Saturday, 30 May 2015

The Christadelphian magazine and evolution. Part 5 - John Morris

John Morris’ article “The way God works” [1] in the June 2015 edition of The Christadelphian continues the less than edifying spectacle of poorly-researched, factually inaccurate, theologically dubious articles being granted cover-article status in The Christadelphian’s reckless endeavour to make accepting one of the best-attested facts in science a doctrine to be rejected.

Morris’ article makes the common mistake of confusing a theology of creation with a science of creation, one which completely ignores the fact that God works through secondary causes. He also misrepresents evolutionary creationists by asserting that they believe God micromanages the evolutionary process, a view which represents a long-dead alternative theory of creation that was popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but rejected in favour of the modern evolutionary synthesis. Ultimately, Morris’ article is based on fideism, in which a logical, rational approach to the evidence is ignored, and a fundamentalist distortion of the Bible is privileged above factual evidence. Articles such as that by Morris merely confirm that the militant anti-evolution movement in our community simply has no credible answer to the evidence for evolution and the non-fundamentalist interpretations of the creation narrative, and are simply resorting to misrepresentation of their opponents’ view, and the generation of fear, uncertainty, and doubt.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Yet another hominin species? The fossil evidence for human evolution grows even richer

Even more evidence for human evolution has been found in Ethiopia. Yohannes Haile-Selassie et al have announced in the latest edition of Nature the discovery of a hominin, Australopithecus deyiremeda dating between 3.3 to 3.5 million years ago:
Middle Pliocene hominin species diversity has been a subject of debate over the past two decades, particularly after the naming of Australopithecus bahrelghazali and Kenyanthropus platyops in addition to the well-known species Australopithecus afarensis. Further analyses continue to support the proposal that several hominin species co-existed during this time period. Here we recognize a new hominin species (Australopithecus deyiremeda sp. nov.) from 3.3–3.5-million-year-old deposits in the Woranso–Mille study area, central Afar, Ethiopia. The new species from Woranso–Mille shows that there were at least two contemporaneous hominin species living in the Afar region of Ethiopia between 3.3 and 3.5 million years ago, and further confirms early hominin taxonomic diversity in eastern Africa during the Middle Pliocene epoch. The morphology of Au. deyiremeda also reinforces concerns related to dentognathic (that is, jaws and teeth) homoplasy in Plio–Pleistocene hominins, and shows that some dentognathic features traditionally associated with Paranthropus and Homo appeared in the fossil record earlier than previously thought.
The question of whether this fossil is directly ancestral to us will of course be one of the first questions that laypeople will ask, and to be honest, that is secondary to the bigger question: - what does this tell us about hominin evolution in general. Irrespective of whether it is ancestral or not, or whether it deserves to be classified as a new species, or should be lumped in with an existing australopithecine, it provides yet more evidence for the diversity of hominin species. Once again, evolution is not a ladder, but a tree.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Fossil thorns? They exist, and they neatly falsify the fundamentalist distortion of Genesis

The clash between YEC and much of modern science is an example of how shoddy exegesis creates problems that would not exist if the Bible was interpreted in context, rather than in a naive, woodenly literal way. Fundamentalist rejection of geology, biology, and cosmology are without doubt the best known examples of problems created solely by a poor approach to Biblical interpretation, but one lesser known problem is the curious belief that thorns and thistles did not exist until Adam sinned. The reason for this belief? In Genesis 3:17-18 God speaks to Adam after Adam's sin and declares:
Cursed is the ground because of you; 
In toil you will eat of it
All the days of your life.
Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you;
And you will eat the plants of the field;
Given that earlier in the narrative, God speaks to the serpent and declares that it will eat dust, any genre-savvy reader would be primed to realise that stark wooden literalism is already not how to read these passages.  In fact, if one reads it hyper-literally, then the text does not say that thorns and thistles were created as a consequence of Adam's sin, but rather the ground would produce thorns and thistles for Adam, a somewhat different reading. 

The fatal objection to the hyper-literal reading is the fossil record. Thorny plants have been around for millions of years, which means any literal reading has been falsified. Take the fossil beds at the Florissant Formation in Teller Counter, Colorado. This formation, dating back 34 million years has some remarkably well preserved animals and plants, with the latter including fossilised thorns:

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

How an evolutionary creationist sees the hand of God in nature

It is a reflection on how emphatically the special creationists have lost the argument on origins that they continue to misrepresent evolutionary creationism. One of the lies peddled by the evolution denialists is that evolutionary creationists claim that there is no evidence for God's hand in creation. For example, one evolution denialist asserts:

