Monday, 30 December 2013

When in doubt, shoot the messenger.

Special creationists are notorious for dismissing evidence that argues against their position. Some atheists it seems do the same. John Bedson has attempted a rebuttal of my previous article on the malign influence of sex in the media.
Ken has produced no evidence that "exposure to a sexualised media can influence behaviour in a way that may lead to adverse sexual health outcomes." All he's done is to quote the opinions of others. That is not "Evidence." 
Hmm. I wonder how he would respond to a YEC who argued
John has produced no evidence that "shared identical retroviral elements at identical points in human and ape genomes prove common descent" All he's done is to quote the opinions of others. That is not "Evidence." 
One cannot help but see here the frustration of the atheist when confronted with professional peer reviewed scholarly consensus against his position. He's happy when the literature supports evolution, but when it contradicts his personal opinions? Well, that's another story. 

Sunday, 29 December 2013

A hyper-sexualised media is bad news for women. (Looks like Christians were right after all)

One of the reasons identified by the Barna Group as being responsible for nearly 60% of young people aged 15 years and over leaving Christianity either permanently or for an extended period of time was their belief that the church had a simplistic and judgmental approach to sexuality:
"With unfettered access to digital pornography and immersed in a culture that values hyper-sexuality over wholeness, teen and twentysometing Christians are struggling with how to live meaningful lives in terms of sex and sexuality. One of the significant tensions for many young believers is how to live up to the church's expectations of chastity and sexual purity in this culture, especially as the age of first marriage is now commonly delayed to the late twenties. Research indicates that most young Christians are as sexually active as their non-Christian peers, even though they are more conservative in their attitudes about sexuality. One-sixth of young Christians (17%) said they “have made mistakes and feel judged in church because of them.” The issue of sexuality is particularly salient among 18- to 29-year-old Catholics, among whom two out of five (40%) said the church’s “teachings on sexuality and birth control are out of date.”[1]
There is no doubt that simply badgering young people about the evils of a hyper-sexualised media and the need to avoid premarital and extramarital sex with little more than a series of ‘thou shalt nots’ isn’t going to work. What we need to do is show them that the much-derided traditional Christian approach actually has evidence on its side.

ECACP broadens its scope

While this blog's main purpose is to show that Christadelphian theology is not affected by evolutionary biology, it has at times touched on subjects of a broader apologetic focus. What has been a one-off event will become a regular feature of the blog as it expands its focus. The blog will still however continue to look at evolution, both in criticising poor Christadelphian attacks on evolution, and in examining Christadelphian theology in the light of evolution.

Creative Commons licensing returns to ECACP

The main reason behind my change in policy on the use of original material on this website was to disabuse any Christadelphian reader of the belief that the appearance of my material elsewhere implied that I endorsed the aims of the website on which it was republished. While most people would take this as a given, in the atmosphere of hysteria that some anti-evolutionists are creating in our community, one can assume nothing.

I have noted that ex-Christadelphian John Bedson has made explicit this fact:

A Christadelphian has accused Ken Gilmore of co-operating with us.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Although we enthusiastically agree with Ken's ideas on Evolution and the age of the Earth; he most certainly DOES NOT co-operate with us.

We reproduced his articles because they were covered by an open licence that allowed anyone to take them without needing permission.
I value the free exchange of information, and having to take new material on this site off a Creative Commons Licence was personally quite difficult. Thankfully, this public declaration by John Bedson should have demonstrated to even the most extreme anti-evolutionist in our community that John Bedson's aims are fundamentally different from mine. He aims to encourage young people to leave our community, while my aim is to show that evolution  has zero impact on Christadelphian theology.

Therefore, I am able to return to my original Creative Commons licence. Once again, appearance of my material on any other site does not imply my endorsement of those aims, nor is it a marker of cooperation with anyone else.

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Change in terms of use of material on this blog

Posts up to and including December 25th 2013 were licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. From December 26th 2013, those wishing to reproduce in whole any posts will need written permission from the maintainer of this blog. I trust this change will be respected.

Friday, 20 December 2013

A critical response to Nigel Bernard's Dec 2013 response to criticism of his Nov 2013 article

Nigel Bernard, co-author of the YEC cover article in the Nov 2013 issue of The Christadelphian elected not to employ Don Pearce’s ill-fated strategy of trying to attack the science behind radiometric dating. Instead, he elected to criticise those who appealed to the early Christadelphian acceptance of an old earth for not recognising that Thomas’ view of geology differed from modern geology: 
Your correspondents invoke the views of Brother Thomas concerning the age of the earth, but Brother Thomas’s views differ markedly from traditional geology.[1] 
Bernard’s argument fails because he fails to recognise that contemporary Christadelphians raise the old earth creationist views of Thomas, Roberts, and Walker not because they represent a completely accurate account of natural history, but because they recognised that the evidence for an ancient earth, even in the 19th and early 20th centuries was overwhelming. Furthermore, they recognised that the best place to find accurate information on the natural history of Earth was from science: 

“Fragments, however, of the wreck of this pre-Adameral world have been brought to light by geological research, to the records of which we refer the reader, for a detailed account of its discoveries, with this remark, that its organic remains, coal fields, and strata, belong to the ages before the formation of man, rather than to the era of the creation, or the Noachic flood.” (Emphasis mine)[2]

Monday, 16 December 2013

"20 scientific facts seldom taught to students" critically reviewed #10 "There is no evidence for the evolution of multicellularity"

Collyer’s tenth claim was that “while single-celled creatures are numerous, there are none with two, three, four, or even twenty cells. Thus there is no evolutionary sequence from single-celled to multi-celled creatures.”

In short, we have:

  • Argument from personal incredulity
  • Ignorance of the fact thatone would not reasonably expect tiny, soft-bodied multicellular life to be found in the fossil record. (We do have some evidence however which allows us to make some inferences)
  • Failure to acknowledge that single celled animals can be induced to form multicellular forms of life in the laboratory.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

A critical response to Don Pearce's Dec 2013 response to criticism of his Nov 2013 article - 3

My second post examining Don Pearce’s response to critics of the November 2013 article in The Christadelphian which used the island of Surtsey to advance YEC views detailed the intellectual poverty of his arguments against an old Earth, and showed that like too many YECs, he is incapable of separating an ancient Earth from evolution.

Even more frustrating however than the sight of yet another scientifically uninformed Christadelphian writer trying to rebut an ancient Earth was the advancement of the view that Adam’s sin introduced physical death into the entire world. Not only is this view flatly ruled out by a fossil record of death stretching back billions of years into the past, it runs counter both to a careful analysis of the Bible, and to a strong Christadelphian exegetical tradition on this subject.

The real tragedy of Pearce’s views is that he is inadvertently sowing the seeds of unbelief by linking an orthodox Christadelphian faith with rejection of the fact of an ancient, evolving earth. Too many young people – contrary to Pearce’s allegations – lose their faith once they realise that the evidence for evolution and an old earth are beyond dispute. While I certainly do not advocate preaching evolution from the platform, any more than I would preach biochemistry, astrophysics, general relativity or any other science, actively preaching flood geology, young earth creationism and other pseudoscientific views is something I sincerely hope stops, before it does any more harm to our credibility.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

"20 scientific facts seldom taught to students" critically reviewed #9 "Sophisticated animal equipment cannot evolve"

John Collyer’s ninth point was his assertion that “Many animals possess sophisticated equipment that science has been unable to replicate: the radar system of bats, the sonar of whales and dolphins, the electro-detection system of the platypus, the aerodynamics of hummingbirds, the navigation systems of many birds, and the amazing self-repair system of most forms of life. Such sophisticated facilities required a superintelligence to install.”

