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Why creationism bears all the hallmarks of a conspiracy theory

A friend asked me why I bother about creationism. This article spells out my reasons. It has had some 150,000 reads since first published in The Conversation in February, and has been featured in Snopes and Yahoo! News, and attacked by Ken Ham and Bodie Hodge of Answers in Genesis, Jake Hebert Ph.D [sic] at the Institute for Creation Research, and others.
A replica of Noah’s Ark from the biblical tale at the Ark Encounter theme park in Kentucky. Lindasj22/Shutterstock

Many people around the world looked on aghast as they witnessed the harm done by conspiracy theories such as QAnon and the myth of the stolen US election that led to the attack on the US Capitol Building on January 6. Yet while these ideas will no doubt fade in time, there is arguably a much more enduring conspiracy theory that also pervades America in the form of young Earth creationism. And it’s one that we cannot ignore because it is dangerously opposed to science.

In the US today, up to 40% of adults agree with the young Earth creationist claim that all humans are descended from Adam and Eve within the past 10,000 years. They also believe that living creatures are the result of “special creation” rather than evolution and shared ancestry. And that Noah’s flood was worldwide and responsible for the sediments in the geologic column (layers of rock built up over millions of years), such as those exposed in the Grand Canyon.

Book cover of The Genesis Flood, The Biblical Flood and its Scientific Implications.

Such beliefs derive from the doctrine of biblical infallibility, long accepted as integral to the faith of numerous evangelical and Baptist churches throughout the world, including the Free Church of Scotland. But I would argue that the present-day creationist movement is a fully fledged conspiracy theory. It meets all the criteria, offering a complete parallel universe with its own organisations and rules of evidence, and claims that the scientific establishment promoting evolution is an arrogant and morally corrupt elite.

This so-called elite supposedly conspires to monopolise academic employment and research grants. Its alleged objective is to deny divine authority, and the ultimate beneficiary and prime mover is Satan.

Creationism re-emerged in this form in reaction to the mid-20th century emphasis on science education. Its key text is the long-time best seller, The Genesis Flood, by John C Whitcomb and Henry M Morris. This provided the inspiration for Morris’s own Institute for Creation Research, and for its offshoots, Answers in Genesis and Creation Ministries International. [Note added: Ken Ham points out in his rebuttal that Answers in Genesis arose independently of the Institute for Creation Research, and that his article concerning denial of divine authority, cited in the previous paragraph and below, does not mention Satan by name.]

Ken Ham, the founder and chief executive of Answers in Genesis, is also responsible for the highly lucrative Ark Encounter theme park and Creation Museum in Kentucky. As a visit to any of these websites will show, their creationism is completely hostile to science, while paradoxically claiming to be scientific.

Demonising and discrediting

These are common conspiracy theory tactics at play. Creationists go to great lengths to demonise the proponents of evolution, and to undermine the overwhelming evidence in its favour.

There are numerous organisations, among them Biologos, the American Scientific Affiliation, the Faraday Institute, and the Clergy Letter Project, which describes themselves as “an endeavour designed to demonstrate that religion and science can be compatible”, that is, promoting evolution science within the context of religious belief. Even so, creationists insist on linking together the separate topics of evolution, materialist philosophy, and the promotion of atheism.

According to Answers in Genesis, evolution science is a work of Satan, while former US Congressman Paul Broun has described it as “a lie straight from the pit of hell”. When he said that, by the way, he was a member of the House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.

Like other conspiracy theorists, creationists immunise themselves from fact-based criticism. They label the study of the past as based on unprovable assumptions, thus disqualifying in advance the plain evidence of geology.

They then attack other evidence by focusing on specific frauds, such as Piltdown man – a hoax skeleton purportedly of a missing link between humans and other apes that was debunked more than 60 years ago – or the dinosaur-bird amalgam “Archaeoraptor”, discredited by sharp-eyed scientists before ever making it into the peer-reviewed literature (although not before making it into National Geographic).

One favourite target is Ernst Haeckel, whose pictures of embryos, published in 1874, are now considered to be seriously inaccurate. However, they do correctly draw attention to what most matters here: the features shared during development by different organisms – including humans – such as gill arches, a long tail, and eyes on the side rather than the front of the head, confirming they have a common ancestry.

