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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

creationist infighting

Dr. Georgia Purdom of the young earth creationist organization Answers in Genesis (AiG) takes a look at "Intelligent Design" (ID):

The definition of ID can be best summarized as a theory that holds that “certain features” of living and nonliving things were designed by an “intelligent cause” as opposed to being formed through natural causes.1 The ID concept does not name the intelligent cause, nor does it claim that everything is designed, thus allowing for evolution/natural causes to play a role.

After acknowledging some things which, from the AiG perspective, are positives of ID, Dr. Purdom levels this criticism:

However, the major problem with the ID movement is a divorce of the Creator from creation. The Creator and His creation cannot be separated; they reflect on each other.

In today's culture, many are attracted to the ID movement because they can decide for themselves who the creator is—a Great Spirit, Brahman, Allah, God, etc. The current movement focuses more on what is designed, rather than who designed it.

And I agree. Well, I'm not so sure that anyone is drawn to ID because of the vagueness of its definition of God; my understanding is that the vast majority of ID proponents profess some form of Christianity.

But the ID movement does divorce the creator from creation. When ID proponents argue that the best evidence for a creator can be found in the organization of the bacterial flagellum, and not in the hearts of the followers of Christ, it becomes hard to imagine that they might be talking about a personal creator.

Dr. Purdom's next criticism is this:

Proponents of ID fail to understand that a belief in long ages for the earth formed the foundation of Darwinism. If God’s Word is not true concerning the age of the earth, then maybe it’s not true concerning other events of the Creation Week; and maybe God was not a necessary part of the equation for life after all.

On this one I have to side with the proponents of ID.

I see two fallacies here. First, the age of the earth — about 4.7 billion years according to the most accurate radiometric dating methods available today — is much greater than the age needed for Darwinian evolution. According to current estimates, life did not appear for more than a billion years after the planet was formed. What's more telescopic observations and background radiation measurements indicate that the universe existed for about nine billion years before our little solar system was formed. The ages of the earth and the universe have been continually refined as scientists have uncovered more precise methods of measuring them. These are not arbitrary numbers chosen for the benefit of Mr. Darwin.

Second, the book of Genesis was not written to provide us a simple historical timeline. Since ancient times, believers have applied allegorical interpretations to Bible stories to uncover deeper meanings. AiG's suggestion that we can't trust God if the earth is more than 6000 years old simply makes no sense. What's more, in staking out such a position the young earth creationists have placed themselves firmly in agreement with the new atheists. That's probably not the company you need if your goal is to promote the integrity of scripture. But I digress.

Dr. Purdom continues:

In addition, because the ID movement does not acknowledge God as Redeemer, there seems to be no final solution for the evil in this world; and by all appearances it will continue to reign supreme.

I'm not sure what is the basis for this criticism. As far as I can see, ID is not mutually exclusive with the idea of God as redeemer. And since many of the leading ID proponents claim to be Christians, they evidently don't see any contradiction between these two beliefs.

On the other hand, Dr. Purdom would be correct if she stated that ID does not require its adherents to believe in God as redeemer. In, fact it requires nothing at all in terms of belief in God.

And that, I think, is AiG's main concern with the ID movement. In their single-minded focus on sneaking their designer into science class, ID proponents have lost sight of the bigger picture. Young earth creationism, for all its flaws, at least ostensibly has the goal of glorifying God. The ID movement holds on to the creationism but cuts ties with God.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

where does evolution leave god?

Karen Armstrong and Richard Dawkins offer their answers to this question.

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

does the creation museum support evolution?

Kenneth Chang says yes.

The descendants of the ark dog include foxes, states one of the museum signs. This is pretty incredible if you don’t accept the theory of evolution. Dogs (and wolves) have a genome of 78 chromosomes. The red fox has 34 chromosomes. By most any measure, dogs and foxes are different species and yet here in the Creation Museum, it was stated that foxes had diversified from dogs, with major changes in appearance and genetic make-up, in an incredibly short time of less than 4,500 years — far, far faster than an evolutionary biologist would claim.

So I suppose this would be called evolution, of a kind. The Creation Museum faces many difficulties in putting its chronology together in such a short time frame.

In a separate article, Chang notes:

Tamaki Sato was confused by the dinosaur exhibit. The placards described the various dinosaurs as originating from different geological periods — the stegosaurus from the Upper Jurassic, the heterodontosaurus from the Lower Jurassic, the velociraptor from the Upper Cretaceous — yet in each case, the date of demise was the same: around 2348 B.C.

2348 B.C. is the creationists' date for the Great Flood. According to the musem, some 50 species of dinosaur apparently were included on the ark, but afterward were unable to cope with the changed environment and soon died off. Why God would order Noah to load these behemoths onto the ark, knowing that they would not survive anyway, is left to the imagination.

The scientists' visit to the museum was the idea of Arnold Miller, professor of geology at the University of Cincinnati.

“Too often, academics tend to ignore what’s going on around them,” Dr. Miller said. “I feel at least it would be valuable for my colleagues to become aware not only of how creationists are portraying their own message, but how they’re portraying the paleontological message and the evolutionary message.”

Dr. Bengtson noted that to explain how the few species aboard the ark could have diversified to the multitude of animals alive today in only a few thousand years, the museum said simply, “God provided organisms with special tools to change rapidly.”

“Thus in one sentence they admit that evolution is real,” Dr. Bengtson said, “and that they have to invoke magic to explain how it works.”

To me, that's the most inexplicable thing about today's creationists. They essentially acknowledge that evolution occurs, but they remain skeptical about the well-understood and well-documented driving forces behind it. What's the point?

I'm not alone in failing to understand:

“I think they should rename the museum — not the Creation Museum, but the Confusion Museum,” said Lisa E. Park, a professor of paleontology at the University of Akron.

“Unfortunately, they do it knowingly,” Dr. Park said. “I was dismayed. As a Christian, I was dismayed.”

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Thursday, July 09, 2009

did jesus believe in creation?

That's the title of a Ken Ham vignette appearing on the Institute for Creation Research website.

According to Ham:

In Christ's day, the prevailing philosophy on origins included evolution and long ages of earth history.…The same was true for the philosophy of Moses' day, as he prepared the book of Genesis.

Ham clarifies that he is not referring to Darwinian evolution, but pagan mythologies that taught:

[T]he earth and the universe, acting on itself by the forces of nature (which were given names by some) had organized itself into its present state, and was responsible for all of life.

Ham says Jesus rejected this evolutionary thinking. To build his case, Ham takes a snippet from Mark:

…from the beginning of the creation which God created (Mark 13:19)

a snippet from Matthew:

…such as was not since the beginning of the world (Greek kosmos) to this time (Matthew 24:21)

a snippet from John:

…for Thou lovest Me before the foundation of the world (John 17:24)

a few more from Matthew:

…He maketh His sun to rise (Matthew 5:45)

Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles (Matthew 7:16)

Behold the fowls of the air: …your heavenly Father feedeth them (Matthew 6:26)

a couple more from Mark:

The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27)

From the beginning of creation God made them male and female (Mark 10:6)

and some more from Matthew:

Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh (Matthew 19:6)

Have ye not read that He…made them male and female [quoting Genesis 1 :27], and said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: And they twain shall be one flesh? [quoting Genesis 2:24] (Matthew 19:5)

and concludes that these snippets,

when coupled with the total lack of any reference to evolution or long ages

prove Jesus to be a modern Young-Earth Creationist (YEC). Personally, I don't think the case is that clear at all.

In between snippets, Ham's vignette provides a running commentary on how these half-sentences fit together to build the YEC doctrine. But the way I see it, the Bible ought to be able to stand on its own.

What do you think? Does Ken Ham have a solid case, or is he imposing a foreign structure on a set of teachings that were really talking about something else?

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

the stumbling block

I don't think the title was meant to be humorous.

