Thursday, 21 December 2017

Genetics and the Caananite Genocide - how not to respond to a scientific paper

Earlier this year, geneticist Marc Haber and his colleagues published a paper [1] detailing the results of a study in which they compared genomic data from five individuals from ancient Sidon who lived around 3700 years ago, with the genomic data from 99 modern Lebanese individuals, and found that not only did the modern Lebanese individuals have considerable ancient Canaanite ancestry, but also have Eurasian ancestry not present in Bronze Age or earlier inhabitants of the Levant, most likely originating between 3750 - 2170 years ago as a result of a wave of successive conquests of the area. It's a fascinating study that has already been cited positively a number of times in the scientific literature.

Unfortunately, reporting of the article by mainstream journalism was disappointing, with news outlets such as The Independent leading with the frankly sensationalistic headline "Bible says Canaanites were wiped out by Israelites but scientists just found their descendants living in Lebanon." [2] Haber et al did make an en passant reference to the Bible, noting that the "Bible reports the destruction of the Canaanite cities and the annihilation of its people", inferring that if this was the case, "Canaanites could not have directly contributed genetically to present-day populations", and commenting that "no archaeological evidence has so far been found to support widespread destruction of Canaanite cities between the Bronze and Iron Ages." [3] However, as the Canaanites that Joshua 9-12 states were exterminated were south of Sidon, [4] Haber's reference is irrelevant. Furthermore, this was a side-issue in the paper, the focus of which was on demonstrating continuity between ancient and modern-day populations in Lebanon, and the timing and nature of admixture of outside genetic material. For The Independent to sell the story by making this en passant reference the main feature was sloppy journalism.

This month, The Testimony [5] responded to the sensationalist reports of the Haber et al paper correctly pointing out that the Bible states that the Canaanites were in fact not completely exterminated, and noting that at least one of the papers [6] published a correction noting this fact. Unfortunately, The Testimony failed to address two points, the fact that a literal reading of Joshua 10-12 does in fact described the near-extermination of the Canaanites, standing in marked tension with the narrative in the rest of Joshua and Judges, while Haber et al were correct in pointing out that the archaeological record does not support a widespread destruction of Canaanite cities in the Late Bronze to Iron ages. [7] Both are hardly trivial, and it is regrettable that this article failed to substantively address textual issues relating to the conquest narrative.

Thursday, 7 December 2017

"Little Foot", the oldest complete hominin fossil makes its appearance

'Little foot', a 3.67 million year old australopithecine hominin made its formal debut at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg on December 6. Originally discovered in the mid-1990s, it has taken two decades to remove the fossil from the surrounding rock and prepare it. What makes 'Little foot' so remarkable is that it is the oldest complete hominin fossil ever found.

The fossil evidence for human evolution, which shows an unmistakable trend towards bipedality and increasing cranial capacity over time was compelling well before this discovery, but both its age and near-complete status make this one of the greatest discoveries in palaeoanthropology. It also underscores the point, one that should be obvious by now, that denial of the fact of human evolution is simply no longer credible.

Monday, 4 December 2017

New evidence on the antiquity of the human race - Homo sapiens is even older than we thought

Up until now, the oldest Homo sapiens fossils were the Omo fossils at Kibish Formation in Ethiopia, dated at 195,000 years. [1] Earlier this year, Nature published two papers in which researchers announced new fossil discoveries from Jebel Irhoud, Morocco, along with analyses of these and previously discovered fossils from the same site, and dating of the strata. At 315,000 years, these are now the oldest Homo sapiens fossils, nearly doubling the previous date of 160,000 years, and extending the age of Homo sapiens by 120,000 years. In retrospect, given the genetic data showing the common ancestor of the lines leading to Homo sapiens and Homo neanderthalensis lived around 400,000 years ago, these revised dates are not surprising. Nonetheless, it's a stunning development in palaeoanthropology, and one which further underscores that YEC assertions about the antiquity and origin of the human race are flat-out wrong.

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Loving God with your heart, soul, mind - and kidneys. Understanding the pre-scientific worldview of the ancient Hebrews.

At the always-excellent Christadelphian – Origins Discussion is a fascinating post pointing out that we do interpret the Bible with science when we realise that the literal reading of a passage is flatly contradicted by what we know to be true from science. The example cited is that of the heart, which as we know pumps oxygenated blood to the body and deoxygenated blood to the heart. However, in the Bible, the heart is used with reference to the mind, conscience, and inner self. Interpreted literally, this is of course nonsense, which is why the average fundamentalist does not interpret this literally.

This is not the only anatomical example in the Bible. The Bible does not ascribe to the kidneys their main function of filtering the blood (or maintaining blood pressure, and performing a number of metabolic / endocrine duties), but rather declares them to be the seat of “conscience, emotion, desire, and wisdom”, a role that parallels that of the heart. The inconsistency of the fundamentalist in readily acceding to modern science which declares that the physiological roles ascribed to the heart and kidneys are actually performed by the brain, while refusing to accept what modern science also shows about the reality of our ancient universe and the evolutionary history of life hardly needs stressing.

Monday, 27 November 2017

Walt Brown's hydroplate theory. Not just wrong, but too crazy even for CMI and AiG

One example of such a 'not even wrong' idea is Walt Brown's "hydroplate theory" which argues that the Genesis Flood was caused by water bursting forth from a vast subterranean ocean on which floated a thick planet-covering slab of granite. It also asserts that the continents were created out of the broken fragments while the comets, meteors, and asteroids were formed as water jets blasted debris out of earth orbit into the outer solar system.

Brown's hypothesis is untenable for many reasons, if only because the hot, highly pressurised water released would have turned into steam, and roasted everything on the surface of the Earth, let alone the devastation to the surface of the earth caused from the energy released by creating the equivalent of  hundreds of millions of years of continental drift in under a year, or that released when the material that he asserts created the asteroids and comets was blasted into space. Even Answers in Genesis and Creation Ministries International have reservations about this hypothesis, which makes the fact that some in our community are seriously appealing to this lunacy nothing short of embarrassing.

Friday, 24 November 2017

Yet another rehash of debunked ID arguments? Why "Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique" won't be worth buying.

In part 2 of my series commenting on “Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique”, the latest book-length attack on evolution from conservative Protestant Christianity, I reflected on the differences between how scientific and special creationist consensus are achieved, and commented on the special creationist obsession with credentials. As I noted, higher degrees do not magically convert nonsense into facts.

Having said that, given that the advertising blurb for the book touted the authors as ‘highly credentialed’, it is entirely fair to use this claim to evaluate them. Of the fourteen contributors, six aren’t even scientists, while of the eight who possess a PhD in a science-related discipline, only four of those could be termed ‘highly credentialed’ if we define that as holding an academic position at a major university or museum of natural history. Of those four, only one – the palaeontologist Günter Bechly – has a background in a discipline directly related to evolution – and he has now left the scholarly mainstream and is working at the Biologic Institute, a ‘research laboratory’ attached to the Discovery Institute, an intelligent science think tank.

The credibility of the collection is badly compromise by the fact that eight of the fourteen either work for or are affiliated with the Discovery Institute, notorious for its aggressive advocacy of the pseudoscience of intelligent design. In particular, many of these authors have previously written on the same subject that feature in the titles of their contributions to TE: SPTC, and have had the arguments in those books comprehensively refuted by mainstream scientific reviewers. Given this, unless the arguments are new and revolutionary – and the absence of anything in the scientific literature from the authors that is accepted by the scientific community as showing evolution is a ‘theory in crisis - it is entirely reasonable to conclude that the scientific-themed posts will have nothing substantive to offer.

Monday, 20 November 2017

Credentialism and consensus - why "Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique" is unlikely to overturn evolution

In part 1 of my series of posts commenting on “Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique”, I noted that the theological critiques were drawn exclusively from members of conservative section of the Reformed / Evangelical community, which automatically downgrades the book from a broad Christian critique of current attempts to reconcile faith and evolution to little more than a narrow sectarian apologetic.

The scientific critique, based on the profiles of the fourteen contributing authors fares little better in that over half of them are affiliated in some way with the Discovery Institute, a conservative think tank that has been widely criticised by mainstream scientists for its intellectual dishonesty and promotion of the pseudoscience of intelligent design. Furthermore, three of those aren’t even scientists. Of the remaining contributors, only three could honestly said to be actively working scientists at major universities, and none of these are working in disciplines directly related to evolution, meaning that they are quite likely arguing well out of their areas of professional expertise.

Once again, I stress that I have not read the book, but given that evolution has not been seriously doubted by mainstream scientists for well over a century, the burden of proof lies exclusively on those who reject their case to do so to the satisfaction of the scientific community, and the chances of a series of articles in a conservative evangelical apologetics book, most of whose authors are obscure scientists affiliated with a pseudoscientific think tank doing this are remote at best.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Why "Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique" probably won't be worth the effort of reading.

The success of organisations such as BioLogos and the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion in showing why evolution and Christianity are not mutually exclusive has clearly rattled the conservative wings of the Reformed and Evangelical faith traditions, as shown by a soon-to-be released book modestly entitled “Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique”. Of course, there is no credible scientific evidence that remotely calls into question the fact of common descent and large scale evolutionary change, so no amount of argumentation will make the scientific facts vanish. Furthermore, theological opposition to evolution stems primarily from the fact that the doctrine of Original Sin demands universal human descent from two people. Original Sin, particularly in its extreme Reformed guise has been subjected to considerable criticism over the centuries, with many pointing out that it owes much to Augustine and his demonstrably flawed reading of Romans 5:12. Given these facts, it is entirely reasonable to dismiss this book as yet another desperate attempt by anti-evolutionists to preserve a crumbling theological position.

Reviewing a book that has not been released (at time of writing) is of course impossible, so I must stress at the start that this is not a review of the book. Rather, it is an exercise in determining the likelihood that a book will overturn a well-established scientific theory, based on factors such as the reputation of the contributors, their areas of expertise, what they have previously written on the subject, and what experts in the relevant areas of scholarship think of their positions on those subjects. In the absence of a credible book review, being able to determine without a review whether a book is worth buying is definitely a skill that everyone needs to acquire.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Yes, We Were There

Yes, We Were There

 Antoine Bret

Many believe that to inform us about the past, science depends on an assumption of uniformitarianism: that the laws of nature we know today were the same in the past. Creationist literature often argues that faith in this “stability principle” is misplaced. For example, the starlight argument, observing that light arriving from stars farther than 6 000 lightyears must have been created more than 6 000 years ago, is attacked this way. Creationists will reason that the argument is only sound if light has always been traveling at its current speed. But if light traveled faster in the past, objects farther than 6 000 light-years away could have been created only 6 000 years ago and yet still be able to send us light. Barry Setterfield became famous in creationist circles in 1981 by “scientifically” exploring the idea (Setterfield 1981).

Radioactive dating methods used to determine the age of Earth, or of the universe, are attacked from the same angle. The uranium–lead dating technique, for example, is instrumental in dating our planet. It relies on the stability of the decay rates involved in the uranium–lead decay chain. How can we be sure these rates have been the same in the past? Can we observe the past? Doubts in clearing up these issues lead to Ken Ham’s rhetorical question “Were you there?”

Sunday, 22 October 2017

Heterochronic evolution explains novel body shape in a Triassic coelacanth from Switzerland

Heterochronic evolution explains novel body shape in a Triassic coelacanth from Switzerland

Lionel Cavin, Bastien Mennecart, Christian Obrist, Loïc Costeur & Heinz Furrer

Scientific Reports 7, Article number: 13695 (2017)  


A bizarre latimeriid coelacanth fish from the Middle Triassic of Switzerland shows skeletal features deviating from the uniform anatomy of coelacanths. The new form is closely related to a modern-looking coelacanth found in the same locality and differences between both are attributed to heterochronic evolution. Most of the modified osteological structures in the new coelacanth have their developmental origin in the skull/trunk interface region in the embryo. Change in the expression of developmental patterning genes, specifically the Pax1/9 genes, may explain a rapid evolution at the origin of the new coelacanth. This species broadens the morphological disparity range within the lineage of these ‘living fossils’ and exemplifies a case of rapid heterochronic evolution likely trigged by minor changes in gene expression.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Peter Harrison - Why religion is not going away and science will not destroy it

In 1966, just over 50 years ago, the distinguished Canadian-born anthropologist Anthony Wallace confidently predicted the global demise of religion at the hands of an advancing science: ‘belief in supernatural powers is doomed to die out, all over the world, as a result of the increasing adequacy and diffusion of scientific knowledge’. Wallace’s vision was not exceptional. On the contrary, the modern social sciences, which took shape in 19th-century western Europe, took their own recent historical experience of secularisation as a universal model. An assumption lay at the core of the social sciences, either presuming or sometimes predicting that all cultures would eventually converge on something roughly approximating secular, Western, liberal democracy. Then something closer to the opposite happened.