Yet again, we have:
  • An argument from personal incredulity
  • God of the gaps reasoning
  • A failure to recognise that evolutionary algorithms are being used by engineers to evolve solutions to complex problems that are far more efficient than those created by humans. Random mutation and natural selection have been shown to be able to design complex structures.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

A critical response to Don Pearce's Dec 2013 response to criticism of his Nov 2013 article - 2

My first post examining Don Pearce’s response pointed out mistakes such as his conflation of evolution with an ancient Earth, his use of the argument increasingly common among YECs that viewpoints colour interpretation of evidence, his failure to justify the literal hermeneutic he used to interpret Genesis, as well as the lack of any attempt to examine the creation narratives in light of their ancient Near Eastern background. This alone is enough to undermine his credibility on this subject.

The second half of Pearce’s response included a frankly pathetic attempt to rebut the evidence for an old earth which consisted simply of long-rebutted special creationist talking points, an assertion made without any supporting evidence that the “assumptions on which long ages are built are being constantly challenged by more recent findings which throw strong doubts on their validity” and ended by making the claim common to evangelical Christians that God’s plan of redemption becomes meaningless if physical death predated Adam. Pearce’s response serves to show just how deep-rooted YEC idiocy has become in parts of our community.

Monday, 9 December 2013

A critical response to Don Pearce's Dec 2013 response to criticism of his Nov 2013 article - 1

The December 2013 edition of The Christadelphian included not only a number of letters critical of Don Pearce and Nigel Bernard’s appalling YEC article, but defences from both authors. Predictably, these responses were less than convincing, and indicated the depth of scientific illiteracy of the authors. Over the next few posts, I will show why these defences are scientifically and theologically flawed.

Don Pearce opened with a variant on the presuppositional argument that YEC groups such as AiG are increasingly using; it’s not about the evidence but how one examines the evidence:

One’s viewpoint colours one’s interpretation of the evidence presented. Obviously those who believe in evolution look for long ages, as evolution necessitates this. Those whose viewpoint is to accept the literality of the Genesis account, interpret the evidence within that framework. Both viewpoints demand faith.[1]

Pearce simply assumes without justification that the correct view is a literal view. Such a view however causes far more problems than it solves:

  • It forces Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 into conflict as the sequence of creation events differs between both
  • It forces the believer into a needless, pointless conflict with hard evidence from the physical and natural sciences
 The literal reading that Pearce advocates simply assumes that the creation narratives were intended to be read as written, but this makes the unwarranted assumption that the ancient Israelites were interested in material accounts of creation. As C.C. Walker observed:

Moses’ testimony is not so “plain” that it cannot be misinterpreted or misunderstood…Moses’ testimony was given to Israel in what might be called the infancy of the world, when men did not know the extent of the earth, let alone that of the sun, moon, and stars. And, as we believe, it was given (by God through Moses), not so much to instruct Israel in cosmogony in detail, as to impress upon them the idea that The Most High God is the Possessor of Heaven and Earth (Gen. 14:22). And this against the claims of the gods of the nations, as was abundantly proved in Israel’s history. [2]

Terms of use of material on this blog

All of my posts are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike 3.0 Unported licence, which means provided that material is attributed to Evolutionary Creationism: A Christadelphian Perspective and you don't try to make money from it, you can reproduce it without permission. However, use of my material does not mean endorsement by me of anything else on the site where my articles appear, or approval of the aims of the website on which my posts appear.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

"20 scientific facts seldom taught to students" critically reviewed #8 The evolution of the brain

Collyer’s 8th ‘fact’ is the claim that “each human brain contains about one hundred thousand billion electrical connections (more than can be found in all the world's electrical appliances), a complexity that could not possibly have been produced by chance.” Once again, his ‘fact’ is yet another reflection of his ignorance of practically every facet of the subjects on which he comments:

  • Yet again it is an argument from personal incredulity
  • It shows a considerable ignorance of neurophysiology and neuroscience as these synaptic connections are not ‘programmed’ into the genome, as there are not enough genes in the human genome to specify the formation of the brain down to the last synapse. Synapse formation in fact is being modelled in a Darwinian manner by some neuroscientists.
  • More broadly, Collyer once again forgets that scientists do not believe that complex structures evolved in one step, but did so incrementally over millions of years. Comparative neuroanatomy shows a plausible sequence of simpler brains leading up to the human brain.

Young Earth Creationism in the November 2013 edition of The Christadelphian

I’ve already commented on how The Testimony has sunk to a new low with the publication in the November 2013 edition of an anti-evolution article that employed the intellectually and morally dishonest practice of quote mining in its attacks on evolutionary biology. Unfortunately, our flagship magazine The Christadelphian has also badly tarnished its reputation with its November 2013 cover article which claimed that the rapid appearance of mature-looking geological formations on the island of Surtsey provides evidence that the Earth could be young.

While our community has always rejected evolution, it has however traditionally rejected flood geology and young earth creationism, regarding the evidence for an ancient Earth as compelling. Robert Roberts, the first editor of The Christadelphian recognised that:
It is a demonstrable fact that the earth has existed for ages. To adopt a view that appears to make it begin only 6,000 years ago would create a difficulty. There is no need for adopting such a view.[1]
while his successor C.C. Walker acknowledged that:
The conclusions of geology, and the undoubted existence of fossil remains of incalculable antiquity are quite in harmony with this view, whereas the view that the earth itself was created some 6,000 years ago is hopelessly irreconcilable with facts.[2]
Over a century has passed since then, and the evidence for an ancient Earth which was regarded as compelling then has become unassailable.[3] Just the remarkable agreement between the relative ages of geological strata and the absolute ages as given by radiometric dating alone falsifies the assertion that the Earth is young.  Given this, the decision by current editor Andrew Bramhill not only to publish an article endorsing pseudoscience, but to give it cover status is reckless at best.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

How YECs indoctrinate the young and vulnerable

While I am reluctant to link to Answers in Genesis given its advocacy of pseudoscience and flawed theology, this recent post by Ken Ham needs exposure, if only to show how their mendacity poisons the minds of the young:
Recently I spoke at Great Hills Baptist Church in Austin, Texas, where I met a remarkable young boy named Reuben. He and his father met me after my talk, and his father proudly showed me his seven-year-old son’s notes from the session. They were incredibly detailed!

I thought it would be encouraging to show you Reuben’s notes. It’s apparent that he was listening carefully to what I had to say—which is evidence that our young people are paying attention to what we teach. It’s so important that we teach apologetics and doctrine founded firmly on the Word of God.
 Here's what the young child took from Ham's presentation. It's simultaneously depressing and frightening:

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Quote mining and intellectual dishonesty in the Nov 2013 Testimony Magazine

The science section of The Testimony has long since ceased to be anything but a liability for our community, with its constant stream of poorly-researched articles. I’ve repeatedly called out the magazine on this subject; it hurts our credibility, and gives unbelievers plenty of ammunition to destroy our credibility. Unfortunately the magazine continues to publish error-riddled articles that peddle the usual long-rebutted special creationist arguments against evolution.  This month, The Testimony has published an article on evolution that resorts to the intellectually dishonest practice of quote mining.

