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?”