Saturday, 31 August 2013

Scientific errors in Christadelphian attacks on evolution: The Testimony magazine - 8

While our community indulges in science denialism by encouraging pseudoscientific nonsense such as YEC, and actively attacking evolution, we will continue to drive away scientifically literate young people. Comments such as this are hardly uncommon:
“My own eldest son has decided he cannot be baptized because he has seen the evidence for evolution with his own eyes, and our ecclesia will not tolerate discussion on the subject. Unlike some young people, he is too honest to say he doesn’t believe it, just so that he can ‘pass the test’ and be baptized.”
“I will be spending most of this semester studying common descent and evolution in first year biology, and have done so through DNA and cells so far. It really is fascinating and very undeniable. There's also a young Christo girl from [X ecclesia] in the subject, and I am interested to know what she's thinking.”
Unfortunately, The Testimony is actively encouraging science denialism while it continues to publish poorly reasoned material, such as John Watts' article [1] attacking common descent. Material such as this destroys our credibility in the eyes of young people and potential converts who recognise the overwhelming evidence for evolution.

Friday, 30 August 2013

The Evidence for Common Descent from Molecular Genetics - What John Watts' Article Never Mentioned - 2

I started this series by referring to an appallingly bad article in the January 2005 edition of The Testimony which tried to hand-wave away the considerable evidence for common descent from molecular genetics by trying to call it just another variation of the argument from comparative anatomy. Brief mention was made by the author - John Watts - of a paper by molecular biologist Graeme Finlay which covered the evidence for human evolution from molecular biology. Watts' coverage was non-existent - which made his dismissal of the  paper yet another example of the intellectually dishonest way in which The Testimony has been covering science for some time. The following post will provide an overview of Finlay's paper.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

The Evidence for Common Descent from Molecular Genetics - What John Watts' Article Never Mentioned

In order to see how poor John Watts' attempted rebuttal [1] of the evidence for common descent from molecular genetics was, it's helpful to summarise this evidence, if only to see how embarrassingly bad Watts' response was. The evidence for common descent from molecular genetics falls into two main groups: (1) sequence homology and (2) high degree of synteny conservation between related species. Again, while the precise details are quite complex, the underlying principles are easy to grasp.

Scientific errors in Christadelphian attacks on evolution: The Testimony magazine - 7

In the January 2005 edition of The Testimony, John Watts attempts to rebut the evidence for common descent from molecular genetics, which he appears to regard as a variation of the argument from comparative anatomy. Most of his article in fact is a muddled attempt to rebut the argument from comparative anatomy, which cites a paper [1] written by Graeme Finlay, a Christian cell biologist outlining in detail the evidence for human-ape common ancestry, but never once addresses these arguments in any substantive manner.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Scientific errors in Christadelphian attacks on evolution: The Testimony magazine - 6

John Watts, in the January 2005 edition of  The Testimony <1> attempted to rebut the considerable evidence for common descent from molecular biology by arguing that it was simply another form of the argument from comparative anatomy:
Similarities in physical appearance were the earliest evidences used to support the theory of evolution, and those between man and the apes were perhaps the most widely cited. As our knowledge of the microscopic and the molecular has increased, so in turn the argument has been applied at other levels: to embryology, to protein structures, to DNA sequences. How valuable is this class of argument? Sadly, it relies more on ignorance than on knowledge.
Watts was wrong. In fact, it was his rebuttal that relied more on ignorance than knowledge. The evidence for common descent from molecular biology falls into three main areas:

  • Similarity in genes between closely related species
  • Similar gene order on chromosomes between closely related species
  • Shared identical genetic errors between closely related species <3>

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Chance is no threat to the God of the Bible

Anti-evolutionists often make the (erroneous) claim that evolution is a 'theory of chance.' That betrays a considerable misunderstanding of evolution as while mutation - the raw fuel of evolution - occurs by chance, natural selection is a deterministic phenomenon, very much the opposite of chance. Mind you...
"The Bible is consistent in its teaching that events many people would ascribe to chance are within the boundaries of God’s sovereignty and plan. When the prophet Micaiah predicted that King Ahab would be killed in battle at Ramoth Gilead (1 Kings 22: 15– 28), this indeed came to pass, but it happened by someone who ‘drew his bow at random and hit the king of Israel between the sections of his armour’ (I Kings 22: 34, my italics). As Proverbs 16: 33 so vividly puts the point: ‘The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord’. The Bible sees God’s works occurring equally in all the various manifestations of his activity, whether in the more ‘law-like’ workings of the natural world (Psalm 33: 6– 11), in chance events (Proverbs 16: 33), or in his control of the weather (Psalm 148:8), which today we describe using chaos theory. There is never a hint in the Bible that certain types of event in the natural world are any more or any less the activity of God than other events."

(Alexander, Denis (2008-07-18). Creation or Evolution (Kindle Locations 2046-2053). Monarch Books. Kindle Edition.

Early Christadelphians were not young earth creationists

It is easy to forget that the science denialism and obscurantism found in magazines such as The Testimony does not reflect the early Christadelphian approach to science. While no early Christadelphian accepted evolution [1] they accepted that the Earth was ancient, and life progressively appeared on it over geological time. In short, YEC and flood geology represent a deviation from the original Christadelphian position.

Monday, 26 August 2013

Scientific errors in Christadelphian attacks on evolution: The Testimony magazine - 5

David Burges, science editor of The Testimony argued in his May 2010 article "How did the giraffe get its neck?" that evolutionary explanations for the origin of the giraffe neck are unsatisfactory. Yet again, his article invoked the special creationist argument from personal incredulity, failed to critically engage with the relevant scholarly literature, relying instead on a newspaper report of a journal article.

This failure to properly research his article is damning, particularly since the fossil record shows evidence of giraffe neck evolution. This failure to properly research articles is a common feature of science articles published in The Testimony.

Scientific errors in Christadelphian attacks on evolution: The Testimony magazine - 4

The cover story "Uprooting Darwin's Tree" for the 24th January 2009 edition of New Scientist, "Uprooting Darwin's Tree" looked at the phenomenon of horizontal gene transfer, which means that at the microbial level the 'tree of life' is not an accurate description of the phylogenetic relationship between organism. The provocative cover for the issue which boldly proclaimed "Darwin was Wrong" was widely criticised by mainstream scientists for its potential to mislead, a point recognised by the magazine in its editorial which warned its readers to "expect to find excerpts ripped out of context and presented as evidence that biologists are deserting the theory of evolution en masse. They are not."

Regrettably David Burges, science editor of The Testimony in a  March 2009 article <1> likewise seized on this New Scientist cover story in an attempt to criticise evolutionary biology. Either he completely misunderstood the article on horizontal gene transfer, or he failed to read past the provocative cover. Either way, it yet again reflects poorly on the credibility of The Testimony.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Scientific errors in Christadelphian attacks on evolution: The Testimony magazine - 3

The July 2011 edition of The Testimony contains an article which claims that:

 The structure of the tail of the whale and of the dolphin is unique. There is no simple way for it to have developed from another animal. It thus provides further evidence of design by the Creator.

Any article which begins with an argument from incredulity is not off to a good start. When it makes demonstrably false such as “ Whales, like all mammals, appear suddenly in the fossil order, with no sign of transitional species from which they might have evolved.”, then one can completely dismiss the article as yet another collection of special creationist misunderstanding and distortion. The final icing on the cake is the fact that it cites as evidence the long-discredited book “The Neck of the Giraffe”. The fact that such an error-ridden article made it into the Testimony reflects poorly on its science editor, David Burges, and provides more evidence of how the Testimony’s anti-evolution stance harms its credibility.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Scientific errors in Christadelphian attacks on evolution: The Testimony magazine - 2

In 1996, biochemist Michael Behe published "Darwin's Black Box": The Biochemical Challenge  to Evolution" [1] which was universally panned by scientifically informed critics who recognised its numerous errors. Four years later, David Burges, science editor of the Testimony, published a superficlal, uncritical review of the book. [2] Not only did his review show that he knew little about evolutionary biology, he inadvertently misled his readers by failing to point out that mainstream scientists four years earlier had refuted Behe's book.

