2019 Letters to a Creationist, Part 3: Minds Changed?

Preface for blog: This is the last in a series where I show my side of a dialogue with a young earth creationist who I will call Rachel. She had sent me links to some videos that she and her husband had made, where they presented scientific and exegetical arguments in favor of young earth (Y.E.) creationism, and invited my comments. In Part 1, I posted the cover email I sent her, which dealt with Bible interpretation. I attached a Word document to that email, which addressed many of the scientific claims made in her videos. I posted that document as Part 2 of this series.

My experience has been that it is nearly impossible to change the mind of someone who has intentionally embraced Y. E. creationism. But not totally impossible – – after all, I used to be an enthusiastic Y. E. creationist. There was some reason to hope that I might impact Rachel’s views, since there were several positive factors with her. From our prior encounters at church events, she knew me to be a devout evangelical Christian, so I think she was inclined to give me a serious hearing. Also, she has a background in the sciences, and is a courteous and careful listener in person. She gave every indication of simply wanting the truth.

So, I decided to run an experiment. I took a number of what seemed like the strongest scientific young earth points on her videos, and marshalled the facts to show that these claims were incorrect. I put a number of hours into this, trying to answer the specific claims, and also anticipating and answering the common Y. E. creationist rebuttals to the old earth evidence. I included a number of figures to illustrate fossil intermediates, and showed how her Y. E. creationist sources had twisted some scientists’ quotes to (dishonestly) make it seem like these scientists were admitting that the fossil record does not support evolution.

Alas, my efforts were in vain. Judging by her email reply, she clearly read what I wrote (i.e. Part 1 and Part 2 of this blog series), but nothing seemed to penetrate. I post below my final response to her email reply. Her words are in italics.

I am sure that in her mind she was earnestly trying to engage with the facts. But it seems that she ignored the import of much of what I wrote, and simply repeated what she found on various Y. E. creationist web sites. What I found particularly disheartening were instances where she (with no basis) just reiterated the specific young earth claims that I had specifically disproven.

For instance, the annual sets of sediment layers (varves) that accumulate in certain lakes furnish very straightforward evidence for an earth much older than 6000 years. We know how these layers form; we can simply drill down in the lake bottom, pull up a core, and (carefully) count the layers. Moreover, these varve counts are corroborated via radioactive dating to local tree ring data and volcanic ashfalls. Naturally, the Y. E. creationists try to cast doubt on these straightforward results, typically by calling attention to instances where sediment layers can be non-annual. To forestall this, I wrote to Rachel (in Part 2 here) that scientists are well aware of this possibility, and so they take pains to distinguish between real annual varves and non-annual random layers:

As may be expected, YE creationist organizations make various objections to lake varves. For instance, they claim that more than one set of sediment layers per year can be laid down in lake sediments, and thus we cannot trust these deep cores of lake sediments. Of course multiple layers do form in some lakes – -that is obvious, and scientists are well aware of that and they are quite capable of distinguishing between real annual layers and other layers. Scientists specifically choose lakes that are relatively narrow and deep, to avoid issues with wind storms stirring the bottom sediments.”

Nevertheless, (as shown below) Rachel apparently ignored what I had written, and simply repeated a standard Y. E. creationist line: “…… I’ve seen experimentally how some conditions can produce layers that look like seasonal varves.  This can be generated with wave tanks…”.    Furthermore, though I gave additional answers to her responses as shown below as Part 3, there is no reason to believe she took this further information to heart, even though I took the effort to e.g. hunt down and show her the actual location of the leg genes in the whale genome.

Sigh.

But this is how most dialogs with Y. E. creationists go: these folks simply ignore the evidence that is against their position, and repeat and repeat the same old party lines. (Another common tactic is, when backed into a corner on some topic, to change the subject and bring up some other topic. And another, and another, till the scientist who is trying to educate them drops from sheer exhaustion. To Rachel’s credit, she did not do this).

How is this response possible, from a woman I know to be so generally reasonable and informed? I think it comes down to the human tendency of confirmation bias. Per Wikipedia, this is: “the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that affirms one’s prior beliefs or hypotheses….The effect is stronger for desired outcomes, for emotionally charged issues, and for deeply-entrenched beliefs.”   We all do this, especially with “emotionally charged issues” like politics and religion.

Rachel noted in her email to me that she was in the past “not feeling confident about Genesis 1-11,” but now the Y. E. creation perspective has “helped me to be more convinced” about the authority of the Bible there. It is hard to compete with that sort of spiritual/emotional reinforcement given by Y. E. creationism.

So was our dialog a complete waste of my time? Maybe, but I don’t know whether Rachel and her husband might be open to reconsidering their position at a later time, and I don’t know who is reading these blog posts on the internet. My own journey out of Y. E. creationism took years, and multiple exposures to pro-science articles, especially ones by authors who were not hostile to my faith.

Anyway, Rachel and I have agreed to disagree in this area, and not let it cloud our fellowship. In the current climate of polarization, our small measure of civility here is something to be grateful for.

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Hi Rachel,

I will offer some comments on the points you raised in your email, in order, except will deal first with point 6 because it is perhaps the most foundational. I will put your remarks in italics.

  1. 6.  Do you acknowledge any faith commitment to the idea that if scientists seek, they will figure it out and get things right?   If God stated Genesis 1-11 authoritatively, and correctly, and we seek some other explanation that is consistent with the reasonings of naturalistic scientists, might we get something wrong?

I do acknowledge that God stated Genesis 1-11 authoritatively and correctly, just as I acknowledge that God stated in I Chron. 16:30 (“The world also is firmly established, It shall not be moved”) authoritatively and correctly and Jesus referred to the mustard seed as the smallest of all the seeds of the earth authoritatively and correctly (and referred to Herod as a “fox” and himself as a “door”, etc.). This is entirely different than whether we should take each of these passages as literal statements about physical reality or not. We normally utilize the information provided by the physical world to make that determination. That is why, even though Protestant and Catholic alike vehemently affirmed that I Chron. 16:30 must be taken as giving information about the physical world, today we use the results of science to take a non-literal interpretation.

If someone chooses to eschew that normal procedure of using physical information, and instead make a command decision that Gen 1-11 must be taken literally, no matter what the physical evidence actually is, that’s OK, but that is elevating one’s interpretation over the physical evidence, not elevating the Bible itself over the physical evidence.

 

And, is it deceptive of YEC to say, “yes, we are committed to Scripture,” divulging their bias, and then argue according to their bias?  I do not find that to be deceptive.

I completely agree with you, that is not deceptive, as long as the subsequent arguing is done with integrity.

There are some YE creationists who do treat the physical evidence with integrity. Geologist Kurt Wise is an example of this. He is scrupulously fair in treating the evidence of the age of the earth and evolution. Even Richard Dawkins referred to him as an “honest creationist.” Wise wrote, “I am a young-age creationist because that is my understanding of the Scripture. As I shared with my professors years ago when I was in college, if all the evidence in the universe turned against creationism, I would be the first to admit it, but I would still be a creationist because that is what the Word of God seems to indicate.”

Here, Wise indicates that no possible amount of scientific evidence can ever sway him from his YE position. I respect his clarity.

Wise has critiqued a lot of the Answers in Genesis presentations for being inaccurate. He does not deny the presence of impressive transitional fossils at the higher grouping levels:

“…Darwin’s third expectation – of higher-taxon stratomorphic intermediates – has been confirmed by such examples as the mammal-like reptile groups between the reptiles and the mammals, and the phenacdontids between the horses and their presumed ancestors. Darwin’s fourth expectation – of stratomorphic series – has been confirmed by such examples as the early bird series, the tetrapod series, the whale series, the various mammal series of the Cenozoic (for example, the horse series, the camel series, the elephant series, the pig series, the titanothere series, etc.), the Cantius and Plesiadapus primate series, and the hominid series. Evidence for not just one but for all three of the species level and above types of stratomorphic intermediates expected by macroevolutionary theory is surely strong evidence for macroevolutionary theory. Creationists therefore need to accept this fact. It certainly CANNOT said that traditional creation theory expected (predicted) any of these fossil finds.” [My italics added here]

Wise is willing to consider the “appearance of age” approach to interpretation of Genesis. That is, maybe God created everything 6000 years ago, but with the full appearance of being billions of years old.    This approach notes that if you came across Adam a minute after his creation, he would have looked as if he had been alive say 20 years already, and presumably with a navel, as if he had been born the usual way. This appearance-of-age approach then says that maybe this principle extends to the whole created order: the universe looks as if it has been around for 13.8 billion years, and genetics and fossils look as if God used evolution to shape the current biota. This approach allows a YE creationist to hold to a 6000 year old earth, while being comfortable with [instead of denying] all the evidence which, seems as if the earth is old. I have some philosophical reservations about this approach, but it is a self-consistent, honest approach, in contrast to the usual Answers in Genesis approach.

Wise’s protégé, Todd Wood, is also a committed YE creationist, who again tries to be honest with the data. He had this to say about the evidence for evolution:

“… Evolution is not a theory in crisis. It is not teetering on the verge of collapse. It has not failed as a scientific explanation. There is evidence for evolution, gobs and gobs of it. It is not just speculation or a faith choice or an assumption or a religion. It is a productive framework for lots of biological research, and it has amazing explanatory power. There is no conspiracy to hide the truth about the failure of evolution. There has really been no failure of evolution as a scientific theory. It works, and it works well.

…Creationist students, listen to me very carefully: There is evidence for evolution, and evolution is an extremely successful scientific theory. That doesn’t make it ultimately true, and it doesn’t mean that there could not possibly be viable alternatives. It is my own faith choice to reject evolution, because I believe the Bible reveals true information about the history of the earth that is fundamentally incompatible with evolution. I am motivated to understand God’s creation from what I believe to be a biblical, creationist perspective. Evolution itself is not flawed or without evidence. Please don’t be duped into thinking that somehow evolution itself is a failure. Please don’t idolize your own ability to reason.”

So those are honest YE creationists, with whom I have no problem. My problem is with Answers in Genesis, Institute for Creation Research, etc., who try to deceive laypeople into believing that there are no transitional fossils, that all lake varves are questionable, that the glacier core layers are unclear, etc. They accomplish this by ignoring the bulk of the physical findings, misrepresenting what scientists actually do, misrepresenting quotations, sometimes outright misstating the core facts, and above all issuing a continual stream of misleading distractors. I noted several instances in your slides where you presented some of these misleading distractors (rapid snow accumulation near coast of Greenland, no blowhole for Rodhocetus, doctored Colin Patterson quote, etc.) . Again, not blaming you at all, but just to note how plausible their presentations can be if you want to believe them.

These organizations continue to promote so-called evidences for a young earth, even after being clearly informed why their assertions are incorrect. This is plain dishonesty; it is not merely arguing from a clearly-stated bias. But it is successful in keeping gullible lay people energized. I have detailed several of these erroneous claims, e.g. salts in the ocean, earth magnetic field, helium in the atmosphere, and folded rocks here: https://letterstocreationists.wordpress.com/2015/01/03/evidences-for-a-young-earth/   (Sorry to be so blunt, but that is what I observe, unfortunately).

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  1. I definitely understand the point about the sun moving in the sky, that it can be a frame of reference that is the reason for the Scriptural words, and I do  acknowledge that I am convinced that the earth orbits the sun, and it was not necessary for God to go into this.

     However, when Genesis speaks of evening and morning, repetatively, that need not be poetic only.  It can point out 6 days, rather than periods.  Othewise, I don’t see it written as poetic, but the names of people are given that Jesus specifically references in geneologies.  

     I think this is a sign that it is not merely poetic.  I’m glad you have faith and love the testimony anyway.  I did have faith for years, not feeling confident about Genesis 1-11, and I am also glad that your daughters have faith.  For me, it helped me to be more convinced.

I understand what you are saying here. Just one main comment, which is that the age of the earth up till the creation of Adam is a different issue than the time since Adam. Many educated conservative Christians endorse an Old Earth creationism, which accepts the evidence for an old (billions of years) earth prior to Adam, while still taking the Genesis genealogies literally (so only 6000 years since Adam). Hugh Ross is a well-known exponent of this viewpoint. It’s not a view I share, but thought I’d mention it.

And a side comment, that one reason many   conservative Christian scholars think that six consecutive 24-hour days is not the meaning of Gen 1 is because of how these days are neatly structured into two triads (Days 1-3, Days 4-6) which correspondingly address the primordial conditions of formlessness and emptiness (Gen 1:2). Thus, it seems that the organization of Gen 1 is thematic, not necessarily chronological:

Six-Day Framework View of Genesis 1

Anyway, this is just FYI.

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  1. As for the sign of Jonah,  I feel that more signs are not necessarily given to a wicked and adulterous generation, but that there is still testimony given all around us, (Romans 1), and, I am also convinced there is flood evidence.  I think we have all seen answers to prayer, which are also signs.  

      Jesus also said that if every tongue were stilled, the rocks would cry out, and I see that as a continuing revelation, like the heavens declaring the glory of God.  What do the rocks cry out?  

      Isn’t the top of the Coconino formation flat? The ripple marks on the side could be perturbations by wind or water, no?  Isn’t there another layer of sediment right above it without much nonconformity?  Does that not speak more of water than of wind, if so?  

I wish it were true that there is Flood evidence, but I have looked carefully and found none.

As for the “rocks crying out”, this is from Luke 19:40 , “He answered, “I tell you, if these [cheering crowds] were silent, the very stones would cry out.” The context of this is the Triumphal Entry. Jesus said that if (for this particular event) the people had not cheered, the rocks would have cried out. However, the people did cheer, so the rocks did not cry out. This verse is not about geology.

As for the meaning of Psalm 19 and Romans 1 re revelation of God in nature, please see https://letterstocreationists.wordpress.com/2014/06/28/a-survey-of-biblical-natural-theology/ .

Key point: Whatever aspect of nature Paul had in mind when he asserted in Romans 1 that God’s “eternal power and divine nature” are displayed in nature, it had to be something that was readily accessible to everyone since ancient times, not requiring twentieth century observations of rock layers, measurements of salt in oceans, or lengthy explication by Answers in Genesis apologists. Presumably Paul was referring to the size and intricate functioning of the natural world as a whole, which demonstrates to everyone everywhere the power and skill and care of the Creator.

To my knowledge, the Coconino Sandstone is the only major Grand Canyon formation deposited as mainly dry, wind-sculpted material. Like any desert, there was likely some rain and some water present some of the time. All the other Grand Canyon layers, including the ones just above the Coconino, were deposited under water, as the sea level relative to the land rose and fell and rose and fell over millions of years – -driven partly by plate tectonics, but also by repeated glaciations at the poles which can cause sea levels to change by hundreds of feet. All indications are that the land of the Grand Canyon stayed fairly level over many millions of years, so if it got raised a little above sea level, the exposed land surface would erode a bit but stay fairly flat, like much of the US Gulf Coast today. And every time the sea advanced back in over this eroded land surface, the surf action would tend to level out most of the remaining humps and dips in the landscape (like we see in the fairly level sand at the surf-line today on the Gulf Coast), yielding a flat surface for depositing the next layer of under-sea sediment.

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  1. My husband looked up the translation of the small mustard seed, and he found not that it is the smallest seed, necessarily, but the small seed sown in the garden (possibly at the time).  Surely there are small seeds that blow around and drop, like dandelion, and basil.  

I agree that this is a reasonable interpretation of the text, but that is not what the text itself says.

Matthew 13:32 describes the mustard seed as “the smallest of all the seeds”, according to the Greek text shown in this interlinear translation:

Matthew 13:32 Interlinear, on mustard seed

And Mark 4:31 as “the smallest of all the seeds which are upon the earth [or ground]”:

Mark 4:31 Interlinear on mustard seed

Now, if you want to incorporate the physical observation that the mustard seed is not in fact the smallest of all the seeds on the earth, and hold that Jesus was speaking to a group of people at a particular time and place, with their understanding of seeds and so on, and thus depart from the literal interpretation of these verses, that is fine (and I think proper), but again please note that is what the majority of educated Christians do with Genesis 1.

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  1. I am not particularly convinced by the calibration methods of the Genesis 1-3 teacher.  Again, repeating “evening and morning” does not prove merely poetic thought to me.   

 

I understand. Though as noted above, there are reasons besides the repetition to indicate other than six 24-hour days – – e.g. on the first 3 days, there was no sun to mark the 24-hours.

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  1. The whale leg bone genes were particularly mystifying to me.  I saw two little bones in diagrams, and we thought they had something to do with reproduction.  

      Nevertheless, Carl Wieland, a physician, has gone to tremendous lengths to produce “Evolution : Grand Experiment” videos, likely available on youtube, where he examines the land mammal/whale  missing links. (I certainly understand your clear explanation about some missing links being understandably missing, and that most creatures are not fossilized, such as Colin Patterson went on to say).  Dr. Wieland has a fascinating story, worth hearing.  I think there must be quite a bit of info. on the genes that are not expressed as whale legs.  I have never heard that before, and perhaps those genes are for something else?  They clearly would not have identical coding to legs that we would recognize, but if this were true, it is curious.  Sounds “vestigial”.  How could they test this?  Surely they could not replace it for the genes on land animals in the lab and wait for legs to grow there?  Now, that would be something to see. It might be interesting for you to watch the Carl Wieland videos.  

