Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Meanwhile, in Florida...

NBC2 in Florida reports that a bill has been promoted in the legislature that would allow more "academic freedom" in teaching controversial subjects.  From Dave Elias:
A new bill introduced by a Southwest Florida lawmaker could give people outside the state a say in your child's education. The bill would allow school districts options when it comes to teaching evolution and climate change. It could open the door to creationism being taught in public schools. This bill is designed to give students options in the classroom.

Some say it goes too far. It even gives visitors paying sales tax a say.
Evolution versus creationism has been an ongoing debate in Florida's public schools.

“I think people should be given options on different things like that,” said Beverly Horner of Fort Myers. State Representative Byron Donalds of Collier County feels the same way. “It is important that the public is aware of what is actually in the classroom, and if there are objections to what is in the classroom, we have a process that allows for them to be remedied,” he said.

Donalds further said his bill would allow a balanced and non-inflamatory viewpoint on issues like evolution. “To me, those are code words for saying I don't like evolution,” said Brandon Haught of Citizens for Science.

Haught feels topics like climate change, which are currently taught in Florida classrooms, are in trouble. “They're trying to put some unscientific ideas into the science classroom,” Haught said.
Given the massive, overwhelming evidence for evolution, what would a “balanced” viewpoint look like?  Haught is correct.  They are trying to put unscientific views into the science classroom.  The problem is that they do not have the basic knowledge to understand that they are unscientific.  This is why lawmakers ought to stay out of the science classroom. 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Meanwhile, Back in Texas...

It seems that the ghost of Don McLeroy looms large in the Lone Star State.  From HuffPo:
Legislators in Texas are considering a bill that could make it easier for science teachers to present religious concepts alongside scientific theories like evolution.
The proposed legislation, introduced in February by Republican state Rep. Valoree Swanson, could allow public school teachers to present alternative theories to subjects that “may cause controversy,” including climate change, evolution, the origins of life and human cloning.

The bill is currently under committee review. If passed, it would go into effect for the 2017-18 academic year.

“Some teachers may be unsure of expectations concerning how to present information when controversy arises concerning a scientific subject; and the protection of a teacher’s academic freedom is necessary to enable the teacher to provide effective instruction,” HB 1485 states.
Swanson did not immediately reply to a request for comment from The Huffington Post.

The bill defines “academic freedom” as a teacher’s ability to present scientific information without discriminating in favor of or against any set of religious beliefs. It also notes that the legislation isn’t intended to promote religious doctrine.
But some Texas teachers say the bill could allow them to more easily blend science and religion in the classroom.

“I simply tell my students [that] as educated young adults they have a right ... to choose what they believe,” high school science teacher Angela Garlington told AFP.

As Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said: “You are entitled to your opinion. But you are not entitled to your own facts.”

Providing effective instruction ought to mean teaching prevailing scientific theories about various phenomena, not perspectives for which there is either no demonstrative evidence (young earth creationism) or testable models (intelligent design).  Academic freedom cannot be used as a smokescreen for teaching what any given teacher might believe. That is a disservice to the students. 

Friday, March 17, 2017

400,000-Year Old Cranium Found in Portugal

A multinational research team has discovered a fossil human at the site of Aroeira, in Portugal.  From the story in EurekAlert:
The cranium represents the westernmost human fossil ever found in Europe during the middle Pleistocene epoch and one of the earliest on this continent to be associated with the Acheulean stone tool industry. In contrast to other fossils from this same time period, many of which are poorly dated or lack a clear archaeological context, the cranium discovered in the cave of Aroeira in Portugal is well-dated to 400,000 years ago and appeared in association with abundant faunal remains and stone tools, including numerous bifaces (handaxes).
The skull is considerably encrusted, still and much work will have to be done. It is long and low, with large brow ridges, a sloping forehead and a large occipital protuberance. It does not look like it has an angular torus, however. All of these characteristics are consistent with this date. Neat!

Here is the image from the short post.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

A Plug for Resurrecting Orthodoxy

Joel Edmund Anderson, the author of the excellent The Heresy of Ham, has a blog called Resurrecting Orthodoxy in which he tackles weighty issues with all of the aplomb and wit that he exercised in his book.  Have a look!

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Another Human Species in China?

The Christian Science Monitor and other outlets are reporting on a new find from Xuchang, China, that seems to possess intermediate traits between archaic and modern Homo sapiens:
In an article published Friday in the journal Science, the researchers note that the skull fragments date to the Late Pleistocene epoch, a time marked by the expansion of H. sapiens and the extinction of other species in the genus Homo. During the early part of that epoch, Neanderthals roamed Europe and western Asia while humans began to journey out of Africa. But fossil records of human species in Eastern Asia from that time period are thin, muddying the picture of that era for a substantial region of the planet.

The skulls found in China were found to bear very close resemblances to those of Neanderthals, including a very similar inner ear bone and a prominent brow ridge. But the brow ridge was much less pronounced than one would expect from Neanderthals, with a considerably less dense cranium, as one might expect in an early H. sapiens. Researchers also found that the skulls were large by both modern and Neanderthal standards, with a whopping 1800 cubic centimeters of brain capacity.
So where do they fit in the grand scheme of things?
"The overall cranial shape, especially the wide cranial base, and low neurocranial vault, indicate a pattern of continuity with the earlier, Middle Pleistocene eastern Eurasian humans. Yet the presence of two distinctive Neanderthal features ... argue for populational interactions across Eurasia during the late Middle and early Late Pleistocene," said Dr. Trinkaus in a statement.
This kind of population mixing makes sense. We already know that modern humans and Neandertals interbred in Europe and that the geographic range of Neandertals stretched from Portugal to Teshik Tash, in Russia and Shanidar Cave, in Iraq.

The remains are dated to Marine Oxygen Isotope Stage 5d or 5e, making them between 105 and 125 ky in age.  Here is a description of the neurocranium from the paper:
The large Xuchang 1 neurocranium closely approximates the shapes of those of Middle Pleistocene humans, especially eastern Eurasians (Fig. 2 and fig. S17). The vault height is low, similar to those of the Neandertals and the higher Middle Pleistocene vaults, and the low vault height is reflected in a low temporal squamous portion (figs. S27 and S28). It is also produced by the very flat midsagittal parietal arc. In contrast, the maximum cranial breadth is the largest known in the later Pleistocene (fig. S15), and it is securely based on an undistorted posterior cranium. Moreover, the widest point is low, on the temporal bones (fig. S17), as in most earlier crania, rather than on the parietal bones, as among Neandertals and most modern humans. In addition, the one complete mastoid process is short and slopes inward (fig. S17), rather than being longer and more vertical, as in modern humans and some Neandertals. These features combine to provide the cranium with an occipital profile similar to those of earlier human crania, contrasting with the rounded profiles of Neandertals and the laterally vertical ones of modern humans.
There are a few things that are immediately interesting about this. First, this skull is YUGE.  1800 cc is monstrous.  The average cranial capacity of modern humans is around 1450 cc and that of Neandertals, around 1550 cc.  Second, the low, flat cranium with the widest point on the temporal bones (just above your ears) are traits of Homo erectus, not modern humans or Neandertals, suggesting strongly that there was some sort of continuity from this group through to modern humans in this region.  Neandertals simply don't have those traits.  Nonetheless, the cranium clearly shows some Neandertal traits in the ear and rear of the vault.  This continuity is characterized by the authors thus: "This morphological combination, and particularly the presence of a mosaic not known among early Late Pleistocene humans in the western Old World, suggests a complex interaction of directional paleobiological changes and intra- and interregional population dynamics."  As more information becomes available, we will have a better idea of how this find fits in the east Asian evolutionary picture.  This is exciting.  Up until this point, we have had very few finds in China that fall within this general time frame, most notably the Dali and Mapa remains.  I will have to rework my section on human origins for the BioLogos site for this region. 

Monday, March 06, 2017

Todd Wood on Is Genesis History?

