Tuesday, 4 August 2015

A criticism of Stephen Palmer's talks at the Coventry Creation Day - 14

Shooting the messenger, demonising biology, and the failure of fundamentalism

Stephen Palmer’s series of anti-evolution lectures break no new ground in Christadelphian evolution denialism. They show:

  • A complete misrepresentation of what evolutionary creationists in our community believe
  • A poor understanding of evolutionary biology, particularly in the failure to differentiate between evolution as fact and evolution as theory
  • The use of long-refuted special creationist distortions of the evidence for evolution
  • A naïve view of the creation narratives based on a literal reading which not only results in contradictions between Genesis 1 and 2, but contradictions between the sequence as shown in the fossil record, and a literal reading of Genesis 1.
  • A failure to appreciate that as Genesis 1 accommodates a pre-modern cosmogeography, as shown by the clear references to a solid firmament, Genesis 1 is ancient cosmology, not modern science, and needs to be interpreted accordingly.[1]
  • A world-view which owes little to the Bible, and much to evangelical fundamentalist views on Genesis 1-11 which infiltrated our community in the mid-20th century when  books such as The Genesis Flood regrettably became popular
To see leading figures in our community give credence to a nonsensical view such as YEC is disturbing, given that this position was clearly seen as false by our community prior to the mid-20th century.

Alan Hayward made this point clear in a Christadelphian preamble to his 1985 book Creation and Evolution: The Facts and Fallacies:
There is much misunderstanding in the brotherhood as to what constitutes ‘Christadelphian orthodoxy’ on the subject of creation. To set the record straight, here is a brief summary of our community’s witness about geology and the age of the earth.  
Brother John Thomas taught that the days of Creation were 24-hour periods, but he argued that they did not refer to the original creation of the earth. He considered that geology proved an immense age for the earth, and that geological strata belonged to an earlier creation, long before Adam. He said explicitly that the sun, moon and stars were ‘pre-existent for millions of ages before the Adamic era.’ (Elpis Israel, chapter 2.)  
Brother Robert Roberts wrote that ‘The Bible and geology are sufficiently in agreement to make the acceptance of both possible.’ (The Visible Hand of God, chapter 2.) He went on to write at length in chapter 5 of the same book about geology in relation to the Flood. He concluded that the geological evidence, which he repeatedly referred to as ‘facts’, compelled (his word) the conclusion that the Flood was local, and not worldwide — ‘co-extensive only with the Adamically-inhabited portion of the globe’, as he put it.  
Brother C. C. Walker, like his predecessors, accepted the facts of geology. But he rejected Brother Thomas’s method of harmonising Genesis with geology, because, he said, ‘there does not appear to be any evidence at all that some six thousand years ago an existing cosmos was reduced to such a chaos as is described in Genesis 1:2.’ (The Word of God, chapter 3.) Instead, he advocated the view that the days of creation were symbolic days, covering vast periods of time.  
Brother A. D. Norris, when he wrote the book Believing the Bible more than thirty years ago, invited his readers to choose between the various views of Creation then current in the Brotherhood. These included the views of both Brethren Thomas and Walker, but there was no mention of ‘Flood Geology’, or the ‘Young-earth’ theory. Such notions only began to circulate within the brotherhood about twenty years ago.  
This book opposes those modern ideas, and urges a return to the view that the earth is very old — not merely because our pioneers taught this, but because the facts point that way.
While the anti-evolution arguments in his thirty-year old book are needless to say hopelessly dated, the evidence for an ancient Earth with a progressive appearance of life on it over a few thousand million years is simply not in doubt, and young people with genuine questions arising from exposure to these facts will hardly be impressed with an attempt to brush them off with arguments which were recognised as nonsense over a century ago.

