Monday, 1 August 2016

Graeme Finlay 2016 Australian lecture series on the evidence for evolution and evolution, cancer, and suffering

Dr Graeme Finlay,  cell biologist, cancer researcher, and senior lecturer in scientific pathology at the University of Auckland was in Australia recently giving a series of lectures on the evidence for evolution from molecular biology, a subject with which he is deeply familiar during his decades of research into cancer, as well as looking at the relationship between evolution and suffering. Finlay needs no introduction to readers of this blog as I have frequently referred to his excellent material.

The audio of his ISCAST-CASE lecture on the 5th July 2016, "Unequivocal Genetic Evidence for Human Evolution, and Implications for Christian Faith" given at New College, University of New South Wales is available below:
Lecture 1: Download GF-L1 mp3
Q & A session: Download GF-Q1 mp3
PDF of Lecture slides:  Download GF-L1 pdf

The abstract of his lecture (courtesy of the ISCAST website) follows:
In this lecture Graeme wants to do two things. Firstly to present the unequivocal evidence from comparative genomics that we are an evolved species. And then (because he knows that many Christians find it difficult to assimilate this) he goes on to emphasise that this strengthens and enriches our faith. The ‘givenness’ of evolution forces us to purify our approach to exegesis (Genesis), theology (creation), providence (God’s action in history), and the meaning of our own humanity.
The video of Finlay's lecture at Tabor College on the 13th July "Genetics, Evolution, Cancer, Suffering and God" can be found here. The PDF of the accompanying slides can be downloaded here.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Genesis and the Flood: A new BioLogos series from OT scholar Tremper Longman III

BioLogos is currently running a multi-part series on Genesis and the Flood by renown OT scholar Tremper Longman III. Fundamental to understanding the first eleven chapters of the Bible is to recognise their genre and sociocultural context. YECs fail to understand these chapters properly by simply assuming that they are meant to be read literally as a scientific and historical account of the origin of the universe. As Longman says:
First, the question of genre of Genesis 1-11 is often presented as a choice between two alternatives. Is it history (giving a literal depiction of events) or is it myth (having no real connection with actual events)? There is no reason to think there are only these two possibilities. People on both sides of the question want us to think so. Those who think that this part of the Bible gives us a literal depiction of events also want us to think that anyone who doesn’t agree has sold out and no longer holds to “biblical truth.” On the other side, those who take a mythical view of the text often characterize those who take a literal approach as crass fundamentalists who just stick their heads in the sand. Again, we need to avoid this unfortunate and unnecessary characterization of the question of genre.

Second, as we address the question of genre, we need to remember that the Bible, while written for us, was not written to us. The authors of the books of the Bible had an original audience in mind when they wrote, and that audience is not us. As I like to tell my students, they don’t call the book of Romans “Romans” for nothing! It was written to the church in Rome and when we read it, we need first to put ourselves in the place of the church of Rome before applying it to ourselves.

Thus, to understand the Old Testament books, we have to put ourselves in the “cognitive environment” (to use the phrase made memorable by my friend John Walton of the time) in which the book was written.
Those who fail to put themselves into the 'cognitive environment' of Genesis will set themselves up for needless conflict with the reality of an ancient, evolving creation.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

How I Changed My Mind About Evolution - the latest BioLogos book

Over the past few weeks, I've posted excerpts from the latest BioLogos book How I Changed My Mind About Evolution in which a number of scientists, theologians, pastors, and Biblical scholars note how they have accepted the fact of evolution while remaining firm in their Christian faith. Given that the debate has long been framed in terms of fundamentalism versus ardent anti-theism, books such as this play a valuable role in disabusing the interested reader of the belief that the only scientific voices are anti-theists and the only Christian perspective a fundamentalist, anti-science one.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Evolution and the Gospel: From Enemy to Harmony

I never get tired of reading anecdotes from ex-YECs who escape fundamentalism but manage to avoid sliding into atheism as they show that contrary to what YECs allege, rejecting fundamentalism does not result in loss of faith. For a community as thoroughly enmeshed in fundamentalism as ours is, this is good news indeed. Plant physiologist Keith Furman, writing at BioLogos notes how he managed to travel from YEC to OEC and then EC; he now maintains a website The Gospel and Evolution where he aims to show that faith in Christ and acceptance of the fact of evolution are not mutually exclusive.

Monday, 21 March 2016

Vestigial structures - one of the best lines of evidence for evolution

The existence of atavisms and vestigial structures was one of the lines of evidence for evolution Darwin advanced in his Origin of Species, and to this day remains one of the most misunderstood arguments for evolution. Special creationists still think that vestigial means useless, but as Darwin pointed out:
"[a]n organ serving for two purposes, may become rudimentary or utterly aborted for one, even the more important purpose, and remain perfectly efficient for the organ may become rudimentary for its proper purpose, and be used for a distinct object." [1]
In other words, a structure is vestigial if it has lost its original function, irrespective of whether it has secondarily acquired a new function. Examples of vestigial structures include the inner wings of flightless beetles that are atrophied and unable to perform their original function of flight, and the human coccyx, which no longer functions as a tail, but has secondarily acquired new function. The presence or absence of function is not relevant as to whether the structure is vestigial.

This short video shows a number of vestigial structures in the human body, and shows how they provide evidence for common descent - they are features inherited from a remote ancestor which are present, but no longer have the same function that they do in related species with whom we share common ancestry.


1. Darwin C. " On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection" (1859: John Murray: London.)

Thursday, 17 March 2016

"Do Your Own Research" - Crackpots and the Burden of Proof

Over the years I have been defending mainstream science from crackpot views such as YEC, homeopathy, geocentrism, and germ theory denialism, I've noticed that when advocates of these pseudoscientific views are losing the argument or are asked to provide credible evidence for their views, quite often, they respond with a passive-aggressive 'do your own research', and leave the debate. "Do your own research," of course is an evasive rhetorical trick which ignores the fact the person advocating the minority view has the burden of proof and is obliged to defend that view. As a rule, the moment you hear anyone pushing a fringe view utter those words, you can immediately dismiss them as a poorly informed crank. Here's why.

Monday, 14 March 2016

Faith and Wisdom in Science: observations from a recent Norwich science and faith conference

Last week, Tom McLeish, Professor of Physics at Durham University and chair of  the Royal Society’s education committee participated in an afternoon session at Norwich in which a group of  "lay ordained, religious believers (of different kinds) and not, and including two working scientists" [1] fielded questions from a group of sixth form students on questions related to science and faith. The range of questions asked by the young people included comments about creationism, the 'God of the Gaps', free will, and the need for religion to prove itself to be valid. Those are pertinent questions which have been asked in our community but poorly answered or even ignored, and one is left lamenting how mainstream Christianity leaves our community far behind in being able to raise and answer these questions in an intellectually honest manner.