Evolution and Faith: My Story, Part 1

As I read across the spectrum of writings on creation and evolution, I often find a certain level of demonization of one’s opponents. Some Young Earth (YE) creationists ascribe to evolutionists an agenda of tearing down all that is good. Charles Darwin is portrayed as a cunning atheist, who devised his theory of evolution as a means to attack Christianity (see Was Darwin an Atheist? for my treatment of this subject). On the other side, the effectiveness of pro-evolution responses to YE creationists is blunted by bashing them as idiots and failing to address their underlying concerns.  Since I have dwelt on both sides of this great divide, I hope by telling my own story here to provide some perspective on why YE creationists, Intelligent Design proponents, and evolutionists do what they do.

(A) Early Faith

My spiritual awakening began with a desire for wisdom, as distinct from knowledge. Acquiring plain knowledge was never a challenge for me. I was reading at an adult level by age 8, and was typically a top student in my classes. By age 12 I had a good grasp of applied science and was building electronic circuits and was making my own black gunpowder to fill my rockets.

My parents took me to church and Sunday school as a child, but I don’t recall much penetration from those teachings. I became basically an agnostic materialist, leavened by a bit of pagan feeling of being one with nature.  This started to change in my early teens. I got a sense that there was more to life than a narrow materialistic worldview could accommodate, and started thinking outside of the reductionistic box. I became interested in the bigger questions, and looked for wisdom on how to live life well.

This was a time when my family started attending an evangelical church. I began to read the Bible, and found a lot of profound wisdom in the Old Testament book of Proverbs. That pulled me into giving the Bible as a whole some serious consideration.  When I read the Gospels I was deeply impressed with Jesus’s wholeness and authority. At home one night, after hearing in a vacation Bible camp of God’s offer of forgiveness and fellowship through Jesus, I said “Yes” to him.

I can’t claim that I rigorously investigated many other religions or worldviews before deciding for Christ. It just seemed right at the time, and I have found no reason since to regret that decision. I later did some due diligence to check the historicity of Christianity.  Since the earliest extant physical manuscripts of the gospels date back only to about 200 A.D., that opens the question of whether people just made up miracle tales about Jesus many years after he was gone.   It turns out that Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth is well-attested as having been written around 56 A.D. (e.g., when Clement of Rome wrote to the Corinthians about 96 A.D., he refers to that letter as still being in their possession).  In I Cor. 15:3-8 Paul reminded the Corinthians that when he had first come to their city some years earlier, he had preached to them the same gospel about the atoning death, burial, resurrection, and post-resurrection appearances of Jesus Christ that he had learned years before from the original apostles. If we work the numbers, we find that within 5-10 years of the Jesus-events of 30 A.D., Paul had met a diverse group of men who were all putting their lives on the line to testify that they had met with the risen Christ. While this will not convince a determined skeptic, it shows that the Resurrection was not some story devised decades later.

Another encouragement to my early faith came in the form of some dramatic answers to prayer. I will not elaborate on my own experiences, but on this blog I have posted links (here, here, and here) to reports or videos of similar episodes, where there appear to be rapid, significant healings.

In my first few years of being a Christian, I did not encounter any controversy over the Genesis creation story. Knowing what I did about science when I read Genesis 1, it seemed clear that it was not literally correct, but somehow that did not bother me.

I remember being impressed with how close the story came to what we now know of the epochs of the earth’s creation, despite being written millennia before modern science. In Genesis 1, the creation of the universe starts with a blast of light. Well, that sounded a lot like the Big Bang which started with mainly photons and particles that were too hot to form matter. The Genesis story progresses with the formation of the land and water, with life-forms being created thereafter. Classes of animals were formed in several stages, with the last stage being the creation of humans. That is pretty good. The creations of plants and of birds are out of order, but, all in all, the creation narrative in Genesis 1 seemed much more realistic than the creation stories of other ancient near Eastern religions. Thus, my original intuition was that it was no big deal if the Genesis story were not literally accurate. It was still majestic and inspiring.

(B)  Encounter with Young Earth Creationism

When I got to college in the early 1970’s  I was exposed to dogmatic young earth creationism. There was a strongly conservative Christian fellowship at my university. During my freshman or sophomore year they brought in Dr. John Whitcomb as a speaker. He was a co-author of The Genesis Flood, which was a hugely influential book in the 1960s and 1970s. This book made a case for the literal accuracy of the six 24-hour day Genesis creation, and for Flood geology.

In this view, the earth is only 6,000-10,000 years old and most of the sedimentary rock layers were laid down during Noah’s flood around 2500 BC. Adam was specially created starting with dust, and later Eve was also specially created, using a piece of Adam’s skeleton. In this original creation there was no sin, no pain, and no death. All animals were vegetarians. Adam’s sin led to drastic changes in biological functions, to yield today’s biosphere which includes carnivory, fear, and death.

I was impressed by Dr. Whitcomb. He was a devout and learned man, who was very serious about what he was teaching. In his lectures and his book  Dr. Whitcomb presented evidence which seem to show that the mainstream scientific understanding of the earth’s age was incorrect. This evidence included polystrate fossils, supposedly older rock layers resting atop supposedly younger rocks, and recent lava flows where radioactive dating methods gave spuriously old dates.

Regarding biological evolution, the young earth creationists pointed to a lack of transitional fossils, and also the lack of observed transformations from one major life form to another happening today.  Much was made of fossil mistakes such as “Piltdown man” and “Nebraska man”. (Piltdown man was later discovered to be a deliberate hoax, and Nebraska man was an imaginary construct based on the finding of a tooth which was actually from an extinct pig.)

As a young Christian it was naturally appealing to me to believe that the rock layers and indeed the whole universe confirmed and demonstrated the truth of God’s revelation in the Bible. It did not occur to me to be skeptical of this teaching. Also, I was surrounded by smart, competent students  (this was Princeton University) in the Christian fellowship who took all this to be completely true. Therefore I became a believer in YE creationism as an undergraduate. I did not make it a big focus of my faith, but I did persuade my Christian roommate at the time that Genesis was literally true.

(C) Different Views of the Bible

During those undergraduate years I planned to become a minister, so in my coursework I concentrated on ancient Near Eastern history and the Hebrew language. After graduation I attended a relatively conservative, academically rigorous seminary.

Two episodes in the seminary classroom impacted my views on the Genesis story. I took an Old Testament class under Meredith Klein. Prof. Klein spent quite a bit of time on Genesis 1-3, noting the parallels with typical covenants between kings and subjects in the ancient Middle East. He considered that the two triads of the six creation days in Genesis 1 indicate a thematic, rather than chronological framework for revealing the creative acts of God.  This “framework” view notes that days 1, 2, and 3 involve the formation/structuring of day/night, sky/sea, and finally water/land, while days 4, 5, and 6 provide occupants or rulers for these realms, in the same order: sun and moon (for day/night), birds and fish (for sky and sea), and land animals on day 6.   The earth was initially (Gen. 1:2) “formless and empty.” These two deficiencies are corrected in the next six days, as the earth is “formed” (structured) in days 1-3, then “filled” in days 4-6. There is a pleasing, symmetrical logic to all this. In this view, the sequencing of the accomplishments in Genesis 1 is not expected to correspond to the actual physical order of events. This point of view offered me a way to acknowledge that the Genesis account is not chronologically accurate, while maintaining a high view of Biblical inspiration.

Another significant classroom interaction occurred in a New Testament exegesis course. I was comparing two Gospels and noted some events that I could not reconcile between them. I went to the professor to try to get some help on this, and noted that he did not have a nice pat answer. I finally asked him point-blank, “Do you believe that there are actual discrepancies in the Bible?”  He looked at me and hesitated for a few seconds, weighing what to say. Finally he said, “Yes.”  At the time I was scandalized, and did not want to accept this. Later I calmed down and reflected that this professor seemed to be as good a Christian as I, and maybe he knew something that I didn’t. That helped released me from the fear that my whole faith would go down the drain if there were any inaccuracy in the Bible.

(D) Old Earth Creationism

After a year in seminary I changed my vocational plans. I went back to college for a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering and went on for a PhD. I picked up enough hard science along the way to realize that the earth was in fact several billions years old, and that the rock layers were laid down over millions of years, not in a single global flood. I still could not stomach evolution.

By the 1990’s I was reading and agreeing with the publications of Hugh Ross, founder of the Reasons to Believe ministry. Ross staunchly defends the Big Bang as a singular, non-recurring event, seeing it as evidence for a Creator who lies outside of this universe. The Genesis creation story, more than most ancient creation narratives, is consistent with the Big Bang’s one-time (not cyclic) creation of the universe at some finite time in the past.

Ross also points out the many physical constants that are finely tuned to enable the survival of carbon-based life-forms like us, seeing this as evidence of purposeful design of the universe.  He teaches a form of “old earth creationism,” where the “days” of Genesis 1 represent long geological ages, which are in correct chronological order. He has to put non-traditional interpretations on the various elements of the Genesis story, in order to make it fit what is known of the geological history of the earth.  Given those interpretations, Ross can then claim that Genesis marvelously provides an accurate description of the formation of the earth and its biosphere.   While endorsing the conclusions of mainstream astronomy and geology, Ross rejects macro-evolution. He sees Adam and Eve as supernaturally created, not descended from other primates.

In the late 1990’s I also read Phillip Johnson’s Darwin on Trial, which highlighted apparent challenges to evolution, such as lack of transitional fossils and some putative quandaries in genetics, while not disputing an old earth. Johnson claims that Darwinism constitutes a naturalistic philosophy intrinsically opposed to religion. This book helped initiate the modern Intelligent Design movement. I found Johnson’s book convincing, since that is what I wanted to hear at the time. I was not motivated to do the hard work required (for a non-biologist) to dig into all the technical arguments for and against evolution, or even to search out and weigh critical reviews of Darwin on Trial such as that  written by Stephen Jay Gould.

A key question for the Old Earth/anti-evolution viewpoint is: If all those fossils in those old rock layers do not represent organisms that had slowly evolved over time, where exactly did they come from? The only consistent answer for this viewpoint is that God miraculously created hundreds of new species every million years or so, in a sequence which just happened to mesh with evolutionary expectations (then let them go extinct). That seems unpalatable.  This issue is so awkward that anti-evolutionary old earth creationists (including today’s Intelligent Design proponents) typically avoid addressing it at all. It just never occurred to me to ask this question.

(E) Into the Fray

Sometime around 2004 I had an impactful conversation with a colleague at work. I had conceived of all genetic mutations being merely point substitutions at various spots along the DNA strand. That seemed to offer no way for the increase in informational content in the genome which would be necessary if life evolved from simple bacteria to full-fledged animals. I offered this to my chemist friend as a reason that I was skeptical about evolution. He listened to me politely, then informed me that there are other types of mutations that are known to occur, including ones where whole sections of DNA can undergo extra duplication and get inserted into the new DNA strand. For instance, an extra copy of a gene may get added to the genome. (I did not know about this, since my last exposure to genetics was a high school biology class in 1970.)  It was immediately clear to me that gene duplication offered a viable pathway for an increase in genetic information. This dissolved my strongest mechanistic objection to evolution, though at the time I did not think very much about it.

