Monday, 20 November 2017

Credentialism and consensus - why "Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique" is unlikely to overturn evolution

In part 1 of my series of posts commenting on “Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique”, I noted that the theological critiques were drawn exclusively from members of conservative section of the Reformed / Evangelical community, which automatically downgrades the book from a broad Christian critique of current attempts to reconcile faith and evolution to little more than a narrow sectarian apologetic.

The scientific critique, based on the profiles of the fourteen contributing authors fares little better in that over half of them are affiliated in some way with the Discovery Institute, a conservative think tank that has been widely criticised by mainstream scientists for its intellectual dishonesty and promotion of the pseudoscience of intelligent design. Furthermore, three of those aren’t even scientists. Of the remaining contributors, only three could honestly said to be actively working scientists at major universities, and none of these are working in disciplines directly related to evolution, meaning that they are quite likely arguing well out of their areas of professional expertise.

Once again, I stress that I have not read the book, but given that evolution has not been seriously doubted by mainstream scientists for well over a century, the burden of proof lies exclusively on those who reject their case to do so to the satisfaction of the scientific community, and the chances of a series of articles in a conservative evangelical apologetics book, most of whose authors are obscure scientists affiliated with a pseudoscientific think tank doing this are remote at best.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Why "Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique" probably won't be worth the effort of reading.

The success of organisations such as BioLogos and the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion in showing why evolution and Christianity are not mutually exclusive has clearly rattled the conservative wings of the Reformed and Evangelical faith traditions, as shown by a soon-to-be released book modestly entitled “Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique”. Of course, there is no credible scientific evidence that remotely calls into question the fact of common descent and large scale evolutionary change, so no amount of argumentation will make the scientific facts vanish. Furthermore, theological opposition to evolution stems primarily from the fact that the doctrine of Original Sin demands universal human descent from two people. Original Sin, particularly in its extreme Reformed guise has been subjected to considerable criticism over the centuries, with many pointing out that it owes much to Augustine and his demonstrably flawed reading of Romans 5:12. Given these facts, it is entirely reasonable to dismiss this book as yet another desperate attempt by anti-evolutionists to preserve a crumbling theological position.

Reviewing a book that has not been released (at time of writing) is of course impossible, so I must stress at the start that this is not a review of the book. Rather, it is an exercise in determining the likelihood that a book will overturn a well-established scientific theory, based on factors such as the reputation of the contributors, their areas of expertise, what they have previously written on the subject, and what experts in the relevant areas of scholarship think of their positions on those subjects. In the absence of a credible book review, being able to determine without a review whether a book is worth buying is definitely a skill that everyone needs to acquire.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Yes, We Were There

Yes, We Were There

 Antoine Bret

Many believe that to inform us about the past, science depends on an assumption of uniformitarianism: that the laws of nature we know today were the same in the past. Creationist literature often argues that faith in this “stability principle” is misplaced. For example, the starlight argument, observing that light arriving from stars farther than 6 000 lightyears must have been created more than 6 000 years ago, is attacked this way. Creationists will reason that the argument is only sound if light has always been traveling at its current speed. But if light traveled faster in the past, objects farther than 6 000 light-years away could have been created only 6 000 years ago and yet still be able to send us light. Barry Setterfield became famous in creationist circles in 1981 by “scientifically” exploring the idea (Setterfield 1981).

Radioactive dating methods used to determine the age of Earth, or of the universe, are attacked from the same angle. The uranium–lead dating technique, for example, is instrumental in dating our planet. It relies on the stability of the decay rates involved in the uranium–lead decay chain. How can we be sure these rates have been the same in the past? Can we observe the past? Doubts in clearing up these issues lead to Ken Ham’s rhetorical question “Were you there?”