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.