Friday, 17 February 2017

New Atheism and the myth of the "Medieval Gap"

Even though the "conflict hypothesis" model of the relationship between science and Christianity has been discredited by historians of science, some anti-theists still assert that Christianity has been implacably opposed to science, going as far as to argue that during the approximately 1000 years between the fall of the western half of the Roman Empire and the start of the Renaissance, scientific knowledge was lost, plunging Europe into a 'Dark Ages'. This 'Medieval Gap', to use the term employed by Carl Sagan in the companion book to his justly celebrated Cosmos television series, as anyone familiar with James Hannan's excellent God's Philosophers would realise exists only in the minds of anti-theists. Far from retarding or suppressing science, Christianity preserved and extended scientific knowledge.

Monday, 23 January 2017

"Your Inner Fish" - the Documentary Series

Palaeontologist Neil Shubin will be familiar to many people for his co-discovery of Tiktaalik roseae, the "fishapod" which remains one of the icons of tetrapod evolution. Shubin is also well-known for his popular science book Your Inner Fish which is an accessible overview of the long trail of human evolution, showing why our anatomy, physiology, and genetics makes sense only in the light of evolution.

For those interested, you can view the three-part PBS series based on the book below.

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.
You can find the articles here. As the series progresses, they will be updated.

1. Science, Religion and the New Atheism: Introduction
2. New Atheism and the "Conflict" Between Science and Religion
3. New Atheists, the God of the Gaps, and What's Wrong with the "Conflict Thesis"
4. Carl Sagan and the Myth of the Medieval Gap
5. The Medieval Gap and New Atheists Today

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


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: