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: