Dispatches from the Creation Wars

I’m working my way through a pre-publication copy of a book called God and Country: America in Red and Blue, by Sheila Kennedy. This book examines many of the culture war issues in America and starts from the premise that we must recognize that on many of those issues, the two sides begin from radically different starting points. I was reminded of that as I’ve watched the reaction to this article about a new study on whether Australopithecus afarensis is a direct ancestor of modern humans or an evolutionary cousin.

This new study uses comparative morphological analysis between the Lucy specimen and various modern primate species, including humans, and found that one particular morphological feature (the mandible where the jaw and cranium connect) was common among those species more distantly related to humans (gorillas) but missing in our closer relatives (chimpanzees). Thus, they argue, this casts doubt on whether A. afarensis was a direct ancestor of humans.

The moment I saw it I knew that we would see it rapidly disseminated on creationist webpages with declarations of “A ha! You see, evolutionists had it wrong!” And sure enough….here’s DaveScot ignorantly declaring that “Icon of Evolution Lucy Bites the Dust” at UD. The folks at Free Republic jumped all over it. ARN did too. Expect it to show up on many more creationist pages soon. But before this uninformed and pointless crowing goes too far, a few things need to be said.

First of all, like most popular press reports of scientific studies this article vastly overstates the findings of the study and turns complex and nuanced conclusions in to simplistic and breathless declarations. The first line of the article decalres that the scientists who did the study “say they have disproven the theory” that Lucy is a direct ancestor of humans. But if you bother to read one paragraph later you find a far less strident and more nuanced statement from the scientists themselves:

The specific structure found in Lucy also appears in a species called Australopithecus robustus. Prof. Yoel Rak and colleagues at the Sackler School of Medicine’s department of anatomy and anthropology wrote, “The presence of the morphology in both the latter and Australopithecus afarensis and its absence in modern humans cast doubt on the role of [Lucy] as a common ancestor.”

I dare say the phrase “casts doubt” is a far cry from “disproves” and the difference is quite important when dealing with science. Scientists rarely speak in such bold terms, especially about a subject like ancestral relationships and even more so about a field where we have an incredible array of extinct species, some of which lived at the same time and where the morphologies are so overlapped on so many traits that it has become very difficult to determine which particular ones gave rise to which others.

But the fact that they crow about it anytime a minor hypothesis is disputed and shout any and all disagreements from the rooftops to sow doubt about science as a pursuit of truth indicates a deeper conflict here, as Sheila Kennedy would remind us. We simply do not start from the same epistemological premise because the creationists begin from a fundamentalist mindset that says that truth is revealed, not discovered. The differences between this epistemological approach and the scientific approach are many.

From their perspective, truth is revealed to our feeble minds by a being with perfect knowledge. Revealed truth, therefore, cannot be wrong, not even in the tiniest details; if it is, then all of it is disproved and the revelation could not possibly have come from its putative souce. This is in stark contrast to a scientific approach that is based on constantly and relentlessly proposing and testing hypotheses, continually refining our explanations by discarding those explanations that don’t work and always testing accepted explanations for their consistency with new evidence.

The problem is that the anti-evolution crowd views the theory of evolution (which is really an immense bundle of theories and hypotheses, some of which are well established and some of which are still highly contentious and will eventually be discarded or confirmed) as an instance of revealed truth. Thus their obsession with referring to those who accept evolution as “Darwinists” – to them, evolution is revealed truth from Darwin and if any particular hypothesis within the larger evolutionary umbrella is shown to be false then that proves that this revelation came from a false God.

Scientists, of course, don’t think in such terms at all. Darwin was a great scientist and he left us with a basic model that continues to explain the natural history of life on earth quite well despite being incomplete and, on some details, inaccurate. A scientific theory is not revealed truth, it is an ongoing collaborative project involving, in this case, tens of thousands of scientists, constantly working out the details of a vastly complex model that involves millions of species and a dozen fields of inquiry.

But to the creationist mindset, to quote Robbie the Robot, this simply does not compute. If truth is revealed, then it is unchangeable and immutable; to refine, then, is to negate. For the creationist, every argument is an argument from authority and every dispute a dispute between two competing faiths. Thus the ubiquity of creationist attempts to cast science in religious terms with phrases like “Darwinian priesthood”; they simply cannot conceive of an argument that is not based on revelation and authority. And this is why they crow so loudly whenever any scientist challenges another scientist’s position or when any proposed explanation is shot down. And since science eventually rejects at least 9 out of 10 proposed explanations, they will never run out of ammunition for this argument, no matter how ignorant and toothless it may be.

Comments

  1. #1 Skip Evans
    May 2, 2007

    Ed,

    I agree with most of what you said, but I think I need to point out that it was “The Robot” (who I believe was nameless throughout the series) from Lost in Space who became famous for uttering “That does not compute.”

    Robby the Robot made appearances on that show, as he did many others, but personally I found his construction of bowling bowls a bit weird, and always rooted for Will Robinson’s pal, despite being labeled a “cantankerous ninny” by Dr. Smith.

    Interestingly, both robots were designed by Robert Kinoshita, and designated Model B-9.

    Ain’t wikipedia wonderful?

  2. #2 Stuart Coleman
    May 2, 2007

    That’s a plausible hypothesis for the creationist mindset, but I am not totally convinced. I may have to do a study to overthrow (or augment) your theory.

    It is kind of funny how some people completely miss the point of science. It’s not supposed to always be right, and everything is open to being wrong. That’s its biggest strength, not a weakness.

  3. #3 nal
    May 2, 2007

    Robbie the Robot was from the movie “Forbidden Planet”.

    Excellent article.

  4. #4 T. Bruce McNeely
    May 2, 2007

    It sounds like Lucy is now my n(great) aunt, rather than my n(great) grandmother. How does this disprove evolution again?

  5. #5 eric
    May 2, 2007

    And thus, Skip has successfully disproved Ed’s entire post.

