Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Albert Mohler on Parellel Cultures, Karl Giberson, Randall Stephens and Liberal Theology

Albert Mohler has also weighed in on the “parallel cultures” idea that was floated by Karl Giberson and Randall Stephens in their New York Times story. Initially, I did not address the Giberson/Stephens article in the NYT but will now do so. Mohler writes:
The New York Times recently found themselves taken to task by writers presenting themselves as fellow evangelicals. Their essay reveals the central question that evangelicals must now answer: Do we really believe that the Bible is the Word of God?
Actually, that is not what Giberson and Stephens are about in the least. Mohler takes a sort of ‘Ken Hammish’ approach here (and I don't mean this in a positive way) by suggesting broadly that the concern that Giberson and Stephens are voicing is not really why evangelicals are anti-science but rather that they have rejected belief in the Bible. Let's see what Giberson and Stephens actually write:
Like other evangelicals, we accept the centrality of faith in Jesus Christ and look to the Bible as our sacred book, though we find it hard to recognize our religious tradition in the mainstream evangelical conversation. Evangelicalism at its best seeks a biblically grounded expression of Christianity that is intellectually engaged, humble and forward-looking. In contrast, fundamentalism is literalistic, overconfident and reactionary.
This sounds perfectly reasonable. Why would Mohler paint it as a rejection of the Bible? Let's read on to find out. In the original New York Times article, Giberson and Stephens argue as their central point that modern evangelicals and GOP candidates are ‘anti-science’ but then make an odd mis-step. They profile some modern leaders of the modern evangelical movement, including Ken Ham (fish? barrel?), David Barton (who rather hilariously argued that the founding fathers of the country had already addressed and rejected the theory of evolution) and James Dobson, who, they argue, has outdated ideas about homosexuality and actually agrees with spanking children and...


Come again? What has any of that to do with their central premise? From my point of view, not much. Further, it opens them up to Dr. Mohler, who blasts away with both barrels. He writes:
Appearing on the October 20, 2011 edition of National Public Radio’s Talk of the Nation program, Giberson argued that homosexuality should not be much of a concern at all. He revealed even more of his own approach to the Bible by asserting that “there’s just a handful of proof text[s] scattered throughout the Bible about homosexuality,” adding: “Jesus said absolutely nothing about it.”

That hardly represents an honest or respectful approach to dealing with the Bible’s comprehensive and consistent revelation concerning human sexuality in general and homosexuality in particular. Is Romans 1, for example, just a scattered proof text? Is not all of the Bible God’s Word? Well, Giberson has already made his view of the Bible clear — it is simply “trumped” by science when describing the natural world.

For your average evangelical, who is familiar with passages in the Old Testament:
Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable. (Leviticus 18: 22)
and in the New Testament:
We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, 10 for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine 11 that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me. (1 Timothy: 1:10-11)
it is pretty hard to square that what Giberson is saying is scriptural in any sense.

Why is the passage on homosexuality a problem? It is a problem because if Mohler can show that Giberson and Stephens are not scripturally sound in this area, why should they be believed on the subject of science in general and evolution in specific? Is it not just another aspect of their secular viewpoint?

Whether or not there are arguments for interpreting the above verses in a different way than the way they come across is practically irrelevant here. Giberson and Stephens might just as well have donned bright red Star Trek ‘Enterprise Security’ shirts. It does not matter that Mohler knows little about evolutionary biology, the fossil record, or the geological record. That is no longer the issue at hand. The issue at hand is the “secular knowledge” that is being espoused by Giberson and Stephens, which is at odds with the vast majority of evangelicals. In one swift move, Mohler is able to link acceptance of evolution with liberal teaching on homosexuality. After reading Giberson's and Stephens' New York Times essay, why would your average evangelical even think about changing their minds about evolution?

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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Todd Wood Responds on Excellence

Todd Wood has a follow-up post on the whole parallel cultures idea, in which he argues that having parallel cultures is not necessarily a bad thing. It is just that we, as Christians, can do better. He writes:
Yes, there are people out there who will look down on you for your background and your faith, but there are also folks who will not. If you do good work and keep at it, eventually people will take notice. Why should you let the bigots hold you back? Be excellent! Don't settle for a life and career of mediocrity.

That's the point. Christians don't have to settle for second best or leftovers. You can be excellent! You don't have to keep churning out sub-par dreck and whining about how the world is discriminating against your Christian values. You can be excellent with what you have. You don't have to settle
I wish more Christians in the science arena thought this way. Given Fuz Rana's recent embarrassing post (one below this one), I am not hopeful.

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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Fuz Rana on Human Evolution

Fuz Rana wants to know: “Will the Real Human Ancestor Please Stand Up.” He writes:
It is commonly reported that humans and chimps share 99 percent genetic similarity. For many people, this high degree of genetic similarity means humans must have evolved from an ape-like primate, sharing a common ancestor with chimpanzees. However, it should be noted that, when comparing the full genomes of humans and chimps, around one quarter of the two genomes don’t align and the similarity of those portions that do align is between 90 and 95 percent. (Go here and here for comparisons.)

According to the evolutionary model, humans and chimps share a common ancestor with gorillas. And humans, chimps, and gorillas share a common ancestor with orangutans. These presumed evolutionary relationships should be reflected in genetic comparisons between humans and the great apes, where scientists expect to find gorillas and orangutans displaying less similarity, respectively, to humans than to chimpanzees.

Yet, this is not always the case. Researchers have recently discovered that about one percent of the human genome displays a greater genetic similarity to orangutans than it does to chimpanzees. This result follows on the heels of an earlier study that found that 23 percent of random sequences sampled from the human genome point to a primate other than chimpanzees as our closest evolutionary relative.2 In other words, depending on the region of the genome that is selected, differing “evolutionary trees” result for humans and the great apes.

He argues that a key portion of evolutionary biology is violated because these genetic trees do not completely agree with each other and don't completely agree with the fossil record. In support of this idea, he cites three articles, the first of which is called “Incomplete Lineage Sorting Patterns among Human, Chimpanzee, and Orangutan Suggest Recent Orangutan Speciation and Widespread Selection.” ( Ironically, in a section of the article to which Rana does not refer, the authors of this paper write:
The exact amount of ILS [interlineage sorting] locally in the genome depends on the recombination rate and factors such as functional constraints (Figs. 4, 5). The observed ~1% of ILS is entirely consistent with the effective population size of 50,000 inferred for the human–chimpanzee ancestor and the speciation time difference of 8 Myr inferred between human–chimpanzee and human–chimpanzee–orangutan, assuming a generation time of 20 yr [emphasis mine].
How does this not fit an evolutionary model? These authors of this paper certainly think it does, an expected one, at that. No evolutionary biologist has ever said that there has to be 100% agreement between all different kinds of trees. It has never occurred to them that this would ever be a problem. That is a straw man argument that Rana has put up. In response to the argument of discordant trees, Dennis Venema has posted a great article on this concept of incomplete lineage sorting. He writes:
The fact that gene phylogenies/trees and species phylogenies/trees don’t always match is not something that surprises scientists, since it is a well-known phenomenon and the mechanisms underlying it are understood: species arise from genetically diverse populations and that diversity does not always sort completely down to every descendant species.
The second article that Rana cites is “Mapping Human Genetic Ancestry,” by Ebersberger et al. ( Once again, in a part of the article to which Rana does not refer, they write:
For about 23% of our genome, we share no immediate genetic ancestry with our closest living relative, the chimpanzee. This encompasses genes and exons to the same extent as intergenic regions. We conclude that about 1/3 of our genes started to evolve as human-specific lineages before the differentiation of human, chimps, and gorillas took place. This explains recurrent findings of very old human-specific morphological traits in the fossils record, which predate the recent emergence of the human species about 5-6 MYA. Furthermore, the sorting of such ancestral phenotypic polymorphisms in subsequent speciation events provides a parsimonious explanation why evolutionary derived characteristics are shared among species that are not each other's closest relatives [emphasis mine].
Funny, it doesn't look like the authors are proposing a non-evolutionary relationship here. Once again, it fits perfectly with what we think is going on with the fossil record, which indicates a human-chimp separation time at around 6 million years ago. In fact, this kind of scenario fits perfectly with the recent finding about the frame-shift mutation of the sugar molecule Neu5Gc, suggesting that sympatric speciation may have happened in the human fossil line (the G.G. Simpson in me just shuddered). It is, consequently, difficult to see how this article supports Rana’s conclusion.

