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Friday, 25 December 2015

Why Biologos and similar organisations matter in helping people understand faith in the light of science

I make no secret of my admiration for the Biologos Foundation given its incalculable value in providing Christians with informed, reliable information from respected scholars in both Biblical studies and the life, earth, and physical sciences. Given how YEC is often a stepping stone to unbelief for Christians who unfortunately buy into the false dilemma of evolution OR faith, and lose the latter when they read outside the fundamentalist bubble and recognise the truth of the former, organisations such as Biologos are of vital importance in helping show that evolution is simply the mechanism by which God creates. By doing this, they defuse the destructive "evolution or creation" argument, and reframe the argument into evolution and creation.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

The Twelve Days of Evolution: an excellent series of videos on the evidence for evolution

Evolutionary biologist and science educator Joe Hanson, the person behind the website / YouTube show It's Okay To Be Smart is currently running a twelve part series "The Twelve Days of Evolution" in which he outlines the evidence for evolution and shows how evolutionary biology allows us to understand our natural world. Currently, he is up to day eight. As each episode is released, I will be updating it here. Definitely one to share with those who are time-poor or on the run.

Monday, 21 December 2015

The Open Tree of Life - an interactive way to explore common descent.

The fact of common descent, which shows that all life today has descended from a common ancestral source via a process of descent with modification is arguably one of the greatest discoveries in science. It has considerable explanatory and predictive power, explaining things ranging from the biogeographic distribution of species across space and time to the anatomical quirks of the human body. Sadly, it is also one of the most controverted and misunderstood facts, due largely to organised special creationist opposition to deceive and mislead.

An evolutionary tree of life is best understood intuitively by illustration, which is why the interactive Open Tree of Life is such a brilliant educational concept, showing graphically just how life on earth fits together in one massive interrelated network.


Sunday, 20 December 2015

The Christadelphian magazine and evolution. Part 6g - Andrew Bramhill

7. Fideism and its threat to our community

Of particular concern are his closing paragraphs that evince both fideism and a naked anti-intellectualism and contempt for science, both of which are markedly at odds with the studied respect for scholarship that was characteristic of our community in its early years:
The position of this magazine is unchanged by current evolutionary thinking. In faith we accept the account of Genesis, that God created the heavens and the earth. Adam was formed from the dust and Eve was made from one of his ribs. Adam’s decision to eat of the tree of the knowledge of Good and evil in disobedience resulted in the introduction of death, and only the atoning work of the Lord Jesus provides a remedy to its effects. Where the inspired words appears to be at odds with current thinking, our position is to place trust in scripture and not give the benefit of the doubt to the current (and ever-changing) ‘wisdom of science.
Given that the position he advances – the inherited change of nature – is one that is rejected by many people who are (or were) most definitely not evolutionary creationists, with L.G. Sargent among others being on record as rejecting the existence of any such intermediate ‘very good’ state, and acknowledging that Adam pre-sin was capable of death, the position of the magazine has in fact changed. Even Roberts and Thomas are on record as having expressed their belief that death and decay were part of the original order of things. Bro. Bramhill is indulging in revisionism of the highest order to claim that the position of the magazine has remained unchanged. It has not, and it is telling that this lack of unanimity on the question of a change of nature has been made by Christadelphians who all rejected evolution, so it is disingenuous of bro. Bramhill to claim otherwise.

Saturday, 19 December 2015

The Christadelphian magazine and evolution. Part 6f - Andrew Bramhill

6. Our theology is not contingent on monogenism

The implication of this is that there was no physical change in Adam after his sin, and therefore no altered nature that had to be genetically transmitted to the entire human race. This, as I've said elsewhere is the fundamental reason behind opposition to evolution as it rules out monogenism, the belief that the entire human race descended exclusively from Adam.

The Christadelphian magazine and evolution. Part 6e - Andrew Bramhill

5. Romans 5:12 does not demand monogenesis

Ultimately, the question is answered not by appeal to authority, but appeal to the scriptural evidence, and here it is clear that Romans 5:12, one of the key passages cited as proof that humans genetically inherit the consequence of Adam’s sin does not say what opponents of evolution allege it does. Unfortunately, Romans 5:12, one of the more difficult passages to interpret, not only has suffered more than its share of flawed exegesis, but carries the legacy of Augustine’s deeply flawed reading. Romans 5v12 has traditionally been read as proof that all humanity sinned in Adam, and therefore genetically inherited the consequences of Adam’s sin. 

