Thursday, 31 July 2014

Cosmologist George Ellis chides physicists for attacking philosphy

Scientific American has a fascinating interview of respected cosmologist George Ellis by science writer John Horgan at its blog. One of the highlights is his takedown of the naive triumphalism advanced by New Atheist cosmologist Lawrence Krauss:
Horgan: Lawrence Krauss, in A Universe from Nothing, claims that physics has basically solved the mystery of why there is something rather than nothing. Do you agree?

Ellis: Certainly not. He is presenting untested speculative theories of how things came into existence out of a pre-existing complex of entities, including variational principles, quantum field theory, specific symmetry groups, a bubbling vacuum, all the components of the standard model of particle physics, and so on. He does not explain in what way these entities could have pre-existed the coming into being of the universe, why they should have existed at all, or why they should have had the form they did. And he gives no experimental or observational process whereby we could test these vivid speculations of the supposed universe-generation mechanism. How indeed can you test what existed before the universe existed? You can’t.

Thus what he is presenting is not tested science. It’s a philosophical speculation, which he apparently believes is so compelling he does not have to give any specification of evidence that would confirm it is true. Well, you can’t get any evidence about what existed before space and time came into being. Above all he believes that these mathematically based speculations solve thousand year old philosophical conundrums, without seriously engaging those philosophical issues. The belief that all of reality can be fully comprehended in terms of physics and the equations of physics is a fantasy. As pointed out so well by Eddington in his Gifford lectures, they are partial and incomplete representations of physical, biological, psychological, and social reality.

And above all Krauss does not address why the laws of physics exist, why they have the form they have, or in what kind of manifestation they existed before the universe existed (which he must believe if he believes they brought the universe into existence). Who or what dreamt up symmetry principles, Lagrangians, specific symmetry groups, gauge theories, and so on? He does not begin to answer these questions.

It’s very ironic when he says philosophy is bunk and then himself engages in this kind of attempt at philosophy. It seems that science education should include some basic modules on Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Hume, and the other great philosophers, as well as writings of more recent philosophers such as Tim Maudlin and David Albert.
The interview covers a wide range of topics, and provides a cautionary note for the naive, scientifically illiterate anti-theist not to uncritically latch onto the New Atheist physicist du jour in order to try to give a scientific veneer to their unbelief.

It probably isn't theology either...

Monday, 28 July 2014

The "aha" moment - Biblical Scholars Tell Their Stories. Part 11: Chris Keith

The eleventh invited post in Peter Enns' series comes from Chris Keith, Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity and Director of the Centre for the Social-Scientific Study of the Bible, St Mary’s University, Twickenham. Keith describes two series of 'aha moments'. The first came when he encountered problems such as "the day of Jesus’ crucifixion in the Synoptic Gospels and John; David’s census in 2 Samuel 24 and 1 Chronicles 21; Paul’s Hagar allegory in Galatians 4; the sexual violence and erotic language in Judges 19, Ezekiel 23, and Song of Solomon." His second series of moments came not from the Bible, but the behaviour of "defenders of hard-line views of Scripture like inerrancy, particularly certain fundamentalist systematic theologians". Not only could he not accept their readings of scripture, he found the way in which they demonised fellow believers astonishing.

"20 scientific facts seldom taught to students" critically reviewed #19

Collyer's nineteenth point is the assertion that "[m]ost dinosaurs are known only by their tracks impressed on mud that turned to stone." This is untrue. We have many dinosaur fossils, ranging from incomplete skeletons, to multiple near-complete skeletons.

Unfortunately, his nineteenth point degenerated further with the embarrassingly ill-informed claim that "in Russia, horse-hoof tracks and human footprints have been found alongside dinosaur tracks, contrary to the evolutionary scenario." This is untrue. Collyer had uncritically cited a long-debunked creationist claim without confirming its credibility The dinosaur footprints are real, but the human ones are partly-filled dinosaur prints. Even some creationist organisations warn against using the “Russian human / dinosaur” example.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

"20 scientific facts seldom taught to students" critically reviewed #18

Collyer's eighteenth 'scientific fact' is the age-old special creationist blunder that there are no transitional fossils: "The so-called 'missing link' between one form of life and another requires many millions of missing links of a slow evolutionary process did actually take place. All are missing."

