Relative dating from sedimentology dates back some 200 years, as beautifully explained here by my friend, field geologist and Anglican priest, Michael Roberts, with illustrations from what he has seen himself, while we have now had absolute radiometric dates for over a century. Index fossils are used only to establish that rocks are the same age, and the way creationists manage to forget this fact is indeed miraculous.
This piece gains added interest because of its first-hand accounts, both of geological exploration, and of attempts to persuade creationists to accept the results.
This incredibly duplicitous meme appeared on my twitter feed today. Fri 13th Jan 2017
Evolution is wrong as it is a circular argument from the age of fossils worked out from evolution
Yes, it is the old chestnut of Young Earthers that the age of rocks is based on a circular argument from evolution. It took me back to 1971 when I made the felicitous mistake of going to L’Abri to sit at the feet of the evangelical guru Francis Schaeffer. I arrived ther all bright-eyed and bushy tailed thinking of all the wondrous things I would learn in the next four weeks. I learnt much but not what I had expected.
On my first morning i was sent to Shaeffer’s son-in-law Udo Middlemann to discuss what I would study. I explained that I was going into the Anglican ministry and had just returned from 3 years working as an…
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Young Earth Creationism is not just a belief, but proof of allegiance to a very special group, the Real Christians (or, I now fear, Real Jews or Real Muslims). Once a belief assumes this function, rational criticism is counter-effective.
(Of course you and I, dear reader, are not as others are, and would never allow our allegiances to shape our beliefs.)
It baffles many people whether Christian or not why some Christians are Young Earth Creationist, with a belief in a 10,000 year old earth and rejection of evolution. It cannot be denied that Young Earth Creationism has caused bad relationships among Christians, influenced education and results in much mockery from some. A major reason for the friction is that YEC’s claim explicitly or implicitly that the majority of Christians who accept modern science with the vast age of the earth and evolution are at best naughty or heretical Christians.
With YEC making inroads into churches (including the Church of England) and trying to call the shots over education in all parts of the world, it is best to know what they believe and why they do as they go against all scientific teaching and what most churches actually believe.
WHAT YOUNG EARTH CREATIONISM IS;
As YEC attracted so much more heat than…
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A lengthy scholarly discussion by my friend Michael Roberts of the concept of design, from Paley to the present day, making important distinctions between different concepts of design, and placing the Intelligent Design (ID) movement in context. The author, a geologist and historian (and CofE priest), argues that Paley’s concept of the individual design of organisms was obsolete long before Darwin, given the discoveries of deep time and the rich sequential fossil record. Present-day ID is a curious hybrid, and its evolution is discussed in some detail. However, neither the refutation of Paley nor the demolition of ID affect broader design arguments, such as that from fine-tuning or the glory of the natural world. (Disclosure: as my friends will know, I do not find these latter arguments convincing, but I do consider them worthy of respect, and have criticised attempts to use them as justification for evolution-denying creationism, which is not.)
A SHORT HISTORY OF DESIGN Michael Roberts
The first thing I should do is to define what Design is. That would be no easy task as the word is used in so many different ways to mean so many different things. I hope some of the variety of meanings comes clear in this paper. Part of the confusion is that Design can be synonymous with the teleological argument for the existence of God, but often it is more restricted to biological structures. Hence Design means different things to different people. Distinguishing between these meanings is important as confusion reigns when one switches from one to another. To give a rough typology there are four types of design;
1 Design of the universe; – front-loading or teleological (fine tuning)
2. Guidance of natural processes through history; Asa Gray
3. Ahistorical recognition of biological structures as designed; Hooke, Paley,
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Casey Luskin has just announced his departure from the Discovery Institute, in order to further his studies. We will miss the enlightenment that he brings. For example, in his farewell piece, he tells us that
Evolutionary biologists are now admitting we need “post-Darwinian” models to explain the Cambrian explosion.
Casey is right; we really do need “post-Darwinian” models to explain the Cambrian explosion. Things like Mendelian inheritance, mutation, population genetics, and, in this context, palaeogeochemistry, which is why evolutionary biologists have been decidedly post-Darwinian since around 1905.
Casey does not tell us what he is going to study, but I rather hope that it will be chemistry. Then, in due course, he will be fully equipped to explain to us that Dalton couldn’t even get the structure of water right, that Faraday’s electrical theory of bonding needs to be revised in the light of quantum mechanics, that many of the postulated intermediates in chemical reactions have never even been observed, that (as predicted by Intelligent Alchemy) many of Lavoisier’s elements turn out not to be elements at all, and that our schools should allow students to evaluate for themselves the unwarranted metaphysical assumptions of chemical materialism, and the merits of the phlogiston theory.