Monday, 11 November 2013

"20 scientific facts seldom taught to students" critically reviewed #7 Part-formed eyes and evolving feathers

Collyer’s seventh claim peddles the old canard that there are no ‘half formed eyes’ and that organs appear fully formed: “All known species (several million) appear fully developed with all vital organs fully operational. There are no part-formed eyes, half-developed intestines or evolving feathers.” Once again, Collyer is completely wrong.

The natural world is replete with examples of half-formed organisms and biochemical systems. The nautilus, a relative of the octopus has a ‘half-formed eye’ to use Collyer’s phrase in that its eye is missing a lens. In fact, some species of blind moles still develop vestigial eyes that do not work. Many beetle species have fused outer wings that cover useless inner wings. Humans and apes have a broken vitamin c biosynthetic pathway that is missing an enzyme that would allow them to make their own vitamin C, like other animals do.

The fossil record shows the evolution of feathers from their origin in non-avian dinosaurs. Once again, Collyer's claims fall apart when critically examined.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

"20 scientific facts seldom taught to students" critically reviewed #6 John Collyer gets genetics wrong (again)

Collyer’s sixth claim, “[t]he variations within each species are all explicable by Mendel's laws of genetics, and variations are limited, as any breeder of plants and animals knows.” is confusingly written. Is he arguing that there is a limit to evolution which prevents speciation? If so, then he’s wrong since speciation has been observed. Furthermore, the fossil record of large-scale evolutionary change is unarguable.

Where he is wrong is in claiming that all variation within species is explained by Mendelian genetics. Non-mendelian genetics is required to explain some features such as mitochondrial inheritance, imprinting and the phenomenon where diseases such as Huntingdon's disease which are autosomal dominant become more severe with passing generations. Basic mistakes such as this once again highlight his ignorance of the subject he criticises.

New Testament references to Adam and Eve by Paul and Jesus do not disprove evolution.

One reader has contacted me, citing a list of NT quotations that refer to Genesis and quite reasonably asking me:
How, in the context of man being on earth as a result of an evolutionary process (as taught on your website) do you view these many NT quotations, made by the Son of God and his inspired apostles from the early chapters of the book of Genesis?

I will expand on this in some detail, but in short:
  • None of the quotes show that Jesus taught as essential to salvation the belief that the universe was created in six literal consecutive day
  • Most of these quotes affirm God as creator, which holds irrespective of the mechanism of creation employed
  • The references to Romans 5 and 1 Cor 15 refer to death as a punishment for sin, and not mortality. Early Christadelphian writers were quite happy to regard mortality and corruption as natural part of the created world, and saw death as the ‘second death’, the punishment for sin which lasts forever.
  • I maintain that Adam and Eve were historical, created people who were the first people with whom God entered into a covenant relationship, and who were the first to sin. Therefore, I regard Genesis 2 onwards as being historical.
  • However, as Genesis 4 implies, they were not alone. Other people outside the Garden existed. From a theological point of view, their origins are very much in the domain of ‘uncertain details’, to invoke the Robertsian phrase from his 1898 article.[1]
  • Adam’s example of disobedience has been followed by all men, and because of that, death as a punishment for sin has spread to all the human race.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

"20 scientific facts seldom taught to students" critically reviewed #5 Lamarck and the inheritance of acquired characteristics

What is Collyer's fifth 'fact seldom taught to students? "Acquired characteristics cannot be inherited. For example, a one-armed man will not have one-armed children, as Lamarck's theory falsely assumed in order to account for evolution."  Secondary students are taught this fact, as I can attest as this was discussed at length in my textbook. Modern evolutionary biology is not Lamarckian. Collyer is greatly mistaken if he believes it is.

Friday, 8 November 2013

"20 scientific facts seldom taught to students" critically reviewed #4 A Christadelphian quote mines Charles Darwin

Collyer's fourth assertion is that "[a]s Charles Darwin admitted, there is no actual evidence of any species having developed into another species." This is a notorious creationist misquotation of Darwin, who in his lifetime grew tired of having to inform people that this was a misrepresentation of his views. Darwin at one point stated:
I am actually weary of telling people that I do not pretend to adduce direct evidence of one species changing into another, but that I believe that this view in the main is correct, because so many phenomena can be thus grouped together and explained. But it is generally of no use; I cannot make persons see this. I generally throw in their teeth the universally admitted theory of the undulation of light, -- neither the undulation nor the very existence of ether being proved, yet admitted because the view explains so much.
Modern evolutionary biology has progressed over the 150 years since Darwin's book was published. We have documented many examples of speciation in the field and the laboratory. Furthermore, examination of microfossils has provided us with a brilliant fossil record of gradual change in which we can state with confidence that fossil X is the direct ancestor of fossil Y. Not only has Collyer quote mined Darwin - an intellectually dishonest act - but he has simply not bothered to keep up with the palaeontological literature. It is impossible to take seriously anyone who resorts to quote mining Darwin in a desperate attempt to bolster the pseudoscience of special creationism.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

From home-schooled young earth creationist to unbeliever. Why YEC is bad for Christianity

I am opposed to YEC for two reasons. One is that it is wrong. The other is that it is one of the best ways to create unbelievers, and as someone who cares deeply about the Christadelphian community, the presence of this infection in our body greatly concerns me, as it is one of the quickest ways to deconvert the intellectually honest members of our community.

Jeri Lofland is an atheist who in her youth was a home-schooled YEC. An enthusiastic one. Then she discovered reality. From a recent post on her blog comes yet another example of how YEC is one of the best ways to create atheism:
For years, I read Ham’s books, got his newsletter, sent him my money and my prayer requests. I was excited about the progress of the creation museum as they overcame the opposition of the community to build a temple to unchanging Truth.

Then, I had kids of my own. Before I knew it, they started to gravitate toward picture books about dinosaurs and stars at the library. My parents had always rejected books that mentioned “millions of years” or talked too much about biological “adaptations”. I didn’t want to discourage my kids with unnecessary censorship, and I didn’t want them to grow up feeling as uneasy around science as I was. So I started researching. As a homeschooling mom, it was important to me to be able to teach them accurately about dinosaurs and astronomy and geology. And as a Christian, I looked for trustworthy sources who shared my belief in the inspired truth of the Bible.

But what I learned shocked me, and sparked new questions.

"20 scientific facts seldom taught to students" critically reviewed #3 - On fruit flies and mutations

Collyer's third claim is "[m]utations, said to be the source of new genetic material, are harmful to life and often lethal. Deliberately induced mutations in over 3,000 consecutive generations of fruit flies have failed to produce a better fruit fly, or to increase its viability. Collyer's response unsurprisingly shows a considerable ignorance of evolutionary genetics and the significance of the fruit fly experiments. In short:
  • Some mutations are deleterious, some are beneficial, while most are neutral. The literature is replete with examples of beneficial mutations.
  • The fruit fly experiments were not conducted to breed a 'superfly' but were designed to expand our knowledge of genetics. Having said that, speciation of fruit flies, and beneficial changes did occur in these experiments.
  • Each human is born with between 60-100 mutations – if they were invariably deleterious, we'd pretty quickly be dead.
  • Modern evolutionary biology recognises the importance of networks of genes, in which single mutations often have a negligible effect.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

"20 scientific facts seldom taught to students" critically reviewed #2 - Natural selection and the origin of information

Collyer's second claim is that "[n]atural selection, the supposed basis of evolution, can only select from existing characteristics and does not produce new genetic material." Both statements are wrong. Natural selection is not the only mechanism of evolutionary change. Genetic drift is another mechanism of evolutionary change, and is of particular importance at the molecular level where much of the sequence difference among species is likely due to drift.

His appalling grasp of evolutionary biology is demonstrated by his claim that natural selection 'does not produce new genetic material.' Of course it doesn't! It is not the mechanism by which new genetic material appears. Point mutation, genetic duplication, chromosomal duplication, insertion of mobile genetic elements, genome duplication, lateral gene transfer and endosymbiosis are the mechanisms by which new genetic material appears in the genome. Natural selection, as the mechanism of adaptive change, then acts on these genetic changes.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Fear, Love and Control: The Fundamentalist Mind explained?

I'm indebted to Peter Enns whose recent blog post has drawn my attention to psychologist David Benner's comments on fear and love. Enns argues that:
But when conflict is sought out or even created and the divisions that follow are hailed as the will of God, the true indicator of theological purity and spiritual maturity, I continue to believe that deep fear of being theologically wrong, and thus losing control of one’s personal and group narrative, lies at the root.
In case anyone blew past that last paragraph, let me say it again: the simple presence of disagreement is not an indication of fear. Things like anger, belligerence, win-at-all-costs, and control-of-other are.
The relevance of this to our community and the response of many to evolution is obvious. If your world view is constructed on a hyper-literal reading of the creation narratives, then there is plenty in the modern world that will destroy that hyper-literal reading and strip away your control of your world view. The usual response is to try to reassert control by attacking science or demonising those who point out the problems in our special creationist reading of the natural world. That's not a viable strategy to create a growing, intellectually vibrant community.

"20 scientific facts seldom taught to students" critically reviewed #1 - Abiogenesis

Collyer claims in his first point that "[t]he origin of life is unknown to science. The Law of Biogenesis observes that life only comes from life. Louis Pasteur proved scientifically that life does not come from non-life, a fact that is the basis of the food-canning industry to this day."

His reply makes three main mistakes:
  • He conflates abiogenesis and evolution, which are two different things
  • He uses the argument from personal incredulity, a logical fallacy
  • Finally, he misunderstands the significance of Pasteur's experiment. Pasteur set out to test spontaneous generation – the belief that worms, maggots, flies and other small forms of life spontaneously appeared in rotting food. This is not the same thing as abiogenesis which is the formation of cellular forms of life from prebiotic precursors. Pasteur's experiment did not simulate the conditions of the early earth which is not surprising as Pasteur was not trying to disprove abiogenesis.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Atheist History for Young Learners - R. Joseph Hoffmann

Ever wondered what the history of the world would look like if written by an atheist fundamentalist? You know the type - the scientist who routinely steps outside his narrow area of competence and blunders uselessly through disciplines ranging from the history and philosophy of science to theology armed with nothing more than the Dunning-Kruger effect. Well, wonder no more. R. Joseph Hoffmann has blogged on what such a history would look like:
I was recently privileged to be asked by a major publishing house to review the outline for a new world history text (History of the World), written by a key new atheist writer, who also happens to be a scientist.  As we are all aware,  atheists are especially keen to guarantee that material appearing in textbooks is  accurate–especially when it involves material about science.   So I was happy to see them turning their gaze towards historical questions and developments.   I hope that, in future, our children will benefit from more history books written by men (and atheist women!, let’s not forget ) committed to an atheist worldview:

John Collyer's "20 scientific facts seldom taught to students" critically reviewed - introduction

John Collyer has written one of the worst anti-evolution books ever produced by a Christadelphian writer. Unfortunately, it is sold by both the Testimony Magazine and the Christadelphian Magazine and Publishing Association, giving its nonsensical views broad access into our community.

Perhaps the worst part of the book is its list of "20 Scientific Facts Seldom Taught to Students", which alone demonstrate that Collyer not only is grossly ignorant of evolutionary biology, a subject he deems himself qualified to criticise, but also is uncritically reliant on the usual special creationist attacks such as quote mining, argument from personal incredulity and attacking a version of evolution which bears little resemblance to what is actually taught to students in secondary and tertiary education.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

The skull from Dmanisi, Georgia does not disprove evolution

The recent Science paper announcing the discovery of a complete skull from Dmanisi, Georgia has been badly misunderstood by special creationists who, misled by popular reports that claim it 'throws the story of human evolution into disarray', think that it has disproved human evolution. It hasn't.

Living on the Edge - Book Launch

For those interested, Living On The Edge is available for pre-order now.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Why Wrested Scriptures is wrong on evolution - Part 6

One of the main problems with Ron Abel’s attack on evolution in Wrested Scriptures was his complete failure to properly define evolution, or use his terms consistently. Instead of referring to evolution as fact (common descent) and evolution as theory (modern synthetic theory) he used terms such as ‘horizontal differentiation’ and ‘vertical evolution’ which are hardly standard, and result in a conflation of common descent with the theoretical mechanism proposed to explain it.

This is seen clearly in his attack on the genetic evidence for evolution. In his first two parts (palaeontology and morphology/embryology/comparative anatomy), his arguments were loosely attacking the evidence for common descent. In his third part, he changes approach and attacks the theoretical mechanism, rather than remaining consistent and looking at evidence for common descent as provided by genetics. Although Abel wrote his book well before the genomics revolution, if he had done his research properly, not only would he have recognised the difference between common descent and the modern synthetic theory of evolution, he would have recognised that as early as 1965, biologists had considered the possibility of using amino acid sequences to demonstrate common descent:
"It will be determined to what extent the phylogenetic tree, as derived from molecular data in complete independence from the results of organismal biology, coincides with the phylogenetic tree constructed on the basis of organismal biology. If the two phylogenetic trees are mostly in agreement with respect to the topology of branching, the best available single proof of the reality of macro-evolution would be furnished. Indeed, only the theory of evolution, combined with the realization that events at any supramolecular level are consistent with molecular events, could reasonably account for such a congruence between lines of evidence obtained independently, namely amino acid sequences of homologous polypeptide chains on the one hand, and the finds of organismal taxonomy and paleontology on the other hand. Besides offering an intellectual satisfaction to some, the advertising of such evidence would of course amount to beating a dead horse. Some beating of dead horses may be ethical, when here and there they display unexpected twitches that look like life." – Zuckerkandl, E., Pauling L (1965) "Evolutionary Divergence and Convergence in Proteins." in Evolving Genes and Proteins, p. 101.

This is the genetic evidence that Abel should have referred to if he was to keep his argument consistent. As I’ve stated repeatedly, comparative genomics alone makes the case for common descent irrefutable, with the presence of shared identical genetic errors (ERVs, retrotransposons, pseudogenes) at identical places in human and ape genomes confirming human-ape common ancestry. Arguments about plant breeding and Drosophila genetics not only show that he failed to understand the point, but also failed to understand evolutionary genetics.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Why Wrested Scriptures is wrong on evolution - Part 5

Abel’s second attack on what he called ‘vertical evolution’ once again suffered from his failure to properly differentiate between common descent and the theoretical mechanism postulated to explain it. The ‘common designer’ argument fails to take into account the fact that the ‘common designer’ appears constrained to create in a nested hierarchical pattern (groups within groups) which is exactly the process one would expect to see from a process of descent with modification. The fact that the same anatomical mistakes (inverted retina, recurrent laryngeal nerve) are found in groups is consistent with evolution, but makes the common designer look like a serial bungler, repeatedly making the same mistakes in such a way as to simulate common descent. The consonance between molecular and morphological family trees is exactly what one would expect from common descent, but is inexplicable from a special creationist point of view.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Why Wrested Scriptures is wrong on evolution - Part 4

Ron Abel attempted to show that the fossil record did not support what he called ‘vertical evolution’ by claiming that it needed to show a ‘finely graded sequence’ from simple to complex over evolutionary time. He asserted that the fossil record was discontinuous, showed at best succession rather than descent and concluded by stating that fossils appeared suddenly at the Cambrian. Abel’s argument was a gross misrepresentation of the palaeontological evidence for evolution, and ignored the fact that:

  • The insistence on a ‘finely graded sequence’ is a misrepresentation of what we would expect to see in the fossil record based on known mechanisms of speciation
  • Evidence for large-scale evolutionary change abounds in the fossil record
  • The fossil record is fragmentary because (i) fossilisation occurs only under certain conditions, with some animals fossilising more readily than others (ii) many fossils are destroyed by the movement of the crust over time and (iii) the short amount of time between when fossils are accessible to palaeontologists and when natural processes destroy them
  • Fossils do not appear ‘suddenly’ at the Cambrian. Not only is there evidence of complex multicellular life prior to the Cambrian, the appearance took place over several million years. 
Its reliance on dated special creationist arguments is painfully obvious.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Jerry Coyne gets it wrong on Christianity and science

University of Chicago biologist Jerry Coyne is one of the leading figures in speciation, a formidable defender of evolutionary biology and a lover of cats. That counts for much. Alas, he has a blind spot when it comes to religion and science. Like most of the New Atheists, he comes close to endorsing the long-refuted conflict hypothesis of the relationship between science and religion. 

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Why Wrested Scriptures is wrong on evolution - Part 3

The last post looked at Ron Abel’s failure to properly define evolution by referring to terms such as ‘gradual change in the characteristics of species over time’, ‘horizontal differentiation’ and ‘vertical differentiation.’ This failure to properly differentiate between evolution as fact and evolution as theory meant that Abel’s attack on evolution was fundamentally flawed.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Why Wrested Scriptures is wrong on evolution - Part 2

In  part 2,  I examine where Ron Abel's attack on evolution immediately goes astray, and that is in failing to properly define evolution. If you fail to properly define the subject you are attacking, then everything you say loses credibility since you are attacking a parody of the subject.

Abel’s attack on evolution began with a reasonable request to insist on a correct definition of evolution. Unless evolution is properly defined, any discussion will be flawed as what will be attacked is not evolution, but a parody of it. Unfortunately, Abel did just that by failing to define evolution correctly. 

Why Wrested Scriptures is wrong on evolution - Part 1

Ron Abel’s classic book Wrested Scriptures, which looks at parts of the Bible that are often used as proof texts for mainstream theological doctrines such as the Trinity, a supernatural devil and the immortality of the soul has considerable currency in our community. In addition to providing a Christadelphian explanation of these verses, it also strays outside its theological remit and attempts a rebuttal of radiometric dating and evolution. Its attempted rebuttal of these subjects suffers from an uncritical reliance on special creationist material and a flawed understanding of the subject it attempts to criticise. Unfortunately, even though it was written over 40 years ago, and is therefore utterly dated in its attacks on evolution, these attacks still enjoy currency in our community. A detailed critique of the anti-evolutionary arguments of Wrested Scriptures is long overdue.

Over the next few posts, I will take apart the anti-evolution arguments. In so doing, I will be mirroring the section titles of the book.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Living on the Edge - Religion and Science are not at war

Excerpt from the upcoming book Living on the Edge by Jonathan Burke:

The mythical conflict of science & Scripture (1)

Although it is commonly belived that Christianity has traditionally been at war with science, the reality is very different.[1] [2] [3] [4] This view, known as the ‘Conflict Thesis’ or ‘Conflict Model’, originated in the 19th century as a result of anti-religious sentiment. 

Two 19th century works in particular were responsible for creating and popularizing this view; John William Draper’s ‘History of the Conflict between Religion and Science’ (1874), and Andrew Dickson White’s ‘History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom’ (1896).

The conflict thesis dominated historical discussion during the 19th and 20th centuries, though it was increasingly modified from 1950 onward.[5] Works by Frank Turner (1974), and James More (1979), contributed significantly to its decline in influence,[6] and the conflict thesis has been comprehensively rejected by modern historians of science.[7] [8] [9] [10] [11]

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Updates to evolution resources at this blog

The Evolution Overview page on this blog has been updated to include Dennis Venema's latest posts on assembling vertebrate body plans. In addition, the BioLogos articles on human evolution by the biological anthropologist and Evangelical Christian James Kidder have been added. Christadelphian ignorance of human evolution is phenomenal, with most still thinking that the fossil evidence consists of a few fragments of bone. This is anything but true:

Opponents of scientific biology are fond of dismissing that record as a pathetic handful of controversial fragments. If that were so, this book would be a lot shorter. An often-repeated creationist canard insists that all known human fossils would fit on a billiard table. This was probably true in the late 19th century but it has not been true for a hundred years. Known human fossils number in the thousands and represent the remains of hundreds of individuals. They are more numerous and better-studied than the fossils of any comparable vertebrate group, because the intense interest that people have in the bones of their ancestors has driven them to devote far more effort to collecting and studying fossil humans than (say) fossil horses or herring. Having seen most of the major collections of human fossils in the world’s museums, we can assure our readers that those collections can no longer be laid out on a billiard table. It would be hard to cram them all into a boxcar. - Cartmill, M, Smith, F.H.  The Human Lineage  (2011: Wiley)
If we peddle lies about evolution, then we have only ourselves to blame when we are dismissed as fools and idiots by our disillusioned young people, let alone the interested friends who point and jeer when they discover that our community is riddled with people who think that Noah brought dinosaurs on the ark. I trust that information such as this will help dispel ignorance and pseudoscience in our community.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Putting Ehrman into perspective

Textual critic Daniel Wallace's review [1] of Misquoting Jesus serves as a scholarly antidote to the hype which has built up around Ehrman's popular works. Credit where credit is due - Misquoting Jesus is a good overview of NT textual criticism. I own most of Ehrman's works and thoroughly recommend them to the discerning reader as Erhman is an excellent populariser of abstruse academic subjects.

The problem, as Wallace points out is that Ehrman still appears to think like a fundamentalist. It's a common problem with ex-Christians from a fundamentalist background. At times, their either-or mindset blinds them. Wallace refers to a pivotal moment in Ehrman's faith pathway when he studied a subject on the Gospel of Mark. Still committed to inerrancy, Erhman was trying to work around the old problem of Mark 2:26 with its reference to David entering the temple when Abiathar was high priest, which is contradicted by 1 Sam 21 which states that Ahimelech was high priest.  After Ehrman's professor made the remark that 'Maybe Mark just made a mistake', Ehrman began to question everything. All or nothing. No shades of gray. 

