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.