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. 

This, I hasten to add that is not hypothetical. Bro Hellawell, author of the April 2015 article, gave a lecture in 2009 at Redditch Town Hall, which was attended by members of the British Centre for Science Education, whose post-mortem report of the talk [6] shows how poorly bro Hellawell’s arguments fared when they were met by scientifically literate opponents. To say that this is bad publicity for our community is an understatement. Needless to say, it also makes it difficult to take bro Hellawell’s article seriously. 

What it also shows is that far from being cutting-edge and well-researched, these articles are hopelessly uninformed by the scientific evidence. Any reader who used these articles as ammunition to ‘refute’ professional evolutionary biologists in university (as opposed to a secondary school science teacher) would swiftly find themselves embarrassed. People have lost faith after such confrontations.

Evolution is a fact, and if it contradicts what we have taught, then it is a sure sign that what we have taught is incorrect, and needs revision. This is hardly a radical step. Over a century ago, your esteemed predecessor bro. C.C. Walker commented on the existence of extinct giant birds, and contemplated the possibility that they could be the progenitors of contemporary birds:

“There are forms becoming extinct in our own day from slow and natural causes. May it not have been so in pre-Adamic times? The professors tell us for instance that some of these ancient birds, whose strides we can see for ourselves from their footprints were from four to six feet long, were like gigantic ostriches. 

"Supposing that it were ever established that they were the actual progenitors of our smaller forms (“There were giants in the earth in those days” might apply to birds and beasts), would the credibility of the Mosaic narrative suffer? Not at all, in our estimation. We should indeed have to revise somewhat our interpretation of the brief cosmogony of Gen. 1.; but should not waver as concerning its divinity, nor await with less faith and patience the reappearance of Moses in the land of the living." [7]

Evolutionary biology has long confirmed the reality of the fact that present life is descended from a remote common ancestor by a process of descent with modification, [8] and confirmation of this fact means we will need to revise our understanding of Genesis 1. Not to do so would be to betray those in our community who have the honesty to accept what the natural world tells us about its evolutionary origins, despite the considerable sub-Christian hostility and persecution shamefully directed towards them by some in our community, as well as condemn our community to fundamentalist irrelevancy.

Note: While material on this blog is under a Creative Commons Licence, allowing its non-commercial use, all rights are reserved for this letter.


1.” Each of thousands of peer-reviewed articles published every year in scientific journals provides further confirmation (though, as Futuyma notes, “no biologist today would think of publishing a paper on ‘new evidence for evolution’ ... it simply hasn’t been an issue in scientific circles for more than a century”). Conversely, no reliable observation has ever been found to contradict the general notion of common descent.” Gregory T.R. “Evolution as Fact, Theory, and Path” Evo Edu Outreach (2008) 1:46-52
2. Nesse R.M. et al “Making evolutionary biology a basic science for medicine” Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. (2010)  107(Suppl 1): 1800–1807.
3. Gluckman P.D. “How evolutionary principles improve the understanding of human health and disease” Evol Appl. (2011)  4(2): 249–263
4. Gluckman P.D., Bergstrom C.T. “Evolutionary biology within medicine: a perspective of growing value” BMJ (2011) 343:d7671 Published online 2011 December 19. doi: 10.1136/bmj.d7671
5. Varki A “Nothing in medicine makes sense, except in the light of evolution” J Mol Med (2012) 90(5):481-941.
6. ‘Belle-de-gene’ “Creation Watch report from Redditch” British Centre for Science Education 20 Dec 2009
7. Walker, 'Genesis', The Christadelphian (1910) 47:501
8. A lay-accessible summary of the evidence written by the evangelical evolutionary geneticist Dennis Venema can be found here