Todd Wood has a post on the reactions to the film Is Genesis History? and he makes some very good points and a couple of lousy ones.  First the good ones.  He writes:
Does the film present a false dichotomy? From the world outside of young age creationism, it definitely does. Lumping all the other positions on creation and evolution into one monumental thing isn't really fair to the vast diversity of opinions out there. That part is quite correct, and if I was an old-earth creationist or theistic evolutionist, I would definitely be bothered by that.
He is absolutely correct about this.  It does bother me that there is a false dichotomy presented here.  I do not for one minute think that the universe and all that is in it was created by blind, godless processes. I have a firm and strong faith in the salvation of the Lord Jesus Christ and the creating power of God.   I also do not think that the universe was created six thousand years ago.  There is simply no defensible empirical evidence for that.  Second point:
Unfortunately, the reality is that we all divide people up into "us vs. them." Let's face it, BioLogos would have you divide up the world into BioLogos vs. those who reject all of science. That's not remotely fair. Paul Nelson wants the dividing line to separate those who accept design and those who accept only naturalistic processes. That division would exclude those, like BioLogos, who think the "naturalistic" processes are God's design. RTB's dividing line isn't so easy to summarize but I guess it would cut off Christians who think the world is young on the one hand and those who think evolution is real on the other.
Too much of this does go on, it is true. I don't think that he has completely accurately characterized the position of BioLogos and it is passing peculiar that he doesn't mention ICR or AiG and the fact that they are pretty specific about who is US and who is THEM.  I do know from my own blog posts and writings that I am guilty of this sort of thinking and that there are many different views along the continuum from the straight six-day model to flat-out atheistic naturalism.

Now the lousy ones.  First:
The theological importance of the historical Genesis is a giant theme of young-age creationism, even if you reject the way some creationists present it. In the case of RTB or Intelligent Design, the theme seems to be fighting over things that really matter like evolution, and not fighting over things that don't matter like the age of the universe. If we don't focus our real disagreement on the "most important" issues (like design), then we damage our witness by exaggerating the importance of secondary issues.
Wrong. None of these issues really matter to the faith. You can be a young-earth creationist, an intelligent design supporter or an evolutionary creationist and STILL be a Christian. In the grand scheme of things, evolution doesn't really matter.  Every Christian should believe the following:
I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible, and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the father, by whom all things were made.  Who, for us men for our salvation, came down from heaven, was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man.  He was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate.   He suffered and was buried.  The third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures.  He ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father.  He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead.  His kingdom shall have no end.  I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father, who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, and who spoke by the prophets.  I believe in the holy catholic and apostolic church.  I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins.  I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. 
That's it.  If you believe those things, you are in the body of Christ.  Nothing outside of that is fundamental to the faith.  That includes evolution.  Second lousy point:
And finally, to those of you patient people who actually read all of this and are still fuming, "That movie was terrible and misleading, and the greater sin is theirs!" you are part of the problem, my friend. If you play the outrage card (BioLogos), you just add fuel to the fire. The response will be, "BioLogos is the one repeating tired old lies about young-age creationism!" So please think carefully before you email me your outrage, and maybe direct that energy to thinking about ways of moving forward and not just yelling the same things at our deafened ideological "enemies." I'd love to hear new ideas.
This gives cover to those who DO intentionally misuse and misrepresent scientific evidence for their own gains.  One of the things that drives me bat crap crazy is that AiG gets scientific information wrong almost all of the time. If you don't hold those people accountable for their abuses of science, and point out where these people are going off the rails, then they get off scot-free and mislead more people.  Wood himself has castigated other creationists for saying that there is no evidence for evolution when there is, in his words "gobs and gobs of it." 

I may not agree with Todd's interpretation of Genesis, but in his scientific endeavors, he always treats the science with respect.  The same cannot be said for many in the YEC universe. Here's a new idea: how about the folks at ICR and AiG actually treat the science with the respect it deserves.  Science is not the be-all-and-end-all.  It only describes the physical universe, but it does a pretty good job of that and if you are going to reject it, come up with some sound hypotheses that can be tested.

Is Genesis History?: UPDATE

Oh well, so much for not seeing the film.  My brother-in-law went and saw it and want to discuss it with me.  Since I know that he has YEC sympathies, I am not looking forward to this.

Saturday, March 04, 2017

BioLogos: A Geological Response to the Movie “Is Genesis History?”

Geologists Gregg Davidson, Joel Duff (recently maligned by Ken Ham) and Ken Wolgemuth have contributed to an article taking on the geological premises of the movie Is Genesis History?  While the writing at BioLogos is always measured and civil, underneath, one can sense an air of frustration and anger that, yet again, the scientific evidence has been twisted and misrepresented.  As I mentioned last post, “geologist” Steve Austin figures prominently in this. The authors write:
Just minutes into the film, we find ourselves in the Grand Canyon with Dr. Steve Austin, a young-earth creationist geologist. Here we are told that the layers are flat with no erosion or significant channels, that geologists have abandoned long ages for the canyon formation since it couldn’t be stable over millions of years, that remnants of giant lakes are found that once dammed water before failing and violently carving out the canyon, and that a massive erosional feature near the bottom of the canyon, known as the Great Unconformity, has been observed all over the world. A bit later in the film, we are informed that the layers of the canyon preserve a succession of marine ecosystems, each washed in and deposited by flood surges. Conclusion? “The only explanation that makes sense is a global flood!”

Many who watch this movie will think: “These men are Christians and scientists, so it must be true!” Yet it doesn’t take much digging to discover that evidence of erosion between layers in the Grand Canyon is abundant, including now filled-in river channels as much as 400 ft deep. The so-called “abandonment of long ages” actually means that while some geologists think the carving took over 70 million years, others think it formed over a shorter period of about 6 million years. The giant lakes turn out to be speculation, with no actual evidence of their proposed size. The global presence of the Great Unconformity exists only in Dr. Austin’s mind.
We have already received announcements and invites from our home school group to get a group together to go see this film. I think that I do not have as strong a constitution as I used to. I do not think that I could sit through this film in a theatre without having an aneurysm.It is easy to forgive the average Christian who swallows this stuff hook-line-and-sinker but I have much greater animosity for those who promulgate it, knowing that they are misusing the science.  Young earth creationists tend to live in a self-referential bubble, but these errors have been pointed out to Austin time and time again.  At what point does his further promotion of these ideas become a lie?

Yesterday, I commented that I thought that young earth creationism was, ultimately, turning young, inquisitive Christians away from Christ.  These authors put it succinctly:
While the ubiquitous misrepresentations promulgated in this film are disturbing in their own right, their stated association with the gospel message is what is most alarming. This film will undoubtedly make its way into church libraries, homeschooling and Christian school curriculums, and youth group movie nights, convincing Christian youth that they can safely reject “secular” notions of deep time and evolution. When they go to college or start investigating the evidence themselves and discover they have been misled, the natural tendency is to assume that it is Christianity itself that has failed them. Unbelieving seekers who see this film will likewise be confronted with the confounding association of the truth of Christ with massive misrepresentations about natural history. An enormous stumbling block to faith is laid at the feet of these poor souls, standing between them and the cross.
In the trailer for the film, and in the subtitle, we are treated to this perspective: “Two Competing Views—One Compelling Truth.”This truth is clearly that of young earth creationism, and the stark dichotomy is there to let you know that if you don't believe Tackett's truth, you are “not of the body.” This, Joel Edmund Anderson writes, is heresy:
Read and study the Bible within the context of Church Tradition—that is how the Holy Spirit guides you. Unfortunately, this is precisely where Ken Ham and biblical literalists have gone wrong. Even though they claim they are just proclaiming the clear meaning of Genesis 1-11, in reality they have rejected the “Capital-T” Tradition of the historic Christian faith that makes it clear that the YEC interpretation of Genesis 1-11 has never been universally held by the Church, and has never been seen as a creedal fundamental of the Christian faith. Therefore, Ken Ham has absolutely no authority whatsoever to unilaterally declare that his YEC interpretation of Genesis 1-11 is the fundamental cornerstone of the Christian faith. No one has ever made this claim in the history of the Church up until the 20th Century. That is, by definition what heresy is: elevating a personal interpretation of Scripture above what the Church has always taught.
I will be curious how many people go to see this film. I have yet to formulate a ground plan or response to it, yet. When films like this come out and are warmly received by evangelicals, it further confirms to me that modern evangelicalism is in serious trouble and is off the rails.

