Tuesday, 31 March 2015

The "fake peer-review" scandal shows...that science is self-correcting. The same is not true for YEC

Evolution denialists, when confronted with the overwhelming evidence for an ancient Earth and common descent resort to wholesale science denialism and paranoia, by claiming that there is a huge atheist conspiracy to deny special creationists access to the scientific journals. (Paradoxically, they also claim that peer review is flawed, corrupt, and unreliable, which of course means that any special creation article which does get into the scientific literature by their logic is also flawed, corrupt, and unreliable, but internal consistency and logical thought has never been a feature of hard-core special creationism.) Needless to say, any news report of major abuse of the peer review system or en bloc retraction of journals is interpreted by YEC science denialists as proof of the existence of a sinister corrupt atheistic scientific conspiracy.  [1]

The fact that it is this same 'atheistic scientific conspiracy' which calls out such examples of abuse, retracts papers, and openly discusses problems with peer review needless to say contradicts the feverish assertions by YEC science denialists that there is such a conspiracy, and shows that science, both as a philosophy and an institution is eventually self-correcting. By contrast, the special creationist movement has a well-earned reputation for deceit, incompetence, and reusing arguments long after they have been corrected by others. For special creationists to even try to claim the moral high ground here would represent hypocrisy of the highest order.

Evolution and the Bible - a Recommended Viewing List

We've seen that material such as the CMI video "Evolution's Achilles' Heel" is not going to provide an informed, reliable overview of how a Christian should understand the creation narratives in light of the fact of evolution. The following videos, largely from the excellent BioLogos, will provide the interested layperson with an excellent overview of the evidence for an ancient, evolving universe, how the ancient Hebrew audience understood Genesis, and how we can understand the Bible in light of the witness of the natural world.

Monday, 30 March 2015

Rightly dividing the words of scientific truth - how critical thinking shows a YEC video is likely to be unreliable

One of the fundamental problems with special creationist attacks on evolution is their inability to critically appraise and assess the information they use to justify these attacks. Given that evolution is regarded as one of the best-attested theories in science, the burden of proof lies exclusively on special creationists to show that the scientific consensus is misguided, and that requires information from credible, authoritative sources. Information sourced from fundamentalist Christian organisations or private websites of cranks is not going to pass master. Likewise, slick videos from fringe pseudoscientific organisations are hardly going to provide evidence that will overturn the foundations of modern biology.

For example, one would hardly take seriously claims by geocentrists that the entire universe rotates around the Earth and modern astronomy is a godless conspiracy to suppress what the Bible says about a fixed Earth. One would also hardly expect a slickly produced video by a fringe geocentrist organisation to be taken as an authoritative, reliable source of information that ‘proved’ modern astronomy was wrong to reject geocentrism. The Christadelphian who made these claims, parroted the assertions of these fringe groups, and touted such videos as evidence would quite rightly have his claims dismissed as being based on poor quality information. The same logic applies to those who claim that evolution is ‘science falsely so called’. Unfortunately, and to the shame of our community, the same degree of scepticism we would apply to the geocentrist claims vanished when it comes to the YEC claims, despite the fact that the YEC claims are just as vacuous.

Friday, 27 March 2015

"I am the Very Model of a Biblical Philologist"

It's time for a moment of erudite levity.

There is no atheist conspiracy stopping creationists publishing in the literature. They do, and their papers are hopeless

Poke around the extremes of the evolution denialists in our community, and you'll find fully-fledged conspiracy theorists who seriously believe that there is an evil atheist conspiracy preventing the publication of the scientific papers that they claim will overturn evolutionary biology and restore special creation to the heart of modern science. As with all conspiracy theories, it suffers from one fatal flaw. It's wrong. If you followed the link, you'd find yourself at a page maintained by the Discovery Institute, an intelligent design organisation [1] which maintains a list of "Peer-Reviewed Publications Supporting Intelligent Design". [2] So there you have it. Special creationists it seems are able to publish in the scientific literature, a fact which pretty well destroys the credibility of the conspiracy theorists in our community who believe in a Big Bad Darwinist Conspiracy.

