Saturday, May 07, 2005

Home Science Tools: Not!

When are home science educational materials not science educational materials? When they're marketed by a bunch of religious crazies, masquerading as science education. Let me explain. In my family, we try to supplement our children's education at home. One of the things we want to do is to give them an appreciation of science as fun, and this is pretty easy, since we're all born scientists: we have lots of questions and we enjoy performing experiments (such as, "How many times must I drop this food on the floor before one of my parents explodes?"). Some of us are fortunate enough to have this reinforced when we're small; others have it pounded out of them and grow to regard science with suspicion, confusion, or disdain.

So, anyway, we are always on the lookout for educational materials for our kids. We recently received a very slick looking catalog from a company called "Home Science Tools". At first glance, it looked impressive. Lots of microscopes, prepared slides, glassware, nature books, dissection kits and specimens, telescopes, rock collections, chemistry sets, you name it. Then I come to the "science" curriculum kits. The first thing that alerted my suspicious nature was that one of the curricula was named "Bob Jones". OK, that might just be a rather unfortunate fact of life -- the publisher happens to have that name. So I turn to the curriculum section of the catalog to look at the books in detail, and my fears are justified. Here are some of the titles they carry:
  • Exploring Creation with Astronomy/Botany/Zoology/General Science/Physical Science/Biology/Chemistry/Physics/Marine Biology. Except for their titles, there is nothing in the description to make one believe that these aren't legitimate books.
  • A curriculum from Bob Jones "University" Press, which "...provides and excellent science curriculum that is very thorough and recognizes God as the Creator of all things." I believe it also promotes regular bowel movements.
  • Advanced Physics in Creation. Apparently, there is no conflict between learning nuclear physics and disbelief of isotope dating techniques.
  • The "God's Design" curriculum, including, Our Planet Earth, which covers plate tectonics, I suppose either to say that it doesn't exist or to assert that those plates are zipping along at breakneck speeds, so as to be able to have moved an appreciable distance during the 4000 or 6000 or whatever number of thousands of years that the kooks believe is the age of the earth.
  • "Media Angels" unit studies, including Creation Anatomy, Creation Astronomy, Creation Science, and Creation Geology.
  • An entire section on "Creation Science", with books on the great ice age and flood, creation vs. evolution (let me guess: creation wins), The Grand Canyon Catastrophe DVD (that must be some awesome footage), and Refuting Evolution, by Jonathan Sarfati, Ph.D., which "...was written to expose the flaws and misinformation in Teaching About Evolution and the Nature of Science, by the National Academy of Sciences" (one supposes that Dr. Sarfati could kick most any NAS member's ass).
  • An entire "Intelligent Design" section, with all the books you've heard about lately and then some.

I could go on, as there's much more, but frankly, I'm a bit nauseated by it all. They're well on the way to completely integrating "science" and their brand of religion. The medieval church would be proud of them. They've got more pseudo-science books for home-schoolers and home education than all of the real science books written for that purpose that I've seen. And these folks aren't the only ones out there peddling this crap; they just seem to be the slickest and, what is to my mind the most troublesome, the most subtle. If I go to a web site and it says right out front that it provides supplies for Christian home-schoolers, then I know to move on. But, you really need to examine these folks' advertising carefully, reading all the way to the back of their catalog, to know the real story. So, caveat emptor. Now, I need to write them a smartass letter and ask to be removed from their mailing list.

30 comments:

  1. Many religious organizations use popular science as part of their indoctrination schemes, but if you examine it closly, it usually falls apart, as science and faith by nature is incompatible.

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  2. I'm not sure I agree with that. I would say that science and religion are mostly orthogonal to each other: they address different questions and use different methods. In the case of the folks this article is about, I'm not objecting to them using science for indoctrination (not that I would like that), but rather that they're dressing up their own fringe religious beliefs as science and then doing a fairly good job in obscuring that fact (presumably to generate business from people who are unaware that they are providing unwitting financial support to a bunch of nutcase bigots).

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  3. Creation Anatomy? I used to have a job on the switchboard of a hospital - once a year or so we'd get a call from a drunk wanting to confirm with a doctor that men have one less rib than women. You know, because God took one from Adam to create Eve.

