November 2008

Monday, November 17, 2008

“A Virtual Tour of the Creation Museum: Cheaper Than the Real Thing and Far More Educational”

Speaker: Jason Wiles, Ph.D.

Business meeting at 6:30
Program at 7:00

Jason Wiles riding a dinosaur

Jason Wiles riding a dinosaur at the Creation Museum

Our November meeting will be at a familiar location, the Betts Branch Library in the Valley, but on a different day than usual, Monday.

Betts Branch Library
Meeting Room
4862 S. Salina St.
Syracuse, NY 13205

View Google Map and Get Directions to Betts

The Program

This presentation casts a skeptical eye toward the “science” taught at the Creation Museum, a 27-million-dollar (and counting) attraction located on the Kentucky side of the Cincinnati, OH, metropolitan area. You will see dinosaurs living peacefully alongside humans and hear how “Creation Scientists” explain that the Earth is only about 6,000 years old. Of course, science tells us that the Earth is around 4-and-a-half billion years old and that dinosaurs were extinct long before humans evolved, but then, little, if any, of what the Creation Museum teaches is supported by science.

About the speaker

Jason R. Wiles grew up in Arkansas, a southern state in the heart of the Bible Belt with a storied history of controversy around the teaching of evolution in public schools. Dr. Wiles grew up in a creationist family and earned his first degree in biology at a private religious university where evolution was largely absent from the curriculum. He went on to earn master’s degrees in both biology and geosciences, both heavy on evolutionary evidence and theory. After having taught biology and other sciences at a number of colleges, universities, and institutions of secondary education for several years, he recognized that a great many students had similar misconceptions and related difficulties in learning about biology that were rooted in misunderstanding of evolution, whether or not these barriers were based on religious beliefs.

Given his own personal experience, and given the centrality of evolution to a deep understanding of the life and Earth sciences, Wiles was motivated to learn more about the teaching and learning of evolution. He eventually earned a Ph.D. at McGill University focusing on evolution education, and for the past four years has served as Research Manager of the Evolution Education Research Centre, a partnership between McGill and Harvard University. He joined the faculty in the Biology Department at Syracuse University in 2008 and enjoys a secondary appointment in the SU Department of Science Teaching.

Related articles of interest by Jason Wiles

The missing link: Scientist discovers that evolution is missing from Arkansas classrooms
The Huckster’s Artful Dodging on Evolution
A threat to geoscience education: creationist anti-evolution activity in Canada

Paul DesOrmeaux, skeptical satirist

Neighboring skeptic, founder of the Rochesterville Skeptics Club (Rochester, NY), and skeptical satirist Paul DesOrmeaux has a humorous article in the November/December Skeptical Inquirer titled “More Cool Careers for Dummies: Ghost Hunter,” which is a follow up to an earlier March/April SI Forum article titled “Cool Careers for Dummies: Psychic Detective.” Along with articles in the Skeptical Briefs and Openly Skeptical (Skeptics Canada) newsletters, Paul is a regular contributor to BASIS (The Bay Area Skeptics’ newsletter).

As the movement’s best-known humorist, he has lampooned a variety of pseudoscience topics, such as cosmetic acupuncture, “The Secret,” Scientology, horoscopes, chiropractic (his most controversial piece), and many others. His goal is to introduce skepticism to a broader audience by combining reason and science with humor and satire. So, if you know anyone considering a career in chasing disembodied spirits for fun and profit, have them check out the newest SI issue.

No Skeptics in the Pub in November

We don’t have a Skeptics in the Pub event planned for November. However, if someone wants to volunteer to organize it, let us know, and we’ll put the information here.

CNY Skeptics booth at Westcott Street Fair

Lisa Goodlin and David Harding at the CNY Skeptics booth at the 2008 Westcott Street Fair

3 thoughts on “November 2008

  1. RE: Your “Evolution is only a Theory” design

    Hey, Einstein.

    Gravity is what is known as, um, a LAW of science. Evolution is what is known as, um, a THEORY. Breaking news … they are NOT, um, the same thing. Makes me kind of skeptical of, um, your skepticism (as well as, um, your intelligence).

  2. Hi, Paul. From your comment I would guess that you have made a common mistake in thinking about the word theory as it is used among non-scientists.

    You may find this helpful:

    “At a fundamental level, popular English and scientific usage are at odds here. In popular culture, a “theory” is understood to be a guess or speculation that may or may not be based upon evidence and analysis. In science, a theory is ‘a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, inferences, and tested hypotheses.’ (Teaching About Evolution and the Nature of Science,National Academy of Sciences, 1998: 7). A scientific theory is the larger explanation of how the well-tested ‘laws’ fit together to describe the natural world.”


    Here is another:

    “Laws are generalizations, principles or patterns in nature and theories are the explanations of those generalizations” (Rhodes & Schaible, 1989; Homer & Rubba, 1979; Campbell, 1953).

  3. “Hypothesis,” “theory,” and “law” are commonly-used terms expressing degrees of confidence and overall importance of ideas. They’re used casually and inconsistently by everyone, but they have absolutely no objective (or discoverable) meaning. Arguing about whether evolution, gravity, or anything else is a “theory” a “law,” or something else is just plain silly.

    I’m sure we all get the humor of describing evolution as “only a gravity.” (It’s an obvious play on creationists’ attempts to diminish evolution by labeling it “only a theory.”)

    Scientists don’t argue about whether something’s a “theory” or a “law.” It’s not a scientific question. It’s not even a meaningful question. These are archaic terms inherited from the early days of science, and most particularly, philosophers of science. They roll easily off the tongue, but they do as much harm as good and I think we’d be far better off without them!

    As for evolution by natural selection…. A century-and-a-half ago (when Darwin first proposed it) one could reasonably have classified the idea as hypothesis. Soon it was so well supported that (by any measure!) it graduated to something “better.”

    So what is it now? Anyone who knows any biology or paleontology realizes that evolution by natural selection is as firmly established as the Earth’s roundness. More to the point, unless you suppose that: 1) there’s no variation within a population; or 2) all variants are equally likely to leave descendants; or 3) there’s no such thing as inheritance…. Unless you can assert at least one of these, evolution is nothing less than alogical imperative!

    Whether you call it theory, law, or something else…. It’s reality.

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