Early Christadelphians accepted that death was part of creation

OT scholar Peter Enns has correctly noted that the challenges evolution poses to traditional evangelical thinking on the origins of sin, death and the human race cannot be ignored or reconciled in a facile manner. A large part of the problem, as he notes is that:
"Evangelicals are sociologically a defensive lot, tending to focus on the need to be faithful to the past, to make sure that present belief matches that of previous generations. I get the point, but we must be just as burdened to be faithful to the future, to ensure that we are doing all we can to deliver a viable faith to future generations. That too is a high calling. Ignoring reality or playing theological games won’t do—no matter how unsettling, destabilizing, perhaps frightening such a calling may be." [1]
Enns' comments about the sociologically defensive nature of Evangelicals applies equally well to our community, particularly on this subject. I've previously mentioned how we've squandered the last half-century since the Lovelock affair, failing to respond to the challenged posed by the then Watford arranging brethren to honestly respond to the subject of human evolution. Instead, the attitudes espoused by the Christadelphian writer Elwyn Humphreys, who in 1969 introduced his defence of his version of traditional Christadelphian teaching on the origin of sin and death with this resolute endorsement of fideism:
In the last twenty years the pressure from the scientific view of origins has been increasingly felt among us. Attempts are made to reconcile the Bible view with that of modern science. It is the writer's opinion that in such a compromise it is possible for certain important aspects of truth to be overlooked. Particularly, it is important to remember that the origin of sin, in a universe created bya holy God, calls for explanation. The Bible provides that explanation; consequently, any attempt at reconciliation with modern science which ignores this factor, is bound to clash with Scriptural doctrines. As servants of God it is not possible for us to investigate the claims of science experimentally. What we can do, however, is to discover whether tension exists between God's Word and the theories of science. If such is discovered then the servants of God must reject immediately and without question the conclusions of men. (Emphasis mine) [2]
In other words, we are to close our eyes and ears and stop thinking the moment something threatens a preconceived viewpoint. That anyone would take this attitude seriously is deeply disturbing. Tell people that they have to choose between dogma and the real world, and eventually some will opt for intellectual honesty.

Such a mindlessly closed-minded attitude contrasts poorly with what W.D. Jardine wrote nearly a century before Humphreys advised his fellow Christadelphians to close their eyes and ears to hard scientific evidence that threatened their theological position.
"The inconsistency spoken of between nature and scripture, arises not from antagonism, but from the misinterpretations of both. It is man’s interpretation of the one set against man’s interpretations of the other. It is not nature versus scripture, but false science against true theology, or false theology against scientific fact.
"Some scientific men, we believe, view the Scriptures through the distorted medium of “confessions of faith” and doubt them, and theologians view science and call it false, because it does not take to their turn‐pike road." [3]
This is advice Humphreys should have followed. When hard data from the natural world overturns your theological conclusions, then the only honest response is to abandon those conclusions of men (which is after all what our theology is - human musings on Biblical matters, not the inspired word itself) and rethink the theology.

Humphreys' article is regrettably gaining traction in parts of Australia as a definitive 'rebuttal' to those who regard evolution as the mechanism of creation. Material such as this not only shows how far we have intellectually degenerated since the mid-20th century, but will also help create more crises of faith among Christadelphians who know that the evidence for human evolution is beyond rational dispute, and will end up leaving - or being expelled - from our community.

While evolution has never been formally endorsed in our community, the view that human and animal death was unknown prior to Adam's sin was hardly universally endorsed. In fact, such a view had wide currency among early believers. One of the reasons evolution is rejected is because it shows that death has been part of nature since the origin of life around 3800 million years ago.

John Thomas - death and decay were part of the original creation
John Thomas, the founding figure of the Christadelphian movement was somewhat inconsistent in his position on this subject, but in the article ‘The Bible Doctrine Concerning the Tempter Considered. No. II.’, he unambiguously states that both Adam and Eve would have eventually died in time:
‘Adam's nature was animal. Very good of its kind, as was the nature of all the other creatures. These did not sin, yet they returned to dust whence they came. So probably would Adam, if he had been left to the ordinary course of things as they were. But he would not have returned to dust if he had continued obedient.
He would doubtless have been “changed in the twinkling of an eye" on eating of the Tree of Life. But, being disobedient, his sin determined his fate, and that of the creatures. It doomed them all to death according to law, and "nature" unchanged was permitted to take its course.’[4]
In his article 'Our Terrestrial System Before the Fall’ Thomas, in response to a correspondent who argued that death and corruption entered the entire world after Adam's sin forcefully rebutted this argument:
‘OUR friend says, that his notion is that all creation became corrupt at the fall, even to the elements. This is the general idea. Moses tells us very plainly, that when the terrestrial system was completed on the Sixth Day, that God reviewed all that He had made, and pronounced it "very good."
'But, in what sense was it very good ? In an animal and physical sense; for it was a natural and animal system, not a spiritual one. Such a system is essentially one of waste, and reproduction; and was organized with reference to what God knew would come to pass.’ [5]
Thomas argued that seasonal variation would have provided Adam and Eve with enough evidence of natural decay and death to impress on them the reality of death as a natural part of creation:
‘This is implied in the placing of the earth in such a position with respect to the sun, moon, and stars, that there should be a diversity of seasons, &.c. Thus, fall and winter, seasons of decay and death, were institutions existing before the Fall; and presented to Adam and Eve phenomena illustrative of the existence in the physical system of a principle of corruption, the extent of which, however, they might not have been fully apprized of.’ [6]
Thomas explicitly argued that far from being elements introduced into creation as a consequence of Adam's sin, death and decay were a fundamental part of creation from the beginning. Significantly, he did not exclude Adam and Eve from this:
‘Death and corruption, then, with reproduction, the characteristic of spring and summer, is the fundamental law of the physical system of the Six Days. Adam and Eve, and all the other animals born of the earth with themselves, would have died and gone to corruption, if there had been no transgression, provided that there had been no further interference with the physical system than Moses records in his history of the Six Day.’[7]
Given this, his explanation of the Pauline statement that death entered the world through sin was a recognition that the consequence of Adam's sin was for the innate process of death and decay to be allowed to take its natural course:
‘True; the death principle was an essential property of their nature; but as they did not die till after their transgression, death did not enter in till after that event. But, the inquirer means, “If they would have died anyhow under the proviso, how can death be said to be the consequence of sin?"
Death is not the consequence of sin, sin being the original physical cause—but the physical consequence of a moral act. If thou doest thus and so, dying thou shalt die ; " but just reverse this saying, and let it read, “if thou doest thus and so, "dying thou shalt NOT die." Here are moral acts with diverse physical results.’ [8]
The genius of this explanation was in his recognition that death entered the world of Adam and Eve following their sin not by the introduction of decay and death, but by the denial of an opportunity for eternal life. Thomas again:
‘Now, if these two results are ordained upon two essentially dying creatures, because animal creatures, what is implied ? Why, that in the one case the dying process shall not be interrupted, and therefore death would follow: while in the other, the process should be interrupted, and therefore life should be established.
'In the former case, all that would be necessary would be to let things take their natural course; but in the latter, this would not do; and therefore it would be necessary to bring into play a transforming force which should change the very good animal nature into a very good spiritual , or incorruptible nature, which latter formed no part of the system of the Six Days.’ [9]
In fact, Thomas was explicit in asserting that the pre-fall nature of Adam was mortal, capable of corruption and decay:
‘It is certain, therefore, that the animal nature they possessed was essentially a mortal nature, and required to be physically operated upon by the power transmissible through contact with the tree of lives to change it into a nature constitutionally capable of enduring forever; which the animal nature is not.’ [10]
As far as Thomas was concerned the consequences of the fall were moral, rather than physical, and he expressed himself unambiguously:
‘From these premises it will be seen, that we dissent from our correspondent's “notion" that all creation became corrupt (by which we understand him to mean, constitutionally impregnated with corruptibility) at the Fall. We believe that the change consequent upon that calamity was moral, not physical. The natural system was the same the day before the Fall as the day after.” [11]
Fourteen years later, Robert Roberts, founding editor of The Christadelphian, concurred with Thomas in denying that Adam's nature was physically changed after the fall. Like Thomas before him, he wrote to correct a correspondent who argued that Adam's nature was altered as a consequence of the fall:

Roberts - Originally in agreement with Thomas that death was part of creation

In 1869, brother Roberts wrote in The Christadelphian in reply to a question from a correspondent. In his reply he denied strongly that there was any change in Adam’s nature as a result of the fall:
‘Our friend imagines there was a change in the nature of Adam when he became disobedient. There is no evidence of this whatever, and the presumption and evidence are entirely the contrary way. There was a change in Adam’s relation to his maker, but not in the nature of his organization. What are the facts? He was formed from the dust a “living soul,” or natural body. His mental constitution gave him moral relation to God.’[12]
As for the origin of sin, Roberts freely asserted that the same internal desires that if yielded to result in sin existed prior to the fall:
‘The impulses that lead to sin existed in Adam before disobedience, as much as they did afterwards; else disobedience would not have occurred. [13]
Roberts was emphatic: both mortality and an innate tendency to sin predated the fall - they were not introduced into Adam after the fall. Roberts later confirmed his position in response to another correspondent:
‘Adam, before transgression, though a living soul (or natural body—1 Cor. 15:44–5), was not necessarily destined to die, as obedience would have ended in life immortal. After transgression, his relation to destiny was changed. Death (by sentence,) was constituted the inevitable upshot of his career. He was, therefore, in a new condition as regarded the future, though not in a new condition as regarded the actual state of his nature. In actual nature, he was a corruptible groundling before sentence, and a corruptible groundling after sentence; but there was this difference: before sentence, ultimate immortality was possible; after sentence, death was a certainty. This change in the destiny lying before him, was the result of sin.’ [14]
Roberts never accepted evolution and as far as I can tell from his writing endorsed monogenism. However, his early emphatic declaration that Adam's fall did not result in any change in nature is a position which is not threatened by the evolutionary origin of the human race. The same cannot be said for the Reformed and Catholic (and later Christadelphian deviations from the original Roberts - Thomas position) which posit an inherited change in nature as a consequence of the Fall:
‘That is, his disobedience evoked from God a decree of ultimate dissolution. This was the sentence of death, which, though effecting no change as regarded his constitution at the moment it was pronounced, determined a great physical fact concerning his future experience, viz., that immortality, by change to spirit nature, was impossible, and decay and decease inevitable. The sentence of death, therefore, appertained to his physical nature, and was necessarily transmitted in his blood, to every being resulting from the propagation of his own species.’ [15]
In response to the Renunciationist controversy of the early 1870s which plagued the early Christadelphian community, Roberts unfortunately changed his mind in order to counter this view, and argued that Adam's nature had changed as a result of the Fall. Ironically, had he not changed his position, the Renunciationist position would have been more forcefully rebutted. It is interesting to read C.C. Walker, his successor, writing some years later about this theological U-turn:
‘Brother Roberts became much more conservative on this matter in after years, and so does everyone who, like him, has a great respect for the Word of God.’ [16]
No evidence of a change of nature in Eden - J.W. Thirtle on 'Dying thou shalt die'

Those who argue that Adam's nature was changed post-fall appeal to the Hebrew phrase which in the AV is translated 'dying thou shalt die.' to argue that this refers to a gradual process of decay leading to eventual death. Hebraist and one-time Christadelphian J.W. Thirtle wrote in 1880:
‘We will first consider the second clause, “dying thou shalt die.” Some consider these words to have found verification on the day Adam sinned, by his becoming a corruptible creature, and ultimately dying. This, however, is not so. We have the Hebrew word “to die” repeated in two moods: the infinitive (moth) and the indicative (tamuth); moth, to die—dying; tamuth—thou shalt die.
"As the words stand, certainty is implied, and nothing more; so the authorised version is not far wrong in rendering the words, “thou shalt surely die.” It is out of the question to suppose that a process of decay is implied in the words, for they were afterwards used to one of the descendants of Adam—Shimei (1 Kings 2:37, 42), and we have no record of Shimei having occupied a similar relation to life and death to that which Adam sustained before the fall. If it had been intended to express a continued or lasting process, the order of the Hebrew words would have been reversed.’ [17]
Of note is that Thirtle wrote this in 1880, after the Renunciationist controversy, showing that a belief that Adam's nature was changed was hardly normative in our community, even after Roberts' unfortunate theological about-face.


Opposition to evolution in our community is driven by theological presupposition which - on the subject of the origin of death at least - is not consistent with early Christadelphian views on the origin of death. Recognition of this fact is long overdue.

I am indebted to Jonathan Burke who drew my attention to the quotations from Roberts, Thomas and Thirtle. Responsibility for this article is of course mine.


1. Enns P "Evangelicalism and Evolution ARE in Conflict (and that's fine)" Respectful Conversation
2. Humphreys, E "The Problem of Sin's Origin" (1969: D Bedson, D. Manton; Coventry)
3. Jardine WD “The Bible as a Law of Life and Immortality” The Ambassador of the Coming Age (1864) 1:93-94
4. Thomas J. , ‘The Bible Doctrine Concerning the Tempter Considered. No. II.’, The Herald of the
Kingdom and Age to Come
(1852) 2:181
5. Thomas J. ‘Our Terrestrial System Before the Fall’, The Herald of the Kingdom and Age to Come (1855) 5:159
6. ibid., p. 159.
7. ibid., p. 159.
8. ibid., p. 159.
9. ibid., pp. 159-160.
10. ibid., p. 160.
11. ibid., p. 160.
12. Roberts R, ‘The Relation of Jesus to the Law of Sin and Death’, The Christadelphian (1869) 6:85
13. ibid, p 85
14. Roberts, ‘Apparent Contradictions Reconciled’, The Christadelphian (6.62.243), (1869) 6:243
15. ibid., p. 244.
16. Walker C.C., ‘Was the Nature of Adam Changed After He Sinned in Eden?’, The Christadelphian (1921) 58:258
17. Thirtle J.W. 'The Day of Adam's Transgression', The Christadelphian (1880) 17:26-27

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Living on the Edge - Atheism does not guarantee rational thinking

Latest excerpt  from the upcoming book by Jonathan Burke: "Living on the Edge"

Bill Maher proves atheism does not guarantee rational thinking

Arch-skeptic Bill Maher, famous for his anti-religious stance, has spoken out repeatedly in opposition to Western medicine, in particular against vaccination. In his show ‘Real Time With Bill Maher’ (4 March, 2005), Maher said he did not believe in vaccination, and made the false claim that Louis Pasteur had recanted the germ theory of disease.[1]

In his comments on the Larry King Live show (15 December, 2005), Maher claimed that ‘A flu shot is the worst thing you can do’, that flu vaccinations don’t prevent flu, and that repeated flu shots increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.[2]In a 2008 interview on ‘Late Night With David Letterman’, Maher opposed Western medicine and dismissed medical journals.[3]

Friday, 27 September 2013

Leave of absence

I will be away from civilisation for a few days, so any comments during this time will be caught up in the moderation queue.


