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Saturday, 31 January 2015

Here is why an increasing number of Christadelphians are accepting evolution

While I have received many letters of support from people who have found my material instrumental in showing them both the reality of evolution, and the fact that it does not contradict a robust Christian faith, I must be honest and state that by far the bigger reason why we are seeing an increasing number of people either accommodating evolution or accepting it is both the wretched nature of the anti-evolution arguments, and the frankly unpleasant, abusive, patronising nature of remarks made by some of the anti-evolutionists in our community. 

Of course, saying this is one thing, but demonstrating it is another, so a post dedicated to showing the growing number of those accommodating or accepting evolution in our community would not go astray. Names have been hidden due to the fact that regrettably, there are self-appointed zealots who think that slandering, persecuting, and abusing people who have the intellectual honesty to accept the evidence for evolution is somehow consistent with being a humble follower of Christ. One prays that soon, the idea that people would even be questioned, let alone excommunicated for accepting evolution will soon be little more than a scarcely believable memory.

The 55,000 year old anatomically modern human fossil from Israel: yet another nail into a well-hammered YEC coffin

It's been a good week for paleoanthropology. First, we've had the amazing discovery of a mandible off the cost of Taiwan of a mandible from a decidedly archaic member of the genus Homo. Now, Nature reports the discovery of a 55,000 year old anatomically modern human skull from Manot Cave in Israel. For those who still persist in denying the reality of human existence well before the earliest possible date for Adam and Eve, no amount of evidence will penetrate their dogmatism, but when discoveries like this accumulate in the minds of fair-minded members of our community, the dogmatists will find peddling their denialism increasingly more difficult.


Various views of the Manot skull fossil. Image credit: Israel Hershkovitz et al.

The Third Way of Evolution is Most Likely a Dead-End

There's a good chance that whenever you see a group of scientific mavericks claiming that the modern synthetic theory of evolution is broken and needs to be discarded, you will quickly see the intelligent design / special creationist community seizing on such minority opinions as evidence that evolution is very much a theory in crisis. Inevitably, given that many science denialists in our community uncritically source all their information in evolution from such bastions of pseudoscience as Evolution News and Views, Uncommon Descent, ICR, CMI, or AiG, you will invariably see our resident science denialists taking their lead from these intellectually bankrupt organisations, demonstrating in the process a tragic failure of critical thinking skills.

The latest fringe idea to be lauded by science denialists is The Third Way of Evolution, which is yet another attempt to show that the modern synthetic theory is dead in the water. When in doubt about such matters, it pays to consult those who actually know something about evolution. Evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne delivers the goods:

Friday, 30 January 2015

The evidence for multiple ice ages in the last 1.5 million years from speleothem growth patterns

The evidence for an ancient Earth was compelling even before radiometric dating allowed geologists to quantify its great age. As the evidence for an ancient Earth is beyond rational doubt, some YECs have resorted to the argument that God created the Earth with the appearance of age. As this argument can neither be evaluated nor refuted, it is worthless as an explanation and can be immediately dismissed.

Attempts at justifying the argument usual revolve around the claim that Adam would have been created fully mature with an illusory age. Extrapolating from this to the assertion that the Earth was created 6000 years ago with a completely invented stratigraphic, palaeontological, and geochemical history however does not follow, not just because it makes God out to be deceptive on a colossal scale by embedded an incredibly detailed lie into the very structure of the Earth, but because there is no functional need for a planet to be created with a fictional history embedded in its crust. A rock that is 3000 million years old as determined by Sm-Nd dating would provide the same structural support as it did 6000 years after its formation, making the creation of a planet 6000 years ago with bogus radiometric dates completely unnecessary from a functional point of view – unlike humans, rocks are not living creatures so do not need to be created ‘mature’.

