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.


2. Hill C.A. "The Garden of Eden: A Modern Landscape" Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (2000) 52:31-46

Sunday, 4 September 2016

The Two Books of DIvine Revelation and the YEC Denial of Reality

The Facebook page Science and Scripture is currently running a series of articles on the long-established "Two Books" view of divine revelation in response to a poorly-researched and tendentious attack on this well-established principle by two conservative Christadelphian opponents of evolution. This series is well-written, impeccably researched, and by showing that the 'two books' approach was maintained explicitly and implicitly by Christadelphians as early as John Thomas, neatly refutes the attempt to link the 'two books' view to evolutionary creationism given that the early Christadelphians were not evolutionary creationists.

Given the comprehensive nature of the Science and Scripture series, and the fact that this website has on many occasions touched on this subject, there is no point in repeating these points again. However, a few observations on the tendentious nature of such attacks on the 'two books' approach, and the misrepresentation of the views of those in our community who accept the 'two books' approach are very much indicated.

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

A roundup of interesting blog posts

Joel Duff has endured an AiG lecture and fisked it to within an inch of its life, sparing you both the tedium of listening to YEC mendacity, but also exposing the usual AiG sophistry and the utter intellectual dishonesty of their anti-evolution message:
AiG employs some very effective speakers.  But the talks are really only as good as the information content that a very small core of staff scientists are creating for them. In this case, the talk was very powerful and probably very persuasive to many in the audience. But because the the content suffers from many misconceptions and incorrect statements any truth that was really presented is diluted by the baggage of bad information that came along with it.   I liken it to listening to a Joel Osteen lecture – I can’t call them sermons.   There are bits of truth in some of his words but there is so much there that is wrong that it really isn’t worth listening to on the whole.
Harsh? Hardly. AiG take advantage of the fact their audience is scientifically naive and therefore will not be able to question the absolute howlers made by the speaker. As Duff notes, when commenting on an AiG speaker appealing to a creationist:
Osborne [the AiG speaker] introduced the quote above by saying:  “I love this quote from this secular scientist..” Again, another Dr. Spetner quote that includes misconceptions of how natural selection, genetic drift and mutation actually work in populations.  Quoting Spetner is a bit like me lecturing to a group of scientists about the meaning of an Old Testament and quoting Joel Osteen as my source of Biblical scholarship.  If the audience doesn’t know who Joel Osteen is they will assume that I am presenting them with the best available understanding of OT theology but in reality they will walk away with a very poor understanding of meaning of the text.
Duff's post can be found here

Geologist Jonathan Baker has a guest post at his Age of Rocks blog by former YEC David MacMillan who uses whimsy and humour to skewer the YEC mindset in a post entitled "Mr Creationist Goes to Court":
Defense: Your honor, my client is not guilty. He has already explained that he only drew his gun to check the safety, and it went off by mistake.
Prosecutor: You’re joking, right?
D: Absolutely not! How could you joke at a time like this? One man is already dead and an innocent man’s freedom hangs in the balance!
P: Innocent? The victim is dead because your client shot him. Four times. That is not an accident.
D: Now, I think we all know that’s just your assumption. Don’t act like your whole “four shots” theory is fact.
P: It is a fact. The victim had four bullet holes in him.
D: Maybe he did and maybe he didn’t, but I’m just saying, let’s not let your obvious assumptions get in the way of justice. After all, you are the prosecutor; it’s not like you’re unbiased.
P: Four bullet holes. Four.
D: I wish you’d stop repeating that assumption. Look here, bullets can bounce, right? You assume the so-called victim was shot four times but only one bullet was actually in his body!
P: The victim was shot twice in the chest, once in the abdomen, and once in the head. There are clear entry and exit wounds on three of these, and the fourth bullet was found embedded in his spine.
D: Fourth bullet? There you go again with your biased assumptions. How can you possibly know which bullet was fired last, especially when we don’t even know for sure that there was more than one shot? Have you even considered the bounce theory?
 Those familiar with the tortured logic, paranoia, and science denialism of YECs will quickly know where the defence is going here. There's a nice sting in the tail too. Full article is here.
MacMillan has been on a roll recently; at the always-excellent Panda's Thumb blog, he tears apart the latest attempt by AiG to show how a small number of animals on board the Ark could post-flood hyper-evolve in a short period of time to produce the diversity of life we see today:
In the buzz of excitement surrounding Opening Day at the Ark Encounter, the team of writers at Answers in Genesis continues their struggle to explain how all terrestrial life could have been shoved onboard the Ark and then exploded back out into millions of species in only a few dozen centuries. The more they write, however, the more difficult it becomes to make sense of their approach. Nathaniel Jeanson has a new post that further compounds my confusion.
One of AIG’s youngest writers, Jeanson sports an impressive Harvard degree in cell biology and has previously worked with the Institute for Creation Research. Given his degree, it must be assumed he has enough education to understand the subjects he is writing about. Jeanson appears sincere, and it is evident he believes his conclusions fervently. He has to know, though, that his arguments are completely detached from those conclusions. He writes with the awkward obfuscation of someone trying to defend a sinking ship while earnestly attempting to remain tenuously bound to the uncomfortable constraints of reality.
Is it really that bad? Indeed it is.

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.