Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Debunking "Scientific Evidence for a Global Flood" Part 4 - Marine fossils on mountains are explained by uplift of ancient ocean beds

One of the easier YEC arguments to refute is the claim that marine fossils on mountains are proof of a global flood. SEfaGF asserts:
Marine fossils can be found on the crests of mountains. Apart from mountain uplifting, this can also be explained as the marine animals being washed there and then buried. A global flood could do this.
No, it could not. Marine fossils are found on mountains due to uplift from plate tectonic activity, as SEfaGF reluctantly acknowledges. There are many flaws in the YEC assertion, but arguably the most devastating is the fact that when the flood waters receded, the dead animals would also be dragged back by the strong currents, and be deposited at the base of such mountains. We do not see this, and just on this point, the YEC claim about a global flood is shown to be nonsense.

Debunking "Scientific Evidence for a Global Flood" Part 3 - There are no human footprints in geologically ancient strata

YECs often assert that human footprints can be found in strata that geologists state were deposited hundreds of millions of years ago, well before humans first appeared in the fossil record. From this they assert that mainstream geology is wrong, the Earth is young, and these footprints were made around the time of a global flood. This is once again another example of YEC distortion of the evidence. Invariably, the footprints are either geological artefacts, or footprints of other animals that have been misinterpreted as human by YECs.

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Debunking "Scientific Evidence for a Global Flood" Part 2 - The myth of 'polystrate fossils'

YECs such as the compiler of SEfaG allege that the phenomenon of fossilised tree trunks running through geological layers, which they refer to as 'polystrate fossils' poses an insoluble problem for mainstream geology. This is false. The term 'polystrate fossil' is not used in mainstream geological literature, being a term coined by YECs to refer to a phenomenon that was adequately explained in the 19th century using mainstream geology. Therefore, claims such as:
Polystrate fossils (viz. vertical fossil tree trunks spanning through numerous geological layers) are found worldwide and indicate turbulent or rapid deposition of all the layers (as all layers had to be still soft in order for the tree trunk to penetrate vertically through them). A global flood would be required to do this worldwide. 
Polystrate fossils also form when water-logged timber sinks in a large body of water. A year long global flood could produce worldwide polystrate fossils formed in this way.
are not only false, but nearly 150 years out of date.

This YEC claim has been advanced and refuted son many times that it has earned a place in the TalkOrigins archive. Geologist Andrew McRae has compiled an excellent refutation of the phenomenon which is worth quoting in its entirely to show that old earth creationist geologists of the 19th century solved the problem of 'polystrate fossils.'

Debunking "Scientific Evidence for a Global Flood" Part 1 - Fossil meteorites and impact craters in the geological column

It’s not just The Testimony and The Christadelphian that are busily trying to defend YEC from the growing wave of support for evolutionary creationism by publishing poorly-researched articles that simply draw attention to the paucity of evidence for the special creationist view. Websites and Facebook groups advancing an extreme special creationist view have emerged over the last few years.

While browsing one particularly dire site, I noticed a list detailing “Scientific Evidence for a Global Flood.” An extraordinary claim such as this demands high quality, credible evidence. None was provided other than a list of 22 alleged facts without any supporting references to the mainstream literature. A quick search shows that it is a word for word copy from a list which quite likely comes from this website [1] maintained by an obscure YEC crank who far from being a professional geologist is a man with an agricultural science degree who, in standard special creationist argument from irrelevant authority fashion touted his completely irrelevant undergraduate degree and teaching diplomas.

Given the degree of misinformation being peddled by special creationists in our community on this subject, a detailed refutation of these errors is indicated, if only to show the undecided why YEC / global flood arguments have zero credibility.

Monday, 29 December 2014

Katha Pollitt: "Atheists show their sexist side"

No one would argue that organised religion has at times been somewhat less than enlightened in its treatment of women. However, anyone who argues that atheism automatically leads to true equality of the sexes hasn't been paying attention over the last few years. Katha Pollitt, writing in The Nation points out the problems women in secularism have faced over the years:
At the grassroots level, women who speak up against harassment or sexism in the movement have been the target of disgusting attacks online, the sort of vicious obscenity and violent threats notoriously visited upon Anita Sarkeesian and other women in the gaming and tech worlds. If a recipient becomes angry or upset, that just proves she was weak and crazy to begin with. Let me tell you, I’ve seen a tiny sample of the missives directed at Melody Hensley, executive director of the Center for Inquiry–DC, and I can see why she suffers from PTSD. “I receive harassment all day long every day on social media. I also receive threats daily. I have had dozens of videos made about me, harassing me,” she says. “Everything I write online is compiled by my harassers. Even though I know the Internet is public, it’s eerie being watched every moment. I have had people call my home and tell me that they were going to kill me.”
This from people who pride themselves on being liberated from the shackles of organised religion. One needs to stress that many in the secular movement are well aware of this, and are striving mightily to make sexism history. The point however needs to be stressed - atheism does not automatically make one socially enlightened, and when some of the leading figures in organised atheism are regarded by women with something less than warmth, it is not hard to see why people such as Pollitt would say:
Why would women join a movement led by sexists and populated by trolls? If this is atheism, I’m becoming a Catholic.
Full article here.

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Brendan O'Neil: "How atheists became the most colossally smug and annoying people on the planet"

As the year draws to an end, it's helpful to realise that while fundamentalist Christianity has deservedly earned its negative reputation, it does not have a mortgage on arrogance and intolerance. There are atheists who seem determined to give fundamentalist Christians a run for their money in terms of being the benchmark for smugness. As Brendan O'Neill, editor of spiked remarked in a Telegraph article from 2013:
When did atheists become so teeth-gratingly annoying? Surely non-believers in God weren't always the colossal pains in the collective backside that they are today? Surely there was a time when you could say to someone "I am an atheist" without them instantly assuming you were a smug, self-righteous loather of dumb hicks given to making pseudo-clever statements like, "Well, Leviticus also frowns upon having unkempt hair, did you know that?" Things are now so bad that I tend to keep my atheism to myself, and instead mumble something about being a very lapsed Catholic if I'm put on the spot, for fear that uttering the A-word will make people think I'm a Dawkins drone with a mammoth superiority complex and a hives-like allergy to nurses wearing crucifixes.
Dismissing O'Neill's article as a fundamentalist Christian rant is complicated by the slight problem that as he states in the article, he's an atheist. Whatever problems he has with movement atheism is hardly driven by any theological concerns.

2014: a retrospective look at the Top Ten moments in science denialism

As Evangelical physicist Karl Giberson points out in his article "2014: Revenge of the Creationists", science denialism unfortunately is still alive and kicking in the United States. Personally, I find it hard to rank the ten examples of science denialism that Giberson cites in any order as they are all cringe-worthy examples of credulity and dogma trumping reason, evidence, and logic. For what it's worth, I rank Giberson's ninth choice at number one. Given that he ranks Ken Ham and the execrable Discovery Institute at 1 and 2, respectively, for me to rank his ninth choice at number one, it has to be something truly appalling.

