Wednesday, 14 December 2016

A foretaste of Christadelphian fundamentalism in 1948

Today, I ran across a 1948 article in The Christadelphian lamenting "the influence of weekday school instruction upon children’s attitude to the Bible", which specifically named higher criticism and evolution as "the two most potent influences in undermining faith of today." The anonymous author's assertion that "both are being discarded increasingly by thinkers today" struck me as being more a case of wishful thinking than an accurate summary of the state of scholarly play at the time. In referring to higher criticism, the author was most likely referring to either historical criticism or more narrowly source criticism, which at the time of writing was hardly being 'discarded increasingly by thinkers'. [1] As for evolution, while the theoretical mechanism was still being hammered out (though George Simpson's Tempo and Mode of Evolution published four years before this article in The Christadelphian had shown the fossil evidence was congruent with the synthetic theory of evolution), there was no doubt that an evolutionary process had occurred. Implicit in the author's criticism of evolution and the historical-critical method is a fundamentalist approach to both the Bible and the natural world, one that without doubt is vulnerable to these methods. The tragedy of course is that the author had conflated a fundamentalist interpretation of nature and Bible with these books of revelation, ensuring that anyone reared on such views would be at risk of losing faith.

Monday, 28 November 2016

Cain, Incest and God's Moral Compass

One of the first questions any perceptive child who encounters the story of Cain and Abel for the first time will ask is, "Whom did Cain marry?" The standard response - that he married his sister - is one which not uncommonly is followed by the second question, "Why was incest right then and wrong now?" Any perceptive child will quickly realise that the usual answer, "Because things were different then" is less an answer and more an evasion.

Ad hoc responses such as these fly in the face of the usual fundamentalist insistence that God's moral compass remains invariant. This was brought home to me yesterday when I was looking at Leviticus 18, almost all of which is related to sexual morality, and of that component, by far most is concerned with incestuous relationships:

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Refuting attacks on the concept of "Two Books of Revelation"

The "Two Books" view of divine revelation not only has a long pedigree in Christianity but has been part of our community's intellectual heritage since before its official formation. In 1837, John Thomas wrote:
The Advocate: For the Testimony of God as it is Written in the Books of Nature and Revelation CONDUCTED BY JOHN THOMAS, M.D. The invisible attributes of God, even his eternal power and divinity, since the creation of the world, are very evident; being known by his works.—PAUL. All scripture given by divine inspiration, is profitable for doctrine, for conviction, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect—completely fitted for every good work.—PAUL. [1]
As these words were written over twenty years before Darwin published the first edition of The Origin of Species, any assertions that the "Two Books" approach was invented solely to legitimate evolutionary creationism are demonstrably false. The concept of God revealing himself through two complementary "books" has nothing to to with evolution, but rather recognises the fact that if the Bible is a reliable guide to God's purpose with humanity, then the natural world should likewise be a reliable witness to its own origins.

Monday, 10 October 2016

Countering the Ark Encounter: Mainstream Scientists show why AiG's Ark Park teaches nonsense

Geologist Kent Ratajeski and biologist Joel Duff - both evangelical Christians - along with Dan Phelps, the president of the Kentucky Paleontological Society recently presented their paper "The Ark Encounter: A New Obstacle to Scientific Understanding for the Religious Public in Northern Kentucky" at a recent meeting of the Geographical Society of America. The Ark Encounter, a theme park constructed around a 1:1 replica of Noah's Ark, as interpreted by the fundamentalist organisation Answers in Genesis who are behind this latest attack on mainstream science has attracted controversy on a number of fronts including the dubious means by which AiG could discriminate in hiring people to work on the Ark Encounter, and the questionable decision which allowed AiG to gain tax incentives for the Ark Encounter despite their discriminatory hiring policy and it having an avowedly religious aim.

As regular readers of the blog will know, the evidence against flood geology and young earth creationism is overwhelming, but given the persistence of the pseudoscience of YEC / flood geology and the corrosive effect it has on Christian intellectual life, it cannot be criticised often enough. Ratajeski has now uploaded a video presentation based around the paper he, Duff, and Phelps presented at the GSA meeting. 