I became more deeply engaged in the creation/evolution debate as a result of an encounter around 2008 at a church men’s retreat. A participant there offered a short workshop in creationism. He was a committed young earth creationist, with some knowledge of biology. He presented slides and handed out written material that claimed to show that all the evidence for the earth being very old was mistaken, and also that evolution was scientifically impossible. I was not prepared to counter the examples he gave, but I felt an obligation to stand up and say that there was more than one point of view among Christians on these issues.

This gentleman urged me to get on board with YE creationism. He recognized that I was a scientist and may have hoped that if I came around to his point of view, I could add my voice to the cause. We started corresponding back and forth, and sent each other some books.

With my background knowledge, and with a lot of help from web sites such as TalkOrigins and Old Earth Ministries (formerly Answers In Creation), I was able to point out where all the geological evidence being presented for a young earth was flawed. For instance, in The Genesis Flood is a photo of the “Lewis Overthrust”,  where supposedly ancient Precambrian rock layers are resting on top of supposedly younger rock layers. This order of rock layers seems to contradict the normal geological model, where younger sedimentary layers are deposited atop older, pre-existing layers. Mainstream science explains this formation by claiming that the Precambrian rock layers were pushed over on top of the younger rock layers in a nearly-horizontal thrust fault. However, The Genesis Flood showed a picture taken by Walter Lammerts of the fault interface, and in that photo there is no evidence of the deformation and abrasion you would expect if one heavy rock layer were slid across the top of another rock layer. This looked bad for mainstream science – – – until I found a TalkOrigins article with a photo of the overthrust fault, showing the expected deformation and abrasion, and explaining that Lammerts’ serene photo was not a picture of the actual fault line.

Radioactive dating is science’s key method for assigning absolute dates to rocks, so YE creationists attack its reliability. The young earth evidence that had seemed most compelling to me were cases where recent flows of volcanic lava which were known to be only a few hundred years old were submitted for radioactive dating. These dating methods mistakenly reported the lavas as being many thousands of years old. In one of these cases the lava from a 200-year-old flow from a Hawaiian volcano was dated to be over a million years old.  However, as I dug into the details I found that the YE creationists were not telling the whole truth on discrepant radioactive dating. For example, with that Hawaiian volcano, it turns out that it was little crystals of unmelted minerals within the lava that were dated as having solidified over a million years earlier, which is plausible; the main body of the lava itself was (accurately) dated as being very recently congealed. I later summarized many of my findings about the geological evidence for an old earth in this article on the Grand Canyon.   TalkOrigins and Old Earth Ministries  have collected rebuttals to most of the other YE claims.

Not having a current biology background, I was at a loss on how to respond to this gentleman’s claims that all known mutations are harmful, and that genomes are necessarily deteriorating with each generation. He sent me a detailed book, Genetic Entropy by retired Cornell professor John Sanford, which makes the case for the inexorable accumulation of deleterious mutations over time. The implication is that populations could not become more fit or even maintain their fitness for millions of years. Rather, all populations, especially humans, exhibit steady degradation from an earlier, better state. This fits with a perfect creation about 6000 years ago.

Having found that the panoply of arguments against an old earth were bogus and actually deceitful , I became motivated to settle, at least for myself, the question of evolution. In order to determine the truth about these matters, I spent hundreds of hours studying genetics and reading original papers in the field.  Some helpful general resources were the Biologos website,  “Evolution for Christians” by a professor at Berea College, and “29+ Evidences for Macroevolution” at TalkOrigins.

I found that all the objections advanced against evolution were unfounded. There are plenty of examples of beneficial mutations, and plenty of evidence within our genomes of common ancestry with chimpanzees. Furthermore, the fossil record is broadly consistent with evolution, if one looks at the fossils that have been found instead of merely complaining about those that have not been yet found.  It is intrinsically unlikely to find fossils of the actual ancestral transitional forms, since (from elementary population genetics) a new species is most likely to develop in some small, isolated population.

I wrote up my findings on geology and genetics in the form of several long letters to my creationist correspondent in the 2008-2009 timeframe. Having put all that effort into these letters, I later published them as “STAN 1” through “STAN 4” as the initial content on this Letters to Creationists blog.

 [Continued in Part 2 , which describes the personal and theological aspects of working through the creation/evolution issue ]

About ScottBuchanan

Long-time evangelical Christian, interested in everything, including science, miracles, gardening, and macro-economics. Background: B.A. in Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University, a year at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and a year working as a plumber and a lab technician. Then a B.S.E. from the University of South Florida and a Ph.D. from Princeton University, both in chemical engineering. Since then, have conducted research in an industrial laboratory. Published a number of papers on heterogeneous catalysis, and am an inventor on over 70 U.S. patents in diverse technical areas.
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27 Responses to Evolution and Faith: My Story, Part 1

  1. I asked an evolutionist once “who do you believe, Moses?, or Darwin? You cannot believe them both. Its pretty simple. Evolutionists are people of great faith, much more so than the Creationist. Evolution is a belief system.

    It takes a lot of faith to believe one man’s opinion, a “theory.” Than a written text, penned by over 40 different men of integrity, that has stood, unrefuted, for 3000 years
    From a legal standpoint, since Moses writings predate Darwin, the burden of proof is on the evolutionist, not the creationist. In a court room, he must first refute creation, and prove Moses a liar, before he can even begin to sell his “theory” to an objective party, or jury. Contrary to the evolutionists “opinion,” The LONGER a written text stands without rebuttal, the MORE credible it is. Apparently evolutionists ignore this universal rule of evidence.
    The creationist has documentation, the evolutionist has, essentially, a fairy tale. A monkey turning into a man? Sounds like a frog turning into a prince. A fairy tale. The evolutionist cannot claim the liberty of fairy tales.

