Wednesday, 7 October 2020

A creationist paper gets into a mainstream scientific journal

 Creationists are touting the publication of a paper [1] in the prestigious Journal of Theoretical Biology, the main points of which are:
  • Statistical methods are appropriate for modelling fine-tuning.
  • Fine-tuning is detected in functional proteins, cellular networks etc.
  • Constants and initial conditions of nature are deliberately tuned.
  • Statistical analysis of fine-tuning model some of the categories of design.
  • Fine-tuning and design deserve attention in the scientific community.
Getting a solitary review paper into a mainstream scientific journal needless to say does not mean evolutionary biology has been overturned. In fact, the paper has already earned itself a rebuttal,while the editors of the Journal of Theoretical Biology have published a disclaimer which apart from declaring that both the journal and its editors do not endorse intelligent design creationism declare that:
Moreover, the keywords “intelligent design” were added by the authors after the review process during the proofing stage and we were unaware of this action by the authors.
That the authors of the paper are connected with a creationist group of course does not mean that the paper can be dismissed out of hand; the argument should stand on its merits. Does it? The authors of the rebuttal clearly do not, and Jason Rosenhouse,  a mathematician with a strong interest in evolutionary biology also is unimpressed:
I have focused on what I take to be the absolutely fatal flaw of this paper. The authors claim to have used probability theory to establish a scientifically rigorous and useful notion of “fine-tuning,” but they have failed because we have nothing like the information we would need to carry out meaningful probability calculations. Done.
But I don’t think I’ve adequately communicated just how bad this paper is. The authors are constantly tossing out bits of mathematical jargon and notation, but then they do nothing with them. There is a frustrating lack of precision, as when they variously describe fine-tuning as an object, an entity, a method, and an attribute of a system, all on the first page of the paper. They constantly cite creationist references, with only the most glancing mention that any of this work has been strongly and cogently criticized. They say we should give fair consideration to a “design model” for the origination of complex structures, but they give not the beginning of a clue as to what such a model entails. (Emphasis mine)
Rosenhouse's rebuttal can be found here.


Thursday, 19 March 2020

Near-complete transitional fossil sheds light on evolution of vertebrate hand

A 380 million year old fossil fish which features in an article by R. Cloutier, A.M. Clement, and M.S.Y. Lee et al, in the current edition of Nature has provided us with a critical insight into the evolution of the vertebrate hand.  Elpistostegi watsonii is the most complete epistostegalian (tetrapod-like fish) found to date. Discovered in Upper Devonian strata in Canada. Its importance lies in the preservation of the complete anatomy of the pectoral fin, which provides insigbht into the evolution of the tetrapod upper limb, and “further blurs[s] the line between fish and land vertebrates.” [1]

Thursday, 26 December 2019

Review - Grabbe, Lester L. Faith and Fossils: The Bible, Creation, and Evolution

Review - Grabbe, Lester L. Faith and Fossils: The Bible, Creation, and Evolution. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2018.

As the founder and convenor of the European Seminar on Methodology in Israel’s History, Lester Grabbe is not someone whom I would have imagined likely to enter the overcrowded field of evolution / creation literature, even though his expertise as an historian of ancient Judaism eminently qualifies him to comment on the biblical end of the subject. Having expressed my reservation up front, I am happy to admit that my reservations about the value of a book on evolution / creation by a specialist in Second Temple Judaism were ill-placed. Grabbe has written a book that not only is informative and accessible, but which deserves a place on the shelf of anyone seriously interested in the subject.

Monday, 30 September 2019

Review: Nathan H. Lents “Human Errors – A Panorama of Our Glitches From Pointless Bones to Broken Genes”

Review: Nathan H. Lents Human Errors – A Panorama of Our Glitches From Pointless Bones to Broken Genes (2018: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Cell biologist Nathan H Lents, professor of biology at John Jay College, The City University of New York has written an engaging, highly accessible book showing the interested layperson how the errors in our body from the gross anatomical down to the genomic levels attest to our evolutionary origins. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, 13 August 2019

Sociocultural analysis, the Second Amendment of the US Constitution, and Manners and Customs of the Bible. Yes, they do have a connection...

Last month, OT scholar John Walton gave a public lecture entitled “Do believers have to make a choice between science and faith?” at which he “explore[d] how we might faithfully read Genesis 1 and 2, in light of its Ancient Near Eastern context”. [1] Unsurprisingly, as Christadelphian - Origins Discussion noted, [2] Walton’s eminently sensible approach was met with unremitting hostility by an ultra-conservative part of the Christadelphian community which to date has twice attacked Walton, accusing him of denying the inspiration of the Bible and promoting an intellectual, elitist approach to the Bible. Christadelphiain - Origins Discussion has ably refuted these criticisms of Walton so there is no need for me to beat this particular dead horse into the dirt. However, the ongoing argument in the US about interpreting the Second Amendment of the US constitution provides a fascinating insight into the need for sociocultural analysis to more fully understand the Bible, which unlike the US constitution was written thousands of years ago in three different languages by people living in an alien culture to ours.

Saturday, 3 August 2019

When YECs share Israel-related archaeology news without recognising how it undermines their worldview

A few weeks ago, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced [1] the discovery of the largest neolithic settlement yet found in Israel. Located near the town of Motza just west of Jerusalem, the 9000 year old settlement would have numbered around 3000, making it the Neolithic equivalent of a city. Given that anthropologists believed that at this time the area west of Jordan was largely empty, with large settlements on the eastern side of Jordan, this discovery is understandably being hailed as momentous.

I've noticed over the years that fundamentalist Protestant Christians, particularly those with an obsessive interest in eschatology who see every geopolitical or sociocultural event that even tangentially affects Israel as an alleged fulfillment of Biblical prophecy will reflexively share Israel-related news. Recently, I noticed that one obscure website had shared a Times of Israel article commenting on this discovery. Browsing the website quickly made apparent to me its evolution denialism, which immediately raised the question of why a website maintained by people who appear to believe the entire universe is 6000 years old bothered to report the discovery of a Neolithic settlement that is three thousand years older than the age of the universe according to their view of reality.

Friday, 31 May 2019

Too Much Natural History for a Young Earth...

Sometimes, it's the little things that highlight the utter absurdity of the YEC worldview which asserts that not only is the Earth a mere 6000 years old, practically all the fossils were deposited by a global flood in a period lasting under one year a mere 4500 years ago. One of the best sources of such YEC-defeating material comes from Dr Joel Duff, whose website Naturalis Historia has featured here more than once. The last few posts at his website have features some of these fascinating glimpses into the past, including:
Mainstream geology has no problem explaining these discoveries, but as Duff points out, YECs who start with their conclusion - a young Earth and a single recent cataclysmic event operating over a few months as the mechanism which created these phenomena - have insuperable problems to face.