Disclosure: unlike many far better people, I have been insulted by Casey only once, when he accused me and the British Centre for Science Education of concealing our atheism for tactical reasons. Guilty as charged; we conceal it so well that one of BCSE’s most prominent members at the time, now its official spokesman, is an Anglican priest. Devious, these evolutionists. You need to watch them.
Casey, you will be sadly missed.
Update; more here: http://pandasthumb.org/archives/2016/01/luskin-i-am-lea.html The word is that he will be replaced by Ann Gauger, who knows more biochemistry and therefore has, and uses, a much greater capacity for misunderstanding.
The spectacles are not mine, but those of my good friend Michael Roberts. For what it’s worth I think he underestimates Darwin’s attachment to religion. In his Autobiography (not intended for publication) Darwin says that when he was writing On the Origin of Species, he considered it impossible to conceive of this woderful Universe as the product of mere chance, writing “I feel compelled to look to a First Cause having an intelligent mind to some degree analogous to that of man, and I deserve to be called a Theist.” And he attributed his later agnosticism to doubt as to whether a mind evolved through natural selection was capable of grasping such lofty matters. (A doubt shamefully misrepresented by Plantinga, as I have shown elsewhere, for his own self-serving reasons)
CHARLES DARWIN (1809-1882)
February 12th 2009 saw the bicentenary of Darwin’s birth. Along with Isaac Newton he was one of the greatest British scientists, though his science is still controversial. To some he was a great scientist and to others the devil incarnate!
He was a quiet family man, whose life was marred by illness. He was born into an affluent home in Shrewsbury and went to Cambridge to study for the Anglican ministry. In 1831 he was invited to join the Beagle to sail round the world. That changed his life and the course of science. On that voyage he was more interested in geology and only later “moved” over to biology.
Darwin learned his science at both Edinburgh and Cambridge and some of his student notes survive. His family was scientific and as a teenager he had a well-equipped chemistry lab in an outhouse at the Mount
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Historian geologist school governor priest writes supporting petition against creationism in Scots schools
how creationism should be handled in schools, we can assume he knows what is talking about. And the Scottish Secular Society therefore particularly appreciates his backing of our petition seeking guidance to prevent creationism and Young Earth pseudoscience being taught as fact in Scottish state schools:
This petition closes on September 3, so there is still time to join the Rev Michael, three Nobel Prize scientists, and numerous others in showing your support. As to why you should do so, I cannot do better than let Michael speak for himself:
The vast age of the universe and the earth has been known since the 18th century, and evolution since 1859 or earlier, and thus no science makes sense without these facts. Any worldview which rejects them must clearly be seen as false, including Creationism with its denial of such basic and well-proven science. In the 19th century Scots Presbyterians were in the forefront of accepting both deep time and evolution, from Thomas Chalmers to Henry Drummond, to name but two.
In the past few decades, a strain of thought, variously known as creationism, creation science, flood geology, and Intelligent Design, has arisen, challenging these plain facts. This resurgent creationism has its roots in Seventh Day Adventism, but has now spread to more main-stream churches. Proponents of such creationism are well organised, well funded, and represented by such groups as Creation Science Ministries, Creation ministries International, Truth in Science, and Answers in Genesis, as well as the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, and its Glasgow-based offshoot Centre for Intelligent Design, which may allow for an ancient earth but not evolution.
There has also been an influx of US-based (and occasionally Australia-based) fundamentalist churches, such as West Mains Church, East Kilbride (responsible for the distribution of creationist texts at Kirktonholme), Westwoodhill Evangelical Church (with representatives on the chaplaincy committees of five schools in South Lanarkshire), Craighalbert Church (providing the chaplain for four schools in North Lanarkshire), and Freedom City Church (also North Lanarkshire). In addition, Seventh Day Adventists are also represented on school chaplaincy teams, as are more traditional churches (Baptist, various Presbyterians denominations) that are often influenced by creationism.
It is almost impossible to determine the extent to which such creationism has influenced classroom teaching, especially as many Local Authorities regard the identity and affiliation of school chaplains as protected confidential information for Freedom of Information Act purposes. However, we note with alarm that, in addition to the reasons for concern listed above, the extreme anti-science West Mains Church was allowed to operate for eight years without question, that the Challenger Bus, which carries literature from Answers in Genesis, makes regular visits to many schools, and that at least two schools have organised debates or Q&A sessions with creationist speakers, thus placing creationism on an equal footing with scientific reality.