    As for a Christian, seems to me that if a Christian accepts, without reservation, the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 3 days after a horrible death, then a LITERAL, 6 24 hour day creation “(and the evening and the morning was the first day”) should not be a stretch. Genesis is VERY specific as to times. It gives the exact day of the flood. And the exact day Noah stepped off the ark, as well as other specifics. (Read it sometime.) Moses didn’t just dream all that up. My blog has more detailed information concerning the timeline as well.

    While the Christian faith is founded on a verifiable, DOCUMENTED miracle, the evolutionist does not have the liberty of “miracles”, yet he must believe, by blind faith (no documentation) that somehow, someway, an atom appeared, and the space for it to dwell in also simultaneously appeared from nothing, and from that, everything just blew into existance, akin to blowing up a print shop to create a dictionary. And, additionally, that we are here for no reason, and no purpose.
    If Such is the case, then I’d say the evolutionist believes in miracles as well, whether he admits it or not. The author of his faith? A man with a “theory”. The author of the Christian faith? Jesus of Nazereth, the most loved, worshipped, wrote about, most followed, and most remembered and celebrated man who ever walked the planet. His death? A DOCUMENTED fact. His resurrection from the dead?. A DOCUMENTED fact, that no reasonable scholar will debate. Whether one believes it or not, the Bible is the most historically accurate, VERIFIABLE text in existance. The credibility of its authors is above reproach. Many of its writers chose to die the most horrible death known to man, by crucifixion, than deny the Bible, or their witness of the Risen Christ. The integrity of the scriptures is unassailable in a courtroom.
    Attacking the credibility of the Bible strictly as a historical text only serves to shine a light on its accuracy and verifiability. “Science” is the Bible’s best friend, archaeologists dig up more confirmation of it almost daily. Many are now using descriptions and locations given in scripture to locate and find ancient cities and ruins once thought to be “fairy tales”. The walls of Jericho is one example.
    The only defense an evolutionist has is a good offense. But Denying the Bibles accuracy cannot make the “theory” of evolution any more credible.
    Outside of a “evolution vs. creation” debate, the “theory” cannot stand on its own merits. Its a feeble attempt to divorce oneself from any moral laws, or accountability or responsibility to one’s fellow man. But the Bible is not the source of the moral laws of man, while they ARE written there, Our creator also wrote these laws on our hearts and mind, “conscience”. Conscience is the in escapable judge all men must answer to every minute, of every day. We stand without excuse.

    Hitler, stalin, pol pot, and other mass murderers since Darwin loved his “theory,” and used Darwins “inferior race” opinion (page 178 “descent of man”) to justify the extermination of millions they deemed “inferior”, without remorse.
    Many of the victims of Darwins belief system are the unborn. Untold millions of unborn babies murdered in the womb. “survival of the fittest”. Don’t drink the koolaid, investigate your beliefs, and research your convictions. Let God be true, and every man a liar.

    • People like Huckleberry make assertions but ignore the scientific evidence against young Earth creationism, Still at least he is reading this blog (I assume).

      • My “assertions” are verifiable. Excluding the obvious won’t make the obvious any less true. Do you believe Darwin? Or Moses? They are not compatable “assertions,” and as stated earlier, and in my blog. You must first prove Moses a liar before an evolutionists can even begin to present his case. As far as “science” goes, “scientists” once BELIEVED the earth was flat, and that the sun revolved around the earth. By itself, the “theory” will not stand logical and scientific scrutinity. Either Moses dreamed it all up, and lied to all humanity, and no one had the gumption in 3000 years to refute him, or his “assertion” is true, and Darwins “theory” is a fairy tale. Is Moses a liar? If so, prove it.

      • I’ve just read the new comments by Huckleberry2012. As I said yesterday, Huckleberry is making assertions (and asking questions or demanding ‘proof’) whilst ignoring the scientific evidence against young earth creationism including that described in this blog post.

    • drlindberg says:

      No one “believes Darwin” (or if they do they are an idiot). People accept evolution because of the evidence, not because of what anyone says.
      Do you believe in God because you believe Moses, or do you believe Moses because you believe in God?

  2. themayan says:

    No time to respond to all of what was said. But I would like to respond to a few points. And I think or hope, we can both agree that almost no one denies some type of evolutionary process occurred or occurs (i.e., changes in allele frequency over time Horses and zebras having a common ancestor etc) and that for the most part, the question really concerns (prokaryote to man and universal common descent) or what is referred to as the modern evolutionary synthesis. So it is in the latter reference I will use the term “evolution”

    Gene duplication can also cause conditions like down syndrome and other negative conditions. And we “know” this, but yet from an evolutionary paradigm we, have to “assume” that it can be an evolutionary positive construct. If you duplicate anything, including a gene. Are you really adding novel information? My opinion is no. And I’m not alone in this.

    Intelligent design is not the same as Biblical creationist, so ID theorist are not obligated to speak about theology. Only the scientific merits of ID. Secondly.
    As for Sanford’s point. I don’t think he ever claimed that a mutation which gave an organism a functional advantage could not be a beneficial mutation, or that they never existed, but only that the rarity of such a mutation was miniscule compared to all the deleterious mutations. And that even this same mutation which could offer a functional advantage, still isn’t an example of adding new information. In fact it seems the observable evidence points to just the opposite, i.e., a truncation of information.