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Why Intelligent Design and ground-breaking research are mutually exclusive

The 2005 Kitzmiller v. Dover trial which ruled that Intelligent Design was religion rather than science dealt the ID movement a body blow from which it has never recovered. While propaganda outlets such as Evolution News and Views and Uncommon Descent still peddle the usual mendacity, the intellectual battle has been well and truly lost. In 2005, ID spokesman Paul Nelson admitted that the movement did not have a robust theory:
Easily the biggest challenge facing the ID community is to develop a full-fledged theory of biological design. We don’t have such a theory right now, and that’s a problem. Without a theory, it’s very hard to know where to direct your research focus. Right now, we’ve got a bag of powerful intuitions, and a handful of notions such as ‘irreducible complexity’ and ‘specified complexity’-but, as yet, no general theory of biological design. [1]
Nearly ten years later, the movement still is without anything remotely approaching a theory. That can be seen when one looks at their 'flagship journal Bio-Complexity. Computer scientist and noted critic of ID Jeffrey Shallit notes that in the last year, Bio-Complexity has barely published anything of note:
Klinghoffer [a leading ID figure] claims "In the evolution controversy, it's supporters of intelligent design who stand for ideas (disagree with us or not) and idealism." Well, that's something that we can actually check. Since ID is so brimming with ideas, let's look at ID's flagship journal, Bio-Complexity, and see how many papers were published this year. ID supporters are always complaining about how their groundbreaking word is censored by evil Darwinists. If true (it's not), then in Bio-Complexity they have no grounds for complaints: nearly all of the 32 people listed on the "Editorial Team" are well-known creationists and hence automatically friendly to any submission. 
How many papers did Bio-Complexity manage to publish this year? A grand total of four! Why, that's 1/8th of a paper per member of the editorial team. By any measure, this is simply astounding productivity. They can be proud of how much they have added to the world's knowledge! 
Looking a little deeper, we see that of these four, only one is labeled as a "research article". Two are "critical reviews" and one is a "critical focus". And of these four stellar contributions, one has 2 out of the 3 authors on the editorial team, two are written by members of the editorial team, leaving only one contribution having no one on the editorial team. And that one is written by Winston Ewert, who is a "senior researcher" at Robert J. Marks II's "evolutionary informatics lab". In other words, with all the ideas that ID supporters are brimming with, they couldn't manage to publish a single article by anyone not on the editorial team or directly associated with the editors. [2]
This is one of the many reasons Intelligent Design is regarded as a pathetic joke by mainstream scientists.


1. PvM ID in their own words: Paul Nelson The Panda's Thumb June 7 2005
2. Shallit J Groundless Annual Ritual of ID Self-Congratulation The Panda's Thumb Dec 19 2014

The Fossil Evidence for Common Descent 2: Tetrapod Evolution

The special creationist claim that there are no transitional fossils is false, as even a cursory search of the internet will demonstrate. The evidence for large-scale evolutionary change as seen in the fossil record is simply beyond dispute. For example, Kathleen Hunt's well-received article on transitional fossils covers only vertebrate fossils, and as it was written in 1997 does not incorporate stunning discoveries such as the 'fishapod' Tiktaalik roseae. Despite this, as she concluded:
Creationists often state categorically that "there are no transitional fossils". As this FAQ shows, this is simply not true. That is the main point of this FAQ. There are abundant transitional fossils of both the "chain of genera" type and the "species-to-species transition" type. There are documented speciations that cross genus lines and family lines. The interpretation of that fact I leave up to you. I have outlined five possible models above, and have explained why I think some of them are better than others. You might disagree with my conclusions, and you can choose the one you think is best, (or even develop another one). But you cannot simply say that there are no transitional fossils, because there are.

As Gould said (1994): "The supposed lack of intermediary forms in the fossil record remains the fundamental canard of current antievolutionists. Such transitional forms are scarce, to be sure, and for two sets of reasons - geological (the gappiness of the fossil record) and biological (the episodic nature of evolutionary change, including patterns of punctuated equilibrium and transition within small populations of limited geological extenet). But paleontologists have discovered several superb examples of intermediary forms and sequences, more than enough to convince any fair-minded skeptic about the reality of life's physical genealogy." [1]
Covering the evidence in full is beyond the scope of this website, but a few posts covering major transitions will suffice to show the vacuity of the special creationist claim that there are no transitional fossils. This post will cover the evidence detailing tetrapod evolution from lobe-finned fish. [2]

The Fossil Evidence for Common Descent 1: Missing Links and other Special Creationist Fallacies

In the 154 years since Darwin published the first edition of The Origin of Species, the fossil evidence for evolution has increased considerably. In particular, we can demonstrate the evolution of tetrapods from lobe-finned fish, whales from terrestrial mammals, birds from dinosaurs, and humans from primates to a degree that would have astonished earlier palaeontologists. While the nature of speciation and the sheer improbabilities involved in dead animals being fossilised and then found mean that the fossil record will always be an imperfect record, what we have demonstrates the reality of large-scale evolutionary change beyond reasonable doubt. 

Despite this, special creationists still continue in their desperate attempts to wave away the evidence. Given that practically no special creationists (and certainly no Christadelphian science denialists) are palaeontologists, their arguments invariably hinge on quote mining mainstream scientists, peddling out-of-date arguments which betray a lack of familiarity with the contemporary scientific literature, or advancing ideas about 'missing links' that indicate a failure to recognise that evolution is a tree, not a ladder.

Part 1 will look at the general class of mistakes made by special creationists when attacking the fossil record, while the remaining parts will look in detail at notable evolutionary transitions (such as fish to tetrapod and dinosaur to bird) for which the fossil evidence is beyond rational dispute.

Friday, 26 December 2014

How one evolutionary creationist reconciles Christianity with the fact of evolution

Jeff Hardin is the chairman of the zoology department at the University of Wisconsin. He's also an evangelical Christian who accepts the fact of evolution and wants to disabuse his fellow evangelicals of their mistaken belief that evolutionary biology and Christianity are irreconcilable. William Saletan, writing at Slate, comments on Hardin's mission to liberate Christians from the bondage of special creationism. 

The problem, as I've stressed repeatedly, lies in the failure to recognise that when scientific facts contradict human readings of the Bible, the latter need to be corrected in the light of the former:
This requires humility. “Truth and absolute certitude are not the same,” says Hardin. The proper Christian attitude is that truth resides in Jesus. The believer’s job is to follow Jesus, not to assume that the believer knows the route. Hardin cites the Apostle Paul’s counsel that God “works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” One way God works in people is through science. They learn that their initial conclusions from scripture—computing the age of humanity, for example, from the number of generations recounted since Adam—are clumsy and naive. To allow God to work in them, Christians must remain, in Hardin’s words, “epistemically open.”
Christians who believe that the world was created in six days, or that the Earth is only a few thousand years old, think they’re reading the Bible literally. But in reality, they’re projecting modern notions of time and narration onto their ancestors. Hardin shares their aspiration to be faithful to the Bible, but he argues that to achieve this, one must approach the text the way one approaches science: with empirical rigor. Scripture is a real thing. It was written and preached for a lay audience in a historical context. Those people weren’t scientists or journalists. So it makes no sense to treat the text as a tight chronology, nailing down timelines or the process of speciation. Instead, evolutionary creationists advocate what Hardin calls “literary-cultural analysis”—asking, in layman’s terms, what each passage was meant to convey to an ancient Hebrew.
The full Salon article is here. Hardin's presentation (and slides) at the November 2014 Faith Angle Forum can be found here

Monday, 22 December 2014

How fundamentalism nearly ruined a YECs faith - until he broke free of the Bible vs Science dichotomy

Aaron Tabor, a fourth year medical student at Rush Medical College in Chicago, Illinois had always dreamed of being a doctor. One thing he discovered during his studies prior to entering medical school was that the scientific facts didn't agree with his YEC views. Unfortunately, given the pernicious either-or mindset that fundamentalists (of all persuasions) maintain, it created a crisis of faith within him:
I graduated summa cum laude from a liberal arts college where I had begun to hone my skills as a scientist, confirming my passion for learning in biology, chemistry, and medicine. I had entered convinced that I would believe in young earth creationism until the day I died, and I had prepared for the “lies” that I would encounter in college, where professors would try to “brainwash” me with ideas of evolution and atheism. Instead, my limited views expanded, and surprisingly I didn’t feel as if anyone had even tried to brainwash me. I actually admired my professors because they presented solid research and data, and encouraged me to come to my own conclusions. After years of studies, there was just too much about evolution that made sense to me. But what about my faith? What about God? The Bible? Jesus? What about creation?
Thankfully, Tabor discovered Francis Collins' "The Language of God" and discovered that the dichotomy existed only in the minds of fundamentalists:
If Collins had found a way, then just maybe there was a chance for me. The statement Collins made that resounded deepest in me was, “I do not believe that the God who created all the universe, and who communes with His people through prayer and spiritual insight, would expect us to deny the obvious truths of the natural world that science has revealed to us, in order to prove our love for him” (p.210). A whirlwind of emotions started inside of me as a glimpse of hope shimmered. This was the answer I needed to hear. Collins also quoted Galileo, who said, “I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use” (p.158). Two great men of science who had found a way—and all at once I had found them.
Full article is here. Recommended reading for fundamentalists of all persuasions.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Adam, Eve, and Human Population Genetics - Why we did not descend exclusively from two people

The evidence against recent universal human descent from two people is as I have pointed out repeatedly overwhelming. At most, the human population never dipped below several thousand individuals. Genetics completely rules out any belief that Adam and Eve were the sole ancestors of the human race, and any interpretation of the Bible which argues otherwise is incorrect, and needs to be abandoned. You'd have an easier task proving the sun orbited the Earth than to show monogenism was correct.

Geneticist and evangelical Christian Dennis Venema in a recent BioLogos post notes:
Back in 2011, Christianity Today ran a cover article on what was fast becoming a hot-button issue for Evangelicals – the genomic science that indicates humans descend from a large population, rather than from a single couple in the relatively recent past. Since 2011 Evangelicals have become increasingly aware that modern genetic studies of humans support this conclusion; however, there remains a great deal of confusion about exactly how this genetic evidence works, and, not surprisingly, suspicion about its accuracy.
Given the amount of inaccurate material on the subject of human origins that exists in our community, another informed, competent, reliable summary of the evidence will not go astray. Venema is currently up to part 3 - further additions will be posted here as they arrive.
  1. Adam, Eve, and Human Population Genetics, Part 1: Scripture, science, and defining the issues
  2. Adam, Eve and Human Population Genetics, Part 2: A primer on population genetics
  3. Adam, Eve and Human Population Genetics, Part 3: Good butter and good cheese – language, populations and speciation
  4. Adam, Eve, and Human Population Genetics, Part 4: Signature in the SNPs
  5. Adam, Eve and human population genetics, Part 5: linguistics and the question of common ancestry
  6. Adam, Eve and human population genetics, Part 6: common ancestry, nested hierarchies, and parsimony
  7. Adam, Eve and human population genetics, Part 7: you say to-may-to, I say to-mah-to
  8. Adam, Eve and human population genetics, Part 8: coalescence, incomplete lineage sorting, and great ape ancestral population sizes
  9. Adam, Eve, and human population genetics, part 9: addressing critics—Poythress, chimpanzees, and DNA identity
  10. Adam, Eve, and human population genetics, part 10: addressing critics—Poythress, chimpanzees, and DNA identity (continued)
  11. Adam, Eve, and human population genetics, part 11: addressing critics—Poythress, chimpanzees, and DNA identity (continued)
  12. Adam, Eve and human population genetics, Part 12: addressing critics - Poythress, population genomics, and locating the historical Adam
  13. Adam, Eve and human population genetics, Part 13: addressing critics - Poythress, population genomics, and locating the historical Adam (continued)
  14. Adam, Eve and human population genetics, Part 14: addressing critics - Poythress, population genomics, and locating the historical Adam (conclusion)
  15. Adam, Eve and human population genetics, Part 15: addressing critics – William Lane Craig, the historical Adam, and monogenesis

    Saturday, 6 December 2014

    500,000 year old graffiti from Homo erectus - yet another nail in the YEC coffin

    It's not as if YEC needed further refutation; the belief that the entire universe is 6000 years old is demonstrably false nonsense that betrays either a profound ignorance of modern science, or a wilful rejection of it in favour of a deeply flawed fundamentalist reading of the creation narratives that is rejected by all credible OT scholars. Still, the rate of scientific discoveries for human - and prehuman - existence well before the earliest possible date for Adam serves to remind us yet again that YEC is fractally wrong.

    The discovery of 500,000 year old fossil shells from Trinil in Java that are inscribed makes them the oldest examples of human inscriptions, and by a significant margin of 300,000 years. The significance of this is that it shows such complex cognitive activity was not the sole province of Homo sapiens, but also of Asian Homo erectus. From the abstract:

    Sunday, 30 November 2014

    No, you don't just 'read' the creation narratives. (Or why ignorance of hermeneutics has cursed us with YEC)

    It's axiomatic that if there is a contradiction between interpretations of the Bible and science, then we have a problem with Biblical understanding that needs to be corrected. Unfortunately, our community has more than a few people who confuse a natural reading of the Bible with its original meaning. A knowledge of basic hermeneutics, which was once part of our community, is sadly lacking.

    Reformed pastor Scott Hoezee's words may be aimed at the evangelical world, but they apply just as well to us:
    After I preached a sermon in Iowa some years ago—a sermon that had nothing to do with cosmic origins or Genesis—a man came up to me to inquire what we at Calvin Seminary were thinking about Genesis 1-2. About four or five words into my reply I mentioned the word “interpretation” and this prompted the man to cut me off cold. “That is just your problem,” he snapped. “Stop interpreting it and just read it!” 
    Again and again we hear about the importance of a “natural reading” of the early chapters of Genesis. It’s clearly a literal narrative, we are assured—it was written as such and so requires no interpretation whatsoever to uncover its meaning. Just read it! But on this point some are self-deceived: the “natural” readers of the text are employing a hermeneutical tool—fueled by an upfront hermeneutical decision—no less than those who take the text in other ways. Even as you cannot properly understand any three-chapter chunk of Matthew’s Gospel without thoughtfully and carefully employing several different hermeneutical tools, so you cannot read Genesis or any part of the Bible without doing the same thing.
    It is important to recognise that Genesis, while written for all people, was not originally written to us. Those who fail to enter the ancient Near Eastern world of Genesis and read the text, not as a literal how-to manual of creation, but as a polemic against paganism which accommodated ancient Near Eastern cosmogeography to make a theological point will never fully understand the message of Genesis. Worse still, those who ignore genre and context lock themselves in a hermeneutical bubble. As Hoezee says:
    But when some fellow believers cut themselves off from the entire interpretive tradition of both Jews and Christians alike by claiming that their view is so obviously true no interpretation is even involved, there is little hope for a common starting point. Worse, it is likely that those who wield a different hermeneutical tool than young earth creationists will, in increasingly shrill tones, be dismissed as enemies of God’s Word.
    Unfortunately, that is what we are increasingly seeing. If those who have the intellectual honesty to accept the universe as it is, rather than how others demand it should be, we should not be surprised to see our community dwindle into fundamentalist irrelevance.

    Wednesday, 26 November 2014

    No, there never was a Cambrian 'explosion.' Here's why.

