Sunday, 17 June 2018

"Ken Ham made me an atheist" - yet more reaons why evolution denialism erodes faith

Former young earth creationists who lose their faith after critically examining the tenets of YEC and finding them wanting are sadly numerous, with their stories depressingly alike. They were devout fundamentalist Christians whose loyalty to their community was unquestioned, whose faith began eroding when they began looking into YEC, and found that the standard fundamentalist anti-evolution arguments were unconvincing, pathetic, and intellectually dishonest. This, I have to point out, is without looking at a single mainstream scientific source attacking creationism.While there will always be people who will blindly follow the claims made by the elders in their faith tradition, what fundamentalists consistently fail to grasp is that there will always be curious, intellectually honest members who will critically examine the foundations of YEC and find them non-existent.

Thursday, 24 May 2018

No, hominin fossils are not all the same.

Given that anti-evolutionists in our community are invariably extremely poorly informed on even the basics of palaeoanthropology, I am not surprised to see sweeping statements such as "there is no evidence that Neanderthal man existed", uncritical repetition of creationist aphorisms such as "all life breeds after its own kind" or even "there are no different species of humans, only different races." Anyone who makes these assertions is positively shouting the fact that they know nothing of the subject at all. The morphological differences between humans and Neanderthals are clear and unmistakable. Furthermore, we now have the Neanderthal genome, which is clearly distinct from that of the human. Both anatomy and genetics confirm that Neanderthals existed, and were clearly different from us. In this post, I will summarise this information.

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

A million years of hominins in the Middle East

In my last post, I pointed out that as a medical professional educated in the genomics era, evolution denialism is simply not an option. The evidence against universal human descent from two people a mere six thousand years ago and for human-ape common ancestry just from human genetics is overwhelming.  This is however not something exclusively restricted to believers who are medical or life sciences professionals. Anyone who studies science at high school or takes an interest in natural history will be well aware of the evidence for human antiquity stretching back far beyond six thousand years. While a parental scrawl of "Not True!" in the "Human Evolution" section of the family copy of the Junior World Encyclopaedia may have been enough forty years ago, given the widespread availability of material on human evolution today [1-8], the fundamentalist battle to censor palaeoanthropology has been lost before it even starts.

Fundamentalists assert, based on a highly literal reading of the creation narratives, that the human race began 6000 years ago in south-west Asia. However, what the archaeological and palaeoanthropological data from this area show is that not only does evidence of human settlement in this area extend back well before 4000 BCE without any evidence of discontinuity, human fossils can be found back well over 100,000 years ago, with hominin fossils appearing in Turkey around one million years ago. It is impossible to dogmatically assert that no human was alive more than six thousand years ago, Adam was the first human being to exist or that every human who has ever lived descended exclusively from Adam. Just the fossil evidence from the near East flatly refutes these dogmatic assertions, and pretending they do not exist or threatening to excommunicate people who point out these facts will not make them go away.

Monday, 21 May 2018

Fundamentalism and faith - or why science denialism harms Christianity

The saddest thing have learned in my 33 years as a member of our community is that the greatest obstacle I have faced in following Christ has not come from the world, but from the efforts of fundamentalist extremists both to make a tendentious and highly selective reading of our community's views on Genesis normative for everyone, and to make one of the best attested scientific facts a 'doctrine to be rejected.' I've written many times on how 'nothing in medicine makes sense except in the light of evolution'. [1] This isn't hyperbole. Human anatomy, genetics, and embryology positively shout the fact of our evolutionary origin, while evolutionary biology is of increasing utility in areas such as infectious diseases, epidemiology, and cancer biology. Pretending that evolution is not a fact for me is no  more an option than pretending that the Earth is flat, or that the sun revolves around the Earth.

Monday, 30 April 2018

The stars were not literally made on the fourth day. How astronomy falsifies Biblical literalism

 God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night. They will mark events, sacred seasons, days, and years.  They will be lights in the dome of the sky to shine on the earth.” And that’s what happened.  God made the stars and two great lights: the larger light to rule over the day and the smaller light to rule over the night.  God put them in the dome of the sky to shine on the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. God saw how good it was.  There was evening and there was morning: the fourth day.  Gen 1:14-19 (Common English Bible)

I have previously noted how a literal reading of this passage cannot be sustained given that it teaches that the Earth is covered by a solid dome above which is water, and in which are embedded the sun, moon, and stars. Evidently, Genesis 1 reflects the cosmogeography of ancient Israel, and represents a concession to a pre-scientific worldview. If Biblical literalists were truly consistent in their literalism, they would insist that the Earth was flat, and covered by a solid dome separating waters above from waters below. [1]
This is however not the only reason why a literal reading of this section is untenable. The passing reference to the creation of the stars if taken literally as YECs insist means that all the stars were created at once six thousand years ago. Anyone familiar with astronomy would immediately realise that this is not an accurate description of the natural history of the universe which far from being static is very much dynamic, with stars being born and dying constantly throughout the universe.