Friday, March 03, 2017

Del Tackett: The Truth Problem?

That title comes from a post by “A concerned Christian” on The Truth Project, launched by Del Tackett, in 2004.  Now, a new movie is out by Del Tackett, called "Is Genesis History?"  Clarke Morledge, on the blog Veracity, has this to say: 

According to the promotional material, Is Genesis History? seeks to provide a new look at the evidence supporting Creation and the Flood. But it is important to realize that Del Tackett is putting forward one particular view as to what this means, namely a Young Earth, of no more than about 6,000 years old, and a global Flood in Noah’s day, covering the entire planet.
In the byline for the film, Tackett notes that there are “two competing views… one compelling truth.” The problem here is that Tackett is oversimplifying what is indeed the case among evangelical Christians, just from viewing the film highlight clips on the movie’s YouTube channel. There are actually more than “two” views to consider. For Tackett, the one view he advocates for rejects the concept of “deep time,” the modern scientific consensus of a 4.5 billion year old earth, that helps to explain the origin of our planet and its universe, within the scientific disciplines of geology, astronomy, physics, chemistry, biology, and others, as taught in every American public school and public science museum.
For Tackett, this “deep time” paradigm strikes disaster at the very heart of a Biblical worldview, and specifically the meaning of the cosmic Fall, as taught in the Book of Genesis. There are many skeptical, non-Christian scientists and thinkers who would agree, thereby rejecting the Bible. However, there are also a number of other Christian pastors, Bible teachers, theologians, and believing evangelical scientists who find no difficulty reconciling the concept of “deep time,” with an authoritative, inerrant view of the Bible and its teachings. [emphasis his]
I have already noted, in another context, the fact that, in the trailer, Steve Austin, a young earth creationist, when speaking about the Grand Canyon, states that geologists are “backing away” from the idea that it was created millions of years ago. This immediately set off alarm bells, since it has no basis in truth, whatsoever. One model suggests that the canyon began forming when the Colorado Plateau began uplifting around 3-4 million years ago.  Another model suggests a date of 5-6 million years ago for the main canyon but that older canyons in the system may have been carved as early as 50-60 million years ago.  There are no models that posit a canyon creation 6,000 years ago.

Other problems exist with the idea that the canyon was formed recently.  On the shelf, in the gift store at the Grand Canyon, sits a book called Grand Canyon: A Different View, written by young earth creationist Tom Vail. Here is what geologist David Montgomery has to say about it:
Digging deeper into the book, I read that the canyon was carved when the sediment that formed the rocks now exposed in its walls was still soft. I was puzzled that the authors did not try to explain how a mile-high stack of saturated sediment remained standing without slumping into the growing chasm—or how all the loose sand and clay later turned into solid rock. The book simply stated that, according to the Bible, Noah's flood formed the Grand Canyon and all the rocks through which its cut in under a year. There was no explanation for the multiple alternating layers of different rock types, the erosional gaps in the rock sequence that spoke of ages of lost time, or the remarkable order to the various fossils in the canyon walls. The story was nothing like tale I read in the rocks I had spent the day hiking past.
Steve Austin, if you will recall, did the bogus study on potassium/argon dating of Mount St. Helens lava flows. This man's credibility is wanting.

The trailer for Is Genesis History? makes it pretty clear that the film recycles much of the science that was in the Truth Project.  Consequently, I am not holding up much hope that modern science will be given a fair shake.  Sadly, this is part and parcel with young earth creationism.Todd Wood's clarion call for better science in support of young earth creationism is going unheeded and unheard by people like Del Tackett and Ken Ham.  As long as this is the case, the faithful, who know little hard science, will lap this up, but nobody in the scientific community is going to take them seriously and they will turn new people who are interested in science away from God.  That is sad. 

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Ted Davis on Ken Ham

Ted Davis has a post at BioLogos on Ken Ham's Alternate History of Creation.  He chastises Ham for his recent attacks on Joel Duff , saying that his treatment of   creationist history is a “...distorted historical analysis of the openly agnostic, apostate Seventh Day Adventist historian, Ronald Numbers.” Ham claims that young earth creationism was historic Christian orthodoxy until the 19th century (a claim supported by Todd Wood but challenged by Joel Anderson).  Davis writes:
This somewhat ad hominem attack on Numbers and the blanket dismissal of his extraordinarily careful work is very troubling. The strategy of “debunking” Numbers’ careful conclusions is gaining in popularity, and it bodes badly for the future of the body of Christ, since it constitutes a set of “alternative facts” rather than the truth and unfairly maligns a scholar who always seeks to be fair to people whose views he doesn’t share. (Having known Numbers for thirty-five years, I speak from extensive personal experience and knowledge of his professional activities.)
Let me remind Mr. Ham of what Whitcomb said about Numbers’ book. Whitcomb and his close friend Morris both feature prominently in that book, and Whitcomb provided Numbers with some of the correspondence that Numbers used in writing it. In a talk from 2005 published by Ham’s organization, Whitcomb says, “Dr. Morris agrees with me that this is an objective study by one who claims to be an agnostic on the subject of ultimate origins.” The tone and content of this comment—written by someone who is even closer to this subject than Ken Ham—undermine what Ham recently told his readers. Whitcomb said that it presents the historical details without bias, whereas Ham describes it as a “distorted historical analysis.” They cannot both be correct.
Davis is correct. Numbers” book is a wealth of information and an excellent read.  That the granddaddy of them all, Henry Morris, thought it was also accurate is quite remarkable.  Ham is in his own world, here.  Joel Anderson makes a good point that, in all of the early church councils, especially those that produced the creeds, the age of the earth was never debated:
...please note that there is absolutely no insistence anywhere—not in any creed or church council or pronouncement ever—that the early chapters of Genesis were to be read and understood as a point-by-point historical and scientific account of the creation of the material universe in general, and of the first human beings in particular. The historical fact is that early Church Fathers, as well as Christian leaders throughout Church history, held to a variety of interpretations of the early chapters of Genesis1
Davis focuses on the fact that Ken Ham ignores the role that George McReady Price played in the beginnings of the young earth creation movement, relegating him to casual mentions here and there.  He further points out that this is in sharp contrast to the role that Price's works played in the writings of Henry Morris, who spoke favorably of Price, an Adventist.  Price is known to use the writings of Ellen White, also an Adventist, as the basis for much of what he concocted about modern geology.  Ham seems to be unwilling to admit this, as well.  Davis then hits the nail on the head:
Why do Ham and company go to such lengths to create an alternative history of creationism in which Price and the Adventists don’t receive proper credit? Is it because (like those Christians mentioned by Morris) they don’t want their movement associated with a Christian sect that is sometimes viewed with suspicion? Perhaps that is part of the picture, but I think there’s a much bigger reason behind it. The tangled history of modern creationism threatens the simplistic, highly inaccurate narrative AiG hammers into their followers: that Young-Earth Creationism is, and always has been, the “zero-compromise” option for all devout believers in the authority of the Bible.
This is why Ken Ham ruthlessly attacks any scriptural interpretations that do not line up with his.  As long as "millions of years" can be tied to atheistic or apostate thought, then he can be content to lob grenades at Christians who do not think like he does.  After all, he believes he has the spiritual upper hand.  That is is, at heart, dishonest, is nothing new for AiG.  Ham has been caught in several “terminological inexactitudes” before (the riding dinosaurs, the motive behind the building of the ark encounter).  This is just another one.  

1Anderson, J. E. (2016). The Heresy of Ham: What Every Evangelical Needs to Know About the Creation-Evolution Controversy [Kindle iOS version]. Retrieved from