The third article that Rana has marshaled to his argument is by Morris Goodman, one of the dons of genetic analysis. The Goodman article appears in The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Human Evolution1. He quotes Goodman as writing thus:
If the biblical account of creation were true, then independent features of morphology, proteins, and DNA sequences would not be expected to be congruent with each other. Chaotic patterns, with different proteins and different DNA sequences failing to indicate any consistent set of species relationships, would contradict the theory of evolution.
Rana is using this statement by Goodman to indict evolutionary theory, since, given what he thinks he has shown, that is exactly what the evidence of the first two papers is. The problem is that a bit further in the article, Goodman says:
Human serum proteins shown only small antigenic differences from orang-utans and gibbons, and tiny differences from gorillas and chimpanzees. Given the extensive morphological evolution involved, the extent of protein evolution between humans and other hominoids is surprisingly small. Alternatively, if the 'molecular clock' is applied to immunological distances and the divergence between hominoids and old world monkeys arbitrarily set at 30 million years ago, the human-African ape split occurs at 5 million years ago [emphasis mine].
Once again, perfectly in keeping with evolutionary theory and perfectly in keeping with the results by Ebersbrerger et al, who also (twenty years later!) see the evidence as pointing to a human/ape split between five and six million years ago.

It is difficult to find anything redeeming in Rana's post. It is further difficult to derive a conclusion that these articles don't support the evolutionary paradigm, since they all clearly do. Did he simply not read them? Did he hope that none of his readers would? For someone who is trained in molecular biology to employ such a standard creationist trick is astounding and deeply, deeply disappointing. It also lends more credence to what Todd Wood recently said about RTB:
I would recommend that no one accept any of RTB's arguments without fact-checking their claims first. I do not know whether these problems are due to lazy scholarship, ignorance, intentional deception, or ideological blinders. What I do know is that you cannot trust Reasons to Believe.
I can't add much to that.

1Goodman, Morris (1992) “Reconstructing Human Evolution from Proteins,” in Steve Jones, Robert Martin, and David Pilbeam, eds., The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Human Evolution, New York: Cambridge University Press, pp. 307–13.

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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Todd Wood on Parallel Cultures

One of Todd Wood's readers asked him to comment on my post about the Barna Group’s results in which I opined that the problem was not with historical Christianity, but with modern evangelical Christianity, which I see as walling itself off from modern society, especially in its understanding of science. Here is a bit of what he writes:
I'm not entirely sure whether he's concerned about the very idea of a "parallel culture" itself or the quality of the evangelical culture. As for developing our own parallel cultures, I would point to the monastic culture (especially medieval monasteries) as an example from a different Christian faith tradition. A crucial difference between the medieval monastery and the modern evangelical culture is that the monastic culture was compelling and appealing to people. As I understand it (and I admit that I'm no historian), the monasteries were important sources of learning and scholarship, and to some extent helped to preserve learning through the "Dark Ages." I think especially of St. Columba's monastery on Iona, which was instrumental in Christianizing Scotland through the power of learning. (I'm going to stop talking about monasteries now before I reveal any more of my ignorance.)
It is quite true that the monasteries were very important for learning and did preserve much of the knowledge that had been passed down from their predecessors. But the monasteries were doing so largely in the absence of, and prior to, the explosion of modern science. Further, they weren't competing with the culture of the time, they were providing a completely different outlook and way of life. The modern evangelical movement, in contrast, is providing its own brand of politics, culture and science in almost exactly the same model as secular society but with a Christian basis. Where the wheels fall off the wagon (and Dr. Wood and I differ profoundly on this issue), is in the (largely) evangelical Christian interpretation of modern science, which is tied to a very strict biblical hermeneutic that dictates a 6,000 year-old creation and further, that evolution as characterized by modern evolutionary biologists, has never happened. There is little to no mainstream scientific evidence to support this interpretation of scientific findings and mountains of evidence to the contrary.

The evangelical community has fought the mainstream interpretations of modern science tooth and nail to the point where those of us that accept them are called “unbiblical.” Further, we get called that by people who have no training in modern science at all.

Dr. Wood has a short section in which he examines the Christian culture that has arisen in parallel. He argues (and I largely agree) that modern evangelical Christianity is reactive in the sense that we parrot modern, secular society and do not do it well. He further notes that this is the reason that so many leave the faith in their late teens or early twenties. Anecdotally (and I have a pretty small sample size) it does seem that those that hang on to their faith through these years hit modern culture head on instead of avoiding it.

I have always been of the (myopic) opinion that one of the key reasons that people in the their late teens or early twenties leave the faith is because they hit an understanding of how the world works, scientifically, and it conflicts with what they have been taught, usually from home school curricula. Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps this is only one small part of a greater whole that we, as Christians, are not addressing. I know the challenge of raising children in a Christian home firsthand and some of my children will soon be entering their adolescent years where that struggle will become evident. I can only pray that the Holy Spirit gives us the guidance to be able to provide an attractive alternative to a completely secular culture.

Lastly, Dr. Wood writes:
What I want, and what this blog has always been about, is to improve what we have. Instead of constantly tossing potshots at evolutionary biology, we need to put up or shut up. If creationism is so much better than conventional science, where's our explanation of the pattern of radioisotopes? Or distant starlight? Or the near identity of the human and chimp genomes? And why aren't we working on answers to these questions? Why are people settling for just explaining the problems away with philosophical tricks or just distracting people from the problems by pretending like everyone else has much worse problems? Take the beam out of your own eye before you pick out the speck from someone else's. That was good advice 2000 years ago, and it's good advice today.
He is absolutely correct. And herein lies a large problem. Recently, when Dr. Wood took on Reasons to Believe's interpretation of the human/chimp genome and showed where they were wrong (and not trustworthy), a good many people who are not, to my knowledge, Christians cited this exchange quite positively, even knowing that Dr. Wood is a professed young-earth creationist. Why? Because it was about the only time in recent memory in which the secular data was examined and interpreted by someone from that point of view with complete scientific integrity.

Beginning with George MacReady Price's The New Geology, in 1923 and continuing down to the present day, the evangelical movement has made a complete hash of science. Even worse, there is a persistent evidence that those promoting this view do not even seek to get things correct. To turn the phrase that Dr. Wood used, if I hear one more evangelical non-scientist say “there are no transitional fossils” I just might scream!

Examples abound in which scientific data is skewed or twisted in such a way as to support the young earth model when, in its original form, it did exactly the opposite (Randy Isaac's response to the RATE volumes is, perhaps the best example). This leaves a very bad taste in the mouth of your average scientist.

This is a bad witness.

This is part of the reason this blog exists. Non-Christians need to know that we can confront the data in an honest fashion. If we seek to reach out to those with scientific inclinations for the cause of Christ, we must treat the data with integrity, even if it leads us down a road that we have never been down before.

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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

World Magazine on the Barna Group Results

World Magazine has an article on the Barna Group results that adds a dimension:
Although Christians have a reputation for being anti-science, the scientific field is brimming with Christian thinkers, Peter Walhout, Wheaton's department chair and associate professor of physical chemistry, said.

"No serious Christian or scholar would ever study Christianity and its history and say it's anti-science," he said.

Many early scientists actively participated in church. Nicolas Copernicus held an office in the Catholic Church, and he was encouraged to publish his research on the planets' orbit system by high-ranking church officials. Isaac Newton, another devout believer, claimed that the laws of physics and the universe were dependant upon an intelligent designer. And the revered physicist Albert Einstein was motivated to investigate the laws of the universe by his faith in a Creator.

"I want to know how God created this world," he said.

Walhout suggested anyone wishing to express to unbelievers the amity between Christianity and science should capitalize on evidence from history.
The problem is not with historical Christianity. It is with modern evangelical Christianity, a movement that came out of the fundamentalism of the early 1900s and that has, largely, abandoned conventional scientific pursuits or results. It is this group that is largely “anti-science.” In a recent article in the New York Times (yes, I am going to quote it just this once), Karl Giberson and Randall Stephens, about modern evangelical Christianity's response to science, write:
In response, many evangelicals created what amounts to a “parallel culture,” nurtured by church, Sunday school, summer camps and colleges, as well as publishing houses, broadcasting networks, music festivals and counseling groups. Among evangelical leaders, Ken Ham, David Barton and James C. Dobson have been particularly effective orchestrators — and beneficiaries — of this subculture.
It is this “parallel culture” that has become the de facto culture of home school curricula, evangelical churches and Christian colleges. This is the result of what Mark Noll called “The Intellectual Catastrophe of Fundamentalism.” This is not Christianity as it is practiced in either the Catholic or Eastern churches and, in many ways, it is a Christianity that is unique to the United States. It is also a Christianity that I am profoundly uncomfortable with and am becoming more so every day. One of my friends recently wrote this to me:
The academic study of Scripture does not teach people that faith is stupid; rather, that study seeks to elucidate the faiths contained in Scripture as rigorously as possible.
It is this faith and the rich tradition that is behind it that the modern evangelical church has lost.

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Friday, October 14, 2011

The Barna Group Reports on: Six Reasons Young Christians Leave Church

The Barna Group, which describes itself as a “private, non-partisan, for-profit organization” has done a survey on 1296 current and former church-goers between the ages of 18 and 29 and has identified six primary reasons why young people leave church. They are:
  • churches seem overprotective
  • Teens’ and twentysomethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow
  • Churches come across as antagonistic to science
  • Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental
  • They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity and
  • The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt
Regarding the fourth item, the one that (obviously) caught my attention, they write:
Three out of ten young adults with a Christian background feel that “churches are out of step with the scientific world we live in” (29%). Another one-quarter embrace the perception that “Christianity is anti-science” (25%). And nearly the same proportion (23%) said they have “been turned off by the creation-versus-evolution debate.” Furthermore, the research shows that many science-minded young Christians are struggling to find ways of staying faithful to their beliefs and to their professional calling in science-related industries.
Ken Ham and Britt Beemer, authors of the book Already Gone: Why Your Kids Will Quit Church and What You Can Do To Stop It, have a different take on things. Writes one reviewer of the book:
Their research concludes that “Sunday school syndrome” is contributing to the epidemic rather than helping alleviate it. Sunday School tends to focus on inspiration and morality of Bible stories, rather than how to defend the authority of the Bible. The “Bible stories” told in Sunday school are separated from “hard facts.” As a result, children will turn to school books for facts and answers, instead of the Bible. Already Gone argues that if a child is unable to defend the historicity and fact of Genesis, then he or she will quickly be disillusioned with the church. “Ultimately, if we are unable to defend Genesis, we have allowed the enemy to attack our Christian faith and undermine the very first book of the Bible,” the book says.
I have always marveled at the fact that so much emphasis is placed on this one book of the Bible at the expense of the rest of it (including the Gospel). Ham, himself writes:
The research also showed that those young people (the two thirds group) who went to Sunday school were—surprisingly—more likely to have heard a Christian leader (pastor, Sunday school teacher, and so on) tell them they could believe in evolution and millions of years. We also found those in this group that they were more spiritually worse off than those who didn’t go to Sunday school and were more inclined to accept abortion and “gay” marriage.
I have not read this book (not sure if I could, actually) so I do not know what other questions were asked. It seems to me that a comparison between those that went to Sunday school and were exposed to “evolutionary” teaching and those that went to Sunday school and were not would be in order. I bet they would not be statistically significantly different. The message of the Barna Group, on the other hand, is that when students get to college, they find that the scientific leanings of their churches and perhaps parachurch organizations ill-prepared them for school and scientific disciplines.

In contrast to Ken Ham, Richard Colling writes:
Twenty-first-century college students are a savvy and discerning lot: They can smell a fraud a mile away. My experience is that they do not want to be “protected” from the realities of the world. They genuinely appreciate Christian educators who respect and care enough about them to speak the transparent truth regarding controversial subjects like evolution. In short, they want and deserve the real stuff including everything that modern biology and genetics can teach them about evolution and origins. Then, armed with actual factual knowledge and understanding, they can intelligently make up their own minds how to put it all together, and just as importantly, defend their faith in a secular unbelieving culture. My experience is that they accomplish things very well – resulting in a stronger more resilient personal faith.
I think that too many of them are smelling the fraud of “creation science.”

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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Frame-Shift Mutation Linked to Sympatric Speciation in Early Homo?

According to (new?) research from the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, a mutation creating a slightly different sugar molecule may have caused a reproductive barrier between those that had it and those that didn't in our human ancestors, possibly influencing the split between early Homo and australopithecines. Stephanie Pappas of Live Science writes:
The mutation tweaked one type of sugar molecule, Neu5Gc, produced by early hominids, the first great apes. About 2 million or 3 million years ago, just as human ancestors Homo ergaster and Homo erectus emerged in Africa, a genetic mutation halted the production of this molecule, and the prehuman immune system began to recognize it as a threat. As a result, researchers find, some hominids would no longer have been able to mate and produce offspring with other populations, potentially driving early humans apart from other apes."Over time, this incompatibility would reduce and the eliminate individuals with Neu5Gc," study researcher Pascal Gagneux of the University of California, San Diego, said in a statement.
If the date is closer to three million years, it would have considerable implications for the emergence of Homo. There are many theories about where early Homo came from and what led to the transition from Australopithecus to what became the earliest members of our line. This will shed some light on these ideas and, hopefully, spur more research in this area.

