Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Humanity before Adam. A Heaping Helping of Hominids.

As Evangelical geologist Davis Young noted in a 1995 paper for Christian Scholar's Review, if the evidence in Genesis 4 allows us to date Adam to the Neolithic Revolution in the ancient Near East, then the earliest possible date for Adam is around 10,000 years ago. The problem that confronts Biblical literalists is that the fossil evidence for anatomically modern human beings stretches back around 300,000 years, meaning that Adam simply could not have been the first anatomically modern human being to exist. As a reminder to Christian fundamentalists who have still yet to see this evidence, here's a photo review of the anthropological record for Homo sapiens stretching back from 10,000 years ago to the earliest known Homo sapiens remains 300,000 years ago.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Adam in Innocence

The dogmatic assertion that human death was unknown prior to Adam’s sin is of course incorrect. The fossil record shows that Homo sapiens has been living and dying on this planet for at least 300,000 years, with the genus Homo stretching back at least two million years ago. Add to that the fact that the human genetic evidence confirms the human race has never been smaller than a few thousand, and the belief that the entire human race descended exclusively from two people living six thousand years ago is one that can only be maintained in defiance of the overwhelming evidence against it.

Given this, it is disappointing to see conservative Christians more concerned with privileging their traditional interpretations of the Bible and their credal statements than in honestly engaging with this evidence. This is particularly the case when attempts are made to make one particular interpretation normative for an entire faith tradition. As anyone familiar with Christian theology would be aware, the number of interpretations of contested passages such as Romans 5:12 and the diversity of opinion on what happened to Adam after his sin show that caution and humility, rather than bold assertion and sanctioning of alternative views are definitely advisable.

Thursday, 25 January 2018

Evolution is not crocodiles evolving into ducks. Debunking a common special creationist error

In my experience, it's a rare special creationist who knows anything about evolutionary biology, which of course makes their criticisms immaterial. After all, if you want your criticisms of something to be taken seriously, you first need to demonstrate that you know that subject intimately. Otherwise, no one will take anything you say seriously.

One of the most common special creationist errors is to assert that they will only accept evolution if they see one animal evolving into another. This error betrays a profound lack of understanding of the rudiments of evolutionary biology which states that it is populations that evolve, rather than individuals. Pokémon evolution is not the same thing as biological evolution.

Monday, 15 January 2018

The Faith of an Evolutionary Creationist - 2

Arguably the main reason behind Christian opposition to evolution is that the doctrine of Original Sin as traditionally formulated requires universal human descent from two people in order for the guilt and/or consequences of Adam’s sin to be genetically inherited by the entire human race. The fossil and genetic evidence for human evolution of course makes this doctrine untenable as the human population has never been smaller than a few thousand people. For many, a theological resolution to this problem would be more emotionally satisfying. If one could show that Original Sin owes nothing substantive to the Bible and everything to post-apostolic speculation, that would take away a significant theological imperative to deny evolution. When you research the history of Original Sin, it quickly becomes apparent that it was absent for the first few centuries of the Christian era. Given this, one of the major theological barriers to accepting the fact of evolution vanishes.

Friday, 12 January 2018

More creationist dishonesty - Facebook page "Here is the evolution" highlights deliberate creationist misrepresentation

Special creationist dishonesty is so common that it scarcely rates a mention anymore, but sometimes you see an example which warrants attention if only to remind people of why special creationist organisations, both amateur and professional are held in contempt. Last year, I mentioned Where is the evolution?, a Facebook page that resorts to highly misleading comparisons of extinct and extant animals to justify its assertion that evolution has never happened, and a counter-page Here is the evolution which systematically dismantles misleading memes with evidence. Late last year, Where is the evolution? (WITE hereafter) resorted to doctoring a meme from Here is the evolution (likewise, HITE hereafter). In terms of blatant dishonesty, it is the pictorial analog of quote mining.

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

The Faith of an Evolutionary Creationist - 1

"What does an evolutionary creationist believe?" This is a wonderfully succinct description:
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, God's only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the grave.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy universal church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.
Irrespective of whether one is a young earth creationist, old earth creationist, or evolutionary creationist, this ancient profession of Christian faith unites all believers, with the mechanism by which God created heaven and earth a secondary issue.

Thursday, 21 December 2017

Genetics and the Caananite Genocide - how not to respond to a scientific paper

Earlier this year, geneticist Marc Haber and his colleagues published a paper [1] detailing the results of a study in which they compared genomic data from five individuals from ancient Sidon who lived around 3700 years ago, with the genomic data from 99 modern Lebanese individuals, and found that not only did the modern Lebanese individuals have considerable ancient Canaanite ancestry, but also have Eurasian ancestry not present in Bronze Age or earlier inhabitants of the Levant, most likely originating between 3750 - 2170 years ago as a result of a wave of successive conquests of the area. It's a fascinating study that has already been cited positively a number of times in the scientific literature.

Unfortunately, reporting of the article by mainstream journalism was disappointing, with news outlets such as The Independent leading with the frankly sensationalistic headline "Bible says Canaanites were wiped out by Israelites but scientists just found their descendants living in Lebanon." [2] Haber et al did make an en passant reference to the Bible, noting that the "Bible reports the destruction of the Canaanite cities and the annihilation of its people", inferring that if this was the case, "Canaanites could not have directly contributed genetically to present-day populations", and commenting that "no archaeological evidence has so far been found to support widespread destruction of Canaanite cities between the Bronze and Iron Ages." [3] However, as the Canaanites that Joshua 9-12 states were exterminated were south of Sidon, [4] Haber's reference is irrelevant. Furthermore, this was a side-issue in the paper, the focus of which was on demonstrating continuity between ancient and modern-day populations in Lebanon, and the timing and nature of admixture of outside genetic material. For The Independent to sell the story by making this en passant reference the main feature was sloppy journalism.

This month, The Testimony [5] responded to the sensationalist reports of the Haber et al paper correctly pointing out that the Bible states that the Canaanites were in fact not completely exterminated, and noting that at least one of the papers [6] published a correction noting this fact. Unfortunately, The Testimony failed to address two points, the fact that a literal reading of Joshua 10-12 does in fact described the near-extermination of the Canaanites, standing in marked tension with the narrative in the rest of Joshua and Judges, while Haber et al were correct in pointing out that the archaeological record does not support a widespread destruction of Canaanite cities in the Late Bronze to Iron ages. [7] Both are hardly trivial, and it is regrettable that this article failed to substantively address textual issues relating to the conquest narrative.