The twenty minute presentation is a masterly takedown of the YEC position, but one argument Ratajeski makes is worth repeating here. The location of Eden is adjacent to four rivers including the Tigris and Euphrates. This region sits on top of many sedimentary layers which the YECs assert were deposited by the flood. Trouble is, Eden predates the flood. As Ratajeski points out:
Flood geology says that the 30, 000 feet of palaeozoic and mesozoic strata underlying this area were all deposited by the flood. So how can the location of Eden, predating the flood, be on top of flood deposits? I consider this one of the best arguments to use when talking to a young earth creationist, since it is a biblical argument, and rests on a straightforward reading of the text.  (Emphasis mine) [1]
Ratajeski's argument is impossible to refute by YECs who place much stock on literal readings of the text, unless they abandon the straightforward reading and posit that the pre-flood location of Eden is buried under the strata, an argument which ignores the fact that the text refers to a modern landscape, a point that geologist Carol Hill, whose 2000 Perspective on Science and Christian Faith article The Garden of Eden: A Modern Landscape ably makes:
This interpretation of the Garden of Eden as existing on a modern landscape presents a major conflict between what the Bible says and what flood geologists say. The reason is this: there are six miles of sedimentary rock beneath the Garden of Eden/ Persian Gulf. How could Eden, which existed in pre-flood times, be located over six miles of sedimentary rock supposedly deposited during Noah's flood? What flood geologists are implying is that the Garden of Eden existed on a Precambrian crystalline basement and then Noah's flood came and covered up the Garden of Eden with six miles of sedimentary rock. But this is not what the Bible says. It says that Eden was located where the four rivers confluenced on a modern landscape. It says that the Garden of Eden was located on top of six miles of sedimentary rock, and thus this sedimentary rock must have existed in pre-flood times.
The fact that six miles of sedimentary rock exist beneath the Persian Gulf area is well known by geologists, since this area has been extensively drilled for oil, down to the Precambrian basement. The fact that the Persian Gulf is located in an area of oil recovery is equally as evident to the layperson who, in 1991, witnessed on television the numerous oil fires set off in Kuwait during the Gulf War. The six miles of sedimentary rock below the Garden of Eden area include Tertiary, Cretaceous, Jurassic, Triassic, and Paleozoic rock up to a depth of about 32,000 feet before the Precambrian basement is encountered.
A schematic cross-section of rock that exists below the Persian Gulf/Garden of Eden area is shown in Fig. 3. Note in this figure that Precambrian rock is exposed at the surface in the western part of Saudi Arabia (geologists call this the Arabian Shield), and that this rock becomes progressively overlain by a thicker and thicker sedimentary rock cover north- eastwards, toward Iran. Point A indicates the approximate location of the Garden of Eden according to the Bible and modern geology, and Point B indicates its approximate location according to Flood Geology, since no sedimentary rock supposedly existed at the time of Noah's flood. [2]
The YEC argument clearly founders both on the geological data, as well as the implications of their own chosen hermeneutic - a literal reading of the text. Such a hermeneutic also provides another means by which to skewer flood geology. The Bible states that Noah used bitumen to waterproof the ark. Bitumen is a byproduct of oil which, as a fossil fuel, was created hundreds of millions of years ago when organic matter was transformed by heat and pressure into oil. According to YECs, oil and coal were produced during the flood which had not yet taken place! Hill touches on this point in her closing paragraphs:
How could Noah have obtained bitumen from sedimentary rock for building his ark, if (as claimed by flood geologists) no sedimentary rock existed on earth? One cannot have it both ways. Either Adam and the pre-floodites lived on a Mesopotamian terrain that was vastly different from what exists today, or they lived over a terrain of sedimentary rock. The Bible identifies Eden with four rivers which flowed over and cut into sedimentary rock. The Pishon River (when it flowed) cut into Tertiary sedimentary limestone and sandstone rock near the border of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. The gold of Havilah is in quartz veins that cut across sedimentary-metamorphic rock. The Karun (Gihon?) River winds around folded and faulted sedimentary rock in western Iran, and the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers encounter sedimentary rock throughout their drainage systems, from the mountains of Turkey to the Persian Gulf. And, the spring of Eden (Eridu?) may have been fed by water from a limestone sedimentary-rock aquifer. All of this is evidence for sedimentary rock being present on earth before Noah's flood rather than it being formed by the flood. (Emphasis mine)
Exactly. Flood geology is not just bad science, but even worse Biblical exegesis.


2. Hill C.A. "The Garden of Eden: A Modern Landscape" Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (2000) 52:31-46

Sunday, 4 September 2016

The Two Books of DIvine Revelation and the YEC Denial of Reality

The Facebook page Science and Scripture is currently running a series of articles on the long-established "Two Books" view of divine revelation in response to a poorly-researched and tendentious attack on this well-established principle by two conservative Christadelphian opponents of evolution. This series is well-written, impeccably researched, and by showing that the 'two books' approach was maintained explicitly and implicitly by Christadelphians as early as John Thomas, neatly refutes the attempt to link the 'two books' view to evolutionary creationism given that the early Christadelphians were not evolutionary creationists.

