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]