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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. - See more at: http://biologos.org/blogs/ted-davis-reading-the-book-of-nature/science-religion-and-the-new-atheism-introduction#sthash.jjvEkmgz.dpuf
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.


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. - See more at: http://biologos.org/blogs/ted-davis-reading-the-book-of-nature/science-religion-and-the-new-atheism-introduction#sthash.jjvEkmgz.dpuf

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

Abstract

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.

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.

References


1. https://youtu.be/geRFKxUDdlo?t=7m54s
2. Hill C.A. "The Garden of Eden: A Modern Landscape" Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (2000) 52:31-46