Given the comprehensive nature of the Science and Scripture series, and the fact that this website has on many occasions touched on this subject, there is no point in repeating these points again. However, a few observations on the tendentious nature of such attacks on the 'two books' approach, and the misrepresentation of the views of those in our community who accept the 'two books' approach are very much indicated.

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

A roundup of interesting blog posts

Joel Duff has endured an AiG lecture and fisked it to within an inch of its life, sparing you both the tedium of listening to YEC mendacity, but also exposing the usual AiG sophistry and the utter intellectual dishonesty of their anti-evolution message:
AiG employs some very effective speakers.  But the talks are really only as good as the information content that a very small core of staff scientists are creating for them. In this case, the talk was very powerful and probably very persuasive to many in the audience. But because the the content suffers from many misconceptions and incorrect statements any truth that was really presented is diluted by the baggage of bad information that came along with it.   I liken it to listening to a Joel Osteen lecture – I can’t call them sermons.   There are bits of truth in some of his words but there is so much there that is wrong that it really isn’t worth listening to on the whole.
Harsh? Hardly. AiG take advantage of the fact their audience is scientifically naive and therefore will not be able to question the absolute howlers made by the speaker. As Duff notes, when commenting on an AiG speaker appealing to a creationist:
Osborne [the AiG speaker] introduced the quote above by saying:  “I love this quote from this secular scientist..” Again, another Dr. Spetner quote that includes misconceptions of how natural selection, genetic drift and mutation actually work in populations.  Quoting Spetner is a bit like me lecturing to a group of scientists about the meaning of an Old Testament and quoting Joel Osteen as my source of Biblical scholarship.  If the audience doesn’t know who Joel Osteen is they will assume that I am presenting them with the best available understanding of OT theology but in reality they will walk away with a very poor understanding of meaning of the text.
Duff's post can be found here

Geologist Jonathan Baker has a guest post at his Age of Rocks blog by former YEC David MacMillan who uses whimsy and humour to skewer the YEC mindset in a post entitled "Mr Creationist Goes to Court":
Defense: Your honor, my client is not guilty. He has already explained that he only drew his gun to check the safety, and it went off by mistake.
Prosecutor: You’re joking, right?
D: Absolutely not! How could you joke at a time like this? One man is already dead and an innocent man’s freedom hangs in the balance!
P: Innocent? The victim is dead because your client shot him. Four times. That is not an accident.
D: Now, I think we all know that’s just your assumption. Don’t act like your whole “four shots” theory is fact.
P: It is a fact. The victim had four bullet holes in him.
D: Maybe he did and maybe he didn’t, but I’m just saying, let’s not let your obvious assumptions get in the way of justice. After all, you are the prosecutor; it’s not like you’re unbiased.
P: Four bullet holes. Four.
D: I wish you’d stop repeating that assumption. Look here, bullets can bounce, right? You assume the so-called victim was shot four times but only one bullet was actually in his body!
P: The victim was shot twice in the chest, once in the abdomen, and once in the head. There are clear entry and exit wounds on three of these, and the fourth bullet was found embedded in his spine.
D: Fourth bullet? There you go again with your biased assumptions. How can you possibly know which bullet was fired last, especially when we don’t even know for sure that there was more than one shot? Have you even considered the bounce theory?
 Those familiar with the tortured logic, paranoia, and science denialism of YECs will quickly know where the defence is going here. There's a nice sting in the tail too. Full article is here.
MacMillan has been on a roll recently; at the always-excellent Panda's Thumb blog, he tears apart the latest attempt by AiG to show how a small number of animals on board the Ark could post-flood hyper-evolve in a short period of time to produce the diversity of life we see today:
In the buzz of excitement surrounding Opening Day at the Ark Encounter, the team of writers at Answers in Genesis continues their struggle to explain how all terrestrial life could have been shoved onboard the Ark and then exploded back out into millions of species in only a few dozen centuries. The more they write, however, the more difficult it becomes to make sense of their approach. Nathaniel Jeanson has a new post that further compounds my confusion.
One of AIG’s youngest writers, Jeanson sports an impressive Harvard degree in cell biology and has previously worked with the Institute for Creation Research. Given his degree, it must be assumed he has enough education to understand the subjects he is writing about. Jeanson appears sincere, and it is evident he believes his conclusions fervently. He has to know, though, that his arguments are completely detached from those conclusions. He writes with the awkward obfuscation of someone trying to defend a sinking ship while earnestly attempting to remain tenuously bound to the uncomfortable constraints of reality.
Is it really that bad? Indeed it is.