Marcia Segelstein has a guest column at OneNewsNow, titled Intelligent Design for dummies. (Ron Britton at Bay of Fundie replies, Why Yes! Yes It Is!)

Segelstein claims not to be interested in the whole debate over ID:

As far as I was concerned, all that mattered was my belief that God created the universe and everything in it. How He did it, when He did it, and what complex processes were involved were beyond my extremely limited understanding. They still are. And what continues to matter most to me is that God get the credit for creation.

And yet, she is drawn to the story of one Brian Westad. His experience

made me understand how the predominance of Darwinism can be a stumbling block to faith, even for believing Christians.

In short, Westad learned about evolution in college, but had trouble reconciling it with his belief in an active God. He leaned toward theistic evolution for a while, but began to drift toward atheism.

Then Westad began a research project with another student who introduced him to ID and to Michael Behe's book, Darwin's Black Box. Behe is the originator of the hypothesis of "irreducible complexity," the idea that some things in this world — the rotating flagellum of certain types of bacteria, the blood clotting cascade found in most vertibrates — simply would not work until all the parts were assembled.

Behe's ideas gave Westad a reason to believe again. Westad is now the Executive Director for the IDEA Center, a non-profit organization for promoting ID in schools.


Segelstein's article contains some glaring errors: She calls Phillip Johnson "a leading I.D. scientist," though he is by profession an attorney, a college professor, an author, and a leading strategist for the ID movement. He is not, however, a scientist. Segelstein refers to "the fact that the bacterial flagellum could only function when all its components were present simultaneously." [emphasis mine] Unfortunately, other scientists have discovered ways in which the flagellum could have been built in stages.

But that's really beside the point. The point of Segelstein's article is that "Darwinism" can be a stumbling block to faith, and that ID is more sympathetic toward Christianity.

This view is disturbing on more than one level.

First, and most basic, is this: We are not allowed to choose our science based on how easily it integrates with our faith. It doesn't matter whether ID meshes better with what we want to believe. What matters is which hypothesis gives us a more complete understanding of the workings of the natural world. Just by the way the hypothesis was formed, ID cannot win that battle; it insists that some things are just too complicated to explain.

But ID is disturbing at a deeper level as well. Segelstein's article makes a big deal about Westad's difficulties reconciling evolution with faith in God. Yet, for me at least, ID presents the greater challenge.

Proponents of ID ask us to believe in a creator who went to great lengths to build a rotary motor to help H.pylori and E.coli bacteria navigate our digestive tracts. Yet this same creator sits idly by while 25,000 children die every day, most from preventable diseases.

The ID proponents say their hypothesis tells us nothing about the creator. I disagree. We can infer from the ID hypothesis that this creator cares more about germs than humans. I don't see any way of reconciling the implications of ID with Christianity.

I grant that if Christians accept the modern evolutionary synthesis, we still have to grapple with a God who lets 25,000 children die every day. Still, that is a problem for Christians of all stripes, including those who believe in young earth creationism and those who maintain that we can't possibly know how we got to this point. But only the ID proponents propose a model in which the creator shows such loving care for the little germs that can make us sick or kill us.

If that's not a stumbling block for Christians, I don't know what is.

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

in which i agree wholeheartedly with george w. bush

From The Raw Story:

"I think that God created the Earth, created the world; I think the creation of the world is so mysterious it requires something as large as an almighty and I don't think it's incompatible with the scientific proof that there is evolution," he told ABC television.

Asked whether the Bible was literally true, Bush replied: "Probably not. No, I'm not a literalist, but I think you can learn a lot from it."

"The important lesson is 'God sent a son,'" he said.


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Thursday, August 28, 2008

teach the controversy

A picture is worth a thousand words. From Sneer Review; hat tip James McGrath at Exploring Our Matrix

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Monday, August 11, 2008

omniscience and prayer, theology and evolution

Peter Kirk has a thought-provoking post entitled Does God know the future? Does prayer make a difference? For me, it's an especially timely post, because I've been wrestling with this very issue lately. If fact, it was a recent post by Henry Neufeld, Dealing with the Theological Implications of Evolution, which nudged my thoughts onto the path that has led me to considering this.

I don't have my thoughts sorted out sufficiently to blog about them yet, so go read Peter's and Henry's posts. See you later.

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Wednesday, July 02, 2008

god the artist

We talk about artists as creative geniuses, but what do we really mean by that? The best artists are not the ones who exercise absolute, teeth-gritting control over their medium. Rather, the best artists are those who see a work of art beginning to take shape, and are able to exercise just the right amount of control to let the art have its own way. The true artist serves the work of art, and not vice versa. This shows up differently in different artistic media, but the underlying principle is the same. A good painter will use what others would call an accidentally misplaced brush stroke as a source of inspiration. A novelist will exclaim with delight that her characters have run away with the plot. A jazz musician taps into the random quantum fluctuations of his own brain in order to improvise. A game designer will purposefully design games in which polyhedral random number generators are used. Also known as dice.

So why do we hold God to a lower artistic standard? Some folks seem to think that if God used random evolution to create people, he must have been holding his nose while he did it. I don't think so. Einstein himself said that God doesn't roll dice. But he was wrong. And in fact, anyone who has played role-playing games knows that God probably had to roll quite a few dice to come up with a character like Einstein. :-)

It is part of the artistic genius of God that he invented an artistic medium like the universe, a universe in which evolution could happen, a universe in which characters could run away with the plot. I think God delights in how the universe works. He even said as much: "And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good."

- Larry Wall, The Culture of Perl

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

on intelligent design: first thoughts

The movie Expelled, released last week and featuring Ben Stein, is garnering a lot of attention for the intelligent design (ID) movement. At the core of ID seems to be the hypothesis known as irreducible complexity. Michael Behe -- professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University and a leading intelligent design advocate -- says that biological features such as the blood clotting cascade, the light sensitivity of photoreceptors in the eye, and the bacterial flagellum are examples of complex systems containing individual parts that could not function in isolation of each other.

Behe argues that the existence of irreducibly complex systems is evidence of fine-tuning by an outside agent, an "intelligent designer," who apparently is dissatisfied with the monotony of earth's life forms, and feels compelled to make inexplicable tweaks in obscure places. This designer might be a supernatural being, or it might be a space alien; the intelligent design hypothesis makes no claims about the nature of the designer.

Is intelligent design good science? Is it good theology? Based on my understanding to this point, I would have to answer no on both counts.

By setting up their hypothesis as a competitor to darwinian evolution, Behe and other ID advocates are trying to blur the line that marks the boundaries of scientific knowledge. Science is the study of the workings of the physical world. Science gives us explanations of natural phenomena. There are many areas of knowledge that are outside the scope of science: ethics, art, philosophy, and, of course, theology, to name a few. There's simply no way to squeeze God into the box of scientific inquiry.

What happens if we try to reduce the creator of the universe to a scientific hypothesis? We end up with the "god of the gaps." God is only useful when we need to explain something that we don't fully understand at the moment.

This is bad science because it can discourage further research. If we believe that increased human knowledge would decrease the power of God, we may turn a blind eye to the research into the evolution of the eye. It's bad science also because it accepts a non-conclusion as a conclusion. Merely because something is not understood scientifically does not automatically place it in the realm of external intelligent agents. There is a wide gulf between "We haven't found a natural explanation," and "We can't find a natural explanation." There is also a wide gulf between "We haven't found a natural explanation," and "An unknown intelligent being has been tinkering with life forms again." (And that's not even considering the fact that many of the "irreducibly complex systems" have been explained through natural processes, specifically through the process of exaptation. That's an issue for a separate post, which probably needs to be written by someone more able than I.)

