Science Fiction, the BC Apple User Group, and 'Biblically Correct' Museum Tours

Did a cou­ple of inter­est­ing things yes­ter­day. Around noon I went down to the Granville Island The­atre, which was host­ing the 18th Annu­al Van­cou­ver Inter­na­tion­al Writer’s Fes­ti­val. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the fes­ti­val, which was pri­mar­i­ly geared toward school­child­ren, hap­pened to coin­cide with a Teacher’s Strike, which is hope­ful­ly in its last day or two. There have been some bit­ter bat­tles with the Provin­cial Gov­ern­ment over the strike, which retroac­tive­ly deter­mined that it was ‘ille­gal’ (Far be it from me to take sides on some­thing I know so lit­tle about). The result was spot­ty atten­dance of events, which is a shame.

Nev­er­the­less, I got to hear read­ings of excerpts of works in progress by world famous sci­ence fic­tion writ­ers William Gib­son (of Neu­ro­mancer, Burn­ing Chrome, Mona Lisa Over­drive, etc.) and Spi­der Robin­son (Telem­path, Mind­killer, Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon), as well as get an auto­graph from Gib­son on a copy of his lat­est book, Pat­tern Recog­ni­tion).

It was a laid-back sort of pre­sen­ta­tion, with both authors reclin­ing in their chairs and rem­i­nisc­ing about their youth. Robin­son cit­ed Hein­lein as his biggest inspi­ra­tion and influ­ence. Heinlein’s future his­to­ry (which the grand mas­ter of sci­ence fic­tion chart­ed out ear­ly in his career and then pro­ceed­ed to write sto­ries set at dif­fer­ent times in that future), includ­ed a peri­od that cor­re­sponds rough­ly to the present day, which he called the Interregnum,“in which a back­woods revival­ist becomes dic­ta­tor of the Unit­ed States.” (from the Wikipedia). These were to be a new dark ages, dom­i­nat­ed by reli­gious fun­da­men­tal­ism. Both authors com­ment­ed on how pre­scient Hein­lein had been in this regard, and Gib­son hoped that we were at a point where it was almost over. Gib­son had moved to Cana­da dur­ing the Viet­nam war, so when we chat­ted after­ward, we talked a lit­tle about what it was like to be an Amer­i­can expat in Van­cou­ver, cur­rent events in the US, and the fact that despite what Neu­ro­mancer had pre­dict­ed, the Japan­ese didn’t end up run­ning every­thing. “But that makes it fun because it’s inter­est­ing how they f—ed it all up”, he grinned. He rec­om­mend­ed I check out the blog Poor Man’s Insti­tute, which he deemed “hys­ter­i­cal satire”. Most inter­est­ing answer to an audi­ence ques­tion? When one kid asked them “Which Super­hero is bet­ter, Spi­der­man or Bat­man?” Robin­son cit­ed Spi­der­man (“for obvi­ous rea­sons”). Gib­son came back with a more inter­est­ing answer: “Some­one once said that Batman’s super pow­er is mon­ey.”

Lat­er in the day, I went to a meet­ing of the BC Apple User Group . It was at the Scot­tish Cul­tur­al Cen­tre, about 15 min­utes south of our house, just off of Granville Street. The pre­sen­ter was Stu­art DeSpain, project man­ag­er for Excel at Microsoft. He did a fine job of answer­ing a lot of ques­tions — some rank begin­ner queries, and a few more advanced ones. I went out for a cou­ple of beers with one of the group mem­bers, his pals, and the pre­sen­ter.
Today, I got a very inter­est­ing news clip­ping from Mak­taaq:

Muse­um tours spark con­tro­ver­sy
Writ­ten by Devon Bar­clay
Tues­day, 18 Octo­ber 2005
While the courts debate the con­sti­tu­tion­al­i­ty of teach­ing intel­li­gent design and cre­ation­ism in pub­lic schools, some pri­vate schools are tak­ing anoth­er tack. Through guid­ed field trips to venues like the Den­ver Muse­um of Nature and Sci­ence and the Den­ver Zoo, tour guides hired by church­es, pri­vate schools, and reli­gious orga­ni­za­tions are tak­ing stu­dents on a hands-on “debunk­ing” of evo­lu­tion­ary sci­ence- counter to the mes­sage those same exhibits car­ry. And while using pub­lic resources to teach cre­ation­ism has been ruled uncon­sti­tu­tion­al, these tours oper­ate with­out muse­um sanc­tion or resources, and tour the exhibits as any oth­er guest might.

