Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Botkin's "Ready for Real Life" Webinar: Part IV

Introduction: Botkins Launch Webinar on Making Kids "Ready for Real Life"
Part I: Ready for What?
Part II: Are Your Children Ready for Real Life?
Part III: Arts and Culture
Part IV: Science and Medicine 
Part V: History and Law 
Part VI: Vocations 
Part VII: Q&A Session 

In part IV of the "Ready for Real Life" webinar, the Botkin family discusses the roles that science, nature, and medicine play in Christian homeschooling. While the Botkins spoke warmly of these fields, their words betrayed a distrust of evidence and scientific communities at odds with their beliefs.

Geoffrey Botkins encouraged parents to share things that delight them about science and nature with their children, such as a close-up of an owl's eye that he saw in National Geographic. Children must not be afraid of studying science, he said, celebrating parents who encourage children to think about science.

He cited a prayer attributed David in Psalm 28:3-5, which condemns those who "have no regard for the deeds of the Lord and what his hands have done". The passage warns that God "will tear them down and never build them up again" as punishment for their "wicked" ways. Geoffrey warned that God will similarly punish those who are indifferent to creation at the 3:18 mark.
"If you've noticed people in this culture that we live in in the United States who literally have decided that they will not trouble themselves to think about the works of the Lord, including themselves, they don't want to admit that they've been created by the Creator, and so they don't want to think about the implications of the works of the Lord all around them being of the Lord, nor the deeds of his hands. And what we see here from scripture is that the intimate Lord God almighty does deal with people on a very personal basis. He will tear them down and not build them up."
As with his previous webinar, Botkin threatened impious people with divine wrath. For all his warm words about learning, his ideology is firmly rooted in fear of divine retribution. A fear-based ideology is unlikely to produce critical thinking skills or genuine wonder, which makes Botkin's words all the more ironic.

As with previous webinars, Geoffrey Botkin began the talk with a prayer. He beseeched God to help them recognize God as the creator and humans as the created, to avoid worshiping the creation over the creator, to understand the truths in creation, and to comprehend God's will so that humans can take dominion.

I paused when I heard Geoffrey pray that people avoid worshiping the creation over the creator. An inaccurate fundamentalist myth about environmentalists is that they allegedly worship Earth and neglect God. Was Geoffrey taking a veiled jab at environmentalism?

Studying the sciences gave the Botkin children mental agility and breadth, Geoffrey proudly told listeners. Study of the sciences equips children with tools for life, including honed powers of observation and mental acuity, he said.

Noah Botkin, one of Geoffrey and Victoria's sons, stressed that the sciences are a tool to aid humans in obeying God and exercising dominion. At the 8:16 mark, Noah disparaged scientists who allegedly see their craft as a means of glorifying the human mind.
"You read a lot of secular sources ... you're forced to read a lot of papers by men who aren't Christians, and a lot of these scientists believe that the study of science is simply an exercise in glorifying the human mind. The attitude of them is just, 'let us see how far we can go to exercise our own intelligence and see just how good we are.' And that's wrong. Christians need to understand science as a tool. It needs to be thought of as a tool. The purpose of science is to assist us in obeying God's commandments, and the study of science is an avenue that we can take in order to learn about the glory of God's systems, the systems that he's designed. The world is a system that he's created and designed. And so, the application of this scientific study augments our ability to obey God's commandments, to fulfill the dominion mandate and the great commission."
Geoffrey Botkin emphasized that Jesus exerts dominion over all things, so humans should learn about their creator by studying everything he has created. Parents are to remind children that they will not take dominion someday for themselves, but for Jesus, Geoffrey reminded his audience. Christians are to take dominion in Jesus' name so as "to bring order to the world the way he wants it to be ordered," he said.

Geoffrey waxed poetic about cells as miniature galaxies unto themselves, and about the movement of nutrients from the soil into plants into humans and back to the soil. The world is a harmonious global ecosystem created by God, he explained, not a hostile setting that humans must struggle against.

Doesn't he mean a harmonious global biosphere, the sum total of Earth's ecosystems? I thought. As for Earth not being hostile, a few million survivors of hurricanes, earthquakes, mudslides, floods, volcanic eruptions, epidemics, and famines would disagree!

Geoffrey's wife, Victoria Botkin, caricatured public school science classes as meaningless courses that depict the universe as random and meaningless. At the 15:57 mark, she painted an ugly picture of public school science courses.
"Those of us who went to public school often have a hard time knowing how to think about science because to us, it's a school subject, right? It's like band and gym class, science class. Well, most kids in public school hated science class, and that's because in public school, we learned that science was bunch of facts about stuff that happened at random and for no reason. And we public school kids may have not been very smart, but we were sure smart enough to realize that stuff that happened at random and for no reason was meaningless and therefore boring and a waste of our time. We could see, maybe, that there were patterns in nature that were amazing, and maybe we could see things under a microscope that were beautiful and astonishing, but if we could see this, it was really frustrating because it didn't mean anything." 
This was emphatically not my experience of sciences classes in public school. I look back on my high school chemistry and Earth sciences classes with fondness, because the teachers made science both fun and relevant. For example, my Earth science course did not present the natural world as a pandemonium of random occurrences, but an intricate web of cause, effect, and interconnection. To boot, students learned about the real-world consequences of environmental policies, fossil fuel use, overpopulation, and shrinking resources, so our class content was anything but meaningless. Victoria Botkin may have drudged through class because of a poor science teacher, an inadequate science curriculum, or her own indifference, but her experiences are not representative of all public school students!

Victoria claimed that mothers who attended public schools are often ill-equipped to teach their children science. At the 17:42 mark, she discouraged mothers from using mainstream textbooks, lest they "infect" their children with the same "faulty" thinking.
"Moms who went to public school have a hard time understanding how to teach science, and in fact, we have a hard time even understanding what science is. And so, if our state's laws say that we're supposed to do a unit of science this semester, we think, 'well, okay, now what?', and we buy a science textbook, and if we do that, we're going to infect our children with the same faulty way of thinking."
Victoria defined science at the study of the created world, how it works, and how the creatures therein interaction. Deuteronomy 6 commands parents to teach their children to love God and honor his ways, she argued, and that command should be at the core of everything homeschooling parents teach, including science.

The Bible states that teaching science can help children love God, she insisted. Victoria quoted Deuteronomy 30:19, in which heaven and earth counsel humans to honor God, as well as Psalm 19:1-6, in which the skies reveal knowledge in the form of astronomy. The fact that the books of the Bible were composed centuries before the advent of modern science, and thus do not embody scientific principles, seemed to have escaped her.

At the 21:32 mark, Victoria lambasted non-fundamentalist scientists as "enemies of God" because they are allegedly trying to disprove God's existence. She gave no examples of scientists who are allegedly trying to do so, however, condemning them en masse as warriors in the "war for men's minds and hearts".
"I guess it should come as no surprise to us -- since we know that there is a war of ideas on, a war for men's minds and hearts -- that scientists have taken that which testifies that God is, and that he is good, and they have twisted it to try to prove that there is no God, and in a way this makes sense that the enemies of God would do this because the study of God's creation, which is what science is, is one of our best tools and one of our best allies for teaching our children to love and revere God."
Geoffrey Botkin addressed a listener question about teaching science on a budget. He replied that he'd known families who realized that public school wasn't an option, and who strove to give their children a better education than what "government schools" could offer. Libraries, access to books, and talking with children about science were vital in those families, Geoffrey explained.

Isaac Botkin, one of Geoffrey and Victoria's sons, discussed Christian homeschooler's reticence around evolution, stressing the need for Christians to fight evolution through science. What fundamentalists were supposed to do if science supported evolution was not explored.

Considering that scientific evidence supports evolution, good luck with that, I thought. If fundamentalists cite the pseudoscience they've relied on so far, I'm not worried.

In true fundamentalist form, Isaac trotted out tired stereotypes about evolution, eugenics, and racism at the 28:40 mark.
"There is a lot of skepticism in the homeschoolers' approach to science in a lot of ways, and I think a lot of that is reactionism. It's fear of studying books or resources that mention evolution, and this is a really good fear to have, because the evolutionary thought, the concept of Darwinism is itself incredibly destructive, and it's something that we need to fight by studying science well. You can't fight bad ideas with no ideas. You can't fight bad information with ignorance. And it's incredibly important that children understand that they can see God's hand in God's creation by studying science, but it's also important that they understand that they need to be able to refute the enemies of Gods who will deny God's work in creation, and there's dozens of reasons for this. There are reasons in scripture that describe that, but there's also the practical reason that evolutionary thought is incredibly destructive. It's one of the many driving forces between the eugenics movement. It's something that supports racism, that supports social Darwinism, that supports socialism."
Geoffrey Botkin elaborated on his son's statement, encouraging listeners to take a "bold stand" against "false science and pseudoscience". He mocked Charles Darwin as "not a real naturalist, he was a a fantasy naturalist, really, and came up with fantasy theories for his own personal theology that was just readily received by everyone."

Elizabeth Botkin spoke at length about science education for girls, arguing that both sexes are responsible for dominion and thus require a science background. At the 31:33 mark, she claimed that girls and women can help men exercise dominion.  
"It's very easy to think that these are guy things ... and to think that our role will never require us to know any of these things. That's because often, we girls have actually assigned ourselves a role as women that's a lot smaller than the role the Bible gives us, and we think, 'Oh, well we'll never have to be involved in invention or engineering or exploration, because our job is to do the dishes and the sewing', and we let ourselves off easy. And it's because, I believe, we've forgotten the dominion mandate, which involves invention, exploration, classification, cultivation, and discovery, was assigned to the man and the woman, and the great commission of discipling all the nations was assigned to men and women, and though there are very definitely differences between the Biblical role of man and the Biblical role of women, the lines between those roles are not drawn so much by activity as they are by jurisdiction and hierarchy. And so, yes, there are certain roles and jobs that are off-limits to women, the Bible says very clearly, but when it comes to what we're allowed to help our men do, the field is really as wide as the earth itself." 
Elizabeth elaborated at the 33:57 mark, arguing that girls need science education to help men and teach children.
"If we never have to do more than wear modest clothes, cook good meals, keep the house clean and decorated, then it's true. That doesn't require a super-vigorous education. But if a girl is going to grow up to help a man make disciples of the nations and teach her children to do the same, and be a highly skilled and productive Proverbs 31 woman, she needs a very vigorous education, including in all the sciences."
I was stunned. The Christian Patriarchy Movement restricts women to confined roles, but Elizabeth accuses girls and women of assigning themselves a small role. Furthermore, as much as Elizabeth tries to obscure it, she cannot avoid the fact that her subculture denies women career opportunities in the sciences. The best a woman can hope for is being "allowed" to help her men with scientific pursuits (between cooking, cleaning, homeschooling a huge brood of children, and recuperating from repeated pregnancies, of course). That's assuming that the men in her life have any interest in science. The idea that a woman could be more than a subordinate helper to her father or husband, that a woman could be a science leader in her own right, did not occur to Elizabeth.

Elizabeth should learn more about female scientists in recent history. The world has made great strides thanks to the efforts of women like Rachel Carson, Jane Goodall, Wangari Maathai, Vandana Shiva, Grace Hopper, Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, Gertrude B. Elion, Nancy Roman, Vera Rubin, Rosalind Franklin, Christiane Nusslein-Volhard, and Elizabeth Blackburn, just for starters. These women changed the world by breaking barriers, striving for excellence, and working alongside their male colleagues as equals. Had these scientists been content to be men's subordinate helpers, the world would have never benefited from their genius.

Anna Sophia Botkin praised female scientists of the past such as Ada Lovelace (née Byron) and Marie Curie, describing how they worked alongside their fathers, husbands, and male friends. At the 35:30 mark, she wondered why more homeschooled girls don't pour themselves into science and technology.

Because your subculture grinds their self-esteem into dust? I thought.
"You've got to wonder why is it that homeschool girls today are not doing any of these things. We see a lot of girls who are pursuing small handcrafts but not these bigger, dominion-oriented things. But there's really no reason why they couldn't be using their gifts for design and fine detail processing, for example, to do web design or graphic design instead of scrapbooking and kitting. There's nothing in the Bible that says that we have to use a sewing machine and not a skill saw. There's nothing that says that you have to make hand-knitted tea cozies and not furniture or robotic arms. There's nothing that says that the woman's job is to clean the house but not to build it."
Anna Sophia's comments troubled me, and not just because of her mirthless chuckles sprinkled throughout. Anna and Elizabeth seem to believe that females in their subculture deliberately limit themselves to lesser roles, ignoring how Christian Patriarchy suppresses females through sexism. They also seem to think that girls and women have boundless time and energy for scientific pursuits, ignoring ways that endless household chores, child care, homeschooling, and health problems from repeated pregnancies can constrain girls and women in their subculture. In the Christian Patriarchy Movement, females can't win.

Geoffrey Botkin offered advice to families with sons looking into careers in medicine. (The idea that daughters might do so was not considered.) He warned that modern medicine is a broken system, having been hijacked by "special interests". For example, Sen. Ted Kennedy advocated for "nationalized medicine schemes" in the 1970s, he lamented, with Hillary Clinton and President Obama continuing those efforts in the decades after. "Doctors are now agents of the security state system," Geoffrey claimed, in keeping with his prior statements about alleged "statism". Society need doctors, but it also need to reform the medical system, and thus sons may need to work outside the system as reformers or independent professionals. Geoffrey encouraged an independent, self-policing medical system with its own private licensing, private insurance options, and private medical education.

All this struck me as problematic. Self-policing isn't a reliable way of keeping organizations accountable. To address and prevent wrongdoing, policing needs to come from without as well as within an institution. Furthermore, if Geoffrey Botkin believes that the mainstream medical establishment is corrupt, how would an alternative medical establishment avoid the alleged pitfalls of its predecessor?

The Botkins' disdain for the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare) was evident. Geoffrey took delight in new technology and its potential for helping people detach from the Obamacare system. His son Isaac blasted Obamacare as well, claiming that it would give patients fewer opportunities for care. In such a world, people need to be informed about medical care, requiring scientific knowledge.

Finally, I was confused by Geoffrey Botkin's contradictory advice on how to approach the science community. At the 1:08:47 mark, he urged listeners to "engage this century" by being leaders in science.
"We have to engage our generation. We have to engage this century. We need some students who really go far in these sciences so that they can be leaders, and they can understand the science. They don't have to be followers. They can be leaders."
On the other hand, he disparaged higher education as a "setback" for homeschooled students. At the 1:09:05 mark, he warned that college could alleged set students back, and that higher science professions could "compromise" or "enslave" them.
"You have to be so careful about throwing your children into a university environment to get certain qualifications that literally could trap them. For most people who go to university for other non-scientific, non-engineering pursuits, college is a real setback. You don't really want to be training your children or getting your children ready for that. It will truly set them back for the 21st century. But what about these more precise, heavy science obligations that we're facing? The students need to be extremely careful not to compromise themselves to be enslaved to any of these higher professions -- bioscience, in medicine, in medical research. They have to be very careful."
The contrast between the two statements baffled me. He encouraged young people to become leaders in their fields, then warned them against university educations and high-powered science professions. Did Geoffrey Botkin want young professionals to engage the world of science or not?

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Despite their ostensible respect for science, nature, and medicine, the Botkins' ideology prevents them from fully engaging with those fields. (This meme comes to mind...) Part IV of the "Ready for Real Life" webinar contained themes of poor science, sexism, and disdain for the scientific community at large.

Flawed approach to science: The Botkins assume that their inerrant interpretation of scripture is true, using science to justify those faith-based assumptions. Evidence that could undermine their beliefs is ignored or scorned. This is a mockery of legitimate science, which tests hypotheses against observed evidence, rejecting or modifying hypotheses not supported by evidence.

Science and medicine careers as male domains: In the Botkin's eyes, leadership roles in science and medicine are reserved for men. Geoffrey Botkin spoke of sons (but not daughters) seeking our medical careers. Elizabeth Botkin relegated females to subordinate roles as men's helpers. In doing so, the Botkins discouraging females from becoming leaders in science and medicine.

Distrust and disengagement from the scientific community: For all his talk of engaging the 21st century world, Geoffrey Botkins advocated for disengagement from higher learning and the science community. Geoffrey Botkin discouraged students from attending universities, calling university education a "setback". Furthermore, he encouraged Christians to work outside the mainstream medical establishment, ignoring the cutting edge research and promising careers it offers (for all its flaws). The Botkins also mocked and caricatured non-fundamentalist science professionals. For instance, Victoria Botkin derided non-fundamentalist scientists as "enemies of God" for allegedly trying to disprove God's existence. Noah Botkin also dismissed non-Christian scientists for "glorifying the human mind". Geoffrey Botkin sneered at Charles Darwin, attacking him as a "fantasy naturalist".

Stay tuned for part V of the "Ready for Real Life" webinar series!

11/6/13 EDIT -- Anna Sophia referred to the female scientist Ada Lovelace, née Byron.


  1. Wow, you amaze me doing this. I hate the anti-college stuff. I am the first to admit college isn't perfect, nor do I think people with a college degree are better or smarter. But come on, setback? For example, in the humanities the theory of literature (such as the postcolonial theorists) that one studies in say in senior literary analysis has the ability to transform our thinking and make us more compassionate. Then what about music? Is ear training and music history not valuable? I know how they would respond, but it honestly doesn't make me feel better.

    1. Lana -- The Botkins believe that the mainstream educational system is corrupt, and thus they discourage homeschooling families from exposing their children to it. This includes higher education. The problem is, to access high-level scientific training and find a place in the larger scientific community, one really does need universities! By discouraging homeschoolers from attending college, they're barring them from so many professional fields.

  2. I am impressed that you could listen to so much of this contradictory drivel. Botkins and his family sure make a lot of assumptions about what others believe and their reality is nothing like mine. Odds Botkins!

    1. Jono -- They make assumptions left and right about people outside their subculture, and they don't even realize that their stereotypes and caricatures are false. If they'd interact with people who are different from them, they would learn.

  3. I'm like you, I don't get how he expects his followers to be doctors, etc. without going to college. But I understand his fears--most universities embrace a very different philosophy than his own. Did I miss something, or did he and his family forget to rail against gay marriage? Must be off their game.

    1. Donna -- The Botkins (and their fans) need to let go of their fears and engage the larger world. Living in a homeschooled, Christian Patriarchy Movement bubble is cutting them off from so many connections and opportunities.

  4. a lot of these scientists believe that the study of science is simply an exercise in glorifying the human mind.....The purpose of science is to assist us in obeying God's commandments, and the study of science is an avenue that we can take in order to learn about the glory of God's systems, the systems that he's designed.

    Oh, for %$#@!&#..... This is the whole problem right here. These people don't have the foggiest idea what science is. It's not an exercise in "glorifying" anything or meant to assist in "obeying" anything. Science is a system of methods for discovering the truth, with an emphasis on filtering out the biases created by the pre-existing beliefs which all humans, including scientists, have. Religious nutters think science is just another belief system. They're wrong because the essence of science is not the conclusions it has come to, but rather the methods it uses to reach them.

    When they start off by saying what attitude toward the world science is supposed to reinforce, they're already cutting themselves off from real science, because that's exactly the kind of pre-existing bias that methods like double-blind experiments and peer review are supposed to filter out so it doesn't contaminate the conclusions.

    Individual scientists are sometimes guilty of this too, but they all understand in principle that when they're actually doing science, they need to follow proper procedures to make sure that the evidence can speak for itself.

    1. Infidel -- Yes. For all their talk of loving science, they don't grasp basic scientific concepts. It disturbs me that countless fundamentalist homeschoolers are looking to THESE people for guidance on science education.

  5. Did any of the Botkins actually look into the lives/works of Marie Curie and Ada Lovelace? Their descriptions of their lives along side their husbands, fathers and male friends miss the mark nearly entirely.

    1. NatureLover -- Welcome! The Botkins ignore just how groundbreaking and independent those women were.

    2. Not to mention that she calls her Ada Byron...yes, her dead and unmathematical father would have been so much help! And her mother, famous mathematician, would have been none at all.

    3. Fran -- It has since been corrected on my end.

  6. Who does Sophia mean when she refers to Ada Byron and her helpful male relatives? I can only assume it's Ada Lovelace, whose father was dead. That fascinating slip of naming, giving her he fathers title as a surname is either very ill informed or an attempt to cover over the parts of Ada Lovelace's history which do not fit her argument. For example, her mathematician mother whom I would imagine to be more help than her deceased father...

    Sigh. I have a small, nitpicking but historically correct mind!

    1. Fran -- Thanks for stopping by! Anna Sophia referred to her as Ada Lovelace, so the error was on my end. I have since corrected it.


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