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.
Email email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org, twitter @paulbraterman, Facebook Paul Braterman. Glasgow University webpage (being constructed at time of writing), https://www.gla.ac.uk/schools/chemistry/staff/paulbraterman/
I spent most of my career at Glasgow University and the University of North Texas, and now live in Glasgow. I hold one undergraduate and two graduate degrees from Oxford, have published over 120 scientific papers and book chapters and two specialist books, and have been cited in the primary literature over 4,000 times. I am on the committees of the British Centre for Science Education (BCSE; see also here ) and of the Scottish Secular Society (see also here), and my past collaborations include NASA’s Astrobiology Center, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and the Sandia/UNM Advanced Materials Laboratory. I have been a regular contributor to 3 Quarks Daily, and have posted in Scientia Salon and many times in The Beacon, house organ of New Mexico Coalition for Excellence in Science Education, and in Reports of New Mexicans for Science and Reason, the BCSE blog and newsletter, and (occasionally) pandasthumb.
I have been making a special study of creationism since I first encountered it when teaching in Texas. This study has included extended correspondence with creationists, reading the foundational creationist literature and the ongoing output of creationist web sites, engagement with creationists in social media, and correspondence with schoolteachers on both sides of the Atlantic and (with the help of the Clergy Letter Project) ministers of religion, in order to learn more about what arguments are actually used by creationists, why creationists regard them as valid, and what might be involved in opening their minds to other possibilities. I have given testimony at the Scottish Parliament, and helped elicit from the Scottish Government clear language against the teaching of creationism in science classes (for details search this site for “petition”).
My first non-technical book, From Stars to Stalagmites, was a Scientific American book club choice. I have been a regular contributor to 3 Quarks Daily, where some of the pieces on this blog first appeared, and my writing has appeared in The Conversation, The [London] Times, Scientific American, Newsweek, International Business Times, Science Alert, Massimo Pigliucci’s Scientia Salon, Salon.com, Phys. Org, Muslim Heritage, The Panda’s Thumb, and the leading Brazilian webzine Letras & e-Artes. One of my pieces, How to slam dunk creationists when it comes to the theory of evolution, has attracted over 650,000 reads on The Conversation and Yahoo! News, and has been translated into Arabic by the Iraqi Translation Project. 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 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), Glasgow 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.