    If you hear a special creationist talk about how the 'Cambrian explosion' poses an insuperable problem for evolution, you can safely ignore everything that person has to say about palaeontology. Special creationists still perpetuate the myth that no complex multicellular life existed prior to the start of the Cambrian 542 million years ago, with all major phyla springing into existence without any trace of ancestry. This is false. The reality is somewhat different:

    Souce: BioLogos

    As one can see, not all major phyla appeared at the start of the Cambrian. Poriferans, cnidarians, and molluscs appearing prior to the Cambrian, while bryozoans appeared near the end of the Cambrian. The period commonly referred to as the Cambrian explosion took place over a twenty million year period, hardly an explosion. As palaeontologist Keith Miller notes, "[t]he Cambrian “explosion” appears to have had a 'long fuse.'"

    Monday, 24 November 2014

    Dispelling creationist misconceptions about ENCODE

    In 2012, some scientists made hyperbolic claims that the Encyclopedia of DNA Elements Project (ENCODE) had shown that 80% of our genome was functional. Unsurprisingly, special creationists latched onto this now-refuted claim as if it somehow invalidated common descent. It did not. Apart from the fact that those with the ENCODE project did not declare that their research rebutted evolution, special creationists ignored two points:

    1. Functional does not mean essential. Actively transposing retrotransposons writing over essential DNA are functional, but are definitely harmful
    2. Once again, the evidence from consonant phylogenetic trees and shared genomic 'errors' is independent of any claim about 'functionality'

    Unfortunately, almost all special creationists peddling the ENCODE claim have not caught up with the refutation of the hyperbolic '80% is functional' claim so a detailed rebuttal is needed.

    The Genomic Evidence for Common Descent: 6. Scars of DNA repair and out of place DNA elements

    The consonance of molecular and morphological phylogenetic trees, coupled with the pattern of distribution of pseudogenes, retrotransposons, and endogenous retroviral elements makes the case for common descent just from comparative genomics alone unassailable. Yet, there is even more genomic evidence from scars of DNA repair, elements of mitochondrial DNA in nuclear DNA, and ectopic telomeric DNA. Arguing that God has created humans and apes with:
    • identical scars of DNA repair
    • identical mitochondrial DNA elements in nuclear DNA
    • identical telomeric DNA elements
    all at the same places in their genomes simply to deceive human beings poses insuperable theological problems. Common descent however readily and easily explains these patterns.

    The Genomic Evidence for Common Descent: 5. Endogenous Retroviral Elements

    One could easily argue that further posts demonstrating the evidence for common descent from genomics are superfluous given that the case has already been made beyond reasonable doubt. However, the point of these posts is to show that given multiple independent lines of evidence converge on the same conclusion, the special creationist argument is clearly shown to be iterated special pleading.

    The power of the evidence from endogenous retroviral elements is that they are clearly alien to the human genome as they are undeniably evidence of ancient retroviral infection that became integrated into the germ line, and subsequently inherited by descendant species. The odds of exactly the same retrovirus integrating into the germ line at exactly the same place in the genomes of related species is billions to one against just for a single retroviral element. Given that there are multiple such examples in human and ape DNA, the chance becomes so remote as to be negligible.

    Saturday, 22 November 2014

    The Genomic Evidence for Common Descent: 4. Retrotransposons

    The evidence from nuclear gene phylogenies and shared identical pseudogenes alone is enough to confirm human-ape common ancestry beyond reasonable doubt, but the evidence from comparative genomics does not end there. Retrotransposons, mobile genetic elements that copy and paste themselves randomly throughout the genome provide another line of evidence for common descent. Unlike pseudogenes, retrotransposons are essentially selfish genetic material, existing solely to propagate itself throughout its genomic host. The presence of identical retrotransposon material at the same place in the genomes of related species is prima facie evidence that those species shared a common ancestor in which the retrotransposition event first took place. Once again, there is simply no credible special creationist explanation for their existence.

    The Genomic Evidence for Common Descent: 3. Shared identical pseudogenes

    If a university lecturer receives six term papers that not only share the same four paragraphs in the conclusion which are word-for word from Wikipedia, except for identical spelling errors at the same place in the paragraphs that closely resemble Wikipedia, she is unlikely to conclude that purely by chance, all six students independently wrote four concluding paragraphs that happened to resemble Wikipedia word for word, and independently made the same spelling mistakes. Rather, she is entitled to conclude that one student plagiarised Wikipedia, making a few spelling errors in the process, and that the remaining five students copied that original paper.

    A similar phenomenon exists in comparative genomics, where identical genetic 'errors' are found in exactly the same place in the genome when we compare genomes from a number of related species. These 'errors' include broken genes, remnants of ancient retroviral infection, mobile genetic parasites, and markers of DNA repair. These are not design features, but evidence of an ancient accident which occurred in an ancestral species, and was subsequently inherited by descendant species. This post will review the evidence from pseudogenes.

    The Genomic Evidence for Common Descent: 2. Gene similarity and the consonance of evolutionary trees

    Special creationists, well aware that the genomics evidence provides compelling evidence for common descent have attempted to explain this away by appealing to common design. This argument fails to recognise that given the redundancy of the genetic code, there are hundreds of billions of ways to code for exactly the same short protein: the potential genomic coding space is unimaginably large. 

    Common descent would predict that the coding sequences for a gene common to all life would cluster in a group, with closely related organisms differing by only a few mutations, while organisms that are distantly related would have had time since they last shared a common ancestor for many mutations to build up. Conversely, if special creation was true, we would not expect to see the gene sequences cluster in this way: in fact, there is enough room in the 'gene space' for each species to have its own coding sequence with a considerable amount of space around each gene, thus neatly refuting common descent.

    What we see is a remarkable consonance between molecular and morphological phylogenetic trees. Common descent is the only rational explanation for this. Here's why:

    The Genomic Evidence for Common Descent: 1. Synteny and the chromosome 2 fusion event

    The evidence for common descent just from comparative genomics alone is overwhelming. As more than one person has said, even if every single fossil vanished, we would still be able to demonstrate the fact of common descent from the record in the genomes of all living creatures. We can see this from:
    • The shared order of genes in living creatures
    • Similar genes in related creatures
    • The presence of identical genetic 'glitches' (pseudogenes, retrotransposons, endogenous retroviral elements, telomeric DNA, 'scars' of DNA repair, and mitochondrial DNA elements in nuclear DNA) in the same places in genomes of related species
    This is precisely what we would expect if common descent was true. Conversely, there is simply no credible special creationist explanation, other than to say God has deliberately created life both with genetic errors (our failure to synthesise vitamin C is a fatal inborn error of metabolism as without vitamin C we die from scurvy) and placed exactly the right pattern of mutations, broken genes, remnants of ancient viral infection and fragments of mobile DNA as to simulate common descent. Apart from being an ad hoc explanation writ large, it also makes God out to be a deceiver, and as one person once put it God is not the author of a lie, not even a white one.

    Friday, 21 November 2014

    This is why I don't bother talking with hard-core anti-evolutionists any more

    Unfortunately, my experience with anti-evolutionists has shown me they are unwilling to pursue a reasonable discussion under the terms outlined above.

    Put simply, given that the evidence for evolution comes from multiple independent fields such as palaeontology, developmental biology, and comparative genomics, and that it is impossible for any one person to master all these disciples to such a degree as to be able to comment authoritatively on them, anyone who asserts that there is no evidence for evolution is on the wrong side of the facts, whether consciously or unconsciously.

    Likewise, anyone who blithely dismisses evidence for evolution without having any professional qualifications or background in the subject of interest is effectively precluding discussion by default.

    Evolution and human anatomy - our history is written in our anatomical quirks

    Studying and practicing medicine have taught me many things, of which arguably the most profound is that nothing in medicine makes sense except in the light of our evolutionary origins. From the multiple anatomical quirks to a genome riddled with broken genes, mobile parasitic genomic elements and the decayed remnants of ancient retroviral infection, what we see shouts one fact - we share common ancestry with all life on this planet.

    I have spent some time detailing the genomic evidence that confirms our shared ancestry with the great apes, so some time looking at the anatomical and paleontological data would not go astray. The following series of videos from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute serve admirably to provide that information.

    Note: while this website contains a wealth of information detailing the considerable evidence for common descent and large-scale evolutionary change, a series of posts systematically detailing (for reference / FAQ purposes) would not go astray, particularly given the misinformation and recycled YEC mendacity that is too often circulated uncritically in our community. Over the next few days, I will be posting a series of article detailing this evidence.

    Thursday, 20 November 2014

    Confessions of a Failed Young Earth Creationist

    Anecdotes from former YECs who have made the transition to evolutionary creationism are some of the most heart-warming stories any person of faith can hope to read, as they show that it is possible to escape the exegetic, theological, and scientific dead-end of YEC. In this post at the BioLogos blog, Church of England theological trainee Daniel Stork Banks relates his theological life story, including details of his temporary detour into YEC.

    While YEC is abominable science and even worse theology, not every YEC is a mendacious dispenser of theological poison. Banks recounts that the YEC 'scientist' who catalysed his temporary transition was "not a manipulator or a firebrand, just a soft-spoken, genuine man of good faith. To a young person like me trying to be a faithful Christian, his lecture turned on a light in my mind." The belief system however inevitably inculcates elitism, arrogance, and paranoia:
    But there was a downside to all this enthusiasm. Firstly; it made me very intolerant of contemporary Christians who “compromised” God’s word in Genesis through their unbelief. Secondly, my evangelism no longer started with Jesus but with Genesis, and my literalistic interpretation of its first two chapters devastated my ability to evangelise effectively. I became such an expert in young-earth creationist theology and science that it turned into a wrecking ball for my faith. Not only did I have to persuade people of God’s existence and what Jesus had done for them, but I now had to throw images of triceratops with riding saddles into the mix too. (Emphasis mine)

    Wednesday, 19 November 2014

    More on human evolution

    It is a testament to how fear and dogma can blind reason when the copious fossil record for human evolution is not even acknowledged, let alone contemplated. Although writing for an evangelical audience, these remarks from geologist Davis Young apply equally validly to our community:
    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 address 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 archaeological 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. - Young DA “Theology and Natural science,”  Cited in Noll M The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Eerdmans 1994)
    Although a few years have passed since the announcement of the transitional fossil Australopithecus sediba, this presentation is well worth viewing again:

    The evidence is real. It confirms the reality of evolution. It will not go away. If however we respond to it with fear, excommunication, stifling of discussion, and the privileging of human dogma over the true witness of creation, then it is our community that will go away as the best and brightest leave, or are driven out, and the fundamentalist residue collapses in on itself and withers away.

    Saturday, 15 November 2014

    How to convince an open-minded YEC of the reality of evolution in ten minutes

    My stated goal - convincing a YEC of the reality of evolution in ten minutes - is admittedly somewhat ambitious. It took me 15 years to go from YEC to EC, and that was a journey I fought most of the way. Having said that, this video by respected cell biologist and Christian Kenneth Miller is an excellent overview of basic scientific epistemology, and the best way to engage YECs. Given how lethal to the long-term intellectual future of any community YEC is, information such as this desperately needs to become widely known in our community.

    Miller is of course the author of the excellent Finding Darwin's God: A Scientist's Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution, yet another book which needs to be on the shelf of all Christadelphians who take the Bible-Science issue seriously and are after quality information on the subject. One can but hope that the day will soon come when this excellent book is sold by the CMPA.

    Friday, 14 November 2014

    "The Wonder of the Universe: Hints of God in Our Fine-Tuned World" - new book by Karl Giberson

    One book that should be on every Christadelphian bookshelf is The Language of Science and Faith: Straight Answers to Genuine Questions co-authored by medical geneticist and current National Institutes of Health director Francis Collins and physicist Karl Giberson. Collins and Giberson ably show why evolution is true, and that it is no threat to Christian faith. As an antidote to the mendacious nonsense from ICR, CMI, and AiG, not to mention the theologically and scientifically vacuous arguments advanced by home-grown Christadelphian YECs, it is medicine sorely needed in our community.

    The two books of divine revelation - a graphical commentary

    Tuesday, 11 November 2014

    Man's fallible interpretation of the Bible versus the perfect witness of creation: who wins?

    My post title is a direct allusion to the title of a blog post by geologist Jonathan Baker, "Man's Fallible Opinion vs. God's Perfect Word: Who Wins?" Baker, whose excellent post 100 Reasons the Earth is Old featured in one of my recent blog posts notes that he has received zero scientific objections to his list of reasons. This is hardly surprising as there is no credible scientific evidence to support a young Earth. Instead, the objections to his list are based purely on the belief that a literal reading of the Bible not only teaches that the Earth is 6000 years old, but trumps all scientific evidence. In other words, the choice is framed in terms of flawed human understanding versus the word of God. Where this argument falls apart of course is in its conflation of a naive, wooden, literal reading of the creation narratives with the word of God. In other words, the YECs have privileged their fallible interpretation of the Bible over the evidence from the natural world. Given that they constantly rail against the 'wisdom of men', it is ironic that by privileging a fundamentalist reading of the Bible, they are in fact idolising the wisdom of men.

    Saturday, 8 November 2014

    Gravity, like evolution is only a theory...

    One of the most frequently used dismissals of evolutionary biology by science denialists is the assertion that it is 'only a theory.' So to is the germ theory of disease, general relativity, and atomic theory, yet special creationists tend to listen to medical advice and take antibiotics when they have a bacterial infection, accept the reality of gravitational lensing and black holes, and regard the statement that matter is composed of atoms as unproblematic. The problem of course is that special creationists fail to appreciate that in science, theory does not mean 'wild hunch or speculation', but a collection of facts, hypotheses and rules about an aspect of the natural work which has explanatory and predictive power. In other words, a scientific theory is anything other than a wild guess.

    Wednesday, 5 November 2014

    Why living organisms can tolerate mutations better than special creationists think they can

    One of the biggest mistakes made by evolution denialists is to claim that all mutations are deleterious, and as a consequence evolution could never occur. This betrays a deep ignorance of current research into evolutionary biology, which shows that mutations don't cause the disasters special creationists think they do. In Arrival of the Fittest: Solving Evolution's Greatest Puzzle, respected evolutionary biologist Andreas Wagner points out that as a consequence of the fact that genotypes form a huge interconnected network, they are actually quite robust. As evolutionary biologist Mark Pagel notes in his review of Wagner's book, these mutated networks are very much able to function:
    ...and  it is this insensitivity to random change that makes biology robust to mutations and mishaps, and evolvable. Even better, Wagner finds that he does not have to travel very  far along these mutational pathways before  he encounters new neighbourhoods, where  the networks produce different products.  For instance, a network that can consume glucose might lie near one that can consume other fuels, such as acetate. Wagner thinks  that these features of gene networks are repeated in proteins, metabolisms and the  basic chemistry of cells. In vivo studies back  him up.  
    This offers an answer to one of the most fundamental questions of evolution: how has natural selection had time to search the almost limitless library of life? The answer,  posits Wagner, is that it does not usually have to search very far: squid and albatrosses  are closer neighbours than we might have expected. Arrival of the Fittest will give you a new appreciation of the sheer improbability, but also the plausibility, of the diversity  of life.
    Full review is here.