Palaeoclimatology graduate student Jonathan Baker at his excellent Age of Rocks website has an excellent article on how the careful analysis of stalactites and stalagmites (along with other similar formations collectively known as speleothems) provides hard evidence of multiple ice ages over the last 1.5 million years. Baker notes that if water infiltration into a subterranean cave ceases due to drought, speleothem growth slows. Another cause of reduced water flow to cave and subsequent speleothem growth retardation is permafrost. During ice ages, permafrost will expand away from the polar regions, meaning speleothem growth in caves that are normally not under permafrost will show growth cessation during ice ages when the permafrost cover extends over the caves:

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

The first archaic Homo from Taiwan - more problems for YECs

The discovery in 2003 of the remains of the dwarf hominin Homo floresiensis on the Indonesian island of Flores confirmed that as recently as 13,000 years ago, there were two species of humans living on this planet, a fact that poses considerable problems for special creationists who insist that humans are sui generis. Now, the publication in the Jan 27 2015 edition of Nature Communications of a paper announcing the discovery off the coast of Taiwan of an archaic human mandible which could be as young as 10,000 years raises the tantalising prospect that in eastern Asia, there could have been three species of Homo. Add to this the existence of the Denisovan hominin in Siberia and Homo neanderthalensis in Europe, and we have the fascinating possibility that within the last one hundred thousand years, it is possible that five species of human beings existed on Earth. Needless to say, this poses insuperable problems for special creationists who insist that humans were created de novo six thousand years ago. The genetic and genomic evidence comprehensively falsifies this assertion.

But what of this new discovery? Here it is:

(a) Mandible, (b) its virtual reconstruction and (c) surface rendered image of the segmented mandibular dentition (upper, lingual view) and its horizontal micro-CT section at the level indicated by the dotted line (lower).

No, there is no 'very substantial evidence' that supports a young Earth.

Nearly 170 years ago, John Thomas, writing in Elpis Israel not only referred to the Earth as being millions of years old, but recommended that his readers consult the geological literature of the day to find out more information on this point. Robert Roberts bluntly stated 130 years ago that "it is demonstrable fact that the earth has existed for ages" [1] while C.C. Walker, writing just on a century ago noted that:
Ten years ago the average scientist would have asserted that our habitable globe had not existed for more than a hundred million years. Now it would be hard to find a competent physical specialist who would fix a definite maximum below a thousand million years." [2]
While none of the early Christadelphian writers accepted evolution, they were overwhelmingly in agreement that the Earth was millions of years old and that modern science was a reliable source of information on the age of the Earth.

As I have noted earlier, around the middle of last century, our community contracted a debilitating case of fundamentalism, importing nonsensical ideas such as Biblicism, YEC, and flood geology into the community. To a man, every YEC has abandoned the eminently sensible views of the early Christadelphians on the age of the Earth, and uncritically subscribed to ideas imported straight from the extreme fundamentalist wing of the Evangelical church, and ultimately from the Seventh Day Adventists, whose views on the subject came from the apocalyptic visions of founder Ellen G White. The irony of YEC zealots railing against not only evolutionary creationism but old earth creationism while uncritically taking their lead on science from people whom they regard as being theologically heterodox would be amusing if the effects on the intellectual health of our community were not so damaging.

Monday, 26 January 2015

What does it mean to 'rest' on the seventh day of creation? Yet more evidence against the YEC distortion of Genesis

Although aimed largely at an academic audience, for the motivated, informed reader, John Walton's "Genesis One as Ancient Cosmology" will reward careful, close reading. If the reader comes away with an appreciation of the need to read Genesis not as a modern scientific description of creation, but as an account of functional origins which reflects ancient cosmogeography, that will be more than enough to rescue them from the theological sterility of YEC.

Another point which is often ignored is the powerful link between the view of cosmos as a temple, and the motif of the deity entering into his palace-temple to rule over an ordered world. John Walton's comments on the link between the cosmos-temple and divine rest deserves as wide a possible audience in our community in order to provide another means by which the error of YEC and literalism can be banished from our community. 

If you think you are reading the creation narratives literally, then think again.

Young Earth Creationists make much of their claim to take the creation narratives literally. However, they do not consistently read the narratives literally, as can be seen by their failure to recognise that a consistently literal reading of the creation narratives forces Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 into hopeless contraction with both narratives disagreeing on the length, duration, and order of creation. The fact that YECs are forced to construct elaborate harmonisations of both creation narratives automatically destroys their claim that the plain literal reading of the text is the only way to read them. If that was the case, then there would be no need for such hermetical wrangling. Literalism fails comprehensively right at this point.