    And yes, I also believe that he claims that even with what some refer to as neutral mutation, are still negative, in that they still represent an accumulation of errors which eventually add up over many generations. And that natural selection does not have the ability to compensate for this. And there seems to be evidence for this, as among other things, genetic diseases are at an all time rise and increasing with every generation.

    And last but not least, the same modern synthesis/neo-Darwinian synthesis (that is still taught till this day as an unquestionable axiom) is not only being refuted by young and old earth creationist or ID theorist, but also by agnostic and atheist scientist alike, who are now publicly admitting that the modern evolutionary synthesis (which again is the accepted and taught theory) has indeed crumbled. And these are not just educated opinions, but are conclusions based on the observable scientific data.

  3. themayan says:

    Below is just a short list of evolutionist who admit the modern synthesis has failed. And some are even asking the question as to whether there will someday be a new synthesis. But in my opinion, as of now, we are selling our kids snake oil.

    Without a cohesive theory all you have are an assortment of educated guesses and bunch of self serving interpretations of facts and figures.

    Beyond neo-Darwinism—an epigenetic approach to evolution
    M.W. Ho

    We argue that the basic neo-Darwinian framework—the natural selection of random mutations—is insufficient to account for evolution. The role of natural selection is itself limited: it cannot adequately explain the diversity of populations or of species; nor can it account for the origin of new species or for major evolutionary change…….

    The Origin at 150: is a new evolutionary synthesis in sight?
    Eugene V. Koonin

    The 200th anniversary of Darwin and the 150th jubilee of the Origin of Species prompt a new look at evolutionary biology. The 1959 Origin centennial was marked by the consolidation of the Modern Synthesis. The edifice of the Modern Synthesis has crumbled, apparently, beyond repair……….

    The new biology: beyond the Modern Synthesis
    Michael R Rose1* and Todd H Oakley2

    The last third of the 20th Century featured an accumulation of research findings that severely challenged the assumptions of the “Modern Synthesis” which provided the foundations for most biological research during that century. The foundations of that “Modernist” biology had thus largely crumbled by the start of the 21st Century. This in turn raises the question of foundations for biology in the 21st Century.

    Soft inheritance: challenging the modern synthesis
    Eva JablonkaI; Marion J. LambII

    …….In view of the data that support soft inheritance, as well as other challenges to the Modern Synthesis, it is concluded that that synthesis no longer offers a satisfactory theoretical framework for evolutionary biology.

  4. Themayan also seems to be trying to shift the debate by eg pointing out that the details of evolutionary theory have changed over time and may continue to do so.

    • themayan says:

      No Ashley. That was not my point of dispute. My claim (based on the current scientific data) is that the “modern evolutionary synthesis” has crumbled beyond repair, and that as of now, we do not have a viable and cohesive theory. However and again, I whole heartedly agree that science is advancing. And while doing so, it is showing us just how obsolete the current theory actually is. Again, let me repeat the point. The fact that science will continue to make new discoveries is a given, and that was not what the subject was about. So it seems maybe it is you who is attempting to shift the debate by trying to use this argument.

      • Mayan,
        Ashley is correct. You don’t seem to know what you are talking about. Before wasting our time on this, you should have at a minimum read the relevant Wikipedia article. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modern_evolutionary_synthesis .It states there that the the “modern” synthesis or “neo-Darwinian” synthesis, was produced between 1936 and 1947. We are talking ~ 70 years ago, dude. A lot has been discovered since then. For instance, biologists now estimate that only about about half of the fixed mutations are beneficial or selective, the other half being neutral, i.e. not classically “Darwinian.” Epigenetic inheritance was also not part of the main neo-Darwinian synthesis. Etc etc etc etc.
        None of this threatens common descent or the core Darwinian insight of natural selection acting on heritable variations or the notion that genetic variations can accumulation over millions of generations to produce new/different species.
        The claim that the advances in biology since 1947 have overthrown evolution is as silly as claiming that the discovery of relativity (which obviated strict Newtonian mechanics) left physics “crumbled beyond repair.”

      • themayan says:

        Scott, your problem is that you’re either a lazy reader, or you’re just ignorant. And why are you lecturing me about the modern synthesis? I whole heartedly agree the theory is outdated and obsolete. Unbelievable man! And that was my entire point. You should direct your criticism towards the NCSE or the ACLU who will sue anyone who teaches neo-Darwinsm from a critical perspective (as all other theories are allowed to be taught) And I might add, the NCSE is not supportive of those who are critical of neo Darwinsm even if they are tying to reformulate or extend the evolutionary synthesis. And even evo devo’s like Stuart Newman have discussed this problem.

        And please don’t accuse me of not knowing what I’m talking about when you didn’t even understand the argument. My point was that the same modern evolutionary synthesis (which is still taught till this day as an unquestionable axiom) has crumbled beyond repair, as cited in these same peer review articles I posted. Neo Darwinism is the modern synthesis. They are not two different things. Secondly, I never said anything about classical Darwinism (which is not the same as neo Darwinism). So it seems that it is you who is confused. And you do not seem to understand, that the foundations and central tenants of the modern evolutionary synthesis themselves have crumbled.

        This includes the now known limitations of natural selection and random mutation. Including the demise of old entrenched ideas and assumptions like gene centrism, gradualism and even the demise of biologies central dogma. Just to name a few. Other theories or paradigms that stemmed from the neo Darwinian paradigm like JUNK DNA have also been soundly and thoroughly refuted. This is not about simply updating a theory. This is about attempting (and still yet with out success) to reformulate a new synthesis from the ground up. And my claim stands. As of now, we do not have a cohesive evolutionary theoretical framework. And this has been made explicit in the current data.