ID is bad theology, too, as the implication of a god in the gaps theology is that God can only be seen in those things that can't be explained otherwise. So the birth of a baby, for example, could not be considered a miracle, because we understand the physical processes by which offspring are produced. But bacterial rotors... those are truly divine in origin! If intelligent design proponents took their own claims at face value, they would be followers of one strange cult.

They certainly wouldn't be followers of one Jesus of Nazareth, who said to a doubting Thomas, "You believe because you have seen my wounds," but did not add, "Blessed are those who understand the irreducible complexity of the blood clotting cascade." (Hey, that gives me an idea for my next Bible translations update...)

Anyway, thus far I've not been impressed with the intelligent design movement. Its major proponents seem to be trying to blend science with religion in a novel way, but the result is that they are making a mess of both.

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Friday, March 21, 2008

both sides do it

In response to recent post a look at uncommon descent, commenter gleaner63 said:

A few months ago an interesting exchange took place on the Neil Cavuto Show (Fox News). The debate was between a Global Warming advocate and a skeptic. The advocate, a member of Greenpeace said (paraphrased); "...look, you *are not* a climatologist so no one should take what you say seriously...". Cavuto stepped in and asked the Greenpeace rep what his feild of study was; " training I am an economist...".

Aside: What I find puzzling about this is why Fox News presented a debate about climate science without inviting a climatologist. But I guess there's more than one way be "fair and balanced".

gleaner63 continues:

The point is both sides engage in this. When Dawkins or Sagan or Asimov condemn Christianity, a lot of non-believers take their opinions as gospel, although none of the aforementioned have any credentials in theology or anything closely related.

I don't like the phrase "both sides," with its implication that there can be only two possible positions to take. Still, gleaner63 raises an important point about atheists and theology.

I've written repeatedly about Dawkins' failure to grasp even the basics of Christian theology. It's not just a matter of having no credentials -- I'm no theologian myself -- but of willfully ignoring the contributions of those who do know somthing about the subject.

When Richard Dawkins speaks about religion while dismissing the insights of theologians, and when William Dembski speaks about evolution while dismissing the research of biologists, they are being willfully ignorant. And when Fox News presents climate change as merely a debate between environmentalists and skeptics, it's being willfully ignorant.

Sadly, willful ignorance is currently in fashion in the United States. We see it in politics, where most people get their information second hand, from sources that pre-spin it into sound bites. We see it in television news, where the sound bites are welcomed because the half hour news format does not allow time for in depth analysis of any topic.

Laypeople can become knowledgeable about almost any subject, but it takes some effort. You won't learn annything by watching Fox News or reading a popular book by a pontificating expert-in-another-field. Go directly to the people who know the most about the subject, and you'll get the best information.

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Thursday, January 10, 2008

a look at uncommon descent

I don't often blog about creation and evolution, though several bloggers that I read do. Henry Neufeld writes frequently on the subject. Michael Westmoreland-White is currently in the middle of a comprehensive series on the topic.

These bloggers are quick to note that they are not scientists, and though they both appear to be knowledgeable about scientific matters, they focus more on the theological side of the issue.

On the other hand, organizations like the Discovery Institute and the Creation Museum are quick to trot out lists of scientists who oppose evolution.

A closer look, though, reveals that virtually all of these scientists specialize in fields other than biology. (The same pattern holds for climate change skeptics and climatology, but that's another issue for another time.)

Consider this list of contributors to Uncommon Descent, the blog of Dr. William Dembski, Research Professor in Philosophy at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and fellow of the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture.

  • William Dembski: Mathematician and Philosopher
  • Denyse O'Leary: Author
  • Barry Arrington: Accountant
  • Lee Bowman: Entrepreneur
  • Salvador Cordova: Consultant/Engineer
  • Crandaddy: "Philosopher-in-training"
  • DaveScot: Computer Engineer
  • Gil Dodgen: Software Engineer
  • Red: Graduate Student in "biophysical sciences"
  • Scott: Computer Programmer

There's not a biologist in the lot, with the possible exception of "Red", the graduate student in "biophysical sciences". Now if I were challenging the foundation of modern biology, I'd recognize that my biggest weakness is that I don't have a degree in biology, and I'd recruit a first-rate biologist to help develop and test an alternative. Dr. Dembski, on the other hand, has gathered a set of computer and engineering professionals, and blended them in almost equal measure with a group of non-scientists. Is it any wonder that leading biologists do not take this group seriously?

Digging a little deeper, we find just exactly why this group opposes evolution in the first place:

Materialistic ideology has subverted the study of biological and cosmological origins so that the actual content of these sciences has become corrupted. The problem, therefore, is not merely that science is being used illegitimately to promote a materialistic worldview, but that this worldview is actively undermining scientific inquiry, leading to incorrect and unsupported conclusions about biological and cosmological origins.

It's not that the science itself is bad. It's merely been corrupted by a "materialistic ideology", which undermines scientific inquiry. In other words, it's the philosophy, not the science, that Dembski is trying to overthrow.

Now it becomes clear. Philosophy is Dembski's specialty. He does not need to recruit an expert in the field.

But, if this is the route Dembski wishes to take, his task becomes much more difficult. His goal must be to find weaknesses not in evolutionary theory, but in the scientific method itself.

I am not a philosopher, but I am skeptical about his chances for success.

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

when santa met darwin

What do Santa Claus and creationism have in common? The Ship of Fools has the answer.

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Sunday, February 18, 2007

guess the author

The following is a quote from a well-known Christian thinker of the 20th century. This is probably the best articulation I've seen of the view known as "theistic evolution".

For long centuries God perfected the animal form which was to become the vehicle of humanity and the image of Himself. He gave it hands whose thumb could be applied to each of the fingers, and jaws and teeth and throat capable of articulation, and a brain sufficiently complex to execute all the material motions whereby rational thought is incarnated. The creature may have existed for ages in this state before it became man: it may even have been clever enough to make things which a modern archaeologist would accept as proof of its humanity. But it was only an animal because all its physical and psychical processes were directed to purely material and natural ends. Then, in the fullness of time, God caused to descend upon this organism, both on its psychology and physiology, a new kind of consciousness which could say "I" and "me," which could look upon itself as an object, which knew God, which could make judgments of truth, beauty, and goodness, and which was so far above time that it could perceive time flowing past. This new consciousness ruled and illuminated the whole organism, flooding every part of it with light, and was not, like ours, limited to a selection of the movements going on in one part of the organism, namely the brain. Man was then all consciousness... Wholly commanding himself, he commanded all lower lives with which he came into contact. Even now we meet rare individuals who have a mysterious power of taming beasts. This power the Paradisal man enjoyed in eminence. The old picture of the brutes sporting before Adam and fawning upon him may not be wholly symbolical. Even now more animals than you might expect are ready to adore man if they are given a reasonable opportunity: for man was made to be the priest and even, in one sense, the Christ, of the animals--the mediator through whom they apprehend so much of the Divine splendour as their irrational nature allows.

The same author considers the meaning of the Fall within the theistic evolution paradigm:

I do not doubt that if the Paradisal man could now appear among us, we should regard him as an utter savage, a creature to be exploited or, at best, patronised. Only one or two, and those the holiest among us, would glance a second time at the naked, shaggy-bearded, slow-spoken creature: but they, after a few minutes, would fall at his feet.

We do not know how many of these creatures God made, nor how long they continued in the Paradisal state. But sooner or later they fell. Someone or something whispered that they could become as gods--that they could cease directing their lives to their Creator and taking all their delights as uncovenanted mercies, as "accidents" (in the logical sense) which arose in the course of a life directed not to those delights but to the adoration of God.
We have no idea in what particular act, or series of acts, the self-contradictory wish found expression. For all I can see, it might have concerned the literal eating of a fruit, but the question is of no consequence.

This act of self-will on the part of the creature, which constitutes an utter falseness to its true creaturely position, is the only sin that can be conceived as the Fall.

Any guesses as to who wrote those words?

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