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  4. Whatever your views on the earth's creation, I feel that God is a God of natural laws and all His actions are based on truth. Science and religion go together. I see nothing wrong with this series. I happen to think creation science is pretty interesting, but plan on teaching my kids about Darwin, etc. too. Just because you believe in creationism doesn't automatically make you a narrowminded kook. Good education should help kids reach their own solid conclusions.

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  5. The important distinction is that science does not require belief, because its veracity can be checked by reference to the natural world and in fact the natural world will work as it does regardless of anyone's views. Religion requires belief. Science and religion don't "go together"; they just talk past each other.

    Good education should help kids reach solid conclusions, yes. But regardless, if they conclude that 2 + 2 = 5, they're wrong.

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  6. As a Christian homeschooled student who has used the books from the "Exploring Creation With" series, I can tell you that not all of this material is creationist propaganda. I myself see the errors in creationist theory (while I still believe that God initiated the process of the world's beginning); however, this did not stop me from learning and understanding Biology, Chemistry, and Anatomy & Physiology far more comprehensibly than with any other text I have used. Dr. Jay Wile may naively believe that the earth is young and it is impossible for animals to evolve -- however, this does not mean all of his science is incorrect. He taught me how to convert to moles, what the acidity of human blood is, and is the reason that I understood my fetal pig dissection just twenty minutes ago.

    Don't heap all Christian science books into one group of "pseudo-science". I haven't read or used any of the other curricula, but then again neither have you -- how can you be sure that all they contain is "crap"?

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  7. It's not a matter of a mix of high and low quality science material together. These books mix science and pseudoscience together. What's more, no distinction is made between the science and the pseudoscience. Certainly, someone knowledgeable about science (i.e., a scientist) could tease out the actual science. But that's beside the point, because these are intended as textbooks to teach children who aren't experts. (How do you know that the items you mention are correct? You'd have to check them with some other source, because this textbook's authority is fundamentally questionable.)

    In other words, books like this are intended to spread disinformation, or to pollute the scientific teaching realm, and do this effectively by intermixing science and pseudoscience. In some ways, this could be considered worse than a purely religious text masquerading as science. Of course, either approach is dishonest, in the same way that a used car salesman misrepresenting a formerly totaled car as "like new" is being dishonest.

    This is my basis for the "crap" assertion. Science is science and religion is religion; there is no such thing as "Christian science". Science is universal because it seeks to understand the structure of the physical universe, which transcends human culture.

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  8. Page 2 of Apologia Educational Ministries states on page 2 that it is a Christian Curriculum. The fact that their titles start with 'Exploring Creation' is pretty clear to anyone that they don't believe in evolution so I don't think they're trying to hide anything. We all have to live in this world together & there's plenty of room for us all without having to endure the sort of comments you make in your post. Maybe you should do some more research on evolution versus creation before you make up your mind that you & only you are right.

    PS - God loves you & sent His son Jesus to die for you so that if you believe you can be with him in heaven someday - if I'm wrong about this I have nothing to lose - if I'm right then you have alot to lose. - From one of those Bible believing nutters you'd like to bash!!

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  9. anonymous wrote:

    Page 2 of Apologia Educational Ministries...

    This doesn't refute my central point, that the Home Science Tools people, not the Apologia people, were being misleading.

    We all have to live in this world together & there's plenty of room for us all without having to endure the sort of comments you make in your post.

    Then don't read them.

    Maybe you should do some more research on evolution versus creation before you make up your mind that you & only you are right.

    One cannot do science-based research on "evolution versus creation" because creation is not science. It has nothing to do with particular people being right or wrong, it has to do with explanations that are consistent with the physical world and have predictive power. It boggles my mind that someone can (apparently) use a computer and yet have no appreciation for the concept that scientific ideas have merit only to the extent that they are validated against the physical world, such as allowing us to build useful devices. Perhaps you think the computer has a little demon inside?

    God loves you & sent His son Jesus to die for you..

    He might have asked first; the prospect of 2000 years of persecution and attempted genocide on the part of his followers would have given pause. FYI, it's generally considered bad form nowadays to try to convert Jews, at least in some circles.

