Sunday, 17 June 2018

"Ken Ham made me an atheist" - yet more reaons why evolution denialism erodes faith

Former young earth creationists who lose their faith after critically examining the tenets of YEC and finding them wanting are sadly numerous, with their stories depressingly alike. They were devout fundamentalist Christians whose loyalty to their community was unquestioned, whose faith began eroding when they began looking into YEC, and found that the standard fundamentalist anti-evolution arguments were unconvincing, pathetic, and intellectually dishonest. This, I have to point out, is without looking at a single mainstream scientific source attacking creationism.While there will always be people who will blindly follow the claims made by the elders in their faith tradition, what fundamentalists consistently fail to grasp is that there will always be curious, intellectually honest members who will critically examine the foundations of YEC and find them non-existent.

Thursday, 24 May 2018

No, hominin fossils are not all the same.

Given that anti-evolutionists in our community are invariably extremely poorly informed on even the basics of palaeoanthropology, I am not surprised to see sweeping statements such as "there is no evidence that Neanderthal man existed", uncritical repetition of creationist aphorisms such as "all life breeds after its own kind" or even "there are no different species of humans, only different races." Anyone who makes these assertions is positively shouting the fact that they know nothing of the subject at all. The morphological differences between humans and Neanderthals are clear and unmistakable. Furthermore, we now have the Neanderthal genome, which is clearly distinct from that of the human. Both anatomy and genetics confirm that Neanderthals existed, and were clearly different from us. In this post, I will summarise this information.

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

A million years of hominins in the Middle East

In my last post, I pointed out that as a medical professional educated in the genomics era, evolution denialism is simply not an option. The evidence against universal human descent from two people a mere six thousand years ago and for human-ape common ancestry just from human genetics is overwhelming.  This is however not something exclusively restricted to believers who are medical or life sciences professionals. Anyone who studies science at high school or takes an interest in natural history will be well aware of the evidence for human antiquity stretching back far beyond six thousand years. While a parental scrawl of "Not True!" in the "Human Evolution" section of the family copy of the Junior World Encyclopaedia may have been enough forty years ago, given the widespread availability of material on human evolution today [1-8], the fundamentalist battle to censor palaeoanthropology has been lost before it even starts.

Fundamentalists assert, based on a highly literal reading of the creation narratives, that the human race began 6000 years ago in south-west Asia. However, what the archaeological and palaeoanthropological data from this area show is that not only does evidence of human settlement in this area extend back well before 4000 BCE without any evidence of discontinuity, human fossils can be found back well over 100,000 years ago, with hominin fossils appearing in Turkey around one million years ago. It is impossible to dogmatically assert that no human was alive more than six thousand years ago, Adam was the first human being to exist or that every human who has ever lived descended exclusively from Adam. Just the fossil evidence from the near East flatly refutes these dogmatic assertions, and pretending they do not exist or threatening to excommunicate people who point out these facts will not make them go away.

Monday, 21 May 2018

Fundamentalism and faith - or why science denialism harms Christianity

The saddest thing have learned in my 33 years as a member of our community is that the greatest obstacle I have faced in following Christ has not come from the world, but from the efforts of fundamentalist extremists both to make a tendentious and highly selective reading of our community's views on Genesis normative for everyone, and to make one of the best attested scientific facts a 'doctrine to be rejected.' I've written many times on how 'nothing in medicine makes sense except in the light of evolution'. [1] This isn't hyperbole. Human anatomy, genetics, and embryology positively shout the fact of our evolutionary origin, while evolutionary biology is of increasing utility in areas such as infectious diseases, epidemiology, and cancer biology. Pretending that evolution is not a fact for me is no  more an option than pretending that the Earth is flat, or that the sun revolves around the Earth.

Monday, 30 April 2018

The stars were not literally made on the fourth day. How astronomy falsifies Biblical literalism

 God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night. They will mark events, sacred seasons, days, and years.  They will be lights in the dome of the sky to shine on the earth.” And that’s what happened.  God made the stars and two great lights: the larger light to rule over the day and the smaller light to rule over the night.  God put them in the dome of the sky to shine on the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. God saw how good it was.  There was evening and there was morning: the fourth day.  Gen 1:14-19 (Common English Bible)

I have previously noted how a literal reading of this passage cannot be sustained given that it teaches that the Earth is covered by a solid dome above which is water, and in which are embedded the sun, moon, and stars. Evidently, Genesis 1 reflects the cosmogeography of ancient Israel, and represents a concession to a pre-scientific worldview. If Biblical literalists were truly consistent in their literalism, they would insist that the Earth was flat, and covered by a solid dome separating waters above from waters below. [1]
This is however not the only reason why a literal reading of this section is untenable. The passing reference to the creation of the stars if taken literally as YECs insist means that all the stars were created at once six thousand years ago. Anyone familiar with astronomy would immediately realise that this is not an accurate description of the natural history of the universe which far from being static is very much dynamic, with stars being born and dying constantly throughout the universe.

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Blogging Graeme Finlay's "Human Evolution: Genes, Genealogies and Phylogenies" - Part 1

I've referred to Graeme Finlay's excellent book Human Evolution: Genes, Genealogies and Phylogenies in a number of previous posts. Finlay, who is a Senior Lecturer in Scientific Pathology at the Department of Molecular Medicine and Pathology, and Honorary Senior Research Fellow at the Auckland Cancer Society Research Centre, University of Auckland, New Zealand is well placed to comment on the subject, and also argues from the position of a convinced Christian. For the ant-evolutionist, dismissing him as either hostile to Christianity or uninformed is simply not an option.

Finlay argues that "from my perspective, [genetics] now constitutes the ultimate evidence for common descent and the definitive way of defining phylogenetic relationships", [1] an argument with which I am in complete agreement. Therefore, over the next few posts, I will be blogging through Finlay's book, showing in detail why molecular biology proves common descent beyond doubt.

Friday, 30 March 2018

A Summary of Critical Responses to the YEC Film "Is Genesis History?"

Unsurprisingly, the 2017 YEC film Is Genesis History? has been something of a hit in the fundamentalist Christian world, with its excellent production values and presence of YECs who possess non-diploma mill qualifications allowing fundamentalist laypeople to reassure themselves that the universe really is only 6000 years old and most of the geological features of the earth were formed rapidly by a recent global flood.

Also unsurprisingly, outside of this tightly-sealed universe, the film has met with negative reviews. Joel Duff, professor of biology at The University of Akron who is a devout Christian notes that, "[i]n summary, although the film presents...selective facts, suffers from mischaracterizations of other viewpoints, and presents a false dichotomy to its audience, the target audience is unlikely to be aware of these flaws." [1] Given this, a summary of scientifically informed refutations of the many errors in Is Genesis History from conservative Christian sources is imperative in order to help lay Christians recognise that the YEC / flood geology worldview is theologically and scientifically bogus.