Thursday, February 15, 2018

Ted Davis Waxes Theological, Todd Wood Responds

Ted Davis, like the rest of us, is tired of how the origins debate is playing out between mainstream and non-mainstream science.  He has great praise for those that display clear-headed thinking on both sides in the debate such as Michael Ruse and Todd Wood.  He writes:
I also tip my hat to YEC proponents Todd Wood and Paul Nelson. Each was featured in the YEC film, Is Genesis History?, but neither dismisses proponents of EC with the back of his hand. They both have the courage and conviction to seek the truth, even if takes them places where their creationist friends don’t want them to go. For example, on the same day the film was released, Dr. Nelson dissented from how his ideas were presented in the film. Dr. Wood didn’t do that, but he does candidly admit elsewhere that “Evolution is not a theory in crisis,” that “it is not teetering on the verge of collapse,” nor has it “failed as a scientific explanation.” He finds “gobs and gobs” of evidence for evolution,” denies that it is “just speculation or a faith choice or an assumption or a religion,” affirms that it “has amazing explanatory power,” and frankly says, “There is no conspiracy to hide the truth about the failure of evolution. There has really been no failure of evolution as a scientific theory. It works, and it works well.”
I am quite sure that this last quote will haunt Todd Wood to the grave because most evolutionary creationists (including myself) keep it in their back pocket. Wood has taken on some heavy hitters who have misused science and has done so in an honest and thoughtful way and he has truly striven to understand biodiversity as it pertains to his way of thinking. Furthermore, unlike many in the young earth creationist camp, his posts are free of invective and insult.  For these things and others, he should be commended.

Davis continues:
There’s always the danger than one can overplay one’s hand, or forget that those who see things differently are also made in the image of God. Sometimes, one’s opponents in a public disagreement really are mean-spirited, arrogant, or intellectually dishonest, tempting one to respond in kind. In such situations, do your best to take the high road. Stick with the facts, spell out why you hold different opinions, and be fair to ideas defended by others, even when you strongly disagree: no one has a monopoly on truth. Intellectual honesty and humility do not imply cowardice or lack of commitment to the Gospel. 
This is something I am often guilty of. I find it all too easy to take a blowtorch to the writings of Answers in Genesis in a nasty way, typically because I am writing in anger.  This often happens when I discover a post or article in which it is clear that the person writing the article has little knowledge of the subject about which they write and their tone is insulting or condescending.  It is all too easy to open up both barrels. He finishes with an admonition to avoid indoctrination:
Individual Christians have every right to think for themselves, without being browbeaten into submission by fear, accused of holding dangerous views simply for favoring a different interpretation of Genesis, or publicly shamed as intellectual cowards for accepting consensus science.
There is a great danger in taking the attitude that if two people have a disagreement about something, that one of them is not in the spirit. This behavior results in arrogance, haughtiness, broken relationships and lots of finger-pointing. We are all guilty of sin, especially the sin of self-righteousness.

Todd Wood responds by adding another way that he would like to see the debate change: less of “diagnosing the enemy”: 
There's two big problems I see with Diagnosing the Enemy. First of all, it's just a profoundly arrogant thing to do. How can anyone seriously think that reading a Facebook comment or blog article would actually reveal all the intricacies and complexities of human thought? Some days, I can barely put two words together, and you think that's going to actually reveal the inner workings of my mind and years of study and research and prayer and thought?

Also arrogant is the ulterior motive of Diagnosing the Enemy: I have the cure. Because, let's face it, diagnosing a problem isn't really the point, right? The point is: if only my enemy would watch my video or read my book or do what I tell them, then everything would be fine. Because not only can I diagnose your problem by engaging in a superficial reading of superficial comments, I'm the guy who's gonna cure you! When you think about it like that, it's obviously and embarrassingly silly, but it still doesn't stop us from reading certain triggers and sticking people in that pigeonhole.

Which brings me to the second big problem: It's dehumanizing. Instead of complex people with complex thoughts and attitudes and personalities, we reduce our enemies to one simplistic issue. There aren't just ideas out there that float around having battles by themselves. Ideas are held by real people with real personalities, and histories, and values, and fears. And all of that immensely complicated personality gets entangled with the way we think about the world and our faith. When disagreements pop up, though, these people for whom Christ died suddenly become defined by one perceived "defect."
I am of two minds about this response. It is certainly correct that people are complex and that a single blog post or Bookface post does not remotely capture their complexity.  As noted above, it is all too easy to fire off a response to a post that you know has gotten some basic information wrong.

The problem is that when an entire body of work of an organization continually misrepresents science and the authors of that body of work show absolutely no interest in correcting this misinformation, a response is necessary. When an entire body of work is continually scientifically inaccurate, it begins to inform about the people who are producing it.  In short, at least on one level, it makes it possible to “diagnose the enemy.”

 If you read all of the posts on my blog or my writings on BioLogos, you would get a pretty good idea of what I think about science and theology. It might even be possible to “diagnose” me a bit. To be sure, you would not have insight into what I think about abortion, gun control or how good a father I am to my children, but it would be pretty clear that I am a card-carrying evolutionary creationist.

Davis's post is a clarion call for both sides to take the high road.  That is often hard to do when you are being called “evil, stupid evolutionists” and you know that what they have written is just plain false.
Wood remarks that it is disheartening to see BioLogos identified as the “middle ground.” If we are not the middle ground, what are we? We are people who are firmly convinced in the salvation of Jesus Christ and the integrity and primacy of God's word to us.  We are also people who want to understand the universe that God has created, but to do so in an honest, forthright, and scientifically sound way.

Evolutionary creationists are dismissed by atheists such as Richard Dawkins, Jerry Coyne and Sam Harris for believing in fairy tales and being scientifically compromised by their faith.  This is a false charge.  We operate within the scientific framework with the understanding that everything around us is God's handiwork.  We are dismissed by many young earth creationists as being “compromisers” and not taking the bible seriously.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

One of the things that seems to drive this invective is that atheists are convinced the Bible is false and that we are idiots for believing in it.  Young earth creationists are convinced that their understanding of scripture is absolutely correct, beyond a shadow of a doubt.

It is easy enough to understand where the atheists are coming from, since they see nothing beyond the observable universe.   It is the YEC perspective that I find perplexing. It leads to people like Wood, himself, saying about evolutionary creationists that they “ought to know better,” even though, by his own admission, there is a massive amount of evidence for evolution.  Ken Ham takes it a bit further by questioning whether we are, in fact, Christians at all, and that if we pass on the EC perspective to our children, we are endangering their salvation.

Is it possible that Wood and his fellow YEC supporters are correct in their scriptural assessment?  It absolutely is.  Is it possible that we have evolution wrong?  Is it possible that the earth was created six thousand years ago?  Again, it absolutely is.  But the weight of evidence currently doesn't support those positions.  In fact, there is little to no empirical support for them.  Many good, devoted Christians are out there are wrestling with these facts.  To be told that they “ought to know better” than to accept them or that they aren't Christians if they do is insulting.  Further, as noted above, it betrays a troubling aspect of this perspective: the idea that our understanding of scripture is unbiblical. 

Secondary to this is that, in all of the young earth creationist literature that I have read, there is a remarkable lack of self-examination when it comes to scriptural interpretation.  To those who support the young earth model: we might be wrong about our interpretation of scripture, but you might be, also.  For the origins debate to change, there must be an acceptance of this on both sides of the aisle.  Only then will progress be made and name-calling cease.  

Friday, February 02, 2018

Jesuit Review: Creationism Isn't About Science, it’s about theology (and it’s really bad theology).

Eric Sundrup has an editorial in the Jesuit Review about what is wrong with young earth creationism.  He has some very good observations: He begins:
The Creation Museum is a $27 million example of how Christians can lose their way fighting the culture wars. After spending time there this Christmas, I left convinced that as wrong as the museum’s science is, the most frightening driver of its “logic” is an impoverished theology, which is coupled with a desire to win moral arguments. This toxic combination propels devout people into strange and unnecessary battles with modern science.
This is a point that I and many different researchers have made over the years: young earth creationism misses the broader picture. It reduces the majesty, glory and awe of the Bible and the message that God is telling us in favor of a flat, sterile, superficial understanding of the passages in Genesis. He continues:
Mr. Ham’s motivations for founding the museum and its parent organization clearly grew out of the culture wars. Answers in Genesis argues for the inerrancy of the Bible and specifically for a literal interpretation of Genesis because they think this provides them a strong footing in public discussions. And that, I think, is exactly how this group of Christians got lost. They are trying to win moral and theological debates with what look like scientific arguments.

Strangely, in their attempt to provide definitive empirical answers to moral and theological questions, creationists like Mr. Ham have more in common with some of their most strident scientific opponents than with the broader Christian tradition. They are proponents of the strictest form of biblical inerrancy and literalism. And in this mode they are actually advancing a mirror-image of scientism, in which God’s revelation, both in Scripture and in creation, is meant to convey a list of facts.
I think that this is one of the reasons that young people are leaving the church. Not only do they discover that they have been fed bogus science that doesn't stand up to even the barest scrutiny, when they have issues that require them to reach deeply into their faith, there is nothing there, just cold, impersonal facts. 

Mr. Sundrup's analysis is also not so unlike Joel Edmund Anderson's, in that, in his book The Heresy of Ham, Anderson notes that by focusing on science (or their understanding of science, anyway), Ham and other young earth creationists have, like their atheist counterparts, held up science as the ultimate arbiter of faith.  Modern science HAS to conform to the biblical passages.  If it does not, we are all lost.  This is nonsense for one simple reason: if biblical scripture in Genesis conforms to our understanding of 21st century science, then they are necessarily out of step with 20th century science, 19th century science, 18th century science and so on.  Since young earth creationist arguments don't change (except to move the goalposts), every new scientific discovery has to be shoehorned, manipulated, mangled and adjusted to fit the prevailing narrative. Scientific integrity be damned.  It never occurs to them that the narrative, itself might be wrong.

Indian Site of Attirampakkam Pushes Middle Palaeolithic of India Back to 385 Kya

Great Googlymoogly!  Fresh on the heels of the discovery of the Misliya site (upcoming BioLogos post) that the Middle Palaeolithic Levallois technology was present in Israel as early as 194 thousand years ago, we now have news from India that places the emergence of the same technology as early as 385 thousand years ago.  From Malcolm Ritter at the site PhysOrg:
Homo sapiens arose in Africa at least 300,000 years ago and left to colonize the globe. Scientists think there were several dispersals from Africa, not all equally successful. Last week's report of a human jaw showed some members of our species had reached Israel by 177,000 to 194,000 years ago.

Now comes a discovery in India of stone tools, showing a style that has been associated elsewhere with our species. They were fashioned from 385,000 years ago to 172,000 years ago, showing evidence of continuity and development over that time. That starting point is a lot earlier than scientists generally think Homo sapiens left Africa.
This tool style has also been attributed to Neanderthals and possibly other species. So it's impossible to say whether the tools were made by Homo sapiens or some evolutionary cousin, say researchers who reported the finding Wednesday in the journal Nature.
Nowhere is there any indication that modern humans are associated with the tools at Attirampakkam (ATM). In fact, there are no hominin remains whatsoever at ATM. The Indian subcontinent has always had a paucity of human remains, the most notable of which is the Narmada Homo erectus cranium.  In Europe, the Levallois technology, which also shows up at ATM, is almost exclusively associated with Neandertals and in the Levant, at the Skhul, Qafzeh, Tabun and Amud sites in the Mt. Carmel region, it is used by both Neandertals and early moderns. Consequently, while someone was using early Middle Palaeolithic tools at ATM, we don't know who.

What is incredibly striking about the ATM site is that, from 385 ky down to 172 ky, there is continuous technological evolution, beginning with what the describers call the “terminal Acheulean,” through a punch flake industry with points, to knives.  Another point made by the authors is that this Middle Palaeolithic industry appears and flourishes during a time where other sites in India are still using Acheulean technology.  This suggests “that spatial variability among Palaeolithic cultural sequences is larger than previously thought.”  From the Nature article1:
The behavioural transformations that mark the advent of the Indian Middle Palaeolithic at ATM are summarized by the following diagnostic features: the obsolescence of Acheulian large-flake reduction sequences, with a directional shift towards smaller tool components; the adoption and continuance of Levallois recurrent and preferential strategies; a gradual intensification of blade reduction; and an increased use of finer grained quartzite during phase II than during A gradual discontinuation of biface use—which becomes definite at ATM after approximately 172 ± 41 ka—has been reported at other Middle Palaeolithic and Middle Stone Age sites worldwide (see Supplementary Information and references therein).
This is an astounding find for so many reasons. It establishes the appearance of the Levallois technology, one we know originated in Africa, outside Africa over 150 thousand years earlier than we thought. This is a technology that was considered to have originated some 400 thousand years ago. We may now have to revise this date further into the past.

It shows a clear progression of human cultural evolution, from the late Acheulean hand axes, through Middle Palaeolithic Levallois technology to a more blade-oriented technology.  Sadly, it appears as though the site began to fall into disuse and the sequence stops cold around 74 kya.  This is not surprising since it coincides with the Toba supervolcano eruption in Indonesia.  Nonetheless, as the authors point out, it suggests multiple migrations out of Africa of first archaic Homo sapiens, then modern Homo sapiens, such as those in Misliya and that these groups interacted with the Archaic hominins they encountered along the way.

1Akhilesh, K., Pappu, S., Rajapara, H. M., Gunnell, Y., Shukla, A. D., & Singhvi, A. K. (2018). Early Middle Palaeolithic culture in India around 385–172 ka reframes Out of Africa models. Nature, 554, 97. https://doi.org/10.1038/nature25444