Monday, 1 August 2016

Graeme Finlay 2016 Australian lecture series on the evidence for evolution and evolution, cancer, and suffering

Dr Graeme Finlay,  cell biologist, cancer researcher, and senior lecturer in scientific pathology at the University of Auckland was in Australia recently giving a series of lectures on the evidence for evolution from molecular biology, a subject with which he is deeply familiar during his decades of research into cancer, as well as looking at the relationship between evolution and suffering. Finlay needs no introduction to readers of this blog as I have frequently referred to his excellent material.

The audio of his ISCAST-CASE lecture on the 5th July 2016, "Unequivocal Genetic Evidence for Human Evolution, and Implications for Christian Faith" given at New College, University of New South Wales is available below:
Lecture 1: Download GF-L1 mp3
Q & A session: Download GF-Q1 mp3
PDF of Lecture slides:  Download GF-L1 pdf

The abstract of his lecture (courtesy of the ISCAST website) follows:
In this lecture Graeme wants to do two things. Firstly to present the unequivocal evidence from comparative genomics that we are an evolved species. And then (because he knows that many Christians find it difficult to assimilate this) he goes on to emphasise that this strengthens and enriches our faith. The ‘givenness’ of evolution forces us to purify our approach to exegesis (Genesis), theology (creation), providence (God’s action in history), and the meaning of our own humanity.
The video of Finlay's lecture at Tabor College on the 13th July "Genetics, Evolution, Cancer, Suffering and God" can be found here. The PDF of the accompanying slides can be downloaded here.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Genesis and the Flood: A new BioLogos series from OT scholar Tremper Longman III

BioLogos is currently running a multi-part series on Genesis and the Flood by renown OT scholar Tremper Longman III. Fundamental to understanding the first eleven chapters of the Bible is to recognise their genre and sociocultural context. YECs fail to understand these chapters properly by simply assuming that they are meant to be read literally as a scientific and historical account of the origin of the universe. As Longman says:
First, the question of genre of Genesis 1-11 is often presented as a choice between two alternatives. Is it history (giving a literal depiction of events) or is it myth (having no real connection with actual events)? There is no reason to think there are only these two possibilities. People on both sides of the question want us to think so. Those who think that this part of the Bible gives us a literal depiction of events also want us to think that anyone who doesn’t agree has sold out and no longer holds to “biblical truth.” On the other side, those who take a mythical view of the text often characterize those who take a literal approach as crass fundamentalists who just stick their heads in the sand. Again, we need to avoid this unfortunate and unnecessary characterization of the question of genre.

Second, as we address the question of genre, we need to remember that the Bible, while written for us, was not written to us. The authors of the books of the Bible had an original audience in mind when they wrote, and that audience is not us. As I like to tell my students, they don’t call the book of Romans “Romans” for nothing! It was written to the church in Rome and when we read it, we need first to put ourselves in the place of the church of Rome before applying it to ourselves.

Thus, to understand the Old Testament books, we have to put ourselves in the “cognitive environment” (to use the phrase made memorable by my friend John Walton of the time) in which the book was written.
Those who fail to put themselves into the 'cognitive environment' of Genesis will set themselves up for needless conflict with the reality of an ancient, evolving creation.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

How I Changed My Mind About Evolution - the latest BioLogos book

Over the past few weeks, I've posted excerpts from the latest BioLogos book How I Changed My Mind About Evolution in which a number of scientists, theologians, pastors, and Biblical scholars note how they have accepted the fact of evolution while remaining firm in their Christian faith. Given that the debate has long been framed in terms of fundamentalism versus ardent anti-theism, books such as this play a valuable role in disabusing the interested reader of the belief that the only scientific voices are anti-theists and the only Christian perspective a fundamentalist, anti-science one.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Evolution and the Gospel: From Enemy to Harmony

I never get tired of reading anecdotes from ex-YECs who escape fundamentalism but manage to avoid sliding into atheism as they show that contrary to what YECs allege, rejecting fundamentalism does not result in loss of faith. For a community as thoroughly enmeshed in fundamentalism as ours is, this is good news indeed. Plant physiologist Keith Furman, writing at BioLogos notes how he managed to travel from YEC to OEC and then EC; he now maintains a website The Gospel and Evolution where he aims to show that faith in Christ and acceptance of the fact of evolution are not mutually exclusive.

Monday, 21 March 2016

Vestigial structures - one of the best lines of evidence for evolution

The existence of atavisms and vestigial structures was one of the lines of evidence for evolution Darwin advanced in his Origin of Species, and to this day remains one of the most misunderstood arguments for evolution. Special creationists still think that vestigial means useless, but as Darwin pointed out:
"[a]n organ serving for two purposes, may become rudimentary or utterly aborted for one, even the more important purpose, and remain perfectly efficient for the organ may become rudimentary for its proper purpose, and be used for a distinct object." [1]
In other words, a structure is vestigial if it has lost its original function, irrespective of whether it has secondarily acquired a new function. Examples of vestigial structures include the inner wings of flightless beetles that are atrophied and unable to perform their original function of flight, and the human coccyx, which no longer functions as a tail, but has secondarily acquired new function. The presence or absence of function is not relevant as to whether the structure is vestigial.

This short video shows a number of vestigial structures in the human body, and shows how they provide evidence for common descent - they are features inherited from a remote ancestor which are present, but no longer have the same function that they do in related species with whom we share common ancestry.


1. Darwin C. " On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection" (1859: John Murray: London.)

Thursday, 17 March 2016

"Do Your Own Research" - Crackpots and the Burden of Proof

Over the years I have been defending mainstream science from crackpot views such as YEC, homeopathy, geocentrism, and germ theory denialism, I've noticed that when advocates of these pseudoscientific views are losing the argument or are asked to provide credible evidence for their views, quite often, they respond with a passive-aggressive 'do your own research', and leave the debate. "Do your own research," of course is an evasive rhetorical trick which ignores the fact the person advocating the minority view has the burden of proof and is obliged to defend that view. As a rule, the moment you hear anyone pushing a fringe view utter those words, you can immediately dismiss them as a poorly informed crank. Here's why.

Monday, 14 March 2016

Faith and Wisdom in Science: observations from a recent Norwich science and faith conference

Last week, Tom McLeish, Professor of Physics at Durham University and chair of  the Royal Society’s education committee participated in an afternoon session at Norwich in which a group of  "lay ordained, religious believers (of different kinds) and not, and including two working scientists" [1] fielded questions from a group of sixth form students on questions related to science and faith. The range of questions asked by the young people included comments about creationism, the 'God of the Gaps', free will, and the need for religion to prove itself to be valid. Those are pertinent questions which have been asked in our community but poorly answered or even ignored, and one is left lamenting how mainstream Christianity leaves our community far behind in being able to raise and answer these questions in an intellectually honest manner.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

A "call for calm" on disussions related to Genesis published in The Christadelphian - in 1965

In the mid-1960s, the UK Christadelphian community attempted to come to terms with the evidence for human existence that predated the earliest reasonable date for Adam. Time has of course shown that the evidence for human evolution from the fossil and genomic data is beyond rational dispute, but what characterised our community half a century ago was a willingness to discuss things in a spirit of moderation and love. While browsing back issues of the magazine, I noticed this 1965 letter which managed to emphasise the need both for ecclesial autonomy and a rational, calm approach to discussions. We would do well to emulate that calm, rational approach today.

Monday, 7 March 2016

Refuting common YEC attacks on evolutionary creationists

In my last post, I commented on the all-too common phenomenon of privileged people complaining of being persecuted when their cherished beliefs are questioned. A classic example of this can be seen where YECs react poorly to problems with their worldview being pointed out, even when the questions are posed calmly. Worse still is the victim blaming where those who point out theological and scientific problems are branded as divisive.

Over the years, I have seen many YEC attacks which tend to fall into several predictable classes. These are composites of various YEC comments I have seen over the time I have been following the debate. One hopes that by highlighting them, YECs will endeavour to avoid repeating these fallacious arguments.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

YECs: being corrected or contradicted does not mean you are being persecuted.

Many special creationists in our community need to take to heart Ralph Waldo Emerson's comment, “Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted.”A related sentiment that pops up in online debate is, "when one is used to privilege, equality seems like oppression." Over the years that I have been involved in the creation-evolution debate, I have seen more than enough of special creationist behaviour to realise that too many of them confuse persecution with losing their privileged status as the sole arbiters of how the creation narratives are interpreted, or with having those interpretations challenged or refuted. In short, rather than accept that their views have been shown to be false, these special creationists are quick to claim victim status.

I saw a particularly egregious example of this recently in an online debate, where a special creationist seriously claimed to be persecuted by evolutionary creationists. The special creationist was quickly corrected by another commenter who noted that persecution was being killed for one's faith, and not having someone disagree with views expressed in debate. It would be harder to find a clearer example of Emerson's adage than the piteous lament made by the YEC. More to the point, the fact that evolutionary creationists in our community are being harassed and even excommunicated makes the claim by that special creationist of persecution frankly offensive.

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Neanderthal ancestry and depression risk - why nothing in medicine makes sense except in the light of evolution

Evolutionary biology, as I have pointed out repeatedly is of practical utility for medicine in areas ranging from the classics such as rational antibiotic prescription, tumour biology, and epidemiology, through to understanding the many design flaws and quirks in our anatomy and genetics which make sense only when seen as a result of our evolutionary origins. These facts readily explain both the trend towards making evolutionary biology a basic clinical science for medical students, and the growth in the new field of evolutionary medicine.