    Tuesday, 4 November 2014

    Do you believe that every human alive descends exclusively from Adam? That's not what Genesis says.

    It's an article of faith among some Christadelphians that every single human who has ever lived descends exclusively from Adam. The motivation for this is the unscriptural belief that there was a physical change in Adam's nature from a so-called 'very good' status to one capable of corruption and death. This view has been clearly refuted by the genomic and fossil evidence which flatly refutes the belief that every human alive descends exclusively from two people living 6000 years ago. The scientific evidence has spoken, and monogenism has been refuted. [1] 

    The most damning thing about this argument is that contrary to what its adherents claim, it is made despite, not because of the Biblical evidence. Being refuted by the scientific evidence is one thing, but being falsified by the Biblical data should be enough for those who claim to be Bible students to accept that their belief in universal human descent from Adam is scripturally untenable, and should be abandoned.

    Saturday, 1 November 2014

    Suboptimal design and the problem it poses for special creation

    As a medical doctor, my profession brings me face to face with the stark fact that the human body, from the gross anatomical level down to the genomic, abounds with many features that either predispose us to suffering, disease, and even premature death. Reconciling this with special creation is frankly impossible for those who believe that every species - including humans - was individually hand-crafted. YEC arguments that suffering entered the world as a consequence of Adam's sin are immediately falsified by the overwhelming evidence of parasitism, predation, and disease hundreds of millions of years before the appearance of Homo sapiens (let alone Adam). Many people are unfamiliar with the considerable evidence for suboptimal design in the human body which directly or indirectly causes morbidity and mortality, so a post on this subject is definitely indicated, if only to educate those who conflate their uninspired, uninformed, fundamentalist reading of the Bible with the inspired word itself, creating a totally needless conflict between the overwhelming evidence for an ancient, evolving biosphere and an interpretation of the Bible which owes everything to biblicist ignorance and nothing to careful, informed study.

    Friday, 31 October 2014

    One hundred reasons why the Earth is old.

    By the first half of the 19th century, educated Christians accepted that the geological evidence comprehensively ruled out a 6000 year old Earth. As long ago as 1848, John Thomas casually alluded to an Earth millions of ages old. Robert Roberts, the first editor of The Christadelphian likewise accepted the overwhelming evidence for an ancient Earth, while his successor C.C. Walker flatly stated back in 1911 that:
    "[t]en years ago the average scientist would have asserted that our habitable globe had not existed for more than a hundred million years. Now it would be hard to find a competent physical specialist who would fix a definite maximum below a thousand million years:’ [1]
    Advances in geophysics have allowed us to fix the age of the Earth to around 4600 million years, a figure that is around six orders of magnitude greater than the YEC figure. If Walker was alive today, he would have no reason to recant his statement that it would be difficult to find a 'competent physical specialist' who would endorse a young Earth. The evidence is beyond dispute.

    The evidence is not just from radiometric dating, powerful though that line of evidence may be. As geoscientist Jonathan Baker points out, the evidence for an ancient Earth comes from areas as diverse as dendrochronology, coral banding, glacial cycles, stromatolite formation and the cooling times for igneous intrusions. 

    What this means of course is that if Christadelphian YECs can't even get right the most basic facts about geology, there is no reason why we should pay any attention to their other claims about how God created all living things. 

    1. Walker. C.C, ‘The Age of the Earth’, The Christadelphian (1911) 48:450

    Thursday, 30 October 2014

    Suboptimal design and special creation

    The question of how to reconcile suboptimal design with special creation is one that has puzzled our community for some time. While the existence of suboptimal design is not 'proof' of evolution, for any special creationist who appeals to design in nature as evidence of special creation, the existence in nature of suboptimal design that directly leads to morbidity and mortality is a problem that is too often ignored. I have received in correspondence a comment on this this subject, which I am more than pleased to post here:

    Wednesday, 29 October 2014

    From the Dust - Conversations in Creation

    Given the dearth of scholarly, informed commentary on the subject of evolution and creation in our community, anyone seeking a scientifically and theologically informed discussion will need to look elsewhere. One of the best resources for any Christadelphian seeking information on this subject comes from the BioLogos Forum, and the  film From the Dust - Conversations in Creation will provide much-needed theological and scientific insight on this question. Participants include N.T. Wright, John Polkinghorne, Peter Enns, John Walton, Chris Tilling, Alister McGrath, and Darrel Falk. Definitely a must-watch for all Christadelphians who want to go past the theological and scientific vacuity of YEC, as well as the usual content-free polemics that characterise YEC discussion of this subject.

    The film website is here.

    Tuesday, 21 October 2014

    40,000 year old art found in Indonesian cave - yet more problems for YEC

    Artwork in a limestone cave in Sulawesi previously thought to be only 10,000 years old has now been dated to nearly 40,000 years using uranium-thorium dating techniques [1]. That makes it the world's oldest artwork found to date, predating cave art in Europe. Not only will this prompt a renewed search for similar cave art in Asia, it provides yet more evidence - as if any more evidence was needed - that humans have been on Earth far longer than 6000 years. Via Nature:
    Though the paint itself cannot be dated, uranium-thorium dating can estimate the age of the bumpy layers of calcium carbonate (known as ‘cave popcorn’) that formed on the surface of the paintings. As mineral layers are deposited, they draw in uranium. Because uranium decays into thorium at a known rate, the ratio of uranium to thorium isotopes in a sample indicates how old it is. 
    The researchers dated 12 stencils of human hands and two images of large animals. Because they sampled the top layer of calcium carbonate, the uranium dating technique gave them a minimum age for each sample. 
    They found that the oldest stencil was at least 39,900 years old — 2,000 years older than the minimum age of the oldest European hand stencil. An image of a babirusa, or ‘pig-deer’, resembling an aubergine with stick-like legs jutting from each end, was estimated to be 35,400 years old — around the same age as the earliest large animal pictures in European caves. [2]

    Monday, 20 October 2014

    Christadelphian: Origins Discussion Back in Business

    Some time ago, I posted both on the launch of Christadelphian: Origins Discussion, a new Christadelphian Facebook group dedicated to origins discussions, and its disappearance. Thankfully, it didn't stay dormant for long before starting again. Excellent news for those who want to see rational, informed discussion on this subject, particularly when the posts show just how far our community has shifted from its original rational, evidence-based approach. Just how much of a need that site meets is evident from a recent post comparing what we used to believe, with what we now believe, on  subjects ranging from the age of the Earth to textual criticism:

    Friday, 17 October 2014

    Historical criticism - a guide for the perplexed

    One term that is guaranteed to make fundamentalists blanch even more than 'evolutionary biology' is historical criticism. Mention it, and you are guaranteed to have them talk at length about evil 19th century German scholars out to destroy the Bible, with Schecter's aphorism that "Higher Criticism is no more than Higher anti-Semitism" summarising the fundamentalist antipathy towards historical criticism. Certainly, allegations about Julius Wellhausen's anti-semiticism have circled for ages, while Friedrich Delitzsch's "Babel und Bibel" lecture series, in its "claim that the literature of the Bible was dependent on, and even borrowed from, the literature of the dominant culture represented in the region of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers" implied "that the origin of the Old Testament was human, not divine, and that the Christian faith therefore had its roots in pagan mythology." [1] 

    However, abuse of a tool does not necessarily discredit it. It certainly needs to be remembered that Jean Astruc, the father of the documentary hypothesis was a Christian who saw his work as defending Christian orthodoxy, while many respected Biblical scholars who are also Christians use historical criticism and do not see it as being inconsistent with faith. [2]

    Thursday, 16 October 2014

    On crackpots, science denialists, and false doctrine - a parable for the scientific age

    Dealing with alt-health cranks is an occupational hazard in medicine. There's nothing like a little paranoia, a Google PhD and a dash of Dunning-Kruger to make the layperson who thinks that natural is best cross over into hard-core denialism. However, this one was different.

