Friday, 30 October 2015

Contrary to what YECs claim, Michael Denton no longer believes evolution is a theory in crisis.

Evolution denialists tend to recycle the same arguments and appeal to the same books long after they are debunked. One of the most commonly cited is the 1985 book by the New Zealand biochemist and medical doctor Michael Denton Evolution: A Theory in Crisis. Denton's thesis has been thoroughly refuted by mainstream scientists. Typical of those refutations was that by geneticist Philip Spieth who noted that
[a]s a serious piece of biology, however, the book could not pass the most sympathetic peer review. In its approach, methods, and style it is straight out of the creation science mold. Abuses typical of creation science literature abound: evolutionary theory is misrepresented and distorted; spurious arguments are advanced as disproof of topics to which the arguments are, at best, tangentially relevant; evolutionary biologists are quoted out of context; large portions of relevant scientific literature are ignored; dubious or inaccurate statements appear as bald assertions accompanied, more often than not, with scorn.
Fifteen years later, Denton wrote another book Nature's Destiny. How the Laws of Biology reveal Purpose in the Universe in which he radically changes his views about evolution being a 'theory in crisis'. The Dutch biologist Gert Kortoff's review makes that clear in its opening paragraph where it is clear that Denton now accepts the fact of evolution

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Early Christian and Rabbinic Views on the Firmament

Given the interest on this subject elsewhere, I have elected to lightly edit two previous posts of mine into a single document for any who may be interested.
Nothing demonstrates the fact that Genesis 1 is ancient cosmology and not modern science more effectively than its declaration that the firmament was solid, separating waters above from waters below. It is this one fact more than anything else that destroys both literal and strong concordist readings of the Genesis 1 that seek to read it as a scientifically accurate account of origins. It also shows that contemporary special creationists - both YEC and OEC - not only fail to interpret Genesis 1 properly on this point but are also ignorant of how early Christian and Jewish expositors interpreted Genesis 1. On this point we find that many accepted the solidity of the firmament.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Reasons to be sceptical of the seven thousand year plan

One of the strangest reasons used to deny evolution and insist that creation in six literal consecutive 24 hours days six thousand years ago is a non-negotiable first principle is the seven thousand year plan. This idea, with its roots firmly in dispensational Christianity, argues that just as the entire universe was created in six days, followed by a seventh day of Divine rest, human history stretches over six thousand years, to be followed by a one thousand year kingdom period.

The seven thousand year plan is of course theological nonsense. There is no unambiguous scriptural evidence for it, being at most a strained argument from analogy. In addition, given that the genealogies simply cannot be used to arrive at an exact date for Adam, a point the conservative Christian scholar W.H. Green noted in the 19th century, one simply cannot declare that Adam was created 6000 years ago. Finally, the analogy falls apart because apart from a rough correspondence between the birth of Christ approximately 2000 years ago and the inauguration of the united kingdom of Israel under David approximately 3000 years ago, there are no significant events corresponding to 1000 CE and 3000 BCE. The scientific evidence against the 7000 year plan is definitive, but the Biblical and theological ones are even more compelling.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

The 500th Post Anniversary at ECACP

While blog anniversary posts - particularly for obscure blogs like ECACP - can be self-indulgent, when you reach a milestone of significance like the 500th post, a few reflective comments are not out of order. One of the main reasons I started both the website and the Facebook page was to provide a resource for those who like me have realised that the evidence for evolution is overwhelming and has not been seriously disputed in credible scientific circles for well over a century. Sadly, informed, open, rational discussion of this subject is still prohibited in many parts of our community, so there is a critical need to show the young believer that it is possible to maintain faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and accept the reality of an ancient, evolving earth. I made the journey from YEC to EC over 14 years in which I suffered two crises of faith. It it not an experience I would wish on any believer, and given the warm feedback I have received over the years, it is clear that ECACP has played a positive role in the faith journey of people.