Friday, 18 December 2015

The Christadelphian magazine and evolution. Part 6d - Andrew Bramhill

4. Death and mortality are not the same thing

One of the most egregious misrepresentations of evolutionary creationism in our community by anti-evolutionists has been to claim that they deny the historicity of Adam, or argue that he was not a special creation, but evolved. Despite repeated corrections, they still persist in making this mistake, as bro. Bramhill’s article confirms:
“Similarly, Genesis tells us that Adam was specially created out of the dust of the ground and that Eve was made from one of his ribs. He was the first man and she was the first woman and the mother of all living. Death entered as a consequence of their sinful actions (Genesis 2:17, 3:19). If this is not accepted and Adam and Eve were simply part of a developing evolutionary chain, death was not introduced as a punishment for sin. The creation-evolution debate confronts us therefore with a critical question: are all men dying today because it is a natural phenomenon, or because it is a consequence of sin?”
Frustrating as this failure to accurately represent evolutionary creationist views on Adam may be, bro. Bramhill’s argument shows one of the fundamental errors made by opponents of evolution in our community with their failure to differentiate between death as a punishment for sin and mortality. Death is not the same thing as mortality. Humans die because they are corruptible creatures, made from the ‘dust of the ground’, not because of their sins. They remain dead after they die if they reject Christ.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

The Christadelphian magazine and evolution. Part 6c - Andrew Bramhill

3. Evolution does not threaten inspiration

Even worse is his assertion that unless one accepts a literal reading of the creation narratives, the inspiration and authority of the entire Bible is at risk:
“Failure to accept the account of Genesis 1-3 as the inspired word of God means that we would be at variance with the clear teaching of scripture that all scripture that all God’s word , including Genesis is inspired.”
Ignoring the tawdry implication that evolutionary creationists (and old earth creationists) do not believe in an inspiration because they reject a literal reading of Genesis 1 that posits recent creation of the entire universe in six literal consecutive twenty-four hour days, bro. Bramhill has conflated interpretation and inspiration; an surprisingly facile exegetical error for the editor of a major magazine to make. One can believe in an inspired Bible without believing that it must be literally true, a point that C.C. Walker made over a century ago when he recognised that “Moses’ testimony is not so “plain” that it cannot be misinterpreted or misunderstood" [1]

A ‘plain’ reading of Genesis 1 as I have pointed out elsewhere teaches the reality of a solid firmament, while a consistent literal reading of the rest of the Bible would teach geocentrism, and even a flat Earth. If bro. Bramhill was truly consistent with his claim that the Bible provides facts about creation, he would champion a flat fixed earth covered with a solid firmament.

The Christadelphian magazine and evolution. Part 6b - Andrew Bramhill

2. Divine Agency and the mechanism of creation

Over the last year, I have commented on how badly the anti-evolution articles published in The Christadelphian have misrepresented the fact of evolution in their attempted refutations, which makes bro. Bramhill’s assertion that “each article illustrated that everything was made to a plan and for a purpose in a way that cannot be explained by evolutionists” merely a declaration of just how poorly he and other anti-evolutionists in our community actually understand the subject they criticise:

  1. Evolution is a fact, and no amount of poorly-informed argument from laypeople and retired scientists either arguing well outside their professional area of competence, or offering a long-rebutted, fringe view will change that fact.
  2. There is much in the world which makes perfect sense in the light of evolution such as suboptimal design, but is impossible to reconcile with design via direct intervention by an intelligent designer.
  3. The claim that evolution and design are mutually exclusive ignores the fact that selection acting on mutation has been shown to be able to produce design that at times can far exceed that of an intelligent designer.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

The Christadelphian magazine and evolution. Part 6a - Andrew Bramhill

In response to the growing acceptance in our community of evolution as the mechanism of creation, the recognition that it affects no fundamental doctrines, and the desire for a rational, civilised, Christ-like discussion on the subject, the response from militant anti-evolutionists in our community has been sorely lacking.

While the principle of ecclesial autonomy means The Christadelphian has no formal power in our community, it still retains, due to its long history, a position of some influence. Given this, The Christadelphian could have done much towards resolving these issues by allowing an informed, honest discussion in its pages. Instead, it chose to publish a series of articles on Genesis which committed all the usual fallacies. The final article in this series, written by the editor Andrew Bramhill on behalf of the CMPA committee summarises the typical mistakes made by anti-evolutionists in our community. We need intelligent, thoughtful leadership on this issue, but it will not be found within the recently-concluded series of articles by The Christadelphian.

Monday, 14 December 2015

We're all hominins. And hominids. And primates. And mammals. And vertebrates. Once more, clarifying YEC confusion on terminology.

One thing that characterises YEC opposition to evolutionary creationism is their misuse of the term 'hominid'. Certainly, as the following quotes from a recent article would illustrate, it hard to avoid the conclusion that this is done purely to create fear and uncertainty by playing on the layperson's view of the term 'hominid':
  • The assertion that Genesis 1:26,27 relates to the gradual evolution of a hominid species has no Biblical foundation.
  • There is no Biblical evidence for the existence of a hominid race.
  • There is no Biblical proof that the genealogy of Jesus had input from a hominid race.
The term hominid refers simply to humans, great apes, and their ancestors. Likewise, hominin refers to humans, and their ancestors up to the human-ape common ancestor. The only living hominins are humans. The only living hominids are humans and the great apes such as gorillas, orangutans, and chimpanzees. When YECs use 'hominid' as a scare term, they are betraying a considerable lack of understanding of what the word means. We are hominins. We are hominids. We are mammals. We are vertebrates. A few moments reading on taxonomy would help YECs avoid making such mistakes, and help improve the rigour and accuracy of their arguments considerably.

Friday, 4 December 2015

More helpful resources on science and theology for the Christadelphian

As the concluding article to the anti-evolution series that has been running this year in The Christadelphian shows, those seeking informed, reliable, factually accurate material on evolution need to look outside our community. [1] The concluding words of the author, in which he declares that "our position is to place trust in scripture and not give the benefit of the doubt to the current (and ever-changing) 'wisdom' of science" [2] provide absolutely no help to the believer who is well aware of the fact that evolution is indeed a fact, and has been regarded as such for well over a century.

I have made several posts linking to credible, informed sources of information on evolution such as BioLogos and the American Scientific Affiliation. A post by Peter Enns has alerted me to another excellent source of information by B.K. Mitchell, professor emeritus of biological sciences from the University of Alberta, who is also a Christian who is greatly concerned about the infiltration of pseudoscience and obscurantism in Christianity:
Even in this new millennium tens of thousands of university students find little support in their home church, family or community for dealing with the intellectual challenges to their faith that they will encounter in the modern, secular university. Worse, those in Bible schools and Christian colleges will often still find reactionary curricula that want to explain away, debunk or simply ignore established evidence gained by the last hundred years of recognized scholarship. As a lifelong Christian, and an experimental biologist with more than thirty years research and teaching experience in a major secular university, it saddens me to have to acknowledge the truth of the sentences that I have just written.
As the recently-concluded anti-evolution series in The Christadelphian sadly shows, this problem is just as pressing for our community as it is for the conservative Protestant faith tradition. Mitchell's series of essays provided to give assistance to the Christian student navigating these problems also includes a bibliography list which contains many excellent volumes some of which every Christadelphian seriously interested in this subject should read.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

We now know humans set foot in Australia at least 53,000 years ago. Yet again, YEC fails the test

YEC claims that humans are no older than 6000 years are false. The fossil evidence for humans - and by humans I mean Homo sapiens - stretches back 200,000 years at least. In Australia, we now have evidence of human activity that has been reliably dated to at least 53,000 years of age. That's nearly nine times older than the age YECs assign to the entire universe.

An article at Archaeology News Network reports on work at Boodie Cave on Barrow Island, off the cost of the Pilbara coast of Western Australia, which has dated material of unquestioned human origin to 53,000 years. While further evidence for the antiquity of humanity is not needed to demonstrate the utter falsity of the YEC position, not only is it fascinating in its own right, it serves to remind how untenable the variant of YEC which argues that God created the world with the appearance of age actually is. What possible purpose would forging an optically stimulated luminescence age from grains found mixed with the remains of a shellfish meal serve? It is the small incidental features - evidence of human activity with dating stretching back well past the 6000 years YEC allow for the entire universe (and by that fact the human race) - which to the honest, unbiased observer give the ring of truth to the fact that the witness of the earth unambiguously attests to its ancient, evolving state.

Boodie Cave midden on Barrow Island showing discarded kangaroo jaw bones, turtle shell, stone artefacts, baler shell scoops and heating stones [Credit: Peter Veth.  Source]

Boodie Cave midden on Barrow Island showing discarded kangaroo jaw bones, turtle shell, stone artefacts, baler shell scoops and heating stones [Credit: Peter Veth]

Read more at: http://archaeologynewsnetwork.blogspot.com.es/2015/11/secrets-unearthed-at-boodie-cave.html#.Vl6-WXvLA3R
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