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In science we trust

By Bob Grant In science we trust Camp Questers demonstrate how the different colors of baby chicks help them blend in more or less with their environment. Photo By Brian Underwood / courtesy of Camp Quest Winter is the time that many parents begin pondering whether to send their children to summer camp. In sorting through their options, they’ll see that one camp’s materials contain no descriptions of oaths, no church servic

By | December 1, 2009

In science we trust

Camp Questers demonstrate how the different colors of baby chicks help them blend in more or less with their environment.
Photo By Brian Underwood / courtesy of Camp Quest

Winter is the time that many parents begin pondering whether to send their children to summer camp. In sorting through their options, they’ll see that one camp’s materials contain no descriptions of oaths, no church services, no sermons on Sunday mornings. Indeed, at this camp, kids are more likely to spend Sunday mornings identifying insects or testing hypotheses.

Camp Quest (which stands for Question, Understand, Explore, Search, and Test), an operation that holds summer camps in six states in the United States, one in Ontario, and, for the first time last summer, in the United Kingdom, swaps out a religious perspective for a scientific one, and has campers ponder their places in the universe using logic. “The whole thing is to show the virtues of evidence and inquiry and reason over visions and faith,” says Edwin Kagin, the Kentucky lawyer who started Camp Quest in 1996. Kagin, who is an Eagle Scout, says that he launched Camp Quest after learning that the Boy Scouts of America were excluding the children of atheists from attending their summer camps, which also require that troops recite an oath promising to “…do my duty to God…,” among other pledges. “In consequence, I thought there ought to be something for the children of nonbelievers,” Kagin says. And now those children don’t even have to wait until summer: Camp Quest Florida is holding its first winter camp from December 25 through the New Year at a state park near Ft. Lauderdale.

Amanda Metskas, executive director of Camp Quest, says that science plays a big role in the activities that campers busy themselves with. Mingled with the typical summer camp fare—campfires, canoeing, etc.—Camp Questers take about 1 hour out of every day to engage in educational activities. In the past, they have collected and identified insects from ponds, categorizing them by their sensitivity to pollutants with the help of scientists. Then campers would form a hypothesis about the health of the pond ecosystem based on their observations. They have also constructed a 5-meter-long timeline of evolutionary history and “ancient creature cards,” Metskas says.

“It’s about helping kids to learn to use the scientific method and how to think critically about the world,” Metskas says of these scientific pursuits. “[Camp Quest] helps kids learn about questioning things and also gives them the freedom to change their minds.”

A group of summer camps has kids pondering their places in the universe using logic, not faith.

Camp Quest was even tacitly endorsed by renowned British evolutionist Richard Dawkins. His charitable organization, the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, donated £500 to fund a “philosophy for children” counselor at the camp’s inaugural UK session near Somerset in July. “From all I hear, Camp Quest is wholly admirable, teaching children how to think, not what to think,” Dawkins wrote in a letter to UK newspaper The Independent at the end of July.

Samantha Stein, who organized the first UK session of Camp Quest, says that an especially stellar group of children from ages 7 to 17 attended the week-long session, which was evolution-themed to coincide with the 150th anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. Campers watched presentations on astronomy, paleontology, and evolution, and discussed the application of the scientific method. “The older [kids] really got into it,” Stein says.

Though Camp Quest kids participate in many different science-related activities as they enjoy a week in nature, a staple of every session is a round of the “Invisible Unicorns Challenge.” Campers are introduced to two invisible unicorns that roam the camp and encouraged to develop rational arguments that prove to camp counselors that the unicorns don’t exist. At Camp Quest UK this summer, Stein says that campers turned in some impressive efforts at disproving the unicorns’ existence, but as in every previous iteration of the game, no one succeeded. (The winning prize at Camp Quest UK was a £10 note signed by Richard Dawkins.) “Maybe next year,” says Stein.

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Comments

Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 6

December 1, 2009

This initiative is interesting on its own right. No need to confront it with religious activities.
Avatar of: Fred Giovan

Fred Giovan

Posts: 2

December 1, 2009

I struggled with the oath in Boy Scouts as a young atheist (felt "dirty" lying about my lack of faith) but enjoyed Scouting so much I found it worth the price of admission. This article couldn't have come at a better time for me, as I have both a niece and nephew rapidly approaching camping age and Uncle Fred may just buy them each a week at Camp Quest.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 1

December 1, 2009

Attempting to prove that two invisible unicorns don't exist isn't exactly an exercise in the scientific method nor in "rationality" per se, now is it? This camp appears to be the anti-kin of the Discovery Center.
Avatar of: Bill Tankersley

Bill Tankersley

Posts: 4

December 2, 2009

How sad. Hiding behind a facade of Dawkins' "teaching children how to think, not what to think,?, the Quest camp is obviously another attempt to indoctrinate (brain wash) our children into the "believe anything we say because we are scientists, but definitely there can not be a God" doctrine. A more legitimate forum would at least allow the children to worship or pray on Sunday if they so chose. Surely, these narrow-minded, would-be scientists who won't simply let the data do the talking could come up with a better idea.
Avatar of: Gary Huber