Present Scottish Government policy is to leave these things to the discretion of individual teachers. This is to place an impossible burden on them, especially as creationist utterances are liable to come from chaplains, who are not part of the teaching establishment, and may be put forward in contexts such as Religious Observance where they could hardly be challenged. Creationists are plausible, and well practice in presenting their arguments. They commonly make direct factual claims, based on spurious science, which pupils (or indeed teachers without a background in biology) will not recognise as the untruths that they are. The creationist tactic is to present their point of view as having an equal claim to be heard, thus appealing to reasonableness and fair play, and to maintain that the kind of policy sought in this petition is an unfair restriction of free speech. We would not accept such an argument in the case of Holocaust denial (or even climate change denial), and should not accept it in the case of evolution denial or old earth denial either.
Rev Michael Roberts, M.A., F.R.Hist.S on behalf of the British Centre for Science Education
Michael has posted an interesting and informative commentary on his submission on his own website. He reminds us that Young Earth creationism was a minority view among Christian churches by the mid-19th century, and that Christians had generally accepted evolution by around 1880. The anti-scientific creationism, and grotesque imaginings of “creation science” and “flood geology”, have their roots in Seventh Day Adventism and have only become at all prominent in more mainstream churches since 1960.
Much that Michael refers to will already be all too familiar to my readers (see e.g. here and here and here), and creationist activities in schools, even before the Kirktonholme scandal, were among the factors leading to the formation of the Scottish Secular Society. Readers will also know of the presence of unelected representatives of religion on the Local Authority Education Committees to which teachers are answerable, and that these are on occasion known to be extreme creationists.
There are some other features that I would mention. Creationism in the UK is closely linked to groups based in the US. Evolution denial is linked to climate change denial, both of which you will find on websites advocating Intelligent Design, and that this is not perhaps surprising when one considers their ultimate sources of finance. It is also worth noting that while the Intelligent Design movement in the US is associated mainly with Old Earth creationism, it has been notably promoted in the UK by Young Earth creationists, and has close links to the Orwellian-titled organisation, Truth in Science, whose distribution of creationist materials to schools led directly to the formation in 2006 of the British Centre for Science Education.
Michael also touches briefly on the question of quasi-compulsory Religious Observance in schools, and the resulting potential for abuse. This was the subject of Scottish Secular Society’s earlier petition, which led to formal reiteration of the oft-neglected guidelines and, more importantly, forced the opening up of debate, across the entire faith spectrum from Calvinists to Humanists, regarding the role of RO. This is just one facet of Scotland’s current process of self examination, which will continue whatever the result of the Referendum ballot.
And we expect the current petition to achieve no less.
By Paul Braterman and Mark Edon. This piece first appeared on November 30, 2012, on the BCSE website.
We write here as individual non-believers in support of the “accommodationist” position taken by the British Centre for Science Education (BCSE), on whose committee both of us serve. We consider that there are over-riding tactical and strategic reasons for this position. As non-believers defending science, we are being unreasonable if we criticise the godly for failing to combat Creationism, and then, for fear of ideological impurity, refuse to link arms with them when they do.
Followers of the political & religious controversy surrounding evolution  will be aware of a subsidiary debate amongst those who do accept modern science, that encompasses such issues as; “Is it possible to believe in god and accept the science?”, “Should the objective of the debate be the acceptance of science or the rejection of god?” and “What is the best way to get people to accept the science?”
The British Centre for Science Education (BCSE), comprising volunteers from science, education and business backgrounds, is a single purpose organisation. Our objective, shared by our members regardless of their religious position, is to keep Creationism out of UK schools. The simple fact is that the Government (in its policy statements at least), other mainstream political parties in the UK, the established Church and other mainstream churches all agree on this. In the UK, only a minority of self-identified Christians think that creationism should be taught, while Young Earth creationists complain that the vast majority of evangelicals reject their doctrine.
The current Coalition Government Free School and Academy programs have given Creationists in the UK opportunities that they had never previously dreamt of and, through what we sincerely hope is mere oversight, July 2012 saw the first crypto-Creationist free school applications approved. They will be getting tax payers’ money to teach children, at the expense of the local authority education budget, although the local authority will have no control over them and at this stage no-one knows what they will teach.
The BCSE wants to campaign against Creationism in a way that unites the widest possible range of opinion and so we don’t campaign for or against any of the following; atheism, religion, faith schools, free schools or academies, although many members and committee members hold strong views on many of these issues.
If you look at the activities of Creationists here in the UK you can see that their main campaigning tactic is to present themselves as Christians making perfectly reasonable requests about education policy, all in the spirit of fairness, whilst being attacked by militant atheists.
So it is in these circumstances that the BCSE campaigns against Creationism with all and any who will agree with us on this issue, regardless of any disagreement on other issues. This means we are neutral on matters of religion and we are glad to work with the religious and non-religious alike. The CrISIS campaign, in which we took part last year, which culminated in a letter to Michael Gove signed by the National Secular Society, Richard Dawkins, Jim Al-Khalili, Susan Blackmore, Andrew Colman, David Colquhoun, Christopher French, Adam Hart -Davis, Julian Huppert MP, The Rev Canon Theologian David Jennings, Steve Jones, Dr Stephen Law, Clifford Longley, the Rev Michael Roberts, Simon Singh MBE, Canon Theologian Keith Ward, and education lecturer James D. Williams, exemplifies this, as did a similarly broad-based subsequent campaign, which we supported, by the British Humanist Association.
BCSE’s experience of working with representatives of the clear majority of the religious population in the UK that accept the science, and our knowledge that UK Creationists unremittingly promote an “Atheists versus Christians” narrative during recruitment and campaigning, has lead us to often repeat the fact that the majority of religious people have no problem with the science.
These two aspects of what we do: 1) working with the religious and non-religious alike, 2) pointing out that accepting the science is fine with the established church and the large majority of the religious, are far from protecting us against criticism.
Creationists still accuse us of promoting an atheistic ideology, and even level this charge against ordained ministers and other committed believers amongst our members but then they do the same to that vast majority of Christians who accept the science, and even the (outgoing) Archbishop of Canterbury is not spared. Some nonbelievers label us “accommodationists” for working with the religious and for not arguing against the existence of god, claiming that because religion is correlated with Creationism the only way to counter Creationism is to campaign against religion. For want of a better label, we will refer to nonbelievers in this camp as “anti-theists”, in the belief that many already call themselves this and that it doesn’t offend or mislead. This seems less clumsy than “anti-accommodationists”. If a better label exists we will happily adopt it. Whilst we are on the subject of labels, we reserve the term “Creationists” for those who deny the well-established science of evolution and common descent, and, in many cases, of an ancient earth and even more ancient Universe. This is quite different from the philosophical creationism that accepts these realities, but sees them as, ultimately, the work of a deity. Some who should know better seem unsure of the difference between these positions and thereby play into the hands of the enemies of reason.
Unfortunately, anti-theists or those who can be labelled as such, when campaigning against Creationism, are vulnerable to the line invariably taken by Creationists that they are just Atheists persecuting Christians. Thus our good friend Richy Thomson, BHAFaithSchools and Education campaigner, found himself outmanoeuvred in a radio phone-in discussion of a proposed Creationist school in Sheffield, when the advocate of Creationism change the terms of debate by pointing out that his opponent was against faith schools and religion in general. Similarly, when a Creationist on Radio Five was asked to say if he wanted Creationism taught in science classes or not, he ignored the question and claimed that the BHA was prejudiced when evaluating the scientific evidence and wanted to restrict the rights of the religious. The correct response would be to point out that the large majority of religious people think that Creationism is silly too, perhaps with some examples but again the point at issue was lost. While only a very tiny minority of people are pushing Creationism into UK schools, they create the illusion of broad support by such muddling of issues.
It is worth stating plainly here that the BCSE neither calls for the religious to give up their faith (indeed, how could it, given the range of opinions in its membership?) nor for the anti-theists to stop campaigning against it.
It seems to us that the Creationists adopt the “Atheist versus Christians” tactic at every available opportunity for two good reasons.
First of all, the conflict and persecution narrative aids recruitment and engenders zeal, especially among the many potential recruits who are at difficult points in their own lives. Creationist organisers know that being part of a valiant band struggling against the odds offers both a sense of belonging and the chance for the leaders to prove their honesty and intelligence by accurately predicting ridicule and rudeness from people outside the group. In this way the weirder the claims, the stronger the ridicule, and the more strongly members are driven into the group. This is why you find so many Creationist groups publicising the fact of their opponents calling them names.
Secondly, and more at issue here, the conflict narrative very often means the public debate can be swiftly moved away from “Creationism is daft” to genuine Atheist versus Christian issues such as faith schools. Creationists know that in such debates they are part of a much larger and more respectable group and readily identify themselves as simply “Christians”.
So how should we proceed?
