Monday, 15 January 2018

The Faith of an Evolutionary Creationist - 2

Arguably the main reason behind Christian opposition to evolution is that the doctrine of Original Sin as traditionally formulated requires universal human descent from two people in order for the guilt and/or consequences of Adam’s sin to be genetically inherited by the entire human race. The fossil and genetic evidence for human evolution of course makes this doctrine untenable as the human population has never been smaller than a few thousand people. For many, a theological resolution to this problem would be more emotionally satisfying. If one could show that Original Sin owes nothing substantive to the Bible and everything to post-apostolic speculation, that would take away a significant theological imperative to deny evolution. When you research the history of Original Sin, it quickly becomes apparent that it was absent for the first few centuries of the Christian era. Given this, one of the major theological barriers to accepting the fact of evolution vanishes.

Friday, 12 January 2018

More creationist dishonesty - Facebook page "Here is the evolution" highlights deliberate creationist misrepresentation

Special creationist dishonesty is so common that it scarcely rates a mention anymore, but sometimes you see an example which warrants attention if only to remind people of why special creationist organisations, both amateur and professional are held in contempt. Last year, I mentioned Where is the evolution?, a Facebook page that resorts to highly misleading comparisons of extinct and extant animals to justify its assertion that evolution has never happened, and a counter-page Here is the evolution which systematically dismantles misleading memes with evidence. Late last year, Where is the evolution? (WITE hereafter) resorted to doctoring a meme from Here is the evolution (likewise, HITE hereafter). In terms of blatant dishonesty, it is the pictorial analog of quote mining.

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

The Faith of an Evolutionary Creationist - 1

"What does an evolutionary creationist believe?" This is a wonderfully succinct description:
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, God's only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the grave.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy universal church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.
Irrespective of whether one is a young earth creationist, old earth creationist, or evolutionary creationist, this ancient profession of Christian faith unites all believers, with the mechanism by which God created heaven and earth a secondary issue.

Thursday, 21 December 2017

Genetics and the Caananite Genocide - how not to respond to a scientific paper

Earlier this year, geneticist Marc Haber and his colleagues published a paper [1] detailing the results of a study in which they compared genomic data from five individuals from ancient Sidon who lived around 3700 years ago, with the genomic data from 99 modern Lebanese individuals, and found that not only did the modern Lebanese individuals have considerable ancient Canaanite ancestry, but also have Eurasian ancestry not present in Bronze Age or earlier inhabitants of the Levant, most likely originating between 3750 - 2170 years ago as a result of a wave of successive conquests of the area. It's a fascinating study that has already been cited positively a number of times in the scientific literature.

Unfortunately, reporting of the article by mainstream journalism was disappointing, with news outlets such as The Independent leading with the frankly sensationalistic headline "Bible says Canaanites were wiped out by Israelites but scientists just found their descendants living in Lebanon." [2] Haber et al did make an en passant reference to the Bible, noting that the "Bible reports the destruction of the Canaanite cities and the annihilation of its people", inferring that if this was the case, "Canaanites could not have directly contributed genetically to present-day populations", and commenting that "no archaeological evidence has so far been found to support widespread destruction of Canaanite cities between the Bronze and Iron Ages." [3] However, as the Canaanites that Joshua 9-12 states were exterminated were south of Sidon, [4] Haber's reference is irrelevant. Furthermore, this was a side-issue in the paper, the focus of which was on demonstrating continuity between ancient and modern-day populations in Lebanon, and the timing and nature of admixture of outside genetic material. For The Independent to sell the story by making this en passant reference the main feature was sloppy journalism.

This month, The Testimony [5] responded to the sensationalist reports of the Haber et al paper correctly pointing out that the Bible states that the Canaanites were in fact not completely exterminated, and noting that at least one of the papers [6] published a correction noting this fact. Unfortunately, The Testimony failed to address two points, the fact that a literal reading of Joshua 10-12 does in fact described the near-extermination of the Canaanites, standing in marked tension with the narrative in the rest of Joshua and Judges, while Haber et al were correct in pointing out that the archaeological record does not support a widespread destruction of Canaanite cities in the Late Bronze to Iron ages. [7] Both are hardly trivial, and it is regrettable that this article failed to substantively address textual issues relating to the conquest narrative.

Thursday, 7 December 2017

"Little Foot", the oldest complete hominin fossil makes its appearance

'Little foot', a 3.67 million year old australopithecine hominin made its formal debut at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg on December 6. Originally discovered in the mid-1990s, it has taken two decades to remove the fossil from the surrounding rock and prepare it. What makes 'Little foot' so remarkable is that it is the oldest complete hominin fossil ever found.

The fossil evidence for human evolution, which shows an unmistakable trend towards bipedality and increasing cranial capacity over time was compelling well before this discovery, but both its age and near-complete status make this one of the greatest discoveries in palaeoanthropology. It also underscores the point, one that should be obvious by now, that denial of the fact of human evolution is simply no longer credible.

Monday, 4 December 2017

New evidence on the antiquity of the human race - Homo sapiens is even older than we thought

Up until now, the oldest Homo sapiens fossils were the Omo fossils at Kibish Formation in Ethiopia, dated at 195,000 years. [1] Earlier this year, Nature published two papers in which researchers announced new fossil discoveries from Jebel Irhoud, Morocco, along with analyses of these and previously discovered fossils from the same site, and dating of the strata. At 315,000 years, these are now the oldest Homo sapiens fossils, nearly doubling the previous date of 160,000 years, and extending the age of Homo sapiens by 120,000 years. In retrospect, given the genetic data showing the common ancestor of the lines leading to Homo sapiens and Homo neanderthalensis lived around 400,000 years ago, these revised dates are not surprising. Nonetheless, it's a stunning development in palaeoanthropology, and one which further underscores that YEC assertions about the antiquity and origin of the human race are flat-out wrong.

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Loving God with your heart, soul, mind - and kidneys. Understanding the pre-scientific worldview of the ancient Hebrews.

At the always-excellent Christadelphian – Origins Discussion is a fascinating post pointing out that we do interpret the Bible with science when we realise that the literal reading of a passage is flatly contradicted by what we know to be true from science. The example cited is that of the heart, which as we know pumps oxygenated blood to the body and deoxygenated blood to the heart. However, in the Bible, the heart is used with reference to the mind, conscience, and inner self. Interpreted literally, this is of course nonsense, which is why the average fundamentalist does not interpret this literally.

This is not the only anatomical example in the Bible. The Bible does not ascribe to the kidneys their main function of filtering the blood (or maintaining blood pressure, and performing a number of metabolic / endocrine duties), but rather declares them to be the seat of “conscience, emotion, desire, and wisdom”, a role that parallels that of the heart. The inconsistency of the fundamentalist in readily acceding to modern science which declares that the physiological roles ascribed to the heart and kidneys are actually performed by the brain, while refusing to accept what modern science also shows about the reality of our ancient universe and the evolutionary history of life hardly needs stressing.