Evolution requires that there would have been a long sequence of animals in between a four-footed mammal ancestor, and present whales (which includes dolphins) which have no visible hind legs. And the fossil record, especially as filled in during the past 3 decades, shows exactly that. YE creationists can mount all the peripheral objections they want, but the fact stands that the types of transitional fossils predicted by evolution are there.

I am rather familiar with the litany of YE creationist objections for whales. As I noted in my earlier note, they all tend to be like the one with the Rodhocetus blowhole: true factoids which do not obviate the actual fossil evidence.

One such objection is that shrunken hind legs in some of intermediate species may have some function in assisting alignment during copulation. Another is the remaining pelvis and inner tiny hind leg bones in today’s whales retain some function in anchoring organs, including sex organs. This all may well be true, but that does not in the slightest take away from the fact that these fossil species display the sequence of skeletal transitions predicted by evolution.

As I also mentioned, another thing that evolution predicts is that for parts and functions that have been lost in whales compared to regular land mammals, such as loss of exterior hind legs, loss of enameled teeth (for baleen whales), loss of olfactory lobes (no longer needed for smelling in air), etc., we should still find the original genes there, but deactivated (either inactivated by mutations, or down-regulated). The diagram below notes a number of such genes, as predicted by evolution. I marked with yellow highlighter the genes color-coded red, which is where the genes have been inactivated by mutations. These include the genes for the teeth and the olfactory lobes. And also highlighted the ones coded purple, where the genes are still functional but the degree to which they are expressed has changed. The relevant hind leg genes, called SonicHedgeHog (SHH) and HAND are still there in the genome and are still functional as genes, but they are no longer expressed as before.

Gene changes in whales compared to land mammal (hippo). Source: McGowen, et al., Molecular evolution tracks macroevolutionary transitions in Cetacea . Trends in Ecology and Evolution, May 2014

In case you are curious, here is where the leg-growing SHH gene (here coded as bmy_12671) sits in the bowhead whale genome:

Bowhead Whale Hind Leg SHH Gene Location
Source: http://www.bowhead-whale.org/annotations/results/?s=shh

 

YE creationists can always come up with rationalizations after these genetic observations have been made, such as, “Maybe the Creator decided to re-use similar genes” or “Maybe there is a use for these apparently non-functional teeth genes that we just haven’t discovered yet.” But YE creationism would not have predicted these specific genetic features, whereas evolution did. This is why evolution is a useful explanatory framework, and YE creationism is not.

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  1. The seasonal varves… I’ve seen experimentally how some conditions can produce layers that look like seasonal varves.  This can be generated with wave tanks. I saw it in a video.I could probably find a link to that video, though it is not always my favorite video.  All it takes is one set of conditions that produces “seasonal varves” that are not seasonal to show that they might not correspond directly with years.   

The fact that nature, and humans with wave tanks, can produce non-annual sets of light/dark layers is irrelevant. As I stated in my earlier note to you, scientists are completely aware of the possibility of spurious non-annual layers, which is why they take pains to analyze the lake core sediments to be sure they are in fact annual cycles. They observe the current sedimentation pattern in the lake (e.g. dark, fine organic matter in winter under the ice; mineral matter like sand and silt washed in the spring thaw; algal remains late spring/summer) in the lake, and analyze the chemical contents of the cored layers to verify that this annual progression of seasons is represented. Also, they know the current rate of sediment deposition, in mm/year, and would be suspicious if there were some sudden departure from that rate in the lake cores.

There are ways to further verify that these are not random/nonannual sets of layers. For instance, a volcanic eruption in southern Italy produced a distinctive layer of ash across southern and central Europe called the Neapolitan Yellow Tuff. This layer shows up in at least two lake sediments that I am aware of. In the German lake Meerfelder Maar, we count down the annual layers and find the ash layer at 14,230 BP (before 1950). For a lake in southern Italy (Lago Grande di Monticchio), we can count down the varves and get a date of 14,120 BP. That is less than a 1% difference in dating, for two lakes that are 600 miles apart, with varves counted by two different research teams. I have difficulty imagining clearer proof of the reliability of the annual nature of properly chosen lake varves.

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  1. The oldest civilization that we know (China) claims about 5000 years, and the oldest bristlecone pine tree they have found is about 5000 years (Methuselah), and recently a Harvard graduate has written a book called Replacing Darwin (Nate Jeanson?) which shows genetic pointers in mutation rates that point to 6000 years.  Is there something to look at there? 

Some chronological markers go back 5000 years, but some, as I noted earlier, go back much longer.

Re Replacing Darwin – as you can tell from my extensive blog articles, I have spent hundreds and hundreds of hours reading and evaluating YE creationist literature. Every couple of years they come up with a new attempt to refute evolution. I wrote probably the most comprehensive review on the web (over 100 references) of John Sanford’s Genetic Entropy, which was 2005’s YE creationist bid to demolish evolution. Since in every case I have found that, when all the facts are on the table, the YE case fails, I don’t have the energy to read and analyze yet another such book.

So here is what I suggest: By all means read the book and the YE creationist positive reviews of this book, but also in fairness read a critique of the book by a practicing scientist, such as this examination of a key chapter: https://evograd.wordpress.com/2019/05/05/reviewing-replacing-darwin-part-7-a-nuclear-catastrophe/

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Well, you have raised some more interesting points here. I have tried to respond to them in the attached document. This exchange has been stimulating, but I need to close it out now. We will be traveling and occupied now. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, and I hope it has been useful to you to receive some comments on your specific concerns. I am sure that there is room for a variety of viewpoints in this area.

I hope you all enjoy the summer!

Blessings,

Scott

Posted in Age of Earth, Bible Interpretation, Fossils | Tagged , , , | 11 Comments

2019 Letters to a Creationist, Part 2: Young Earth Evidence

Preface for blog: As noted in Part 1, earlier this year I had a discussion with an evangelical Christian woman who I will call Rachel. She had recently learned that I endorse modern scientific findings such as an old earth and evolution, and that I have no problem squaring that with the Bible’s teachings. She sent me links to some videos that she and her husband had made, where they presented scientific and exegetical arguments in favor of young earth (Y.E.) creationism, and invited my comments.

In Part 1 of this series, I posted the cover email I sent her, which dealt with Bible interpretation. Below is shown the document I attached to that email letter, which addresses many of the scientific claims made in her videos. The topics I address here are: FALSIFYING THE FLOOD , LAYERS IN GLACIERS AND ICE CORES, MT SAINT HELENS ASH LAYERS AND UNIFORMITARIANISM, WIDESPREAD ROCK FORMATIONS ON CONTINENTS, ON FOSSILS, ARE THERE TRANSITIONAL FOSSILS?, WHALE EVOLUTION, MINING FOR QUOTES ON FOSSILS, and FINAL COMMENTS.  I try to anticipate and answer some common objections made by Y.E. proponents for these various evidences for an old earth.

Stay tuned for Part 3 to see what her reaction was to this correspondence.

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Dear Rachel,

Your videos mention a number of scientific issues. I will comment on some of them.

FALSIFYING THE FLOOD

In your video #2, you propose that the Flood (a recent, worldwide, flood which laid down most sedimentary layers) should be considered innocent till proven guilty, i.e. considered as true unless clearly falsified. I think that is a reasonable position.

However, the Flood and a young earth have in fact been fairly examined and clearly falsified. This link lists a couple of relatively simple evidences for an earth much older than 6000 years: https://letterstocreationists.wordpress.com/2014/09/07/some-simple-evidences-for-an-old-earth/

These evidences include angular unconformities, fossil soils with animal burrows, massive salt deposits, thick limestone layers including caves, annual layers (“varves”) in lake sediments, and annual layers in glaciers.

LAYERS IN GLACIERS AND ICE CORES

One of the most easily understood evidences for an older earth are the cores drilled down into lake bottoms and glaciers. In most cases, it is as clear as it can be that the layers are annual years, and we can count them down with visual and chemical analyses well past the 2400 B.C. date of the Flood, or 4000 B.C. date of Creation. There are no shaky “assumptions” involved. (For the deeper glacier layers, e.g. past 30,000 year or so, visual identification becomes impossible, so the counting gets less precise but it is still meaningful). As noted in the link above, there are multiple corroborating evidences that the glacier cores are indeed annual. For instance, I show a plot which shows that a Greenland glacier core layer counted back to 536 A.D. shows volcanic ash corresponding to a massive eruption known from historical sources to have occurred that year, causing darkened skies and unseasonable cold. That shows beyond all reasonable doubt that these glacial layers are in fact annual.

Since these annual layers are so clear, YE creationist writers make up all sorts of objections to them. But these objections all fall apart upon examination. For instance, you mentioned the “Lost Squadron”, where WWII planes were buried under some 75 meters of ice. Your slide states that this 75 meters of ice “would normally be read as 2000 years of ice, by standard methods.” That is completely wrong, and is known to be wrong. It is well known that the snowfall is much, much higher on the coast of Greenland where the planes were found, than in the deep interior where the ice cores are drilled and where conditions are more stable. The YE creationists (i.e. Answers in Genesis, Creation.com, etc.) have been informed of all this, but they persist in mounting this as an objection to the ice cores. This is not honest. Sadly, this deception is effective – -you are a reasonable person, but this took you in, since, of course, there was no way for you to know that the snowfalls are so different. (I am not blaming you AT ALL, you are just a victim of YE creationist literature). I note other failed objections for glacial layers in the link above.

 

I have a whole article on lake varves here, https://letterstocreationists.wordpress.com/2019/03/04/annual-layers-varves-in-lake-sediments-show-the-earth-is-not-young/ .You can simply count down some of these layers for over 9000 years or more, with no disturbances from any Flood. This is about as straightforward as one can get. Here is how the varves in cold climates like Sweden form:

Schematic model explaining the sediment cycle of the seasonally deposited lamina in biogenic/clastic varves. Modified from: Zillén et al, Boreas, Vol 32, Issue 4 December 2003 Pages 612-626
https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1502-3885.2003.tb01239.x

And here is what these varves look like (the dark/light winter/spring transition is nearly always very clear under the microscope):

Caption: A microphotograph of biogenic/clastic varves from Sarsjon, a lake in northern Sweden. The different layers (laminae), which constitute a general varve, are labelled as in the figure above.
(i) light-colored spring
(ii) light (brown) summer
(iii) light-colored autumn (not always visible)
(iv) dark brown winter
Source: Zillén et al, Boreas, Vol 32, Issue 4 December 2003 Pages 612-626 . Labels redrawn.

And here is the varve counting “age” (the thick solid black line), shown as years Before Present (where Present = 1950) versus sediment depth for a particular Swedish lake. Over 9000 annual layers accumulated regularly, with no disturbance for a worldwide Flood 4400 years ago. (The layers stop about 9000 years ago, since that is about when the last glaciers melted back from Sweden so this lake could form).

Caption: Sediment depth (y-axis) versus dates from varve counts and from carbon-14 dating of samples from sediment, for two Swedish lakes. Thick lines are the varve counts. Thin lines on either side of the thick lines represent the estimated cumulative uncertainty in the varve counts. “Isolation” is when each lake became isolated, as the Ice Age glaciers in Sweden receded. Modified from Zillén et al, Boreas, Vol 32, Issue 4 December 2003 Pages 612-626. Dashed “Flood” and Creation lines added.

As may be expected, YE creationist organizations make various objections to lake varves. For instance, they claim that more than one set of sediment layers per year can be laid down in lake sediments, and thus we cannot trust these deep cores of lake sediments. Of course multiple layers do form in some lakes – -that is obvious, and scientists are well aware of that and they are quite capable of distinguishing between real annual layers and other layers. Scientists specifically choose lakes that are relatively narrow and deep, to avoid issues with wind storms stirring the bottom sediments. And they err on the side of caution in this regard – no one wants to be embarrassed by publishing that certain layers are annual varves, only to be corrected by some sharp-eyed future researcher. For instance, in the figure above, the authors are careful to note that in two small segments the layers were not as clear, though they were still visible. So this is another example of typical YE creationist misleading tactics – – yes, it is true that multiple layers can form in one year in certain locations, but in reality that has nothing to do with the actual, serious observations of varves. However, this tactic serves to raise doubts in the minds of Christians about varve dating.

MT SAINT HELENS ASH LAYERS AND UNIFORMITARIANISM

You mention the recent Mt. Saint Helens eruption, ash deposits with layers and massive mud flows, and a canyon rapidly cut through the compacted ash layers, as though that canyon somehow disproves the views of geologists that the Grand Canyon took millions of years to form. Two comments: First, geologists do not blindly assume that every process is slow, so it is not true that “under naturalism” these layers would take a long time to form. Any decent geologist would look at those ash layers, immediate recognize that they were layers from a volcanic eruption, and assume that they were therefore laid down in hours or days, not in the course of a million years.

The old Lyell “uniformitarianism” (assuming that every event in the past could only take place at the slow rates usually observed, with no provision for catastrophes like eruptions, floods from glacial ice dams breaking, etc.) was long ago replaced by “actualism” — which assumes the laws of physics hold true across time and space, but recognizes the earth’s history includes both gradual and rapid processes. YE advocates have been informed of all this, but they still reach back 100-200 years to find examples of old uniformitarian thinking, in order to try to discredit geology. That is again misleading. Old-style uniformitarianism is not the reason why modern geologists reject the Flood. They reject it because there is zero evidence for it, and because there are many, many features of the earth which are clearly much older than 4400 or 6000 years.

Second comment on the ash layers: There is all the difference in the world between erosion in a layer of recent ash deposits even if it is somewhat compacted (this ash was not solidified into “solid rock”), and erosion in really hard rock. Try shooting a jet of water into a compacted dirt hillside versus at a concrete wall. For instance, the Colorado River is a very vigorous river, flowing 24/7 year round, but the rate of its erosion of the hard metamorphic rock in the base of the Grand Canyon is so slow it is almost imperceptible. So it is nonsensical for YE creationists to claim that Mt Saint Helens ash-field erosion shows the Grand Canyon could have been carved in a year.

FOLDED ROCKS

You showed a slide with a folded rock formation, suggesting that it might well have formed with wet rock layers. Actually, what you showed would not look like it does, if those large rock layers were wet when they were folded – the large layers would have smeared and mixed.

It is well known that solid rock, if buried under some thousands of feet of other rock or sediment, and thus at high temperature and pressure, can easily deform as shown in your slide, over millions of years. A piece of glass will shatter if you try to bend it at room temperature, but glass blowers heat it up till softens, in order to bend it. See here     https://letterstocreationists.wordpress.com/2015/01/03/evidences-for-a-young-earth/             for my write-up of a bent rock formation in the Grand Canyon which Answers in Genesis claimed was formed when the rock was wet and soft, whereas the actual evidence of fractures shows the rock was hard when it was bent.

WIDESPREAD ROCK FORMATIONS ON CONTINENTS

If it weren’t for active plate tectonics, all the continents would erode down to nothing and be covered by shallow seas. Plate motion is driven by very slow convection currents in the earth’s mantle. Exactly what those currents are, and where they are relative to the position of the continental plates, varies with time. So in some geological eras (like the present) there is a lot of land mass at elevations high above sea level, while in other eras much more of the continents were covered by shallow seas. For instance, 385 million years ago, Michigan and Illinois, and the area of what is now the western Appalachians, was covered with water:

Paleogeographic reconstruction showing the Appalachian Basin area during the Middle Devonian period. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palaeogeography

So (contrary to what you suggested in your video) regular geology has no problem explaining widespread sedimentary formations on continents. Ironically, it is Flood geology that cannot readily account for the widespread rock layers we actually observe, as explained here: https://geochristian.com/2009/05/19/six-bad-arguments-from-answers-in-genesis-part-3/

Side comment: You may have gotten your figure from this AIG article, or something like it: https://answersingenesis.org/geology/rock-layers/transcontinental-rock-layers/ . That article claims, among other things, that the widespread Coconino sandstone formation was laid down in rapidly moving water. The reality is that this formation was not formed by water-born deposits. Rather, it is wind-sculpted desert sand dunes (later buried under marine sediments after sea level rose again). The angle of the bedding planes within the formation is much too high to be a marine deposit, and there are lots of terrestrial animal tracks (reptiles, scorpions, spiders, etc.). The frosted surface of the wind-blown grains (different from smooth beach sand) comports with a desert origin. Naturally, YE creationists don’t want to admit this desert origin, since it completely destroys their Flood geology (can’t have massive dry deserts forming in the middle of the Flood) so they try to spin facts to try to support a water deposition. See here for my discussion of this issue: https://letterstocreationists.wordpress.com/grand-canyon-creation/   )

ON FOSSILS

I will pick just one area to mainly focus on for the rest of this document, which is fossils, and especially transitional or intermediate fossils. Some background is necessary in order to understand the fossil evidence.

There are three key principles to keep in mind:

1) Very, very, very few of all the organisms that have died in past eons became fossilized. As we can observe today, nearly all carcasses rot or are eaten by scavengers rather than being buried intact in rock layers and forming hard, detectable fossils. Of the remains that do get fossilized, many are later eroded away, or smeared beyond recognition in metamorphic transformations deep in the earth. Also, of all the potential fossil-bearing rocks, only a small fraction of them are available near the surface for paleontologists to examine. Thus, it is not surprising that we do not find actual fossils for many of the species, including intermediate species, that we believe to have existed.

