June 18th, 2008


boy am I glad

I'm glad on two accounts...

1) The crazed Christian "science" teacher from just north of Columbus, John Freshwater, is being sued for promoting religion in a public school.

2) I don't have to go back and teach at the community college in town where my views are in a distinct minority for another two weeks.

Read the article carefully about what it says he did, not just keep a bible on his desk, but post 10 Commandments on the wall, question the validity of evolution (NOT in the state science curriculum! mind you), and torture his students with electrical devices that burned crosses into their arms. He has also encouraged other students to proselytize their classmates and provided them with bibles to hand out. And more! This isn't about free speech. What about respecting the views of his students? What about doing his job? Outside of school, he can do or say anything he wants, but inside the classroom, he is an instrument of the state, and if he can't draw that line for a few hours a day, he needs to find another line of work... or just go work at a private school that agrees with his messed up beliefs.

Here's some more links from the Mount Vernon News where all this is going on:

08.06.17 Lawsuit filed against school, teacher
05.05.29 Group repeats demand for answer to Bible question
08.05.28 Group stages protest outside of offices
08.05.13 Large crowd addresses MV school board
08.05.06 Parents express concern about environment at school
08.05.05 Investigation under way against Freshwater
08.04.29 Tesla coils used to show electric current
08.04.25 Experiments typical part of curriculum
08.04.24 Freshwater controversy continues
08.04.22 Teacher conduct subject of investigation
08.04.19 ACLU supports MV school board decision
08.04.19 Students rally in support of science teacher
08.04.18 Video of student rally
08.04.17 Crowd shows support for MV science teacher
08.04.16 Wednesday afternoon rally in support of teacher
06.12.16 Spreading the word about faith and football

Some of these links have video.

Update: the day after I posted this, we had more breaking news on the case.

ABC News reports Freshwater has been fired after an independent investigation. Articles are popping up all over the Net now.

50 reasons (NOT) to believe in god

#2How do you explain the paranormal, such as people witnessing positive or negative sightings, like ghosts or angels? I saw a ghost with a friend of mine--I am not a liar, an attention seeker. Neither was I overtired when this happened.

Oh, boy. Where do I even begin. Let's start by figuring out what she's talking about.

I don't do paranormal debunking on a regular basis, but on the weight of some Google searching, I'm gathering that a "positive sighting" is where you think you see something that shouldn't be there, and a "negative sighting" is where you don't see something that you should.

Let's start with the negative sightings... not seeing something you should see... oh, optical illusion? Refraction of the atmosphere? You're an idiot and are looking in the wrong place? Seriously, it depends on what's missing. Moving on.

As for positive sightings, where you are seeing something that shouldn't be there, there are a number of possibilities. One possibility is that there is actually something spooky there. However, this is certainly the least likely possibility. One can only conclude this with some really solid evidence, or because you've managed to eliminate all the more likely possibilities. I can think of at least a dozen more likely possibilities, and one of them is that your mind is playing tricks on you. Without evidence to the contrary, one can't really eliminate this (more on that later), so evidence is a necessity for demonstrating a positive paranormal sighting.

One of the most obvious possibilities is that the sighting is a hoax, but of course, this is less likely for some random occurrence than misinterpreting something genuine. However, in light of the possibility of the hoax, it doesn't need to be a hoax perpetrated by the person reporting it. So, suggesting that this woman is a liar is not necessary to conclude that it's a hoax. Nor do I have to conclude that she's an attention seeker. She could really believe she saw something weird. That doesn't mean that a paranormal explain is the best one.

Okay, let's assume it's not a hoax. What else could it be? Well, like I said before, she could be seeing things. This doesn't mean she's hallucinating necessarily. It could be that her mind is doing that it does best: matching patterns. And sometimes patterns can be found where there is nothing going on. Ever seen a boat in the clouds? Or a rabbit? Or anything else? That's what we're talking about. Taking random shapes and seeing something that isn't actually there. This phenomenon is called pareidolia. More generally, this is a type of apophenia. Our brains are configured to find patterns. Apophenia generally is our brains just working a bit overtime. We see something random and our brain is working overtime to try to make sense of it. That doesn't mean the trick of light is really a ghostly apparition. It means it's light and shadow that looks vaguely in the shape of a person... and someone else might see the same thing and see something else entirely. When we see things and recognize them for what they are: an interesting trick of our brains, it's fun and a sign of creativity (not necessarily insanity). But when we fool ourselves into thinking the patterns we see are "real", then we just look like fools. Just another instance of a theist pretending fantasy is reality.

The problem here, even more generally than everything else I've said, though, is that the existence of the paranormal (UFOs, ghosts, even ESP) does NOT prove the existence of god... certainly not an all-powerful, all-knowing, eternal god.