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