Friday, 23 August 2013

Scientific errors in Christadelphian attacks on evolution: The Testimony magazine - 1

Gordon Hudson, the manager of an environmental charity based in Edinburgh used to be an enthusiastic YEC until his faith was destroyed when he realised YEC was wrong. Basing your Christian faith on anti-evolutionism is guaranteed to result in a severe blow to your faith when you eventually recognise that YEC is a delusion. This is why I regard naive science denialism in our community with dismay, as it is guaranteed to produce a steady stream of ex-Christadelphians when they eventually realise our community has led them astray on the subject.

Unfortunately, almost every article published in The Testimony and other Christadelphian magazines criticising evolutionary biology is either poorly researched or shows a fundamental misunderstanding of evolution. Quite often, they make both mistakes. Any young Christadelphian who is studying biology at a secondary or tertiary level and relies on the information in these articles to rebut evolution will be badly served by them at best. At worst, the possibility of a crisis of faith exists when they realise that everything they were told about evolution from ecclesial sources is utterly wrong.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Jerry Coyne pans Lawrence Krauss' "A Universe From Nothing"

It's not just David Albert who is less than impressed with Lawrence Krauss' 'bait and switch' book "A Universe from Nothing." Jerry Coyne, who is not backwards in his atheism has a confession:
 I was not keen on Lawrence Krauss’s new book on the origin of the universe, A Universe from Nothing: Why there is Something Rather Than Nothing. I couldn’t share the chorus of approbation and acclaim for the book, and wondered if I, as opposed to everyone else, was blind to its merits. (Let me hasten to add that I am a big fan of Krauss’s public lectures, and also that I haven’t read any of his other books.)

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

A Critical Review of "A Universe From Nothing" by Lawrence Krauss

While atheism is simply a lack of belief in a god or supernatural deity, and not a religion, as many Christians allege, contemporary instantiations of atheism such as New Atheism not only veer into the realm of ideology, but tend to be evangelistic. The holy wars and schisms that characterise the movement, most notably the split over Elevatorgate, add weight to the observation that while atheism is not a religion or belief system, the movement that some non-theists have created is an ideology.

Ever since the Draper-White Conflict Model hypothesis of the relationship between science and religion was advanced [1] in the 19th century, non-theists have employed science as a rhetorical tool to deprecate theism. Cosmologist Lawrence Krauss in his latest work "A Universe From Nothing: Why There is Something Rather than Nothing"  is clearly following this path, as can be seen by his inclusion of a vigorous afterward by the biologist Richard Dawkins which makes the following informed, restrained observation:

"Even the last remaining trump card of the theologian 'Why is there something rather than nothing?' shrivels up before your eyes as you read these pages. If On the Origin of Species was biology's deadliest blow to supernaturalism, we may come to see A Universe From Nothing as the equivalent from cosmology. The title means exactly what it says. And what it says is devastating. [2]

Given that Dawkins, speaking as a biologist and ardent anti-theist is hardly an informed, disinterested participant, it is difficult to credit his opinion as being anything other than an atheist equivalent of the fervent 'Amen!' shouted during a sermon. More importantly, given that Krauss saw fit to allow Dawkins to write the afterward, indicated that Krauss' intentions ultimately are less about science and more about New Atheist apologetics.

Atheism + is secular humanism by another name

This post originally appeared here and has been reproduced with permission of the author. 

One of the criticisms of New Atheism is that there is nothing particularly new about it, given that the major ideas advanced by atheism date back centuries. Now, the New Atheists have come up with a new idea: 

The oxygen of publicity