A Christadelphian special creationist gives a hopelessly flawed perspective on human evolution

If you're going to criticise evolutionary biology, one of the best attested theories in modern science, then you need to do so from the position of one who knows the discipline intimately, that is, someone who has studied the subject formally, conducted research in the subject, and discussed your ideas with other scientific professionals. If you're a layperson whose knowledge comes from fundamentalist Christian websites, or the abstracts of scientific papers you've completely misunderstood, then no one will take you seriously. It's that simple.

That something this obvious needs to be emphasised is unfortunately a testament to how deeply fundamentalism,  science denialism, and the misguided belief that "having the Truth" when it comes to theology automatically translates to mastery of every subject. I was reminded of these facts yesterday when I looked at an evolution denialist Facebook page managed by a Christadelphian with a modest background in philosophy who has acknowledged elsewhere his lack of formal scientific qualifications. That considerable deficit alas has not stopped him from pontificating in a spectacularly uninformed manner on human evolution, demonstrating in the process his complete ignorance of the subject.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Evolution and Original Sin - Robin Collins

Arguably the main reason many Christians reject evolution is that it precludes monogenism, the belief that the entire human race descended exclusively from two human beings. As the doctrine of Original Sin as formulated by the Catholic and Reformed faith traditions is contingent on monogenism, it is hardly surprising that there is opposition to evolution.

It should be pointed out that serious re-examination of the doctrine of Original Sin predated Darwin. As Tatha Wiley notes, post-Reformation Christians "[l]ike Pelagius, they felt the idea that human beings were born already guilty of sin was morally reprehensible..Moderns considered the doctrine of original sin unsound on ethical grounds, not only historical ones." [1] Needless to say, once the realisation that evolution ruled out monogenism, many Christians realised that Original Sin as classically formulated was untenable. If humans were not exclusively descended from two people, then it was impossible for the guilt and consequences of Adam's sin to be genetically passed down to the entire human race.

Given that traditional Christadelphian views on the atonement are not contingent on monogenism, the fact of evolution does not affect our theology, which is why it is frustrating to see such vehement opposition to evolution.  With this in mind, it is fascinating to read the essay "Evolution and Original Sin" by the philosopher Robin Collins, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Messiah College which is currently being serialised at the BioLogos blog. The insights Collins offers are fascinating, but for us, the realisation that our theological position needs no essential modification in the light of the reality of common descent is even more reassuring.

The entire series to date can be found here.


1. Wiley, Tatha. Original Sin: Origins, Developments, and Contemporary Meanings. Paulist Press, New Jersey, 2002, p 111

Thursday, 19 March 2015

A Christadelphian evolution denialist completely misunderstands a paper on genetic bottlenecks

A few days ago, I commented on the misuse of a recent paper which found evidence for a bottleneck in the Y chromosome data by an evolution denialist in our community who declared that:
Some say that a "population bottleneck" never happened in man's history. Well, this is the latest in a growing line of academic papers on the subject:
Over the years that I have been monitoring evolution denialism in our community, it has been my experience that whenever evolution denialist refer to a scientific paper, either they have never read it, or have completely misunderstood it. Unsurprisingly, this appears to be the case.

One of the authors of the paper is Melissa A. Wilson Sayres, an evolutionary biologist and Assistant Professor in the school of Life Sciences at Arizona State University. She's posted at Panda's Thumb a number of times, and accepts evolution, so it is unlikely that she would see her paper as evidence for monogenism. She's now commented on this paper at her blog, and provided a helpful infographic which explains what is going on. Unsurprisingly, Wilson Sayres' post shows that the paper provides zero support for the special creationist belief that Adam and Eve were the sole ancestors of the human race.  Here's the executive summary: 

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

300 million year old fossils inside 100 million year old fossils - even more evidence against flood geology

The evidence against a young Earth, flood geology, and a global flood is overwhelming, which would make compiling further evidence against it very much a case of flogging a dead horse. However, given the regrettable state of affairs in parts of our community where such nonsense on stilts is promoted, such dead-horse flogging is very much indicated.

In the excellent Age of Rocks website, geologist Jonathan Baker notes how sedimentary rocks composed of weathered rock fragments from lower down in the geological column provided irrefutable evidence against a young Earth. As he points out "Paleozoic (542–251 Ma) rocks had to solidify completely, breakdown into smaller clasts, become rounded and smoothed by abrasion, and then reworked into conglomerates of Mesozoic and Cenozoic age." This rules out the belief that the geological column was laid down within a short space of time by a global flood.

Gastroliths, rocks found inside the stomachs of animals, likewise provide powerful evidence against flood geology for the same reason - the rocks forming the ancient gastroliths had to form and become weathered before being ingested by these animals. When these rocks contain fossils - which according to YECs were all laid down by the flood, the YEC argument simply loses all credibility:

Genetic Bottleneck: YECs keep using that word. I do not think they know what it means...

Special creationist misuse of the scientific literature falls into two classes; (1) quote mining, where a paper is selectively quoted in order to change the original meaning of what the scientist was actually saying, and (2) a complete misunderstanding of the paper, where the special creationist, lacking even rudimentary knowledge of the scientific basics, cites a paper as evidence for special creation when it actually proves nothing of the sort.

That there is too much genomic diversity in the human race to have emerged from just two people living six thousand years ago, or six people living around 4500 years ago is hardly controversial in mainstream scientific circles. What this means is that the flood was not anthropologically global, and humanity did not exclusively descend from two people living around six to ten thousand years ago. In other words, we do not see evidence of a razor-sharp genetic bottleneck when we look at the human genome. Any theological position that is contingent on monogenism or an anthropologically global flood has been ruled out by the facts, and no amount of appeal to a literal reading of Romans 5:12 or the creation narratives will alter those facts.

It is amusing, if not disappointing to see how special creationists attempt to deal with these facts:
Some say that a "population bottleneck" never happened in man's history. Well, this is the latest in a growing line of academic papers on the subject:
While there is a growing list of academic papers on the subject, these have been completely misunderstood by the YECS given that none of them provide evidence that the human race descended from two people living six thousand years ago. Certainly, this paper has been completely misunderstood by the person citing it, given that it provides no support for the YEC belief that 6000 years ago, the human race began from two people living in Mesopotamia:

Saturday, 14 March 2015

The Fossil Calibration Database - a storehouse of hard facts to slay the heresy of YEC stone dead

Via Geology Page comes excellent news about an open-access fossil database. If you want something more authoritative and reliable than the usual nonsense and ignorance from AiG, CMI or ICR, then this is well worth checking out:
Have you ever wondered exactly when a certain group of plants or animals first evolved? This week a groundbreaking new resource for scientists will go live, and it is designed to help answer just those kinds of questions. The Fossil Calibration Database, a free, open-access resource that stores carefully vetted fossil data, is the result of years of work from a worldwide team led by Dr. Daniel Ksepka, Curator of Science at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, and Dr. James Parham, Curator at the John D. Cooper Archaeological and Paleontological Center in Orange County, California, funded through the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent). 
"Fossils provide the critical age data we need to unlock the timing of major evolutionary events," says Dr. Ksepka. "This new resource will provide the crucial fossil data needed to calibrate 'molecular clocks' which can reveal the ages of plant and animal groups that lack good fossil records. When did groups like songbirds, flowering plants, or sea turtles evolve? What natural events were occurring that may have had an impact? Precisely tuning the molecular clock with fossils is the best way we have to tell evolutionary time."
Credit: The Bruce Museum, Greenwich, CT
Full article here.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

The Christadelphian magazine and evolution. Part 1 - Allan Harrison

While long overdue, the growing recognition that the fact of evolution does not threaten any core Christadelphian doctrine is welcome news. Regrettably, some of our magazines have chosen to respond to this by attacking evolutionary biology, a move which is as ill-advised as the decision by the Catholic Church to attack Galileo and heliocentrism. In particular, since the start of this year The Christadelphian has commenced a series of articles aimed at defending the “historicity and literality of the Genesis record”, and announced that after this, they will examine “some of the doctrinal implications arising from our belief in these early chapters.” [1] 

Given that no fundamental Christadelphian doctrine is affected by an evolutionary origin of the human race, [2] it is hard to see why The Christadelphian is seeking to tie orthodoxy to special creationism. More to the point, such a move is unwise at best, given the risk of destroying the faith of Christadelphian special creationists who buy that argument, then discover the weight of evidence against special creationism, and subsequently feel they have lost the foundation of their belief.