Unfortunately, based on the question and answer session following the presentations, it would appear that young people in our community are not going to receive a credible, informed answer. For example, his response to a question about answering someone who (rightly) points out that we can’t ignore evolution was little more than a tirade against social media:
I've important question here. Came in at the end.I think it is one of the most important questions. It says, "How. What and how would you answer a person in our community who believes you can't ignore evolution. What do you do to counteract it." What do we do it we find one of our brethren or young people is going down this road. 
Well, you know, it's not a new experience for me...I've had many such experiences of...what to do. First thing is we should open our Bibles. We should sit down if people are willing to...look at the Bible teaching. But if it was a young person, I would be...trying to give them advice from me not spending their days with their heads in internet chatrooms because this is absolutely destructive of for anyone....We don't have to. 
I've got two sons in California. Neither of them allow their children to go on social media...You don't have to...It's a dereliction of duty to encourage or allow our young people to have free reign on social media, because there's all sorts of rubbish out there which is just so destructive of anything that is wholesome. So why would we? 
Another thing to say is that the ecclesias and arranging brethren of ecclesias need to wise up and need to do some homework and need to in a shepherding way with a proper spirit. You don't want to crush poor young people who've got a question. You want to say, you know, they're so scared to ask a question because we'll come down on them like a ton of bricks that they daren't mention anything. We need to create an environment which they can raise concerns, because whether it's on the internet or in school or college, they'll come up with questions and we need in the right spirit to try to answer that. I think the answers are there. 
Some of the answers - I don't know where dinosaurs came from by the way or rather not where they came from but where they went. I...don't know, but is that an admission of defeat. I'm happy to live with that question until the Lord comes, and there's a thousand other questions I'm happy to live with. It doesn't bother me. If it does bother you, then I think there's a whole load of stuff you can purchase there.[2]
Palmer’s tirade against social media betrays his real concern – the inability of fundamentalist leaders in our community to control the flow of information that undermines their control and ability to shape the theological agenda. Prior to the introduction of the internet, accessing information that challenged the views advanced through magazines and books, and via the lecture platform was difficult if you did not have ready access to a good library. Furthermore, discovering others who had doubts about the official anti-evolution line outside your immediate community was difficult. Now, it is possible to discuss subjects that are censored by the fundamentalist section of our community and discover that they are not alone in realising that the YEC view is intellectually bankrupt. In addition, it is possible to sit through a factually inaccurate anti-evolution talk and in real time check the accuracy of what is said, and provide the speaker after the lecture with a complete refutation of his point, complete with references to the primary literature. The flow of information to individual members of our community and between them has forever been taken out of the hands of conservative fundamentalists, and with it their ability to shape and manipulate what they deem to be the ‘correct position’ on evolution and creation. That unnerves them because the game has forever changed, and they cannot maintain an iron grip on what they think should be normative for all ecclesial members.

Palmer's remark that "First thing is we should open our Bibles. We should sit down if people are willing to...look at the Bible teaching" likewise betrays much as it subtly derides those who have problems with the extreme YEC view he champions with the comment “if people are willing.” Of course they are willing. Of course they want to look at the Bible. What they want however is honesty on the subject, and simply repeating the official anti-evolution narrative over and over again is not the same thing as addressing the real scientific challenges to the anti-evolution view he endorses. This is clearly apparent when he blithely dismisses the scientific issues which lie behind questions about evolution, such as can be seen in his dismissal of the dinosaur question:
I don't know where dinosaurs came from by the way or rather not where they came from but where they went. I...don't know, but is that an admission of defeat. I'm happy to live with that question until the Lord comes, and there's a thousand other questions I'm happy to live with.
What the fossil, genetic, and developmental biological data show is that almost all the dinosaurs died out at the end of the Cretaceous, around 65 million years ago, with the exception of a branch of the dinosaurs, which evolved into birds.[3] Answers to this question readily abound in textbooks, the scientific literature, and other sources of information. Not everyone is willing to live with the contradiction of an avalanche of evidence refuting the YEC views pushed by fundamentalists in our community. For Palmer to say that “[w]e need to create an environment which they can raise concerns” yet barely a minute after saying that shrug off one of those questions and declare that he’s happy to live with not knowing sends a powerful message that those questions will not be answered and are not encouraged.

Another factor is the reality of high school and university students encountering the facts of an ancient Earth and common descent in their studies, and here, his response is anything but helpful:
"How should those considering a university choose their subjects?" Very carefully [laughter] I mean you might say don't do biology. I'm...not going to say that. I think if you go in with your eyes open, that's one thing. I don't think that it's a great subject to do, given the way that secularism, and the rhetoric and the political correctness now has imposed a straightjacket on people able to ask questions.

I mean there was a time when teachers could teach biology and say 'evolutionists say' or the multiple choice answers could be answered honestly. You know, according to the theory of evolution how old is the Earth? You know, you could have answered it because you know what the evolutionists say. But now you might be asked 'how old is the Earth?' and if you thought it was young you'd get a wrong answer. So the question isn't how old is the Earth according to the theory of evolution. That's taken as gospel. And so the world has changed. There will be conscience issues much more. I think the military services committee has been looking at conscience issues in the workplace much more in that regard. So I think if you go to university you should be [inaudible] a job you're going to do. 
I think that science subjects are better than non-science subjects, because the nonsense that you have to learn for the non-science subjects is at least as dangerous and dam[aging] -  if you do English Literature I don't know how you know...If you do psychology, what nonsense you absorb...[laughter] showing my bias...Accountancy is fantastic. [Laughter] Economics...all do economics. Chemistry, physics, maths, I think you're going to be free of much evolutionary stuff. Medical sciences? Not bad. Engineering? Excellent.[4]
As far as advice goes, this is anything but useful as the message it encodes is that our faith is so fragile, so brittle, that it cannot survive contact with the humanities and the life sciences,[5] and that Christadelphians seeking a ‘safe’ career should hide in business studies, engineering, the physical sciences, and medicine. It’s also a recipe for disaster if young people thoroughly inculcated with fundamentalism end up studying the life sciences, discover the truth – that evolution is a fact – and lose faith because they have taken to heart the false belief that evolution and Christianity are mutually exclusive, meaning that the truth of one automatically falsifies the other.

It also betrays a startling lack of familiarity with what one can learn in the physical sciences or medicine. Geochemistry, geophysics, astronomy, and astrophysics alone would provide more than enough information to demonstrate the overwhelming age of the Earth.[6] Even engineering is hardly a sheltered workshop for creationists (I speak as someone who has qualified as an electronics engineer) as the utility of evolutionary algorithms for engineering design[7] show the creative power of selection acting on random mutation.[8]

Speaking also as a medical professional, I am frankly astonished to see him declare that the medical sciences are ‘not bad’ from an anti-evolution perspective. The evidence for human evolution just from human anatomy and developmental biology alone is compelling as shown by anatomical quirks such as the path of the recurrent laryngeal nerve, sinus drainage, the inverted retina, and the path of the male urethra through the prostate.[9] Add to that the genomic evidence[10], and it difficult to see how any competent medical professional who examines the evidence without fundamentalist blinkers would argue otherwise.[11]

In recent years, many professionals have been recognising the considerable utility evolution has for medicine, and have been pointing out the need to integrate evolutionary biology into medical studies. Nesse et al note that:
Beyond a framework for organizing medical knowledge, a deep evolutionary understanding also helps to correct the prevalent dependency on the metaphor of the body as a designed machine. Of course, the body is a system of interlocking mechanisms, with levers, pulleys, and chemicals and feedback regulation at all levels. It is not, however, a machine built from blueprints created by an engineer. Instead, it is a jury-rigged system that generally works, despite serious “design” flaws such as the inside-out eye and the double curve in the spine. Its complexity goes far beyond complexity we can readily describe, because it emerged from layer on layer of systems built from tiny variations over hundreds of millions of years. Many wish it was easy to map modules in the brain to specific functions, but we are finding functions distributed among various areas in ways that defy common sense and any ability to come up with a clear description. We strive to characterize the function of a gene, only to discover that most do more than one thing, and some have very different functions depending on the tissue and the phase of development. Thus, as Childs et al. pointed out so well, the body is not a designed machine; it is a soma shaped by selection, and that is something very different. As students become increasingly able to understand the limits of the designed machine metaphor, and as they grasp the body as a product of natural selection, they will have a deeper understanding of the body and why it is vulnerable to disease.[12] (Emphasis mine)
Similar sentiments have been expressed by others, as Emily Thompson, writing at the Panda’s Thumb weblog noted earlier this year:
In his keynote address at the inaugural meeting of the International Society for Evolution, Medicine, and Public Health (held March 19-21 in Tempe, AZ), Dr. Harvey Fineberg stated that an understanding of evolution is central to health. Fineberg, the former Dean of the Harvard School of Public Health, argued that an evolutionary viewpoint is necessary to explain structures and functions of the human body (like the fact that wisdom teeth were helpful in some way to our ancestors but serve no purpose now) and evolution can provide insight into diseases that develop and spread under evolutionary mechanisms, like infectious disease and cancer. 
Antimicrobial resistance occurs when bacteria, viruses, and other infection-causing microorganisms evolve and develop mutations that enable them to resist drug therapies. Drug-resistant bacteria alone affect over two million Americans each year, according to the CDC. The process of microbial evolution follows the guiding principles of natural selection, so scientists can use their knowledge of evolution to understand how microbes attain resistance and perhaps even prevent it. For example, the current methods of treating bacterial infections target a mechanism of mutation called de novo mutation, but scientists have learned that antibiotic resistance mostly develops from a different method called horizontal gene transfer (Sterns, 2012), which suggests that we may need new therapies for bacterial infection. 

Evolutionary medicine has also started to play a role in cancer research. Some scientists are using an evolutionary background to understand how cancers develop, spread, and metastasize as well as to find effective treatments. For instance, a group of scientists is trying to understand how large animals with long lifespans, like the blue whale, have evolved and developed cancer suppression techniques that are reportedly 1000 times better than those of humans. Many hypotheses attempting to explain this phenomenon exist: the lower metabolic rate of large animals might lead to a lower mutation rate, or perhaps tumors are so much bigger in large animals that they are actually less likely to become malignant than smaller tumors (Nagy et. al., 2007). Whatever the explanation, understanding why and how large animals evolved to gain such effective tumor suppressor mechanisms could provide new therapies for cancer in humans. (Caulin and Maley, 2012.)[13]
In fact, even Palmer’s own subspecialty of clinical epidemiology provides ample evidence both for evolution and its utility for that subspecialty. Molecular phylogenetic analysis is of considerable use in epidemiological investigation. González-Candelas et al note how using molecular phylogenetic analysis allowed the conviction of an anaesthetist who infected 275 patients with hepatitis C.[14] Grad et al likewise were able to use molecular epidemiology to track cholera epidemic evolution and determine whether the October 2010 Haiti cholera outbreak was indigenous in origin, or introduced by UN security personnel from Nepal.[15] Finally, molecular phylogenetic methods were critical in determining the innocence of foreign medial workers accused of deliberately infecting 400 children with HIV at the EL Fatih Children’s Hospital in Benghazi, Libya:
In 1998, outbreaks of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) and hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection were reported in children attending Al-Fateh Hospital in Benghazi, Libya. Here we use molecular phylogenetic techniques to analyse new virus sequences from these outbreaks. We find that the HIV-1 and HCV strains were already circulating and prevalent in this hospital and its environs before the arrival in March 1998 of the foreign medical staff (five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor) who stand accused of transmitting the HIV strain to the children.[16]
The phylogenetic analytical techniques used here are essentially the same that are used to demonstrate the fact of common descent from comparative genomics, and given the acknowledged utility of this technique in epidemiological studies, it beggars belief how a clinical epidemiologist of all people could be an evolution denialist.

Certainly, the example of cell biologist and cancer researcher Graeme Finlay is instructive in showing how modern medical science makes evolution denialism untenable. He notes how the presence of a unique retroviral element in tumour cells proves the origin of the tumour from a single cell in which the infection first took place:
It goes without saying that the monoclonality of tumours caused by retroviruses that infect non-human animals (fowl, rodents, cats) is also thoroughly established. An example of one of these retroviral insertion sites is shown in Figure 1.4. It shows a small length of genetic sequence, 26 bases long, from the mouse genome. The six-base sequence …GTTTGC… (in bold and shaded) represents the target site selected by the retroviral integrase. The upper sequence shows the retroviral DNA insert flanked at each end by the …GTTTGC… target site sequence, and otherwise neatly spliced into the mouse genome. A unique insertion event in one cell induced an uncontrolled programme of cell division, leading to a proviral copy in each of myriad descendant cells. 
Figure 1.4. A retroviral DNA insert in mouse DNA [10] Sequences represent the original undisturbed target site GTTTGC and the inserted provirus between target-site duplications (TSDs). In this and subsequent figures, target sites and their duplications are in bold and shaded. 
We can detour from retroviruses briefly. Several other human cancers arise when bits of viral DNA are insinuated into the genomic DNA of infected cells. No other class of oncogenic virus manifests the professional mutagenic sophistication of retroviruses. Nevertheless, the same logic that we have encountered with retrovirus-induced cancers demonstrates the monoclonality of the cancers induced by other classes of viruses. [17]
The same remorseless logic also confirms the reality of human-ape common ancestry from shared retroviral elements as Finlay points out:
True ERVs and LTR retrotransposons (collectively, LTR elements) constitute 8% of the DNA in the human genome. This large fraction of human DNA is distributed around the genome in approximately 400,000 individual inserts with 350 sub-families. Nearly all of these inserts are common to all people on planet Earth. This raises the question of when such lengths of retroviral DNA first entered the genome that we have inherited. 
A 1982 study prepared the way (as far as I was concerned!) for the surprising answer. A length of cloned human chromosomal DNA had been mapped on the basis of restriction enzyme-cutting sites (that provide sequence landmarks along the DNA). An equivalent piece of DNA cloned from the chimpanzee showed almost the same restriction enzyme-mapping sites, indicating that these lengths of cloned DNA were from the corresponding parts of the two genomes. But what is remarkable was that each of these segments of DNA overlapped the sequence of an ERV...This finding implied that the ERV in each of the two genomes was inserted at the same location. If indeed it was the same insert (same class of ERV, inserted in precisely the same site with the same target-site duplication, and lying in the same direction), then we would have to conclude that both species are descendants of the single progenitor in which this unique insert event occurred. This remarkable conclusion, reflecting the way in which shared proviruses establish the monoclonality of tumours, was forced on me by every instinct inculcated by cell biological experience. [18]
Work published in 1999 settled the question of whether shared ERVs could demonstrate human and chimp descent from a common ancestor. This seminal study identified those primate species in which each of six ERVs was present – and defined insertion sites at single-base resolution. The data confirmed that each of these ERVs is shared by humans and chimps. Indeed, each ERV is shared not only by humans and chimps, but also by gorillas and more distantly related primate species. [19]
These conclusions are unambiguous, unassailable and definitive: strong words in the context of a controversy that has simmered (at least in some quarters) for 150 years. No arcane ‘evolutionary’ logic was required for this interpretation. The data struck me with compelling force simply because I had been exposed to basic cell biology. [20]
Speaking as a medical professional, I share Finlay's conclusions - the genomic evidence is unambiguous, unassailable, and definitive. Common descent is a fact, and our only option is to accept this fact, and read the Bible in the light of this evidence.

Perhaps the most disturbing part of Palmer’s question and answer session was this comment:
You know, according to the theory of evolution how old is the Earth? You know, you could have answered it because you know what the evolutionists say. But now you might be asked 'how old is the Earth?' and if you thought it was young you'd get a wrong answer.
This remark alone is enough to undermine the credibility of his anti-evolutionary arguments, as the age of the earth is a completely separate question from evolutionary biology. The age of the earth is a question answered by geology. Evolution is the unifying principle of biology. They are separate issues and his attempt to conflate the two is frankly embarrassing, and betrays a profound ignorance of the history of geology, given that well before Darwin, believing geologists accepted the reality of an ancient Earth. As Alan Hayward pointed out:
For many centuries it had been believed that the world was only a few thousand years old, and the Reformers considered that they could date it from Scripture as being less than six thousand years. It therefore shook the world when eighteenth-century geologists discovered evidence that the earth’s crust is very much older than that.

It is important to note that it was in the eighteenth century that this first happened - well before Darwin was born. The pioneer geologist James Hutton, for instance, wrote that he could see ‘no vestige of a beginning’ to the earth’s history - and he died in 1797.

Recent-creationists usually ignore this historical fact. Their literature abounds with incorrect statements like this:

Why, then, do geologists say the rocks are hundreds of millions of years old, when they may only be thousands of years old? The answer is that they are trying to agree with the theory of evolution that needs enormous lengths of time to explain all the forms of life we know today.
Such unfounded accusations are grossly unfair to all the early geologists. Not only did they reach their conclusions many years before Darwin launched his theory of evolution, but many of them were Bible-believing Christians and creationists. [21] (Emphasis in original)
Finally, it goes without saying that his allegations of ‘secularism and rhetoric and political correctness’ in biology are lacking in evidence. Evolution denialists are fond of trying to depict evolution and atheism as synonymous, but the reality is that outside of a tiny fundamentalist rump, the majority of Christians in biology accept evolution. In fact, right from the beginning, many of Darwin’s most ardent supporters were Christians. As the historian of science David Livingstone reminds us:
Darwin’s cause in America was championed by the thoroughgoing Congregationalist evangelical Asa Gray, who set himself the task of making sure that Darwin would have “fair play” in the New World. Let us be clear right away that this cannot be dismissed as capitulation to the social pressure of academic peers. To the contrary, Gray had to take on one of the most influential naturalists in America at the time to maintain his viewpoint – none other than Louis Agassiz, a Harvard colleague who vitriolically scorned Darwin’s theory. But Gray was not alone. Many of his countrymen, associates in science and brothers in religion took the same stand. And indeed even those who ultimately remained unimpressed with if not hostile to Darwin were quite prepared to admit that evolution had occurred. It is surely not without significance that Christian botanists, geologists, and biologists – that is to say, those best placed to see with clarity the substance of what Darwin had proposed – believed the evidence supported an evolutionary natural history.[22] (Emphasis mine)
Far from being brow-beaten into accepting something with no support, Christians accepted the fact of evolution, even if they had reservations about his proposed mechanism of natural selection to explain how evolution occurred not out of any peer-pressure, but because the evidence was consistent with common descent and large-scale evolutionary change. In fact, some of the major figures in evolution such as Alfred Wallace (who also proposed natural selection as a mechanism of evolutionary change), Ronald Fischer and Sewall Wright (pioneers in population genetics) and Theodosius Dobzhansky (evolutionary geneticist and seminal figure in the modern synthetic theory of evolution) were Christians. Dobzhansky’s position is anything but ambiguous:
It is wrong to hold creation and evolution as mutually exclusive alternatives. I am a creationist and an evolutionist. Evolution is God's, or Nature's method of creation. Creation is not an event that happened in 4004 BC; it is a process that began some 10 billion years ago and is still under way.


Does the evolutionary doctrine clash with religious faith? It does not. It is a blunder to mistake the Holy Scriptures for elementary textbooks of astronomy, geology, biology, and anthropology. Only if symbols are construed to mean what they are not intended to mean can there arise imaginary, insoluble conflicts. As pointed out above, the blunder leads to blasphemy: the Creator is accused of systematic deceitfulness.[23]
Today, many public defenders of evolutionary biology are respected biologists and palaeontologists who are also Christians. Examples include:

  • Cell biologist Kenneth Miller, whose evidence at the 2005 Dover trial was instrumental in the decision declaring Intelligent Design to be nothing other than rebadged special creationism and therefore not science.
  • Medical geneticist Francis Collins, former head of the Human Genome project and current director of the National Institutes of Health, who founded the BioLogos Foundation which has been pivotal in helping raise the profile of evolutionary creationism in the wider Christian community
  • Palaeontologist Simon Conway Morris, who is one of the leading experts in the palaeontology of the Cambrian period, and has written extensively on the concept of evolutionary convergence, and how it shows how creation can be consistent with evolution.
  • Theoretical biologist Martin Nowak who is the director of the Program for Evolutionary Dynamics at Harvard University, and believes that "science and religion are components of what people need and what people want in terms of the search for truth. I don't see science as constructing or providing an argument against well-formulated and thoughtful religious philosophy."[24]
  • Molecular biologist Denis Alexander, emeritus director of the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, active in promoting public knowledge of the interaction between science and faith.
When Palmer tries to link evolution and atheism by invoking militant atheist Richard Dawkins, he is falling into the same mistake that such militant atheists make. Curtin insists that a hyper-literal reading of Genesis is the only one permissible for Christadelphians and rejects evolution because it is incompatible with such a reading. Conversely, militant atheists argue that Christianity has been falsified because evolution falsifies fundamentalist Christianity. Both err because they seek to polarise the debate, ignoring the vast middle ground between both positions. As Alexander points out:
…the ideas and scope of evolutionary theory are frequently misunderstood by Christian non-biologists, whereas atheists on their part often have little knowledge of the Biblical doctrine of creation.[25]
The former is readily seen in the atrocious misrepresentation of evolutionary biology by fundamentalist extremist organisations such as Answers in Genesis, while the latter is painful evidence when prominent New Atheists such as Richard Dawkins or Jerry Coyne step outside of their area of competence and embarrass themselves on theological matters, a point that biochemist and theologian Alister McGrath (who accepts evolution) has made when he refers to Dawkins as “embarrassingly ignorant of Christian theology.” Fundamentalist Christians ignorant of the details of evolutionary biology and fundamentalist atheist grossly ignorant of Christian theology are hardly the sort of people who should be defining the parameters of the discussion.

Unfortunately, when the debate is framed exclusively in terms of YEC versus atheism, loss of faith among those who are well aware of the evidence for evolution is almost inevitable as Alexander reminds us:
Evolution itself is not atheistic. A robust Christian theism readily encompasses evolution as an expression of God’s creative actions. But, sadly, there are prominent scientists, like the Harvard sociobiologist E.O.Wilson, who left their earlier Christian experience to become atheists because they faced hostility to evolution. Arguably, attacks by well-meaning Christians on evolution promote rather than counteract atheism.[26]
This is the tragedy of such ill-considered attacks on evolution by fundamentalists in our community. By declaring that evolution and Christianity are mutually exclusive, inculcating a stunted, hyper-literalist approach to reading the Bible, demonising and misrepresenting their fellow believers who have the honesty to accept the world as it is, rather than the mythological YEC view of reality, and thoroughly misrepresenting evolution, they are setting the next generation up for failure if and when they discover that evolution is not ‘science falsely so-called’ but one of the best-attested facts in science. One can hardly blame people who have been told that if evolution is right the Bible is wrong for abandoning belief when they discover that evolution is true. Palmer's series of talks will merely catalyse this loss of faith among the intellectually honest who take this false dilemma to its logical conclusion.


[1] Walton J Genesis 1 as Ancient Cosmology (2011: Eisenbrauns)
[3] Chiappe L.M. “Downsized Dinosaurs: The Evolutionary Transition to Modern Birds” Evo Edu Outreach (2009) 2:248-256
[5] One also suspects his advice is based more on antipathy towards disciplines that threaten his fundamentalism and an inability to properly answer that challenge, as his revealing comment about ‘showing [his] bias’ suggests.
[6] See for example the testimony of geophysicist and former YEC Glenn Morton whose work in the petroleum industry exposed him to evidence that falsified his YEC worldview, and precipitated a crisis of faith that nearly drove him into atheism.
[8] A quick review of The Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers website shows the range of multidisciplinary journals such as computational intelligence, neural networks and learning systems, computational biology and bioinformatics and evolutionary computation. The IEEE Transactions on Evolutionary Computationpublishes archival quality original papers in evolutionary computation and related areas including nature-inspired algorithms, population-based methods, and optimization where selection and variation are integral, and hybrid systems where these paradigms are combined. Purely theoretical papers are considered as are application papers that provide general insights into these areas of computation.
[9] Held L.I. “Quirks of Human Anatomy: An Evo-Devo Look at the Human Body” (2009: Cambridge University Press)
[10] Finlay G “Human Evolution: Genes, Genealogies and Phylogenies” (2013: Cambridge University Press)
[11] Avise J.C., "Footprints of nonsentient design inside the human genome" Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA (2010) 107:8969-8976
[12] Nesse R.M. et al “Making evolutionary biology a basic science for medicine” Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. (2010)  107(Suppl 1): 1800–1807.
[13] Thompson E “Evolutionary Medicine: Studying disease in a Darwinian contextPanda’s Thumb April 7 2015
[14] Fernando González-Candelas, María Alma Bracho, Borys Wróbel and Andrés Moya "Molecular evolution in court: analysis of a large hepatitis C virus outbreak from an evolving source" BMC Biology (2013) 11:76
[15] Grad YH, Waldor MK. “Deciphering the origins and tracking the evolution of cholera epidemics with whole-genome-based molecular epidemiology.” (2013) mBio 4(5):e00670-13. doi:10.1128/mBio.00670-13
[16] de Oliveira T et al “Molecular epidemiology: HIV-1 and HCV sequences from Libyan outbreakNature (2006) 444:836-837
[17] Finlay G Human Evolution: Genes, Genealogies, and Phylogenies (2013: Cambridge University Press) p 30-31
[18] ibid, p 35
[19] ibid, p 35
[20] ibid, p36
[21] Hayward A Creation and Evolution: The Facts and Fallacies (1985: Triangle Books) p 70
[22] Livingstone D.N. Darwin’s Forgotten Defenders (Eerdmans 1984) p xi-xii
[23] Dobshansky T "Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution." American Biology Teacher (1973) 35: 125–129,
[24] Chivers T “Martin Nowak: a helping hand for evolutionThe Telegraph 15 Mar 2011
[25] Alexander D “Is Evolution Atheistic?” bethinking
[26] ibid