The Coelacanth fishes furnish a classic example of the fickleness of the fossil record. The Coelacanth order of fishes was once widespread in the ancient seas. Coelacanths peaked in the fossil record about 240 million years ago, and then declined. The most recent known fossil dates back to about 80 million years ago. It was thought that they had become extinct. In 1938, however, a live coelacanth was discovered in the Indian Ocean. Since then a number of others have been caught. (As might be expected, these modern specimens are not precisely the same species or even genus as the fossil coelacanths, but they are clearly coelacanths). Unless we are prepared to claim that an Intelligent Agent supernaturally re-created these modern coelacanths, we must acknowledge that some population of these fish has existed for the past 80 million years but without leaving a trace in the fossil record.

(2) The basic arithmetic of population genetics shows that it is difficult for new genetic mutations to become established in very large populations. Thus, it is far more likely that a new species will develop within a small, isolated population, especially if that population is under some environmental stress that would favor genetic changes. Such a small, transient population is unlikely to leave a trace in the fossil record. If the new species becomes more fit than the old species, the new species will expand in numbers and only then is likely to appear in the fossil record. But once a species is widespread and successful in its ecological niche, there will be diminished selection pressure for changes, so fossils of this now well-adapted species may appear for perhaps millions of years with showing little change.

( 3) Evolutionary lineages tend to be “branchy”. Typically the organisms out on the side branches show up in the fossil record, rather than the transitional ones along the main “trunk” of the evolutional family tree. The transitional ones along the “trunk” would have existed in small, isolated populations whereas some of the organisms on the side branches will be the large, established, stable populations, which will leave appreciable fossils. This trend is illustrated below:

Expected Intermediate Fossil Finds

In this figure, living species are shown as solid black dots, and fossil (extinct) species as black circles. As noted, the species that actually leave appreciable amounts of fossil evidence will tend to be large, stable populations out on the ends of the “branches” (e.g. A, B, C, D, E), whereas the small, isolated, probably stressed populations in transition (i.e. along the dashed line of lineage) will likely not leave enough fossils to be found by us millions of years later.

Thus, we should expect many gaps in the observable fossil record. The fact that various transitional fossils have not yet been found is not a rational basis for believing that these transitional forms never existed. It is worth noting that as time goes by, more and more gaps do get filled in by additional fossil discoveries (as predicted from common descent). However, there will always be some gaps left.

ARE THERE TRANSITIONAL FOSSILS?

First we have to set reasonable expectations here. As noted above, we do not expect to find fossils of the species along the actual core lineage, or transitions between these species. (Again, these direct transitional species will be in small, stressed populations which will likely not show up in the fossil record).

However, we should find fossils of at least some of the more plentiful, successful species out on the “branches” of the family tree. Let’s call these “branched intermediates”, to distinguish them from “direct intermediates”. These branched intermediates will show most of the intermediate features that are developing along the main “trunk” of the family tree, and so they are validly referred to as intermediate or transitional species. They are what paleontologists typically mean when they talk about transitional fossils.

So, do such intermediate fossils exist? Yes, there are plenty of these transitional fossils. The National Academy of Sciences notes,

In Darwin’s time, paleontology was still a rudimentary science. Large parts of the geological succession of stratified rocks were unknown or inadequately studied.

Darwin, therefore, worried about the rarity of intermediate forms between some major groups of organisms.

Today, many of the gaps in the paleontological record have been filled by the research of paleontologists. Hundreds of thousands of fossil organisms, found in well-dated rock sequences, represent successions of forms through time and manifest many evolutionary transitions. As mentioned earlier, microbial life of the simplest type was already in existence 3.5 billion years ago. The oldest evidence of more complex organisms (that is, eucaryotic cells, which are more complex than bacteria) has been discovered in fossils sealed in rocks approximately 2 billion years old. Multicellular organisms, which are the familiar fungi, plants, and animals, have been found only in younger geological strata.

.. So many intermediate forms have been discovered between fish and amphibians, between amphibians and reptiles, between reptiles and mammals, and along the primate lines of descent that it often is difficult to identify categorically when the transition occurs from one to another particular species. …The fossil record thus provides consistent evidence of systematic change through time—of descent with modification.

[Science, Evolution, and Creationism by the National Academy of Sciences,   http://www.nap.edu/read/6024/chapter/4#13]

Here is one figure showing some of the transitional fossils between fish and the first four-footed tetrapods (primitive amphibians):

Source: P. E. Ahlberg and J. A. Clack, Nature 440, 747-749 (2006)

In this figure above from Ahlberg and Clack  can be seen the differences in skeletal and other morphological features among the fossils species discussed above. There is a gradual loss of the gill cover (blue), and a reshaping of the skull. Note that the scientists in drawing this figure depict each of these fossil species as branches off the main lineage line. That is, they do not claim these species as direct ancestors of modern amphibians, but as closely-related “branched” intermediates, as we discussed above.

Here is another figure illustrating fish-tetrapod intermediate forms, which calls out the specific changes in limb structure between the fossils:

Evolution of Tetrapods, showing limbs. Source: https://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/article/evograms_04

 

YE creationists will always find something to complain about, but for the rest of the world, this fossil series provides a reasonably complete set of transitional fossils for the fish-to-tetrapod transition.

I have a whole article on transitional fossils, https://letterstocreationists.wordpress.com/2014/04/02/realistic-expectations-for-transitional-fossils/ , which describes some other transitional series.

WHALE EVOLUTION

Since you brought up whale fossils, let’s look briefly at them.

Whale Evogram, showing bodies and skulls. Source: https://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/article/evograms_03

This figure describes some of the gradual changes in body parts. One of these trends is for the nasal opening in the skull to move from the front of the snout, to further back on the snout, and eventually to become a blow-hole on the top of the head:

 

Whale Blowhole Position Evolution

Again, this is about as complete a transitional series as one could ask for.

It gets even better when we factor in genetics. Modern whales have no exterior hind legs. But if they were actually descended from land mammals, they should still have the genes for making hind legs, even though these genes would be deactivated. We look in the whale genome…and there are the hind leg genes, as predicted.

There are two main classes of whales. One class has teeth (as do nearly all mammals), but the other class, the baleen whales have no hard teeth. Instead, they have a fibrous filter in their mouths to collect edible food bits from the water. However, if these baleen whales descended from land mammals that had teeth, they should still have (deactivated) genes for making enameled teeth. We look in the baleen whale genome…and there are the deactivated teeth genes, as predicted.

This illustrates the predictive power of evolutionary theory. Again and again, evolution predicts that a certain novel feature should be found, and as additional data is gathered, the predictions are fulfilled. This is a major reason why scientists are so sure that evolution is true. This is how science is done: take initial observations, propose a theory that explains them, use that theory to make novel predictions, then take more data to test whether the theory is valid. Evolution passes this test over and over and over again, whereas YE creationism does not.

Since the whale transitional series is so impressive, of course the YE creationists mount all kinds of objections. I have not seen the particular DVD you mentioned, but I have read numerous articles by YE creationists trying to attack this clear evidence for whale evolution. None of their objections actually amounts to anything. For instance, I saw in one of your slides the “admission” by researcher Gingerich that “the Rodhocetus fossil contained no evidence of whale tail (fluke) or blowhole.” The scientific response to this “admission” would be: “Of course Rodhocetus doesn’t have a tail fluke or a blowhole at the top of its head ! It is an intermediate species, not a final modern whale.” If you look on the figure above the figure above, you will see that all of its features are only maybe a third of the way along between the starting land mammal (Pakicetus) and modern whales (it still has hind legs). Its nostril hole has migrated about a quarter of the way back along its head, which is about where we expect it for that stage of evolution.

MINING FOR QUOTES ON FOSSILS

There are many fossil series which bridge important evolutionary transitions. A deceitful tactic which YE creationist authors practice to discredit this fact is to dig around in old, often outdated literature and “mine” for quotes that seem to say that there are no transitional fossils. Often they do this by pulling phrases out of context, or carefully editing away words to make the quote say something that the author did not really mean. There is a large section ( the “Quote Mine Project”) of the TalkOrigins site dedicated to exposing these misleading quotations.

I will deal with three such quotes that I saw on your slides. (Once again, I am not at all criticizing you for using these quotes – -the responsibility lies with those who foist these quotes onto unsuspecting lay people).

The Darwin “Admission”

In his Origin of Species Darwin wrote:

The number of intermediate varieties, which have formerly existed must be truly enormous. Why then is not every geological formation and every stratum full of such intermediate links? Geology assuredly does not reveal any such finely graduated organic chain; and this, perhaps is the most obvious and serious objection which can be urged against the theory.

This quote from Darwin’s Origin of Species is presented frequently on YE creationist web sites as an admission by Darwin that the facts were against his theory. What the creationists typically fail to include is the very next sentence, in which Darwin tells why this is NOT a problem for his theory:

The explanation lies, as I believe, in the extreme imperfection of the geological record.

This is exactly correct, as we have explained above: very few organisms get fossilized and then found by us, and the few that do are far more likely to be members of a large, stable population than representatives of a small, stressed populations in transition.

Darwin acknowledged that there were not millions of finely-graded intermediate fossils lying everywhere, yet still a reasonable number of significant transitional fossils had been found, even in his day. He wrote:

As the accumulation of each formation has often been interrupted, and as long blank intervals have intervened between successive formations, we ought not to expect to find, as I attempted to show in the last chapter, in any one or in any two formations, all the intermediate varieties between the species which appeared at the commencement and close of these periods: but we ought to find after intervals, very long as measured by years, but only moderately long as measured geologically, closely allied forms, or, as they have been called by some authors, representative species; and these assuredly we do find. We find, in short, such evidence of the slow and scarcely sensible mutations of specific forms, as we have the right to expect.

The YE creationists don’t generally show you that quote, where Darwin notes that we do “assuredly” find transitional fossils of the type that “we have the right to expect”, given the realities of fossil formation.

The Colin Patterson “Admission”

Here is a quote from paleontologist Colin Patterson, which is often cited by YE creationist authors, and which appears on one of your slides:

I fully agree with your comments on the lack of direct illustration of evolutionary transitions in my book. If I knew of any, fossil or living, I would certainly have included them. . .I will lay it on the line, there is not one such fossil for which one might make a watertight argument.

This was from a letter Patterson wrote in 1979, in reply to an inquiry from YE creationist Luther Sunderland. It is emphatic, but what did Patterson actually mean here?

In Patterson’s 1979 letter to Sunderland, the full text continues:

The reason is that statements about ancestry and descent are not applicable in the fossil record. Is Archaeopteryx the ancestor of all birds? Perhaps yes, perhaps no: there is no way of answering the question. It is easy enough to make up stories of how one form gave rise to another, and to find reasons why the stages should be favoured by natural selection. But such stories are not part of science, for there is no way to put them to the test.

YE creationists do not show this full text, because it shows that Patterson was NOT denying the existence of the usual “branched” intermediate fossils. What he was saying is that we can’t be sure of the exact lineage relations among the various fossil animals, since there is not enough information to test whether a proposed ancestral relationship is correct or not.

In other words, if all we have are the branched-intermediate fossils A, B, C, D, and E in the figure below (which I showed earlier), that constitutes reasonable support for the notion that the current living species F and G evolved from earlier forms. However, we don’t have fossils of the species that lie right along the main dashed lineage line, and we cannot be absolutely sure of the exact relations among A, B, C, D, and E; we could have drawn other configurations of the dashed lineage line(s) that would also fit the fossil data we have. That is what Patterson meant by “lack of direct illustration of evolutionary transitions.”

Expected Intermediate Fossil Finds

In later correspondence, Patterson explicitly confirmed that what he meant by   “lack of direct illustration of evolutionary transitions” was lack of testable direct transitional fossils, not lack of credible branched intermediate fossils. YE creationists have been confronted with this later correspondence, but they continue to show the original, deceitfully edited quote. See http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/patterson.html for the full story here.

Patterson certainly acknowledged the usual “branched” fossil intermediates, as evidenced by this passage from his 1978 book Evolution (p 131-133):

In several animal and plant groups, enough fossils are known to bridge the wide gaps between existing types. In mammals, for example, the gap between horses, asses and zebras (genus Equus) and their closest living relatives, the rhinoceroses and tapirs, is filled by an extensive series of fossils extending back sixty-million years to a small animal, Hyracotherium, which can only be distinguished from therhinoceros-tapir group by one or two horse-like details of the skull. There are many other examples of fossil ‘missinglinks’, such as Archaeopteryx, the Jurassic bird which links birds with dinosaurs (Fig. 45), and Ichthyostega, the late Devonian amphibian which links land vertebrates and the extinct choanate (having internal nostrils) fishes. . .

You noted verbally that, “Naturalists don’t like it when creationists use this [Patterson] quote.” The reason naturalists “don’t like it” is that it is dishonest for creationists to keep citing a partial, out-of-context quote that is spun to convey the opposite of what Patterson actually meant.

Patterson on fossil gaps among Cambrian phyla

In your slides appears another quote from Colin Patterson (Evolution, 1999), “But there are still great gaps in the fossil record. Most of the major groups of animals (phyla) appear fully fledged in the early Cambrian rocks, and we know of no fossil forms linking them.”

That is actually fine as far as it goes. But it doesn’t go as far as it may appear. One needs to understand what is meant by “fully fledged” phyla. That means a fossil meets the core definitional criteria of membership in a phyla. It does not mean that modern-type animals like mammals or even modern fish were actually present. There were arthropods in the mid-Cambrian, but no insects (which are by far the most common arthropods today).

We vertebrates are considered members of the phylum Chordata. By definition, chordates possess (at some point in their life-cycle) a notochord, a dorsal nerve cord, pharyngeal slits, an endostyle, and a post-anal tail. There are organisms which meet these criteria in the Cambrian fossils, but these earliest “chordates” are basically swimming worms. The crudest fish don’t appear in the fossil record for millions of years afterward, and modern type fish after more millions of years, and the first amphibians after more millions of years, then reptiles appear in the fossil record and still later, mammals. That pattern is consistent with evolution, not with a worldwide Flood raging across the earth and mixing and burying things.

Biologos notes:

The major animal body plans that appeared in the Cambrian Explosion did not include the appearance of modern animal groups such as: starfish, crabs, insects, fish, lizards, birds and mammals. These animal groups all appeared at various times much later in the fossil record. The forms that appeared in the Cambrian Explosion were more primitive than these later groups, and many of them were soft-bodied organisms. However, they did include the basic features that define the major branches of the tree of life to which later life forms belong. For example, vertebrates are part of the Chordata group. The chordates are characterized by a nerve cord, gill pouches and a support rod called the notochord. In the Cambrian fauna, we first see fossils of soft-bodied creatures with these characteristics. However, the living groups of vertebrates appeared much later. It is also important to realize that many of the Cambrian organisms, although likely near the base of major branches of the tree of life, did not possess all of the defining characteristics of modern animal body plans. These defining characteristics appeared progressively over a much longer period of time.

The further back we go in time, e.g. back the Cambrian period some half-billion years ago, the less likely it is that whatever fossils were formed would survive being buried beyond our reach in further sediment or squashed beyond recognition or elevated and eroded away. So our access to Cambrian fossils is limited. Also, the organisms in the Cambrian tended to be soft-bodied, worm-like or slug-like animals that would not generally fossilize well. There are a few spots like the Burgess shale with exceptionally fine conditions for preserving these fragile creatures, but these few spots can only give us brief snapshots in time of the progress of evolution, not the full movie. As hard body parts evolved later in the Cambrian, we find more abundant fossils, but by then the different phyla were already defined. There is plenty of evidence of worm-like activity in the earliest Cambrian in the form of worm burrows in sea floor sediment, but the animals that made those burrows are not generally preserved. So it is not too surprising that soft-bodied fossils from the earliest Cambrian/late pre-Cambrian aren’t available to trace the earliest differentiation of the animal phyla.

ARCHAEOPTERYX

From Wikipedia:

Despite their small size, broad wings, and inferred ability to fly or glide, Archaeopteryx had more in common with other small Mesozoic dinosaurs than with modern birds. In particular, they shared the following features with the dromaeosaurids and troodontids: jaws with sharp teeth [in the adult stage, unlike the few modern birds which can display teeth as chicks] , three fingers with claws, a long bony tail, hyperextensible second toes (“killing claw”), feathers (which also suggest warm-bloodedness), and various features of the skeleton.   These features make Archaeopteryx a clear candidate for a transitional fossil between non-avian dinosaurs and birds.

Archaeopteryx is such a mix of bird and dinosaur characteristics that paleontologists go back and forth on whether to classify it as a bird or as a dinosaur. The current opinion is to classify it with dinosaurs. At any rate, it has a number of skeletal characteristics (e.g. long, bony tail) that are clearly like dinosaurs, not like any modern birds. It was probably a branched intermediate, not a direct ancestor of modern birds.

YE creationists dive into old literature and pull quotes out of context to try to show Archaeopteryx was “just a bird”. These spin efforts are discussed here: http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/archaeopteryx/info.html

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

FINAL COMMENTS

If you want my comments on more of your science slides, I am happy to give them, but this should suffice to show why practicing scientists find YE creationism to be untenable.

I realize I have used harsh words like “deceptive” and “dishonest”, but I am just calling it the way I see it. I recognize that YE creationist authors do not intend to be dishonest. Rather, they are being consistent with their approach that the literal interpretation of the Genesis narrative must be true, and therefore any evidence that seems to contradict that must be wrong and can therefore can and should be denied. Their underlying motive, to honor God’s word, is commendable. Unfortunately, as with defenders of Old Testament literalism in Paul’s day, this is an instance of “zeal not according to knowledge” ( Rom 10:2).