Wrong. Collyer's "20 scientific facts" series is studded with errors, but his assertion that there are no transitional fossils is particularly egregious, given that as renown palaeontologist Stephen Jay Gould pointed out, "[t]ransitional forms are generally lacking at the species level, but they are abundant between larger groups." [1] 

The reason why transitional forms are generally lacking at the species level is due partly to the incompleteness of the fossil record, but mainly due to the mechanisms of speciation, in which species develop quickly in a sub-population in a small part of the geographical extent of the ancestral species.

Finally, his reference to 'missing links' betrayed yet again lack of familiarity with the subject. Creationists who refer to 'missing links' are thinking of evolution in terms of a ladder from simple organisms to complex organisms. Evolution however is modelled not by a ladder, but by a low bushy tree. Missing links are missing only because there are no such thing as 'missing links.' Rather, palaeontologists look for fossils with transitional features, and the fossil record abounds with them. [2]

The "aha" moment - Biblical Scholars Tell Their Stories. Part 10: Chris Tilling

Part ten of Peter Enn's series of invited posts by Christian scholars from a conservative / fundamentalist background whose detailed study of the Bible led to their recognition that a fundamentalist reading of the Bible was untenable comes from respected NT scholar Chris Tilling who is Lecturer in New Testament at St Mellitus College in the UK, as well as Visiting Lecturer at King's College, London. In his post, Tilling comments on how he moved from the circular logic of fundamentalism's view on inerrancy (the Bible is inerrant because God inspired it, and we know God inspired the Bible because the Bible says so) to one which "allowed the Bible itself to shape our doctrine of Scripture", allowing him to "read and love the Bible for what it is, not what it isn't."

Friday, 25 July 2014

"20 scientific facts seldom taught to students" critically reviewed #17

John Collyer's 17th 'fact seldom taught' was the claim that "[at] the base of the fossil record there is evidence of many highly complex creatures, but no evidence of an evolutionary sequence." Collyer is referring to the Cambrian explosion, and was parroting the standard special creationist misconception that at the base of the Cambrian, modern phyla appear suddenly, without any evidence of earlier forms in the older strata.

This is incorrect. In the Ediacaran era (immediately prior to the Cambrian) we have evidence of bilaterian life, including arthropods and molluscs. There are also the enigmatic Ediacaran biota, which are definitely multicellular, but may even be a failed attempt at a new form of life. Furthermore, not all phyla appeared at the beginning of the Cambrian – some took several million years to appear. In fact, the so-called “explosion” is more like a slow fuse, as it took place not in a geological instant, but over several million years.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

"20 scientific facts seldom taught to students" critically reviewed #16

Collyer's 16th 'scientific fact seldom taught to students' was his assertion that "[f]ossils are evidence of extinctions, not of new forms of life". Added to that was his implicit assertion that fossils provided support for a flood when he claimed that "[t]heir condition is evidence of very rapid burial. Finally, he claimed that "many polystrate fossils indicate that several strata were laid rapidly round the upright fossil."

His reference to fossils being evidence of extinction, not of new forms of life is incorrect.  When a fossil appears for the first time in the geological record, and is preceded by a similar organism, it is entirely reasonable state that this is evidence for the appearance of a new species. 

There is no such term as “polystrate fossil” in the geological literature, as it is one that was invented by creationists to describe phenomena that appear to support flood geology. Trees buried in sediments don't always die immediately, but can remain there for many years, while further layers are added. 19th century old earth creationist geologists explained these phenomena using standard geological methods.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

"20 scientific facts seldom taught to students" critically reviewed #15

John Collyer's fifteenth 'fact seldom taught to students' was the assertion that symbiotic relationships were too complex to evolve. His assertion "...the interdependence of two forms of life, such as the fig tree and fig-gall wasp, the yucca plant and Pronuba moth, pollen plants and the bee, each dependent for life upon the other, must have been formed complete at the same time" ignores the fact that such symbiotic relationships did not evolve in one step, but did so over time, evolving from a non-obligate relationship to one of obligate mutualism. 