There seems to be agreement amongst anti-theists and accommodationists that some Creationists can be won over to accept the science, although both sides currently see this as a rare event and base their claims upon anecdotes . Is loss of faith or is accommodation of science with religious belief the reason for such changes of mind? Well, the anecdotes suggest both are possible paths that individuals do travel. However we still have no quantitative data on the reasons why, despite this obviously being of great interest to all.
A recent paper in Evolution Education and Outreach by Southcott and Downie  does give us some hints at data on this topic, but not much more than a reason for more research.
The data relates to biology students at GlasgowUniversity between 1987 and 2011 who rejected evolution. Here are a few highlights but please go and read the thing for yourselves if you are interested.
First of all things that anti-theists and accommodationists agree on:
From the abstract.
“Evolution rejection was closely related to accepting a religion-based alternative, whereas acceptance was related to finding the evidence convincing. Although many religious students accepted evolution, 50% of Islamic students were rejecters, compared to 25% of Christians.”
Anti-theists seem to go on from this to deduce that as Creationism comes from religion you must counter religious belief to counter Creationism. This simply does not follow.
“A question testing acceptance of several scientific propositions showed no evidence that evolution rejecters were generally more skeptical of science than accepters.”
That is surprising, although it could be that evolution rejecters were simply unaware of the full implications of their position. Moving on.
“A breakdown of evolution into three components (human origins, macroevolution, and microevolution) found that some evolution rejecters accepted some components, with microevolution having the highest acceptance and human origins the lowest. These findings are discussed in terms of strategies for evolution education and the phenomenon of evolution rejection worldwide.”
This reflects the common Creationist tactics of claiming to accept micro evolution so as to avoid the appearance of rejecting all evidence out of hand.
Now some highlights from the rest of the paper. Rejection of evolution at GlasgowUniversity is running at between 3.9% and 4.4% in samples taken irregularly between 1987 and 2011 (they used some data from previous studies for comparison) and from the small numbers available it seems that Islamic students are about twice as likely as Christian students to reject evolution.
The overall level of students with a religion was down over the various study years and the association of religion with evolution denial strengthened.
This next bit made us sit up and pay attention (our emphasis);
“All level 4 [now in their final year at uni] rejectors belonged to “low evolution” degree programs. It is clear that for most of them, no amount of scientific evidence would overcome their beliefs, a more entrenched position even than that taken by level 1 rejecters.” (“Low evolution” here describes courses such as psychology or pharmacology, as opposed to, say, zoology.)
So it would appear that logical and evidence based argument is futile with these folks.
This next bit was also very interesting.
“By level 4, our evolution rejection sample size was very small, but the importance of a belief precluding evolution remained the main factor. Our sample size for switching from rejection to acceptance was also small (n=7), but it is fascinating that these students were less affected by scientific evidence than by a realization that evolution and their religious beliefs were not in conflict.”
So for these students in Glasgow, reaching some kind of personal accommodation between the science and their faith was the path to accepting evolution.
This next finding fits in with recent survey findings for the UK population as a whole.
“It is worth emphasizing that, although evolution rejection was strongly associated with holding a religious belief, the majority of believers accepted evolution.”
These are the results of just a few surveys in one university and more research will be required to inform appropriate educational strategies.
In the meantime we have a political battle on our hands and this article lays out the reasons why opponents of Creationism in publicly funded schools in the UK should think carefully about their tactics.
In summary, the reasons for even the most dedicated opponents of religion to adopt accommodationism in the political fight against Creationism are twofold.
- Tactical advantage gained by appealing to a huge majority support by including the religious non Creationists.
- Strategic advantage as the Creationists are denied one of their main recruitment and retention tactics and we give ourselves the best chance of reducing their hardcore support.
Anti-theist groups need no permission from us to continue their own wider campaigns and agendas but they should seriously consider working with an accommodationist umbrella group like the BCSE to maximise their political effectiveness in this particular fight.
As for the situation at the time of writing, BCSE strongly supports the BHA campaign of protest against the recent decision to allow Creationist groups to open Free Schools, while (in accord with the spirit of this article) drawing attention to the fact that the issue here is not religion versus irreligion, but science versus the denial of science.
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1 but which on examination includes the denial of such vast swathes of modern science including physics, earth sciences and cosmology as they all speak to an old earth, plus so many other related disciplines, that one might as well say that such deniers simply reject science.
3 Southcott, R. & Downie, J., Evolution and Religion: Attitudes of Scottish Bioscience Students to the Teaching of Evolutionary Biology, Evolution: Education and Outreach, Springer New York, 1936-6426, pp. 1-11, http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s12052-012-0419-9 , Doi: 10.1007/s12052-012-0419-9