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  10. I am a home educator who buys some of my science material from Home Science Tools. It is not because I believe in creationism (I don't, though I consider myself Christian). They offer some quality materials at affordable prices. I even use Apologia science texts (the Exploring Creation series)because I have found them to provide a good foundation in science. When we cover an area such as evolution, I explain to my child that the author has an opinion that I may not agree with, but she can read and judge for herself. By the way, the Biology text does cover the theory of evolution, but explains the author's arguments against. I supplement the text with further reading, so my daughter can understand my belief. I believe she is intelligent and can make up her own mind. I do not consider that she is being "indoctrinated". In fact, I think it is good that she is being exposed to other beliefs so that she can better understand. It is often ignorance and lack of understanding of others that lead to problems. If you ever shop at a major bookseller or online, then you are purchasing from institutions that have books with fundamentalist Christian themes, as well as other belief systems you may not agree with. Would you stop going to bookstores? Home Science Tools has many quality products; I would not discontinue using them simply because I may not want some of the products.

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  11. I'm not saying that Home Science Tools isn't selling some objectively useful items. Actually, the fact that they mix accurately presented materials with materials that are misleadingly labeled as, for example, science, is actually worse than if they just sold pseudoscience.

    And, yes, I wouldn't shop at a physical bookstore that marketed nonsense as science. I have no problem with them selling nonsense, but it should be categorized correctly. This is merely a matter of truth in advertising.

    For those of us who want to supplement our children's education because of the inability of society to educate children well in science and mathematics, misleading marketing of educational material wastes our time and money.

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  12. I notice the date on this topic is a few years ago, but it's an interesting discussion, and I'm glad you brought it up. As a Jewish homeschooling family, finding appropriate science materials is one of the biggest headaches I have. Because the Apologia texts are experiment-laden with easy-to-access materials in the home, followed by decent explanations, we have reluctantly resorted to using them. In order to do so I've had to make use of white-out and that wonderful inkjet sticker paper, as well as plenty of supplements in the areas of the history of science, environmental issues, and evolution. Other basic information is taught well, and math skills are necessary to complete physical science and chemistry - something I've seen cut out of other science courses. So many curriculums available either require a school lab set-up, or are so dumbed-down it's frustrating.

    In any case, I've ordered from Home Science Tools, as well as from standard science supply catalogs. Slogging through pseudo-science is part of a day in the life of some of us homeschoolers, and in that realm, Home Science Tools is far from the worst offender.

    That said, I have talked to them more than once and let them know I'll up my order if they ever carry a decent "secular" science curriculum for home use. As far as I can tell, one hasn't been written yet for middle and high school levels. Secular elementary materials are much easier to come by.

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  13. Once kids get to the middle school level, it is possible to buy decent textbooks from places like AbeBooks.com and some of the independent sellers on Amazon.com. You need to search around for discussions of texts from publishers like Prentice Hall and keep an eye on the state the edition is from (avoiding states that prevent publishers from including full coverage of evolution, for example). California science textbooks seems decent.

    Lab work is harder. You might identify particular topics in the textbook and see if you can find college lab web sites that you can use as a starting point. Since we only supplement at home, that hasn't been of primary importance to us.

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  14. Hello everyone,

    Let me introduce myself first so that you have a frame of reference. I am actually an employee of the aforementioned company: Home Science Tools. I have worked here for a number of years in the service department.

    As with any company, we are always concerned with the service that we provide, so it is with this in mind, that from time to time, I perform an internet search. These searches are usually for “Home Science Tools Horrible Service” or another similar phrase. The purpose of these searches is to find where we have given bad service and to improve it. As you have probably guessed, this is how I found this post.

    I am usually interested in other people’s opinions and at least trying to see things from their perspective, even if I cannot agree with it.

    I wanted to voice an alternate perspective with regard to the company for which I work.

    “They're dressing up their own fringe religious beliefs as science and then doing a fairly good job in obscuring that fact (presumably to generate business from people who are unaware that they are providing unwitting financial support to a bunch of nutcase bigots).”