Thursday, 26 September 2013

Evolution does not threaten fundamental theology

One common way employed by special creationists to evade the fact that the evidence for common descent and large-scale evolutionary change is beyond rational dispute is to play the heresy card, and assert that the fundamental principles of the Christian faith are threatened by evolution. Such an argument has marginal tactical advantages, as it immediately presses all the right emotional buttons, neatly shutting down the rational side of the brain that is needed to  critically evaluate why evolution threatens Christianity, and creating the right sort of  moral panic that allows many people to acquiesce to the usual excommunications that follow such artificial crises. Strategically, it's insane. If you explicitly link Christian orthodoxy to science denialism, you are simply ensuring that any scientifically literate, intellectually honest believer will take you at your word, and reject Christianity once they realise that evolution is a fact.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

How to detect expertise (or why cranks are not entitled to their opinions)

Discussion on evolution, creation and the ancient Near Eastern background of the creation narratives is often marked by uninformed opinion, almost always by special creationists, who invariably fail to respond substantively to the points advanced by evolutionary creationists, and offer opinions on highly technical areas in which they clearly have no professional expertise.

Earlier this year. philosophy lecturer Patrick Stokes remarked on one of the points he makes to his students:
I say something like this: “I’m sure you’ve heard the expression ‘everyone is entitled to their opinion.’ Perhaps you’ve even said it yourself, maybe to head off an argument or bring one to a close. Well, as soon as you walk into this room, it’s no longer true. You are not entitled to your opinion. You are only entitled to what you can argue for.” 
A bit harsh? Perhaps, but philosophy teachers owe it to our students to teach them how to construct and defend an argument – and to recognize when a belief has become indefensible.
The problem with “I’m entitled to my opinion” is that, all too often, it’s used to shelter beliefs that should have been abandoned. It becomes shorthand for “I can say or think whatever I like” – and by extension, continuing to argue is somehow disrespectful. And this attitude feeds, I suggest, into the false equivalence between experts and non-experts that is an increasingly pernicious feature of our public discourse.

Christadelphians and Human Evolution - Fifty wasted years (Part 2)

Geologist and evangelical Christian Davis Young has expressed his frustration with the refusal of his faith community to even acknowledge the evidence for human evolution, let alone engage with it in any meaningful way:
“The modern evangelical church is extremely sensitive about open discussion of scientific issues that bear on Genesis 1-11. Enough Christians are so afraid of what might turn up in such discussions that anyone who does try to explore the issues is in ecclesiastical jeopardy. The prevailing atmosphere of fear tends to squelch attempts to deal with these issues. The issue of the origin of humankind is especially sensitive. It seems that the church is afraid to look into paleoanthropology. Where is the curiosity about the physical history of human beings? Among the multitude of evangelical commentaries on Genesis, hardly any of them addresses the problems of anthropology. Geology is often discussed. Some of the commentators have admitted the possibility of a local flood; others are not yet sure of the legitimacy of geological findings. But virtually all of the commentators assume the anthropological universality of the flood without any engagement whatsoever with the archeological and anthropological data relevant to the question of the flood’s impact on the human race. It’s as if the hundreds, perhaps thousands of ancient human sites around the world didn’t exist. [1]
David Young’s gloomy observation unfortunately is equally applicable in my faith community, the Christadelphians. Nearly 50 years ago, bro. Ralph Lovelock made a brave attempt to acknowledge the evidence for human evolution and synthesise it with a relatively conservative reading of Genesis. For his efforts, he was disfellowshipped. Unfortunately, in the forty-seven years since the arranging brothers in his ecclesia implored our community to solve these problems “unhindered by the rumours, mistrust, suspicion and hasty judgments that have been all too prevalent among us in recent times”, not only has there been no real effort to address the considerable fossil evidence for human evolution, any attempt to raise the issue is met with hysteria, bullying, privileging of ignorance over reason and at times the threat of disfellowship. If we want to avoid losing the next generation of educated believers and marginalise our community, then we need to take up the challenge which we’ve shamefully neglected for nearly half a century.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Christadelphians and Human Evolution - Fifty wasted years (Part 1)

Nearly 50 years ago, Ralph Lovelock, a British Christadelphian gave a series of addresses on "The Origin of Man" in which he argued that:
a race of man-like creatures existed prior to the coming of Adam. These creatures were man-like in everything except that they had no knowledge of God, and consequently no relationship with Him. Adam was formed, in a way not described, from these creatures and became representative of them. God gave Adam special qualities (powers of leadership and longevity) and a revelation. Adam sinned and was expelled from the garden to die. He made known his way of life to the surrounding man-like creatures and they thereby became men. Adam’s descendants and the man-like creatures were able to intermarry, and from these sources the world was populated (that is, through Adam’s direct descendants, through the direct descendants of the man-like creatures, and through intermarriage between the two.) [1]
The controversy sparked by his thesis was considerable, and unfortunately resulted in his disfellowship two years later in 1966. To their credit, the arranging brothers of his ecclesia recognized that the scientific questions surrounding the origin of man were real, and needed to be examined rationally:
We wish to make it perfectly clear that we are not closing our eyes to the problems that confront us when the theories of modern scholarship are compared with the understanding and interpretation of the early chapters of Genesis commonly accepted among us, although we we would emphasize that there is by no means complete agreement among scientists themselves concerning the ideas they advance, and a so-called fact of one generation may sometimes become merely the fancy of the next.
At the same time, we are strongly of the opinion that the problems that undoubtedly exist should be frankly admitted by us as a community, for we do naught but dishonour to the word of God by pretending that these problems are not there. Our Brotherhood bears a responsibility to those in search of Scripture truth, and especially to those of tender years, to turn its attention to the solving of these difficulties in an atmosphere of calm, sincere, conscientious study, unhindered by the rumours, mistrust, suspicion and hasty judgments that have been all too prevalent among us in recent times. [2]
 Forty-seven years have passed since the Watford arranging brothers penned these words, but unfortunately our Brotherhood has let down those of tender years who are confronted with an avalanche of evidence for human evolution from a fossil record that is considerably larger than it was in the early 1960s when bro. Lovelock formulated his views. Rather, our community has retreated into a defensive fundamentalism, where even old earth creationists and advocates of a local flood are regarded with deep suspicion. This denial of reality will erode the faith of those who are honest enough to accept the scientific evidence and take in good faith any assertion that the 'purity of the faith' is contingent on rejecting evolution. Once again, science denialism creates unbelief.