An excellent example are the codependent relationships that develop between time between two disabled people living together who can function as a unit, but are unable to look after each other when separated. As their disabilities developed over time, they became dependent on each other.

Special creationists such as Collyer tend not to mention that there there are many species of related insects which exploit the plants but do not give anything in return - these are referred to as cheater species. Special creation is completely unable to explain why God would create some plant-insect relationships that are mutualistic, while others are antagonistic. Evolutionary biology is however readily able to account for this.

Ultimately, Collyer's argument is yet again another example of special creationist incredulity leavened with ignorance of the facts.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Christadelphian - Origins Discussion. A new Facebook group for the discussion of how evolution affects theology

I've recently noticed the appearance of a new Facebook group dedicated to discussing how evolution affects Christadelphian theology: Christadelphian - Origins Discussion. From the About page:
A Christadelphian discussion on origins looking at Theistic evolution/Evolutionary Creation and doctrinal implications  
A place for civil discussion by Christadelphians about our understanding of Genesis 1 and God's creative work. This will include consideration of the doctrinal implications as well as science. Why? Because I think as a community we need to accommodate a range of opinions while being true to God's Word so we don't cause others to stumble.
This is excellent news. Attacks on those who either accept the fact of evolution, or are prepared to accommodate those who do are the last thing our community needs. Anything that lifts the profile of rational debate on this subject in our community is welcome news.

"20 scientific facts seldom taught to students" critically reviewed #14

Christadelphian special creationist John Collyer's fourteenth '20 scientific fact seldom taught to students' asserts that "amino acids formed synthetically are either right handed or left handed." He continued by declaring that the "amino acids in all forms of life are left-handed, without exception, are evidence of intelligent selection and design." Once more, Collyer like most special creationists has conflated evolution and abiogenesis. Furthermore, he is invoking the argument from personal incredulity. Finally, his argument betrays ignorance of abiogenesis research.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Cell biologist Ken Miller on God and Evolution

Fascinating interview of Catholic cell biologist Ken Miller by sceptic Samuel Varg. Miller, as many would known, is the author of the excellent Finding Darwin's God, and is probably best known for his pivotal role in the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial in which intelligent design was shown to be be a form of special creation, and therefore violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the US constitution. Enjoy.

The "aha" moment - Biblical Scholars Tell Their Stories. Part 9: Anthony Le Donne

Part 9 of Peter Enns' series features Anthony Le Donne, currently assistant professor of New Testament at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio. Le Donne is widely respected for his work in NT scholarship, particularly his work in historical Jesus research and social memory. One of Le Donne's main "aha moments" came while trying to reconcile the apparent contradiction between Ezra's marriage restrictions in Ez 9-10 and Jeremiah's command for the Jews in Babylon to intermarry.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

The "aha" moment - Biblical Scholars Tell Their Stories. Part 8: Michael Ruffin

Part 8 of Peter Enns' series of posts from Christians relating the moment when their detailed study of the Bible exposed them to the reality that the fundamentalist / Biblicist approach to exegesis was untenable comes not from a professional Biblical scholar, but from Michael Ruffin, a pastor of a church in Georgie, USA. [1] Ruffin's story of growing up in a small American town where most of the citizens were manual workers, worshipping at the local Southern Baptist church, and eventually being drawn to university to fulfil his ambition of studying theology is hardly unusual, particularly as he relates how his academic studies introduced him to material (such as the documentary hypothesis) that he realised would have horrified his old hometown pastor. Where the story takes a different twist is the reaction he received from his father when he raised this subject with him.