    The goal of Home Science Tools is to provide educational supplies and materials to whoever needs them for the purpose of education. Not to spread religious beliefs to everyone and eventually obtain the goal of world domination. (Despite how attractive that is.)

    We provide all kinds of quality science products including: flasks, specimens and microscopes, which have absolutely no religious content. The sole purpose of these items is to enable all educators to obtain good materials at a reasonable price. We have many schools and government agencies order from us and use these materials in classrooms around the United States, almost all of which are completely secular.

    It is also true, as you noted, that we carry a number of Science Curriculums which have a “Christian”, “creation” or “intelligent design” point of view. We do not push these curriculums or miss-lead anyone who asks us about them. We are open and completely honest about the content and try to give insight into the content by accurate product names. (I.E. “God’s Design” and etc.)

    We do not call our company “Religious Home Science Tools” because that name is both too long and inaccurate. While some of our products do have a religious slant, the vast majority are simply tools that can be purchased and used to accompany any science course, secular or otherwise.

    As for the company’s religious leanings, I would suggest that the reason for this is, as with all things, its origin. The person who started Home Science Tools happens to have a religious stance with regards to creation and science. To him they are completely compatible and necessary. And while many people, much more intelligent than I, have discussed creationism vs. evolution, that is not what this post is about. That is a separate and much larger topic.

    I am certain that if anyone of us started a science company it would reflect our own belief system. For those people who believe in Evolution, I doubt they would qualify their company by calling it “Secular Science Source”.

    “Of course, either approach is dishonest, in the same way that a used car salesman misrepresenting a formerly totaled car as "like new" is being dishonest.”

    I believe it would be a mistake to say that we are “nutcase bigots” or “dishonest science tools salesmen and women”. We are a science company who sell science materials. We do carry religious science courses, but the majority of our products have no religious content. We also carry products that have secular content, although on a smaller scale.

    I would say one further thing. Neither I, nor any other employee here, sits in our cubicle trying to think of creative ways to sneak our religious beliefs into each order we sell. Our marketing department doesn’t think of ways to mask our religious beliefs and make secular people support our bigotry. In fact, it is the opposite, we try and think of how we can help all people, whether secular or religious, performs science experiment safely and effectively at home.

    I hope this alternate view explains a little better about our company, and while I am certain that my views are biased, I believe that I see this in a relatively clear light.

    On my own time and part of Home Science Tools service. ~A representative.

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  15. I found this blog by accident, while searching for science teaching tools. Reading the comments here has been interesting, in a number of ways, but I felt compelled to respond to an earlier post that labeled the presentation of science in a religious context as "pseudoscience." This is in itself bigotry. It is true that science is based on observable principles and facts, but that does not make it inherently incompatible with religious beliefs (of whatever kind). Science can be accurately presented in a number of contexts. If one does not agree with a particular presentation, that person has the option to avoid it and choose another resource, as stated in a previous post. It is unprofessional and rude to try to discredit the veracity of something simply because you disagree with it.

    It is also true that both creation and evolution are faith-based theories: both test hypotheses and make predictions, but since facts of the earth's (or human) origin were not directly observed or recorded, neither evolution nor creation can be proved according to science. Thus, they both remain theories, accepted by individuals according to their own beiefs.

    By the way, I do have the background to evaluate these comments and such materials: I am Jewish Christian with a PhD in biomedical science, and I teach science on both the high school and college levels.

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  16. Interesting blog...I use materials from this company and have been pleased. As I explained to my son, even "science theories" change. When I was a child we were told dinosaurs were lizards, yet the scientific community today groups them more as birds. Working as clinical laboratory scientist, I can tell you this not the only example that comes to mind. It is a smug assertion to state science and evolution are concrete and not subject to human interpretation and error.

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  17. Greetings,
    As a Christian, chemist, college lab instructor, and high school science teacher, I approach Religion and Science as complementary parts of the Universe. One part, the Natural World is investigated by science. In this portion, the hypothesis and observation lead to theories, principles and laws. The other portion of the universe is the supernatural world, which is beyond our direct ability to observe. Religion has the supreme duty to convey understanding of the supernatural world but leave the natural world to science. By that same token, science has no authority nor responsibility to examine religion. Again, my view is that they are complementary studies in both areas help fulfill our human quest for all knowledge, training, and learning.
    Thank You.

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  18. I found Homesciencetools to have a lot of supplies and was interested in what they had to offer. I even signed up for their newsletter but then I found something about Creationism and was appalled: it is not a science.

    From there I search "evolution" and found three results: all which work to refute it and promote creationism. Needless to say I feel stupid that I actually ordered something from their site. I helped them before realizing their true objective.

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  19. You're being unfair to Home Science Tools. Have you seen any other homeschooling catalogs -- secular and religious? Almost every homeschooling catalog out there carries religious AND non-religious stuff. Let's say you're non-Christian and you walk into Walmart and find crosses there -- does that mean Walmart is Christian or that it's run by religious crazies? No, they're selling that stuff because there's a market for it. Just like religious homeschooling catalogs sell non-religious items... but don't you think Christians would be silly if they started calling these vendors "secular crazies"? That's because they're businesses. They sell what sells. Sometimes those items coincide with their personal beliefs, sometimes they don't.

    Just for the record, I'm Catholic and buy from HST. I *wish* they wouldn't carry Bob Jones stuff because I don't like those items, and I *wish* they carried more Catholic-friendly stuff, but I certainly wouldn't begrudge them their right to carry what they want to carry in their catalog.

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  20. So, let's get this straight. You - Michael Stiber - have neither actually ordered from this company, nor have any grounds for complaint about the manufacturing quality of items sold, price, customer service, etc, etc. You just disagree with some of the religious content of some of the books carried? It's too bad this site came up so high on google search for this particular phrase.
    Maybe you should change your first name because of it's (biblical)origin? You'd hate to inadvertently support "the religious crazies" with your very name! Ok, ok, just kidding :), I'm being a little sarcastic. To make a point. However dull a point that may be.

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  21. Seriously, I'm reminded why I shouldn't post when I'm irritated about search engine results, or other people's opinions. Sorry for being such a sarcastic smartie-pants. Would delete if I could. Trying to find some science materials to aid in educating our kids is common ground. I came back and read through more of the other comments and overall it turned out to be interesting and somewhat thought-provoking. Seeing how long ago it was first posted, you've no doubt been a little surprised at it's recent increased popularity and position on the search engine results. Such is the internet.

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  22. Michael, I liked what you said about science and religion being "orthagonal." I'm not sure I understand it, but it goes well with my beliefs...science explores "how," and religion explores "why."

    Like you, I don't like bad science; thus I have trouble with taking a few statements and theories and erecting an entire theoretical edifice on it. That's my complaint with evolution and young earth theories. Evolution has more evidence in terms of #s of fossils; it just doesn't connect the dots the way I'd like to see.

    I can understand that some may see the evidence, and think it sufficient to call evolution "case closed." But, that takes faith. If someone smarter than me studies it for years, and comes to a certain conclusion, I can (based on my faith in that person) decide to agree, or not. Taking things "on authority" is not such a bad thing. Considering your teaching background, I'd be inclined to think you'd agree. yet this is one of the most common criticisms of Christianity that I run into.

    A few other thoughts...it may be considered by some poor logicians bad form to try to convert a jew, but that's rather unfortunate. If you're a practicing Jew, then you are waiting for Messiah. If the Messiah has come, it would be bad form for me not mention it. (And, if you're not waiting for Messiah, there's not much point identifying yourself as a Jew, is there?) And 2000 years of Christians making mistakes doesn't really hold a candle to the millions of years of people making mistakes, if evolution is to be believed. So, that's a wash-out.

    For my own views on Origins, I don't care. I haven't found one case of evolution or creation theories improving my outlook on life, or how I treat my children or wife.

    But, for the most important question: Who was Jesus, then? Liar, Lunatic or Lord really are the options. I believe in a Final Judgement, and don't worry...there's nothing on the test about Origins of the Species. (Heaven, like a lot of places, is easy to get into, if you're buddies with the Boss' Son.)

    And finally, I have purchased a few items from Home Science Tools. Guess what? The light bulbs lit up. The buzzers buzzed. The wires acted like copper, but the alligator clips did not act like alligators. (They behaved more like clips.) So, as far as the company goes, they sell good merchandise. Prices really aren't too bad, either.

    Anyway, if you bother reading this far, thanks for your time. Shame your on the far side of the country, or I'd invite you to argue over a beer! (or discuss...I bet we'd agree on more than we'd disagree.)

    ~Dan from Maine

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  23. This reminds me of the documentary 'No Intelligence Allowed'. Evolution takes faith, there's much in science that takes faith......incredible that this sort of thinking continues. True scientists are open and try to curtail their bias as they explore and discover. I'm thankful that we have open minded people in both scientific and religious communities.

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  24. "The important distinction is that science does not require belief,..."

    Where did the Universe come from?

    What color where all the dinosaurs?

    Who spoke the first word?

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  25. WOW! While I can understand your opinion, I don't understand the rage. I have purchased many items from this company and have been very happy overall. They are price competitive, have reasonable quality and the supplies arrived in good time and condition. A microscope does not have an agenda. Nor does an owl pellet, a dissecting kit, etc. Don't throw the baby out with the bath water! You don't have to buy the curriculum or other things you find objectionable, but it is hard to sort through all the vendors who sell educational materials so please don't pan a good supplier because of religious beliefs - I found your title to be very misleading. PS - I am not affiliated with the company, the religious right, etc. I'm an engineer who is trying to give my kids the best education possible!

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  26. Well put anonymous engineer! I'm also an engineer and found this company and plan to use the educational tools (not the text books) to supplement my children's education. Great selection, great pricing, and great way to make science fun!

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  27. Wow. I stumbled on this post while looking for supplies for teaching Chemistry in a homeschool co-op, and I'm astounded by your shameless prejudice. Way to be a hateful hypocrite. :o)

    I mean, are simple glass and metal implements truly "corrupted" by being touched by (EEEEK!) Christians? Interesting brand of "holiness" you have going there. Not much interested in that new-fangled "tolerance" crap are you?

    Unfortunately, sacrificing tolerance to holiness and being closed-minded makes you just like Bob Jones, which you seem to dislike!

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  28. Have to agree with Pam.... you said you were supplementing your curriculum not looking for a new one. Home Science Tools carries awesome stuff and not all of it "Christian" it's just science tools, if you don't want the curriculum then don't buy it but what's that got to do with the supplies?!

    And FYI Science and Faith (The Bible) do line up .... evolution IS still a theory. So what's wrong with a company offering intelligent design or creation based curriculum? Must everyone swallow public school or evolution based curriculum?

    This is totally a biased review and not a true review of their supplies and curriculum. Methinks thou dost protest to much...

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    1. Until you have the ability to separate the definitions of scientific theory and "common parlance" theory, you shouldn't be allowed to comment on evolution. Period. Evolution is called a theory because it isn't a static platform of knowledge....its constantly changing as new experiments and observations come to light. Creationism is about as static a concept as possible. Unchanging, conveniently untestable and irrefutable....right? A scientific theory is a broad hypothesis that has been regularly and consistently supported (i.e NOT refuted) by a massive collection of experimentally derived evidence. Evolution, plate tectonics, cell theory, relativity, Big Bang....all scientific theories. You cant accept some and dismiss other simply because they don't fit into your theological box....and them replace them with some completely untestable religious ideaology and call THAT science. So before you start spouting off about what you clearly have no clue about, try reading some secular and unbiased texts regarding evolution....maybe even "OOS" by the man himself.....but please stop acting as if you have any idea what you are talking about

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  29. I must agree with the author. I, too, was drawn it by the neat catalog and the equipment. However, I grew more and more uncomfortable with every catalog when I took closer look at the book section (I wasn't really interested in their books in the first place) and the word "creation" left a sour taste in my mouth. Then I discovered warnings in some of the other book descriptions: "Contains evolutionary language" - wtf? Like "contains explicit sex and violence and drug use"?

    I'm only glad I didnt buy anything from them yet. Good material otherwise or not, I am certainly not supporting creationist nutcases who disguise their religious indoctrination under a sugarcoated "science" inventory.

    Stay away from Home Science Tools!

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