The first article [3] which specifically argues from the science is from Allan Harrison, a retired science educator [4] whose attack on evolution is ultimately an argument from personal incredulity, a conflation of abiogenesis and evolutionary biology, and a regrettable failure to properly quote the scientists whose views he enlists to bolster his argument.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Troubles in Paradise - an excellent resource debunking special creation

Historian and defender of mainstream science James Downard maintains what is without doubt one of the best resources debunking the pseudoscience of special creationism. Downard's Troubles in Paradise website exhaustively covers over 6000 works by evolution denialists, and by drawing on around 21,000 sources from mainstream science, demonstrates how and why the evolution denialist claims are nonsense.

One thing that Downard points out is how narrow and intellectually inbred special creationism really is:
Unlike the broad scientific community (where over 38,000 scientists have authored the science work drawn on by TIP) the antievolutionist community represents only around 2500 primary enthusiasts, a topheavy arrangement relying in turn on an amazingly small core of ill-informed activists: half of all antievolution works are generated by only 70 people. 
Although many antievolutionists have scientific training, the TIP Project reveals how little their areas of expertise intersect the factual data set. Under 100 antievolutionary scientists do work directly relating to relevant fields in biology and none have contributed notably to those disciplines (the most glaring example being the total absence of working paleontologists, a field critical to understanding evolution as it has played out in Deep Time). 
An even worse tale is told when it comes to how little of the available science literature actually gets discussed by antievolutionists: 95% of antievolutionists don't cite technical literature at all, and the 5% who do miss 95% of the relevant data.
This is one of many reasons why special creationism is not taken seriously by the scientific mainstream. Downard's website is here.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Critiquing Bruce Gurd's attack on Evolutionary Creationism - 4

This is Part 4 of my critique of Bruce Gurd's recent lecture on evolutionary creationism. Part 3 can be found here.

Given that the world of first century Christianity was a multilingual, multicultural one, we would expect to see evidence of such cultural accommodation in apostolic preaching. Finding such evidence is hardly difficult, with Paul’s comments in 1 Cor 9:19-29 anything but ambiguous:
For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law.  
To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.
If Paul had to accommodate his message to the cultural norms of his target audience, then one would be hardly surprised to see in the preserved letters of Paul things which become far more clear when we take the time to understand the cultural background with which both Paul and his target audience were familiar, but which are completely alien to us.

Critiquing Bruce Gurd's attack on Evolutionary Creationism - 3

This is Part 3 of my critique of Bruce Gurd's recent lecture on evolutionary creationism. Part 2 can be found here.

Gurd's entire lecture exudes a spirit which is impossible to reconcile with the test of humility he makes his third point. This is clearly seen in his patronising comments about the alleged youth of those accepting or accommodating evolutionary creationism,[1] and his reference to the ‘disease of EC’. Any pretence at humility vanishes when he resorts to ad hominem attacks:
I don’t want to, you know the humility factor, I don’t want to sort of, I’m sort of poking fun at the Evolutionary Creationists, I really hope I can poke fun at their ideas without ridiculing brethren, as I have said, the brethren caught up in this are typically incredibly capable and intelligent people - right.
It stands as an indictment of the anti-intellectualism Gurd champions when being “incredibly capable and intelligent” is turned into an insult.

Critiquing Bruce Gurd's attack on Evolutionary Creationism - 2

This is Part 2 of my critique of Bruce Gurd's recent lecture on evolutionary creationism. Part 1 can be found here.