Interestingly, this research is not as new as the story makes it out to be. There was a paper written by A. Varki in 2001 that dealt directly with this data. It can be found here. Varki, however, did not make the connexion with immune suppression response but focused, rather, on how the mutation affected brain evolution.

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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Kraken from Hell?

Science Daily has an unusual piece about some maybe evidence of a huge prehistoric beast that roamed the oceans.  The lede paragraph is quite something:
Long before whales, the oceans of Earth were roamed by a very different kind of air-breathing leviathan. Snaggle-toothed ichthyosaurs larger than school buses swam at the top of the Triassic Period ocean food chain, or so it seemed before Mount Holyoke College paleontologist Mark McMenamin took a look at some of their remains in Nevada. Now he thinks there was an even larger and more cunning sea monster that preyed on ichthyosaurs: a kraken of such mythological proportions it would have sent Captain Nemo running for dry land.
The peculiarities ensued when a graveyard of icthyosaurs was discovered arranged in a non-random order and with odd markings on them:
First of all, the different degrees of etching on the bones suggested that the shonisaurs [ichthyosaurs] were not all killed and buried at the same time. It also looked like the bones had been purposefully rearranged. That it got him thinking about a particular modern predator that is known for just this sort of intelligent manipulation of bones. “Modern octopus will do this," McMenamin said. What if there was an ancient, very large sort of octopus, like the kraken of mythology. “I think that these things were captured by the kraken and taken to the midden and the cephalopod would take them apart.”
‘What-if?’ stories are great fun and thought provoking but a great deal more evidence will have to be amassed before this can be verified/supported. Given the size of some of the creatures in the past (here, here and here) however, this is not so hard to believe.

CFSI To Cease Operations

Sadly the Center for Faith and Science International will be shutting its doors at the end of the year, a casualty of the rotten economy in which we find ourselves.  I will post twice more and then it will go silent.  Thanks to Rob Zimmer for all of his hard work in the project. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

New CFSI Post Up

My new post for the Center for Faith and Science International is up.  It deals, in considerably more civil fashion, with the Ken Ham/BioLogos issue that I wrote a little bit about in the pages here.  As always, comments are welcome.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

T.M. Moore and Aliens

T.M. Moore has an excellent post on the subject of aliens and Christianity over at the Center for Faith and Science International.  Amongst the good points he makes are these:
Fourth, God sent His Word to earth for the redemption and reconciliation of the cosmos (Jn. 3.16; 2 Cor. 5.18-20). What Jesus accomplished in His incarnation, death, and resurrection has significance not simply for believers but for the whole world, and not just for the earth but for the entire cosmos and everything in it. A work of reconciliation has been realized which means that now every creature can recover its rightful place before God, even if we can never figure out precisely what that rightful place might be (Eccl. 3:1-11). Indeed, a day is coming when the whole cosmos will be burned up and a new heavens and new earth will be created where righteousness dwells.
Fifth, it has not pleased God for human beings to know everything in the same way that He does (Eccl. 3:11; Deut. 29:29). Through careful study of Scripture and the work of science we may continue to increase our knowledge of the cosmos, but there will always be limits beyond which we simply cannot know and should not try to go (ask Job). We will simply have to learn what we can as we go along, always bearing in mind that there will be mysteries, enigmas, and conundrums that we can’t quite figure out, and always being content for God to be God and us to be mere mortals.
Put simply, contra Ken Ham, there is no a priori reason to think that they will not need to be healed and saved just because they are not human.  They are God's creations and if they have been created with the intelligence to understand that, then they will be in need of salvation. 