        PS. The reason why we still teach and use Newtonian physics is because it works. And it is three hundred years old.

      • We are in agreement that “modern synthesis” = “neo-Darwinian synthesis”. That’s what I meant by: the “modern” synthesis or “neo-Darwinian” synthesis, was produced between 1936 and 1947.

        Much more about genetics has been learned since then (DNA itself, epigenetics, effectively neutral mutation fixation, etc.), so of course the 1940’s version is no longer viable. We now know that reality is much more complex than was assumed in the 1940’s. Learning, and healthy debate (e.g. Coyne vs. Newman) as to the relative importance of selection, is ongoing. This is still a young field, so it is true that there is not a formulation that completely explains every single data point. The reason scientists like me still have jobs is precisely because we do not yet know everything about everything.

        It is possible that some high school or college biology teachers have not caught up with this, so you can probably mine some quotes that seem to show that old-style neo-Darwinism is still being taught. But in general you are not correct to state that the 1940’s modern synthesis “is still taught till this day as an unquestionable axiom.”

        Some biologists may feel threatened by these developments and will debate their level of significance, but almost no active researcher would deny that that there is SOME role played by these newly-discovered factors, which were not part of the original neo-Darwinian formulation.

        I assumed that you are so passionate about the shortcomings of the “modern synthesis” because you are trying to find grounds to cast doubt on evolution itself. To trash the “modern evolutionary synthesis” would be a rhetorical means to that end, if you or some readers did not already know that that this “modern” synthesis is (in terms of biological knowledge) not modern at all. As long as we are all clear that the “modern” synthesis you are bashing is a 70-year-old straw man, I am fine with that.

        Caveat: sometimes people use the term “modern synthesis” or even “neo-Darwinism” to refer to the 1940’s version PLUS all the subsequent learnings layered on. So it is important to be clear what someone means if they are defending the “modern synthesis.”

      • It looks like I was being too generous to themayan yesterday… He’s a science denier.
        No sir, I was not ‘shifting the debate’.

  5. JimV says:

    We know Darwin existed. I, personally, do not believe Moses existed. There is no record of him, nor of having a significant number of Hebrew slaves, in the records the Egyptians kept (which go back earlier than 6000 years without mentioning any flood), and his story does not make any sense. It reads like a badly-plotted novel. After the Hebrew’s god delivers 10 plagues (“hardening Pharaoh’s heart” so that the full ten are necessary, included murdering innocent first-borne sons) and parts the Red Sea (which should have left the Hebrews floundering neck-deep in the mud of the bottom, strangely unmentioned), Moses goes off for the two weeks necessary for their god to carve some commandments in stone (funny how he can part the Red Sea in an instant but takes longer to carve stone – maybe he hadn’t thought of lasers yet) and in the meantime, 30-40% of the Hebrews decide they can make a better god themselves by melting some trinkets. Think about that for a minute: one the one hand, ten plagues and parting the Red Sea; on the other hand, some melted trinkets in the shape of a calf. After which they are killed by Mose’s operatives, immediately breaking one of the commandments. Then they wandered the Sinai desert (which Lawrence of Arabia crossed on foot in two days) for 40 years, chasing dust devils.

    There have been numerous challenges to the 3000-year old record, by distinguished scholars; or you could just ask yourself if it makes any sense, that one small tribe in a time when every tribe had its tribal gods just happened to be specially chosen by the one true god.

    We are all borne not knowing anything about the universe and how it works. My grandmother told me the moon was made of green cheese. I got over it. I believed in Paul Bunyon and his blue ox for a while too, but I learned that people like to make up and tell tall tales. (And no matter how strange they are, some will believe them. Ask the followers of David Koresh and “Reverend” Moon.)

    As for signs and wonders, I asked the Christian god for a special sign dozens of times. (If you exist, make that crow fly over onto that fence.) Multiply that by millions of children trying long enough and some of them will receive signs by random coincidence. And people do have immune systems. At least one man has been found who is immune to the AIDS virus. Immune systems try to adapt and find cures, and his, out of perhaps billions of trials, was successful. Show me a miracle in a controlled, scientific experience – not just for my benefit, but to claim the Amazing Randi’s million dollar prize as well as a Nobel prize.

    I’m just a layman in science, with an engineering degree, so I could be wrong in some of my details, But everything I have seen and continue to see each day convinces me that humans are just a natural part of the universe, not the special project of some god. Not that what I think matters a hill of beans in this crazy world, but since others have expressed their views above, why not me? Thanks for reading, if you did.

    • Jim, you are asking important questions here. Especially, why doesn’t God seem to answer prayers that seem to us legitimate and harmless (like you mention, “If You exist, make that crow flow onto that fence”), or prayers to avert some atrocity? I have not seen any solutions that fully scratch my itch on these problems.

      I’ll offer a couple of random thoughts or observations, not claiming that they are full “answers.” Maybe you can relate to some of them, or not.

      (1) When skeptics came to Jesus and asked for a sign, he was very clear that (at least normally) he (and by extension, God?) was not in the business of performing miracles on demand or to satisfy skeptics. So I doubt that He would, on principle, ever meet Randi on Randi’s terms.

      (2) Even the leading practitioners of healing prayer will admit that most of their prayers are not answered. For instance, I went on a 2-week trip to Germany with Randy Clark. I posted a video link of him praying for an almost-deaf boy in Brazil here https://letterstocreationists.wordpress.com/2012/08/14/healing-of-nearly-deaf-boy-on-youtube/ . I wrote a longish report on my experience on this trip here https://letterstocreationists.wordpress.com/germany_mission/ . During that trip, Randy gave talks on how to pray for people. In those talks he admitted that many times he prayed long and fervently for someone, with no apparent results, and that that was heartbreaking for him. On that trip, only about 10% of the people I prayed for had significant relief of pain or disability. For some of my comrades it was more like 30-50%.

      (3) As a purely practical matter, I’ve observed in my experience and with others that those who keep on praying in person for healing/blessing for others see more such healings materialize than someone who gives up and stops praying. So out of a desire to possibly help others, I decide to keep on praying for them even though my batting average is low.

      (4) The most spectacular healings seem to be associated with the penetration of the gospel to relatively unreached people groups. e.g. in northern Mozambique, Heidi and Rolland Baker’s ministry (see https://letterstocreationists.wordpress.com/2010/10/11/study-healing-miracles-in-mozambique/ ) regularly sees healing of blindness and deafness. (My daughter traveled to Mozambique to check this out a few years ago, and reported that, as best she could tell, some people known to their fellow villagers to be deaf did gain hearing). I have seen Heidi Baker come to the U.S. to speak, without major miracles as far as I know.

      (5) One of the most startling verses in the gospels to me is in Mark 6, where Jesus goes to his home town and they refuse to honor him:
      ” He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.” It seems that in God’s economy of things, faith or lack of faith makes a difference in whether things happen.
      Like most people, I want to have proof, lots and lots of proof on my terms, before being asked to believe in something. But that is just not the way it is with God.
      But actually, there are other things in life that are like that. There are other commitments that we enter into, like marriage or military service, without being able to know how it is going to turn out. These take courage and faith.

      Enough for now. Best wishes in your journey.

  6. themayan says:

    Scott can you please cite your source for the following claim?….”For instance, biologists now estimate that only about about half of the fixed mutations are beneficial or selective, the other half being neutral”

    It sounds to me like you may have misunderstood something you might have read.

    • Here is one such reference:
      “In yeast and nematodes, the proportion of non-coding nucleotides that is conserved by natural selection has been estimated to be 10–20%. By contrast, in D. melanogaster, the available evidence suggests that at least 50% of sites in non-coding DNA are constrained by natural selection. In mammals, the proportion of the genome that is subject to natural selection is much lower, around 5%. It therefore seems likely that as much as 95% and as little as 50% of mutations in non-coding DNA are effectively neutral.”

      from Eyre-Walker and Keightley, nature/reviews/genetics 2007 (8) 610

      My point was not that it is exactly 50%, but that biologists now recognize that some significant fraction of fixed mutations in a population can be neutral or nearly neutral. This was not part of the 1940’s neo-Darwinian synthesis. (Note I said “fixed mutations”, not “all mutations”)

      • themayan says:

        As for the way in which I use the term “evolution” it is posted in my very first comment. I described these caveats, terms and definitions at the very beginning. You should have read it before you responded.

        I asked you to cite your claim that “biologists now estimate that only about about half of the fixed mutations are beneficial or selective, the other half being neutral”

        We have known about neutral mutations for quite some time. And your citation does not even come close to what you boldly claimed earlier. In fact if you had bothered to read the first line it actually says this below. And especially take note of what it says about beneficial mutations being rare…..

        “The proportion of mutations that are advantageous, effectively neutral and deleterious varies between species, and the DFE differs between coding and non-coding DNA. Despite these differences between species and genomic regions, some general principles have emerged: advantageous mutations are rare, and those that are strongly selected are exponentially distributed; and the DFE of deleterious mutations is complex and multi-modal”

        “advantageous mutations are rare”

        Did you get that? And this is from your own citation, and we have know this for fifty years.

        Again, not even close to what you claimed.

        “My point was not that it is exactly 50%, but that biologists now recognize that some…..”

        If your point was not “exactly” what you claimed, then why did you make the claim?

        Furthermore, this same outdated Neo Darwinian theory is the exact same theory that was up held at Dover as an unquestionable axiom as late as 2005, and it is exactly the same neo Darwinian theory that we still teach till this day. You seem to keep avoiding this point.

        And by the way, the reason why we even understand the basic principles of genetics is because of an Augustine monk named Mendel, and not Darwin. Darwin new nothing of genetics. In fact, Mendel never accepted Darwin’s theory. Mendelian genetics was only piggybacked onto the modern synthesis long after Mendel’s death, as up until then, he was ignored for fifty years. And keep in mind, genetics per say is not what is in dispute as there is still a foundation to be built on that does not need to be reformulated from the ground up.

        Epigenetics itself is a direct challenge to the modern synthesis. Yet epigenetics only helps us better understand biology, but has yet to to become a theoretical frame work in itself, and that is why the paper I cited makes the statement and ask the question…….

        “The foundations of that “Modernist” biology had thus largely crumbled by the start of the 21st Century. This in turn raises the question of foundations for biology in the 21st Century”

        And in addition, the paper you cited also demonstrates the limits of natural selection which reaffirms what I cited earlier concerning the work of John Sanford, and it is actually speaking about non coding DNA which evolutionist for many years (and in many cases still do in spite of the contrary evidence) referred to as junk DNA. And this was touted as one of the best pieces of evidence for evolution biology. This same junk DNA paradigm was also held up as a poster child for bad design, i.e., why would an intelligent designer create so much useless junk? Again this fallacy has been soundly refuted by the current data.