Monday, 26 October 2015

Contradictory or complementary? Correcting YEC views on the two creation narratives

The contradictions that emerge as a result of reading Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 as literal sequential accounts of the same creation event are well known both to Biblical scholars and any intellectually honest layperson who is not willing to sacrifice logic to dogma. When you read them literally, they contradict each other in the order and duration of creation, and have completely different views of God role in creation.

Critical to resolving this contradiction is of course recognising that both literal and strong concordist readings of Genesis 1 are untenable, and reading it as a polemic against ANE creation myths which accommodates ANE cosmogeography. Once Genesis 1 is decoupled from the science of how the universe began and the diversity of life appeared, we can interpret the first creation account on its own terms.

Even to the casual reader, Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 differ markedly in style and structure, clues that should be enough to remind the perceptive reader of a genre change. Is Genesis 2 referring to the same events as Genesis 1? Hardly. Just the reference to the creation of male and female humans alone in Genesis 1 should be enough to remind us that even when factoring in genre,  the two chapters are referring to different events. The first refers to the creation of the entire universe, while the second refers to the beginning of covenant history with the creation of the first two people with whom God entered into a covenant relationship. The absence and presence of the covenant name in Genesis 1 and 2, respectively, comports with this argument nicely.

In short:
1. Rejecting a reading of Gen 1 as a literal account of creation in six literal consecutive days and rejecting and attempt to harmonise it with Gen 2 because of the resultant contradictions AND...

 2. Reading Gen 1 as a non-literal account of functional origins and Gen 2 as a sequel describing the creation of two people in a garden - a separate event to Gen 1 
is a coherent reading of the creation narratives.

How to quickly appraise anti-evolutionist arguments

Given that the fact of evolution has not been doubted by the scientific community for well over a century, as a rule, any special creationist paper you read that claims otherwise is false. As the renown NT scholar Larry Hurtado has said, when analysing bold claims made by laypeople or non-experts in a field in which they are not qualified:
...when I’m shown something that hasn’t been through the rigorous scholarly review process (often, it appears, peer-review deliberately avoided), and comes from someone with no prior reputation for valid contributions in the subject, I’m more than a bit skeptical.  If the work is really soundly based, then why not present it for competent critique before making such claims?
Exactly. You can guarantee that every anti-evolution claim made in our community has been made by people with zero expertise in evolutionary biology or palaeontology who has not had their argument critically examined by genuine experts in the field, which makes them worthless. However, the tools of critical appraisal provide another way to demonstrate why such anti-evolution arguments are worthless.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Life on Earth is not 6000 years old. How multiple independent lines of evidence falsify YEC and OEYC

As I've pointed out more than once, even though the evidence against YEC (or its close relation old earth young life creationism) is overwhelming, the fact that many Christadelphians still persist in denying reality in order to preserve human dogma means that there is a strong imperative to present as much information as possible in order to show to the rational, intellectually honest, open-minded Christadelphian why YEC / OEYC are untenable viewpoints.

Two recent articles from the always brilliant blogs Naturalis Historia and Age of Rocks provide two more lines of evidence that highlight the folly of YEC / OEYC. Joel Duff, writing at Naturalis Historia shows how the distribution of diatoms in the fossil record completely falsifies what we would expect to see if the entire fossil record had been deposited by the flood. Geologist Jonathan Baker, writing at Age of Rocks shows how multiple independent dating methods, including one that indirectly depends on living creatures, provide a date that exceeds the age that YECs and OEYCs posit for the earliest living creature (and for YECs the age of the Earth itself).

Friday, 23 October 2015

Yet another YEC organisation makes a hopelessly wrong attack on the Homo naledi discover.

I've already commented on AiG's laughably inaccurate claim that Homo naledi was a non-human animal. Now,  the Institute for Creation Research is attempting to explain away Homo naledi. Their argument? The fossils are actually a mix of human and non-human bones washed into the cave system that have been assembled together according to an 'evolutionary  bias' to create a hominin that never existed. This claim is even more risible than the AiG argument, as it ignores the fact that the researchers specifically ruled out water transport of the bones. Clearly, the ICR writers have not even read the Homo naledi papers, or if they did, they failed to understand it. Yet again, the YEC community are showing why they can never be trusted to comment on science, and why Christadelphians who uncritically recycle their arguments are bringing our community into disrepute.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

BioLogos: the 2015 Evolution and Christian Faith Conference

Sometimes, you have to stop and look at Christadelphian science denialism in context to see how tragic it is. We're living well in the 21st century, in a time when whole genome sequencing has become passe, when we can manipulate matter at the level of individual atoms, when we can send a probe to Pluto with pinpoint accuracy and receive back images of startling clarity. Our telescopes can peer back into time to see the earliest galaxies, while the phones we carry have far more computing power than large computers did less than a generation ago. Despite the fact that science very much has the runs on the board in that it can explain phenomena, make predictions, and improve our life, our community has closed its eyes to this remarkable success, and retreated so far into science denialism that it has gone backwards from its mid-19th century origins where belief in an old Earth was entirely uncontroversial, into the madness of young earth creationism, which represents a complete denial of almost all of the physical, earth, and life sciences. Sadly, when any Christadelphian publicly speaks on a science-related matter, it is now safe to assume that they are going to be completely uninformed on the subject, and fundamentally in error.

That of course means the believer looking for credible information on the Bible-science subject as I have pointed out before will need to look outside official Christadelphian sources. I have previously pointed out that resources such as The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, Christians in Science, the BioLogos Foundation, and the American Scientific Affiliation should be on every Christadelphian's list of recommended resources. BioLogos in particular has in the short time it has existed managed to punch well above its weight. Recently, it hosted the Evolution and Christian Faith conference, featuring a number of highly respected Biblical scholars and scientists. Some of the presentations are now online, so for those wanting material that unlike almost all of the science-related videos on Christadelphian channels are informed, accurate, and reliable, these videos come highly recommended.

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Positive testimony from students who know that evolution and Christianity are not in opposition

If testimonies from ex-Christians whose loss of faith directly stems from discovering that their faith community had lied to them about evolution being allegedly 'a theory in crisis' remind us of the need to avoid creating crises of faith by dogmatically asserting that evolution and Christianity are mutually exclusive, then testimonies from those who recognise that science and faith are complementary are invaluable, if only to serve as a direct refutation of the militant anti-evolutionists who seek to make their science denialism normative for all Christianity.

Friday, 16 October 2015

Ten special creationist myths about evolution debunked

Despite the fact that evolution has not been seriously doubted by mainstream biologists for over a century, and the considerable amount of high-quality information on the subject that is freely available, special creationists in our community still falsely claim that evolution is false. While sadly those who have grounded their theology on evolution denialism and have a considerable reputation invested in publicly attacking evolution have too much too lose from accepting that they were completely wrong, it is possible that some of those they have been misleading may be saved by providing them with definitive refutations of special creationist myths. While this website has a wealth of material on the subject for the curious reader, there is no substitute for a short refutation of the most common myths, ranging from evolution is 'only a theory' to evolution is an 'atheist conspiracy.' Read on.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Why the 'Benedict Option' won't keep your children YECs forever.

The 'Benedict Option' refers to a strategy advanced by some conservative evangelical Christians who believe they have lost the Culture Wars to withdraw from society and build their own Christian cocoon in which to live free from the world. It's unlikely to work, for as atheist and ex-conservative Christian Libby Anne points out, her community and others similar to it have been effectively living the Benedict Option for years, but have nonetheless seen many people leave the faith, or embrace values diametrically opposed to those which the groups were careful to inculcate in their members. The ultimate problem with the 'Benedict Option' is that eventually, people need to leave the cocoon, and outside that environment, the conservative church simply has no way of controlling what their members can see, hear and learn:

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Genesis through Ancient Eyes - A video series from The 3rd Choice

Apart from the presentations from their Genesis Recast conference, The 3rd Choice have a number of video presentations on the subject of origins. Bracketed under the theme 'Genesis Through Ancient Eyes', this video series provides an informed overview into how one can properly understand Genesis as it was originally understood by its ancient audience. For those who are looking for information rather than invective, look no further:

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Genesis Recast: Genesis as ancient cosmology and how it changes the conversation with science.

One of the accusations made by militant anti-evolutionists against evolutionary creationists is that they are seeking an audience or following. I admit to getting a wry smile out of that claim as if I was the sort of person who wanted fame, fortune, glory, and a following, I'd have chosen a far less controversial subject. I have gone public for one simple reason: intellectual honesty. W.F. Barling put it beautifully in his 1965 letter to The Christadelphian:
What is not generally realized is that this section of our community is not an organized, self-confident group bent on converting the remainder to a new opinion, but a number of perplexed individuals, deeply loyal to the community, desperately anxious not to offend those who do not share their anguish—let alone transfer it to their minds—but who feel that they must be intellectually honest. What they ask of their brethren and sisters is not a change of viewpoint but a change of attitude.
Unfortunately, when rational discussion of the subject is prohibited under pain of excommunication, those who are well aware of the overwhelming evidence for evolution are in the intolerable situation of not being able to even voice their concerns without being ridiculed, or threatened, making pages such as this a sad necessity.

One cannot help but note that other faith traditions are handling this question in a far more intelligent, rational, and informed manner. Recently, the evangelical apologetics organisation The 3rd Choice presented a seminar Genesis Recast in which the origins issues were discussed:
Session 1: Dr. John Walton “The Lost World of Genesis One”: Presenting Genesis 1 as a temple text speaking of order and function. Laying out an interpretive framework, and addressing both the Bible and Science

Session 2: Dr. John Walton “The Lost World of Adam & Eve”. Backlighting the significance of Genesis 2 with the ancient world of the Bible. Walton gives us the context, insights and clarity to reset the discussion and move forward.

Session 3: Dr. Craig Evans: “Origins in Second Temple Judaism and the New Testament”. Evans will examine the creation story and origins from the viewpoint of the New Testament.

Session 4: Dr. Stephen Schaffner: “The scientific case for Common Descent from the fossil record and genetics.” Dr. Schaffner will present us with indelible scientific evidence.

Session 5: Skye Jethani: “Where is the Church Going? How can the Church think about these issues? How can progress be made?” The practical points of contact between the Bible and life.
The video for session three isn't available, but thankfully, the remaining videos are present, and are included below. For those seeking an informed, intelligent, rational discussion of the Bible-science question, this series is definitely worth watching.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Evidence of catastrophe is not evidence for a young Earth. Here's why.

Young Earth creationism is notorious for peddling gross distortions of mainstream science, then claiming problems with that parody of science automatically mean YEC is true. One example is the science of geology, which is parodied as a process characterised exclusively by slow, uniform change. Any evidence for catastrophe is then interpreted as evidence for a global flood and against an old Earth. The fundamental flaw in this argument is of course the assumption that geological catastrophe automatically falsifies mainstream geology. It does not, as mainstream geology has for some time accepted the reality of catastrophic events punctuating the record of an ancient Earth.

One example of a catastrophic event can be inferred from the presence of large boulders on the Cape Verde islands to the west of Africa, whose presence can only be explained by something like a tsunami hurling these large rocks uphill far from their source. As Joel Duff, writing at Naturalis Historia notes, careful investigation allows geologists to postulate how and when this occurred:

The fact of evolution as confirmed by genetics and genomics

As I point out on a regular basis, the evidence for human-ape common ancestry is overwhelming. The evidence in a nutshell comes from shared genetic errors - genetic plagiarism - which make perfect sense when you realise that a genetic error in two more species at the same place in their genomes is evidence for this error occurring in an ancestral species. Special creation has absolutely no answer for this, and it is telling that this fact is either ignored, or hand-waved away with risible explanations such as God cursing humans and apes in the same way after the fall. While the evidence for common descent was already overwhelming well before the genomics revolution began, the genomics data has underlined this fact emphatically.

To be honest, this blog has more than enough information to convince the intellectually honest, open-minded reader of the fact of evolution, so further material would appear to be redundant, but I have found that some respond better to video presentations. Computational geneticist Stephen Schaffner spoke at the recent Genesis Recast conference, outlining the genetic evidence for human evolution. 

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Now there is definitely no excuse not to be properly informed on evolution.

As I have said many times, there is simply no honest reason for our community not to be properly informed on the fact of evolution given the considerable amount of quality information on the subject available in print, online and in electronic media. In fact, one has to work hard at maintaining evolution denialism in the face of the overwhelming evidence for common descent and large scale evolutionary change. Sadly, for those who privilege human dogma over the witness of the natural world, there is little one can do for them while they maintain committed to defending fundamentalist distortions of the Bible above the dual revelation of nature and Bible. However, for those who value truth over dogma, there has never been a better time to understand more about our ancient, evolving creation.

The journal Current Biology has a special issue on the history of life on Earth, and features a number of articles and reviews written by some of the leading experts in each field:

James Kidder criticises Casey Luskin's poor article on Homo naledi. (More reasons to distrust the Discovery Institute)

Earlier, I commented on developmental biologist P.Z. Myers' criticism of Casey Luskin's article on Homo naledi. Needless to say, Luskin's article was not a peer-review piece appearing in a respected palaaeoanthropological journal by a professional palaeoanthropologist but an intellectually dishonest and misleading attack on the subject by a laywer with no formal training in palaeoanthropology. 

The palaeoanthropologist James Kidder has now commented on Luskin's article, and combines specific expertise in palaeoanthropology with a more irenic tone to provide yet another voice pointing out why Luskin cannot be trusted to provide an accurate, disinterested, informed comment on this subject.  In short, Luskin's article deliberately aims to mislead and misrepresent. As Kidder points out, "[t]he problem is that he uses selective passages and slanted wording to imply that the case for it having "human" traits is overblown." In other words, he resorts to the tried and tested special creationist practice of quote mining.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Piltdown man - the story is somewhat different to what the evolution denialists allege

It's been well over sixty years since Piltdown Man was exposed as a fraud, but that doesn't stop desperate evolution denialists from appealing to it as if it somehow invalidated the entire field of palaeoanthropology. It doesn't. The fossil evidence for human evolution is robust, shows the reality of both an increase in cranial capacity and a trend towards obligate bipedality over time, and is definitely more than a few chipped teeth and bones on a billiard table.

Furthermore, what evolution denialists fail to point out is that not only was Piltdown exposed by scientists, there were considerable doubts about its authenticity from the very beginning. Darren Naish makes this point in a recent post in his blog Tetrapod Zoology:
What’s discussed rather less frequently is that early 20th century views on Piltdown man were far more complex than popularly portrayed. Acceptance of Eoanthropus as a valid proto-human might have been the ‘mainstream’ view that made it into textbooks and encyclopedias, but it certainly wasn’t the only one, nor was this acceptance wholesale or uncontroversial.
 Arthur Keith (middle). Back (L to R): Barlow, Elliot Smith, Dawson, Woodward. Seated at left: Underwood. Seated at right (L-R): Lankester, Pycraft. Painting by John Cooke (1915)

In fact, as Naish continues, some raised significant doubts about Piltdown within a few years after its discovery:
Long prior to 1953 however, certain other anthropologists, primatologists and mammalogists were of the opinion that the cranium and jaw of Piltdown I did not go together, and that while the cranium was human, the jaw was from a chimpanzee or some other non-human ape. In fact, some workers voiced doubts about the authenticity of Woodward’s reconstruction within just two or three years of 1912. We might even go as far as saying that quite a few anthropologists and mammalogists of the early 1900s would not have been surprised on learning that it was a hoax, and some might even have suspected that this is exactly what it was.
Given the absolutely atrocious record special creationists have when it comes to commenting in an informed, accurate, intellectually honest way on palaeoanthropology, the best thing they could do to begin restoring their credibility is to stop peddling their tendentious Piltdown narrative.

Full article is here