Friday, October 07, 2011

Limb Development and Our “Inner Fish”

Science Daily has a story on research delineating the relationship between us and fish.  The work, which examined some cartilaginous fish, as well as the three surviving lungfish species, was led by Peter Currie of the Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute at Monash University. The story notes:
"We examined the way the different fish species generated the muscles of their pelvic fins, which are the evolutionary forerunners of the hind limbs," said Professor Currie, a developmental biologist. Currie and his team genetically engineered the fish to trace the migration of precursor muscle cells in early developmental stages as the animal's body took shape. These cells in the engineered fish were made to emit a red or green light, allowing the team to track the development of specific muscle groups. They found that the bony fish had a different mechanism of pelvic fin muscle formation from that of the cartilaginous fish, a mechanism that was a stepping stone to the evolution of tetrapod physiology. "Humans are just modified fish," said Professor Currie. "The genome of fish is not vastly different from our own. We have shown that the mechanism of pelvic muscle formation in bony fish is transitional between that in sharks and in our tetrapod ancestors."
The paper is in the online journal PLoS and can be found here.  Another piece of the puzzle. it worse that we share common ancestry with chimpanzees or with fish?

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Mary Sue Asks “Did Jesus Save Alien Races, Too?”

Off-Topic: the Mary Sue, a site for “Geek Girl Culture” has an article about a convention that occurred recently called the 100 year Starship Convention, sponsored by DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency). One of the presenters was Christian Weidemann from the Ruhr-University Bochum who wondered aloud how religion would change if we discovered proof of life on other planets. Hilarity ensued. First Weidemann stated:
The death of Christ, some 2,000 years ago, was designed to save all creation. However, the whole of creation, as defined by scientists, includes 125 billion galaxies with hundreds of billions of stars in each galaxy. That means that if intelligent life exists on other planets, then Jesus or God would have to have visited them too, and sacrificed himself equally for Martian-kind as well as mankind
It appears that the Vatican has already considered this. When questioned about extraterrestrial life, the Pope's astronomer conveyed the Vatican's position:
He would be “delighted” if intelligent life was found among the stars. “But the odds of us finding it, of it being intelligent and us being able to communicate with it – when you add them up it’s probably not a practical question.” Speaking ahead of a talk at the British Science Festival in Birmingham tomorrow, he said that the traditional definition of a soul was to have intelligence, free will, freedom to love and freedom to make decisions. “Any entity – no matter how many tentacles it has – has a soul.” Would he baptise an alien? “Only if they asked.”
Some were not nearly as taken with the idea. When asked, Ken Ham had this to say:
“The person from the Vatican that was quoted in the newspaper reports, if quoted correctly, can’t truly understand the gospel—in my opinion. The Bible makes it clear that Adam’s sin affected the whole universe. This means that any aliens would also be affected by Adam’s sin, but they can’t have salvation. … While baptizing an alien might feel good, it would have no more spiritual consequence than baptizing a chicken or a fallen angel. Baptize an alien indeed!
Once again, it is only Ken Ham that truly understands the gospel.  All other ideas have to be false.  If a sentient creature from another world were to accept Christ as its savior, that wouldn't be enough?  Narrow-mindedness and one-dimensionality, writ large.  It is now my fervent hope that we find life on other planets, just so Ham will have to eat his words. 

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Yeti Hunters

The Daily Mail has a story on a group of Russian and American scientists who are on the track of a group of Siberian Yeti.  Will Stewart writes:
Its legend has long haunted the icy wastes of the Himalayas and Siberia. Yet for all the mysterious sightings and strange footprints in the snow, the Yeti has proved remarkably elusive to those seeking solid evidence of its existence. Now, however, the Abominable Snowman has an international team of scientists on its trail in a Russian region which one expert claims is home to around 30 of the creatures.

Out of the “international group of scientists” only one is mentioned by name, an Igor Burtsev, the head of the ‘Yeti Institute” at the University of Kemerovo.  He argues that these are Neandertals that have survived to this day.  Okay, that is not quite as outlandish but it is close.  A map is supplied in the original story to show where the presumed location of these critters is. 


As one of the commenters to the original story put it: “I reckon they're hiding under the 'R' in Kazakhstan.”

This continues to be one of those modern miracles—that people have been looking for the Yeti/Abominable Snowman/Sasquatch for decades and yet nobody has yet come up with anything that stands up to scrutiny.  It is sort of like the search for Noah's ark.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Ken Ham on BioLogos and Proper Interpretation of the Scripture

I have resisted posting on this, after reading Darrel's response to it but, after reflection, I think it needs some response. Ken Ham has a twenty minute “sermon” on the problems with BioLogos. Remember, this is the same Ken Ham who got into hotwater a few months back and got uninvited to a home school conference because of his caustic and uncharitable remarks about BioLogos at the time. Here is the video:

A few thoughts:
  • He shows a clip of Darrel talking about the age of the earth and what he would tell new students about how to integrate that information. Darrel states that he would refer the new student to some important books on geology and biology that would help them understand the evidence, to which Ham responds
    “By the way, I have a book I would refer them to.”
    That is snide. It assumes that anything that Darrel would provide in terms of resources would be worthless.
  • Concerning the evidence for age of the universe and the earth, Ham states:
    This is not science, this is man's historical science, his beliefs about the past and he is going to tell us to let go of the Bible and what it says? See, belief in billions of years is science to them. It is not science, it is belief.
  • This idea that we cannot know our past (a variant of his "were you there?" statement) presents some cognitively dissonant problems. What if Mr. Ham walks into his breakfast room in the morning and finds a half-eaten bowl of cereal? By his own admission, he will never be able to determine what happened the night before because it would involve the use of historical science. While this is probably an overstatement of what Ham actually thinks, he never makes it clear that there is a problem here—that the same logical processes that one uses to reconstruct a murder investigation or an archaeological site are the same to reconstruct the prehistory of this planet. He never addresses this contradiction because to do so would reveal the logical error of his thought process.
  • He states, about BioLogos (for whom I write) that they are starting to
    infiltrate the church. In fact, they are now producing a homeschool curriculum to get home schoolers not to believe Genesis.
    Maybe what they are trying to do is get kids to think intelligently about Genesis and avoid the one-dimensional reading of the scripture that Mr. Ham promotes.
  • Later, he argues, in response to Francis Collins' comment that the Bible is not a textbook, that it is exactly that. He states:
    The Bible is not a textbook like a physics textbook, but it is a textbook of science because it is historical science that's talking, it is God's history book. That's the point. But when he says textbook of science, see they confuse these terms for people and that's what you have to understand, the difference between observational science and historical science. Where he finds the conflict, it is not because of the observational science, it is because of the historical science.
    It is not clear that Ham even knows the definition of historical science. It appears that he is saying that there is historical science that is biblically-based (the bible) and historical science that isn't (scientific reconstruction).
  • About the whole kerfuffle surrounding the Great Home School Uninvite, he states:
    “When I found out what Peter Enns believed, and that he was selling his curriculum at the home school conference, I had to, in fact, we had already told the organizers that I can't speak unless I say something about him, not him personally, but his beliefs and I did and something happened that we still don't know what happened behind the scenes but I was eliminated.He wasn't eliminated. He was allowed to continue to speak." "And he was allowed to speak at a home school conference but they didn't want me there teaching about a literal Genesis.”
    This simply isn't so and Ham knows it. He was uninvited because of his "ungodly" and "mean-spirited" statements about some other speakers (Enns) and the convention. The organizers also wrote: "We believe that what Ken has said and done is un-Christian and sinful," That is pretty clear. Judging from the way that Nathan Ham, Ken Ham's son, responded, it was smack on the money too.
  • In the early part of the video, he disapprovingly quotes Bruce Waltke, who also had a dust-up last year regarding evolution. Waltke states:
    “I think that if the data is overwhelming in favor, in favor of evolution, to deny that reality will make us a cult, some odd group that’s not really interacting with the real world.”
    Ironically, Ham doesn't see that this is exactly what he is doing in this video—taking his followers down an isolated road in which they are a slave to one, narrow view of scripture to the exclusion of any other and in which all who do not accept this view can only be seen as enemies.
This response is stronger than that of Darrel Falk's and my inclination is to call Ham arrogant, pompous, misguided and divisive, all of which he is. But we need to pray for those he is trying to reach. He is not a scientist and his approach is to tap into the emotions that this subject brings out. Man's science appears to be at odds with his interpretation of the scripture, but he carries the idea of man's fallenness and limited understanding in only one direction. It never occurs to him that Pete Enns has come to a different understanding of the scriptures through prayer and a desire to learn about the cultural and literary context of the book that he and Ken Ham hold so dear. It only occurs to him that if Pete Enns and Darrel Falk don't understand the scriptures the way he does, then they must not be in the spirit. If Ham's behavior and statements look “cultish” to people like Bruce Waltke, someone who has spent their entire professional life studying the scriptures, what must they look like to non-Christians?