Not only has secularism failed to continue its steady global march but countries as varied as Iran, India, Israel, Algeria and Turkey have either had their secular governments replaced by religious ones, or have seen the rise of influential religious nationalist movements. Secularisation, as predicted by the social sciences, has failed.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

What's new at Christadelphian - Origins Discussion

It's heartening to see other Christadelphian Internet sites discussing both evolution, and how to understand our faith tradition in the light of the fact of common descent and large-scale evolutionary change. One of these, Christadelphian Origins Discussion has recently added a webpage, which includes a number of posts on subjects ranging from common descent to refuting and correcting common Christadelphian misunderstandings on evolution to ancient Hebrew cosmogeography. Definitely a website to add to your bookmarks.

Friday, 22 September 2017

Where's the Evolution? Why, here!

One of the more common tactics evolution denialists employ is to juxtapose photographs of fossils and contemporary organisms, and claim that the apparent absence of change means evolution never occurred. There are many fundamental problems with this problem, such as the fact that poor quality photographs of fossils fail to pick up the subtle morphological details that are apparent when the actual fossils are examined, morphological stability in environments where there are no strong selective pressures, not to mention the fact that even in the absence of marked morphological change, there will nonetheless be strong evidence of change at the genomic level which is of course not apparent in a grainy photograph.

Arguably the most notorious proponent of this deceptive tactic is the Turkish evolution denialist Adnan Oktar, otherwise known as Harun Yahya. Oktar is hardly alone, with many special creationists using this approach to attack evolution. One example is the Facebook page Where is the evolution? which has in turn triggered the creation of another page Here is the evolution, which exposes the intellectually vacuous approach of their approach by focusing on the fundamental concept of evolution - descent with modification produces an evolutionary tree.

Friday, 25 August 2017

How Molecular Clocks Are Refining Human Evolution's Timeline

How Molecular Clocks Are Refining Human Evolution's Timeline

By Bridget Alex and Priya Moorjani

This article was originally published at The Conversation and has been republished under Creative Commons.

DNA holds the story of our ancestry—how we’re related to the familiar faces at family reunions as well as more ancient affairs: how we’re related to our closest nonhuman relatives, chimpanzees; how Homo sapiens mated with Neanderthals; and how people migrated out of Africa, adapting to new environments and lifestyles along the way. And our DNA also holds clues about the timing of these key events in human evolution.

When scientists say that modern humans emerged in Africa about 200,000 years ago and began their global spread about 60,000 years ago, how do they come up with those dates? Traditionally researchers built timelines of human prehistory based on fossils and artifacts, which can be directly dated with methods such as radiocarbon dating and Potassium-argon dating. However, these methods require ancient remains to have certain elements or preservation conditions, and that is not always the case. Moreover, relevant fossils or artifacts have not been discovered for all milestones in human evolution.

Analyzing DNA from present-day and ancient genomes provides a complementary approach for dating evolutionary events. Because certain genetic changes occur at a steady rate per generation, they provide an estimate of the time elapsed. These changes accrue like the ticks on a stopwatch, providing a “molecular clock.” By comparing DNA sequences, geneticists can not only reconstruct relationships between different populations or species but also infer evolutionary history over deep timescales.

Molecular clocks are becoming more sophisticated, thanks to improved DNA sequencing, analytical tools, and a better understanding of the biological processes behind genetic changes. By applying these methods to the ever-growing database of DNA from diverse populations (both present-day and ancient), geneticists are helping to build a more refined timeline of human evolution.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Nothing in Medicine Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution

The title of this post is a direct allusion to Theodosius Dobzhansky's famous 1973 article Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution [1] in which he outlined facts from areas such as ecology and molecular biology, and stated that "all these remarkable findings make sense in the light of evolution: they are nonsense otherwise." In a similar manner, aspects of human anatomy, developmental biology, physiology, and genetics which look bizarre, poorly designed, and otherwise defy rational description (not to mention difficult to memorise and store for quick recall) become perfectly understandable when understood in the light of an evolutionary origin for the human species. Examples include extra nipples along the milk line [2], the inverted retina [3], the multiple  pseudogenes, retrotransposons, and endogenous retroviral elements we share with primates [4], not to mention the presence of non-coding intronic DNA, which leads to mutations at intron-exon borders that "often disrupt premRNA splicing in ways that alter gene products and lead to countless genetic disabilities, including various cancers and other metabolic defects." [5]