  6. #6 Chuck
    May 2, 2007

    I’m not sure whether Lucy was ever even claimed to be a direct ancestor of homo sapiens; there is a lot of uncertainty about the relationships between the various branches of the primate family proceeding from the most recent common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees. The only quite recently changed the estimate of when that ancestor lived to roughly four million years ago. Natural history is full of uncertainty and always will be, but the fact it is based on physical evidence and the scientific method rather than some a priori reasoning common among the various stripe of creationists is enough to shut the latter out of the conversation. Creationists simply have nothing to bring to the table regarding Lucy, except trying to fit the skeleton into their fixed dogma. Scientists, on the other hand, use the existence of the skeleton to shed light on the problem. We’re lucky that there are educated citizens like Ed to defend science in the public square so that the scientists can spend their time doing evolutionary biology instead of defending their work from ignorant zealots.

  7. #7 Luxury Yacht
    May 2, 2007

    Wait, I’ve got to get this straight. The anti-evolution crowd is happy because scientists working completely within the framework of evolution have determined that Lucy might belong to a different branch on the evolutionary tree? This disproves evolution how?

    Oh right, most of them last studied science when they were in 10th grade.

  8. #8 mark
    May 2, 2007

    Revealed truth, therefore, cannot be wrong, not even in the tiniest details; if it is, then all of it is disproved and the revelation could not possibly have come from its putative souce.

    That’s pretty much what the late R.J. Rushdooney said in his foreword to the Chalcedon Report’s special issue on evolution a few years ago, in which he discussed the importance of believing in a literal 6-day Creation. If that part of the Bible is wrong, it is all wrong, and there was no need for salvation. Thus the urgent need to twist and convolute all manner of observations in order to fit the original assertion.

  9. #9 Wes
    May 2, 2007

    Ed,

    Were you planning to post a review of Ms. Kennedy’s book? I’d be really interested in reading that if you do. I’ve been meaning to augment my collection of books on Creation/Evolution controversies and have been nosing around looking for good books on the topic. I’d like to hear your take on the book, if you get a chance to post it.

  10. #10 Julia
    May 2, 2007

    Thus their obsession with referring to those who accept evolution as “Darwinists” – to them, evolution is revealed truth from Darwin and if any particular hypothesis within the larger evolutionary umbrella is shown to be false then that proves that this revelation came from a false God.

    Interesting insight. I have heard several Christians say almost exactly this. It’s certainly worth exploring as a useful generalization about a religious fundamentalist attitude toward evolution. While many other aspects of science and technology are accepted by fundamentalists, evolution and atheism are, I think, closely enough connected in some people’s minds and comments (not just religious people) to feed the “Darwinism is a set of claims about faith/belief” mindset.

  11. #11 Ed Brayton
    May 2, 2007

    Wes-

    Yes, I will be doing a full review of the book when I finish it. Baylor Press was kind enough to send me a pre-publication copy for that purpose. So far it is every bit as engaging and thought-provoking as I expected it would be coming from Sheila Kennedy. I suspect that this post is just the beginning of the ways in which her ideas will affect the way I view various issues.

  12. #12 Chuck
    May 2, 2007

    Mark,

    And now, with the publicans of the God Delusion, Letter to a Christian Nation, the End of Faith, and Breaking the Spell, the idea that the Bible is merely human literature, and not magical, is finally gaining its rightful currency. Anyone who believes in the possibility of magic books authored by God other than the book of nature itself is kidding himself. Denial of relevation is not new, but it is thankfully gaining traction. So Biblical literalists have good reason to worry: the multiple errors of the Bible are a testament to its imperfection and therefore impossibility of divine authorship. There is no reason to elevate the Bible over any other work of human literature, and those moral teachings from the Bible that are worth practicing are good not because they are in the Bible, but because they have passed the test of reason and moral intuition – and there are many sources of moral wisdom that similarly pass those tests.

  13. #13 Chris Ho-Stuart
    May 2, 2007

    One feature of fossils is that they don’t carry a birth certificate.

    We have no way to tell whether or not one fossil is ancestral to another. We can draw meaningful conclusions about degrees of relationship; inferring that two fossils are more closely related to each other than either one is to a third fossil, and in that way draw conclusions about the shape of an evolutionary tree. But we can never be sure that a specific individual is great-great-etc-grandfather to another rather than, say, great-great-etc-uncle.

    What scientists do is express relationships between fossils using a phylogeny, or cladogram. A cladogram gives a way to express relationships between paleospecies in a way that accurately expresses what we can reasonably infer about relationship.

    And that’s what they have done in this paper. More precisely, they have studied the mandible (jaw) of some recently discovered fossils of paleospecies Australopithecus afarensis, and found that the shape more closely matches that of a gorilla than a chimpanzee. The same shape difference shows up in the “robust australopithecines” (often described as genus Paranthropus) which has long been recognized as a closely related group of hominids that have left no ancestors in modern times.

    Chimpanzees and humans, however, have a rather different shape, also similar to orangutans. The inference defended in the paper is that the gorilla like shape evolved independently in gorilla, and in the robust australopithecines; but not in the lineage to humans from the most common ancestor of all these groups. The authors of the paper note that another older paleospecies, Ardipithecus ramidus, shows the same kind of jaw shape as humans and chimpanzees, which lends support to their conclusions.

    The paper is: “Gorilla-like anatomy on Australopithecus afarensis mandibles suggests Au. afarensis link to robust australopiths”, by Yoel Rak et. al. in PNAS vol 104, no 16, April 17 2007, pp 6568-6572.

  14. #14 Mark
    May 3, 2007

    Is this the same Sheila Kennedy who wrote a book a few years back with a title that was something like “What’s a Nice Republican Girl Doing in the ACLU?”

  15. #15 Ed Brayton
    May 3, 2007

    Yes, that is one of Sheila’s books.

  16. #16 Sharon Wyper
    May 3, 2007

    Article Posted on: May 2, 2007 9:04 AM, by Ed Brayton says about Creationists:

    “From their perspective, truth is revealed to our feeble minds by a being with perfect knowledge. Revealed truth, therefore, cannot be wrong, not even in the tiniest details; if it is, then all of it is disproved and the revelation could not possibly have come from its putative souce. This is in stark contrast to a scientific approach….