Well, speaking as an evolutionary creationist, I can assure Wizgell that his claim is completely false. We call ourselves evolutionary creationists because we believe in God as creator, and regard evolution as the mechanism he employs to bring about the diversity of life we see on this planet. Furthermore, unlike special creationism which appeals to elegance and beauty in nature as 'proof' of special creation, while carefully ignoring parasitism, birth defects, predation, and suboptimal design which completely undermine the integrity of that 'proof', evolutionary creationism fully expects this. Just as human beings acting freely to bring about God's purpose on this planet are free to do good, or to enact great acts of evil, the natural world, evolving freely in order to bring about God's purpose in producing an image bearer will produce natural good, and natural evil. Unlike special creationism, only an evolutionary creationism can provide a final and complete answer to the problem of evil, while showing God's hand in the wisdom of producing a method whereby life has the ability to constantly reinvent itself to adapt to a changing world.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

The Christadelphian magazine and evolution. Part 4 - Andrew Godber

Andrew Godber's anti-evolution article [1] in the May 2015 edition of The Christadelphian takes a different approach from the previous three articles in that it does not directly attack evolution, but seeks to provide ways in which young Christadelphians can maintain their evolution denialism in the classroom. This is frankly reckless advice. Given that the evidence for evolution is overwhelming, it is quite likely that the young student, armed with the weak anti-evolution material seen in the previous three articles in The Christadelphian, will not only quickly see why > 99% of mainstream scientists regard the evidence for evolution as compelling, but will lose faith, particularly if their faith is rooted in evolution denialism.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

A criticism of Stephen Palmer's talks at the Coventry Creation Day - 1

Fifty years ago, in the wake of the excommunication of bro Ralph Lovelock over his views on how to reconcile the evidence for pre-Adamic humanity with Christadelphian theology, the then arranging brothers of Watford, his home ecclesia in their letter to The Christadelphian reminded our community that:
… 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.[1]
This problem was certainly acknowledged by the then editor of The Christadelphian, bro. L.G. Sargent who 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.[2]
In the intervening 50 years, the evidence for human evolution from areas such as palaeontology has exploded. What was already a strong case in the 1960s has become certain beyond reasonable doubt. As the palaeoanthropologists Matt Cartmill and Fred Smith noted in 2009:
Opponents of scientific biology are fond of dismissing that record as a pathetic handful of controversial fragments. If that were so, this book would be a lot shorter. An often-repeated creationist canard insists that all known human fossils would fit on a billiard table. This was probably true in the 19th century, but it has not been true for a hundred years. Known human fossils number in the thousands and represent the remains of hundreds of individuals...Having seen most of the major collections of human fossils in the world's museums, we can assure our readers that those collections can no longer be laid out on a billiard table. It would be hard to cram them into a boxcar[3].

Why the ID Community is not taken seriously - Part 2: Michael Behe

Biochemist Michael Behe, best known for his book Darwin's Black Box, in which he claimed that evolution via natural selection was impossible because gradual change could not evolve what he called 'irreducibly complex' structures. Behe's arguments not only have not received any support from the mainstream scientific community, but have been repeatedly debunked. Even his own department at Lehigh University have issued a formal disclaimer distancing themselves from his position:
The faculty in the Department of Biological Sciences is committed to the highest standards of scientific integrity and academic function. This commitment carries with it unwavering support for academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas. It also demands the utmost respect for the scientific method, integrity in the conduct of research, and recognition that the validity of any scientific model comes only as a result of rational hypothesis testing, sound experimentation, and findings that can be replicated by others.

The department faculty, then, are unequivocal in their support of evolutionary theory, which has its roots in the seminal work of Charles Darwin and has been supported by findings accumulated over 140 years. The sole dissenter from this position, Prof. Michael Behe, is a well-known proponent of "intelligent design." While we respect Prof. Behe's right to express his views, they are his alone and are in no way endorsed by the department. It is our collective position that intelligent design has no basis in science, has not been tested experimentally, and should not be regarded as scientific.
When even your colleagues regard your views as marginal pseudoscience, it is fair to say that his views have being weighted by the experts, and found wanting.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Evangelical Cosmologist Don Page critiques the Carroll - WLC debate

Cosmologist and non-theist Sean Carroll has recently featured a guest post from Don Page, a leading expert in cosmology and theoretical gravitational physics who is also an evangelical Christian. Page's post, framed as an open letter to both Carroll and philosopher William Lane Craig offering comments on their recent debate. Page, though a theist, offers an informed critique of apologetic staples such as fine tuning and the Kalam cosmological argument, critiques which really need to be kept in mind given (1) that they come from a world expert in cosmology (WLC, we need to remember, is a philosopher and theologian rather than a scientist) and (2) are coming from an overtly theistic viewpoint:
In summary, I think the evidence from fine tuning is ambiguous, since the probabilities depend on the models. Whether or not the universe had a beginning also is ambiguous, and furthermore I don’t see that it has any relevance to the question of whether or not God exists, since the first premise of the Kalam cosmological argument is highly dubious metaphysically, depending on contingent intuitions we have developed from living in a universe with relatively simple laws of physics and with a strong thermodynamic arrow of time.
Nevertheless, in view of all the evidence, including both the elegance of the laws of physics, the existence of orderly sentient experiences, and the historical evidence, I do believe that God exists and think the world is actually simpler if it contains God than it would have been without God. So I do not agree with you, Sean, that naturalism is simpler than theism, though I can appreciate how you might view it that way

Friday, 15 May 2015

Letter to the editor of The Christadelphian

Dear bro. Andrew

Greetings in the Hope of Israel.

I have read with increasing dismay and frustration the ongoing series of articles published in The Christadelphian on special creation, particularly those from the February 2015 issue onwards which specifically attack evolutionary biology. Evolution, contrary to what the authors of these articles are alleging, is one of the best-attested facts in science [1] and for Christadelphian professionals such as myself, who accept the factor of evolution because our professions (medicine in my case) bear eloquent witness to the reality of evolution [2-5] , it is painful to see such poorly-researched articles which make such elementary errors as:
  • failing to differentiate between evolution as theory and evolution as fact,
  • conflating evolutionary biology and abiogenesis, 
  • dismissing evolution as ‘just a theory’ despite the fact that scientific theories are not wild guesses, but collections of observations, hypotheses and laws that have considerable predictive and explanatory power
not only make it to print, but give official sanction to attacks on evolution which would be swiftly refuted in the real world. 

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Massimo Pigliucci disengages from the sceptic and atheist movement

Massimo Pigliucci, a biologist and atheist who is currently Professor of Philosophy at CUNY-City College has long expressed his disagreement with movement atheism. In his May 11 2015 column "Reflections on the skeptic and atheist movements", he writes how he has been progressively disengaging from the community, due to changing professional interests. Six years ago he moved from biology to philosophy, and as Pigliucci notes, the sceptic and atheist community "has become a somewhat inhospitable environment for philosophical dialogue", something which has helped to accelerate his move from the community.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

The Christadelphian magazine and evolution. Part 3 - John Hellawell

The April 2015 edition of The Christadelphian carries an article by freshwater ecologist John Hellawell, which like the previous two attacks on evolutionary biology fails to differentiate between evolution as fact and evolution as theory, which means its argument is ultimately aimed at a straw man version of evolution. Further undermining its credibility is its invocation of long-rebutted special creationist arguments such as 'survival of the fittest' being a tautology. It also makes attacks which are readily dismissed by anyone with a grasp of developmental biology and population genetics. Finally, it invokes the tired 'halting between two opinions' trope in which the author pits evolution against creation, a strategy which will simply help catalyse a loss of faith in those who have been inculcated with this false dilemma. Those who have been told that our faith is based on evolution being false are hardly to be blamed for abandoning us when they discover that contrary to what Hellawell and others assert, the evidence for evolution is beyond dispute.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Christadelphian Answers publishes more factually inaccurate material on evolution

I have previously commented on the recently-launched website Christadelphian Answers, whose laudable aim of providing material to help Christadelphians maintain their faith in a post-Christian world is dangerously undermined by its foolhardy attempt to attack the fact of evolution. Given that those behind this site declare that "we want to make this site as accurate as possible" one would hope that if they were serious about maintaining the accuracy of their site, they would have taken the previous criticism of their inaccurate articles on evolution to heart, apologised to their readers for misleading them, taken down the articles, and refrained from publishing any more articles promoting special creationism.

Unfortunately, those behind this website appear determined to link the gospel of Christ with the pseudoscience of special creationism, and have published further deeply flawed attacks on evolution. Depressingly, one of these is the February 2015 attack on evolution in The Christadelphian by retired science educator (not scientist) Allan Harrison. I have previously highlighted its many errors of fact in a previous article, so the interested reader is referred to this critique. However, given that those behind Christadelphian Answers claim that they want their site to be as accurate as possible, it is worth highlighting one section of my article to show once again how deeply flawed Harrison's article is, and how its inclusion makes a mockery of Christadelphian Answers' stated claim to make their site "as accurate as possible". Inclusion of this article shows that it is hopelessly unreliable on the subject of evolutionary biology.

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Larry Moran critically reviews "Junk DNA"

Special creationists are desperate to latch onto anything that appears to provide support for their belief that the human genome is not riddled with parasitic DNA, broken genes, and remnants of ancient viral infection, but rather a pristine example of design. One example is Junk DNA, a recently published book by the science writer and virologist Nessa Carey.

Biochemist Larry Moran, who maintains a strong professional and personal interest in the subject of Junk DNA points out why this book will not provide evolution denialists with any support for their position: