This blog springs from my lifelong interest in how things came to be the way they are. Geology and deep time. Living things and their evolution. Humanity as part of nature. From my discovery, late in life (I had a very sheltered upbringing) that there are people who simply do not believe in these well-established realities. And from my conviction that reality is much more interesting than truth-denying dogma. Old Earth – Young Earth; how do we know what we know? Creationism and evolution – why do some people deny more than two centuries of science, and how do we reach out to them? The myth of the missing links; what we can and do find in the fossil record, and what we can’t and don’t. Our impact on the environment, and the dangers of denial.
I had a religious upbringing, which I rejected in my late teens after a road-from-Damascus experience, but none of this ever affected my attitude to science. I retain an affection for many aspects of religion, and unlike some of my colleagues I see no point in picking fights with believers unless and until they attempt to interfere with the teaching of science, or with the public understanding of morality. As for morality, that I regard as springing from our common humanity. If someone wants to believe in a God who created heaven and earth, that is not my business. However, it does very much become my business if someone wants to teach children that whales came into existence before land mammals, because Genesis says so, or that homosexuality is wicked because of Leviticus, or that condoms are useless because that fits Catholic doctrine, or that the Earth is not warming because its doing so has implications for economic policy. And we see all of these things every day.
I trained, taught, and had an enjoyable research career as a chemist, and occasionally I will comment on developments in the physical sciences. But more and more throughout my career I gravitated to the concerns I mentioned in my opening paragraph, by way of an interest in conditions on the ancient Earth, and what they tell us about one of the most interesting questions in science, the origin of life on this planet.
Like everyone else, I am a non-expert outside a relatively limited field, and outside that field I have to rely on secondary sources to keep me abreast of things. But one promise I will make to my readers here; when dealing with any scientific development, I will drill down at the very least to an authoritative review, and when the matter is of particular importance I will go to the original scientific literature, make the effort to satisfy myself that I am describing it correctly, and give the original literature citation and digital object identifier (doi). (Much of this literature is behind a pay wall, but even then a simple search on the doi will usually lead you to an abstract and press releases.)
And, again like everyone else, I have strong political views which I will occasionally indulge here, as well as an active interest in curbing the usurpation of political power by organized religion, an interest that I was delighted to find many deeply religious people share.
I hope you will enjoy what you read here. I also hope that you will find plenty to disagree with, and will say so.
Brief bio and selected accomplishments
Email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com, twitter @paulbraterman, Facebook Paul Braterman. Glasgow University webpage (being constructed at time of writing), https://www.gla.ac.uk/schools/chemistry/staff/paulbraterman/
I have been campaigning to increase public understanding of evolution for more than ten years. My on-line piece, How to slam dunk creationists when it comes to the theory of evolution, has attracted over 650,000 reads on The Conversation, and has been translated into Arabic. I have been a regular contributor to 3 Quarks Daily, and my writing has also appeared in Newsweek, International Business Times, Science Alert, Scientia Salon, Scientific American, Salon.com, PhysOrg, Muslim Heritage, the leading Brazilian webzine Letras & e-Artes, The Clergy Letter Project, Skeptic’s guide to the Universe, pandasthumb.org, and The American Biology Teacher among other places. I am mentioned by name, for my role in successful campaigns in England and Scotland to block the teaching of creationism as science, in The Guardian, The Independent, The Scotsman, and the [Glasgow] Herald. A report on this campaigning attracted 290,000 “likes” on the FaceBook page I F***ing Love Science, and my Skeptics Guide to the Universe podcast on the subject has been downloaded over 100,000 times. I have been singled out for attack by Answers in Genesis, by Creation Ministries International, by the Institute for Creation Research, and by the neo-creationist Discovery Institute Center for Science and Culture. I am currently Honorary Senior Research Fellow, formerly Reader in Chemistry, at the University of Glasgow, and Professor Emeritus, formerly Regents Professor, at the University of North Texas, and the author of over 120 peer-reviewed and invited scientific papers and book chapters. My research has involved me with every branch of chemistry, as well as the geochemistry of the early Earth, and chemistry relevant to the origins of life. I pursued these topics as a visiting scholar at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and at Sandia National Laboratories. My work there and at the University of North Texas was supported by NASA’s Exobiology and Astrobiology initiatives and the (US) National Science Foundation, and I was part of the panel that advised NASA on the setting up of its Astrobiology Research Centers. I hold one undergraduate degree (First Class Honors MA in Chemistry) and two graduate degrees (DPhil, DSc) from the University of Oxford (DPhil is the equivalent of PhD, DSc is a career recognition degree for significant contributions to knowledge). My writing has been praised by Alice Roberts (biologist, Professor of professor of public engagement in science, Birmingham), Jim Al-Khalili FRS (Professor of Theoretical Physics and of Public Engagement in Science, Surrey), the cosmologist Eric Chaisson (Harvard), Roald Hoffmann (author, poet, Nobel Laureate chemist, Cornell), Abbas Raza (his editor at 3 Quarks Daily), Glenn Branch and Eugenie Scott of the (US) National Center for Science Education, Michael Zimmerman, director of the Clergy Letter Project whose 13,000 members celebrate evolution as God’s handiwork, Tom Flynn of the Council for Secular Humanism, the educators Michael Reiss (UCL) and James Williams (Sussex), Christine Janis (Professor emerita, evolutionary biology, Brown University), the novelist-historian of ideas Rebecca Stott, David Sloan Wilson (biologist at Binghampton; co-founder of the Evolution Institute) and the philosophers Massimo Pigliucci (CUNY) and Maarten Boudry (Ghent), among others. I am now interested in sharing scientific ideas, and scientific ways of thinking, with the broadest possible audience. I have spoken about evolution, creationism, and related matters at the Edinburgh International Science Festival, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the Glasgow Galilean Society, Glasgow and Dundee Skeptics in the Pub, and the Conway Hall Ethical Society, and have twice given evidence to the Scottish Parliament. I am an unbeliever, but concerned to buildbridges to science-accepting believers, and am a member of The Clergy Letter Project’s List of Scientific Consultants. His first non-technical book, From Stars to Stalagmites – How Everything Connects, World Scientific, Singapore, 2012, was well received (Royal Society of Chemistry’s Chemistry World, Societa’ Italiana di Physica), was described by Roald Hoffman as “A superb combination of history and scientific explanation!”, and was a Scientific American book club selection.
I testified to the Scottish Parliament Public Petitions Committee on behalf of the Scottish Secular Society’s petition regarding the teaching of Creationism in Scottish schools, a petition that attracted international attention, and led the Scottish Government to clearly state, for the first time, that Creationism is not valid science and should not be taught as such.
My public appearances include Edinburgh International Science Festival (2011, 2012, and 2013), Edinburgh Festival Fringe (2011), Ggow Galilean Society (2011), Glasgow and Dundee Skeptics in the Pub and Glasgow and Dundee Humanists (2011 – 2015), Conway Hall Ethical Society (2014), and Pint Of Science Glasgow (2014) on topics including the age of the Earth, current thinking on the origins of life, the significance of Darwin, the creationist assault on science education, the evolution of morality, and the future of religion.