    “The problem is that the anti-evolution crowd views the theory of evolution…. as an instance of revealed truth.”

    Since you “scientists” are so fond of corrections, may I offer some comments on this?

    From “our” perspective, God exists, and has revealed certain fundamental truths to our minds which are indeed “feeble” compared to the mind of God. Since this revelation is entrusted to feeble minds, it can be degraded or misunderstood, thus requiring constant study and discussion by us, the recipients. This is in fact the “genesis” of the scientific method. Was not “science”, as you know it, originally a distinquishing characteristic of Western (Christian) Civilization?

    The problem as you state it – that “we” view evolutionism as an instance of revealed truth – is precisely that! Evolution IS argued as an a priori truth, is it not? Does a scientist ever dig up a bone and say, “When and why was this creature made by our Creator?” Of course not, that would be heresy.

    Because “you” are such self-congratulatory hypocrites, “we” do enjoy watching you bumble around and contradict each other (in the popular press) rather more than we should. I am not surprised that “you” find such comfort in supposing that “we” are laughing in ignorance rather than insight.

  17. #17 Dave S.
    May 3, 2007

    I’m not sure whether Lucy was ever even claimed to be a direct ancestor of homo sapiens …

    Not according to her discoverer, Donald Johnanson, who denies ever making such a claim –

    Dr. Johanson: We never really stated that Lucy was a direct link to homo sapiens because the human family tree has many different branches. So, we can’t be certain, that she herself was actually on the direct line. We are certain that her bones are so different from other early humans, or human ancestors that she was a distinctive and different species.

  18. #18 Eric Collier
    May 3, 2007

    That’s a pretty stinging rebuke, Sharon, but unfortunately still regressive twaddle. I certainly see your point about knowledge of the incredibly complex universe being received only feebly by our feeble human minds, but this suggests nothing one way or the other about whether science, or knowledge generally, is a gift from God. No, science was not “originally a distinguishing feature of Western (Christian) civilization.” In the East the Chinese and the Persians were at work on early forms of science long before Christianity; in the West the first pioneering work in science was undertaken by Aristotle and other pagans hundreds of years BC. Christian civilization tended to be quite suspicious of science and enlightenment from the start–look what Christian civilization did to Hypatia and Giordano Bruno–and still is in quarters like the one from which you seem to hail. But best of luck in trying to show us otherwise.

  19. #19 coturnix
    May 3, 2007

    Hmmmm, an entry for the ’07 science blogging anthology….?

  20. #20 Ed Brayton
    May 3, 2007

    Sharon Wyper wrote:

    The problem as you state it – that “we” view evolutionism as an instance of revealed truth – is precisely that! Evolution IS argued as an a priori truth, is it not? Does a scientist ever dig up a bone and say, “When and why was this creature made by our Creator?” Of course not, that would be heresy.

    You clearly haven’t the slightest idea what “a priori” means. No scientific theory is ever accepted a priori; by definition, scientific theories are only accepted a posteriori. And even after being accepted a posteriori (that is, after being found to have explanatory power and to make successful predictions on the nature of new evidence), scientific theories are always open to revision or rejection on the basis of new evidence (and lots of scientific theories that were accepted have been either revised or rejected long after being accepted when new data showed them to be either incomplete or false).

    As for the argument about scientists not picking up a fossil and wondering when God created it, you’re right – scientists don’t do that. Nor should they, any more than meteorologists should track a hurricane and wonder why God is sending it, astrophysicists should look at the planetary orbits and wonder how many angels it takes to keep it going in that direction, or doctors should diagnose an illness and wonder what the patient has done to provoke God’s anger to send them a disease. All of these things were once believed, just as prior to the last couple hundred years naturalists often collected fossils and did ask your question of them. But all have been replaced by scientific explanations that are actually testable, as opposed to “God did it”, which is not testable nor falsifiable (which means it can’t actually make a prediction that might confirm or disconfirm it). Thus, it is the “God did it” explanation that must – can only – be accepted a priori and cannot be confirmed a posteriori.

    From “our” perspective, God exists, and has revealed certain fundamental truths to our minds which are indeed “feeble” compared to the mind of God. Since this revelation is entrusted to feeble minds, it can be degraded or misunderstood, thus requiring constant study and discussion by us, the recipients. This is in fact the “genesis” of the scientific method. Was not “science”, as you know it, originally a distinquishing characteristic of Western (Christian) Civilization?

    Your ignorance of the meaning of a priori is matched by your ignorance of history. It is absurd to equate “Western” civilization with “Christian” civilization. No doubt Christianity has had enormous influence over the West, but no more than pagan Greek and Roman philosophy has. The notable thing about Western civilization is the mixture of the two.

  21. #21 Sharon Wyper
    May 3, 2007

    In reply to Eric Collier: I would like to try to refocus your attention on what I actually said, which may have been too terse for clarity. I said, ” ‘science’, as you know it, originally a distinquishing characteristic… “. It’s hardly possible to nuance the differences between science in the West and the inventions of the ancient Chinese or the speculations of Aristotle in a simple phrase such as “as you know it,” but I thought brevity was of more value.

    You seem highly predisposed to unflattering generalizations about Christian civilization. I most respectfully disagree with your assertion that Christian civilization opposes scientific knowledge, although I will agree that any “establishment” tends to stubbornly defend the status quo.

    I’ve read that a mob of Christians killed Hypatia, and that may be true, although I tend not to believe everything I read (except the Bible). I’ve also read that the Jews killed Christ, but throwing it up to them is considered bad form. I’m sure you would condemn anti-Semitism, so please don’t bash Christianity over Hypatia.

    In reply to Ed: your presumption about my ignorance is just what I meant by “self-congratulatory” in my earlier comment. I know what a priori means and I still say that all the body of proof for evolution is built up by evaluating evidence in light of the a priori belief that there is no Creator and that evolution therefore must have occurred.

    As for history, would you not agree that the mixture of Greek and Roman ideals (primarily in government) with Christianity was the result of Christian evangelism? Since Christianity prevailed, I would not call it a tie with paganism. We may now be in decline as a civilization, with paganism making a comeback because so many bright people are dreadfully mis-educated to abhor Christianity, but that doesn’t rewrite history.

  22. #22 Ed Brayton
    May 4, 2007

    Sharon Wyper wrote:

    In reply to Ed: your presumption about my ignorance is just what I meant by “self-congratulatory” in my earlier comment.

    You mean as opposed to the fair-minded tone of your comment? Seriously, could you be that clueless?

    I know what a priori means and I still say that all the body of proof for evolution is built up by evaluating evidence in light of the a priori belief that there is no Creator and that evolution therefore must have occurred.

    And you would be wrong. Darwin himself did not start with the belief that there was no creator; he in fact believed in God. There are thousands and thousands of scientists in evolutionary fields who believe in God. Are you seriously going to claim that Ken Miller accepts evolution as an a priori belief because he rejects God? If so, you are completely and incontrovertibly full of shit. You can accept evolution and believe in god, or you can accept evolution and not believe in god; there is no intrinsic connection in either case and no a priori assumption about god required in either case.

    As for history, would you not agree that the mixture of Greek and Roman ideals (primarily in government) with Christianity was the result of Christian evangelism? Since Christianity prevailed, I would not call it a tie with paganism. We may now be in decline as a civilization, with paganism making a comeback because so many bright people are dreadfully mis-educated to abhor Christianity, but that doesn’t rewrite history.

    Not only would I not agree, I think that’s total bullshit. I don’t know where you got the idea that Christianity “prevailed.” The founding of this country was based primarily on Enlightenment thinking that was rejected entirely by the religious right of that day.

  23. #23 Nebogipfel
    May 4, 2007

    Sharon Wyper:

    Does a scientist ever dig up a bone and say, “When and why was this creature made by our Creator?”

    Does a geophysicist working for Exxon ever stick a drill in the ground and say, “According to model of the earth’s structure derived from Genesis and the account of the Flood, there should be a big reservoir of oil right about…HERE”?

    Why is that? Is it really beacuse Exxon only employs atheist geophysicists who “a priori” reject Biblical literalism?

  24. #24 Nebogipfel
    May 4, 2007

    Sharon Wyper:

    …although I tend not to believe everything I read (except the Bible).

    Why that particular blind spot?

    I most respectfully disagree with your assertion that Christian civilization opposes scientific knowledge

    Heh. Tell that to Kepler and Galileo. My reading of history is that science has advanced human understanding of the world in spite of religious belief, not because of it. Yes, yes, yes, of course Galileo and Kepler were motivated to investigate the workings of the Universe by a desire to better understand God’s handiwork. How ironic that, having genuinely discovered new things about God’s Creation, they were punished for coming up with the “wrong” answers by those entrusted with the inerrent “Truth”.

    One last thing: have you ever wondered where the word “algebra” comes from? Or why Western astronomers refer to many bright stars by Arabic names?

  25. #25 Sharon Wyper
    May 4, 2007

    In reply to Nebogipfel: You may be assuming that because I believe the Bible’s account of the Flood in the time of Noah, that I think oil results from that Flood. In fact, the Bible does not say where oil comes from, and it was apparently a Russian scientist in the 17th century who speculated that oil might be derived from the biomass buried by the long-ago Flood. Thus oil is called a “fossil fuel” and considered to exist in very finite quantity, with resulting political ramifications of oil scarcity.

    While some Christians like the “fossil fuel” idea because it seems to support their belief in the Flood story, and some liberal/progressives like the “fossil fuel” idea because it reinforces their globalist political positions, and perhaps some oil barons like the idea because the impression of scarcity supports their markets, oil is probably abiogenic in origin. There are several reasons why this abiogenic origin of oil seems correct to me, but there is (or was) a professor at Cornell, Thomas Gold (?), who explained this much better than I could. Just Google “oil abiogenic origin” or similiar if you are interested in this idea.

  26. #26 Nebogipfel
    May 5, 2007

    Sharon:

    …oil is probably abiogenic in origin…There are several reasons why this abiogenic origin of oil seems correct to me, but there is (or was) a professor at Cornell, Thomas Gold (?), who explained this much better than I could.

    This actually supports the point I was making. According to my google scholarship, the vast majority of geologists don’t support this theory. Why is that? Is it because they are “liberal/progressives” who want to butress up a “globalist political position”, and abhor any idea that might suggest a young earth? Or is it because there is a small amount of scientific evidence that suggests oil does not have a biological origin, and a large amount of scientific evidence that suggests it does?

    Note, I’m not appealing to popularity here. I’m not suggesting that the fact that a majority of geologists supports the biogenic theory *proves* that it’s true. I *am* suggesting that the consensus reached by the scientific community is that the biologic origin theory is probably the correct one, based on the available evidence. They could be wrong; tomorrow someone might find some very strong piece of evidence in support of the abiologic theory, and then the scientific consesus may change. But until that happens, there’s no *reason* to discard a theory which explains the available evidence, and fits the observed facts.

    The situation with evolution is identical. Evolutionary ideas explain observations, and their predictions are confirmed by experimentation. There’s just no *reason* to suppose that humans and apes *don’t* have a common ancestor from which they both evolved over millions of years. Unless, of course, such an idea offends your religious beliefs.

  27. #27 Sharon Wyper
    May 6, 2007

    In reply to Nebogipfel: Well, of course I did not expect to get the last word in this forum, so I will let it go with just this farewell: I appreciate your cordiality in your responses, but not so much your implication that I reject evolutionism because it “offends” my religious beliefs.

    As you know, many Christians do accomodate evolution within their religious belief in God as Creator, however, I contend that Biblical creationism and evolutionism are incompatible. Since evolution is wildly improbable, can’t be demonstrated, and does not explain the whole body of evidence, it should not be allowed to distort one’s theology.

    Generations of students absorb the beliefs of the “consensus” without much thought, in order to get on with a career, thus building up the consensus even more. Ah, but true scientists will promptly admit they were wrong and have lived their professional lives in vain, when strong new evidence contrary to the consensus is found, ya think?