The credibility of Gurd’s argument is further eroded by his second point:
The second point, we believe God has instantaneous power to create and it’s in our statement of faith and we believe he made Adam and Eve as the first beings of the entire race of humans we don’t believe in hominids, we believe Adam and Eve were the descendants of all the people on the earth. 
And you can throw all the science at us and say well it’s impossible for all the genetic diversity on the globe to go back to a pair, a human pair 6000 years ago well I don’t understand science and I can’t answer everything going on in our world but I like to believe the bible exactly as it is written.
Gurd’s claim that God has ‘instantaneous power to create’ is one that no one disputes. However, it is worth noting that creation in six days is not instantaneous, raising the question of why God took six days to create when he could have instantaneously created a fully formed universe.[1]

Furthermore, when combined with Gurd’s stated claim that he takes the Bible as written, it highlights the problem, well known to OT scholars, that the two creation accounts in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 when taken ‘exactly as [they are] written’ fundamentally contradict each other. As the respected OT scholar Peter Enns points out:

Critiquing Bruce Gurd's attack on Evolutionary Creationism - 1

Bruce Gurd’s recent lecture to the Cumberland Ecclesia “Our Joy in Fellowship Challenged by Evolutionary Creationists” continues a trend of poorly researched attacks on evolutionary creationism. Gurd’s well-intentioned lecture was marred by a condescending tone, gross misrepresentation of the position of evolutionary creationists, and worst of all, a fundamentalist approach to exegesis. This is arguably the worst part of his lecture.

The rise of the New Atheists and their increasingly sophisticated attacks demands a scholarly, intellectually rigorous approach to apologetics. The superficiality of Gurd’s anti-evolution lecture will not only serve as a poor role model for young people seeking to face this challenge but also alienate the intelligent, intellectually honest young person whom our community desperately needs to provide the next generation of defenders of the faith.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

The Real Genesis Crisis.

If extreme rhetoric and gross misrepresentation are a sure sign that your opponent has you cornered, then this recent article by fundamentalist Cameron Buettel from Grace to You Ministries shows that the extremist YEC wing of evangelical Christianity simple has no credible answer to the facts of an ancient Earth and common descent. Any article that features hysterical nonsense such as
The doctrine of inerrancy becomes useless when men like Wright, Keller, and Waltke let atheists weigh in on what parts of the Bible are acceptable to believe. And while they don’t explicitly deny Scripture, their reinterpretation relegates it to a meaningless text. It is true that not all scholars who take such positions call themselves evangelicals, but they wield great authority in evangelical circles, and their capitulation is spreading like a disease.
The opening chapters of Genesis are not up for debate, nor are they negotiable. The academic credibility of our faith is meaningless if we’re so quick to sacrifice the meaning of Scripture at the altar of public opinion. Better to be counted a fool for the sake of God’s Word than to be embraced for our willingness to compromise it.
has crossed over into the realm of self-parody, and given critics of Christianity yet another free kick at goal.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Ron Cowie claims observed genetic diversity could come from two people

Evidence from genetics has comprehensively ruled out the possibility that the entire human race could have descended exclusively from two people living six thousand years ago. Ignoring the fact that such a small population would become dangerously inbred and crash to extinction, there is simply not enough time for the genomic diversity we see in the human race to have emerged from two people living a few thousand years ago.

In a post on the Christadelphian Answers website, Ron Cowie asks “how did such genetic diversity and racial characteristics come from one family?” [1] and proceeds to answer by offering a literal reading of a few Bible verses (overlooking the fact that alternative interpretations are possible). This approach is not convincing given that an interpretation of a verse is not the same thing as the original inspired message. Furthermore, it creates a needless conflict by pitting the witness of the natural world against a human interpretation of the Bible, one that not only discredits the Bible, but causes needless crises of faith in scientifically literate believers.

Ron Cowie's response to the DNA evidence for evolution

The recently-launched Christadelphian Answers website is a positive development in our community as it correctly recognises the considerable challenge the "New Atheism" movement poses for our community. However, its effectiveness is compromised by poorly researched attacks on evolutionary biology. The danger here is that potential converts will dismiss our message concluding that if we make basic mistakes in attacking evolutionary biology, we will not be trusted to correctly expound the Biblical message of salvation.