    "The germ theory of disease is a myth," he intoned. "Koch and Pasteur were wrong. An imbalance of the four humours is always to blame for every disease. In fact, the field of modern medicine is a giant hoax. Metabolic disorders. Genetic disorders. All bunk. Bad humours explain all disease." He looked at me with that glazed look of triumph and braggadocio that is practically pathognomonic of the crank. Educating the crank is all but impossible, but as one of the most important roles of doctor is to teach the general public, I felt compelled to make one valiant attempt.

    "The germ theory of disease has been accepted in mainstream medicine for quite some time." I pulled out my phone, and tapped on the screen. "Here. Here's a website which outlines the scientific basis of modern medicine for the interested layperson." I handed my phone to him. He looked at the article, looked at the author's name, then scowled, and returned my phone.

    "It's written by a Catholic. If his theology is flawed, then why should I trust anything he has to say about modern medicine? If he can't interpret the Bible, then he cannot understand anything else. "

    Sunday, 12 October 2014

    BioLogos Pastor Resource Center - also good for laypeople too.

    If there is one resource on evolution that every Christadelphian needs to bookmark and study, it is the incomparable BioLogos. Founded by medical geneticist and former Human Genome Project head Francis Collins, it is a rare combination of skills from world-class life and earth scientists and biblical scholars, ensuring that the question of how to understand Genesis in the light of the fact of evolution is informed from both angles, and contains material that sadly simply cannot be found in our community, outside of resources such as this website.

    Recently, they've created a Pastor Resource Center, where questions such as:
    • “How does my walk with God relate to modern scientific discoveries?”
    • “Can I maintain biblical Christian faith even if I change my mind on an issue like evolution?”
    • “Is it possible that there are more appropriate ways to interpret Genesis 1 and 2?”
    are answered concisely and authoritatively. Subjects include:

    Who is BioLogos
    The Bible
    Science and the Bible
    Scientific Evidence
    The State of the Dialog
    The Church Taking Action

    You can find it here.

    Why evolution is a fact - the power of multiple converging lines of evidence

    One of the reasons why common descent is accepted as a fact by the vast majority of competent, qualified scientists is that multiple independent lines of evidence from different fields converge on the same fact: life shares a common ancestor and diversified via descent with modification. For those with a quarter of an hours to spend, an open mind, and the intellectual honesty to change their preconceptions when the evidence demands, the following is well worth watching:

    C.C. Walker had the integrity and wisdom to recognise that if one could demonstrate that ancient, morphologically different forms of life were indeed the ancestors of current life forms, then we would need to alter our understanding of Genesis. This has been demonstrated beyond all doubt. Now is the time for us to recognise the need to change our understanding of the creation narratives in the light of the clear witness of the natural world.

    Thursday, 9 October 2014

    Speak to the Earth and it shall teach thee the folly of YEC

    If you want to understand the natural world, the only credible option is to study it with an open mind. That means if you want to learn how old the Earth is, you turn to science. Not creation science, which is perhaps the ultimate oxymoron, but genuine science. The AiG statement of faith shows why creation science is science falsely so called, as it privileges flawed human understanding of the creation narratives over the clear testimony of deep time written into the rocks:
    By definition, no apparent, perceived or claimed evidence in any field, including history and chronology, can be valid if it contradicts the scriptural record.
    Anyone who assents to that no longer has the right to call themselves a scientist, or have anything they say on the matter treated with anything other than deep suspicion at best.

    Wednesday, 8 October 2014

    Another ill-informed atheist attack on the belief that Christianity and evolution are irreconcilable

    University of Washington evolutionary biologist David Barash writes in the New York Times both about his belief that Christianity and evolutionary biology are incompatible:
    This is undeniable. If God exists, then he could have employed anything under the sun or beyond it to work his will. Hence, there is nothing in evolutionary biology that necessarily precludes religion, save for most religious fundamentalisms (everything that we know about biology and geology proclaims that the Earth was not made in a day). 
    So far, so comforting for my students. But heres the turn: These magisteria are not nearly as nonoverlapping as some of them might wish. 

    Why Nothing in Biogeography Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution

    One of the most powerful arguments against a global flood is the biogeographical distribution of species. One would expect to see evidence of a radiation of animal life away from Mt Ararat, with animals distributed according to ecological zoning. We don't. The rainforests of Africa, Asia, and South America have radically different fauna. Ditto for the deserts of Africa and Australia. We know that introduced species such as camels flourish in Australia, making their absence here inexplicable if all life radiated out from Mt Ararat.

    Robert Roberts made this point in The Visible Hand of God in arguing for a local flood:
    There are facts that compel such a conclusion; and as all facts are of God, they must be in agreement. The animals of New Zealand are different from those of Australia. The animals of Australia, again, are different from those of Asia and Europe. These again differ entirely from those of the American continent: all differ from one another: and the fossil remains on all the continents show that this difference has always prevailed. Now if the flood were universal in the absolute sense, it is manifest that these facts could not be explained, for if the animals all over the earth were drowned, and the devastated countries were afterwards replenished from a Noachic centre, the animals of all countries would now show some similarity, instead of consisting of totally different species.
    Roberts never accepted common descent and large-scale evolutionary change, but his argument from biogeography not only rules out a global flood, but provides, along with comparative genomics, perhaps the most powerful argument against special creation and in favour of common descent. [1]

    Tuesday, 7 October 2014

    Graeme Finlay - Human Genetics and the Image of God

    Nothing in medicine makes sense except in the light of evolution. Particularly human genetics. As cell biologist and cancer researcher Graeme Finlay points out in this fascinating lecture, his professional studies in cancer genetics naturally led him towards comparative genomics and the overwhelming evidence for human-ape common ancestry. Definitely worth investing the time to watch a world-class professional show that human-ape common ancestry is a fact beyond rational dispute. 

    A transcript of the lecture can be found at the companion website here.

    For those wanting more information, Finlay has written an essay Homo divinus: The Ape that Bears God's Image which covers similar territory. His 2013 text Human Evolution: Genes, Genealogies, and Phylogenies goes into extensive detail to show the avalanche of shared genetic 'errors' we have in common with the apes, evidence of our common ancestry. Highly recommended.

    Sunday, 5 October 2014

    In Their Own Words - Christadelphians Against Fundamentalism - 4

    "There are already several widespread misconceptions in the Brotherhood concerning the work and views of H. M. Morris and J. C. Whitcomb. It is a pity that the review of The World that Perished in your April issue is likely to lend support to some of those misconceptions, since the reviewer was not quite right in certain of his statements. 

    "To begin with, Morris and Whitcomb are not “two American scientists”. Prof. Whitcomb, the author of the book then being reviewed, is actually Professor of Theology and Old Testament at Grace Theological Seminary. Prof. Morris is indeed an applied scientist (a civil engineer, to be precise) although not a geologist. 

    "This would not matter, of course, if Morris and Whitcomb, as self-taught geologists, had acquired a really good grasp of the subject. Unfortunately it rather looks as if this is not the case. Several geologists of repute, including Prof. J. R. van der Fliert of Amsterdam Free University and Dr. R. M. Ritland of the Geoscience Research Institute, Berrien Springs, have pointed out numerous passages in The Genesis Flood where Morris and Whitcomb are wrong on their facts. This is not just a matter of loose reasoning and dubious speculation (though there is plenty of that in the book, to be sure!) but of mis-statements about various rock formations and other matters of common observation. It appears that, because of the authors’ rather inadequate knowledge of the world’s geological structures, many of their arguments are based on false premises.


    "To sum up, it seems that Flood Geology creates far more difficulties than it solves. The reasons that caused Brother Thomas and Brother Roberts to reject it are still valid today. When Dr. Peter Moore reviewed The World that Perished for a journal published by the Bible-believing Inter-Varsity Fellowship, he concluded:
    “'I feel that a book such as this one … can do a great deal of harm in alienating from the Christian faith those who have some knowledge of and respect for the natural sciences.'
    "There are many brethren, Brother Editor, who share his fears." - Hayward A "Letter: Flood Geology - A Note of Caution" The Christadelphian (1977) 114:268

    Friday, 3 October 2014

    In Their Own Words - Christadelphians Against Fundamentalism - 3

    “There is no truth in the popular view that places faith outside the confines of reason” - Roberts R, The Visible Hand of God, 1884, pp 2-3

    Thursday, 2 October 2014

    In Their Own Words - Christadelphians Against Fundamentalism - 2

    “In other words we rightly endeavor, as the early brethren did to find the real meaning behind the English words we read and so to come to the true message of God for man. This approach marks us as different from fundamentalists; it has, I believe, always commended itself to people of reason who are not prepared to follow a blind faith” Draper, “Fundamentalism: Letter to the Editor”, The Christadelphian (1984) 121:109

    Tuesday, 30 September 2014

    In Their Own Words - Christadelphians Against Fundamentalism - 1

    “Never be afraid of results to which you may be driven by your investigations, as this will inevitably bias your mind and disqualify you to arrive at ultimate truth. Investigate everything you believe: if it is the truth, it cannot be injured thereby; - if error, the sooner it is corrected the better” - Foreman, “Rules of interpretation and directions for investigating the scriptures”, Herald of the Kingdom and Age to Come (1859) 9:180

    Monday, 29 September 2014

    Pseudoscholarship and how to detect it

    NT scholar James McGrath has promoted a comment by Paul Regnier on the definition of pseudo-scholarship to full post status:
    What defines a theory as pseudoscholarship is not that it goes against the consensus. Pseudoscholarship tends to:
    • Denigrate entire scholarly fields
    • Largely ignore established academic channels
    • Largely ignore or parody academic conventions
    • Reflect a narrow range of ideological perspectives
    • Reject entire meta-narratives, not points within them
    • Make sensationalist claims
    • Appeal to dubious methodological privilege BUT
    • In reality employ flawed methods
    • Rely on supernatural over natural explanations
    • Be developed and supported disproportionately by non-specialists.
    The upshot of this? Next time you hear an amateur with zero professional background in evolutionary biology, geology, textual criticism, ancient languages, archaeology or any area directly relevant to the subject about which they are pontificating, and hear them peddle nonsense such as YEC, the alleged evils of the historical-critical method, or the alleged primacy of the AV, you can safely ignore them and place their views in the dustbin with other nonsense on stilts.

    Saturday, 27 September 2014

    Morton's Demon and the Dunning-Kruger Effect

    Given the sheer weight of evidence which confirms both the fact of evolution and an ancient Earth, it may seem bizarre that people who possess some post-secondary academic qualifications nonetheless reject these facts in favour of a view which has not been taken seriously by any credible life scientist for over a century. Sometimes however, it requires above-average intelligence to maintain the elaborate web of self-deception which allows a person to maintain a dogmatic position held on emotional, rather than rational reasons. In that case, no amount of reason or logic will disabuse this person of their irrational position, until at such times the cognitive stress of denying reality becomes too much.

    Monday, 22 September 2014

    Poor arguments against evolution are counter-productive.

    While I have received plenty of feedback from grateful people pointing out how my articles have helped them accept the fact of evolution while remaining a faithful Christian, I am also aware that one of the most effective mechanisms to convert people from evolution denialism are the appallingly bad arguments against evolution used by anti-evolution crusaders in our community.

    The evidence against YEC covers most of modern science. Here's why.


    Saturday, 20 September 2014

    YEC is a marked deviation from original Christadelphian teaching

    Christadelphians who assert that the Earth is only 6000 years old and that the creation of the entire universe took place in six literal consecutive days are advancing a view that not only is flatly against an overwhelming volume of evidence from the natural world, but one that was comprehensively rejected by the early generation of Christadelphians who had the intellectual honesty to accept the evidence for an ancient universe, and recognise that a hyper-literal reading of the creation narratives was theologically unsustainable. C.C. Walker argued persuasively against creation in six literal days:
    ‘The term “day” obviously signifies an indefinite period in Gen. 2:4. “These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.” Truly there is no mention of evening and morning in this case; but for the reasons given in the notes above-named we do not feel shut up to the conclusion that the Lord God occupied only twenty-four hours in making the firmament. It has been thought that the law of the Sabbath necessitates six literal days in creation; but on second thoughts this does not seem conclusive, since the millennium is a “Sabbath” of a thousand years duration, and “one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Pet. 3:9).’, Walker C.C., 'Genesis', The Christadelphian (1910) 47:361
    ‘Yet it does not seem necessary to confine the allusions of this first chapter of Genesis to six literal days on the last of which man appeared. We may take that view (the literal) and yet admit an allusion to six periods of great length preceding the appearance of man, just as we do in the other direction when we speak of “The Great Mediatoria Millennary Week of Seven Thousand Years,” the last “day” of which is God’s Sabbath of Rest for a tired world.’, ibid., p. 362
    Furthermore, he pointed out what was undeniable well over a century ago, namely the Earth was far older than 6000 years:
    ‘Ten years ago the average scientist would have asserted that our habitable globe had not existed for more than a hundred million years. Now it would be hard to find a competent physical specialist who would fix a definite maximum below a thousand million years:’, Walker C.C.,, ‘The Age of the Earth’, The Christadelphian (1911) 48:450
    Walker was not alone in rejecting YEC or the belief that the entire known universe was created in six consecutive days 6000 years ago.

    Thursday, 18 September 2014

    Wolfhart Pannenberg on Creation and Evolution

    Wolfhart Pannenberg, one of the greatest theologians of the 20th century died earlier this month. Apart from his defence of a historical resurrection, Pannenberg should be of interest to any serious Bible student due in no small part to his acceptance of the fact of evolution:

    Wednesday, 10 September 2014

    Atheists have their creation myths too.

    Twinned with the conflict model of the relationship between science and Christianity is the belief that the advance of science inexorably leads to the extinction of religion. Nick Spencer, writing in Politico magazine frames this belief nicely:
    Once upon a time, so the story goes, people believed that the world was young and flat, that God made everything including people in a few, frantically busy days, and that earthquakes and thunderstorms were examples of his furious rage, which you ignored at your peril. Into this sorry state of affairs, emerged a thing called “science” and, despite the best efforts of ignorant, self-serving clerics who wished to keep the people in utmost darkness, “science” proved that none of the above was true. Gradually, wonderfully, the human race matured, with every confident scientific step forward pushing our infantile, crumbling ideas of the divine closer to oblivion. “Extinguished theologians lie about the cradle of every science, as the strangled snakes besides that of Hercules,” as Thomas Huxley, the English biologist known as “Darwin’s bulldog,” memorably put it.
    Trouble is, as Spencer observes, the facts don't neatly align with this story, which relies more on plausibility and the anti-theistic prejudices of many who blindly swallow it,  for its persistence: