Monday, 28 September 2015

Evolution is a lie? Try telling that to the thousands of scientists who use it every day

One of the main reasons I accept the fact of evolution is that in my professional life as a doctor, the evidence for it is overwhelming. Comparative genomics declares the truth of human-ape common ancestry. Population genetics confirms that it is impossible for the entire human race to descend exclusively from two people living 6000 years ago. The human genome, far from being an elegant model of design precision is a sub-optimal structure that causes disease and which bears the hallmarks of its evolutionary origin. Furthermore, evolutionary principles are of increasing utility to medicine, from casting light on the frankly bizarre and sub-optimal nature of human anatomy and developmental biology to the emerging science of evolutionary medicine. I can no more deny the fact of evolution than I can deny the atomic structure of matter or any other uncontroversial fact of nature.

It's not just medicine in which evolutionary principles are of considerable utility. Agriculture is another area in which recognising the fact of evolution pays considerable real-world dividends, as Andrew Hendry et al pointed out in a 2011 review article in the journal Evolutionary Applications:
Evolutionary principles are now routinely incorporated into medicine and agriculture. Examples include the design of treatments that slow the evolution of resistance by weeds, pests, and pathogens, and the design of breeding programs that maximize crop yield or quality. Evolutionary principles are also increasingly incorporated into conservation biology, natural resource management, and environmental science. Examples include the protection of small and isolated populations from inbreeding depression, the identification of key traits involved in adaptation to climate change, the design of harvesting regimes that minimize unwanted life-history evolution, and the setting of conservation priorities based on populations, species, or communities that harbor the greatest evolutionary diversity and potential. The adoption of evolutionary principles has proceeded somewhat independently in these different fields, even though the underlying fundamental concepts are the same. We explore these fundamental concepts under four main themes: variation, selection, connectivity, and eco-evolutionary dynamics. Within each theme, we present several key evolutionary principles and illustrate their use in addressing applied problems. We hope that the resulting primer of evolutionary concepts and their practical utility helps to advance a unified multidisciplinary field of applied evolutionary biology.
That of course puts the evolution denialists in our community - particularly those who are laypeople with zero professional qualifications in evolutionary biology who do not understand the subject well enough to comment on it, let alone offer an authoritative opinion on it - in the curious position of making outlandish claims about evolution being 'science falsely so-called' which are flatly refuted by the fact that this 'science so-called' has real-world, tangible applications. Ours is an age in which the ability to critically evaluate claims made in lectures is as simple as checking mainstream scientific sites via smart phones and other devices, a fact which should remind evolution denialists in our community to exercise caution and intelligence before making claims that can readily be debunked. Credibility once lost is never regained, even if frantic attempts to substitute intimidation and misrepresentation for factuality are employed.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Casey Luskin and the Discovery Institute get it wrong on Homo naledi

The reaction to the magnificent Homo naledi discovery from the YEC community as my previous posts on the subject have shown not only show their complete and profound ignorance of the subject, but have betrayed how hopelessly divided the YEC response is. When one YEC organisation claims the fossils are non-human animals, while another claims they are fully human, it is readily evident that YEC comments on palaeoanthropology are worthless.

Predictably, the militant YEC elements in our community have uncritically taken their lead from the YEC charlatans, as well as seizing on any contrarian view they can find from mainstream palaeoanthropologists in order to give a semblance of scientific credibility to their position. [1] The fact that these contrarian views have been ably refuted by members of the Homo naledi team neatly destroys the anti-Homo naledi arguments that have emerged in our community.

Apart from the usual YEC pseudoscientific organisations such as AiG, CMI, and ICR, the intelligent design special creationist group The Discovery Institute is another pseudoscientific organisation to which YECs in our community uncritically appeal in order to find pre-packaged responses to the evidence for evolution. Given the odium in which the DI is held  by mainstream scientists, its history of censorship of dissenting views, and its pitiful small and scientifically vacuous body of 'papers' which it claims support ID, its credibility, and that of the arguments it makes is non-existent.

One of its leading spokespeople is the lawyer (not scientist) Casey Luskin, who does not let his complete lack of expertise, qualifications, and research in palaeoanthropology and evolutionary biology from pontificating on Homo naledi. Given how poorly the mainstream scientific community received his book on human evolution, (co-authored with two non-palaeoanthropologists Douglas Axe and Ann Gauger whose anti-evolution arguments are likewise not taken seriously by the mainstream scientific community) one would not expect his ramblings on Homo naledi (non-peer reviewed and appearing not in the scientific literature but the highly controlled environment of an intelligent design website) to be anything other than poorly informed nonsense. That, as developmental biologist P.Z. Myers ably notes, is very much the case.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Alan Eyre: Should Christadelphians reject the sciences, become biblical literalists, or teach YEC?

Bro. Alan Eyre needs no introduction to any Christadelphian who has read his book "The Protesters", or who is aware of his long and distinguished scientific career.  Bro Alan is an old earth creationist who does not share the evolutionary creationist views advanced on this website, but is dismayed by the impact young earth creationism, biblical literalism, and attacks on science are having in our community. He has written an article expressing these views eloquently, and is more than happy for this article to be shared.

Should Christadelphians reject the sciences, become biblical literalists, or teach ‘young earth creationism’?

Alan Eyre

20 September 2015

In July 2015 a series of professionally made “science” videos was shown at an ecclesia in the Birmingham area (UK) which purported to demonstrate that modern, recent, scientific astronomy had “proven” that the solar system and the entire known Universe were only approximately six thousand years old, thus supporting the “young earth creation” concept.

When visiting Australia recently I was given to understand by certain prominent brothers that unless I believe, and agree to teach, that every word in Genesis chapter one is absolutely literal, and that therefore life on earth and the sun, moon, stars and galaxies in the sky did not exist before 4004 BC, I cannot be considered a genuine Christadelphian.

Except for a few individuals, Christadelphians have never been committed to a literalist interpretation of Scripture; in fact, quite the opposite. We have strongly resisted literalism, with its doctrines of the heavens and earth being burned up when Jesus returns, possession by literal devils or demons, and enigmatic codes based on numbers and letters supposedly traceable throughout the Bible.

I have been a Christadelphian for seventy years, and published more in our Brotherhood’s literature than any other living writer. I have also been a professional earth and space scientist at a world class university for sixty years, with a curriculum vitae of thousands of pages of peer-reviewed books and articles.

You can see my dilemma. I am being told that the facts on which I base my faith and my understanding of God’s word, and the facts on which I base my university research, and on which my livelihood depends, are totally incompatible. One or other – my science or my religion - must be false (or both).

This is a relatively new dilemma for sincere Christadelphians. It was not a dilemma for Islip Collyer and Louis Sargent, who were two of my early mentors in faith. Islip Collyer personally encouraged me to be both a brother in Christ and a scientist. He suggested that if Job and Solomon had been living today they would both have been active scientists (Job 28:1-11; I Kings 4:33).

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Bible in the News completely gets the Homo naledi story wrong. (Yet another reason why YECs cannot be trusted on science)

It has not taken long for the extreme YEC section of our community to respond to the magnificent Homo naledi fossil discover, as one can see in the latest Bible in the News podcast [1] where one can see the usual YEC techniques of uncritical appeal to YEC charlatans who lack any expertise in palaeoanthropology, reliance on secondary sources rather than read the freely available primary literature, and missing the central point by focusing on side issues.

On this point alone, the team behind BitN lose all credibility as they fail to provide a cogent, reasoned answer to the central fact: the richest ever discovery (> 1500 fossils) of fossils in Africa provide unambiguous evidence for the existence of a small-brained hominin species with a mix of primitive and modern features, whose remains were deliberately placed underground. Hand-waving the evidence away will not make this disappear, and all this does is confirm that the mililtant YEC wing of our community privileges human dogma over the unambiguous witness of the natural world. If YECs wonder why Christianity is increasingly being held in contempt by a younger generation, then they should look at their intellectually dishonest approach to science, and how it both alienates potential converts (and scientifically literate younger members) and brands our community as fundamentalist extremists.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Scientific resources for the Christadelphian. Part 4 - Faraday Institute for Science and Religion

The fourth organisation that should be on any Christadelphian's list of credible, reliable resources to provide information on the relationship between science and religion is the UK-based Faraday Institute for Science and Religion which "is an interdisciplinary research enterprise based at St Edmund's College, Cambridge", and in "addition to academic research...engages in the public understanding of science and religion by means of Courses, Conferences, Lectures, Seminars and the Media." Founded in 2006, in the approximately ten years since then, it has managed to create a considerable volume of high-quality information, such as the Faraday Papers, that provide an overview of the religion-science relationship from experts scholars in the relevant field, such as John Polkinghorne, Roger Trigg, John Houghton, and Alister McGrath.

Monday, 14 September 2015

Homo naledi - a spectacular new milestone in human evolution

We have another possible addition to the human family - Homo naledi, a small-brained hominin whose skeleton is a mix of ancient and modern details. The two astounding things about this latest discovery are the sheer number of fossils found, and the fact that it deliberately disposed of its dead, providing evidence of deliberate, intelligent behaviour. The skeletal anatomy and evidence that it disposed of its dead show that this is not just another ape, while its small cranial size and mosaic anatomy show that it is definitely not Homo sapiens. The evidence for human evolution was already compelling well before this, so this discovery does not change the big picture. Rather, it serves to remind us why fundamentalist opposition to human evolution is made despite, not because of the evidence.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Scientific resources for the Christadelphian. Part 3 - Christians in Science

Part 3 of my series covering recommended resources on religion and science for the Christadelphian looks at Christians in Science, which is a UK-based "international network of those concerned with the relationship between science and Christian faith, open to scientists, teachers, students and all those with an interest in this dialogue." It covers similar territory to the American Scientific Affiliation, but given the considerable territory covered by the religion / science interface, it is hardly redundant, and fully deserves its place in any top five list of resources for the Christadelphian wanting something of more substance than what our community provides on this subject.

The fanatical physicist - Kevin Williamson on Lawrence Krauss

The flip-side to the crusading YEC is the militant atheist. Both see their views as the only possible positions one can take on the relationship between science and religion. Both are intolerant of alternative views. Both dismiss each other's positions in part because of their belief that the creation narratives must be taken literally, with the former rejecting evolution because it contradicts that reading, the latter rejecting the Bible because evolution falsifies the literal reading which the they see as the only possible way to read Genesis. 

While Kevin Williamson's claim that Christian fundamentalists ranks relatively low on the fanatic scale when compared to militant atheists is one that I would question, Williamson is dead right to open his National Review article on the militant atheist Lawrence Krauss with Winston Churchill's quote; "[a] fanatic is one who can't change is mind and won't change the subject" as such obsessiveness appears to be one of the defining traits of the New Atheists.  It's been around ten years since Sam Harris's "The End of Faith" triggered the rush of New Atheist books, and as Jerry Coyne's recently-published "Faith versus Fact" shows, it appears that writing yet another book tackling the low-hanging fruit of fundamentalist Christianity appears to be a rite of passage for every militant atheistic scientist. One would imagine that dead horse has been flogged enough.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

The bitter fruits of militant evolution denialism

For a community that claims to revere both the early generation of Christadelphians, and the wisdom of the elders in general, when it comes to the evolution-creation issue, that claim often rings hollow, as the campaign of misrepresentation, character assassination, creation of divisions, and excommunication waged by militant antievolutionists in our community tragically demonstrates.

Whereas John Thomas, Robert Roberts, and C.C. Walker explicitly stated their belief in an ancient Earth, militant evolution denialists follow instead fundamentalist Evangelical Christian teaching on this point, and claim that these early Christadelphians were 'misguided'. While C.C. Walker acknowledged that if the scientific evidence demonstrated that ancient extinct animals were ancestral to modern ones, we would need to change our reading of Genesis, opponents of evolution deny that such evidence even exists.  

Finally, when W.F. Barling pointed out that his fellow believers who found the evidence for evolution compelling were not trouble-makers seeking to convert, but deeply troubled people being intellectually honest, and warned against 'draconian measures', anti-evolutionists do exactly what Barling warned against, and persecute not only those who accept the fact of evolution, but those who do not regard it as a fellowship issue. Some go even further, and dehumanise their fellow believers by refusing even to call them human,  calling them instead 'two legged entities', and 'biological entities'. This is vile and sub-Christian language which is impossible to reconcile with the behaviour by which a follower of Christ should follow, and serves as more evidence to show that the fruits of militant anti-evolutionism in our community are not the fruits of the spirit.

Monday, 7 September 2015

Scientific resources for the Christadelphian. Part 2 - The American Scientific Affiliation

Although it has only been in existence since 2007, the BioLogos Foundation has managed to make a considerable impact in the area of Christian apologetics. Founded by medical geneticist Francis Collins, former director of the Human Genome Project who left in 2009 to become the director of the National Institutes of Health, its goal is simple: to invite "the church and the world to see the harmony between science and biblical faith as we present an evolutionary understanding of God’s creation."

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

When YEC 'peer review' breaks down - a tale of ICR incompetence

We've seen many times that YECs are grossly incompetent when it comes to trying to explain why the scientific evidence does not show an ancient, evolving Earth. They misrepresent the science, quote mine genuine experts, and when cornered, resort to special pleading. 

This incompetence spills over to interpreting the Bible, where they claim that the only way to read the creation narratives is literally, then abandon that exegetical approach when such a literal reading demonstrates that Genesis 1 teaches a solid firmament separating waters above from waters below, or shows a contradiction between Genesis 1 and 2 in the order and length of creation.

Now, as the always reliable Joel Duff reminds us, YECs show us that they fail at even reading the Bible, as can be seen by the the claim made by the Institute for Creation Research that "roughly half of Christ's references to Scripture were quotations from Genesis", with the implication being that "He understood the importance of origins to Christian doctrines." The claim that around half of the references by Jesus to the Old Testament came from Genesis is wrong. Flat out wrong. In descending order of frequency, the books that Jesus cites the most are Psalms, Deuteronomy, Isaiah, and Exodus. [1] If the YECs can't even read the Bible properly, let alone interpret it, then they have lost the right to be taken seriously as informed, competent commentators on the theology and science of creation.