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Blogging Graeme Finlay's "Human Evolution: Genes, Genealogies and Phylogenies" - Part 1

I've referred to Graeme Finlay's excellent book Human Evolution: Genes, Genealogies and Phylogenies in a number of previous posts. Finlay, who is a Senior Lecturer in Scientific Pathology at the Department of Molecular Medicine and Pathology, and Honorary Senior Research Fellow at the Auckland Cancer Society Research Centre, University of Auckland, New Zealand is well placed to comment on the subject, and also argues from the position of a convinced Christian. For the ant-evolutionist, dismissing him as either hostile to Christianity or uninformed is simply not an option.

Finlay argues that "from my perspective, [genetics] now constitutes the ultimate evidence for common descent and the definitive way of defining phylogenetic relationships", [1] an argument with which I am in complete agreement. Therefore, over the next few posts, I will be blogging through Finlay's book, showing in detail why molecular biology proves common descent beyond doubt.

Friday, 30 March 2018

A Summary of Critical Responses to the YEC Film "Is Genesis History?"

Unsurprisingly, the 2017 YEC film Is Genesis History? has been something of a hit in the fundamentalist Christian world, with its excellent production values and presence of YECs who possess non-diploma mill qualifications allowing fundamentalist laypeople to reassure themselves that the universe really is only 6000 years old and most of the geological features of the earth were formed rapidly by a recent global flood.

Also unsurprisingly, outside of this tightly-sealed universe, the film has met with negative reviews. Joel Duff, professor of biology at The University of Akron who is a devout Christian notes that, "[i]n summary, although the film presents...selective facts, suffers from mischaracterizations of other viewpoints, and presents a false dichotomy to its audience, the target audience is unlikely to be aware of these flaws." [1] Given this, a summary of scientifically informed refutations of the many errors in Is Genesis History from conservative Christian sources is imperative in order to help lay Christians recognise that the YEC / flood geology worldview is theologically and scientifically bogus.

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Chromosome 2 and Human Evolution - a new series of educational videos by Darrel Falk

Darrel Falk, emeritus professor of biology at Point Loma Nazarene University past president of BioLogos has created a three part video series on human chromosome 2, its origin from a fusion of two chromosomes homologous to ape chromosomes 2p and 2p, and how this provides evidence for common descent. In addition, the video series also answers objections as to how the first individuals with such a fused chromsome could have survived, how the fused chromosome became fixed in the ancestral gene pool, and a few theological observations on the subject. Falk is uniquely placed to comment both as a Christian and as a biologist whose research career included the subject of chromosomal breakage.

Each video is short at under ten minutes, but is quite comprehensive in its subject matter. I cannot recommend them enough for the person wishing to understand why we know chromosome 2 is the product of a fusion event, and why it provides such strong evidence for common descent.

I have included the three references cited in the second video below for those interested in following up the subject. In addition, the remaining references contain some of the classic papers on the subject, dating back to the 1980s, as well as commentary on the subject debunking special creationist attempts to explain away the evidence.

Friday, 16 March 2018

Always verify your references...

Over the life of this website, I have critiqued a number of Christadelphian anti-evolution lectures and articles. Without exception, all of them were characterised by errors of fact, logical fallacies, and a tendency to recycle long-refuted special creationist attacks on evolution. Having debunked a considerable number of these anti-evolution articles, and discovered that subsequent attacks on evolution merely recycled the same points refuted a thousand times, [1] I have opted not to publish any further critiques if only because there is little point in slapping a new title on an old refutation.

This doesn't mean that other Christadelphian evolutionary creationists have likewise stopped publishing critiques of bad anti-evolution articles. Recently, the author of the excellent The Fourth Conversation has written a detailed critique [2[ of an anti-evolution lecture by an Australian Christadelphian evolution denialist, ably pointing out its many errors. Given this, there is no point in duplicating his excellent refutation. However, I would like to expand on one point in order to highlight one of the fundamental problems blighting fundamentalist attacks on evolution, namely a failure to verify references. After all, if the sources on which you rely to make your argument are flawed, your argument is dead in the water.

Thursday, 15 March 2018

The 7300 year old origin of sickle cell anaemia: genetic disease before Adam.

A recent paper by Daniel Shriner and Charles Rotimi in The American Journal of Human Genetics [1] has weighed in on the question of the origins of the genetic mutation that causes sickle cell disease. Sickle cell anaemia is a classic example of human evolution. While the disease is markedly debilitating, it persists as those who are carriers for the disease are relatively protected against malaria compared with those who do not carry the gene.

There are five sickle cell haplotypes, and it has been assumed that each haplotype originated from independent occurrences of the mutation. Shriner and Rotimi argue, based on an analysis of genetic data from 156 carriers of sickle cell disease that the mutation had a single origin around 7300 years ago. While we are in no need of further evidence to show that it is impossible for the entire human race to have originated exclusively from two people 6000 year ago, articles such as this not only serve to underline this fact, but also show why believers such as myself who work in medicine and the life sciences regard common descent and large-scale evolutionary change as facts as real as a spherical earth.

Friday, 2 March 2018

A 430,000 year old murder mystery - death and violence before Adam.

The first murder described in the Bible is that of Abel, slain by his brother Cain. However, as the fossil record attests, humans have been killing each other for hundreds of thousands of years before this, well before the emergence of our species Homo sapiens. That human death predated the earliest possible date for Adam is impossible to deny as the fossil record bears eloquent testimony both to the antiquity of the human lineage and the stark fact of human death stretching back well before 6000 years ago. More to the point, the archaeological evidence of violent acts committed by humans against each other, as well as evidence of deliberate compassion shows that the contradictory mix of mercy and violence that characterise human nature stretches back well into the past, and can be found even among other hominin species.

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Humanity before Adam. A Heaping Helping of Hominids.

As Evangelical geologist Davis Young noted in a 1995 paper for Christian Scholar's Review, if the evidence in Genesis 4 allows us to date Adam to the Neolithic Revolution in the ancient Near East, then the earliest possible date for Adam is around 10,000 years ago. The problem that confronts Biblical literalists is that the fossil evidence for anatomically modern human beings stretches back around 300,000 years, meaning that Adam simply could not have been the first anatomically modern human being to exist. As a reminder to Christian fundamentalists who have still yet to see this evidence, here's a photo review of the anthropological record for Homo sapiens stretching back from 10,000 years ago to the earliest known Homo sapiens remains 300,000 years ago.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Adam in Innocence

The dogmatic assertion that human death was unknown prior to Adam’s sin is of course incorrect. The fossil record shows that Homo sapiens has been living and dying on this planet for at least 300,000 years, with the genus Homo stretching back at least two million years ago. Add to that the fact that the human genetic evidence confirms the human race has never been smaller than a few thousand, and the belief that the entire human race descended exclusively from two people living six thousand years ago is one that can only be maintained in defiance of the overwhelming evidence against it.

Given this, it is disappointing to see conservative Christians more concerned with privileging their traditional interpretations of the Bible and their credal statements than in honestly engaging with this evidence. This is particularly the case when attempts are made to make one particular interpretation normative for an entire faith tradition. As anyone familiar with Christian theology would be aware, the number of interpretations of contested passages such as Romans 5:12 and the diversity of opinion on what happened to Adam after his sin show that caution and humility, rather than bold assertion and sanctioning of alternative views are definitely advisable.

Thursday, 25 January 2018

Evolution is not crocodiles evolving into ducks. Debunking a common special creationist error

In my experience, it's a rare special creationist who knows anything about evolutionary biology, which of course makes their criticisms immaterial. After all, if you want your criticisms of something to be taken seriously, you first need to demonstrate that you know that subject intimately. Otherwise, no one will take anything you say seriously.

One of the most common special creationist errors is to assert that they will only accept evolution if they see one animal evolving into another. This error betrays a profound lack of understanding of the rudiments of evolutionary biology which states that it is populations that evolve, rather than individuals. Pokémon evolution is not the same thing as biological evolution.

Monday, 15 January 2018

The Faith of an Evolutionary Creationist - 2

Arguably the main reason behind Christian opposition to evolution is that the doctrine of Original Sin as traditionally formulated requires universal human descent from two people in order for the guilt and/or consequences of Adam’s sin to be genetically inherited by the entire human race. The fossil and genetic evidence for human evolution of course makes this doctrine untenable as the human population has never been smaller than a few thousand people. For many, a theological resolution to this problem would be more emotionally satisfying. If one could show that Original Sin owes nothing substantive to the Bible and everything to post-apostolic speculation, that would take away a significant theological imperative to deny evolution. When you research the history of Original Sin, it quickly becomes apparent that it was absent for the first few centuries of the Christian era. Given this, one of the major theological barriers to accepting the fact of evolution vanishes.

Friday, 12 January 2018

More creationist dishonesty - Facebook page "Here is the evolution" highlights deliberate creationist misrepresentation

Special creationist dishonesty is so common that it scarcely rates a mention anymore, but sometimes you see an example which warrants attention if only to remind people of why special creationist organisations, both amateur and professional are held in contempt. Last year, I mentioned Where is the evolution?, a Facebook page that resorts to highly misleading comparisons of extinct and extant animals to justify its assertion that evolution has never happened, and a counter-page Here is the evolution which systematically dismantles misleading memes with evidence. Late last year, Where is the evolution? (WITE hereafter) resorted to doctoring a meme from Here is the evolution (likewise, HITE hereafter). In terms of blatant dishonesty, it is the pictorial analog of quote mining.

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

The Faith of an Evolutionary Creationist - 1

"What does an evolutionary creationist believe?" This is a wonderfully succinct description:
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, God's only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the grave.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy universal church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.
Irrespective of whether one is a young earth creationist, old earth creationist, or evolutionary creationist, this ancient profession of Christian faith unites all believers, with the mechanism by which God created heaven and earth a secondary issue.