    So, we can’t agree – I certainly don’t agree that “Evolutionary ideas explain observations, and their predictions are confirmed by experimentation”. I will check back here in a few days, though, to see if you can cite some of these confirming experiments. I want to read that.

  28. #28 Julia
    May 6, 2007

    Sharon,

    Do you agree with me that your belief that “Biblical creationism and evolutionism are incompatible” should not be taught in biology classes?

    Do you agree with me that intelligent design should not be taught in biology classes?

    A fellow Christian

  29. #29 Nebogipfel
    May 6, 2007

    I contend that Biblical creationism and evolutionism are incompatible.

    I agree ;-)

    Since evolution is wildly improbable, can’t be demonstrated, and does not explain the whole body of evidence, it should not be allowed to distort one’s theology.

    There was a time when the idea that the earth orbited the Sun would have been regarded as wildly improbable, undemonstrated, and contradicted by observations, and the religious authorities went to some lengths to ensure that no-one’s theology was unduly distorted by it. Gee, they were wrong about that. Could the Bible be mistaken about evolution now? What *could* convince you that your theology might be mistaken?

    Ah, but true scientists will promptly admit they were wrong and have lived their professional lives in vain, when strong new evidence contrary to the consensus is found, ya think?

    With respect, this statement could be Exhibit A for the original post. Science just doesn’t work that way.
    Big Bang vs. Steady State? Rigid earth vs. Plate tectonics? These are all cases where the scientific consensus has changed. True, it doesn’t happen with the blinding flash of a religious conversion, and this is a good thing. Should our current theories of evolution be over turned, it will happen gradually. Find a series of fossils that can’t be placed in standard evolutionary sequences. Establish that our DNA really doesn’t have anything in common with that of chimps and gorillas, and appearances were just deceptive. When the results are checked and reproduced and peer reviewed, you bet the scientific consensus will change. It happens all the time. This is the way science works.

    Now, when was the last time the Biblical Creation model of the earth changed in the light of experimental data?

    see if you can cite some of these confirming experiments. I want to read that.

    Well, I’m not an evolutionary biologist, so I can’t give you any first hand accounts. Personally, I think the fact that the whole science of genetics, about which Darwin knew absolutely nothing, was developed and fitted very neatly in with Darwin’s ideas. It didn’t have to. We could have discovered that our DNA and that of our (supposedly) close evolutionary relatives had absolutely nothing in common. That would have been a big piece of evidence against common descent with modification.

    I could recommend “Evolution, a very short introduction” by Brian and Deborah Charlesworth. Or the TalkOrigins archive. Or if you go to the Panda’s Thumb “After the Bar Closes” forum, or more recently, Richard Dawkins’s site, and look up any of AFDave’s threads on Biblical Creationism, people a lot more knowledgable than I analyse the evidence against evolution in great and painstaking detail.

  30. #30 Sharon Wyper
    May 6, 2007

    in reply to Nebogipfel: You characterize as “religious authorities” the deans and professors of the great medieval universities who opposed Copernicus, Galileo, Tyndale, and most other original thinkers as they appeared. Fair enough; in those times, you had to be a cleric to get an advanced education. In these days, you have to be an evolutionist. The requirements are essentially still the same – conformity is rewarded.

    With regard to the inertia of scientific consensus – That’s what I said, and now you say it too, but previously you said that the scientific community is responsive to new evidence – which is it? Can you turn the Titanic or not?

    When, you say, was the last time the Biblical model changed in light of experimental data? In one sense, the Bible is eternal – does not and must not change; the account of Creation was handed down to us by Moses, who may have consulted written sources preserved since Adam or may have written solely by direct inspiration of God. In another sense, the “model” is being tinkered with all the time because of alleged “data” that floods our society, deluding modern-minded churches. Many modern versions of the Bible have been introduced with subtle and incremental changes that undermine fundamental truths in order to conform to the latest fads in science.

    You keep telling me “how science works”, and I keep saying, ‘Oh if only your idealism were the reality’. Let’s get past that.

    The more knowledge increases, the more irreducible complexity is shown to exist in living things, and the more improbable evolution becomes. Intelligent Design is a newer scientific theory that fits the evidence more so than evolution does. I predict that ID will soon be accepted, denying that a moral God is the Creator, substituting instead ‘More Highly-Evolved Benevolent Beings from Another Dimension’ as the Intelligent Designers who have been doing genetic engineering to earthlings over millions of years. These will be our gods, until Armageddon.

    The similarity of DNA between various species? That doesn’t show common descent as much as it shows intelligent design. To create a set of dishes, would I make the dinner plate of clay, the soup plate of pixie dust, and the salad plate of green algae slime? No. More likely, I would decide upon a design and change it as slightly as possible to accomplish many different but related purposes. Similarity shows design excellence and purpose, as one would expect from the Creator. Adaptations show design excellence – think of it as manufacturing tolerance, giving the created species durability and reliability in a range of operating environments.

    Thank you for your suggestions for reading, but IF there is ever some experiment that comfirms evolution, I daresay it will be on every newscast for a month, so I think I’ll wait for that. I do read most “news” on this subject.

  31. #31 Sharon Wyper
    May 6, 2007

    In reply to Julia: Greetings, fellow Christian. May the Lord bless you.

    You said: Do you agree with me that your belief that “Biblical creationism and evolutionism are incompatible” should not be taught in biology classes? Do you agree with me that intelligent design should not be taught in biology classes?

    I pretty much think that biology should be taught in biology class. What is the value of philosophical speculations about origins or anything else when you are dissecting a frog or classifying a butterfly? Is there not enough empirical biology to learn?

    Your question is quite odd to my ear, because it speaks to me of an educational philosophy that seeks to indoctrinate rather than educate, to train students in right thinking, rather than enable them to learn independently and think.

    We understand, if we do not always admit, that public school inculcates the values of the ruling factions in society. The faction currently in charge is much more aggressive in using the school day to preach, convert, and make disciples of children than the Christian majority ever was. Also, any timid whimpers from the Christians for a representation of their views is sternly put down as preaching a religion. Too funny, actually.

    Public education is completely controlled by requirements of government funding, to the great detriment of our children. I say this not because it teaches values but because the values it currently teaches are inferior. “Tolerance” is not Christian kindness. “Self-esteem” is not humility and peace. “Diversity” is a far cry from liberty and equality. And I could go on…

    “What should be taught” is not properly the province of governments and courts and laws. In a free country, you should be able to pick a school for your kids or yourself as you pick a shopping mall, according to your circumstances and preferences. But this is getting off topic, sorry.

  32. #32 Alan B.
    May 7, 2007

    Sharon Wyper says that in science “conformity is rewarded.” This is, of course, the belief – and rationalization – of pseudo-scientists everywhere, and probably the one that annoys me the most. I wish these people would talk to an actual scientist so that they could see how wrong and bizarre this belief is. This isn’t just about evolution vs. creationism; it is about distorting the concepts of science in the minds of students everywhere.

  33. #33 Nebogipfel
    May 7, 2007

    Sharon:

    With regard to the inertia of scientific consensus – That’s what I said, and now you say it too, but previously you said that the scientific community is responsive to new evidence – which is it? Can you turn the Titanic or not?

    In the early 20th century, the scientific consesus among astronomers and cosmologists was that of the Steady State; that the Universe is and has always been constantly expanding, but that new matter is continuously created so that that the Universe always looks the same. Today, the scientific consensus is that the Universe began at a specific point in space and time, with the Big Bang, and has been expanding and changing ever since. Why did the consensus change? Beacuse of experimental data, including but certainly not limited to, the microwave background. The Titanic *did* turn; it may still be turning, because there are undoubtedly unresolved issues with the Big Bang model. How else can I put it? The scientific consensus *does* respond to new data, but in a slow and controlled way, and not by flashes of revelation. This is a GOOD THING.
    If you want to see what happens otherwise, look up Lysenko’s genetics in the Soviet Union. Lysenko came up with a theory of genetics that went against the prevailing scientific consensus in the West. Because Lysenko’s theory was “politically” compatible with Marxism-Leninism, the political apparatus of the Soviet Union shut down the normal peer-review process which is an essential part of the scientific method, and which, in the West, demonstrated that Lysenko’s model didn’t work. Lysenko’s method didn’t work in the Soviet Union either, but with politics on his side, he could just dictate what the consensus should be, with disastrous results. Genetics in the Soviet Union was set back by 50 years.

    You keep telling me “how science works”, and I keep saying, ‘Oh if only your idealism were the reality’. Let’s get past that.

    I’m sorry, but this *is* how science does, in practice, work. You may be tempted to say that the scientific establishment today is using Lysenko tactics to suppress “intelligent design theory”. If this is true, it would be an intellectual scandal of Watergate proportions, and I would want to know about it. I see no evidence that it this is, in fact, happening.
    Yes, scientists are human; there are scientific scandals and frauds. These are usually detected by other scientists, applying the scientifc method.

  34. #34 Dave S.
    May 7, 2007

    Nebogipfel says:

    Today, the scientific consensus is that the Universe began at a specific point in space and time, with the Big Bang, and has been expanding and changing ever since.

    Not quite.

    The Big Bang did not occur at a specific point in space and time, time and space themselves (as we know them) were created by the Big Bang. The Big Bang did not for instance happen in a point in space, as space did not exist then. You could say the Big Bang happened everywhere.

    The Big Bang model was by the way pioneered by a Catholic priest, Father Georges LemaƮtre.

    How else can I put it? The scientific consensus *does* respond to new data, but in a slow and controlled way, and not by flashes of revelation. This is a GOOD THING.

    Yes, all scientific models are always tentetive, even those widely accepted. There are many instances of these paradigms changing in the past. Einstein surpasses Newton; the atomic theory of matter surpasses the ‘plum pudding’ model; combustion surpasses phlogiston; the germ theory of disease surpasses miasmas; plate tectonics surpasses continental rigidity and so on. Anyone who has actually met scientists knows that they thrive on disagreement. That’s how reputations are made.

    I’m sorry, but this *is* how science does, in practice, work. You may be tempted to say that the scientific establishment today is using Lysenko tactics to suppress “intelligent design theory”. If this is true, it would be an intellectual scandal of Watergate proportions, and I would want to know about it. I see no evidence that it this is, in fact, happening.

    In the age of the Internet the ID advocates have every opportunity to show the world advances made using their “theory”. They have not done so, not because they are being somehow held back, but because they have nothing to advance. Their theory does not allow them to make any testable predictions. At leat the old fashioned creationists made testable predictions.

    Sadly for them, their predictions fail the tests.

  35. #35 James Collins
    May 7, 2007

    If evolutionists want to end the arguments all they need do is, get their brilliant heads together and assemble a ‘simple’ living cell. This should be possible, because today they certainly have a very great amount of knowledge about the contents of the so-called ‘simple’ cell.

    After all, shouldn’t all the combined Intelligence of all the worlds scientist be able the do what chance encounters with random chemicals, without a set of instructions, accomplished about 4 billion years ago, ‘according to the evolutionists,’ and having no intelligence at all available to help them along in their quest to become a living entity. Surely the evolutionists scientists of today should be able to make us a ‘simple’ cell.

    If it weren’t so pitiful it would be humorous, that intelligent people have swallowed the evolution mythology.

    Beyond doubt, the main reason people believe in evolution is that sources they admire, say it is so. It would pay for these people to do a thorough examination of all the evidence CONTRARY to evolution that is readily available: Try answersingenesis.org. The evolutionists should honestly examine the SUPPOSED evidence ‘FOR’ evolution for THEMSELVES.

    Build us a cell, from scratch, with the required raw material, that is with NO cell material, just the ‘raw’ stuff, and the argument is over. But if the scientists are unsuccessful, perhaps they should try Mother Earth’s recipe, you know, the one they claim worked the first time about 4 billion years ago, so they say. All they need to do is to gather all the chemicals that we know are essential for life, pour them into a large clay pot and stir vigorously for a few billion years, and Walla, LIFE!

    Oh, you don’t believe the ‘original’ Mother Earth recipe will work? You are NOT alone, Neither do I, and MILLIONS of others!

  36. #36 Dave S.
    May 7, 2007

    James Collins –

    First, evolution is a scientific theory on the development of life, not the origin of life. I do wish people would learn the difference.

    The theory of evolution would still stand as it does now if you could show that Thor came down and made the first cell by smashing his hammer on a rock.

    Second, the experiment you suggest would prove little about how life originated. On the contrary, it would be seized upon (wrongly) as evidence to prove exactly the opposite of what you think. It would seen as proof that ‘intelligent design’ was involved in the origin of life. Perhaps you want the chemists to build an atom from scratch without using atomic material before you’d accept those too? You would if you were as honest as you claim. Or maybe geologists should build their own moving continent. Why should we accept plate tectonics otherwise?

    And what’s pitiably laughable is the suggestion that the arguments found in Answers in Genesis haven’t already been examined and found wanting.

  37. #37 Nebogipfel
    May 7, 2007

    Sharon Wyper:

    You characterize as “religious authorities” the deans and professors of the great medieval universities who opposed Copernicus, Galileo, Tyndale, and most other original thinkers as they appeared. Fair enough; in those times, you had to be a cleric to get an advanced education. In these days, you have to be an evolutionist. The requirements are essentially still the same – conformity is rewarded.

    I think the Pope counts as a “religious authority”. Sharon, the people who opposed Copernicus and Galileo were Biblical literalists, and they opposed Copernicus and Galileo *because* the things that Copernicus and Galileo discovered contradicted a literal reading of the Bible.

    Thank you for your suggestions for reading, but IF there is ever some experiment that comfirms evolution, I daresay it will be on every newscast for a month, so I think I’ll wait for that. I do read most “news” on this subject.

    Why? What harm can reading a popular science book do? You’re obviously interested in the subject; reading a book does not constitute an endorsement of its content, and I’m sure you want to attack what the theory of evolution really says, and not some strawman cartoon version of it….
    Otherwise, does the name Tiktaalik roseae ring any bells?

  38. #38 Nebogipfel
    May 7, 2007

    Sharon, I’ve realized something in your comments that I hadn’t spotted before. I think when you ask for an experiment that proves evolution, I believe you’re thinking of the one where a female chimpanzee gives birth to a human baby. That’s never going to happen, and if it did, it would rather spectacularly disprove the current model of evolution, which strongly implies such a vast evolutionary change in a single generation is impossible.
    The discovery of Tiktaalik, on the other hand, did neatly validate a set of predictions made on the basis of evolutionary ideas. Not as spectacular, no flashing lights or green-glowing particle accelerators, just some fossil bones. But, gee, that’s real science for you…

    A couple of other comments:

    Intelligent Design is a newer scientific theory that fits the evidence more so than evolution does. I predict that ID will soon be accepted…

    As Dave S. also points out, unless and until ID proponents roll their sleeves up and do some actual scientific research, with the predictions of an ID model validated by actual experimental data, the chances of ID having any credibility in the scientific community, whether attributed to God, or to a time travelling biochemists, are zero.

    The similarity of DNA between various species? That doesn’t show common descent as much as it shows intelligent design.

    Heh. One of the similarities between human and chimp DNA is an identical genetic defect which prevents either producing their own vitamin C. Hence, we both need vitamin C in our diets, or we end up suffering from scurvy and the like. To design one lower animal with such a defect might be regarded as unfortunate. To copy that design flaw into your ultimate in-our-own-image being, looks like carelessness. Certainly not what you’d expect from a divine designer.

  39. #39 Nebogipfel
    May 7, 2007

    James Collins:

    Beyond doubt, the main reason people believe in evolution is that sources they admire, say it is so.

    Wrong, wrong, wrong. I am afraid you are Exhibit B for Ed’s point in the original post. Sorry. ;-)

  40. #40 Sharon Wyper
    May 7, 2007

    In reply to Nebogipfel: You said earlier that: “Evolutionary ideas explain observations, and their predictions are confirmed by experimentation.” I merely asked for a specific instance of such confirming experiment.

    As to reading another popular science book, or your list of reading suggestions, I just have too many other things to read – I need the digest. At one point I was a committed evolutionist, but I’m over it now.

    I just Googled the “transitional” fossil that you mentioned, and read “that it was exactly the missing intermediate they were looking for” (Wikipedia quoting New Scientist). I’m sure you know that “walking fish” still exist.

    And then you said: “Sharon, the people who opposed Copernicus and Galileo were Biblical literalists, and they opposed Copernicus and Galileo *because* the things that Copernicus and Galileo discovered contradicted a literal reading of the Bible.” Why did you drop Tyndale from the list? You know they burned him at the stake; he was a brilliant linquist who translated the Scriptures into European languages. These men challenged the *scientific* powers-that-be of the time, but not because their work contradicted a literal reading of the Bible. I assure you that I am a Bible literalist, and have read it many times. It nowhere says what you may think it says about the solar system.

    Finally, about the lack of Vitamin C synthesis, I think you may be a little rash in pronouncing this a design flaw – humans are widely adapted. However, there are many disastrous mutations that do afflict humanity, so another consideration may be the severe reduction of human life-span announced by God to Noah prior to the Flood. Was this accomplished by degrading the environment or the genome or both?

    In reply to Alan B: You said: “I wish these people would talk to an actual scientist so that they could see how wrong and bizarre this belief is.” Right back at ya, concerning actual Christians. I’m sure we find each other equally exasperating.

    In reply to Dave S: You said: “First, evolution is a scientific theory on the development of life, not the origin of life. I do wish people would learn the difference.” This seems a little weasel-y to me, friend. The Bible says that God created the “living creature after his kind”. You say life developed/evolved from – what? Did life arise from inantimate matter? Or are you saying that God created only the primeval life forms but designed them to evolve over time? Or possibly God was just as surprised as we are by the results of his work? Please explain the difference you wish we would learn, because I’m not getting it.