Haeckel’s name appears on the Answers in Genesis website 92 times. He is also the subject of a lengthy chapter in Jonathan Wells’ Icons of Evolution; Science or Myth?. This book, which even has its own high school study guide, was what first convinced me, back in 2013, that creationism was a conspiracy theory.

More from The Conversation’s Expert guide to conspiracy theories here.

It is a splendid example of creationist tactics, using long-rectified shortcomings (such as those in early studies on Darwinian evolution in peppered moths, in response to changing colours following reduced pollution) to imply that the entire science is fraudulent. Wells has a real PhD in biology, a PhD acquired with the specific goal of “destroying Darwinism” – meaning evolution science – from the inside.

Wells is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, a conservative thinktank which promotes creationism under the banner of “Intelligent Design”, and is also linked to other conspiracy theories, such as claims that the consensus on climate change is bogus, and that last November’s US presidential election was stolen. An article by a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute on the subject has now being removed from its website, but can be found here.

A series of graphics indicating seven contributing parts of a conspiracy theory.
How those fighting science denial break down reasoning of conspiracy theories. JohnCook@skepticalscience, Author provided

What next?

Conspiracy theories are always driven by some underlying concern or agenda. The theory that Obama’s birth certificate was a forgery, or that the 2020 US election was stolen, are about political legitimacy and will fade as the politicians promoting them fade from memory. The idea that COVID-19 does not exist is proving a little harder to dislodge, but scientists, such as those behind Respectful Insolence, are organising to fight back on science denial and misinformation.

I fear that the creationist conspiracy theory will not be so short-lived. It is driven by a deep-seated power struggle within religious communities, between modernists and literalists; between those who regard scripture as coming to us through human authors, however inspired, and those who regard it as a perfect supernatural revelation. And that is a struggle that will be with us for a long time to come.

Can we trust radiocarbon dating? Update; full paper available

Full paper cited here now publicly available at

Primate's Progress

Willard Frank Libby, inventor of the method

Can we trust radiocarbon dating? Young Earth creationists tell us that we can’t. After all, it makes the same range of assumptions as other radiometric dating methods, and then some. Other methods benefit from internal checks or duplications, which in the case of radiocarbon dating are generally absent. There are numerous cases where it appears to give absurdly old ages for young material, while apparent ages of a few tens of thousands of years are regularly reported for material known on other evidence to be millions of years old. So can the Young Earth creationist1 objections be rebutted, and if so how?

The principle of radiometric dating is simple.2 If we know how much of a particular radioactive substance was present when a material formed, how much is still there, and

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Can we trust radiocarbon dating?

Willard Frank Libby, inventor of the method

Can we trust radiocarbon dating? Young Earth creationists tell us that we can’t. After all, it makes the same range of assumptions as other radiometric dating methods, and then some. Other methods benefit from internal checks or duplications, which in the case of radiocarbon dating are generally absent. There are numerous cases where it appears to give absurdly old ages for young material, while apparent ages of a few tens of thousands of years are regularly reported for material known on other evidence to be millions of years old. So can the Young Earth creationist1 objections be rebutted, and if so how?

The principle of radiometric dating is simple.2 If we know how much of a particular radioactive substance was present when a material formed, how much is still there, and Read the rest of this entry

Why are some Christians Young Earth Creationists?

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.)

Peddling and Scaling God and Darwin

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.


As YEC attracted so much more heat than…

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Fossil Wasp Cocoons in Dinosaur Eggs: Complex Ecology Contradicts YEC Flood Geology Hypothesis

Wasps eat spiders eat flies eat broken dinosaur eggs, a fascinating Cretaceous ecosystem. And proof, if such were needed, of the absurdity of the YEC view that dinosaur fossil beds were caused by the poor things getting caught in Noah’s Flood (yes, that really is what they do say: see here.)

Naturalis Historia

What happened to dinosaur eggs that were either abandoned or broke prematurely?  You might think that this is a question that is impossible to answer, but dinosaur eggs have been discovered with intriguing evidence of scavenging of many forms.   By studying the remains of organisms that are preserved in preserved dinosaur eggs paleontologists have discovered compelling evidence that a complex ecology existed during the time of the dinosaurs.

There are thousands of insects and other organisms that specialize in feeding on the eggs of reptiles and birds today.  Insects and other animals are attracted to old or broken eggs either to feed on the eggs themselves or to act as predators on some of these feeders.   One of the most complex relationships involves parasitic wasps that lay eggs on the back, or inside, of spiders or other insects.  When their eggs hatch the larva burrow into the host and consume them from the inside eventually using their carcasses to…

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Evidences for a Young Earth

The persistence of these arguments is amazing, until one remembers that they do not exist for their own sake, but as pretexts for biblical literalism.

What is also remarkable is the degree of distortion. Thus the argument from composition of the oceans was used by Joly in the late 19th Century, and led to an age of some 100,000,000 years; just as unacceptable to the Young Earth brigade as the currently recognised 4.5 billion.

And the argument from rock flow is a boomerang; look closely, as I do in an earlier post, and you can see faulting even in a simple pebble, while faulting on a larger scale is a major geological phenomenon.

Letters to Creationists

Mainstream science holds the earth to be about 4.5 billion years old, with a surface sculpted by geologic processes such as plate tectonics and erosion and sediment deposition operating over many millions of years. In contrast, Young Earth (YE) creationism holds the earth to have been created only about 6,000 years ago, as indicated by a literal interpretation of Genesis. The worldwide Noahic Flood was responsible for laying down most of the earth’s sedimentary rock layers in the span about of one year.

Those who believe the earth to be very old can present observations such as 50,000 annual layers in lake sediments and in glacier ice cores, which appear to be incompatible with a young earth, as we  described earlier in “ Some Simple Evidences for an Old Earth “.

Young Earth creationist organizations such as Answers in Genesis and the Institute for Creation Research counter by presenting various…

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The Appeal of Young Earth Creationism

On the eve of the Scottish Secular Society presentation on teaching to the Scottish Parliament Petitions Committee, Rev Michael Roberts spells out why defending science against evolution denial is such an uphill task. People will go to the stake (literally), rather than renounce the beliefs that define their identity. So what is the way forward? Telling them they are stupid or ill-informed (some are, BTW, some aren’t) does not strike me as a promising strategy.

Peddling and Scaling God and Darwin


Caution Creationists3

Why do so many Christians believe in Creationism when it runs counter to almost all of science and is seen to be nonsense, and even dishonest, by non-creationists, whether Christian or not?

This cannot be understood without grasping the deeply–felt reasons for believing what many scientists think nonsense. YEC provides the “scientific” capping to a “biblical Worldview”. This Worldview provides an all-embracing outlook on life and integrates every aspect of their lives. It also enables one to oppose non-Christian Worldviews and to be confident in the “Culture Wars

The most important reason for accepting YEC is not a literal Genesis, but a concern for salvation through Christ. The heart of evangelical faith is redemption through the death of Christ, expressed as Substitutionary Atonement in that Jesus’ death forgives sin and takes away the penalty of death. To some this is dependant on their being…

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Credit Where None is Due; Creationist Colleges and Courses

ScreenHunter_416 Nov. 25 09.21  I am browsing school science textbooks published and marketed by an influential and nationally accredited US university. Here is what I find.[1] Satan wants people to believe in evolution. This is probably the main reason that evolution is so popular. Evolution relies on processes that cannot be observed, therefore it isn’t a scientific theory but depends on faith. The theory of biological evolution is not true because it contradicts the Bible. Many people believe in the evolutionary theory because they feel it eliminates God and lets them do what they want. Evolutionists are constantly finding evidence that runs counter to their claims, but discard it because of bias. The Flood is a better explanation of the fossil record than evolution. Missing links and common ancestors are absent from the fossil record because these organisms never existed. Sedimentary rock strata are the result of the Flood. Carbon-14 is formed in the upper atmosphere, but settles in the lower due to its increased density. Most dating techniques indicate that the earth is young, not millions of years old. Radiometric dating involves so much guesswork that it is unreliable. Earth Day is the Festival of a false god; but a Christian must be confident that the God who made the world is able to maintain it. And much more in the same vein.

I came across all this rather indirectly. I recently saw a reference to someone, teaching at a non-accredited University in Albuquerque, who described himself as a Fellow of Oxford Graduate School. Having myself, many years ago, tried to become a Fellow of an Oxford college, and dismally failed, I was ready to be impressed. But then it occurred to me that Fellowships are not awarded by Oxford University, but by each of its component colleges. Moreover, despite six years at Oxford and two graduate degrees, I had never heard of the Graduate School as a separate entity. So I decided this was worth looking into. And so it proved. Oxford Graduate School may be of little importance in itself, but it pointed me to a world of absurdities, where a university can only win accreditation by denying scientific reality, where such accreditation is recognised by the US government, and where those at institutions accredited in this way have exerted influence out of all proportion to their numbers.

Oxford Graduate School (OGS), like that place in England where they have been teaching since 1096, has the name “Oxford” in its title, and according to its web site it also calls its doctorate degree D.Phil. rather than Ph.D. And there the resemblance ends.

OGS, according to its Wikipedia entry, has about 100 graduate students. Its website tells us that “Although it has cordial links with various departments and Colleges of the University of Oxford, it has no formal connection with the University,” but its courses include “seminars at … the Bodleian library of the University of Oxford (Oxford, UK).” I expect they hire a room there from time to time, or lead a tour group. Its degree programs “are designed to enable students to become active Christian leaders within their current occupation and spheres of influence. … Studies in the areas of the curriculum combine to qualify students to teach leadership studies at the graduate level and solve problems and resolve conflict in the workplace.”

To qualify, in whose opinion? In the opinion of a body known as the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools (TRACS). TRACS’ published accreditation criteriainclude meeting its definition of Christianity. This requires a Biblical Foundations Statement “which defines its Christian nature by affirming those doctrinal matters to be true which identify it as part of the evangelical tradition in education.” More specifically, TRACS offers the following tenets:

The Bible. The unique divine inspiration of all the canonical books of the Old and New Testaments as originally given, so that they are infallibly and uniquely authoritative and free from error of any sort …

Historicity. The full historicity and perspicuity of the biblical record of primeval history, including the literal existence of Adam and Eve as the progenitors of all people, the literal fall and resultant divine curse on the creation, the worldwide cataclysmic deluge, and the origin of nations and languages at the tower of Babel….

Biblical Creation. Special creation of the existing space-time universe and all its basic systems and kinds of organisms in the six literal days of the creation week.

Satan. The existence of a personal, malevolent being called Satan who acts as tempter and accuser, for whom the place of eternal punishment was prepared, where all who die outside of Christ shall be confined in conscious torment for eternity.

So if you think that the world is more than around 6,000 years old, or that the story of Adam and Eve is an allegory of our complex, flawed moral nature, or that the Earth is not cursed, or that there wasn’t really a world-wide flood, or that the division between the Indo-European and the Semitic-Hamitic language supergroups (to say nothing of Native American and aboriginal Australian languages) goes back to before the building of Babylon, or that there is any truth in the cosmologists’ succession of eras from Big Bang through quark soup to normal matter to galaxy and star formation to the birth of our own third-generation Sun seeded with the elements of dying supernovas, or that the terrestrial continents are not somewhere between 24 and 48 hours older than the Sun and Moon (depending on the exact chronology of Days 3 and 4), or that different kinds of organism share a common ancestry, or that Satan is not a real person, or that unbelievers will escape an eternity of conscious torment, then I’m sorry; you are just not measuring up to TRACS’ high standards.

Who is responsible for this sadistic nonsense? We know the answer; a civil engineer called Henry Morris, co-author of The Genesis Flood, founder of the Institute for Creation Research (ICR), and probably the largest single contributor to the strange 20th Century cult known as Scientific Creationism. As he said on the ICR website,

Because of the prejudice against creation-science, outspoken creationist schools such as ICRGS [Institute for Creation Research Graduate School] used to stand little or no chance of getting recognition through accreditation. But after an eleven-year effort, involving much prayer and hard work, as well as strong opposition, TRACS finally gained  acceptance by the U.S. Department of Education and then by CHEA (Council on Higher Education Accreditation), the umbrella organization serving all accrediting bodies.

Acceptance by the U.S. Department of Education stems from a surprising 1991 decision taken, in the face of advice, by Lamar Alexander, Bush Sr.’s Education Secretary at the time. It may be relevant that he is an elder of the Westminster Presbyterian Church, whose Covenant states

In accordance with the Holy Scriptures, we promise to proclaim creationism within the space of six normal length 24 hour days (Gen. 1:1 to 2:3; Ex. 20:11). We reject all other views of creation, including day age and framework hypothesis.

Lamar Alexander, wearing signature plaid shirt while campaigining

Whatever the reasons are for Alexander’s commitment to this position, stupidity is not among them. He is Phi Beta Kappa (the most intellectually prestigious of all US Honor Societies), J.D. from New York University’s Law School, and sometime Visiting Professor at Harvard. I can only suggest that the belief is functioning as a badge of group membership, further emphasised here by the use of words like “Covenant” and “proclaim”. On this view, for which I claim no originality, the belief should be considered as the price to be paid for belonging. If so, it has to be implausible, so that membership is not too cheap.

Accreditation will spell credibility, for those who don’t know better. It also conveys material advantages, since students at an accredited institution are eligible for educational grants and loans. ICGRS closed its doors in 2010, in large part because Texas doesn’t recognize TRACS. Its offspring, the School of Biblical Apologetics, survives. Its principles include belief in an everlasting fire for unbelievers, and, following the ICR tenets, that

There are many scientific evidences for a relatively recent creation of the earth and the universe, in addition to strong scientific evidence that most of the earth’s fossiliferous sedimentary rocks were formed in an even more recent global hydraulic cataclysm.

However, the School realises that this evidence may not be strong enough for any Texas-recognised accreditation agency.

TRACS, meantime, continues to exist, and to accredit, and at the time of writing lists 55 separate institutions as accredited and 10 candidates. Liberty University, which I have written about elsewhere, carried its accreditation from 1984 to 2008, when it resigned; this establishment requires all students to undergo a course in “Origins”, taught from a Young Earth Creationist perspective. Membership, however, was purely symbolic, since its primary accreditation comes from the normally respectable Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACC). (Disclosure – it is SACC that accredits the University of North Texas, where I worked for many years.) The resignation, I suspect, was just one move in the strange feud between the Creation Research Institute and Answers in Genesis.

Patrick Henry College (photo Patrick McKay, through Wikipedia)

Two universities accredited by TRACS and nobody else captured my particular attention. Patrick Henry College was established in large part to meet the needs of the home schooled, specifically those who had been taught according to “Christian” (i.e. politically right-wing creationist) curricula. Students are required to subscribe to the College’s Statement of Faith, which declares among other things that

Satan exists as a personal, malevolent being who acts as tempter and accuser, for whom Hell, the place of eternal punishment, was prepared, where all who die outside of Christ shall be confined in conscious torment for eternity.

Trustees, Administrators, and Faculty are, in addition, required to subscribe to statements of Biblical Worldview and its applications, according to which

Husbands are the head of their wives just as Christ is the head of the church.

God created man in a distinct and supernatural creative act, forming the specific man Adam from non-living material, and the specific woman Eve from Adam. The first man and woman were therefore the progenitors of all people, and humans do not share a common physical ancestry with earlier life forms. (Biblical Worldview)

PHC in particular expects its biology faculty to … teach creation as both biblically true and as the best fit to observed data. (Biblical Worldview Applications)

Notice; creation is to be taught, not only as the revealed truth, but also as the best available science.

The College has around 450 students. With such small numbers, and such atavistic beliefs, you might imagine it to be a fringe institution of no importance. You would be wrong. The trustees include Janet Ashcroft, wife of John Ashcroft who was US Attorney General during George W. Bush’s first term as President, and the College sent seven interns to the Bush White House, as many as Georgetown University, a world-class institution with over 15,000 students.

Nor do the graduates lack impact. The College reports that “one year after Commencement, approximately 54% of graduating seniors who had applied to graduate/law school were accepted to one of their top three choices”, while others have positions as associate producers at news outlets, or as editors in publishing houses. The College may have only a weak grasp of the last two centuries of scientific or biblical scholarship, but seems to have a very good understanding of networking and the nature of power.

Finally, Bob Jones University (BJU), whose no doubt lucrative press is responsible for the statements listed in my first paragraph. A sometime powerhouse in Republican politics (both George W. Bush and Ron Paul spoke there while campaigning), although it has more recently taken a back seat. This is also accredited by TRACS and no one else.[2] It has a relatively short written Doctrinal Statement, which specifies belief in “the creation of man by the direct act of God”, and spoken messages referring this to the literal Garden of Eden story. Bob Jones gave the Rev Ian Paisley an honorary degree, in 1966.

How do you manage to teach science at degree level while maintaining this position? By an ingenious combination of spiritual blackmail, quote mining, misrepresentation, obfuscation, and selection of sources, all on open display in the BJU website section, Christian Teaching of Science. Here we learn that

[T]he Christian teacher of science … must have firmly implanted in his mind a biblical framework of truth which serves as the touchstone for his decision making. True science will fit that framework; anything that fails to fit the biblical framework must be rejected as erroneous.

Thus we are told that radiometric dates are unreliable because they are outliers and disagree with Kelvin’s cooling rate estimates (described [!] as being anywhere between some 40 million and a few thousand years), and that the sedimentation rate estimate of tens of millions of years fails to take into account the effects of Noah’s Flood. As for the fossil record, “taken on [sic] a whole, the fossil record makes a dramatic statement against evolution.” For example, Archaeopteryx had fully formed feathers, with no precursors. Even cosmology supports biblical creation, because, as the section revealingly labeled “Distinctiveness” tells us,

[O]nly degenerative processes are observed in stars and interstellar clouds. Nevertheless, it is speculated that such clouds are capable of organizing themselves into stars, a suggestion that flies squarely in the face of three and a half centuries of telescopic observations. Regrettably, evolutionary theory has been exalted to the point where men trust it more than their own eyes.

From a scientific standpoint, evolution is at best an unsupportable and unworkable hypothesis, at worst a reprehensible lie that … runs exactly counter to the actual observations. Organic evolution, if it were ever to occur, would require the violation of certain well-established principles of genetics and thermodynamics. Paleontology (the study of fossils) likewise militates strongly against evolution: the mediating links required by the hypothesis are systematically missing from the fossil record.

In reality, of course, radiometric dating uses multiple cross-comparisons between different methods, all scientific methods since the mid-1800s have given ages (free abstract here) in at least the tens of millions of years, Flood stratigraphy is incompatible with three centuries of detailed geological observations, and what we know about the evolution of feathers would fill a book. As for the last comment quoted, its conflation of astronomy with evolution is the least of its problems. Whoever wrote it must have been either strangely unaware of the Hubble telescope observations of stellar nurseries, and also of the long established richness of the fossil record itself, or else deliberately lying.

The political agenda is also close to the surface. Consider, for example, what the same web page has to say about environmentalism:

The modern environmentalist movement has its roots in pantheism, materialism, and evolutionism…. Only when we realize that environmentalism is part of the humanist’s religion can we begin to understand the zeal with which he pursues it.

It would take a very courageous and resilient student, well informed about current science, to emerge unscathed from four years of this kind of nonsense, and such a student would be unlikely to have chosen BJU in the first place.

LifeSciScanned at 23-11-2013 17-19

Should we be concerned by all this, given that the University has fewer than 3,000 undergraduate students on campus? Yes, for many reasons. Its main impact is through distance learning, at both school and college level. BJU Press produces books aimed at all school levels, supplemented by homeschooling kits and a testing service. It is no accident that BJU’s own positions echo those in the school textbooks that I cited at the beginning of this article, since it was BJU that produced all of them,[1] and these books are used, worldwide, by over a million students. And the cooling time argument for a young Earth, taught at BJU, was trotted out again this November in an attempt to sabotage the Texas schoolbook adoption process. These things matter.

[1] All from Bob Jones University Press. Satan … popular; Life Science for Christian Schools, 2nd ed., 1999 (LSCS) 161. Evolution … faith; LSCS 22. The … Bible; LSCS 146. Many people … want; LSCS 133. Evolutionists … bias; The Physical World etc. for Christian Schools, 2000 (PWCS) 12. The Flood … existed; LSCS 150. Sedimentary … old; Earth Science for Christian Schools, 2nd ed., 1999 (ESCS) 261, 265-6.  Radiometric dating … unreliable; LSCS 159, PWCS 125, ESCS 269. Earth Day … maintain it. Science 6 for Christian Schools 236. The Professor whose name is on the flyleaf of ESCS promised pn 6 December 2013 to forward my concerns to his colleagues, but they have not as yet responded.

[2] The Greenville News reported in 2011 that BJU would seek accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, but I can find no more recent live links, other than hostile commentators. Some of its programmes, however, are recognised by professional bodies.

Earlier version posted at:

Petition to end Church appointments to Scots education committees; answer to objections

I have written here and here in favour of Edinburgh Secular Society’s petition to remove the requirement for Scottish councils to accept unelected church nominees church nominees on their Education Committees (you can see and sign the petition here; details of existing nominees are here). Why such a requirement exists at all is a question for legal historians, but I note that there is a parallel requirement in England, and that the relevant legislation for Scotland (here) is pre-devolution. I suspect all this is a hangover from the merging of church and public schooling in the 19th and early 20th century.

        The Rev. Ian Galloway, Convener of the Church of Scotland Church and Society Council, claimed on BC Scotland Newsnight that the petition would deprive Education Committees of valuable input. Not true, your Reverence.

Rev. Ian Galloway

The arguments against the requirement are obvious. Most Scots (most English, for that matter) don’t even know about it (I didn’t myself until recently), and would be as dismayed about it as I am. It is not a trivial matter, since the religious representatives actually hold the balance of power in 19 of Scotland’s 32 Council Education Committees, a situation likely to continue in the current fluid state of Scottish politics. The religious representatives cannot but have a dual loyalty; to their duty as citizens, and to their duty as representatives of one particular worldview, and of an organisation with material and political interests of its own. It provides a kind of dual representation to those who happen to belong to one of the favoured religious groups, since they can present their case to their ecclesiastical representative, as well as to their elected councillor. Finally, and most seriously, it is an affront to democracy, and to the principle that Government should represent the interests of the people, rather than those of particular organisations or pressure groups.

But no one gives up power without a struggle, and we can already see the lines on which the religious establishment will oppose this change. The representatives of religion, we are already being told, have a special caring concern for the spiritual development of the young. They bring a special perspective to bear. They give generously of their time. They proffer the benefits of their wisdom and experience. Finally, it would be an infringement of religious freedom to debar them from contributing in this way, and yet another example of what they would have us believe to be an emerging anti-religious intolerance.

None of these arguments will stand up for inspection. Firstly, and most importantly, there is no suggestion that anyone be debarred from anything. Legislation gives councils broad powers to co-opt members to committees, if they so choose, and indeed it is customary to have teachers and parents represented on Education Committees. In exactly the same way, councils would remain free to invite church representatives to join them on these committees if they wished to do so. Indeed any such invitees would be in a stronger moral position than those mandated under present legislation. They would be there because  councillors had chosen them, and those councillors themselves are answerable to their electorates, rather than to some external authority. Their religious positions cannot be assumed to automatically bestow on them any particular kind of wisdom or virtue, and it is all too easy to point to instances where the representatives of religion have shown neither. In this context, scandal aside, I would draw attention to the open conflict between the Bishops Council, which controls sex education in Catholic denominational schools, and bodies concerned about the quality of such education, including the educational arm of the National Health Service. I would also point out that several church nominees espouse Young Earth creationism, in direct contravention of Scottish Government policy, the curriculum, and indeed the whole of established science. Whether these representatives are donating their time, or whether they regard committee membership as part of their professional ecclesiastic duties, is a minor matter, although it does again raised the question of dual loyalties. If they bring a special perspective to bear, the same could be said of nurses, social workers, policemen, or drug dealers. There is nothing intolerant about questioning religious privilege, and indeed many sincere believers regard such privilege as corrupting to Church and State alike.

For the reasons given in my second paragraph here, I would argue that the existence of unelected church representation would be unacceptable, even in a nation of believers. In a Scotland where over one third of the population, and an actual majority of the young, reject all religious affiliation, it is inexcusable.

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No evidence for evolution, says the Reverend

The Rev David Blunt is Minister at North Uist and Grimsay Free Church of Scotland (Continuing), Bayhead, North Uist, not to be confused (Heaven forbid!) with the benighted folks at North Uist, Grimsay, and Berneray Free Church of Scotland, Carinish.

He subscribes to a catechism that states that unless God arbitrarily decides otherwise, I (he, too, come to think of it) am “foreordained to dishonour and wrath, … to the praise of the glory of his (God’s,not the Reverend’s) justice” because of the guilt of Adam’s first sin, rendering us liable to “everlasting separation from the comfortable presence of God, and most grievous torments in soul and body, without intermission, in hell-fire for ever.”

If he really believes that  that is what he believes and preaches, that is no one’s business but his own and his congregations (although I would have grave misgivings should he be preaching such sadistic doctrine to children.)

The Reverend also believes that the devil seeks to confuse us through the teaching of evolution, and  that everything was created over a period of six days, and in order to justify this belief he takes from time to time to the pages of the Hebridean News, where he tells us that

The notion that evolution is responsible for a process of development in living things, beginning with microbes and leading ultimately to men, must be rejected as there is not a single proven fact to support it.

I initially responded,

The Rev David Blunt says that “there is not a single proven fact” to support evolution. If he goes to the website he will find, spelt out in detail, 29 separate arguments and hundreds of supporting facts that show that evolution is true. If he goes to the Biologs website, and looks up Dennis Venema, he will find a brilliant explanation of all this by a  devout evangelical.

If the Rev does not choose to inform himself about the facts,that is his business. But he denies their existence, he is bearing false witness.

The Reverend is clearly a fast reader, since within two days he had digested the 60 or so sections in talkorigins, and Dennis Venema’s excellent 28-part series. And so he was able to reply:

The sort of ‘facts’ which are essential for the theory of evolution to be true include the following: the existence of mutations representing the increase in genetic information necessary to arrive at more advanced life forms; the existence of life forms (extant or extinct) which are obviously transitional in character; the existence of billions of years of time.

Mutations … overwhelmingly detrimental… We still look in vain for specimens which are intermediate between one life form and another. The fossil record, which Darwin expected to provide examples of missing links, has yet to yield them.

Aeons of time are crucial to the theory of evolution yet it cannot be proved that the earth is billions of years old: indeed many scientific facts point to a much younger earth… [Evolution] must be able to account not simply for microbes to men but molecules to men – or even more precisely – particles to people. In other words it must be able to explain how life can arise from non-life. That is a real leap of faith!

There is no observable evidence for the theory of evolution. It is not testable over time and cannot be verified.

My response:

To pretend that biological evolution has to include an explanation of the origins of life is at best mistaken, at worst dishonest. Consider that before the 1950s, we did not know the origin of atoms. Nonetheless, atomic theory had been the central concept of chemistry since before the 1820s. Similarly, we do not know the origins of life, but evolution has been the central concept of biology since before the 1870s.

No one doubts that most mutations are harmful. A few of them do increase fitness. Harmful mutations are bred out, while fitness-enhancing mutations spread. It’s really that simple. Indeed, the whole of plant and animal breeding is one vast demonstration of evolution, albeit evolution directed by us rather than by the pressures of the natural environment. The Rev Blunt admits the occurrence of evolution under the pressure of artificial selection. How then can he claim that it is in principle impossible under natural selection, or that evolution has never been verified?

Australopithecus afarensis skull, through
Museums are full of intermediate forms, if not the great-great-grandparents of living species, then at any rate their great-uncles. If the Rev cares to visit  (free article) he will find a whole series of intermediates between land mammals and present-day whales. If he visits the Smithsonian museum‘s site at, he will find out about over a dozen extinct species intermediate between apes and modern humans. If evolution is not true, why were these intermediates ever created?The age of the Earth is dated at over 4 billion years using some half-dozen different radiometric techniques. These the Rev Blunt will find explained, by an evangelical Christian, at “Radiometric Dating – A Christian Perspective“. We have known since 1928 that radioactive decay rates depend on the general laws of physics. If these had been different 4 billion years ago, the rocks wouldn’t have formed in the first place. If they had been almost 1000 fold faster in the past, as Young Earth creationists must claim, the rocks would have been melted by the heat produced.

I conclude by pointing out that the fossil record clearly shows that whales are descended from land mammals. Yet Genesis states that whales were created on Day 5, and land mammals on Day 6. One of two things follows. Either Genesis is not, and was never meant to be, a science textbook. Or God has deliberately deceived us by creating a highly detailed but totally misleading fossil record.
This is a choice that each of us has to make in our own way. There are no alternatives.
I predict that the Reverend will reply, challenging me to turn a bacterium into a biochemist within the timescale of a research grant.
Update: Actually, rereading his material, I see that he did better than that, accusing me of clutching at whiskers (that’s a good line, I think I’ll use it) in my discussion of whale phylogeny, repeating the claim, long since refuted,  that data from Mt St Helen’s shows radiometric dating to be unreliable, and finally asserting that the only valid evidence is eye-witness evidence.
There is no eye-witness evidence of the Ice Ages, which helped shape the mountains of North Uist. Does the reverend therefore think they never happened?
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