In Darwin's Own Words: Creationist Quote-Mining Exposed

One staple of special creationist attacks is the venerable tactic of quote mining, where an author is selectively quoted to make him appear to support a view he does not hold. Special creationists who peddle such quotes are either deliberately distorting what mainstream scientists have written, which is ethically and morally dishonest, as well as intellectually dishonest, or are blindly copying from another source. In that case, while the charge of moral dishonesty may not stand, it does reflect poorly on their research skills in that they did not bother to verify the reference. Either way, whenever you catch out a special creationist quote mining, you are more than entitled to dismiss anything they have to say on the subject.

This slide presentation on quote mining has been around for some time, but given that special creationist quote mining - a phenomenon that sadly includes our community - is rife, it deserves as wide an audience as possible.

Charles Darwin on the Dunning-Kruger Effect



Thursday, 22 January 2015

YEC in a nutshell


2.5 million years of time. 110,000 light years of space. The Andromeda galaxy leaves no room for YEC

Earlier this month, a team of researchers led by astronomer Julianne Dalcanton released what is the most detailed images of the Andromeda galaxy taken to date. Even though the image does not cover all of Andromeda, it shows around 100 million stars. Andromeda is over 200,000 light years in diameter and around 2.5 million light years away. Compared with the short times and distances with which we are familiar, these numbers are unfathomably large, yet when compared with a universe that is nearly fourteen thousand million years old, and over ninety thousand million light years across.

Earlier, I commented on one abysmally uninformed layperson's attempt to explain away this evidence by sententiously intoning that all the stars in the universe could be crammed close to the Earth. Of course, such an argument betrays monumental ignorance of even the rudiments of astronomy, and ignores the fact that placing billions of galaxies tens of thousands of light years in diameter around (or ludicrously inside) a sphere 6000 light years in radius is an argument that is not even wrong:



Doubting "Darwin's Doubt" - BioLogos concludes its review series of Stephen Meyer's book

Since August 2014, the BioLogos Foundation has been carrying out a multidisciplinary review of the 2013 book Darwin’s Doubt by philosopher and intelligent design advocate Stephen Meyer. His earlier book Signature in the Cell had been poorly received by the scientific mainstream. Darwin’s Doubt, which claimed that the Cambrian Explosion could not be explained by the modern synthetic theory of evolution and was therefore evidence for intelligent design was likewise received negatively by evolutionary biologists and palaeontologists.

Typical of these reviews was that from University of California, Berkeley palaeontologist Charles Marshall who remarked that his disappointment with Meyer’s flawed book stemmed from more than Meyer’s admission that he was not a biologist (and therefore not arguing from the perspective of an informed insider. Rather:
[i]t stems from Meyer's systematic failure of scholarship. For instance, while I was flattered to find him quote one of my own review papers —although the quote is actually a chimera drawn from two very different parts of my review—he fails to even mention the review's (and many other papers') central point: that new genes did not drive the Cambrian explosion. His scholarship, where it matters most, is highly selective.[1]
Selective is an understatement; Meyer has quote mined Marshall and failed to understand what Marshall was saying. This is poor scholarship, as Marshall explicitly states in his conclusion:
But when it comes to explaining the Cambrian explosion, Darwin's Doubt is compromised by Meyer's lack of scientific knowledge, his “god of the gaps” approach, and selective scholarship that appears driven by his deep belief in an explicit role of an intelligent designer in the history of life.[2]

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Five Things You Should Know if You Want to Participate in the Junk DNA Debate

In the last few years, special creationists in our community have gradually become aware that one of the  most compelling lines of evidence for common descent comes from molecular biology and genomics. Their attempts to explain this evidence away as I have shown elsewhere betray a considerable lack of understanding of even the basic facts, and on this fact alone can be readily dismissed. In addition, the fact that at least two-thirds of our genome is junk poses another insuperable problem for special creationists who have to ask why an intelligent designer would create a genome that is anything but perfect, and leads to genetic disease. (Needless to say, the problem vanishes when we recognise the evolutionary origins of our genome).

In 2013, biochemist Larry Moran posted a list of five items that anyone wanting to weigh in on the junk DNA question needs to understand and satisfactorily answer before being able to have their assertions that junk DNA does not exist even considered, let alone taken seriously:
  1. Genetic Load: Every newborn human baby has about 100 mutations not found in either parent. If most of our genome contained functional sequence information, then this would be an intolerable genetic load. Only a small percentage of our genome can contain important sequence information suggesting strongly that most of our genome is junk.
  2. C-Value Paradox: A comparison of genomes from closely related species shows that genome size can vary by a factor of ten or more. The only reasonable explanation is that most of the DNA in the larger genomes is junk.
  3. Modern Evolutionary Theory: Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of population genetics. The modern understanding of evolution is perfectly consistent with the presence of large amounts of junk DNA in a genome.
  4. Pseudogenes and broken genes are junk: More than half of our genomes consists of pseudogenes, including broken transposons and bits and pieces of transposons. A few may have secondarily acquired a function but, to a first approximation, broken genes are junk.
  5. Most of the genome is not conserved: Most of the DNA sequences in large genomes is not conserved. These sequences diverge at a rate consistent with fixation of neutral alleles by random genetic drift. This strongly suggests that it does not have a function although one can't rule out some unknown function that doesn't depend on sequence.
Closely related to this is of course the ENCODE debacle. For more on that, follow this link.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Want to know what quote mining looks like? Here's a classic example.

Quote mining is the intellectually dishonest practice of selectively quoting an author in order to make them sound as if they are supporting the viewpoint of the one who is quoting then. Special creationist abuse of mainstream science by quote mining long ago reached the point that defenders of mainstream science compiled an archive of the most commonly abused quotes along with what the authors really said when quoted in context. Palaeontologist Stephen Gould undoubtedly spoke for all scientists who have been subject to such creationist dishonesty when he said:
"Since we proposed punctuated equilibria to explain trends, it is infuriating to be quoted again and again by creationists—whether through design or stupidity, I do not know—as admitting that the fossil record includes no transitional forms. Transitional forms are generally lacking at the species level, but they are abundant between larger groups." [1]
Despite the repeated exposure of such intellectual dishonesty, special creationists continue to quote mine mainstream scientists. Atheist blogger Hemant Mehta has uncovered a particularly blatant example of quote-mining in the January 2015 edition of the Jehovah's Witnesses magazine Awake! apparently dedicated to evolution denialism. He quotes the offending section:

Friday, 16 January 2015

This is how we know the human race did not descent exclusively from two people living 6000 years ago

I've made the point many times that there is too much genetic variability in the human genome to have arisen from just two people living six thousands years ago. What population genetics tells us is that the minimum possible human population size was no smaller than several thousands people. The consequences of this are clear - we did not descent from two people, and any dogma based on this claim is made in defiance of some fairly hard evidence.

Late last year, I commented on an excellent new BioLogos series "Adam, Eve, and Human Population Genetics" by evolutionary geneticist Dennis Venema that covers for the educated layperson the relevant scientific issues. Venema has just posted part 4 which covers how single nucleotide polymorphism genetic variation allows us to make estimates of minimum human population sizes to account for this variation. The full post can be found at the link at the end of the post, but this quote should give you a feel for the relevant issues:

The burden of proof for science denialists

Occasionally, I receive comments from science denialists effectively arguing that > 99% of geologists are wrong in their belief that the Earth is 4600 million years old, or that less than 0.5% of biologists are right in denying common descent. Given that these science denialists themselves have zero professional expertise in the subject on which they are commenting, and have made the mistake of privileging an uninformed literal reading of the creation narrative above the scientific evidence, they fall into the same category as those who claim that the Earth is flat or perpetual motion is possible.

Some  however persist in their belief that they are right and the scientific mainstream is incorrect by claiming that they have run their arguments by a friendly 'scientist'. This is unimpressive as it is simply an argument from authority. To all the science denialists out there, if you want to be taken seriously in your claim that the Earth is young, common descent is false, and the flood was global, these are the steps you need to take:
  1. Write a paper making the case for your claim
  2. Get it published
  3. Get it positively cited by experts in the field
  4. Win the scientific community over to your point of view
Until you can manage this, your claims that the universe is young, a global flood covered the Earth 4500 years ago, and all species were created separately 6000 years ago will not be taken seriously as they are based on nothing more substantial than uninformed human interpretation of the creation narratives.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Random design - why complexity does not need an intelligent designer

One of the fundamental special creationist misconceptions is that complexity cannot arise without an intelligent designer. Apart from the fact that this is yet another example of an argument from personal incredulity, and not a detailed defence of this special creationist belief, it is one that is made in defiance of the facts. Natural selection acting on random mutation is capable of effecting considerable complexity, as the field of evolutionary computation shows. Furthermore, as the spontaneous self-assembly of virus particles from random interaction shows, things can self-assemble without conscious direction:



Far from being the antithesis of design, random interactions between entities can result in complex behaviour. Ard Louis, a professor of theoretical physics at Oxford University and a Christian active in disabusing laypeople of the belief that evolution and Christianity are mutually exclusive, leads a multidisciplinary group that looks at this fascinating subject:

There is no such thing as 'historical science' and 'operational science'. It's just science

In an earlier post, I touched on the bogus distinction made by YECs between 'historical science' and 'observational science', in their desperate attempt to wave away geology, evolutionary biology, cosmology, and palaeontology, and the powerful evidence they provide for an ancient universe and an evolutionary natural history. Typical of the specious arguments made to support this illusory difference is this article by Answers in Genesis writer Roger Patterson:
Making a distinction between two types of scientific study helps us to understand the limitations of naturalistic presuppositions in science:
Operational (Observational) Science: a systematic approach to understanding that uses observable, testable, repeatable, and falsifiable experimentation to understand how nature commonly behaves.
Operational science is the type of science that allows us to understand how DNA codes for proteins in cells. It is the type of science that has allowed us to cure and treat diseases, put a man on the moon, build satellites and telescopes, and make products that are useful to humans. Biblical creationists believe that God has created a universe that uses a set of natural laws that operate consistently in the universe. Understanding how those laws operate is the basis for scientific thinking. 
Some events defy natural laws. Christians refer to these things as miracles, but naturalistic science must find a way to explain these occurrences naturally. This approach rejects miracles in the Bible because they cannot be explained using natural laws. Such scientists occasionally try to explain the miracles in the Bible as natural phenomena, but this ultimately undermines the authority of God and His Word.
Historical (Origins) Science: interpreting evidence from past events based on a presupposed philosophical point of view.
The past is not directly observable, testable, repeatable, or falsifiable; so interpretations of past events present greater challenges than interpretations involving operational science. Neither creation nor evolution is directly observable, testable, repeatable, or falsifiable. Each is based on certain philosophical assumptions about how the earth began. 
Naturalistic evolution assumes that there was no God, and biblical creation assumes that there was a God who created everything in the universe. Starting from two opposite presuppositions and looking at the same evidence, the explanations of the history of the universe are very different. The argument is not over the evidence—the evidence is the same—it is over the way the evidence should be interpreted. [1]
The fundamental problems with such an attempt to create a historical / observational science dichotomy is that in reality, one cannot draw such a line. As the National Center For Science Education notes:

Monday, 12 January 2015

Debunking a creationist meme on human evolution

By now, I am sure most people would have seen this anti-evolution meme which has been circulating on Facebook and e-mail for some months:


The meme demonstrates the usual special creationist mistake of thinking that evolution proceeds along a straight line. As I have pointed out before, this is incorrect. Humans did not evolve from present-day chimpanzees. Rather, humans and chimpanzees share a common ancestor. Once again, evolution is a tree, not a ladder, and the above picture completely misrepresents human evolution, which actually looks like this:

Source

The meme draws its inspiration from an illustration - fifty years old this year -  in the Early Man volume of Life Nature Library. Interestingly, special creationists who use it as evidence that palaeontologists believe that human evolution followed a rigid linear path have badly misread it, as anthropologist and Early Man author Francis Howell noted:
The artist didn't intend to reduce the evolution of man to a linear sequence, but it was read that way by viewers. [1]
Special creationists who appeal to this image are demonstrating not just their lack of knowledge of palaeoanthropology, but of the context in which this image occurs.

The meme implies that there is no fossil evidence for human evolution. That is incorrect:
“Opponents of scientific biology are fond of dismissing that record as a pathetic handful of controversial fragments. If that were so, this book would be a lot shorter. An often-repeated creationist canard insists that all known human fossils would fit on a billiard table. This was probably true in the 19th century, but it has not been true for a hundred years. Known human fossils number in the thousands and represent the remains of hundreds of individuals...Having seen most of the major collections of human fossils in the world's museums, we can assure our readers that those collections can no longer be laid out on a billiard table. It would be hard to cram them into a boxcar.” [2]
While human evolution is very much still the subject of active research, the fact of human-ape common ancestry and large-scale evolutionary trends such as increasing cranial capacity and a trend from facultative to obligate bipedality are beyond doubt, and any special creationist assertion to the otherwise is false, and betrays a considerable ignorance of the evidence.

Reference

1. Barringer D (2006) "Raining on Evolution’s Parade" I.D. Magazine (2006) March/April
2. Cartmill M, Smith FH, Brown KB “The Human Lineage” xi (Wiley, 2009)

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Christadelphians Learning from Science

Yet another Christadelphian Facebook page dedicated to a rational approach to science has emerged, Christadelphians Learning From Science. It's excellent news for those wanting to discuss the interface between science and faith without the usual rancour and failure to properly engage the scientific issues. Certainly, the page appears to be taking an intelligent approach to the subject:
This page is has been created for three reasons. Firstly, to promote the faith-affirming excitement that comes with understanding science and what it helps us to discover about the natural world. 
Secondly, it is intended to try and counter some of the fear mongering about Science in our community by explaining how science works, and how it is based on reliable practices and methods. 
And thirdly, it will hopefully provide a safe environment for our youth who are earnestly seeking answers to some very vexing questions. 
Guest posts and contributions are welcomed, so please feel free to offer any uplifting and profitable insights.
Definitely welcome news.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

This is how we can measure how far away from us stars and galaxies are.

Many YEC arguments are made by people who fail to understand basic astronomy and astrophysics. These series of introductory videos should help YECs appreciate why we know how far away distant galaxies and stars are, and appreciate why we live in a universe that is unimaginably ancient:







Invoking miracles does not explain away the fact of an ancient universe or an evolving creation

When confronted either with the evidence that confirms the reality of an ancient universe, or with fundamental flaws in their attempts to explain away this evidence, Young Earth creationists will often invoke miracles such as Jesus' raising of the Lazarus or his feeding of five thousand people with five loaves and two fish. It is hard not to get exasperated with arguments such as this which are simply non sequiturs, a fact which can be readily demonstrated by the example of a geocentrist or flat earth advocate who tried to explain away the evidence against their views by appealing to the miracle of the loaves and fishes. There is simply no correlation between the two, and the desperate invocation of miracles comes across as a distraction to avoid dealing with evidence which destroys the YEC worldview.

Why we need to listen to the real experts in science

By Michael Clarke, La Trobe University and Susan Lawler, La Trobe University

If we want to use scientific thinking to solve problems, we need people to appreciate evidence and heed expert advice.

But the Australian suspicion of authority extends to experts, and this public cynicism can be manipulated to shift the tone and direction of debates. We have seen this happen in arguments about climate change.

This goes beyond the tall poppy syndrome. Disregard for experts who have spent years studying critical issues is a dangerous default position. The ability of our society to make decisions in the public interest is handicapped when evidence and thoughtfully presented arguments are ignored.

Monday, 5 January 2015

A YEC tries to explain away the evidence for an ancient universe by crowding all the stars around the solar system.

I've seen many strange YEC arguments over the last 30 years, but this one, posted on a fundamentalist Christadelphian Facebook group, is difficult to top:
The record does NOT say that God made the two great lights and the stars directly in the expanse (KJV: firmament) of heaven. God intended them to be there (v14,15), but it first says God made them (v16), and then it says God set them in the expanse of heaven (v17). So they were moved from where they were made to where they were to do their work. (That was also true of Adam, later (Gen 2:7,8,15).)
This allows for God to have made the various sources of light relatively close to the earth where their light would reach it quickly (within hours, or even minutes - the sun itself is only about 8 light-minutes away). Having made them, he could then have moved the stars into their places in the expanse of the heavens. As one of the functions of the stars is to give light on the earth, their light that would reach the earth initially could continue to do so even while they were being moved, so there would be no interruption and we can still see it today, although the stars themselves are now very much farther away.
The assertion is of course demonstrably untrue. The firmament in Genesis 1 as I've pointed out many times is a solid structure separating waters above from waters below. This fact rules out any attempt to link it with outer space. Just on Biblical grounds, the argument fails.

Friday, 2 January 2015

Debunking the myth that all scientists are religion-hating atheists

Both fundamentalists extremists and the New Atheists seem keen to peddle the myth that religion and science are mutually exclusive. Biophysicist Sylvia McLain however disabuses both parties of their misapprehensions:
I really hate to be the one to break the news, but scientist is not synonymous with atheist. Scientists also don't all have the same gender, race, sexual orientation or political ideology, much less religion or lack thereof. Whether or not a person is religious, with respect to their vocation as a scientist, is completely irrelevant. Just like sexual orientation, race and gender should be irrelevant to being a scientist. Reinforcing the scientist = atheist stereotype, whether you are for it or against it, necessarily excludes people. No one should be excluded from science if they want to do it, be excited about it or read about it.

Richard Dawkins aside, the view that all scientists – even if they be atheists or famous people – hate religion is not really true. Peter Higgs has very sanguinely criticised Dawkins for his anti-religious stance, and goes on to say that he doesn't think science and religion are incompatible. Brian Cox himself echoes the same sentiment. There are, moreover, a number of prominent openly religious scientists, such as Frances Collins, currently the head of the US National Institutes of Health; Gerhard Etrl who won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry (2007) and William D Phillips who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1997. And this is just naming a few. Most scientists in the media don't make a stand one way or another, perhaps because they too think it is irrelevant. Maybe this is a crazy idea but I am guessing a fair few scientists don't like Star Trek either.

The cartoon stereotype that all scientists are religion-hating atheists isn't just annoying; it is harmful. It is divisive and does nothing to encourage people into scientific discovery. In fact, it reinforces the idea that only a certain type of person can do science. This is not true. Professional science has enough diversity problems as it is, with women and minorities still grossly under-represented, without throwing religious-typing in there too. Public scientists and critics alike need to take a bit more care in lumping all scientists into the same stereotypical category. The world is much more complex than that.
Full article here.

Scientific evidence against a global flood

Claims by YECs such as the compiler of SEfaGF that there is considerable evidence for a global flood as my previous posts have demonstrated are completely without support. Conversely, the scientific evidence against a global flood is considerable, a point that highlights both the poor research behind the YEC claims, and the lack of understanding of the scientific issues by those making such claims.

Geologists Gregg Davidson and Ken Wolgemuth, both of whom are Christians active in educating laypeople about geology and scientific shortcomings of YEC and flood geology have pointed out that when one examines the geological record in detail, features such as thick salt layers tens to hundreds of metres in depth between geological strata said to be deposited by the flood, the fossil sequences, and the lack of “fining upward” sequences consistent with flood deposition in the Grand Canyon are present. This is all consistent with mainstream geology, and inconsistent with claims that a giant flood deposited all the geological strata in a single year. Flood geology can only be maintained by ignoring the evidence and privileging a fundamentalist distortion of the Bible over reality. [1]

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Debunking "Scientific Evidence for a Global Flood" Part 5 - Fossil raindrops and animal burrows in the geological column refute a global flood

Flood geologists betray their lack of familiarity with the evidence against their worldview when they naively advance arguments that confirm the impossibility of a global flood in the belief that they actually support it. The compiler of SEfaGF asserts that:
Animal tracks and other ephemeral markings (ripple-marks and raindrop imprints) have been preserved throughout the geological column. Rapid covering of these markings is required for this preservation worldwide - ie. by a global flood.
This is nonsense. Flood geologists claim that the geological strata were deposited during the flood, which, given that they claim it created structures such as the Grand Canyon, would by their own logic be a powerful, destructive phenomenon. However, during a raging flood, the YECs argue that strata were laid down, received the impact of raindrops, dried out, were covered by more strata, all while a raging ocean and fierce storm  was occurring.

Furthermore, given the presence of fossil animal burrows through these strata, some animals were managing to crawl their way through wet soil without drowning and creating burrows in wet soil that somehow managed not to collapse around them. The assertion, far from proving flood geology actually destroys it, and it is a testament to the scientific illiteracy of those making it that they fail to grasp this point.