  41. #41 DuWayne
    May 7, 2007

    Sharon Wyper -

    You say life developed/evolved from – what? Did life arise from inantimate matter? Or are you saying that God created only the primeval life forms but designed them to evolve over time?

    Personaly, that is almost exactly what I believe. If you explained it as God causing the implosion/explosion that started it all, about 13-15 billion years ago. Makes a lot more sense than saying God decieved us all by creating the earth as we know it, the universe as we know it, with a lot of evidence that he didn’t. Personaly, I don’t think my God is deceptive like that.

  42. #42 Gh
    May 8, 2007

    so another consideration may be the severe reduction of human life-span announced by God to Noah prior to the Flood. Was this accomplished by degrading the environment or the genome or both?

    I can’t believe I actually read that on this blog. It’s just , well, stunning.

    This seems a little weasel-y to me, friend.

    Then another WOW! Weasel-y to explain the difference between 2 different ideas in science?

    Right back at ya, concerning actual Christians. I’m sure we find each other equally exasperating.

    Yeah but on one end you actually have a proven theory and not superstition. It’s not like your both on the same field.

  43. #43 Ed Darrell
    May 8, 2007

    In reply to Dave S: You said: “First, evolution is a scientific theory on the development of life, not the origin of life. I do wish people would learn the difference.” This seems a little weasel-y to me, friend. The Bible says that God created the “living creature after his kind”. You say life developed/evolved from – what?

    Weasely? How? Why? Darwin observed life as it is, and life as we know it in the immediate past, and in the distant past. From that, he noted evolution occurs. Where is evolution dependent on how life arose? What part of evolution theory depends on the mode of creation of life, and not on how life reproduces itself? The statement you find weasely is so only if living things do not reproduce themselves. Do you claim that no reproduction can occur without God’s direct intervention? (Then I kindly urge you to get off your high horse about “unwanted” pregnancies, since they all would be ordained by God.)

    Creatures reproducing “after his kind” sounds like common descent to me. The Bible is clear, offspring are not clones, but only “after” their parents. This is a key part of the human aspect of the Bible, too — kids are “after” their parents, not clones of them.

    But, I suppose anyone whose denial fu is so strong as to deny fossils, the rocks crying out much as Jesus said they would, can deny even the Bible.

  44. #44 Dave S.
    May 8, 2007

    In reply to Dave S: You said: “First, evolution is a scientific theory on the development of life, not the origin of life. I do wish people would learn the difference.” This seems a little weasel-y to me, friend.

    Hardly. The origin of life is a valid scientific question in and of itself. However, evolution is defined as the study of changes in the gene pool of populations of organisms over time. IOW, evolution (I’m talking the science here, not the creationist straw man du jour of what that word means) already presupposes population(s) of self-replicators. It’s like the distinction between learning to play checkers, and studying its invention. You can do the former just fine without necessary reference to the latter. Charles Darwin himself only touched on this question in the last paragraph of his seminal work, and made a few references I think in letters. I could be wrong there.

    The Bible says that God created the “living creature after his kind”. You say life developed/evolved from – what?

    From other life. That’s evolution. Depending on what a “kind” is supposed to be, this could mean the same thing. You’re the one conflating evolution and abiogenesis, remember?

    The ultimate origin of life itself is a separate question. Some huge strides have been made, but no general plausible model has yet been put forth.

    Did life arise from inantimate matter?

    That’s the best guess we have scientifically. There’s no difference chemically. A carbon atom in a lump of coal is chemically identical to a carbon atom in our brain.

    Or are you saying that God created only the primeval life forms but designed them to evolve over time?

    Possibly. That’s a religious question outside the scope of science.

    Or possibly God was just as surprised as we are by the results of his work?

    Possibly. That’s another question outside the scope of science.

    Please explain the difference you wish we would learn, because I’m not getting it.

    I believe I just did.

  45. #45 DuWayne
    May 8, 2007

    Thus, they argue, this casts doubt on whether A. afarensis was a direct ancestor of humans.

    This will be very dissapointing to my five year old son. After watching the BBC’s “Walking With The Cavemen,” he started using the excuse that he was pretending to be aferensis, when he wanted to get a little too wild. When we discussed that it is still inapropriate, he explained “I must have some of them throwbacks in me.” Oh well, I’m sure he’ll find other protohumans to emulate – single cell organisms would probably be too much to hope for. . .

  46. #46 David Holland
    May 8, 2007

    Sharon Wyper,
    You missed the point in both Tiktaalik and vitamin C. The existence and location of Tiktaalik were predicted by scientists using common descent. They knew where to look and what strata to look in. And they knew what its morphology would be. They were right. This supports the theory.
    The point about the vitamin C is not that we have a defective gene but that we share the same defect with the other primates. It’s the same mutation in the same location, a single nucleotide deletion causing a shift in the reading frame.

  47. #47 Sharon Wyper
    May 8, 2007

    In reply to Ed Darrell: You said, “Do you claim that no reproduction can occur without God’s direct intervention? (Then I kindly urge you to get off your high horse about “unwanted” pregnancies, since they all would be ordained by God.)” Oh, I am sure I never said anything about pregnancies, so you are apparently talking to my *ilk* more than to me. Have a nice conversation. ;)

    BTW, Jesus said that if men should fail to acknowledge him (Jesus) as the “King that cometh in the Name of the Lord”, then the rocks would cry out. I don’t intend to be outdone by a rock. :O

    This has been fun, kids, but I really gotta go now.

  48. #48 tinisoli
    May 9, 2007

    Sharon,
    Whenever you come back for more play with us “kids,” maybe you can explain why the chronology in Genesis is so f’d up when compared to known chronology of the development of life. Oh right… The fossil record is just God playing a trick on us. He’s so funny like that!
    Suck a prankster.

  49. #49 Nebogipfel
    May 9, 2007

    Well, it was interesting to talk to a real live creationist. Unfortunately it just confirms my suspicions that they are still using exactly the same arguments as they were using back in the 1980′s. Oh well. Plus ca change.