I am not the first to allude to Dobzhansky in reflecting on the increasing importance evolution has for both understanding the basic clinical sciences on which medicine is based, and for the practice of medicine itself. Ajit Varki, Distinguished Professor of Medicine and Cellular & Molecular Medicine at the University of California,  San Diego wrote in 2012 a paper with the same title as this post where he states that the 'scientific aspects of medicine are rooted in understanding the biology of our species and those of other organisms that interact with us in health and disease. Thus, it is reasonable to paraphrase Dobzhansky, stating that, 'nothing in the biological aspects of medicine makes sense except in the light of evolution'" and proceeds to outline his experience in teaching evolution to medical students. [6] Given that there are more than 4.7 million hits in Google Scholar when searching for evolution and medicine, Varki's desire (and that of many other physician and scientists) to integrate evolutionary biology in the teaching of medicine is eminently sensible.

Monday, 17 July 2017

Endogenous Retroviruses and the Evidence for Common Descent


Common descent has not been an issue in the mainstream scientific community for over one hundred years. The case for common descent, which was considered solid in the early 20th century, has now become overwhelming based in no small part on the evidence from molecular genetics. The evidence is overwhelming when it comes to endogenous retroviral inclusions. ERVs are remnants of prior retroviral infections that have become integrated into the DNA of organisms. If they pass into the germline of an organism, its descendants can inherit them. Their presence is clear evidence of past infection in an ancestral organism.
Common descent would predict that the descendants of a species infected by a retrovirus, which subsequently became integrated into the germline, would inherit that retroviral inclusion at the same point in the DNA of the descendant organisms. We find evidence of this in organisms ranging from primates to sheep to crocodiles. It is difficult to imagine a more comprehensive demonstration of common descent, particularly when closely related species such as humans and chimpanzees share significant numbers of ERVs at the same point in their genome.
One analogy that should drive home this point is that of a mathematics teacher who receives ten exam papers that not only get the same questions wrong, but show the same errors in the working of the problem, and even share the same spelling errors at the same questions. Copying is the only reasonable conclusion, as it stretches credibility to assume that the ten students independently got the same questions wrong, made exactly the same mistakes in derivation and made the same spelling error. This is similar to what we see with closely related species with shared ERVs at exactly the same point in their genomes.
The following article should serve not only as an introduction to retrovirology for the layperson, but point out in detail the evidence for common descent from ERVs, examples where evolution has co-opted ERV components to perform new functions, and refutations of common evolution denialist arguments against the evidence for common descent from ERVs.
This review is large, but no apology is made for this. Shared ERV elements in related species is overwhelming evidence for common descent, which is why creationists, who are unable to refute this evidence raise objections which while superficially appealing to the layperson do not pass the critical scrutiny of the scientists whose professional life involves working with them. Dismissing the molecular evidence as “circumstantial evidence” is a merely an attempt to evade the burden of proof expected of anyone who opposes a consensus view. If one challenges a long-established position, one needs to understand what one us challenging intimately, and produce hard evidence for critical review by the scientific community. Otherwise, if that is not done, no one will take such attempted rebuttals seriously - and rightly so. No creationist refutation of this evidence from shared ERV elements exists - the consensus view that they support common descent remains unchallenged.

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Cancer, pain, and suffering before The Fall

Two things that YECs claim to be true, namely recent human creation and the absence of disease and suffering before Adam's sin are of course impossible to honestly defend given the overwhelming evidence against these assumptions. Further demonstration of this fact would not unreasonably be seen as redundant. However, given my medical background, a recent fossil discovery in South Africa of bone cancer in a 1.7 million year old hominin fossil caught my attention as a particularly powerful demonstration of facts of human antiquity and human suffering well before the earliest possible date for Adam in one powerful image.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

2017 BioLogos Conference Plenary Session Videos

When I shared notes from Heather Goodman's live blogging of the 2017 BioLogos Christ and Creation conference in Houston, Texas, I expressed my hope that a record of the conference would shortly be available. Thankfully, BioLogos have made available the plenary sessions so those unable to attend will be able to see leading scientists and Biblical scholars show how to understand Christianity in the light of the fact of evolution.

Friday, 14 April 2017

Galactic Archaeology - evidence of an ancient universe written in the stars

YECs are well aware that the evidence from the natural world overwhelmingly attests to an ancient universe, which is why they invest considerable effort in an attempt to explain away this data to preserve their hyperliteral reading of the creation narratives. Of course, this means advancing patently nonsensical ideas such as accelerated rates of radioactive decay and the creation of light in transit for objects more than 6000 light years away from the Earth. The former assertion is readily falsified when we realise that accelerated rates of radioactive decay would release enough heat to melt the crust of the earth, while the latter means what we see of the universe more than 6000 light years away is essentially a universe-sized special effect which may not have even happened. As Charles Kingsley put it when commenting negatively on Philip Gosse's book Omphalos in which he advanced creation with appearance of age as a means of explaining the evidence for an ancient natural history, "I cannot...believe that God has written on the rocks one enormous and superfluous lie for all mankind."

Sunday, 9 April 2017

More musings on monogenism (or why the human population was never as small as two people)

If every single human alive was exclusively descended from two people who lived around 6000 years ago, we would not expect the data from population genetics to show that the human population was never smaller than a few thousand individuals. Nor would we expect to see coalescent times for human genes in the hundreds of thousands of years. This is however exactly what we see, and it completely falsifies the anti-evolutionist position that the entire human race descended from six individuals approximately 4500 years ago and propagated away from Mt Ararat. What we see continues to show an African origin for the human race. As always, the problem here is simply one of choosing from an avalanche of papers that show this fact.

Friday, 31 March 2017

How Fundamentalism and YEC fails the next generation - notes from the BioLogos 2017 Conference

Unfortunately, I was not able to attend the 2017 BioLogos Conference in Houston, so Heather Goodman's live blog feed will have to do instead. Certainly, with scholars of the calibre of Tom Wright, John Walton, and Scott McKnight, one hopes that a video or print record of the conference will eventually see the light of the day.

While the live blog gives a taste of some of the highlights of the conference, sadly, it has provided a few reminders of the corrosive effect evolution denialism, virulent opposition to science and a "our way or the highway" approach from fundamentalists / YECs has on the next generation.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Even Answers in Genesis concede the "Cambodian Stegosaurus" is not evidence for human-dinosaur coexistence

Young earth creationist assertions that humans and dinosaurs coexisted are of course nonsense. The last non-avian dinosaurs died out at the end of the Cretaceous around 65 million years ago while the oldest reliably dated Homo sapiens fossils are nearly 200,000 years old. Fossil footprint evidence alleged by YECs to show that humans and dinosaurs coexisted such as the Paluxy River tracks are conceded even by some YECs to be bogus. The claim that 'soft tissue' in dinosaur bones proves the fossils are young is falsified by the securely dated strata in which the fossils were found, confirming their great age, while showing that organic molecules can be preserved for millions of years if the conditions are right. That leaves YECs with nothing other than fanciful interpretations of ancient artwork as evidence for their claims.

One of the more popular examples is a carving at the Ta Prohm temple in Angkor, Cambodia, dated to the 12th / 13th century CE, which some YECs allege is a depiction of a stegosaurus:

Monday, 20 March 2017

"A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject"

One of the accusations made by evolution denialists in our community about both evolutionary creationists and those who do correctly do not regard it as a fellowship issue is that they are being divisive. Given that evolutionary creationists are not insisting on their views being normative for the entire community, have done considerable work behind the scenes in preserving the faith of young people who are struggling to reconcile the fact of evolution with a faithful reading of the Bible, and are asking only that their position be accommodated, this assertion is simply false. More to the point, by seeking to divide the community over this issue, ironically it is the hard-line evolution denialist whose behaviour could well be called divisive, and promoting of factionalism.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

A 400,000 year old Portugese hominin - yet more hard evidence for the antiquity of humanity

My previous post commented on a recent study that showed not only the antiquity of indigenous Australian settlement, but that individual population groups had been present in the same area for tens of thousands of years. This of course falsifies the special creationist assertion that the entire human race descends exclusively from two people who lived six thousand years ago. Now, another paper provides more evidence for the antiquity of the human lineage. Portugese palaeoanthropologist João Zilhão, and his colleagues have published a paper detailing the discovery of a Middle Pleistocene hominin skull from Gruta da Aroeira in Portugal securely dated to around 400,000 years. The skull may well be ancestral to Homo neanderthalensis, and occurs along with stone tools, animal remains and evidence of controlled use of fire.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Adam and the Indigenous Australian genome - yet another line of evidence agaisnt monogenism

The fundamentalist Christian assertion that the entire human race descended from two people who lived six thousand years ago has long been falsified by both the comprehensive hominin fossil record stretching back millions of years into the past, and the evidence from human genetics that shows the human population was never smaller than a few thousand people. Given this, any further evidence demonstrating these points would seem to be overkill, but sometimes, a scientific paper arises that provides an elegant demonstration of this fact. 

A week ago, Nature published an article by Alan Cooper et al which analysed indigenous Australian mitochondrial DNA, showing that after arriving in Australia close to fifty thousand years ago, humans colonised the whole of the continent within a few thousand years. What was particularly fascinating was evidence that some indigenous Australian populations have been living continuously in particular areas for tens of thousands of years. As the authors note:
The long-standing and diverse phylogeographic patterns documented here are remarkable given the timescale involved, and raise the possibility that the central cultural attachment of Aboriginal Australians to ‘country’ may reflect the continuous presence of populations in discrete geographic areas for up to 50 kyr. [1]
Source: Nature (2017) doi:10.1038/nature/21416
Two things are apparent. The first is that the indigenous attachment to the land quite likely is based in the fact particular groups have been living in particular parts of the country for tens of thousands of years. The second, and theologically significant fact is that given particular tribal groups were living continuously in the same part of Australia for tens of thousands of years before Adam, it is clear that the dogmatic assertion that every human alive descended from two people who lived six thousand years ago simply cannot be reconciled with the evidence.


1. Tobler R et al "Aboriginal mitogenomes reveal 50,000 years of regionalism in Australia" Nature (2017) doi:10.1038/nature21416 p 4

Thursday, 23 February 2017

When science and faith clash - losing and finding faith

I have a confession to make. Even when I was a dogmatic YEC, a small part of me sensed that there was more to evolution than the creationist parody of evolutionary biology that my creationist books routinely dismissed. In retrospect, when I had my first crisis of faith in 1985, a large part of that sudden collapse of belief was due to long-suppressed doubts finally breaking free. When that happens, the positive feedback loop of doubt eroding faith creating more doubt can very quickly destroy faith. Ironically, this collapse often is more dramatic among the young believer from devout, conservative faith communities who are highly invested in their faith tradition and have spend an inordinate amount of time in apologetic activities. The ones who seems the strongest often fail the most dramatically.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Nephilim and dinosaurs and humans, oh my! Answers in Genesis embarrasses Christianity yet again

The Answers in Genesis Ark Encounter theme park has already attracted justifiable criticism for its pseudoscience and blurring of church-state boundaries. Now, Ham has published a series of pictures of a new diorama to be added to the Ark Encounter park which depict giant nephilim, humans, and dinosaurs fighting in an arena. Seriously.

Monday, 20 February 2017

A wasp that parasitises other wasps - a ghoulish argument against special creationism

Darwin's statement that he could not see how a loving God could have created  wasps whose larva "grew with the express intention of...feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars" remains to this day a considerable problem for special creationists who appeal to beauty and elegance in nature as proof of creation. Desperate attempts by special creationists to explain away the problem by declaring that they were designed by God to control insects ignore both the fact that less ghastly methods of insect control (swift predation such as seen by mantises) already exist, and that at least 40,000 species of parasitoid wasp have been described. The creation of one species that plies its trade by laying its eggs within the body of another so that its young can devour the host alive poses serious moral issues. For this to be repeated tens of thousands of times multiplies this dilemma even more so.

The problem for special creationists becomes even more profound when we consider the crypt-keeper wasp, Euderus set. This parasitoid wasp lays its eggs inside oak tree stems inside which another parasitic wasp, the crypt gall wasp is maturing. The crypt keeper wasp is not able to gnaw its way out of the oak tree, so it relies on the crypt gall wasp to do this. The way in which it does this is particularly gruesome.

Friday, 17 February 2017

New Atheism and the myth of the "Medieval Gap"

Even though the "conflict hypothesis" model of the relationship between science and Christianity has been discredited by historians of science, some anti-theists still assert that Christianity has been implacably opposed to science, going as far as to argue that during the approximately 1000 years between the fall of the western half of the Roman Empire and the start of the Renaissance, scientific knowledge was lost, plunging Europe into a 'Dark Ages'. This 'Medieval Gap', to use the term employed by Carl Sagan in the companion book to his justly celebrated Cosmos television series, as anyone familiar with James Hannan's excellent God's Philosophers would realise exists only in the minds of anti-theists. Far from retarding or suppressing science, Christianity preserved and extended scientific knowledge.