Gary Huber

Posts: 23

December 11, 2009

It just goes to show that the philosophical materialists have their own religion that they feel they must propagate, just like we Christians. It's actually quite humorous. When I went through my atheist phase years ago, I never felt any need to convince anybody else, much less a bunch of kids, to adopt my views.
Avatar of: daniel miller

daniel miller

Posts: 40

December 11, 2009

I got a kick out of how some of the people posting focussed only on the religious aspects of the camp (or lack thereof) and totally neglected the parts where it talked about doing actual scientific studies to determine, among other things, how to measure pollution and observing camouflage in action. It shows that the religious right is so intent on its main theme that it can't see that science (reality) really doesn't care about or need their preoccupations. Reality goes along quite happily without their fixations.
Avatar of: MARK WEBER

MARK WEBER

Posts: 19

December 11, 2009

As the culture wars invade every aspect of daily life, this is a story that deserves to be posted here. And Dr. Dawkins should be commended for his efforts to put a finger in the dike. Any scientist that thinks that the future of their occupation is not at stake in this "debate" might as well join the the global warming deniers while they are at it.
Avatar of: Michael Holloway

Michael Holloway

Posts: 55

December 11, 2009

"This initiative is interesting on its own right. No need to confront it with religious activities." \n\nThis is a very crucial point and needs to be expanded on, especially since the other comments below seem to have missed it. Its disappointing that "The Scientist" has chosen to equate atheism with science in the way this camp is described. \n\n?The whole thing is to show the virtues of evidence and inquiry and reason over visions and faith,? \n\nWhat's being described isn't a secular science camp, it's a Dawkins style anti-religion crusade camp. My complaint is not that these things exist, these folks have a right to bring their kids up as they see fit, it's that "The Scientist", a publication that I thought cares about science education, is publicizing it in this way. If one had the goal of undermining science education in the eyes of the general public you could not come up with a better way of doing it than to insist that science teachs atheism. Its just as much a lie as anything produced by the Discovery Institute, and has the same effect of using science education as a throw away tool in an ideological crusade. I have heard militant atheists (by which I mean atheists less interested in tolerance than they are with proselytizing against religion) state that they don't care if there's a backlash against science education so long as they can bring about some kind of second enlightenment. They're just as ideologically bent as any fundamentalist.\n\nThe two extremes of the atheism vs religion conflict have their own means of propagandizing and confusing the public about philosphical and theological consequences of science. I thought "The Scientist" knew better.\n\n
Avatar of: Hans Bakker

Hans Bakker

Posts: 3

December 11, 2009

The camp seems to be well intentioned. It might be useful for kids to learn about camouflage and pollution. But the idea that there is one and only one scientific method is not necessarily a good way to educate children about science. The philosophy of science is not some kind of unified belief system that can be taught to children as a factual, empirical "thing". How would the camp introduce the philosophical aspects of 15-dimensional space or the idea that 85% of the Universe is "empty" altogether of any elements? Too bad that Dawkins has still not educated himself about the scientific (wissenschaftlich) aspects of comparative religious studies, sociology and anthropology. The "Dawkins Delusion" seems to be mainly the delusion that Dawkins is the only person on the planet who understands the fine tuning of the Universe well enough to know that there is absolutely no room for any kind of science other than Positivism (or, Logical Positivism). Perhaps Dawkins should read The Metaphysical Notebooks by Darwin a bit more carefully.
Avatar of: andrew evans

andrew evans

Posts: 2

December 11, 2009

The none so subtle message of the article and the camp is that faith has no place in real science. There is however no element of science that cannot be done equally as well by a person of faith as by an atheist. It seems the only controversy is the conclusions drawn from the data regarding evolution which of course is of no use to any field of science except evolutionary biology. The notion that you need to be an Atheist who believes in evolution to do practical science is wrong to the point of deception. Science being about experiments and results should be able to be done by people of any religion including secular humanists equally as well. As long as the data is not open to interpretation the conclusions will be the same regardless of their faith.\nA donation from the Richard Dawkins Foundation for reason & science is really akin to a donation from the Atheistic Society. Science has no proof that God doesn?t exist as the unicorns example demonstrated so perhaps science should stick to the facts and not ideological agendas.\nCongratulations to the other posters who can see the obvious ploy of the camp.\n
Avatar of: Irek Otulski

Irek Otulski

Posts: 1

December 11, 2009

this is in fact confronting two different systems: christianity and atheism, while the latter pretends to be more "scientific", but nobody can actually prove it
Avatar of: Michael Holloway

