting electricity from magnetism. Other research along this line may reveal a way to tap electric current directly from snow, eliminating the need for costly, heavy, and complex equipment now needed to generate electricity.
My scientific knowledge isn’t superb – not helped by three years of ACE – so I asked Professor Paul Braterman, a chemist at Glasgow University and a committee member of the anti-creationist British Centre for Science Education, what he thought. “Bullshit on stilts” came his reply, in a brusque email pointing out that snow has no magnetic properties. The prospect of generating free electricity from snow, he added, “bears no relationship to reality”.
It’s difficult to see how ACE has been able to get away with calling this “science” ever since the PACE was written in 1986. But this text demonstrates the way creationists go about doing science. To Christian creationists, the Bible is the Word of God and is free of error. Unless it’s clear that a verse is intended metaphorically, creationists take it literally. This is the starting point for creationist science. They know the Bible is true, so they go and look for confirmation of what it says. If the evidence contradicts the Bible, either the data is wrong or it has been misinterpreted. Either way, you go back and try again until you confirm the truth of the Word of God.
This illustrates an overlooked danger of creationism: if the same logic and methods are applied, you can wind up believing almost any irrational claim. It’s also a trademark of Carl Baugh, director of the Creation Evidence Museum in Texas, to whom ACE turns for inspiration in Physical Science 1114, aimed at 16-year-olds. This book claims that Earth was once surrounded by a hydrogen canopy, bathing the world in pink light and stimulating the production of norepinephrine (noradrenaline) in humans.
Researchers have discovered that the hydrogen canopy that may have enclosed Earth before the Flood had some very interesting effects on plant and animal life. The hydrogen in the canopy absorbed blue light, but radiated red light, so the sky was pink rather than blue! Not only did pre-Flood man see the panorama of Creation “through rose-colored glasses,” but the pink light had a definite effect on his mind and body. Modern scientists have discovered that pink light stimulates the adrenal glands to secrete a hormone called norepinephrine. Norepinephrine is both a tranquilliser and a neurotransmitter that both calms the person and sharpens his ability to think. The tranquilliser in the hormone can reduce stress and the accompanying medical complications (heart conditions, ulcers, etc) that come with our-hectic, modern-day lifestyles. Some drugs have the same tranquillising effect, but these drugs also decrease the ability to think and respond to the environment. The neurotransmitter in the norepinephrine sharpens the person’s senses and enables him to think clearly by speeding up his nervous impulses.
Metal hydrogen not only filters blue light, but it also has a fiberoptic effects. This means that light from the sun was not only transmitted through the canopy, but was also spread out across the canopy. The light was dispersed around the world – even at night! At sunrise the sky was a vivid pink color. As the colour of the sky changed, the light grew in intensity throughout the morning, until it was a light pink at noon. As the light subsided during the afternoon, the color of the sky returned to vivid pink again at sunset.
The pink colour and the light dispersion worked together to create a perfect working condition. The pink morning sky caused the norepinephrine to begin flowing and stimulating the man to work. At noon, when the pink light and the norepinephrine production were at their peak, the man worked most efficiently. The decreasing intensity of the pink light in the afternoon gradually calmed the person so that by sunset he was relaxed and ready for a peaceful night’s sleep.
Modern scientists are just now discovering what Christians have always believed – that God’s Creation was perfect.
For more information on the subject of Creation model, you might like to read the book Panorama of Creation by Dr Carl Baugh. You might also want to read some of the numerous books on Creation written by Dr Henry M Morris or other contemporary Christian scientists.
It’s difficult to know where to begin. For starters, Braterman points out, hydrogen is transparent in the visible part of the spectrum, there is no such thing as “pink light”, and metals do not have fibre-optic properties. I assumed this entry would have been removed in the 15 years since I left ACE, but a colleague purchased an identical copy this month. Remember, this is taught as science in more than 6,000 schools in 145 countries.
You may wonder why some creationists suggest there was a canopy around Earth before Noah’s Flood. Genesis says that during creation God separated the waters under the heavens from the waters above the heavens. Creationists know there’s no water in space, but they also believe the Bible cannot be wrong about the waters above the heavens. To solve this, some of them postulated that there was a vapour canopy in the sky, which fell as rain during Noah’s Flood. Now, though, even creationists admit to the problems with the vapour canopy, and that’s before we ask how ACE got from water to a pink canopy of metallic hydrogen.
James Williams, an education lecturer at Sussex University, is concerned. “Material is being used to ‘educate’ children that is simply wrong,” he said. “It will implant misconceptions in the minds of young people and once implanted, misconceptions are very difficult to challenge and overcome.”
Teaching this to children misleads them not only about scientific facts, it distorts their view of the nature of science. If students accept what ACE teaches, they will not only believe in falsehoods, they’ll be confused about the distinction between science and pseudoscience. This is hardly a sound qualification for university entrance.
Jonny Scaramanga blogs at Leaving Fundamentalism