Atheism, Christianity, and "Other Ways of Knowing"

While Jerry Coyne's website Why Evolution is True is a far more pleasant read than PZ Myers' Pharyngula, Coyne's frankly sophomoric approach to the science-religion debate does get the better of him more often than not. Some time ago, I posted an ECACP article in which Mike Aus, an atheist who used to be a liberal Lutheran pastor outlined the salient points of his deconversion. I focused on his (accurate) comment that Original Sin and the immortal soul were impossible to honestly reconcile with the evolutionary origins of the human race and noted how our theological position, which rejects both tenets, is immune to any attack by non-theists which uses evolution as a blunt weapon with which to attack our faith. Coyne has once more attacked the idea that religion is an "alternative way of understanding" and has quoted this part of Aus' article, adding that "the part I've put in bold should be tattooed on the arm of every person who promotes 'other ways of knowing.'" 
When I was working as a pastor I would often gloss over the clash between the scientific world view and the perspective of religion. I would say that the insights of science were no threat to faith because science and religion are “different ways of knowing” and are not in conflict because they are trying to answer different questions. Science focuses on “how” the world came to be, and religion addresses the question of “why” we are here. I was dead wrong. There are not different ways of knowing. There is knowing and not knowing, and those are the only two options in this world. Religion, even “enlightened” liberal religion, is generally not interested in the facts on the ground. Religion is really not about “knowing” anything; it is about speculation not based on reality.
Now, I agree that "there is knowing and not knowing, and those are the only two options in this world". Our faith is based on what we believe to be a historical event, one that we believe actually happened in time and space, and that of course is the resurrection of Christ. The centrality of that for Christian faith cannot be overstressed. As Paul said in 1 Cor 15.12-19, if Christ was not raised, then our faith is worthless. If we take our faith seriously, then we are obliged to investigate the circumstances surrounding the emergence of Christianity and determine whether a frankly supernatural event is the best explanation for why Christianity emerged. That definitely requires a Christian to investigate the facts using a systematic, rigorous method of applied scepticism. 

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Understanding creationism: An insider’s guide by a former young-Earth creationist - 8

David MacMillan's final post in his series on how the YEC mind reacts to the evidence for evolution is up at Panda's Thumb. This time, he spends some time in outlining how he went from YEC to EC, and it makes fascinating reading. It also shows that some YECs can be reached, which is of course one of the reasons this blog exists, to help rescue Christadelphians from the flawed science and theology of YEC. 

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

The "aha" moment - Biblical Scholars Tell Their Stories. Part 7: Christopher M Hays

Part seven of Peter Enns' series of posts from Biblical scholars from a fundamentalist or evangelical background relating the moment when their detailed study of the Bible showed that the fundamentalist approach to exegesis was untenable comes from Christopher Hays, a New Testament scholar who teaches at Fundación Universitaria Seminario Bíblico de Colombia. For Hays, his moment came during his investigation of 2 Peter 2:15 which describes Balaam as the son of Bosor, a reading which not only is at variance with what the source text in Numbers describes (Balaam son of Beor) but one which he believed his studied confirmed "makes no sense at all".

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

The function of denialism

The Earth is around 4500 million years old. That's a fact, and anyone who asserts otherwise simply does not know what he is talking about. The evidence for this as I pointed out yesterday is considerable, and covers a wide range of areas from ice cores to radiometric dating. Despite this, our community is filled with people who in all seriousness believe that the Earth is only 6000 years old, and when shown the evidence which refutes that position persist in maintaining this mistaken belief. As philosopher of science John Wilkins [1] has noted, psychological and sociological factors arguably play the main role in preserving beliefs as patently false as YEC in closed communities such as ours.

Monday, 14 July 2014

This is why we can be absolutely certain that the Earth is far older than 6000 years.

There are some things in life about which one can be utterly certain. One of them is the fact that the Earth is considerably older than 6000 years, being around 4.5 billion years old, give or take a few tens of millions of years. Therefore, YEC, irrespective of what its advocates think the Bible says is automatically wrong. It is based on a confused, anachronistic reading of the Bible by well-intended believers lacking familiarity with the ancient Near Eastern context of the creation narratives, and made in defiance of an avalanche of evidence which confirms beyond doubt the reality of an ancient Earth.