The tours are led by com­pa­nies like BC (Bib­li­cal­ly Cor­rect) Tours, but are noth­ing new. BC, for exam­ple, has been pro­vid­ing the tours for over 15 years, and has tak­en around 30,000 peo­ple to major his­toric sites and land­marks through­out the state. With the growth in pri­vate, reli­gious schools, how­ev­er, demand for the tours seems to be pick­ing up.

Maranatha Chris­t­ian Acad­e­my in Arva­da has used the tour­ing com­pa­ny for its own field trips. The school’s founder, Pas­tor Don Miller, “evolved into a cre­ation­ist” from an upbring­ing as an athe­ist and after a career in phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal sci­ence. He start­ed the school as part of his min­istry. “I became a believ­er through the the­o­ry of intel­li­gent design,” says Miller. “The sci­en­tif­ic facts just didn’t sup­port evo­lu­tion. I saw the lies of evo­lu­tion in the pub­lic schools, and as a sci­en­tist real­ized that it didn’t qual­i­fy as a the­o­ry.”
Now, says Miller, “we have sci­en­tists that teach cre­ation­ism in our high school. We look at evo­lu­tion, and we blow it away.” As for the tour­ing com­pa­nies, Miller says, “they’re doing it based on look­ing at the fos­sil record, and it’s the right per­spec­tive.”

Oth­ers in the con­ser­v­a­tive reli­gious com­mu­ni­ty also speak high­ly of the tours, espe­cial­ly as a stim­u­lus for debate on the evo­lu­tion issue. Often lost in the intel­li­gent design debate are the sheer num­ber of vari­a­tions of the idea with­in the intel­li­gent design com­mu­ni­ty. “I’ve been a ‘day-age’ cre­ation­ist,” says Pas­tor Roger Funk of Faith Bible Chapel in Arva­da, describ­ing the view that the days described in Gen­e­sis could have been spaced over mil­len­nia. “But over the years, I’ve become more of a twen­ty-four hour day cre­ation­ist. With­in the Chris­t­ian com­mu­ni­ty, there’s diver­gent views. Obvi­ous­ly we all believe God played a role in what­ev­er begin­nings of life took place, because that’s being a Chris­t­ian as we under­stand it.” But between evo­lu­tion, intel­li­gent design, and strict cre­ation­ism, Funk says, “chil­dren need to know all three. For maybe 40% of Amer­i­cans, evolution’s a strong belief. Chil­dren need to under­stand the the­o­ry, and that there are giant holes.”

Richard Stucky was raised as a cre­ation­ist, but says, “my par­ents gave me Nation­al Geo­graph­ic as a child because they want­ed me to be a free thinker.” He’s now the Den­ver Muse­um of Nature and Science’s Vice-Pres­i­dent for Research and Col­lec­tions. He believes that “it is anybody’s right to pro­vide their own inter­pre­ta­tion of the mate­r­i­al in the muse­um, but the tours pro­vide a great deal of false infor­ma­tion, more or less attack straw men, and don’t use a sci­en­tif­ic method for under­stand­ing the ori­gins of life.” Still, he says, “the expo­sure of real sci­en­tif­ic infor­ma­tion to all peo­ple is a very pos­i­tive thing.” “In sci­ence,” he says, “you use many of the same stan­dards as you would in a court­room. “You can’t just use tes­ti­mo­ny from a sin­gle source to draw con­clu­sions.”

With or with­out real holes in the the­o­ry of evo­lu­tion, it seems pret­ty clear that the tours “debunk­ing” the the­o­ry will con­tin­ue. “The tours are tak­ing place but they’re not spon­sored by the muse­um — we want to be very clear about that,” says Julia Tay­lor, a muse­um spokesper­son. “There are some free speech issues involved.”

Amer­i­cans Unit­ed for Sep­a­ra­tion of Church and State con­firms that. Says Jere­my Leam­ing, a spokesper­son for the organization’s D.C. office, “as a pri­vate group they have a free speech right to do this, as long as they’re not tak­ing pub­lic school kids or receiv­ing state sup­port. I don’t see a first amend­ment (church-state sep­a­ra­tion) issue.”

What can I say? More proof of the US’s slide into Heinlein’s Theo­crat­ic Inter­reg­num. Truth is stranger than Sci­ence Fic­tion.