They also go a long way to pointing out why intellectually honest, informed doctors are incredulous when people tell them that evolution is 'science falsely so-called'. It's impossible to deny evolution when you can see bacteria evolving drug resistance, have a knowledge of the multiple design flaws in our anatomy that can be explained only by evolution, know from clinical genetics that many genes have coalescent times stretching back hundreds of thousands of years, or are aware of the multiple retrotransposon fragments in identical places in human and ape genomes.  In fact, we've moved beyond the novelty of seeing the indelible hand of evolution anywhere from gross anatomy down to the genomic, and are now building on the fact of evolution to see whether Neanderthal ancestry is linked with the risk of disease. It's not only game, set and match for evolution. We've moved onto the next round of the competition.

Friday, 12 February 2016

How fossilised clam shrimps falsify a global flood

When you critically examine anti-evolution arguments made in our community, not only are they all false, but these arguments show all the signs of being made by those who have never worked in the relevant scientific disciplines and are therefore not speaking from experience or expertise. Conversely, when you listen to arguments made by those who have worked in those disciplines, the expertise is readily apparent. It's not hard to tell which source has credibility, and it isn't the YEC one.

Joel Duff's latest post reflects on his experience sitting in on a PhD student's defence in which he quizzed the doctoral student about the technical details of clam shrimp fossilisation, and whether a global flood could account for it. There are no surprises for guessing that there are no credible ways in which this could occur according to the young scientist who worked on this problem. Now, who are you going to believe? A YEC with zero training in the discipline whose arguments come from an uninspired fundamentalist reading of the Bible, or someone who has actually studied the problem? That we even need to pose this question shows how deeply fundamentalism has taken root in our community.

Monday, 8 February 2016

The Christadelphian website "Life's Big Questions" gets it wrong on science and the Bible. Part 5

As I've previously noted, one of the fundamental flaws in the attacks on evolution and cosmology made by the Christadelphian website Life's Big Questions is the confused understanding of fact and theory in science. Given its inaccurate attack on Big Bang cosmology, it is hardly surprising that its attack on evolutionary biology likewise completely misses its target. As none of its attacks on evolution are new, I will not address them in detail, but refer to previous articles where I address the same special creationist claims about evolution. Where I will direct the majority of my time is in a particularly bad case of quote mining, where LBQ take out of context a quotation from a popular book by geneticist Steve Jones, where a comment about the fossil record is distorted by omission of an opening sentence and the immediately following paragraphs. Either the people behind LBQ have deliberately omitted these sentences and paragraphs, or they have copied - without attempting to verify the reference - an attack from another creationist website. Both alternatives reflect poorly on LBQ, and given that this is an apologetics website, such a blatant example of quote mining is hardly going to make the scientifically literate reader warm to our community.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

The Christadelphian website "Life's Big Questions" gets it wrong on science and the Bible. Part 4

Last time, I pointed out why LBQ was wrong when declaring that scientists claim without justification that "nothing has ever happened to change the physical laws that we know today". In fact, their claim that the ''Big Bang' must remain an interesting theory, and cannot be regarded as a fact" is false. As the cosmologist Jim Peebles has pointed out, "[t]hat the universe is expanding and cooling is the essence of the big bang theory" [1] and there is no serious doubt that the universe has expanded from an initial condition characterised by both high temperature and high density.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Fundamentalist atheism? Does it exist?

My previous post has triggered a Twitter exchange on the concept of fundamentalist atheism, and whether it really exists. Given that Twitter is not a medium for detailed comments, I've elected to do this here. Certainly, given that atheism is simply a lack of belief in a supernatural being, there is no atheist scripture which is read in a stark, literal manner by 'atheist fundamentalists', or atheist dogma which 'atheist fundamentalists' believe represent the true, original basis of atheism and has been ignored or watered down by 'liberal atheists'. If we maintain the original sense of fundamentalism, then the term 'atheist fundamentalist' is meaningless. However, language is not static, and for better or for worse, the term fundamentalism has acquired a broader semantic range, one which allows its meaningful use when applied to some atheists.

Monday, 1 February 2016

James McGrath on Fundamentalism

It's definitely something you see when you look at both fundamentalist Christians and the noisy embittered anti-theists from a fundamentalist Christian background. You can take a man out of fundamentalism, but it's very hard to take fundamentalism out of a man.

Friday, 29 January 2016

Why Evolutionary Creationism?

In response to feedback from a reader, I have expanded and edited the section "Why Evolutionary Creationism" to provide a more substantive overview of the theological and exegetical issues involved. In addition, I have provided links to a number of resources that I have found very useful in refining my views on the subject.