Almost all YECs are usually aware that radiometric dating is cited by mainstream science as providing evidence for an ancient Earth, but almost always are completely unaware of the actual science behind the method, as well as the fact that the great antiquity of the Earth was accepted by mainstream science well before the discovery of radioactivity and the science of geochronology which developed from it and which confirmed spectacularly the relative dating methods used by 19th century geologists. The truth is that there are many methods which confirm the reality of an ancient Earth and an even more ancient universe. An excellent summary of the evidence for an ancient Earth and ancient Universe is at RationalWiki and is reproduced below the fold.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

The "aha" moment - Biblical Scholars Tell Their Stories. Part 6: Christopher Skinner

The sixth post in Peter Enns' invited series of posts from Biblical scholars from a fundamentalist or evangelical background recounting the moment when their detailed study of the Bible showed the problems with fundamentalist exegesis comes from Christopher Skinner, who is currently Associate Professor of Religion at the University of Mount Olive in North Carolina. Skinner describes not only one of his problems (the contradictory genealogies of Christ in Matthew and Luke) but the facile, glib response of some of those to whom he turned for support.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

The "aha" moment - Biblical Scholars Tell Their Stories. Part 5

The fifth post in Peter Enns series comes from Charles Halton, a respected Old Testament scholar who apart from being an assistant professor of theology at Houston Baptist University is the managing editor of the online review journal Marginalia as well as a writer and editor who has recently finished editing the forthcoming book Genesis: History, Fiction, or Neither?: Three Views on the Bible’s Earliest Chapters Unsurprisingly, Halton's 'aha' moment comes from the Old Testament, and in particular, the two creation narratives in Genesis.

Friday, 11 July 2014

The "aha" moment - Biblical Scholars Tell Their Stories. Part 4 Michael Pahl

The fourth part of Peter Enns' series of invited posts from Christian scholars from a conservative background whose detailed study of the Bible convinced them that the old fundamentalist way of reading the Bible was untenable comes from Michael Pahl, a pastor of a Mennonite church in Canada who was an associate professor at Cedarville University before leaving under less than positive circumstances. More on that later.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Understanding creationism: An insider’s guide by a former young-Earth creationist - 7

Part seven of David MacMillan's series of articles exposing how YECs deceive themselves when they confront the evidence for evolution is up at the Panda's Thumb blog. This article focuses on the alleged religious, moral, and ethical implications of evolution:
The assumption that “evolutionism” and “secular science” denies God’s existence applies not only to the suggestions that evolution might be possible, but more generally to any challenge to creationist arguments. While some creationists take pains to discard the more outlandish arguments, others will fiercely defend obsolete and ridiculous theories simply because of their perceived apologetics value. This stubbornness is the source of animosity and division between the various creationist movements; each group points to “concessions” and “compromises” the other groups make, because any compromise is considered a tacit admission that maybe the evidence for God isn’t quite as strong as it would otherwise be. Such arguments are all God-of-the-gaps arguments, of course, but this fact goes unnoticed.
While there are some YECs in our community who are simply impervious to reason and are very much the embodiment of the Dunning-Kruger effect, I know from personal experience that some are amenable to reason, and if this series can rescue them from YEC, it will have served its purpose. You can find the article here.

The "aha" moment - Biblical Scholars Tell Their Stories. Part 3 Daniel Kirk

The third installment of Peter Enns' series on the 'aha' moment comes from Daniel Kirk, associate professor of NT at Fuller Theological Seminary. For Kirk, this moment came when he tried to construct a harmony of the events of the last week of Jesus' life as related in the four gospels.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

The "aha" moment - Biblical Scholars Tell Their Stories. Part 2 - John Byron

The next chapter in Peter Enns' series in which Biblical scholars from an evangelical / fundamentalist background relate the moment when their detailed study of the Bible led them to acknowledge that a literalist / fundamentalist reading of the Bible was untenable comes from John Byron, professor of NT at Ashland Theological Seminary. His moment came during a Bible college discussion of Mark 2:23-37   which when read literally appears contradicts 1 Sam 21:1-9 both in the name of the High Priest, and the amount of people present during the narrative.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