Monday, 23 January 2017

"Your Inner Fish" - the Documentary Series

Palaeontologist Neil Shubin will be familiar to many people for his co-discovery of Tiktaalik roseae, the "fishapod" which remains one of the icons of tetrapod evolution. Shubin is also well-known for his popular science book Your Inner Fish which is an accessible overview of the long trail of human evolution, showing why our anatomy, physiology, and genetics makes sense only in the light of evolution.

For those interested, you can view the three-part PBS series based on the book below.

Monday, 9 January 2017

New Atheism and the Religion / Science War that Never Was

The belief that the relationship between science and religion has been one of unremitting war, with religion steadily retreating in the face of science triumphant, is a deeply mistaken reading of the history of science, but one that has been harnessed for anti-apologetic benefit. However, as historian of science Stephen Snobelen points out in his ongoing BioLogos series Science, Religion, and the New Atheism, this has not stopped the New Atheists from using it, and in the process demonstrating considerable naivety in the process:
In a video-taped discussion with Dawkins in 2012, the physicist Lawrence Krauss made the following (rehearsed) comment: “Maybe I’m not qualified to talk about nothing because philosophers and theologians are experts at nothing.” Clever, but hardly fair. With this witticism he renders irrelevant at least two and a half millennia of sophisticated philosophical and theological discussion of many of the questions he attempts to address in his book. Krauss seems to be suffering from a form of historical myopia, for several of the key concepts he discusses in his book—a universe from nothing, laws of nature, and the multiverse—were either introduced or embraced by religious thinkers centuries before his birth. (I do not mean that all religious thinkers embraced multiverse. Then, as now, some religious thinkers favour and some do not favour the idea.) The very title of Krauss’s book was first formulated by the early modern German philosopher Gottfried Leibniz and resonated with theological meaning. Krauss’ statement is similar to Dawkins’ claim that theology is about nothing and that it is a non-subject (although in an apparent contradiction he has also qualified this claim by acknowledging that the scientific study of religion does exist). Sadly, an examination of A Universe From Nothing and The God Delusion reveal that both Krauss and Dawkins would have benefited from training in philosophy and the philosophy of science. The epistemology (including scientific epistemology) in these works is often either naïve or non-existent.
You can find the articles here. As the series progresses, they will be updated.

1. Science, Religion and the New Atheism: Introduction
2. New Atheism and the "Conflict" Between Science and Religion
3. New Atheists, the God of the Gaps, and What's Wrong with the "Conflict Thesis"
4. Carl Sagan and the Myth of the Medieval Gap
5. The Medieval Gap and New Atheists Today

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Ken Ham the Heretic: A recent Twitter outburst by the AiG head shows their sectarian, heterodox worlview

2017 opened with AiG leader Ken Ham railing against 'secular media' in a Twitter storm, Five tweets within an hour would certainly indicate Donald Trump level rage. What blasphemy would trigger such an outburst? Claims that archaeology has proven the Bible false? Assertions that Jesus never existed? Something even worse, it seems.

The Washington Post, in commenting on a soon to be released film that refers to Ham stated that his organisation believed that all the dinosaurs died out during the flood. Ham was infuriated by this outrageous slander  because AiG in fact believe that most of the dinosaurs were wiped out, except for those taken aboard the Ark, which eventually went extinct shortly after the flood due to a post-flood ice age. If you are struggling to see why this minor error is worthy of such a tirade of righteous indignation, then obviously you do not understand the gospel according to AiG.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Eugene Koonin: The Importance of neutral null for understanding evolution

Splendor and misery of adaptation, or the importance of neutral null for understanding evolution

Eugene V. Koonin
BMC Biology 2016 14:114 DOI: 10.1186/s12915-016-0338-2 ©  The Author(s). 2016
Published: 23 December 2016


The study of any biological features, including genomic sequences, typically revolves around the question: what is this for? However, population genetic theory, combined with the data of comparative genomics, clearly indicates that such a “pan-adaptationist” approach is a fallacy. The proper question is: how has this sequence evolved? And the proper null hypothesis posits that it is a result of neutral evolution: that is, it survives by sheer chance provided that it is not deleterious enough to be efficiently purged by purifying selection. To claim adaptation, the neutral null has to be falsified. The adaptationist fallacy can be costly, inducing biologists to relentlessly seek function where there is none.