Monday, 25 January 2016

The Christadelphian website "Life's Big Questions" gets it wrong on science and the Bible. Part 3

Before continuing with my critique of the deeply flawed anti-science article in the LBQ website, I would like to point out that even among old earth creationists in our community, one of the claims made by LBQ is regarded as fanciful. LBQ claims that when scientists advance the Big Bang theory, they claim that scientists assume without assumption that "nothing has ever happened to change the physical laws that we know today." The truth is that the assumption is quite reasonable, a point that the old earth creationist John Bilello has ably made:

Thursday, 21 January 2016

The Christadelphian website "Life's Big Questions" gets it wrong on science and the Bible. Part 2

The Christadelphian website Life’s Big Questions as I pointed out in the previous post is badly compromised by its section on science which adopts a flawed ‘evolution or Christianity’ approach to the subject, one that ignores the fact many scientists and theologians over the last 150 years have seen no fundamental conflict between evolution and Christianity. This false dichotomy is perilous as it leads to loss of faith when those inculcated with this mindset discover that evolution is a fact, and conclude that the Bible is wrong.

LBQ continues its deeply flawed approach to this subject in its section ‘Facts and Theories’ which fails to properly define what scientists mean by theories, and worse still, with its slighting reference to scientists having “no way of knowing whether the assumptions used in a theory are right” when “considering what happened in the past”, is using the bogus YEC concept of ‘historical science’ and ‘observational science’.

Contrary to what special creationists such as those behind LBQ assert, evolution is both fact and theory. Evolution refers both to the fact of common descent and large scale evolutionary change, and to the theoretical mechanisms proposed to explain these facts. While the currently accepted theory of evolution – like any scientific theory – is capable of being falsified, this does not mean that the facts it seeks to explain vanish. Furthermore, the successor theory needs to explain both the facts that the previous theory could not, as well as those which it was perfectly able to explain. By its demonstrably flawed grasp of scientific epistemology as well as failing to recognise that evolution refers to fact and theory, LBQs attack fails at the first step.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

The Christadelphian website "Life's Big Questions" gets it wrong on science and the Bible. Part 1

When done poorly, Christian apologetics ends up completely destroying the credibility of those advancing bad defences of the faith, and worse still, the message they are trying to proclaim. Given that creation evangelism is increasingly popular in our community, this means that many Christadelphian apologetics / preaching efforts are fatally compromised by their evolution denialism.

One example is the Life’s Big Questions website, which in its section Has Science disproved the Bible? makes the mistake of assuming a literal reading of the creation narratives is the only was in which one can read the Bible, thus automatically generating a conflict between Bible and science which would never have occurred if those behind the website had not chosen such a flawed hermeneutic.

Furthermore, it makes the usual long-refuted special creationist errors such as not understanding what is meant by theory and fact in science, failing to grasp what science means by evolution, relying on the argument from personal incredulity to deny that evolution could ever occur, and making the tired claim that the fossil record does not support evolution. Worse still, it indulges in fairly blatant example of quote mining, in which a scientist is quoted completely out of context.

This is not how to preach the gospel.

Monday, 18 January 2016

Created kinds and creation in six literal days? Not at all, according to the Bible.

A new blog with the title "Biblical Cosmology and the Apocalyptic Imagination" is always going to attract my attention just on the strength of the title alone. So far it has only two posts, but both are corkers. The first looks at the motif of creation in six days, and provides an elegant answer with which to answer the YECs who insist that an appeal to a literal reading of Ex 20:11 is sufficient to overturn all the evidence that shows the universe is ancient and most definitely was not created 6000 years ago in six days. The second shows how the YEC pseudoscience of baraminology is refuted from the Bible, a particularly damning fact given the YEC claims to base their belief of a literal reading of the creation narratives.

Thursday, 14 January 2016

The stone tool saga continues: YECs reject intellectual design

I've made a number of posts on Joel Duff's articles on how the volume of stone tool artifacts is impossible to reconcile with a YEC timeframe. Unsurprisingly, some YECs have attempted to refute this argument, including sadly some from our our own community. In terms of presenting our community in a good light, such obsessive, amateurish attacks on science and contemporary scholarship by these YECs do incalculable harm to our image.

Other YEC attacks on Duff have come from Answers in Genesis, specifically the historian Terry Mortenson, who has claimed that the stone artifacts are in fact rock pieces which purely by chance have become shaped to look like stone tools. The irony of YECs arguing that blind chance magically shaped rocks into stone tools is of course palpable.