The "aha" moment - Biblical Scholars Tell Their Stories. Part 1 - Peter Enns

OT scholar Peter Enns is currently running a series of articles from "biblical scholars from evangelical backgrounds telling their stories about their “aha” moments that convinced them they needed to find different ways of handling the Bible than how they had been taught.". When people from a fundamentalist background really study the Bible, rather than just use it to reinforce their dogma, they tend to pick up the problems (contradictory creation narratives when read literally, creative exegesis by Paul of the OT which runs against the original meaning of the OT passages in question) to which their fundamentalism has blinded them. While some lose their faith, having been primed by their fundamentalist background to see things in an all-or-nothing mindset, others have the wisdom and intelligence to recognise that the problem lies not in the Bible, but in their fundamentalist way of reading it.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Peter Enns: “I was always taught the Bible says X, but I just don’t see it”

OT scholar Peter Enns, has recently commented on NT professor Greg Carey's HuffPo column in which Carey asserts that "[r]eading the Bible is a terrific cure for fundamentalism. That's exactly how many of us so-called liberal Bible scholars got our start", agreeing with Carey's claim that a sensitive reading of the Bible poses huge challenges for fundamentalism:
I have known many people, and heard of many others, who have come from conservative or moderately conservative backgrounds and whose earlier paradigms have been seriously challenged by the simply process of paying attention to scripture in context–whether the immediate literary context or the historical context. This is especially true of those who have done higher level academic work outside of evangelicalism and fundamentalism, but is by no means restricted to this group.

Why does this happen?

I think it’s because scripture doesn’t line up very well with the conservative paradigm of scripture (some form of inerrancy). That’s why the paradigm needs constant tending and vigilant defending in order to survive.

I mean, there’s a reason why Carey’s phenomenon keeps rearing its head generation after generation. It’s not (as I hear far too often) that the offenders are intellectually naive (or dimwitted) and have been duped or are too spiritually weak kneed to “hold on to the truth.”

The recurring unrest with conservative readings of scripture from within conservative circles suggests that the paradigm is flawed.
(Emphasis in the original)

Why Evolution is True - Jerry Coyne

One of the best explanations of the evidence for evolution is Jerry Coyne's Why Evolution is True. Those who are looking for an accessible, informed [1] coverage of the evidence for evolution would be hard-pressed to find a better book.

For those wanting an overview of Coyne's treatment, this video presentation by Coyne covers the major  lines of evidence:

If you're after the evidence for evolution from the fossil record, then the respected vertebrate palaeontologist Donald Prothero - author of the excellent Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters - likewise provides an excellent coverage of the evidence in this 90 minute presentation:

The evidence for common descent from the genomic data is covered brilliantly by cell biologist and cancer researcher Graeme Finlay in his recent book Human Evolution: Genes, Genealogies and Phylogenies. Those seeking an overview of Finlay's argument could do worse than look at his 2006 lecture Human Genetics and the Image of God delivered at Queen's Lecture Theatre, Emmanuel College, Cambridge. [2]


[1]. Coyne is an evolutionary biologist whose professional specialty is evolutionary genetics and speciation. Quite literally, he wrote the book on the latter subject (along with H Allen Orr).
[2]. The lecture website is here

Transposable Elements and Common Descent of Humans and other Primates

The evidence from shared identical endogenous retroviral elements in human and ape DNA is easily my favourite line of evidence to demonstrate the fact of human-ape common ancestry given that we are dealing with genetic material that is clearly evidence of ancient retroviral infection which has become part of the germ line and inherited. No credible special creationist explanation for this exists. The evidence from retrotransposons - mobile genetic elements that copy and randomly insert themselves into the host genome however is also compelling evidence in its own right. Biochemist PN Garrison has an excellent overview of the evidence for human-ape common ancestry from the retrotransposon data which deserves a wider audience.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Understanding creationism: An insider’s guide by a former young-Earth creationist - 6

Part 6 of former YEC David MacMillan's series on how the YEC mind deceives itself when confronting the evidence for evolution is up at Panda's Thumb. This time, he looks at how the YEC tries to explain away the genetic evidence. As I've explained repeatedly, along with biogeography, this provides some of the most compelling evidence for the reality of common descent, and the special creationist attempts to explain it away are frankly pitiful.

