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Sunday, 29 November 2015

More young adults are accepting evolution. Here's why.

The Pew Research Center recently released the results of a survey on the attitudes of Americans on politics and science. The survey showed some predictable results, such as anthropogenic climate change being linked with political leaning, with Democrats and Independents more likely to accept that it exists.  What it also showed was that there has been a significant increase in acceptance of evolution among younger people. Palaeoanthropologist John Hawks notes:
This increase among young adults first was noticed in the results of a 2013 Pew Research Center survey, and continued in a 2014 survey. In the more recent survey, a slight majority (51%) of adults ages 18-29 agreed with the statement that humans and other living things have evolved over time by natural processes such as natural selection. A much greater majority, 73%, agreed that humans have evolved over time, and have not been in their present form since the beginning of time.
  
Unsurprisingly, acceptance of evolution is correlated with increasing scientific knowledge, with 54% of those with a modest amount of scientific knowledge accepting human evolution, while 76% of those with more scientific knowledge accepting this:


For evolution denialists in our community, this news points out the fact that attacking evolution in public lectures is an ill-advised, risky strategy, as our target audience is increasingly educated, and will regard with scorn and disbelief any preaching campaign that attacks what is accepted as a fact.

Saturday, 28 November 2015

No, the Bible does not mention dinosaurs - fire-breathing or otherwise.

YEC assertions that dinosaurs and humans coexisted are of course nonsense. Over sixty million years separate the last non-avian dinosaur from the earliest members of the genus Homo. Claims that both the dragon myths and historical records, artwork, and engravings of other mythological beasts provide 'documented evidence' for human-dinosaur existence do not come from credible sources, and when critically examined not only provide no support for this assertion but merely show how the fundamentalist mind can find support for the most outlandish ideas from the most meagre of evidence.

Where the YEC assertion veers into outright crackpot nonsense comes when YECs claim that the references to fire-breathing dragons reflects historical reality, and appeal to Job 41:20-21 both as evidence for human-dinosaur coexistence, and for their fire-breathing ability. Incredibly, this claim was made in the April 2010 edition of The Bible Magazine which also appealed to a long-discredited claim by notorious YEC Duane Gish that the dinosaur Parasaurolophus could produce jets of fire from its nostrils. Even worse was the use of a risible illustration from a children's creationist book as evidence for this claim. This is not how we present a rational, credible, face of belief to the world. Rather, this is how we fulfill every negative stereotype of Christianity as credulous, foolish, and ignorant. Nonsense such as this causes incredible harm to the reputation of our community.

Friday, 27 November 2015

Yet another transitional fossil: a giraffe-like animal with an intermediate-length neck

We don't need any more evidence for evolution as the evidence for the reality of common descent and large-scale evolutionary change was already compelling a over a century ago. However, new evidence is always welcome, particularly if it casts light on iconic animals. In this case, it is the giraffe and its long neck. We already know how the path of the recurrent laryngeal nerve in giraffes, which makes a pointless detour down its neck, under the aorta, before returning to innervate the larynx - a wasteful detour of several metres - provides evidence for common descent as this same pointless detour is shared by other creatures with which it shares a common ancestor. Now, as , ,

Monday, 23 November 2015

More YEC confusion on Homo naledi from Creation Ministries International

YEC responses to the spectacular Homo naledi find have been predictably hopeless, with ICR and AiG commissioning non-experts (geology and medicine) to hand-wave away the findings. The former claim that the Homo naledi fossils are actually a mosaic of modern animal and modern human, implying that the Homo naledi team are either incompetent or dishonest in making such a mistake, while the latter simply declare them to be non-human animals. That two YEC organisations fails to agree on what these fossils represent is hardly new - YECs have failed to reliably classify hominin skulls in the past, which both attests to the fact that the fossils they were examining are transitional, as well as their incompetence in the field of palaeoanthropology.

Now, Creation Ministries International, the third of the three major YEC apologetics organisations has weighed in with yet another non-expert opinion (neuroscience), claiming that they were human, but with pathological features. Three YEC views. All from non-experts. All failing to agree on what Homo naledi represent. YEC is a broken reed which will pierce the hand of all who lean on it.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

YEC - the worst barrier to preaching the gospel in a scientific age

In a world where the evidence for an ancient Earth has been acknowledged as compelling for well over 150 years, and accessing this evidence can be obtained with a few taps on a phone screen, not only maintaining the demonstrably false belief in a 6000 year old universe, but demanding that it be a first principle of the One True Faith will do far more to destroy Christianity than any number of New Atheist screeds. Tyler Franke, who runs the excellent God of Evolution website gets it in one:



This is not hyperbole - the path from YEC to atheism is well-worn, and while fundamentalists privilege their interpretations of the creation narrative and uninformed dismissal of the scientific evidence over what both books of divine revelation actually say, the decline in our community will continue unabated.

Christians in the life and earth sciences, who are in a position to appreciate the evidence for common descent and an ancient Earth regard this with not a little unease. [1] Recently, three Christian geologists, speaking at a 2009 lecture to the Evangelical Theological Society in New Orleans highlighted this crisis of faith which believers face each time they discover that their YEC is little more than unscientific smoke and mirrors:
A friend (who wishes to remain anonymous) attended conservative churches his entire life – churches that openly push and teach a young-earth position. He has been a teacher and a leader in his local church. He is a strongly logical, thinking person who wants to know God’s truth. He told us recently that he is thinking about giving up on Christianity and becoming an agnostic. Why? As he became more knowledgeable about the scientific evidence regarding the age of the earth, he found increasingly that facts presented by young-earth organizations had been misrepresented. He no longer knows who to believe or who to rely on. He feels that he has believed lies his whole life. [2]
The tendency for the evangelical Christian church to source their information outside of mainstream science [3] tends however to blunt the impact of such scientifically informed Christian warnings both against science denialism and basing first principles on demonstrably false views of the natural world. Deconversion anecdotes such as these, culled from a 2002 TalkOrigins post of the month [4] are representative of the one-way traffic towards unbelief that often results when science and faith are pitted against each other:
I. The fact that, when you consider the available evidence and with our present understanding, evolution makes so much more sense than creationism. It was a matter of intellectual integrity for me. For example the universality of the genetic code. The fact that structurally we are all variations on a theme. Obvious cases of microevolution which can easily be extrapolated out to macroevolution. The age of the earth, etc. Oh, and the lousy, dishonest stories professional creationists have invented to try to explain it all.
There came a point when the contradictions were too obvious to ignore and the answers were lacking. I realized that I would have to leave sooner or later so I decided I might as well go sooner than remain shackled in what I felt to be a lie.
II. I started out really enthusiastic about creationism, and wanted to become a contributor. I thought the place to start was to take creationist quotes, look up the original evolutionist sources, and see what else I could find. What I found was that creationists were being misleading (to put it kindly) with regards to what evolutionists were really saying. That was the beginning…I read some books detailing scientific responses to creationism, and found that, rather than running around worrying about the alleged lack of answers, scientists had quite a lot of rather good answers, backed up by hard data, as well as telling critiques of flaws in creationist arguments.
Finding I couldn't trust what conservative Christians said about Genesis, I began questioning other things as well, which ultimately led to the realization that there was nothing to Christianity that was so much supernatural as it was psychological and social.
III. I was raised in a Southern Baptist church...I had always loved science/learning and especially dinosaurs. I was also very committed to my church. When I was around 12 to 13, I started asking questions about the contradictions between what I read in the Bible…what was preached at my church; and what I was learning in school and personal studies, about science especially. My parents sent me to our preacher to counsel me. Over the period of about a year, our preacher became very frustrated with me because I wouldn't just take his word for what was true or not (He was of the "Dinosaur fossils aren't real; they are fakes either because scientists are lying and/or because the Devil created them to test our faith" school.) He eventually stopped the counseling sessions with the cautionary words (more or less yelled at me) that if I kept questioning, I would be damned to Hell.
Eventually, though, I took a really hard atheistic stand. Some of the reason for that was the initial 'counseling' I got from that Southern Baptist preacher. I was told then that to believe in the 'supernatural' I had to cease to use my brain. I couldn't do that. That early lesson stuck and I was always more skeptical of blind faith after that.
IV. I was raised in a household that was dominated by Grandpa, a Southern Baptist preacher. You might say I was born a creationist. However, by the time I was ten or so, Grandpa made it clear that one could not be a fundamentalist ("bible-believer") and friendly to science. So, naturally, I chose science. 
One could readily multiply such anecdotes, but the point has been made. Any Christian community that bases fundamental doctrines on special creation runs the risk of losing believers who, when they discover evidence against special creation may well end up abandoning not only special creationism but their faith, and that is scandalous.

References

1. Organisation such as the BioLogos Foundation were formed in order to disabuse the lay Christian of the belief that Christianity and evolutionary biology are in opposition.

2. Wolgenmuth K, Bennett GS, Davidson G “Theologians Need to Hear From Christian Geologists About Noah’s Flood” Lecture given to the Evangelical Theological Society, New Orleans, Louisiana November 18th 2009. Solid Rock Lectures.

3. Giberson K “Why Evangelicals Are Fooled Into Accepting PseudoscienceHuffington Post 23rd September 2011

Monday, 16 November 2015

Bat guano, bird breath, and limestone cave formation -another argument against 'creation with appearance of age'

The only thing more incredible than denying the avalanche of evidence confirming the reality of an ancient Earth is the attempt to hand wave it away by decreeing that all this evidence was deliberately created by God to give the Earth the appearance of age. Ignoring the fundamental moral problems of a creator God writing a 'superfluous lie' into the very atoms of the Earth itself by creating it with the appearance of age and evidence of a history that never happened, adherents of this 'Omphalos YEC' view appear to be unaware of the scope and nature of the evidence for an ancient Earth, and the absolute lack of any valid reason for God to fake this history. 

Proponents of this view argue that just as Adam was created mature, the Earth likewise was necessarily created with the appearance of a history that did not exist. However, apart from being impossible to falsify, and therefore unscientific, this argument ignores the fact that many markers of age are simply not needed to provide a 'necessarily mature' appearance. Examples include not just the radiometric age of rocks - the ratio of radionuclides having zero impact on any 'necessarily mature' appearance, but the consonance between relative ages and absolute ages as seen by the older radiometric dates in lower strata and younger radiometric dates in higher strata (in areas where the strata are undisturbed). Add to that the evaporite varves and ice cores with hundreds of thousands of layers consistent with an annual process. This barely begins to scratch the surface, but should suffice to show just how untenable Omphalos YEC is.

Joel Duff, writing at Naturalis Historia provides another example which both attests to an Earth much older than 6000 years, and the folly of the Omphalos YEC view. Limestone caves are generally formed by the dissolving of rock as water trickles through. In the absence of this source of water, the humidity from guano and exhaled air can suffice, and as he argues, the known rate of cave formation from this source and the radiometric dates for the guano are in good agreement. The problems for the Omphalos YEC view are not trivial.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Yet another YEC lie is exposed - Henry Morris and case of the missing meteorite potassium

Anyone who has spent enough time in the evolution-creation debate quickly realises that with precious few exceptions, the main figures in the YEC community lie. Irrespective of whether it is Duane Gish and his 'bullfrog proteins' or David Menton and his blatantly false claims about Tiktaalik, it is safe to assume that a YEC when making any claim about evolutionary biology, geology, or astronomy is always wrong, unless theit claims can be independently verified by experts in the areas in which those claims are made.

Geologist Jonathan Baker, writing at Age of Rocks has given us yet another example of YEC mendacity. This one comes from one of the founding figures of the YEC movement, Henry Morris. Over forty years ago, he claimed that as much as 8)% of the potassium in a small iron meteorite sample could be removed in around 4.5 hours by soaking in distilled water. The implicit claim here was that one could never guarantee that samples were not contaminated, and as such, radiometric dating was worthless. Trouble is, as Baker points out, Morris was lying. Here's why.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Ben Carson: an example of why smart people sometimes say stupid things

Retired paediatric neurosurgeon Ben Carson provides an excellent example of what happens when someone steps outside of their narrow area of professional expertise and pontificates on subjects on which they are not qualified to offer an authoritative opinion. While professionals from all backgrounds are prone to this problem - the Nobel Prize effect humorously describes how some Nobel Laureates can verge into crank territory post-award - medicine appears uniquely susceptible to this problem. Blogging at Respectful Insolence, the surgical oncologist who goes by the pseudonym Orac gets to the heart of this problem of how sometimes extremely bright people can go off the rails and endorse rank pseudoscience, and be resistant to correction. The parallel with Christian communities where special creationists with backgrounds unrelated to evolutionary biology are feted by laypeople as 'experts' is particularly relevant. Special creationism is wrong, no matter who touts it.

Science Meets Religion - another excellent resource for the Christadelphian

As I have pointed out repeatedly, the Christadelphian seeking reliable, authoritative, credible information on evolution and the age of the Earth must look outside our community (apart from websites such as this and others) given the depth to which YEC has compromised our community. There is no such thing as too much information, so I am delighted to provide a link to computational mathematician David Bailey's 26 point list "Evolution, Creationism, and Intelligent Design." His list covers subjects from scientific epistemology to geology to biology, is impeccably referenced, and in contrast to the  belligerent, intolerant nature of most YEC websites maintains an irenic tone. Definitely another to add to the list of must-read resources for the intellectually honest Christadelphian seeking the truth on evolution and creation.

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

No, Exodus 20:11 is not proof for creation in six literal days. Here's why.


Like any interpretive option, literalism is a choice, not the default option. That comes down to something as basic as assuming that 'create' refers to material origins. As a number of Old Testament scholars note, in the ancient world, functional origins were more important than material origins, and YECs make a major mistake by assuming that the ancient world shared our obsession with material origins. That is not the case.

The literalism YECs espouse here is inconsistent, as if they were entirely consistent, they would take the references in Genesis 1 to a solid firmament separating waters above from waters below, in which the sun, moon, and stars were embedded literally. Their failure to be consistent suggests that their reading of the creation narratives and Old Testament references to cosmology and creation is motivated more by the need to preserve a particular reading rather than to be guided by the text.

Fundamentalists in our community would be well advised to take seriously the advice of C.C. Walker, second editor of The Christadelphian, who recognised that "Moses’ testimony is not so “plain” that it cannot be misinterpreted or misunderstood" [1] and refrain from uncritically embracing views sourced from the fundamentalist wing of the evangelical Christian world.