Michael Holloway

Posts: 55

December 12, 2009

"... evolution which of course is of no use to any field of science except evolutionary biology. The notion that you need to be an Atheist who believes in evolution to do practical science is wrong to the point of deception." \n\nIgnorant drivel of course, but falsely portraying science and the scientific community as promoting atheism simply invites sympathy for this kind of anti-science propaganda among the general public. What's the average person to conclude when anti-science fundamentalists and atheists portraying themselves as spokespersons for the scientific community are basically saying the same things? What's needed from organizations and pubications dedicated to science education is promotion of science for the sake of science, and not for the sake of some ideological cause. Its absurd for anyone to be insisting that science has anything definitive to say about the supernatural.\n
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 77

December 13, 2009

Argument and persuasion are the tools of religion, law and politics - not science per se (scientific societies, maybe, but not science itself). The method of this camp seems to be one more of "science as faith or belief" or, as another mentioned, "the philosophy of science" rather than science as science. \n\nA "real" science camp would advance early education in mathematics and statistics (the language of science) 1) with illustrations of the many aspects of nature that can be described in mathematics, 2) how statistics help us understand variability, probability and how the complicated aspects of nature (i.e., those of multi-variate determination) really work, 3) how models of nature are incomplete abstractions that can be systematically elaborated toward more completeness, and 4) with comparisons to less enlightening and less useful ways of understanding. etc. etc. If one threw in "comparative" religious explanations for origins, existence, and natural processes, it could not help but properly contrast science's approach and efficacy with the various alternative explanations. \n\nLet those who would teach religious explanations of nature do their thing and let those who would teach scientific explanations do theirs - and let each flourish on their merits. Most kids are intuitively astute enough to see and seize on what works and what doesn't on this matter or that. Further, since individual learning can only occur with individual motivation and grasp of facts and concepts and "teaching" can only set the stage for such learning, it would be far more productive if future generations were taught how to learn - i. e., learning to learn - with regard not only to which theory or law to believe, but by what criteria we determine their merit.
Avatar of: daniel miller

daniel miller

Posts: 40

December 14, 2009

I repeat what I said before. It is interesting on how people fixate on the idea that religion is not involved, and totally miss the point that the camp is to teach the kids about the world around them and how it works. Did anyone see the part about how most of the camp time is doing the usual camp stuff like canoeing? No, they didn't. They were too busy huffing about atheism and religion.\n\nAnd why on earth someone would expect a nature camp to go into mathematics is beyond me.

December 15, 2009

\n\nThere is an interesting movie : **The hedgehog** based on **The elegance of the hedgehog** by French novelist Muriel Barbery. An interesting link to environmental effects on children?s rational and emotional upbringing. An anthem to adults observing and feeling engaged in unique (though unconventional) children?s behaviors. In doing so, they appear to shorten distances among generations, social classes and philosophical beliefs. Maybe that?s the science of life, transcending any and all religions, with better chances for a more harmonic society where reality and utopia don?t fight but walk together hand by hand.
Avatar of: Michael Holloway

Michael Holloway

Posts: 55

December 15, 2009

It's right there in the article Dan, so I'll repeat myself.\n\n"The whole thing is to show the virtues of evidence and inquiry and reason over visions and faith,..."\n\nThe rest of the article makes clear that this is a camp promoting atheism. You seem to be suggesting that it's just a secular science camp, but that's not the way it's being described. I have nothing against atheists having their own summer camp, just remember the mosquito repellent, but "The Scientist" shouldn't be linking science education and militant atheism. \n\nNow, both extreme religious fundamentalists and extreme atheists insist that there is no difference between science education and promoting atheism, and this is seriously undermining attempts to promote science education. We have a huge problem with science education in the US that doesn't receive the attention it deserves. We can't afford to let these two factions make the situation worse than it already is.
Avatar of: Joan Rossetto

Joan Rossetto

Posts: 4

December 15, 2009

poor kids, they're going to be brainwashed into 'science fantasy'and unproven theories just because their parents have a problem with God
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 20

December 15, 2009

The whole point of the invisible unicorn game is that there are no rational arguments that can absolutely prove that the unicorns don't exist. I find it quite sad that those railing against this camp as a promotion of atheism cannot see that an apparently yearly exercise shows that science cannot absolutely rule out the existence of a deity or deities. This is rather obvious and clearly acknowledged by both the camps directors and Dr. Dawkins.
Avatar of: Rob Henry

Rob Henry

Posts: 1

December 17, 2009

The field of science seems to have impinged on religious territory from its beginning c400 years ago. This article states that Camp Quest aims to swap scientific values for religious ones when clearly such action is very difficult. Science is about creating ever better models that are ever better predictors. Believing that these models reflect the underlying real world is a religious view that can only slow the progress of science - yet, incredibly, many in the world of science seem to hold such views. Hopefully Camp Quest is about teaching that today's science texts are just articles of faith, bound to be overturned by later work. Science texts are just works made so that kids and students do not have to review every relevant scientific paper of interest before they make a science based prediction of their own. Perhaps it is just the cynic in me that supposes that this camp is really about indoctrinating kids into believing their faith-based councillors view that there is no God.\n

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