The 'common design' explanation is frequently cited in an attempt to explain away the evidence. Ignoring the fact that the multiple shared identical genomic 'glitches' such as pseudogenes, retrotransposons, and endogenous retroviral elements make the case for common descent unassailable:
[t]he obvious problem is that common design is unfalsifiable. There’s no limit to what it can explain, no level of commonality it cannot be used with. We recognize that an explanation which can fit literally anything is useless; it doesn’t tell us anything. Unfortunately, creationists don’t care whether their explanations are falsifiable. Their presuppositionalist background tells them that it doesn’t matter whether explanations are falsifiable – it’s just necessary to make sure they have the right presupposition at the outset, and everything else flows from that. As long as their denial of mainstream science seems vaguely plausible, they are okay.
So instead of pointing out the unfalsifiability of common design, it’s better to let them use it, but challenge them to take it to its logical conclusion. If their divine common design can really produce the observed levels of genetic similarity, then it should also produce clear and obvious genetic similarities in species that aren’t anywhere close on the evolutionary tree. Not just small sequences in common, but entire gene suites. If God is in the practice of re-using the exact same gene sequences in creatures that happen to show up close together, then we should see the same thing in distant species. Species identified in mainstream science as examples of convergent evolution – the same traits or abilities having evolved separately – should have perfectly matching gene sequences placed there by the creator. For example, bats and birds evolved echolocation separately using different genes, but the “common design” argument would predict the same exact gene sequences.
Full article is here.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

The Origin of Modern Humans: Why the Fossil Evidence rules out a Fundamentalist Reading of Genesis

Since January 2011, evangelical Christian and physical anthropologist James Kidder has been writing an excellent series of posts at BioLogos on the fossil evidence for human evolution. It's the sort of material that Christadelphians need to read on the subject, particularly given that nearly fifty years ago, the then editor of The Christadelphian, LG Sargent acknowledged that:
there is abundant evidence of early “man” at a time which certainly appears to be far beyond the limits allowed by Bible chronology. This must be admitted even after discounting the slender and uncertain remains claimed for a still more remote antiquity, about which there have been such notorious blunders and even downright fraud. [1]
while the arranging brothers of the Watford ecclesia in the UK, in the wake of the excommunication of Ralph Lovelock had the intellectual honesty to recognise:
problems that undoubtedly exist should be frankly admitted by us as a community, for we do naught but dishonour to the word of God by pretending that these problems are not there. Our Brotherhood bears a responsibility to those in search of Scripture truth, and especially to those of tender years, to turn its attention to the solving of these difficulties in an atmosphere of calm, sincere, conscientious study, unhindered by the rumours, mistrust, suspicion and hasty judgments that have been all too prevalent among us in recent times. [2]
As I've pointed out before, our community has betrayed those of 'tender years' in not only failing to address these problems (we've largely retreated into the sort of dogmatic fundamentalism espoused by extremist YEC organisations such as AiG and CMI to our shame) but in demonising those who have the honesty to recognise that the evidence for human evolution is beyond dispute, and are seeking to fulfil the commission a previous generation has entrusted us.

Richard Carrier brands those who disagree with him 'insane'

I've never had much time for intellectual-manqué Richard Carrier. Anyone who associates themselves with the 'Jesus was a myth' movement is already on the fringes of credibility, but when some atheists criticise him for his ill-informed attack on Bart Ehrman's book on the historical Jesus, and note his tendency to brand those who disagree with him 'insane', it is not unreasonable to see him less as scholar and more as atheist zealot.