Duff's latest article comments both on Mortenson's attempt to deny the obvious in order to preserve human dogma and YEC credibility, as well as the frankly offensive behaviour of YECs who dismiss scholarly and scientific opinion, insisting that they and only they are qualified to comment on reality. The arrogance and hubris exhibited by Mortenson and AiG is breathtaking, but tragically will simply continue to erode Christianity while YEC remains its most visible public face.

The greatest sin of young earth creationism

By framing the debate this way, militant YECs in our community are contributing to the loss of faith of intellectually honest people who know that the Earth is ancient, creation in six literal days is impossible, evolution is a fact, and the fundamentalist distortion of Genesis 1 is exegetical nonsense. One hopes they come to their senses and recognise the incalculable damage their obstinate adherence to human distortion of the Bible and slavish adherence to dogma is causing our community.

Source: God of Evolution

Monday, 11 January 2016

YECs and OECs show why special creationists cannot answer the ERV evidence for evolution

I make no secret of the fact that I regard the presence of identical endogenous retroviral elements at the same place in human and ape genomes as the most powerful evidence for human-ape common ancestry.

The evidence for this is unassailable; they are unarguable evidence for large numbers of ancient retroviral infections which integrated into the host DNA ages ago, and as the odds of the same retroviruses integrating into exactly the same places in both human and ape genomes is billions to one against, the only rational explanation for these are infections of human-ape common ancestors by retroviruses which became integrated into the genome, and were subsequently inherited by both humans and apes.

Special creationists are desperate to explain away this evidence but have failed miserably. This however does not stop them trying to hand-wave away the facts, with Reasons to Believe for the OECs, and both Todd Wood and Answers in Genesis attempting to offer special creationist explanations. However, as Barry Desborough shows, their explanations are at best unconvincing, and at worst intellectually dishonest.

Monday, 4 January 2016

Christadelphians Learning From Science debunks an anti-evolution article

Elsewhere, I have commented on the website Christadelphian Answers, whose otherwise admirable focus of apologetics is hopelessly compromised by its factually inaccurate attacks on evolutionary biology. Regrettably, the website has continued its anti-evolution campaign with an article "The Case Against Common Descent" which makes many basic errors of fact and at times uncritically regurgitates opinions from young earth creationist and intelligence design sources. It is clear that the article has never been reviewed by competent, independent, impartial sources as the errors of fact are such that not even an undergraduate would make.

The Facebook page Christadelphians Learning From Science is currently critiquing its arguments. While this may appear akin to breaking a butterfly on a wheel, given the persistence of pseudoscientific views in our community, there is pedagogical benefit from such refutation. This page will be updated with each new installment.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

From YEC to evolutionary creationist - Brad Kramer shows how a new generation accepts evolution

The ease with which people can access factual, authoritative material on evolution and the age of the Earth means that YEC will eventually die. Truth cannot be suppressed forever. Evidence of a generational shift reflecting this can be seen in the opinion polls that show a majority of young people in America now accepts evolution. Not only will our community have to accept the fact that any preaching campaign based on attacking evolution and promoting YEC is going to fall flat as the target audience will rightly dismiss such attacks as ignorant and uninformed, it will also need to recognise that this generational shift is, and will be reflected in our community. Attacking those who are the future of our community is not a smart move.

While the cynic would regard the heavy YEC indoctrination in conservative Christian denominations - including sadly our community - as too much to overcome, the evidence of YECs abandoning science denialism and embracing both faith and science, though anecdotal, is becoming hard to dismiss as an aberration. It would appear that positive change is coming. The example of Brad Kramer, managing editor at Biologos provides an excellent case study for how someone thoroughly inculcated in the YEC evangelical world can not only escape, but maintain a robust Christian faith while accepting evolution and work to ensure that this example becomes not a curiosity but normative.

Saturday, 2 January 2016

If you prefer the term 'Evolutionary Creationist' then you're in good company.

Evolutionary creationism, as I have pointed out on a number of occasions, is by far a better term to use to describe theists who regard evolution as the means by which God created than the term 'theistic evolutionist', a point that the 20th century geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky pointed out in his 1973 article in The American Biology Teacher when declared, "I am a creationist and an evolutionist. Evolution is God's, or Nature's method of creation." The term rightly places emphasis on the fact we are creationists, something the term 'theistic evolutionist' completely fails to do, while differentiating the evolutionary creationist from the special creationist. Furthermore, it does not share the major failing of the term 'theistic evolutionist'; one does not prefix the term 'theistic' to all other branches of science, so why should one do the same for evolution?

Yet another major player in the evolution-creation discussion has weighed in on this subject. Palaeoanthropologist James Kidder, author of the splendid Biologos series on the fossil evidence for human evolution has commented on points made in the book Long March of the Koalas by Christian commentator Fred Clark. Clark asserts that the term 'theistic evolutionist' is meaningless: