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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.

WHAT YOUNG EARTH CREATIONISM IS;

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

THE APPEAL OF YOUNG EARTH CREATIONISM

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: http://www.3quarksdaily.com/3quarksdaily/2013/11/credit-where-none-is-due-creationist-colleges-and-courses-i-am-browsing-school-science-textbooks-pub.html#sthash.OfkS8h5e.dpuf

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 http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/comdesc/ 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 www.sculpturegallery.com
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 http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs12052-009-0135-2  (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 http://humanorigins.si.edu/evidence/human-fossils/species, 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.

doi.org/10.1016/j.ympev.2012.10.012

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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Reviewed: Young Earth Creationist books handed out in Scottish primary school

DinoPicAa

From Truth be Told, one of the books handed out to children at Kirktenholme Primary

My friends in Scotland will know about how a local Church of Christ sect, with the help of missionaries from the US,  successfully infiltrated a Scottish state non-denominational primary school, were only properly scrutinised (after 8 years of activity) when the school chaplain (a sect member) gave the children two fundamentalist Young earth creationist books to take home, and how the sect has now been barred from that school and the two head teachers who made the mistake of trusting them redeployed.

My American friends will be surprised that a school should have a chaplain, let alone at the rest of these extraordinary goings on, about which I shall have much more to say later. I have read the books given out, and prepared a full report on them, which I attach here.

I had previously, as a backgrounder, sent it to some of the parents, to the school itself, and to the local authority that controls the school, before the local authority education officer met parents to discuss the situation. The immediate problem has been dealt with, but I would like to know what steps the school and the Council plan to take to undo the educational damage inflicted by this.

The books are worse than I could have imagined. A mixture of Morris’s The Genesis Flood, Wells’s Icons of Evolution, and the most bizarre imaginings of Ken Ham‘s Creation Museum, all packaged to look like authoritative school books; the more advanced one even had chapter end review quizzes. I would like to know what steps the school, and the local authority that controls it, plan to take to undo the educational damage inflicted by this.

Anyway, It has occurred to me that I must be one of the few people in the world to have actually submitted himself to the tedium of reading these books from cove to cover, so I thought I’d append my report for those interested: http://www.apologeticspress.org/store/Product.aspx?pid=54  Truth be Told –  and http://www.apologeticspress.org/store/Product.aspx?pid=448 How do we Know God is Real? For these books to be handed out by a school was a betrayal of trust. Their content is contrary to the whole of present-day science, and to the principles and requirements of guidance from the Scottish Department of Education, and the Curriculum for Excellence. Their arguments are a re-hash of a long-refuted “creation science”, a 20th century heresy that has its roots in Henry Morris’s Genesis Flood, and in Seventh Day Adventism, rather than in mainstream Christianity. They are produced by Apologetics Press, the publishing arm of a group of exclusive US sects calling themselves “Churches of Christ”, who “shun” ex-members (http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/mum-tells-how-cult-organisation-2261326) and reject the whole of modern science in favour of their own kind of biblical literalism.

The books are professionally produced, and Truth be Told in particular is formatted in the same way as a real textbook, complete with chapter headings and subheadings, end-of-chapter reviews, quizzes and discussion topics. A diligent pupil receiving these books, as the children at Kirktonholme did, with the blessings of the school, will conclude that the whole of modern cosmology, geology, and biology is fundamentally mistaken, and that those who promulgate it, including their own science teachers, all university biology departments, and all the world’s leading scientific societies, are lying.One particularly nasty feature is that established science is repeatedly misrepresented so as to make it look absurd, and the evidence for it is repeatedly suppressed or, worse, incorrectly described so as to make it seem unconvincing. This is most obviously true in the chapters regarding the age of the earth, the fossil record, and evolution.

The authors have no scientific qualifications. Kyle Butt graduated from a private Churches of Christ university, and his degrees are in Bible and Communications. Eric Lyons’s degrees, from the same university, are in Bible, History, and Ministry.

How do we Know  misdescribes the Big Bang as disorderly (H 14) [1], asserts (H 18 – 39) that because organisms are complex, each species must have been individually designed, and claims (H 40 – 41) that if evolution is true, dogs could give birth to animals that are half-dog and half-cat.

There are also other claims, not strictly scientific, that are repugnant in a pluralist society, such as, that “Only a belief in God can help people understand what actions are truly right and truly wrong.” (H 51); that those who deny the existence of God are “like those people who deny that Americans have ever landed on the moon.” (H 54), that “when a person properly looks at all the evidence with an open mind and honest art, he cannot be an atheist.” (H 55; emphasis in original).

Truth be Told is the worst kind of creationist anti-science, made to look like a real textbook, with chapter end quizzes (sample: Briefly explain why the trilobite is evidence of Creation), claims of fossilised trilobites inside human footprints, that evolutionists are liars who try unsuccessfully to wriggle out of the Second Law, that radiometric dating depends on flawed assumptions, and other long-exploded lies. It says that evolutionists (that would include their own science teachers at school and university) are dishonestly refusing to admit the truth, that the earth is 6,000 years old, that Noah’s flood explains the Grand Canyon, and that people used dinosaurs as beasts of burden. All this presented as real science in a textbook-like format.

Within the first five pages of Truth be Told, I found nine major errors of scientific fact or logic. Even a brief summary of major errors runs to four pages, which I include here for those interested in the detailed arguments. Some of the highlights are:

Ch 1, Origin of the universe, claims that because Big Bangs are not taking place today, the idea is not amenable to scientific testing. False; the Big Bang is accepted because it quantitatively explains Hubble’s Law, the relative abundance of the light elements and their isotopes, the Cosmic Microwave Background and its fluctuations.

Ch 2, Origin of life, describes the unsolved problem of the origin of life as a weakness in the concept of biological evolution. Not so, any more than the unsolved problem of the origin of language is a weakness in the concept of language evolution.

Ch 5, Geology in the fossil record; geological strata are said to be the result of Noah’s flood, and the rapidity of change in special situations, specifically Mount St Helens, is said to argue against the gradualness of average change in general.

Ch 6, The age of the Earth; claims that radiometric decay rates could have been different in the past, although it has been known since 1928 that they could not have, since if they had been all the laws of physics and chemistry, responsible for the formation of rocks, would also have been different.

Ch 7, Dinosaurs and man, says that humans and dinosaurs coexisted, and that there were dinosaurs on Noah’s Ark. It also claims that assorted rock art represents dinosaurs, speculates that humans could have used dinosaurs as beasts of burden, and even has pictures of dinosaurs pulling carts.

Ch 8, Arguing against evolution, misrepresents the facts regarding embryo development, and, of course, the peppered moth story.

Ch 9, The origin of humans, concentrates on errors from many decades ago, and dismisses intermediate forms such as Homo habilis because they are not fully human (of course they are not. That’s the whole point)

Ch 10, Creation Scientists, is shameless. It lists Louis Pasteur (died 1895) and Sir Isaac Newton (died 1727), and confuses belief in God with belief in the kind of creationism described here. In addition, the book repeatedly accuses evolutionists (remember that this includes the science teachers they will be meeting later, as well as virtually all research scientists) of deliberate disregard and distortion of the evidence, and refusal to admit the truth.

In more tedious detail [you don’t really need to read this unless you want to]:

Ch 1: that the Big Bank was an explosion, sending lumps of matter shooting through space (false; it was a highly orderly event, and lumps of matter only condensed out much later), that acceptance of the Big Bang is of relevance to the acceptance of biological evolution (they are completely different topics), that because Big Bangs are not taking place today, the idea is not amenable to scientific testing(false; the Big Bang is accepted because it quantitatively explains Hubble’s Law, the relative abundance of the light elements and their isotopes, the Cosmic Microwave Background and its fluctuations), and that that a scientific law is “a principle in nature that is true in every observable case”, that (referring presumably the situation existing shortly after the Big Bang), “a tiny ball of matter is not an adequate cause” for our enormous universe (false; this claim neglects the effects of almost 14 billion years of expansion). The chapter also miss describes the use of the terms “law” and “theory” in science, and invokes an imaginary Law of Cause and Effect, which in reality is routinely violated by events at the quantum level, including according to some current thinking the Big Bang itself.

Ch 1 also incorrectly states that the Big Bang theory violates the First and Second Laws of thermodynamics. False; the First Law is not violated because the positive energy of the contents of the universe is exactly balanced by its negative gravitational energy, and the Big Bang was a highly orderly event, not disorderly as stated here. All of this is clearly laid out in many popular books on the subject. Most seriously, T 11 incorrectly invokes the Second Law as saying that the spontaneous pattern formation required by evolution could not occur. In reality, the spontaneous formation of new patterns in far from equilibrium systems, of which he Earth-Sun-Space system is an example, has been known for many decades, and was the subject of Ilya Prigogine’s 1977 Nobel Prize.

T13 on describes the suitability of the Earth to life as clear evidence of providence. False; examining two of the examples given, the ozone layer is the inevitable result of the Sun’s UV light, and the Earth’s magnetic field is the inevitable result of its molten core, which in turn is the inevitable result of its composition and mode of formation. Subsequent pages point out ways in which the World is just right for us; but of course it is, since it is the World that we have evolved in.

Ch 2 describes the unsolved problem of the origin of life as a weakness in the concept of biological evolution. Not so, any more than the unsolved problem of the origin of language is a weakness in the concept of language evolution. This chapter also completely misdescribes conditions on the early Earth, current thinking on the origins of life, and the very restricted role now claimed for the Urey-Miller experiment. The claim that the work of Redi and Pasteur, refuting 18th-century theories of spontaneous generation, has any relevance to what could have happened over tens of millions of years on the early Earth is ridiculous.

Ch 3 misdescribes evolution, chooses Darwin’s finches as an example but ignores extensive recent studies, and claims that mutations cannot generate new information on the grounds that they merely rearrange existing material (this is like saying that an author does not generate new information, because he is merely rearranging existing words). It ignores well established cases of adaptation, such as (within humans) lactose tolerance in pastoral peoples, and resistance to local diseases.

Ch 4 asserts that “Design demands a designer” (this is simply asserting what it claims to prove), and points to good design within the human body while completely neglecting the cases of bad design (such as hernias, choking, the blind spot in the eye, along with many others) that can only be understood as evolutionary relics.  Like so much of the creationist literature, the book at this point misquotes Darwin on the subject of the eye.

Ch 5, on the geological record, is a travesty. Geological strata are said to be the result of Noah’s flood. The fact that fossil tree trunks rise up through several layers of later sediment is said to refute the claim that these sediments accumulated over millions of years. The complexity of the trilobite eye is said to refute the plain fact that from the bottom up (i.e., according to three centuries of geology, but not according to this book, from older sediments onwards) the totality of life has become more complex and diverse. We have the usual (for the creationist literature) misdescription of uniformitarianism, and the claim that the rapidity of change in special situations, specifically Mount St Helens, argues against the gradualness of change on average.

Ch 6, the age of the earth, repeats the usual nonsense about radiometric dating depending on doubtful assumptions. In reality, the mineralogical assumptions made in the early work have been bypassed since the 1940s by the use of isochron dating techniques, while the “assumption” that decay rates have remained constant has been known, since George Gamow’s work in 1928, to be a necessary consequence of the fact that more fundamental quantities, such as the speed of light and the charge on the electron, have remained constant. If this were not so, we would not have had rocks laid down according to the laws of chemistry and physics in the first place.

At this point, the specific Young Earth agenda comes into its own. If tree ring dating places a piece of wood at 10,000 years old, this book claims that this is simply because it was created with 4000 years worth of tree rings inside it. Here we also meet the first flat-out piece of fiction. The book says that there are human footprints in coal layers dated at 250 million years old.

Next come the usual and long refuted creationist arguments for a young Earth. The Earth’s magnetic field is decaying. Indeed it is (and we know that it has decayed and even changed direction many times in the past). The book then says that therefore, the Earth a few thousand years ago would have been so hot it would have cracked. This is nonsense on so many levels that I hardly know where to start. It is claimed that if the universe were billions, or even millions, of years old, then all the hydrogen would long since have been changed into helium. Again this is nonsense. We know how fast hydrogen is being converted into helium in the Sun, from how bright it is, and this fits well with the established age for the solar system of a little over 4.5 billion years. There is a ludicrous argument from population statistics, which effectively assumes a rate of growth over evolutionary time comparable with that only made possible since the development of agriculture.

At this point, the lies become embarrassing. T 109 says that “archaeologists have documented time and again that the period between the time of Abraham and the time of Jesus was about 2000 years. Who do not believe in God… admit that this is true.” In reality, there is no archaeological evidence for Abraham.

Ch 7, Dinosaurs and man, says that it “simply is not true” that dinosaurs lived millions of years before humans, and that “there is much evidence which shows that humans, dinosaurs, and other extinct animals lived together only a few thousand years ago”. Abstract and fanciful monsters found in ancient art are described as evidence for dinosaurs. Herodotus’ description of remains of flying snakes resembling bats is taken as evidence for him having seen pterosaurs, even though pterosaurs are not in the least bit bat-like.  T 121 misdescribes collagen residues preserved in one tyrannosaur fossil by tight binding to bone as “soft issue”.

T 120 and T 121 accuse science textbooks of lying. T 120: “The reason you do not see it [the evidence that humans lived alongside dinosaurs] in your school science books is because it stands opposed to evolution…. When we look at the evidence, we can see the truth.” T 121: “Evolutionary scientists should admit… that dinosaur bones are not millions of years old…. An honest person who found soft issue in a dinosaur fossil would admit that the fossil could not be millions of years old.”

The rest of this chapter suggests that, by analogy with elephants and orcas, humans might have tamed dinosaurs, and shows (T 125, 132) humans interacting with dinosaurs and using them as beasts of burden. We are told that there were dinosaurs on the Ark, and there is discussion of how they could have been fitted in. Dinosaur graveyards are attributed to dinosaurs being drowned in Noah’s Flood.

Ch 8, Evolution is not a proven fact, starts off as is customary in the creationist literature with an attack on Haeckel’s drawings, ignoring everything that has been learnt about development since. It misdraws the human embryo as having the shape of a fully formed human, confuses gill slits with gill arches, and suppresses such well-known facts as the presence of fur and tails on human embryos at around six months. Next (T 138 – 139) we have the peppered moth story, complete with accusations that the camouflage story was false, and that “even though many of the writers and science have book publishers knew was false, they used it anyway” [emphasis in original].

By chance, I wrote at length about this a few weeks ago (http://www.3quarksdaily.com/3quarksdaily/2013/08/creationism-as-conspiracy-theory-the-case-of-the-peppered-moth.html). There was no fraud. There were inadequacies in the original experiments. These were repeated, and the results confirmed and placed on a sound footing. That is how science works.

The story of horse evolution is misrepresented on the basis of a quote mined from 1953, while that of whale evolution incorrectly asserts that the evolutionary account is based on only a few bones, and suppresses the fact that we have a complete sequence of over 18 separate stages connecting whales with their terrestrial ancestors. We have confusion between analogy and homology, and misdescription of the evidence from vestigial organs. The chapter ends with the claim that the ability of vestigial organs to perform a new function is evidence against evolution. On the contrary, it is evidence for what is known as exaptation, a powerful evolutionary mechanism.

Ch 9, Did humans evolve? Suppresses the evidence for some 20 species more or less intermediate between us and our common ancestor with chimpanzees, makes great play with frauds and errors long since disposed of, misdescribes Homo habilis as merely an ape and therefore irrelevant in human evolution (the opposite is the case; its position on the borderline between Australopithecus and Homo is evidence that the continuity that creationists deny).

Ch 10, Creation Scientists, is shameless. It lists Louis Pasteur (died 1895) and Sir Isaac Newton (died 1727), and confuses belief in God with belief in the kind of creationism described here.

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[1] References with page numbers; H, How do we Know, T, Truth be Told

Darwin’s Doubt in review; Meyer, Matzke, and some of their critics

paul_book_-1Yesterday I wrote about Casey Luskin’s critique of Nick Matzke’s review of Meyer’s Darwin’s Doubt, but not everyone knows (why should they?) who Luskin is, or who said what in which way about whom. So I’ve written this brief survey of the dramatis personae, and review of reviews of reviews.

Luskin is Program Officer of the DI’s Center for Science and Culture, of which Meyer is director, Berlinksi a Senior Fellow, and Kenyon a Fellow. According to his bio on the CSC website, he ‘is co-founder of the Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness (IDEA) Center, a non-profit helping students to investigate evolution by starting “IDEA Clubs” on college and high school campuses across the country.’ His 5 year stint with Scripps Institute of Oceanography produced one publication; he was one of several junior authors on a study of paleaomagnetic dating of sediments, which has attracted 17 citations. So, moderately useful routine work. No life science qualifications or experience.

David Berlinski is a Senior Fellow of the CSC, mathematician and philosopher, and has written serious works in his own area, including a 1972 article on the philosophy of molecular biology. As the review I cited shows, he writes powerfully and amusingly, even when (as here) he is attacking a fictional straw man.

Dean Kenyon is a CSC Fellow. He was at one time a respected biologist, but in the 1970s was converted by Morris’s Genesis Flood to Young Earth Creationism. He was co-author of Of Pandas and People.

Nick Matzke is just finishing the formalities of his PhD at Berkeley,and will be moving to a postdoc at NIMBioS at U. Tennessee Knoxville in September. Web of Knowledge lists him as author of 19 publications, with a total of 330 literature citations to date.

[Added (h/t Christine Janis): an even more thourough and, therefore, destructive review, by Aaron P. Baldwin, is here]

Stephen Meyer, Director of the CSC and Senior Fellow of the Discovery Institute, holds a joint degree in physics and earth science from Whitworth, a private Christian liberal arts university, and a PhD in the philosophy of science from Cambridge, and has taught at  Palm Beach Atlantic, a faith-based liberal arts college. He is now director of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, and author or co-author of a number of works of fiction, including Explore Evolution, a pseudotextbook that shows that the creationists have discovered Batesian mimicry, other works of fiction including Signature in the Cell, and, of course, Darwin’s Doubt. Which is where we came in.

Sex, education, Pam Stenzel (Pt 2), evolution, and reality, with a footnote on the Faroes

A few days ago I reported , cued by Garry Otton’s eye-witness account on the Scottish Secular Society web page, on a nightmarish “sex education” lecture delivered in Paisley, near Glasgow, to an audience of schoolchildren rounded up from all the Catholic schools in the district, by the abstinence-only campaigner Pam Stenzel. The story has since been picked up and further commented on by the Daily Record, a popular Glasgow-based newspaper with a circulation of over ¼  million, and featured on the BBC. You may recall that Ms Stenzel is based in California, and that her crusade (that seems to be the correct word) against sex outside one partnership per lifetime is endorsed by Sean Hannity and the Family Life Council. Also that she imposes her own very personal view on facts. Notably, she tells us that HPV can cause cancer, and that vaccination only protects against four of the many strains. True, and bound to be true, since the vaccine is, by design, specific against the strains most liable to cause cancer. Of course, if disease prevention were her real concern, she would be advocating Pap smears and condom use. But such reality-based information is not on her agenda.

So what has this got to do with evolution, and in particular with what we know about what Pam Stenzel has been told about evolution? Absolutely everything.

The only professional qualification mentioned on Ms Stenzel’s website is a degree in psychology, from Liberty University. This institution, founded by Jerry Falwell Sr. and rescued early in its life from bankruptcy by the Rev Sung Myung Moon, is regarded as among the most conservative institutions of higher education in the US. “Conservative” in this context means, among other things, commitment to a biblical literalist theology. Even more, in the case of LibertyUniversity; commitment to a version of reality in which Young Earth creationism is better science than all that stuff about radiometric dating and strata and unconformities and deep time that stupid people like you and me find so convincing. This commitment is embodied in an Institution for Creation Studies (yes, that really is what it is called), whose course “History of Life” is obligatory for all students, and whose stated function (http://www.liberty.edu/academics/?PID=9821) is “to promote the development of a consistent biblical view of origins in our students. The center seeks to equip students to defend their faith in the creation account in Genesis using science, reason and the Scriptures.”

So Ms Stenzel may not have learned very much about the biology of sexually transmitted diseases, but she will certainly have learned how to use what she does know to defend a pre-determined faith-based position. This is called, in the language that Liberty University uses to describe its position on the age of the earth, “perspective”. She has faith that God has told us that having more than one sexual partner in a lifetime is wrong (He doesn’t seem to have given quite the same message to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but let that pass). So this is the conclusion, and it only remains to muster the evidence. The resulting concatenation of half-baked horror stories may only occasionally make contact with reality, but that’s not the point; it defends her faith, and that is the one thing that she has been admirably equipped to do. Nor, I’m sure, is she being consciously dishonest. There is black and white, right and wrong, safe and unsafe, so if condoms are not entirely safe (they’re not), we should not be telling young people to use them. On this logic, we shouldn’t be telling them to use seat belts, because they won’t always save your neck, and if everyone drove perfectly safely we wouldn’t need them, either.

Bonobo_sexual_behavior_1 (1) And I bet she doesn’t know about bonobos.

Footnote: a few months ago, Jerry Coyne reported with justifiable pride that his site, Why Evolution is True, had just got its first hit from Greenland (population 56,000). On Wednesday, I got my own first hit from the Faroe Islands (population 49,000). Beat that, Jerry!

[Image source:JaxZoo_12-16-12-4579.jpg through  http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bonobo_sexual_behavior_1.jpg This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.]

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