        In fact, calling it non coding DNA is a misnomer, as even though it does not code for protein, it does indeed code for RNA and controls gene regulation and expression, and has been found to be extremely beneficial and in many cases even vital. And Keep in mind, ID theorist predicted the demise of the junk DNA paradigm years ago.

        Jerry Coyne and PZ Myers are still in denial of these new findings. Also keep in mind Jerry Coyne is the same guy who criticized Newman and Pigliucci for even claiming publically that and extend evolutionary synthesis is even necessary. And he has even called for boycotts on publications that are critical to neo Darwinism. So it puzzles me why on one hand you admit neo Darwinism is outdated, yet you cite a staunch defender of neo Darwinism who is critical of others who are trying to extend theory.

        “When  New Scientist published its “Darwin was WRONG”

        “Letter writing doesn’t seem to have sufficed — perhaps it’s time to boycott  New Scientist (n.b., by “boycott,” I mean to refuse, as scientists, to write for them or have anything to do with them).
        PZ Myers is picking up the boycott thread,
        Jerry Coyne.

        Mendel’s Opposition to Evolution and to Darwin

        Orchestrated Intron Retention Regulates Normal Granulocyte Differentiation-How ‘junk DNA’ can control cell development
        1 AUGUST, 2013

        Aug. 2, 2013 — Researchers from the Gene and Stem Cell Therapy Program at Sydney’s Centenary Institute have confirmed that, far from being “junk,” the 97 per cent of human DNA that does not encode instructions for making proteins can play a significant role in controlling cell development.

        DNA Found Outside Genes Plays Largely Unknown, Potentially Vital Roles: Thousands of Previously Unknown RNA Molecules Identified (June 26, 2013) — A new study highlights the potential importance of the vast majority of human DNA that lies outside of genes within the …  > read more

        Challenging Conventional Neo-Darwinian Theory
        Published: Monday, Aug. 12, 2013 – 9:32 am
        WACO, Texas, Aug. 12, 2013 — “This is by far the most rigorous and in-depth re-examination of the sufficiency of neo-Darwinian theory. Never have so many well-credentialed scientists, representing so many disciplines, united so effectively to look beyond the standard mutation-selection paradigm.” – The Editors
        WACO, Texas, Aug. 12, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — World Scientific Publishing has just released the proceedings of a symposium held in the spring of 2011, where a diverse group of scientists gathered at Cornell University to critically re-examine neo-Darwinian theory. This symposium brought together experts in information theory, computer science, numerical simulation, thermodynamics, evolutionary theory, whole organism biology, developmental biology, molecular biology, genetics, physics, biophysics, mathematics, and linguistics.               

    • Quoting from an earlier post by themayan:
      “either a lazy reader, or you’re just ignorant”;
      “So it seems that it is you who is confused. And you do not seem to understand, that the foundations and central tenants of the modern evolutionary synthesis …”;
      “Including the demise of old entrenched ideas and assumptions like gene centrism…”.
      I have formed the impression that themayan (whoever he or she is) is MORE ignorant than Scott Buchanan. And I haven’t misunderstood him, I’ve merely quoted from some of his many words.

      • Or may have been rushing and simply ‘misspoke’.
        Did that 2012 symposium themayan links to conclude that neo-Darwinian theory had crumbled and collapsed? I suspect not.
        Scott has previously blogged about the claims of YEC John Sanford.

      • My mistake!
        All those at that symposium (Sanford, Dembski, Behe etc) are either YECs or ID proponents. People with an AGENDA when it comes to ‘origins’ science.

  7. Scott says:

    Scott –

    It’s Scott here as well. Nice name. :)

    It’s nice to read of another who is both invested in the power of the gospel and the importance of scientific study. I am no student of any of the sciences. But I’ve been interested in engaging with various critical scholarship as a theologian and some perspectives on evolutionary biology (I’ve read Pete Enns, Denis Lamoureaux, BioLogos, and some others). I am a continuationist that believes in miracles, healings, prophecy, etc, today. People are always puzzled why I could believe in the miraculous and also consider evolution as the means by which God created.

    Anyways, thanks for sharing your thoughts. Blessings.

  8. Pingback: Evolution and Faith: My Story, Part 2 | Letters to Creationists

  9. Huckleberry says:

    Smh. Ahh, the religion of the evolutionists. It takes more faith to believe the “theory” than it does to believe Genesis. The so called “science” he relys on once said the earth was flat, and the sun revolved around the earth. Just two of the many epic failures of “science.” Its pretty simple actually, who do you believe? Darwin? Or Moses? In darwins “descent of man” pg 178, he states the black man was inferior, and came down a different evolutionary line. (i guess TWO monkeys turned into men?). Since Moses account existed long before Darwins “theory”, under the rules of evidence, he must first prove Genesis a lie before he can begin to present his theory. Evolutionists turn the rules of evidence upside down.
    As far as a Bible believer goes, seems to me, that accepting the Genesis account of a 6 day creation would be a much easier pill to swallow than Jesus rising from the dead after three days in the grave. Which is the foundation rock of the Christian faith. I’ve never understood how a Resurrection believer readily accepts the Biblical account, of the Resurrection, then chokes and strangles on a 6 day creation. Again, who do you believe? , Darwins “theory”? Or Moses? There is no reconciling the two. A monkey turning into a man sounds like a fairy tale. The evolutionist religion doesn’t have the liberty of fairy tales, or miracles, and has no documentation for his “theory” he so deeply, BY FAITH, believes in. Hence “the religion of the evolutionist”.

  10. Pingback: Realistic Expectations for Transitional Fossils | Letters to Creationists

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