However pure the underlying motives, YE creationism creates a poor witness. Scientists wryly refer to it as “Lying for Jesus”. In the words of one missionary, “It creates a nearly insurmountable barrier between the educated world and the church… How many have chosen to give up their faith altogether rather than to accept scientific nonsense or a major reinterpretation of Scripture? …We are sowing the seeds of a major crisis which will make the job of world evangelism even harder than it is already.”

Long ago Saint Augustine warned of the consequences of having Christians “talking nonsense” about the physical world, based on some interpretation of the Scripture:

Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the Earth, the Heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn.

The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of the faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? – St. Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis (408 A.D) Book 1, ch.19.

I know that young earth creationist organizations mean well, and think they are defending the truth of the Scripture against the biased infidels, but it seems to me that (1) they are not being true to the facts of creation or to the intent of the Bible, (2) they bring discredit on the gospel, making it harder for a scientifically literate person to take it seriously, (3) they divert Christian resources from more worthy works, (4) they furnish ammunition to aggressive atheists who would like to shut down Christian schools and home schooling, and (5) they cause many Christian young people to lose their faith when they find out YE creationism is not true.

If some adult doesn’t accept an old earth or evolution, I don’t see that as a big problem. But in many churches and Christian families, young people are told that a literal interpretation of Genesis is the only acceptable one, and there is no natural explanation for things like babies and flowers. These young people are then set up to lose their faith when they discover the earth is old, and evolution is how we got here. Sadly, this happens all the time. On the internet one can find anguished mothers telling of the day their son came home and told them that he had found evolution to be true, and therefore (since he was told that evolution is incompatible with the Bible) he had given up on Christianity.

In my opinion, the way for Christians to teach their kids to deal with evolution is not to deny it, but point out that God often works through extended processes (think: sanctification and parables of seeds growing). My daughters are now adults, with vibrant Christian faith. As they were growing up, we exposed them to the full range of writings by C. S. Lewis. He (at least provisionally) did not dispute biological evolution. What he did was refute the ungodly implications that unbelieving naturalists tried to draw from evolution. That was the spirit in which I addressed the subject in my talk at the ISI dinner.

I have been very frank here. I hope that is what you wanted. I understand if you want to stick with YE creationism, and I don’t consider it something that needs to cause any friction among us.

Best regards,

Scott

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2019 Letters to a Creationist, Part 1: Bible Interpretation

Preface for blog: Earlier this year I had a discussion with an evangelical Christian woman who I will call Rachel (not her real name). She had recently learned that I endorse modern scientific findings in geology (the earth is old) and biology (today’s fauna, including humans, physically evolved from earlier life-forms), and that I have no problem squaring that with the Bible’s teachings. She sent me links to some videos that she and her husband had made, where they presented scientific and exegetical arguments in favor of young earth (Y.E.) creationism, and invited my comments.

It has been experience that once someone gets committed to Y.E. creationism, it is usually impossible to have them change their mind. No matter how much of their best evidence for a young earth that I refute, and no matter how much evidence for an old earth I present, they end up waving it all away. Nevertheless, I decided to run an experiment with Rachel. She is intelligent and good-willed, with some familiarity with science, and (unlike my typical encounters on the internet) she knew me personally to be a devout, Bible-honoring Christian.

So I took some time to compose this email (reproduced below, with a few wording changes) to address the issue of Bible interpretation, and also another document addressing many of the scientific claims made in her videos. I will share that other document as my next post here (“2019 Letters to a Creationist,Part 2”). I hoped that by showing that these “evidences” she relied on for a young earth do not hold up upon inspection, I might get her to reconsider her commitment to Y.E. creationism.

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Hi Rachel,
I did listen to all three of your video presentations. You did a fine job presenting many of the relevant scriptures, and also sharing young earth perspectives on some scientific issues.

It seems like you are interested in my comments, so I will share some thoughts here. This is not in the spirit of who is right and who wrong, but to perhaps help you understand how another devout Christian can have a very different opinion on some of these matters.

First, I’d like to make it clear that I am not criticizing anyone who holds to Young Earth (YE) creationism. When I refer to “YE creationists”, I mean YE advocate groups like Answers in Genesis and Institute for Creation Research who promote this viewpoint, not the millions of lay people who go along with what these organizations promote.

There are some picky details involved with the scientific issues, so I will address those in a separate word document. In this email, I will share some of my thoughts on the Bible interpretation issue.

I think a key issue is the extent to which it is appropriate to use observations of the physical world to influence our interpretation of the scripture. I think somewhere in the videos the question was asked whether science can trump the plain sense of the scripture. I will note that this is not an issue of whether the Bible is inspired and authoritative, but an issue of how to interpret it.

The approach taken by YE creationism is to elevate their particular literal interpretation of Genesis over any possible physical evidence. This is stated, for instance, in the preface to the book that launched modern YE creationism, The Genesis Flood, authors Whitcomb and Morris reveal the basis of their thinking:

We believe that the Bible, as the verbally inspired and completely inerrant Word of God, gives us a true framework of historical and scientific interpretation, as well as of so-called religious truth. This framework is one of special creation of all things, complete and perfect in the beginning, followed by the introduction of a universal principle of decay and death into the world after man’s sin, culminating in a worldwide cataclysmic destruction of the “world that then was” by the Genesis Flood. We take this revealed framework of history as our basic datum, and then try to see how all the pertinent data can be understood in this context…the real issue is not the correctness of the interpretation of various details of the geological data, but simply what God has revealed in His Word concerning these matters.

On this telling, the authors hold that the earth was recently created, that decay and death only entered the world following Adam’s apple, and all terrestrial life was drowned apart from the humans and animals on Noah’s ark. Knowing this to be the case, they feel justified in distorting or ignoring whatever physical evidence points to an old earth – they know that old-earth evidence must be invalid, so they need give it no credence: “We take this revealed framework of history as our basic datum, and then try to see how all the pertinent data can be understood in this context.”

Their fundamental mistake is assuming that a verbally inspired, authoritative Word of God must always be correct in its statements concerning the physical world. This assumption drives the whole agenda of YE creationism. I respect the pious motivations behind this approach, but it is simply wrong. That is not the way hermeneutics actually works. Various examples can be adduced which demonstrate that Scriptural statements about the physical world, which were appropriate and meaningful for the original audience, can be incorrect according to modern knowledge. To take a simple example, Jesus taught:

“What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.” [Mark 4:30-32 NIV].

The literal statement here is that the mustard seed is the “smallest of all seeds on earth”. The mustard seed was indeed the smallest seed that ancient Galilean farmers were familiar with, so this was a useful illustration for that audience for the growth of the kingdom from tiny beginnings. Modern naturalists have found other plant seeds which smaller than the mustard seed. If a Bible literalist were truly consistent, he should respond, “I don’t care what those godless scientists say, Jesus said that the mustard seed was the smallest seed, and that’s that. This is the infallible Word of God, so every statement regarding the natural world must be correct.” (That is what YE creationists do with Genesis). Most Christians understand that this parable was not really intended to teach horticultural facts; to obsess over whether Jesus taught “error” here would be to entirely miss the point of the passage.

The Bible often presents spiritual or moral teachings in the form of stories or imagery which are not literally true. It is true that the simplest, most literal readings of Genesis 1-3 and other passages point to a recent creation. However, it is also true that the simple, literal meanings of many Biblical passages show that the earth is stationary, and the sun and other celestial objects revolve around the earth. These verses include Psalm 104:5 (“He set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved”), Ps. 93:1 (“Surely the world is established, so that it cannot be moved”), I Chron. 16:30 (“The world also is firmly established, It shall not be moved”), the philosophical discourse of Eccl.1:5 (“The sun also rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it arose”), and also the historical chronicle of Josh. 10:13:

So the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, till the people had revenge upon their enemies. Is this not written in the Book of Jasher? So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and did not hasten to go down for about a whole day.

In the 1500s and 1600s, the literal interpretation of these passages was seen as an essential element of Christian belief. Here is what John Calvin in his sermon on 1 Corinthians 10-11 had to say about those monstrous, malicious, devil-possessed people who claim that the earth “shifts and turns”:

We will see some who are so deranged, not only in religion but who in all things reveal their monstrous nature, that they will say that the sun does not move, and that it is the earth which shifts and turns. When we see such minds we must indeed confess that the devil possesses them, and that God sets them before us as mirrors, in order to keep us in his fear. So it is with all who argue out of pure malice, and who happily make a show of their imprudence.

This is the sort of accusation that today’s YE creationists make against those who teach that evolution is compatible with biblical Christianity.

Cardinal Roberto Bellarmine, a prosecutor of Galileo, stated in 1615: “…to affirm that the sun is really fixed in the center of the heavens and the earth revolves swiftly around the sun is a dangerous thing, not only irritating the theologians and philosophers, but injuring our holy faith and making the sacred scripture false.” Note the words: “…injuring our holy faith and making the sacred scripture false.” That is what today’s YE creationists say about an old earth and evolution, i.e. that these concepts injure our faith and make the sacred scripture false.

Galileo did not dispute that the literal teaching of the Bible was of a stationary earth; he just argued that we need to take a non-literal interpretation, in order to remove the apparent conflict with science. As he put it, “The Bible shows the way to go to heaven, not the way the heavens go.”

Practically every Bible commentary since 1800 offers explanations of why these passages which depict a stationary earth need not be taken literally. Is this because our exegetical skills or our command of the Hebrew language are superior to everyone living before that time? No, it is because by 1800 nearly everyone accepted what the scientists had been telling them about these aspects of the physical world. Once this physical picture was accepted, the theologians took a fresh look at the issue and found that, lo and behold, a literal acceptance of a stationary earth was not essential to the Christian faith after all.

Nowadays most evangelical Christians will say, obviously these verses were not supposed to be taken literally. Obviously, these passages reflect the thinking and language of ancient times, and obviously were not intended for making authoritative statements about the physical world. But that is only “obvious” after one has accepted the physical evidence that the earth moves, and has recognized that it is proper to use the information we get from God’s creation to help interpret the meaning of the scriptural texts.

There was an earlier, lesser-known controversy over the “firmament” in Genesis 1. The simple, straightforward meaning of Genesis 1:6-7 and 1:14-18….

6 And God said, “Let there be a vault [Hebrew raqia ]between the waters to separate water from water.” 7 So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. …. 14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. 16 God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. 17 God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, 18 to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good.

….is that God created some sort of thin, solid dome (raqia) in the midst of the primeval waters. This separated the waters below, the oceans, from a great mass of liquid water (not vapor) up above the dome of the sky. God then set the sun and moon into this dome. The Hebrew root for raqia (often translated “firmament” or “expanse”) is the verb raqa. According to the standard Hebrew lexicon of Brown, Driver, and Briggs, raqa means to “beat, stamp, beat out, stamp out”. It is typically applied to metal being beaten out into a thin sheet (e.g. Is. 40:19, Ex. 39:3, Num. 17:4, Jer. 10:9; cf. Num 17:3). Thus, raqia (“firmament”) denotes something which has been beaten out or spread out, like a sheet of metal. Brown, Driver, and Briggs define raqia as, “extended surface, (solid) expanse.” This was not empty space or atmosphere.

The folks best placed to understand the meaning of the ancient Hebrew text would be the ancient Hebrews themselves. The Septuagint translation of Genesis into Greek was done by Jewish scholars around 300 B.C. The Septuagint translators rendered raqia as “stereoma” which connotes solidity, not an empty space. The Latin translations of this passage followed the Septuagint’s lead in rendering this word as “firmamentum,” which again connotes solidity. The King James version retained this usage (“firmament”), while modern translations render it as “expanse” to better mesh with today’s science.

The Jews of the Second Temple period, followed by practically everyone up through the Renaissance, understood the raqia to denote a solid dome above the earth. The Jewish literature of that era includes discussions, for instance, of whether this dome was made of clay or of copper or of iron (3 Apoc. Bar. 3.7-8).

This was not some bizarre concept unique to the Old Testament. Practically everyone in the ancient Middle East believed that the sky was a solid dome. How that dome got created calls for an explanation, which the Genesis story provides. The Genesis creation narrative is an example of God wisely and graciously accommodating to the “science” of that day (rather than trying to correct it), as an effective means to convey the essential and novel message that Yahweh is the sole, sovereign creator.

Martin Luther clearly understood the meaning of this term, and he was greatly annoyed when the scientists (“philosophers”) of his day were questioning the existence of such a solid dome. Luther took a firm stand on defending the plain, literal meaning of the Bible:

Scripture simply says that the moon, the sun, and the stars were placed in the firmament of the heaven, below and above which heaven are the waters… It is likely that the stars are fastened to the firmament like globes of fire, to shed light at night… We Christians must be different from the philosophers in the way we think about the causes of things. And if some are beyond our comprehension like those before us concerning the waters above the heavens, we must believe them rather than wickedly deny them or presumptuously interpret them in conformity with our understanding.

[ Luther’s Works. Vol. 1. Lectures on Genesis, ed. Janoslaw Pelikan, Concordia Pub. House, St. Louis, Missouri, 1958, pp. 30, 42, 43 ]

A woodcut illustration in the 1534 Luther Bible shows the firmament containing the sun, moon, and stars, with the liquid waters up above the heavens, just like Genesis says. Luther’s stand on the firmament is like of today’s YE creationists regarding a literal Adam and a six 24-hour day creation: “the Bible says it, I believe it, phooey on the scientists, and anyone who doesn’t agree with me is wicked or presumptuous”. ( see https://letterstocreationists.wordpress.com/2012/09/03/was-the-expanse-overhead-in-genesis-1-a-solid-dome/ for more on this controversy over the firmament).

Sorry if this has gotten kind of long-winded. I just wanted to make it clear that the reason that I and millions of other science-literate evangelicals reject automatic Bible literalism is not a “low” view of scripture, but rather a balanced view of how God has provided revelation in both his Word and his works. The devout Christian scholar Francis Bacon commended study of both God’s word and God’s works:

Let no man … think or maintain that a man can search too far, or be too well studied in the book of God’s word, or the book of God’s works, divinity or philosophy; but rather let men endeavor an endless progress or proficience in both; only let men beware that they apply both to charity, and not to swelling [pride]; to use, and not to ostentation; and again, that they do not unwisely mingle or confound these learnings together. – – The Advancement of Learning (1605)

His warning against unwisely mingling or confounding these two areas has been, unfortunately, neglected by YE creationists.

Now, you may wonder what practicing scientists, who understand the evidence for the age of the earth and for evolution, do with Genesis and related scriptures, if they don’t hold it to a literal interpretation. I can’t speak for anyone else, and I won’t try to spell it all out in this email, but I have sketched out my approach in two articles on my blog. The first one to look at, if you’re interested, is https://letterstocreationists.wordpress.com/2011/08/21/adam-the-fall-and-evolution-christianity-today-and-world-get-it-wrong/ .That gives an overview. Among other things, it answers the question that was asked in your video, what is the purpose of the Genesis creation story if it is not literally true. (It might help to first read the prequel to that article, Evolution and Faith: My Story, Part 1 ).

The second article deals specifically with Adam and the Fall, including Romans 5, etc. : https://letterstocreationists.wordpress.com/2011/08/21/adam-the-fall-and-evolution-christianity-today-and-world-get-it-wrong/ . You might also be interested in A Survey of Biblical Natural Theology and Jesus on Seeing God in Nature: No Signs, No Justice, No Fear . These are not primarily about creationism, but they do note that if there were widely-available physical evidence of the Flood, that would seem to contradict Jesus’s teaching that no sign would be given to the world in general, apart from his resurrection.

I’ll say it again to be clear: In the interest of time, I am being pretty blunt here, but I am just stating my point of view here, not meaning to call into question anyone else’s motives. You two are both wonderful believers, and I trust we can just agree to disagree here.

Blessings,

Scott

Posted in Bible Interpretation | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

“Friend of Science, Friend of Faith” by Gregg Davidson: A Comprehensive Treatment of Bible and Science

Greg Davidson is chair of geology and geological engineering in at the University of Mississippi. He is a co-author of The Grand Canyon, Monument to an Ancient Earth, which I reviewed here. (He has also authored a science fiction trilogy). He has just come out with a new book, Friend of Science, Friend of Faith, which does a thorough job addressing diverse issues concerning the Bible and creation science. It is a meaty book, with some 270 pages of text, plus a lengthy bibliography and two indices.

In discussing the scientific issues, the author focuses heavily on geology, which is his area of professional expertise. There are also sections of the book which deal with cosmology and evolutionary genetics. As he notes in the Acknowledgments, he sought input from experts in these other disciplines, to ensure accuracy in those areas.

Interpreting the Bible

The first third of the book deals mainly with interpreting the Bible, which is a key area in this controversy. A basic premise of the book (which is supported with theological arguments) is that God is not a massive deceiver, and so we can trust that the physical evidence we find for the great age of the universe, and the evidence for biological evolution, give valid information on what really happened. However, for sincere believers who value God’s opinion over man’s opinion on matters, it makes perfect sense to reject any scientific conclusion if it truly conflicts with the teaching of the Bible. What Professor Davidson does, clearly and thoroughly, is to help readers distinguish between the actual words of the Bible, and our interpretation of those words.

He notes that we have the “tendency to conflate God’s word with our own interpretation of his word.” He goes on to say, “God‘s word is immutable and true; our interpretation is not always so. Failure to recognize this has the potential to cause tremendous personal upheaval. If the weight of evidence begins to accumulate that my interpretation is an error, but I am unable to differentiate my interpretation from scripture itself, I will begin to retreat into a world of contradictions where some truths must be ignored in order to cling to others. “

As an opening illustration, Professor Davidson uses the controversy in the 16th and 17th centuries over whether the earth moves or not. There are a number of Bible passages, which, taken literally, state unequivocally that the earth is stationary, fixed on its foundations, while it is the sun that moves past the earth. A few centuries ago, both Catholic and Protestant theologians asserted that the literal interpretation here was correct. He goes on to list a number of other passages which, taken literally, make physical statements that we know to be untrue. Nearly all modern believers, no matter how conservative, accept that these passages were not intended to teach truth about the physical universe, and thus do not interpret these verses literally.

From there, Professor Davidson argues that we should take what we have learned from these issues, and apply it to more recent scientific findings, including the age of the earth and evolution. Opponents of evolution and of an old earth naturally mount a variety of objections against a nonliteral interpretation of the Genesis creation narrative. Here is where Professor Davidson shows he has really done his homework. He acknowledges a number of these objections fairly, without caricaturing them, and answers them clearly. The overall tone of the book is patient, and sympathetic toward those who are influenced by the young earth creationist point of view.

The book notes that even within the first three chapters of Genesis, there are numerous outright contradictions, if you take each verse literally. Thus, “a great deal of interpretation underlies a superficial, literalist reading of the creation story. In fact, few if any at all truly believe the supposed ‘plain sense’ meaning of the words, for a host of non-literal explanations are required to buttress the purported literal view.”

A Wealth of Illustrations

The book sets forth a number of examples to clarify the underlying issues. For instance, it notes that arguing over whether identification of mechanisms for evolution (e.g. mutations and natural selection) excludes God is as nonsensical as arguing whether gravity excludes God:

Consider a hypothetical God-versus-gravity debate. A ball is released at the top of an incline rolls down the slope. Scientists studying the phenomenon discover that the behavior of the rolling ball is predictable, and develop a theory that the behavior is controlled by something they call gravity. Some of the scientist go so far as to say that God is not necessary to account for the behavior of the ball because they have a good naturalistic explanation for the observed phenomenon. In reaction, some Christians insist that God is the driving force behind all of creation, therefore gravity cannot be true. [pp. 83-84]

Another line of discussion points out some of the flaws of the “baramin-kinds” approach that is currently popular within young earth creationism:

As each group of organisms is created in Genesis 1, a repeated phrase is used that organisms were made and then reproduced, each “after their own kind”.… Israel’s neighbors believed nature to be the chaotic, unpredictable outgrowth of the actions of the precious gods.… But the God of Genesis is not capricious. There is an order to the creation. In human experience, sparrows will give rise to sparrows and sheep will give rise to sheep.

This is not a statement against evolution. Quite to the contrary, evolutionary theory affirms that nature is not controlled by mercurial gods, but acts in an orderly and logical fashion. That orderliness is what allows us to selectively breed to enhance desirable traits in crops or livestock, and even to manipulate the genetic code with reasonable foreknowledge of what it will produce.


Ironically, young-earth creationist have turned the traditional interpretation of this text upside down. Realizing that representative species from the entire earth could not fit on the ark, leading young earth advocates now claim that creatures we would not recognize today entered the ark, with offspring evolving at hyperspeed after exiting to a dramatically changed environment. As an example, a single cat-kind pair leaving the ark gave rise, in a matter of a few generations, to all of today’s lions, tigers, cougars, jaguars, leopards, cheetahs, bobcats, panthers, lynx, ocelots, and house cats, as well as the many extinct varieties of saber-tooth cats. With a biblical
kind defined closer to a biological family, not even sheep, goats, and cows would have been on the ark in forms recognized today, for they are all part of the bovind family.… Noah presumably brought on pairs of a bovind kind, which soon gave rise to goats, sheep, and cows…All this departs radically from a literal/traditional understanding of Genesis. [pp. 84-85]

I will not to try to summarize it here, but I appreciated the discussion on animal suffering and the possible role of human sin in the corruption of the physical universe, relative to the sovereignty of God.

There are many figures in the book, which were carefully chosen to illustrate particular points. These figures are all in black and white or grayscale. These include nice sketches of key fossil intermediates for the evolution of whales and for the reptile-to-mammal transition. Some of my favorite figures are those which compared the expected sequence of fossils for various flood geology scenarios compared to what we actually observe in the sedimentary rock layers.

For instance, young earth creationist sometimes claim that the reason that humans and other modern mammals are not found in the lower rock layers is that they were able to run to higher ground as the floodwaters rose. The figure below illustrates a representative fossil sequence if “fleeing to higher ground” was a dominant mechanism for fossil sorting. (I just snapped a photo of the figure with my cell phone, so it is a bit distorted here).

Cell phone photo of Figure 18 from Friend of Science, Friend of Faith. Copyright Gregg Davidson. Original caption: “Expected fossil sequence if based on the ability to flee rising flood waters, and the sequence as actually found. Horizontal lines represent borders between lower/older layers and higher/younger layers.”

It depicts various slow moving animals like shrews, plus both ferns and flowering plants, appearing in the lower sedimentary rock layers. These plants and animals would not have been able to flee the lowlands, and thus would have been swept away early and buried in the lower sedimentary deposits. Meanwhile, more mobile animals like giraffes and predatory dinosaurs and elephants would be able to escape to higher ground. Of course, there would be both ferns and flowering plants in higher as well as lower elevations, and so these plants would be buried in the higher sedimentary layers along with the elephants and therapod dinosaurs. Flying creatures like birds and pterodactyls would take refuge in the tops of the highest trees on the highest hills and mountains, before they were finally swept away to be buried together in the very highest rock layers from the Flood.

The figure plainly shows that that is not what we actually observe. In reality, pterodactyls and dinosaurs of all kinds are found only in the lower, “Mesozoic” rock layers. There are little or no flowering plant remains there. In the “Cenozoic” rock layers which lie above the Mesozoic are found all kinds of modern-type mammals, including very sluggish ones, and only in those layers do we find a large variety of flowering plants.

The book includes similar figures showing an expected fossil sequence for hydrodynamic or vibrational sorting of animal remains of various shapes and sizes by the moving floodwaters and also an expected fossil sequence for sedimentary rock layers attributed to the global Flood versus post-Flood deposits; again it is shown that these “Flood geology” sequences do not match what we actually find in the sedimentary rock layers.  Hydrodynamic sorting would tend to result in similar size/shape/density animals being grouped together in the same layers (e.g. elephants grouped with medium sized dinosaurs).  But that is not observed in the rock layers.

Although most of the book’s arguments are aimed at young earth creationism and its Flood geology, there is a chapter on Intelligent Design. Intelligent Design proponents often accept an old earth, and the appearance of new plants and animals over time as indicated by the fossil record, but they claim that natural processes such as mutation and natural selection cannot produce significantly new forms. Intelligent Design proponents energetically point out the many instances where we do not yet have a complete natural explanation of this or that evolutionary step, and thus (they claim) the frequent intervention of some (supernatural) Intelligent Agent is required. The book notes that, despite its protestations to the contrary, Intelligent Design is for all practical purposes just a sophisticated god-of-the-gaps exercise, and cites a classic passage by Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

How wrong it is to use God as a stop-gap for the incompleteness of our knowledge. If in fact the frontiers of our knowledge are being pushed further and further back (and that is bound to be the case), then God is being pushed back with them, and is therefore continually in retreat. We are to find God in what we know, not in what we don’t know.

The Stakes Are High

The book opens with a fictitious but representative scenario of a college student named Riley who comes from a conservative Christian home. Her parents and youth minister had told her that the evidence for evolution and an old earth were flimsy, and easily overturned. In her studies, however, she found there is a wealth of transitional fossils which support evolution, as well as geological evidence that the earth is old. When she looked to the campus minister for guidance on this, he handed her a young earth creationist book, filled with scientific assertions which she could immediately see were false. Riley naturally concluded that if the veracity of the Bible depends on the validity of young earth creationism, then the Bible cannot be considered reliable, and that “her family and church had unwittingly indoctrinated her with fairy tales”.

The author’s reverence for God and his word come through in the concluding chapter, where he revisits the type of dilemma faced by “Riley” and he expresses the hope that believers in the future will realize “how much deeper Genesis 1 is than a mere sequence of days, how Scripture and science both speak of a beginning to the universe and of the earth bringing forth life, the incredible artistry of life adapted through time, that nature continues to proclaim the glory of its Author, and that God delights in giving us amazing tools to explore the wonders of his creation long before humans walked the earth.”

He further notes that as a professor, he has personally had the experience of talking with students who were on the verge of giving up their faith because of the impossibility of retaining the literal interpretation of Genesis which they had been taught, and has helped them to see “how much deeper Genesis 1 is than a mere sequence of days”.

Prospective Audience

Because young earth creationists are so energetic and creative in their objections to modern science and to nonliteral interpretations, this controversy has many arms and legs to it. Thus, any book which (like this one) tries to address the majority of the contested points will necessarily be long and involved. I would recommend it without hesitation to anyone who is deeply engaged in the Bible/science controversies or who has had depth exposure to geology or biology. Anyone who had read a number of young earth creationist articles or books has probably picked up many erroneous beliefs, which would be addressed in Friend of Science, Friend of Faith.

On the other hand, if someone is only casually interested in the topic, or if they have not been previously exposed to many young earth arguments and counter-arguments, the length and depth of this book may be off-putting. There is probably some 5-10 page tract which treats Bible interpretation and key physical evidences, which could serve as a standalone introduction to the subject for a nontechnical conservative Christian who is considering the claims of modern science for the first time. (I don’t have a favorite article or pamphlet here – if any readers have a recommendation, I’d be interested to hear about it.) Friend of Science, Friend of Faith would be a good back-up reference for such an introductory tract.

Posted in Age of Earth, American Scientific Affliliation, Bible Interpretation, Fossils | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Evograd Blog Debunks YE Creationist Genetics Claims in Depth

The Internet debate between those who affirm and those who deny the evidence for evolution and an old earth usually takes place on the scale of fairly short articles which are accessible to the average reader. Some supposed evidences for a young earth, such as the changing magnetic field of the earth, or the amount of helium in the atmosphere, can be readily disposed of in just a few pages.

On the other hand, there are topics where the scientific issues are more complex and subtle. In such cases, it seems useful to present a comprehensive examination of all the main points in one write-up. For instance, one of the top 10 evidences for a young earth claimed by Answers in Genesis is the observation of soft tissue in some dinosaur fossil bones. To the layman, this seems to indicate that that these bones cannot be tens of millions of years old as mainstream science says. Rather than trying to address just a few of the scientific issues with soft tissue in a piecemeal manner, I decided to write a fairly long essay which discussed all of the key scientific findings up to that point. This enabled the efficiently addressing of all the substantive young earth claims associated with this topic, and provided a single reference to which readers could be directed.

Every few years some seemingly well-credentialed Young Earth (YE) creationist publishes a new book which is touted as the final demolition of evolution. The sweeping claims in such a book are then regarded as established facts by the consumers of YE creationist literature. It seems helpful in such cases to systematically work through such a book, and compare what the author claims to what the full data actually show. This sort of fair and thorough rebuttal will typically make no impression on dedicated YE creationists (since they rigorously filter everything through their particular interpretation of the Bible), but it can prove enlightening to someone who is on the fence, trying to sort out what the truth really is.

For instance, when John Sanford’s book, Genetic Entropy, was first published in 2005 it was hailed as the definitive proof that modern evolutionary theory is a complete failure. The central claim of that work is that all genomes are (and have been since The Fall) relentlessly deteriorating due to the buildup of unselectable harmful mutations. Jubilant YE creationists widely referred to that book to bolster their beliefs. The author was a respected retired botanist from Cornell. In my own case, a fellow evangelical Christian handed me a copy of that book in 2008, assuming that it would bring me over to the anti-evolution camp. At that point I had not made up my mind about the scientific case for or against evolution, and Genetic Entropy seemed convincing at first reading. Being a professional researcher, I wanted to read some in-depth critical review of the book, and then balance the pros and cons in my own mind.

However, I could not find a thorough critical review. In the end, I wrote my own chapter by chapter review of Genetic Entropy, as a means of clarifying issues for myself and to respond to my well-meaning YE creationist friend. The net result for me personally was to conclude that the evidences presented against evolution were complete failures, if all the facts (not some cherry-picked subset) are laid on the table. (It happens that writing that review of Genetic Entropy  was what launched me into blogging on faith and science – – since no other thorough scientific review of this controversial book seemed to be available, I decided to implement a WordPress blog to put it, and some other material I had drafted, out on the internet for the benefit of others.)

All of this goes to show why I am highlighting here the Evograd blog. The proprietor of this blog, a graduate student in evolutionary biology who prefers to remain anonymous, has produced a relatively few but very weighty studies which treat timely, highly technical subjects. I don’t think his work is as well known as it should be, considering how it directly and thoroughly confronts some key YE creationist claims.

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I first became aware of this blog when looking for commentary on Replacing Darwin, by Answers in Genesis’s Nathaniel Jeanson. This book appears to be the latest, greatest “demolition of evolution” touted by YE creationists. Jeanson has a PhD from Harvard, which is supposed to lend credibility to his work.

The only in-depth critique of this book I was able to find was by Evograd. He systematically exposes Jeanson’s erroneous assumptions and faulty logic. The first seven out of planned ten posts on the blog have been completed. (Evograd’s fans are waiting for the last three installments to appear, but more pressing matters have taken up his time). Replacing Darwin is a long, sprawling, and dense treatise, and so Evograd’s responses are likewise lengthy, diverse, and detailed. I’ll mention a few points here, but won’t try to summarize all the issues.

Part 6: Jeanson’s Fulcrum Fails” treats chapter 7 of Replacing Darwin. In that chapter Jeanson claimed that the actual, observed amount of mitochondrial mutational differences between various species is much, much lower than predicted by standard evolutionary timescales – – and therefore, the biosphere (and indeed the earth) must be much, much younger than posited by mainstream science. But…the Evograd blogger notes that Jeanson used a mutation rate for mitochondria that is about ten times too high, and also did not take into account the elementary math of how the apparent rate of substitutions will tend to slow down for more ancient lineages even if the actual rate is/was constant. These errors (and others) led Jeanson to grossly overestimate the mitochondrial mutations entailed by “standard” evolutionary theory. When those errors are corrected, the data are in fact consistent with evolution.

The seventh and latest installment, “Part 7: A Nuclear Catastrophe“ has links to all the previous posts in the series on Replacing Darwin. In this technically dense post which cites a wide range of relevant literature results, Evograd debunks a number of Jeanson’s claims concerning DNA in the cell nucleus.

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Tomkins on the Human Vitellogenin Pseudogene: Who Needs Signal When You Have Noise? – – Reptiles and birds produce eggs with substantial yolks. The yolk nourishes the embryo as it grows and matures in the egg, prior to hatching. The vitellogenin gene is involved in producing the yolk. That is its function in birds and reptiles, as can be clearly demonstrated. (In some species, this gene has been duplicated, so there is more than one copy of it in the genome, but the function is the same). In modern placental mammals like humans, there is no need for the function of the vitellogenin gene. Human embryos get their nourishment from the placenta, not from an egg yolk, so they have no need of the protein product of the vitellogenin gene. Thus, over the tens of millions of years since the emergence of modern placental mammals, most of this gene has mutated away. However, some mutated, nonfunctional fragments of the vitellogenin gene still appear in the human genome, in a location corresponding to the locus of the functional gene in chickens. Standard evolutionary science holds that mammals descended from egg-laying common ancestors with reptiles, and so finding these deactivated “pseudogene” fragments in this location is a confirmation of evolution. [1]

In response to this evidence for common ancestry, a YE creationist scientist, Jeffrey Tomkins, published an article in an Answers in Genesis journal, claiming that one of these gene fragments is in fact functional. Tomkins identifies it as a key part of a gene that affects neurological processes in the human brain. This claim has been cited as fact by YE creationists all across the internet, and used to deflect the evolutionary evidence of the vitellogenin gene. Enter Evograd: in this article linked above, he eviscerates Tomkins’ contention of functionality, showing that each of Tomkins’ seven lines of argument is utterly worthless. This is another virtuoso performance by the Evograd blogger, showing a keen grasp of subtle technical points and wide command of the relevant literature, combined with clear writing style and ability to focus on the most important issues.

More Evograd articles on the evolutionary significance of pseudogenes:

Dating Shared Processed Pseudogenes in Primates

Pseudogenes Testify to the Evolutionary History of Animals

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Articles dealing with human chromosome number 2.

This chromosome 2seems to represent a fusion of what in all other higher primates are two separate chromosomes (typically called 2A and 2B). In the human chromosome, the actual point of the fusion of the two original chromosomes can be discerned, pointing to common ancestry between humans and other primates.

Chromosome 2 Fusion and Bayes Theorem: Support for Common Ancestry After All

Chromosome 2 Fusion and Bayes Theorem: Addendum

[and also, in   Part 7: A Nuclear Catastrophe , Evograd demolishes Tomkins’ claim (retailed by Jeanson) that a functional gene spans the fusion site in Chromosome 2]

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Some other excellent reads on the Evograd blog:

Testing a Strong Prediction of Universal Common Ancestry

Human Genetics Confirms Mutations as the Drivers of Diversity and Evolution

 

Endnote

[1] A “pseudogene” is a recognizable DNA sequence derived from some functional gene, but which no longer expresses the original protein. For instance, humans have many nonfunctional genes (i.e. pseudogenes), which in other animals are functional genes involved for odor recognition. (Presumably as humans developed higher visual acuity, they became less dependent on sense of smell, and so natural selection was relaxed for retaining these olfactory genes). These pseudogenes, both the coding DNA and related regulatory regions, were originally fully functional (prior to accumulating disabling mutations), so it is not surprising to find that some bits of some pseudogenes have become used in the regulation of some other, still-functional genes in the genome. Opponents of evolution cite these discoveries of functionality as though they overturn the status of pseudogenes as pseudogenes, but that is misleading nonsense.

Per Wikipedia on the definition of pseudogenes:

Pseudogenes are segments of DNA that are related to real genes. Pseudogenes have lost at least some functionality, relative to the complete gene, in cellular gene expression or protein-coding ability. Pseudogenes often result from the accumulation of multiple mutations within a gene whose product is not required for the survival of the organism, but can also be caused by genomic copy number variation (CNV) where segments of 1+ kb are duplicated or deleted.[4] Although not fully functional, pseudogenes may be functional, similar to other kinds of noncoding DNA, which can perform regulatory functions. The “pseudo” in “pseudogene” implies a variation in sequence relative to the parent coding gene, but does not necessarily indicate pseudo-function. Despite being non-coding, many pseudogenes have important roles in normal physiology and abnormal pathology… Pseudogenes are usually characterized by a combination of homology to a known gene and loss of some functionality. That is, although every pseudogene has a DNA sequence that is similar to some functional gene, they are usually unable to produce functional final protein products.

[Housekeeping note: in deference to the primacy of his work, if a reader here is unhappy with some of the technical conclusions of the Evograd blogger cited above, please leave your comments on his blog, not mine]

Posted in Evolution, Genome, Mutations | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Random Summer Topics: Good Eats and Music

It being summer, I’ll take a break from the usual serious topics of  science and faith to share a few culinary and other finds.

( 1 ) Refrigerator or “Icebox” Cake

I like baked items like cakes, pies, and bread, but prefer to not heat up the kitchen with baking in the oven during the summer. I recently re-connected with an “icebox” cake recipe I remember having long ago. It consists of simply layering Nabisco “Famous Chocolate Wafers” with real whipped cream. The wafers by themselves are dry and (to me) unappealing. But layered with the whipped cream and left to set overnight in the refrigerator, they soak in just enough moisture to bring out rich chocolate flavor. The stacking can be done in various configurations. A classic way is to make a long “log”, then for cut it at 45 degrees to create a zebra stripe effect for serving.

Source: https://www.snackworks.com/recipe/famous-chocolate-refrigerator-roll-53331.aspx

This is a photo of the end product, with the “log” sliced on the diagonal. (That photo shows a somewhat thicker coating of whipped cream on the exterior than I would use). Here is a specific recipe I used with success:   https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/220495/zebra-cake-iii/

Further thoughts here: I once tried using whipped cream from a spray can for this recipe when I could not whip up some real cream. That was a fail – – the artificial whipped cream shrank away to almost nothing overnight.    If your local grocery store doesn’t carry these chocolate wafers, see if they will order some for you, especially if you commit to buy say four boxes worth. (I usually double this recipe, consuming two 9 oz boxes at a time; with a group of any size, it all gets eaten right away). Don’t succumb to the temptation to order these wafers via Amazon – – you will pay 2-3 times as much, with a high probability that the fragile, brittle wafers will arrive all broken up in transport.

There are many other recipes that use the layering concept to create moist cake-like desserts without baking, e.g. here. Some of these recipes use graham crackers and are themed around fruit instead of chocolate.

( 2 ) Barley

For dinner starches, I usually reach for rice, pasta, or some form of potato. However, we have had a small bag of pearl barley (Bob’s Red Mill brand) sitting around for many months, and I decided to start consuming it. I threw a cup of it into 3 cups of boiling water, with a bit of salt, and simmered it for 50 minutes. Simple, and it came out really good. Nice chewy-but-firm texture, and pleasant nutty taste that blends well with other flavors. I just spooned chicken/cream sauce over it, but folks use barley in soups and in salads a lot.

I also tried a small box of quick-cooking barley. It only needs to boil about 12 minutes. I can’t recommend this – it had flabby texture and insipid taste, besides being more expensive than the pearl barley.

(3) Indian Flatbreads: Roti/Chapati and Naan

I am used to bread requiring yeast as an ingredient, and taking hours to rise and then requiring a hot oven for cooking. In pondering a way to make fresh bread without heating up the kitchen so much, I became aware of roti or chapati. This is widely made in India. In its simplest recipes, it consists of just flour, water, and a little oil and salt. After the dough “rests” for 30+ minutes to let gluten form chains, this dough is rolled out into a circle or oval, and cooked on a hot skillet. If all goes well, a skin forms on the outside, trapping steam inside. The steam causes the bread to puff up, like this:

There are many recipes out there that seem to work. I liked the ones with half whole wheat flour. It seems to be key to have enough moisture in the dough for the steam generation, and to have a very hot pan, and to flip the bread after the first ~10 seconds so it quickly develops a “skin” on both sides. It can help to lightly press the bread disc against the hot pan surface to get it to puff up.

I found it was possible to make some decent flatbread this way, but the wet, sticky dough made rolling out and handling the dough just enough of a chore that I decided this was not worth the effort. Also, I sometimes smoked up the kitchen with frying on a hot cast iron surface. However, a friend who had an unloved electric flatbread maker gave it to us. This turned out to be a big labor saver, and it doesn’t heat the kitchen as much as having a big gas flame burning under a griddle. The particular model is a 10” diameter Chef Pro flatbread or tortilla maker; many similar devices are available. It has upper and lower heated nonstick surfaces. Per YouTube reviews, some users are frustrated with this sort of device. Again, technique matters. I was greatly helped by various comments on the internet. I make the dough with the ingredients below, let it rest 25+ minutes, plug in the flatbread maker, and wipe the cooking surfaces with a little vegetable oil.

When it is hot, open it up, and roll ~ 1.75-inch (~4.5 cm) sphere of dough, place it a little to the back of the lower plate, and quickly squash down the upper plate to spread the dough out into a thin ~ 8 inch diameter patty. After a few seconds, open the plates to continue cooking on the bottom plate. (If you don’t open the plates up soon enough, steam will jet out sideways to escape and split the dough). After about 10 seconds, flip the roti and cook about 30 seconds; flip again to brown another 15-20 seconds, then gently lower top plate to press lightly on the upper surface of the roti for maybe six seconds. If all goes well, at this point the roti will puff up and be done.

Here is a picture of a typical flatbread maker in the open position, with a blob of dough ready to be squashed:

Source: Amazon CucinaPro Tortilla Maker (1443) – 10″

Ingredients for flatbread (roti):

1 cup white (all-purpose) flour + 1 cup whole wheat flour

¾ teaspoon salt, 2.5 tablespoons oil or melted butter

Mix these ingredients, then add 2/3 cup warm water and knead to make a slightly sticky dough.

Naan bread is sort of a flat bread (like pita), with yeast as an ingredient and needing time to rise. Traditionally, naan is cooked inside a very hot “tandoor” oven, but it can be cooked on a skillet. This recipe worked well for me. The dough was not sticky, so rolling it out was easy. As is typical with classic breads made with just flour, yeast, salt, and water, with little added fat or egg and no special preservatives or texturing agents, the fresh product tasted great, but the next day it tasted like just flour and water. The chemistry of “staling” is interesting. To some extent, the starch decrystallization process which (in a hot oven) converts a flour-and-water dough into bread gets reversed when the finished bread sits at room temperature or in a refrigerator. Stale bread can be partially resuscitated by reheating it, but it might be best to freeze whatever portion is not eaten right after cooking.

( 4 ) Benefits of Playing and Listening to Music

I guess it is obvious that listening to music, and playing it, can be good mental stimulation. I was impressed, however, by some articles I ran across, e.g. here and here, which describe studies which quantified these sort of benefits, especially for the over 60 crowd and including those suffering from Alzheimer’s. These benefits include improved cognitive function, fewer falls, improved mood, strengthened immune system, etc., etc., etc. A couple of examples:

  • Music has been found to stimulate parts of the brain, and studies have demonstrated that music enhances the memory of Alzheimer’s and dementia patients, including a study conducted at UC Irvine, which showed that scores on memory tests of Alzheimer’s patients improved when they listened to classical music (Cheri Lucas, Education.com, “Boost Memory and Learning with Music,” pbs.org).

 

  • Adults age 60 to 85 without previous musical experience exhibited improved processing speed and memory after just three months of weekly 30-minute piano lessons and three hours a week of practice, whereas the control group showed no changes in these abilities (Nina Kraus, Samira Anderson, “Music Training: An Antidote for Aging?” Hearing Journal, Vol. 66, No. 3, March 2013).

Armed with this fresh motivation, I am deliberately playing more classical music on my iPad, and have taken up playing the harmonica again. There are many tutorials on YouTube for learning almost any instrument. If you wonder whether a harmonica can produce music other than wailing blues, check out this rousing five-minute YouTube of Buddy Greene playing several classical pieces, including the William Tell overture, in Carnegie Hall.

Posted in Food | Tagged , | 4 Comments

American Scientific Affiliation 2019 Meeting, “Exploring Creation”

The American Scientific Affiliation (ASA) is an organization of evangelical Christians who are degreed scientists and who gather to discuss how their science and their faith interact. I have posted summaries of annual meetings for some past years: 2015, 2016 (emphasis on mind/brain issues), and 2018.

The 2019 annual meeting of the ASA was held in late July at Wheaton College, located west of Chicago. The stated theme of the meeting was “Exploring Creation.” In addition to talks dealing with some of the perennial issues of relating faith and science, there were some specific tracks dealing with teaching faith and science in various venues (college, high school, church), dealing with digital technology, and dealing with sustainability, climate change, and other “creation care” topics.

A list, by speaker name, of all the talks, with titles and links to abstracts (click on “Details” to see abstracts) is here. That page has links to YouTube videos of the plenary talks, along with slides and audio for some other talks. I will also link directly to these YouTube videos in my descriptions below.  A pdf file of the program schedule, with the talks grouped by topics and in chronological order, and with abstracts shown, is here.

I will summarize here a number of presentations that I attended, which I have grouped into the categories below.

Contents

Plenary Talks

Deborah Haarsma,   “Exploring Many Worlds”

James L. Sherley, “Living a Scientist’s Life”

Kenneth R. Miller, “Darwin, God, and Design: Grandeur in an Evolutionary View of Life”

Gerald Gabrielse, “God Decides, We Measure”

Gayle E. Woloschak, “Perspectives on Life and Creation”

Jennifer Powell McNutt, “The Mirror of Creation: An Unfailing Witness in Scripture and in the Theology of John Calvin”

Science as Understanding God’s Creation

Teaching Faith and Science in Church, College, and Cyberspace

Biblical Models for Creation

Digital Technology

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Plenary Talks

Deborah Haarsma,   “Exploring Many Worlds

Calvin College physicist Deborah Haarsma is currently president of Biologos. She speaks here of how we understand Christ to be the Creator of our universe, which we now understand to have trillions of planets. In particular, what would intelligent life on other planets mean for our understanding of Christ as our Incarnate Savior?

She shared some interesting space finds, including an image of the emissions in vicinity of a black hole (at 10 minutes into the video). At 31 minutes she showed the figure below, noting that measurements/modeling now have the sensitivity to firmly estimate that there are billions of planets with conditions much like earth’s.

Screenshot from Deborah Haarsma, “Exploring Many Worlds”. talk at ASA 2019 Annual Meeting.

Considering that life on earth appeared relatively soon (say 500 million years) after the earth cooled enough to have liquid water, many scientists consider it likely that some of those other planets harbor life as well. However, we still have little understanding of how life actually arose on earth, and it took another 3.5 billion years or so for intelligent life to appear on earth. So this is all fairly conjectural. (Deborah noted parenthetically that science fiction films tend to minimize the likely difficulties in translation should we actually encounter intelligent aliens). She offered various perspectives on the intersection of faith and science, including highlighting ways in which Christian faith can ground scientific investigation, and how scientific discoveries can inspire deepened appreciation for God’s creation.

James L. Sherley, “Living a Scientist’s Life

James L. Sherley is the founder and director of Massachusetts stem cell biotechnology company Asymmetrex, LLC. Asymmetrex develops and markets technologies for advancing stem cell medicine, including the first-in-kind technology for specific counting of adult tissue stem cells. James has a joint MD/PhD, and has held academic appointments at Fox Chase Cancer Center, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Boston Biomedical Research Institute. He shared many aspects of his life as a scientist, including barriers that he and other African-Americans in science have encountered and continue to encounter. He also noted the difficulties faced by Christians if they publically acknowledge their faith, since their credibility as scientists may immediately become suspect. He suggested identifying with some larger Christian group (e.g. ASA) as opposed to trying to explain your individual beliefs. He also encouraged believers to try opening up in private with some of their colleagues – – there is of course the risk of rejection and ridicule, but also the potential for fruitful dialog.

 

Kenneth R. Miller, “Darwin, God, and Design: Grandeur in an Evolutionary View of Life”

Ken Miller is professor of biology at Brown University, co-author of widely-used biology textbooks, and author of several popular books, including Finding Darwin’s God: A Scientist’s Search for Common Ground between God and Evolution and The Human Instinct: How We Evolved to Have Reason, Consciousness, and Free Will. In 2005 he served as lead witness in the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial on evolution and intelligent design in Pennsylvania.

Among other things, he gave a historical perspective on the struggle over teaching evolution and intelligent design in public schools. The common perception of the 1925 Scopes trial in Tennessee tends to be colored by the play/movie Inherit the Wind, where it seems that the anti-evolution side is disgraced and the pro-evolution side is vindicated. The reality is that the Scopes trial upheld the state’s ban on teaching evolution, and teaching evolution remained outlawed in six southern states for another forty years. The really impactful case was a suit brought against the state of Arkansas in 1965 by a young teacher named Susan Epperson in Little Rock. She eventually appealed this case to the U.S. Supreme Court, where she prevailed.

Ken shared anecdotes from the 2005 Dover trial, and highlighted some key pieces of evidence for evolution he presented. For instance, humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes (46 total) whereas other great apes (chimps, gorillas, orangutans) have 24 pairs. Evolutionary theory predicts that at some point in the human-specific lineage, two chromosomes must have fused into a single one. Since chromosomes have distinctive regions containing telomere sequences at both ends, at the site of a fusion between two chromosomes one should find these distinctive sequences. [1]

With the advent of DNA sequencing, this dramatic and specific prediction was verified:

Screen shot from Kenneth Miller, “Darwin, God, and Design: Grandeur in an Evolutionary View of Life”, talk at 2019 ASA meeting. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T-B3Xcqbn84 . Shows fusion site of two chromosomes in human chromosome 2, with distinctive telomere elements. At the top are shown the corresponding chromosomes in the chimpanzee and orangutan genomes.

 

Ken offered a number of observations on the compatibility of religious faith and science, and on how the harsh aspects of evolution like death and differential survival are (in the natural world we live in) essential to life and development. Richard Dawkins’s famous atheistic take on evolution is, “The [Darwinian] universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference”. Ken looks at the same phenomena from a theistic perspective: “The [Darwinian] universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, the wisdom of a provident and purposeful God, intent upon a fruitful and dynamic world, and committed to a promise of human freedom.”

 

Gerald Gabrielse, “God Decides, We Measure

Gerald Gabrielse is a leader in super-precise measurements of fundamental particles and the study of anti-matter. He formerly chaired the Harvard University physics department, and is now director of the Center for Fundamental Physics at Northwestern University. In this talk he offered observations on a number of science and faith topics. He described how he and his students isolated and maintained a single electron for many months, in order to make precise measurements of its properties in a strong magnetic field. Some other remarks (from my notes, not exact quotes):

He draws insights regarding God and creation from the book of Job. This is an epic tale of suffering and redemption. It has much to say about how involved God is with his creation, and how pleased he is with it.     The God who is responsible for our complex universe must be more complicated than we can hope to understand.

From science alone, we cannot conclude whether God exists or not. As Calvin noted, the Bible is like a pair of eyeglasses by which we can see the God who is behind the science.

When Moses asked God what his name was, the reply was, “I am who I am.” Not just a greater Pharaoh or other super-human, but beyond human categories.

Christians who argue over the details of the Genesis creation story are missing the whole point of it, which is that everything came into being because God willed it.

In physics, there is much we do not understand, but that does not justify abandoning science. Similarly, there is much we do not understand in Biblical teachings, like how God became a man or how Jesus’s death can lead to my eternal life.

No contradiction between doing science and praying. A God worth having is so unlimited that we can seek his help in ways that science cannot comprehend.

Everyone has faith in something ultimate, has some underlying assumptions. If you are in disagreement with someone, it helps to identify those assumptions and God-substitutes.

 

Gayle E. Woloschak, “Perspectives on Life and Creation

Gayle E. Woloschak is a professor of Radiation Oncology, Radiology, and Cell and Molecular Biology in the Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University. In this talk she brings insights particularly from her Eastern Orthodox tradition. She included the slide below with a classic statement and title by the (Orthodox) evolutionary biologist Theodosius Dhobzhansky. This 1973 statement notes that the evidence clearly demonstrates that present-day organisms developed via evolution, even though the details of the evolutionary mechanisms are not fully understood.

From 1973 Theodosius Dobzhansky article. Screenshot from Gayle Woloschak, “Perspectives on Life and Creation”, at ASA 2019 Annual Meeting.

 

I thought the slide below was also interesting. It illustrates some of the inferred gene duplication events which gave rise to bone formation in the vertebrate line (the Sarcopterygiana at the bottom here are the ancestors of tetrapods, including us mammals):

Gene duplication events during vertebrate bone evolution. Screenshot from Gayle Woloschak, “Perspectives on Life and Creation”, at ASA 2019 Annual Meeting.

Gayle noted that humans pass along a cultural heritage as well as a genetic heritage. Cultural evolution for us has in some ways transcended biological evolution, being swifter and more effective. For instance, it took birds millions of years to develop wings for effective flight, whereas humans invented airplanes in much less time. As with other speakers here, she noted that the life/death cycle is required for evolutionary progress. She also described some strong links between being cognizant of evolution and appreciating ecology.

Humans share elements with the earth, and share genes and metabolic pathways with other species, yet we are unique. We are the part of the creation that contemplates. Humans are both earthly and heavenly, both material and spiritual. As St. John Chrysostom said, our human task is to be “the bond and bridge of God’s creation.”

 

Jennifer Powell McNutt, “The Mirror of Creation: An Unfailing Witness in Scripture and in the Theology of John Calvin

Jennifer McNutt is professor of Theology and History of Christianity at Wheaton College, and a Fellow in the Royal Historical Society. She started by noting the significant religious dimension to the Apollo moon exploration program. The Christmas Eve reading from Genesis 1 on Apollo 8, looking back at the earth from space, was the most widely-viewed broadcast of its time. Lunar astronauts were allowed to take a small “Personal Preference Kit”, and NASA made a 1.5 inch x 1.5 inch (3.8 x 3.8 cm) microfiche version of the whole Bible for the purpose. On the Apollo 11 mission, Buzz Aldrin read from Psalm 8 upon landing, but that was not broadcast by NASA due to a lawsuit over the Apollo 8 reading. Also, one of the first things Aldrin did was to take communion from the blessed elements he brought. This was the first meal ever eaten on the moon. To my knowledge, these religious features were all scrubbed from the movie First Man.

Per the title of her talk, Jennifer discussed John Calvin’s theological outlook on the physical world. Calvin encouraged study of astronomy and medicine, and emphasized the importance of “delighting” in creation. To meditate on God’s work in nature is a key part of a Christian’s devotional life. According to Psalm 19 (“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands…”) creation is not merely a passive object to be studied, but an active agent of revelation to all peoples of all times. In providing this revelation in nature, the Creator stoops to accommodate our limitations. Creation does not fail to give its witness; if we fail to perceive it, the fault lies in us.

Calvin likened the revelation in creation to a view in a mirror. In his day mirrors were made of polished metal or glass. These mirrors gave much information, but they did not reflect a clear, complete image. In his 145th (!) sermon on Job, Calvin said that God offers us creation as a mirror so we can better contemplate his power and wisdom. However, creation can only reveal a fraction of what we need to know about God. The Scriptures, illuminated by the Holy Spirit, give a truer, clearer revelation of the redemptive purposes of God. Although God is the Creator and we are part of creation, he is free to bridge the gap between us and he chooses to do so.

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Science as Understanding God’s Creation

Seth Hart, “The Fifth Way: Teleological Language in Biology and a Thomistic Natural Theology”

Teleology is an explanation for something as a function of its end, purpose, or goal. In the twentieth century, defenses of the use of teleological language in biology appeared from scientists as Francisco Ayala and Ernst Mayr. For instance, if you understand everything about each atoms in a bird’s wing, including their relative positions and bonds, but that is all you know, you are missing some key understanding. You also need to know the function of the wing, i.e. what the wing is “for” (Aristotle’s “final” cause”). To grasp that function, you need to understand something of what the whole bird is.

It is argued that thinking in terms of teleology is useful in framing experiments (e.g. some systems like those in cells must be understood as functioning in unison), in natural selection (selecting for traits that are suited to a particular purpose), and in understanding what a species is (based on shared essences). These considerations led Georg Toepfer to declare that “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of teleology”. The appropriateness of such language has been debated. The biologist J. B. S. Haldane observed that “Teleology is like a mistress to a biologist: he cannot live without her but he’s unwilling to be seen with her in public.”   The speaker suggested that the existence of natural teleology in biology may provide evidential support for the fifth of St. Thomas Aquinas’s Five Ways of understanding or demonstrating God. [2]

 

Jonathan Bryan, “Sacramental Principle in the Science-Faith Dialogue”

From the Abstract for this talk:   The nature of divine action in the cosmos remains a central question in the science-faith dialogue. Some would restrict divine quantum uncertainties or chaotic systems, or the transmission of pure information. Others propose dual agency (carpenter-hammer), panentheism (nature inseparable from divine presence and action), or the world as God’s body (divine action analogous to mental activity). In all cases, the nature of the interaction between divine initiative and the material (the “causal joint”) is inherently, and necessarily unknowable. This is inescapable so long as we believe in a transcendent Creator who, no matter how related or attached to nature, is nonetheless truly other than the material creation, and so beyond the conceptual reach of any scientific assay. Divine action cannot be articulated in scientific categories.

This ontological gap between matter and spirit does not mean they are unrelated. Their relation may be approximated by the theological concept of the sacred or sacramental, in which otherwise natural phenomena (objects, places, actions, words) “participate in a reality that transcends them.” They possess additional meaning and dimension that is inseparable from them. By the sacramental principle, we understand nature as more than mere matter, or the complexities and effects of matter. A sacramental understanding invites us to begin the radical project of truly integrating science and faith. We illustrate with a consideration of biblical pneumatology and the nature of life [connection spirit, life, breath, cf. Acts 17:25, Ps. 33:6, Ps. 104], the cruciform fabric of the ecosphere, and the sacramental implications of the Incarnation for Creation. [end Abstract]

Sacred objects or actions carry hidden meanings. For instance, with the Eucharistic bread and wine, the sacred aspect cannot be seen physically.  Sacred things do not merely represent the deeper reality in a symbolic way, but actually participate in that deeper reality.

Some more remarks from the talk, on the “cruciform fabric of the ecosphere”: This notion may help us come to terms with death. There is a necessity of sacrificial death for life at many levels of reality. For instance, the death of stars produces the elements for life. The seed falls into the ground and becomes no longer a seed, to bring forth a new plant and many more seeds. And in the words of Jesus, “If you lose your life, you will gain it.”

Ronald T. Myers, “Physical Basis of Fine Tuning”

First, a little background. According to Wikipedia, the “Standard Model” for particle physics, which describes the material world at very small scales, has 25 fundamental particles (counting 8 types of gluons and two different W bosons), whose properties and interactions are described by 19 parameters, such as the masses of the electron and other particles and various coupling or mixing parameters. The values of these parameters for our universe can be determined experimentally. Extensions of the Standard Model with massive neutrinos need 7 more parameters, for a total of 26 parameters. For describing things on an astronomical scale, the main current cosmology model (Lambda-SDM) has six independent parameters (physical baryon density parameter; physical dark matter density parameter; the age of the universe; scalar spectral index; curvature fluctuation amplitude; and reionization optical depth).

Some of these parameters can be combined to form dimensionless ratios, such as the proton-to-electron mass ratio, or the “fine structure constant” (square of the electron charge, expressed in Planck units). Martin Rees, in his book Just Six Numbers, discussed six dimensionless constants, whose values he deemed fundamental to physical theory and the structure of the universe.

This talk addressed the Fine Tuning argument for faith in God. The argument goes something like this: for a number of physical constants or parameters, a wide range of values is theoretically possible. However, stable matter capable of supporting advanced life-forms is only possible if these parameters have values within certain narrow (in some cases exceedingly narrow) ranges. Although it would be vastly improbable for a randomly assigned set of values to all fall within these ranges, these parameters do in fact have these values. This remarkable fact has been remarked on by a number of scientists, leading to various formulations of the “anthropic principle”. Many scientists shrug and say, “Well, that’s just the way it is; if these parameters didn’t have these values, we would not be here.” Some theists, however, argue that this casual dismissal is premature, and that the cosmic fine-tuning is evidence that the universe has been intelligently designed to support intelligent life. Theists also note that the earth has particular characteristics conducive to the development of advanced life (medium distance from a stable sun, etc.). This line of reasoning is popular with Christian lay people, being fairly easy to comprehend, but it is important to be accurate on the science involved.

Ronald Myers addressed some of these issues in his talk. He did not address the nature of the underlying physical laws themselves. Also, he did not much discuss the impact of the multiverse concept. [3] He dismissed considerations of the “local” conditions that make our earth conducive to life – – given that many of the 10^22 (where “^” denotes exponent) stars in our universe will have planets around them, it seems likely that many other planets exist with conditions similar to those of earth.

He primarily looked at what ranges of certain parameters are required in order to support advanced life. The literature of the last ten years suggests the allowable ranges on some parameters are wider than previously thought, if we take into account alternative nucleosynthetic paths for making biophilic elements.   He concluded:

(a) Use of dimensionality of space remains a strong apologetic [i.e. the existence of three space dimensions and one time dimension does seem essential to life].

(b) Proton-neutron and electron-proton mass ratios are weak apologetics [because the allowable electron-proton ratio has an allowable range of 10^4, and the proton-neutron ratio has only a lower bound].

(c) Constraints on the electromagnetic constant need to be re- examined and therefore should not now be used as an apologetic.

(d) Constraints on strong and weak force leading to stars and biophilic elements have been significantly weakened (i.e., now broader), making them unusable for an apologetic for fine tuning.

He added some general comments on the theological use of fine-tuning arguments:

– Fine tuning is an argument from improbability.
– The determination of the state of being fine-tuned and improbable seems to be based more on intuition then on any objective criteria.
– Percentage of parameter space is not useful since parameters go to infinity so any finite range is an infinitesimal portion of the available parameter space.
– So is God at work in 1/10^9 or 1/10^29 or 1/10^129 or 1/infinity ?
– Without objective answers to this, all fine tuning apologetics are tentative.

In the Q&A session, he added another caveat – – the cosmological constant seems so very tightly constrained that it is likely that something else is constraining it, i.e. that it is not really an independent parameter.

 

Adam Wright, “Explore Material Creation on Its Terms and the Creator on His Terms: The Confusion behind Sean Carroll’s Scientific Investigation of God’s Existence”

Theoretical physicist Sean Carroll has tried to make the case that naturalistic models account for the world we observe better than theistic models. In this presentation Adam Wright explains Carroll’s methodology, including the formal Bayesian formulation of abductive reasoning he uses. Carroll’s strategy is to list features of the world that he thinks should exist if God created the world, and then point to the lack of these features.   These “expected” features include: no evil or suffering; frequent miracles; all religions independently reach the same conclusions; the cosmos only contains what’s necessary for human life (e.g. not billions of galaxies); spirits of those long dead visit often (ghosts); each person’s happiness in this life is proportional to their moral virtue; and so on.

The presentation notes some fundamental flaws in Carroll’s methodology. Scientific methods are designed to strip the human element from the truth-seeking process, limiting its scope to the objective and non-personal material world. This is appropriate for investigating material creation, since it is tangible, unsurprising (i.e. reproducible), and subject to our manipulation, which makes observation, prediction, and replicable experimentation possible. Conversely, God the creator is invisible, personal, and inscrutable, making science an ill-suited tool for investigating the God hypothesis. Science is successful precisely because it explores material creation on its own terms. However, God must be sought on his own terms, by personal relationship and revelation.[4]

(I would add: How does Carroll know that God would prevent all evil or suffering, or would create only physical matter which is necessary for human life, or would rigorously reward virtue in this life, or would promote visitations by ghosts? In many of these criteria it seems to me that Carroll has rigged the game by smuggling in a naturalistic worldview which takes no proper account of an eternal afterlife. In fact, the Bible explicitly or implicitly teaches against many of Carroll’s theistic “expectations”: Jesus stated that there would be (at least as a general rule) no miraculous “signs” for unbelievers beyond his resurrection, and the whole New Testament teaches that virtue will be rewarded and evil will be judged in the next life but typically not in this life. )

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Teaching Faith and Science in Church, College, and Cyberspace

Dale Gentry, “Education in the Twenty-First Century: Addressing the Intersection of Science and Faith on YouTube”

Dale noted that there are many books dealing with the integration of science and faith, but these rarely percolate down to the typical person in the pew. He noticed that his students often go to YouTube first, as a quick, often reliable source of information. There are many good YouTube channels on science, economics, arts, etc. But he did not find one that consistently addressed faith/science issues. If we can’t talk about God as an answer to scientific questions, maybe we can’t talk about God as the answer to any question. He found a model for communication in The Bible Project. The videos on this YouTube channel consists mainly of snappy 4-7 minute dialogs, with animated illustrations, that give an overview of a section of Scripture or treat some concept like justice or exile or biblical poetry. These videos have been very successful in engaging people in thinking about theological issues. [Per article in April, 2019 Christianity Today, “Sixty-four percent of viewers are men, most aged 18-34 – a demographic often dismissed as being disconnected from faith”]. Dale plans to produce a set of animated videos formatted similar to The Bible Project, dealing with faith/science issues that may be of interest especially to younger viewers. Initial topics will be evolution and ecology, to be followed by human biology, the brain, and cosmology.

He has formed a nonprofit organization, Disciple Science, to accomplish this using crowdsourcing for raising funds to pay the animators. He also plans for a weekly podcast, a blog, and study materials, which might be used in Sunday school classes. Videos will be aimed initially at the adult level, with the possibility of later retooling them for younger age groups. The approach will be more education and advocacy than trying to prove God by science (apologetics). All truth is God’s truth, so there should be no conflicts if texts and facts are interpreted correctly. He aims to avoid false dichotomies (e.g. miracles OR natural processes, reason OR imagination, causality OR meaning) and push back on humanistic idolatry of science as the complete hope for the world. Science is the study of how God works – – perhaps using occasional miracles but mainly through intelligible processes. Just because a consistent scientific explanation is available does not mean God is not involved. Thus, faith does not lead to passivity: God works through secondary causes, and we humans are “secondary causes”….so if we see a problem, we should act!

 

Jason Lief and Sara Sybesma Tolsma, “Jesus Loves You and Evolution Is True”

Current research shows young people abandoning institutional forms of religion, and suggests that a part of this phenomena is the disconnect they perceive between contemporary science and faith. Thus, youth ministry must provide young people the opportunity to explore the relationship between Christian faith and the faithful engagement of the created world through science.

There are transversal spaces where biology and theology overlap, allowing important conversations about what it means to be made in the image of God, and what the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ means for the embodied, lived experiences of young people. This dialogue between biology and theology provides insight into issues facing youth ministry, such as sexuality, anxiety, cutting, and identity formation.

The presentation focused on the primary thesis of their work: the theological engagement of evolutionary theory from the vantage point of the incarnation provides an opportunity for the Christian community to reclaim an embodied view of salvation as the foundation for an embodied eschatological vision for human identity.

Some further thoughts presented on these topics:

Evolutionary theory presents creation as a work that is still in progress.

God’s creation shows the goodness of embodiment – God loves material stuff.

“Imperfection” can be redefined as opportunity.

Evolution points to our connectedness with the rest of creation – – we depend on it, have the same genetic code, etc. This gives motivation toward responsible action regarding climate change, race, and justice.

Evolution reframes suffering and death – -death paves the way for flourishing.

The cross depicts God’s love as sacrificial suffering, a death that makes room for our flourishing.

For today’s youth there is no longer much in the way of sacred spaces (e.g. hallowed church buildings); they find transcendence more in experiences, such as a rock concert. Some facet of science might be for them a transcendent experience.

Evolution can inform us how to live, helping us to embrace being the finite, embodied image of God.

Denis Lamoureux, “Online Science and Religion Materials for High School Students

In this session, Denis introduced two sets of online materials intended to assist high school students from stumbling over science, and in particular, evolution. The first set is a 4-hour series of 5 lectures with handouts and class discussions ( https://sites.ualberta.ca/~dlamoure/wlhs.html ). He presents a range of possible positions on creation and evolution, and discusses principles for Bible interpretation, intelligent design, and the thinking of Galileo and Darwin. Handouts and discussion templates are provided for all five lectures. These lectures have been successful in Roman Catholic schools over the last 8 years.

The second set is an 11-hour introductory course on Science and Religion with 100 pages of notes, 100 pages of handouts, and 25 class discussions. Topics include Models for Relating Science and Religion, Scientific Evidence for Evolution, Intelligent Design in Nature, Galileo’s Religious Beliefs, Darwin’s Religious Beliefs, Interpretations of the Biblical Creation Accounts in Genesis 1–3, and the Modern “Evolution” vs. “Creation” Debate ( https://sites.ualberta.ca/~dlamoure/150homepage.html ). Denis has found that an efficient use of class time is to have the students watch the lectures at their own pace, before the class, so the class time can be used for discussion or other interactive activities (a “flipped classroom” format [5] ).

In addition to making all this material available on-line, Denis is willing to hold a remote discussion with church or other groups; the expectation is that the members of the group would watch one of his on-line lectures, then Denis would call in to moderate a discussion on the subject. Denis has authored a number of books in this area. The one he recommends for high schoolers is Evolution: Scripture and Science Say Yes. Here are some quotes Denis shared regarding compatibility and conflict between evolution and Christian faith:

“The number one reason young Christians leave the faith is the conflict between science and faith, and that conflict can be narrowed to the conflict between evolutionary theory and human origins as traditionally read in Genesis 1–2.” – Scot McKnight, in his co-authored book with Dennis Venema, Adam and the Genome (2017)

“It seems to me absurd to doubt that a man may be an ardent Theist and an evolutionist. … I have never been an atheist in the sense of denying the existence of a God.” – Charles Darwin, letter to John Fordyce, May 7, 1879.

 

Luke J. Janssen, “The Bible Tells Me Otherwise; Besides Even Scientists Don’t Believe This Stuff, and It’s Not My Problem Anyway”

Results were presented which show a large gap between the views of many evangelicals and those of practicing scientists. In 2014 the Pew Research Center surveyed members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). 98% of those surveyed agreed that human and other living things have evolved over time (either with or without divine guidance), as opposed to having existed in their present forms since the beginning of time. For working PhD scientists and active research scientists, 99% held to evolution, and only 1% believed that living things existed as-is from the beginning.

Among the general U.S. adult population, 31% held that living things existed as is from the beginning (i.e. reject evolution). Among religious subgroups, rejection of evolution was highest (60%) among white evangelical Protestants. People in the general population tended to grossly overestimate the degree to which scientists are “divided” over issues like evolution and the Big Bang, as opposed to “generally agree”.   29% of U.S. adults (and 49% of white evangelical Protestants) held that scientists are “divided” over evolution, whereas, as noted above, only 1-2% reject evolution. Similarly, 52% of Americans believe that scientists are “divided” over the Big Bang origin of the universe, which again is not so.

Some 59% of Americans agree that religion and science are “often in conflict”. The perception of such conflict is even higher (73%) among those who seldom or never attend a religious service. This perception of conflict is a significant factor for people leaving the church or who might otherwise consider Christianity. In a different poll, a common answer (54%) to the questions of why you left the Christian faith or what is the greatest obstacle to belief in the Christian God was, “Christian teachings that conflict with the findings of modern science”.

The Barna Group surveyed 1296 people who attended church in their teens but later left the church. Here are some of the answers given to the question “Why did you stop going to church?” :

“Churches are out of step with the scientific world we live in” (29%)

“Christianity is anti-science” (25%)

“been turned off by creation-vs-evolution debate” (23%)

The Barna Group commented:

“The problem arises from the inadequacy of preparing young Christians for life beyond youth group… Only a small minority of young Christians has been taught to think about matters of faith, calling, and culture

… The university setting does not usually cause the disconnect; it exposes the shallow-faith problem of many young disciples. [6]

… Much of the ministry to teenagers in America needs an overhaul, not because churches fail to attract significant numbers of young people, but because so much of those efforts are not creating a sustainable faith beyond high school.”

The presentation closed with a slide contrasting the trajectory of humanity according to traditional views of the Fall, versus the picture that emerges from examination of the physical evidence for evolution. In the first view, humanity started off perfect, and has only gone downhill. The physical evidence indicates, however, that the capabilities for higher functions such as language, abstract thought, and moral reasoning have developed gradually over millions of years, so the human lineage has been on a net upward trajectory. In this view, humans may be viewed, not as fallen from some earlier perfection, but as having “missed the target” or “fallen short” of the ultimate, full potential God has in mind for us. [7]

 

Faith Tucker Stults, “Cosmology & Contact in the High School Classroom”

[I did not attend this session, but the Abstract seems worth sharing:]

Many students from Christian backgrounds feel that some consensus scientific theories— such as evolution, Big Bang cosmology, and climate change— are in conflict with their Christian faith. These students are likely to feel they must choose between science or faith, resulting in either a loss of faith or a loss of scientific engagement. My desire to relieve students from this unnecessary choice led me to work in Christian education. For the last five years, I have taught high school physics and astronomy at an interdenominational Christian high school in the San Francisco Bay Area.

In this presentation, I will share two projects that I use to help students think critically about science and faith. In my astronomy class, our unit on cosmology carefully weaves together the nature of science and faith, the history of cosmology, and evidence for Big Bang cosmology. Throughout the unit, students write a series of personal journals to reflect on what they are learning.

In my physics class, the students watch the movie Contact (1997) and respond to a variety of science and faith related prompts through art, creative writing, essays, or other formats. These responses then lay a groundwork for an extended class discussion on the relationship between science and faith. These projects are consistently among my students’ favorite parts of the courses and have been beneficial tools in helping Christian students better understand the methods, motivations, and claims of science, and in relieving their sense of conflict with their religious beliefs.

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Biblical Models for Creation

 

Joel Duff and Gregg Davidson, “Young-Earth Evolutionists? Adaptation of Young Earth Creationist Models, and Implications for the Church”

This presentation pointed out a disconnect between what leading Young Earth (YE) creationists are now saying about the number and types of animals on Noah’s Ark, and the traditional, straightforward interpretation of the biblical account. A key Bible passages is:

On that very day Noah and his sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth, together with his wife and the wives of his three sons, entered the ark.   They had with them every wild animal according to its kind, all livestock according to their kinds, every creature that moves along the ground according to its kind and every bird according to its kind, everything with wings.   Pairs of all creatures that have the breath of life in them came to Noah and entered the ark.   The animals going in were male and female of every living thing, as God had commanded Noah.   (Gen 7:13-16a)

Conservative Christians have long taken this to mean that one pair of every air-breathing terrestrial species was taken on board the Ark. For instance, two lions, two tigers, two jaguars, two cheetahs, and so on. However, there are some 33,000 living species of such land-dwelling, air-breathing animals, and an estimated 200,000 such species if now-extinct species are included. YE creationists have in recent decades acknowledged that in terms of space on the Ark and logistics of caring for all of them, it would not have been possible for Noah and his family to have hosted that many animals.

A response of YE creationist thinkers has been to claim that only a relatively small number of “kinds” of animals were originally created, and only one pair of each “kind” was taken aboard the Ark. After the Flood, each “kind” very rapidly differentiated and evolved into the many thousands of now-identified species. One YE creationist proposal in the 1990’s was that each “kind” corresponded roughly to the genus level, such that pairs of some 8000 animals would suffice to represent each “kind”. The Ark Encounter museum in Kentucky, backed by the prominent Answers in Genesis organization, now claims that there were only about 1500 “kinds”, and that typically all the current animals which are now classified within a single animal family evolved from a single “kind” from the ark [8]. For instance, in this model the entire cat family – – lions, tigers, jaguars, leopards, lynx, bobcats, ocelots, cheetahs, cougars, saber-tooths, domestic-type cats, and other species – – all evolved from one ancestral feline pair in less than 4500 years. (Some of these species are quite different from one another. Lions can breed with tigers, but probably not with cheetahs.) This means that each “kind” differentiated into at least 20 different species, on average, in the years since Noah’s Ark ran aground around 2500 B.C. [9]

The presentation pointed out some problems with this approach. It posits an enormously fast rate of evolution, far faster than biologists normally observe today and far faster than seen for conventional evolution per the fossil record. YE creationists have long denied genetic mechanisms and features such as gene duplication, punctuated equilibrium, and transitional fossils, but now these features are invoked to justify the hyper-fast development of current animals from ancestral “kinds”. [10]

Moreover, this proposed grouping of animals and hyper-evolution of species seems to be at odds with the treatment of species and reproduction in the Bible. There is no mention of new species appearing in Scripture. Within the biblical chronology, sheep beget sheep, not goats or cows. Dozens of animals are mentioned in the pages of the Bible, and pictured in contemporaneous Near Eastern art forms, and they all correspond to known species, not some intermediate forms. The presentation also noted problems with the YE creationist claim that all animals were originally created as herbivores, in the light of the exquisite adaptation of carnivores such as the cat family, and also in light of the celebration of the natural world (including predation) in Psalm 104. [11]

 

Hugh Ross, “Testing Biblical Creation Accounts with the Latest Science”

Hugh Ross, and his Reasons to Believe ministry, hold to day-age progressive creationism. He is probably the best-known proponent of this view, which in the early-mid twentieth century was by far the majority position among conservative Protestants in North America, but which has since been largely displaced by young earth creationism and by evolutionary creationism. In Ross’s model, the six days of creation in Genesis are six consecutive long periods of time, spanning the 13 billion years since the Big Bang origin of the universe. The point of view of the narrative is not looking at the earth from outer space, but rather looking up from the surface of the earth or the waters on the earth.

He imposes some non-traditional interpretations on the biblical text to make this scheme work. For instance, on the fourth day when the text says the God made the sun and moon and set them in the heavens, Ross says that does not mean the sun and moon were actually created then. Rather, this language describes the first clear appearance of the sun and moon as viewed from the earth’s surface, as changes in the earth’s atmosphere transformed it from being translucent to being transparent.   Ross rejects macroevolution, positing instead (as I understand it) the supernatural creation of new families of plants and animals throughout geologic history.

In this talk, Ross discussed some recent literature results which seem to support his model. Taken literally, the text in Genesis 1:6-7 of the events on Day 2 (“And God said, ‘Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.’  So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it “) describes the formation of a solid dome in the midst of the primordial waters, with liquid waters (not vapor) above the dome and a space beneath the dome where liquid waters still covered the earth’s surface [12].   Ross, however, takes this text to describe the establishment of a stable hydrological cycle, citing a parallel passage Job 37-38, where six different forms of precipitation are mentioned. He proposed that this development was tied to a massive asteroid impact which created the moon and which stripped away some 99% of the earth’s atmosphere and surface water.     In the Reasons to Believe model, the earth’s surface was initially all covered with ocean waters for billions of years before the continents appeared on Day 3 (per Genesis 1: 8 , “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.”). Although scientists in the 1960’s thought continents had existed from very early in earth’s history, more recent results indicate that dry land did not appear for more than two billion years, and then it appeared fairly abruptly, as part of the “Great Oxygen Event”. Ross sees these results as vindication of his model, and indeed vindication of the biblical text which he sees as giving a scientifically accurate description of astronomical and geological events over the past 13 billion years.

 

Digital Technology

Timothy Wallace, “The cyber problem: history, outlook, and responses”

This talk started with a quick tour of computer systems history:
1960s… Operating systems almost never crashed
1970s… Some networking, not secure
1975 UNIX came out, defined by only 10,000 lines of code
1980s… PCs and malicious actors. PC systems still fairly reliable.
1986, first PC virus… “Brain, from Pakistan
1990s. Microsoft dominant. Windows 3.1 had 4.5 million lines of code, Windows 95 had 15 million. That’s more than any one person can keep track of. It was decided that adding and keeping features was more important than reliability, hence the code bloat.

2000s…More complexity, vulnerability. Windows XP 2001 35 million lines of code, 2009 Windows 7 had 40 million lines of code. Viruses took off. First major cell phone virus 2005.
2010‘s… More devices and attacks… Zero day exploits…Black market, ransomware. Internet of things (IOT), as chipmakers pushed their wares into other devices as sales of chips in the PC market flattened. IOT opens whole new realms of hacking and mischief.

Capitalism is a proven way to build a large economy, but it is not good for minimizing security risks, because it’s typically cheaper in the short run to operate insecurely. Some examples were given of major security breaches. Congress recently passed a law to reduce digitization in infrastructure, maintain some human intervention, since otherwise utilities are seduced into squeezing a few percent more financial efficiency out of their systems by mass internet integration and automation. This could open the door to catastrophic hacking by other countries, analogous to the Russian cyber-attacks on the Ukraine electrical grid.

One practice that could be improved on is calling large general software libraries or subroutines, where only a few lines of code is really needed for the functionality. For example, a free flashlight app for your iPhone only needs a few lines of code. It is in fact a complex program because it is all about tracking your personal habits and information for sale, targeting ads, etc. Christians who work in programming have an ethical obligation to utilize responsible practices when they develop software.

Several practical tips for protecting yourself against hacking:

Don’t do financial on your cell phone. If you need to do money, buy a gift card at Walmart, which limits the amount of money at stake.

For password recovery, give false, weird answers. Otherwise someone might guess your answers. Example: some kid hacked Sarah Palin‘s email by researching her information then guessing her answers correctly.
Avoid social media.

Protect against ransomware by back-ups and more back-ups. Auto back-ups may not work so well, if they are encrypted. Use off-line backups, for instance a flash drive. Also, store some back-up copies offsite, for instance in a safe deposit box or relative’s house.

ENDNOTES

[1] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chromosome_2   for more on this fusion event. See https://evograd.wordpress.com/2019/05/05/reviewing-replacing-darwin-part-7-a-nuclear-catastrophe/  for debunking of various false young earth creationist claims regarding this fusion region in chromosome 2.

[2] A brief presentation of Thomas’s Five Ways is given in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Five_Ways_(Aquinas) . These “Ways” were not intended to be formal proofs of the existence of God, but rather ways of understanding God.   The Fifth Way has to do with the overall governance of the world, not with the appearance of “design” for any particular objects in the world: “We see various non-intelligent objects in the world behaving in regular ways. This cannot be due to chance since then they would not behave with predictable results. So their behavior must be set. But it cannot be set by themselves since they are non-intelligent and have no notion of how to set behavior. Therefore, their behavior must be set by something else, and by implication something that must be intelligent. This everyone understands to be God “.

[3] Skeptics argue that some physics theories imply the existence of a practically infinite number of universes with a wide variety of possible physical laws and constants. Thus, it is hardly surprising that at least one universe has the characteristics to support intelligent life. Theists note in response that (a) even these multiverse models involve certain parameter values, so the issue of fine tuning does not go away (and nature of the underlying laws, as well as the parameters, calls for explanation), and (b) it seems that empirical confirmation or falsification of the existence/properties of other universes will forever be out of our reach, so these multiverse proposals may not qualify as science.

[4] Adam Wright has further commented (personal communication 7/26/2019):

“Carroll is essentially presenting eight features his creation would’ve had if he were God.   He hopes they will resonate with the reader, and he’s probably right, because it’s common to think of God as a big, powerful, more perfect version of ourselves. Constructing a model of God in our own image will inevitably lead us to expect the world to reflect the creation we would have made if we were God. But the whole idea of God is that he is not like us. If our ideal conception of creation doesn’t match the world we see, it could easily mean that those elements of perfection were lost, or that we don’t understand God properly.

Most of Carroll’s eight proposed features are not all that likely under theism if we think of God as he is revealed in the Bible…

Unlike atheism, theism actually does make a few predictions unambiguously: it guarantees that you’ll at least have a world, it’ll have people capable of relating to God, it will have believers, etc. Atheism doesn’t really make any predictions about the world, in fact it doesn’t necessarily predict that there will be a world.”

[5] In a “flipped” classroom, many of the traditional locations for various learning activities are reversed. In traditional learning styles, most of the classroom time is devoted to one-way impartation of information in the form of lectures, while the students’ interaction with the material occurs mainly outside class in the form of homework assignments. Per Wikipedia: “In a flipped classroom, students watch online lectures, collaborate in online discussions, or carry out research at home while engaging in concepts in the classroom with the guidance of a mentor… The flipped classroom intentionally shifts instruction to a learner-centered model in which time in the classroom is used to explore topics in greater depth and create meaningful learning opportunities while students are initially introduced to new topics outside of the classroom”.

[6] I think this pithy statement gets to the heart of why youth often fall away upon going to college.

[7] Luke Janssen develops this concept of sin, and how the death of Jesus addresses sin, more fully in his article in the ASA publication Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith: https://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/2018/PSCF3-18Janssen.pdf ]

[8] From the Ark Encounter website:       “…The biblical concept of created “kind” probably most closely corresponds to the family level in current taxonomy. A good rule of thumb is that if two things can breed together, then they are of the same created “kind”. It is a bit more complicated, but this is a good quick measure of a “kind.”…. Recent studies estimate the total number of living and extinct “kinds” of land animals and flying creatures to be about 1,500. “

[9] Dividing 33,000 living terrestrial species by 1500 gives an average of 22 species per “kind”; accounting for all of the 200,000 living plus extinct species would drive that number up considerably.

[10]   These supposed “kinds” have also been termed “baramins”. For a history of baraminology see: https://ncse.com/library-resource/baraminology

The subject is critically reviewed here: https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Baraminology .

[11] The presentation noted that, in some cases, there was more diversity among the descendants of a supposed ancestral “kind” than there was among the ancestral “kinds” themselves (this may be hard to appreciate without seeing a diagram). This is the sort of cladistic observation which actually supports conventional macroevolution – – as you go back in ancestral history, you find the common ancestors of the various carnivore family more and more like one another, supporting the evolutionary hypothesis that each of these common ancestors were all descended from a yet older common common ancestor.

[12] For more on the “firmament” as a solid dome, see Was the “Expanse” Overhead in Genesis 1 a Solid Dome? ]

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