Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Am I a Theistic Evolutionist?

I am reading Long March of the Koalas and the author, Fred Clark, makes some interesting points about the term “Theistic Evolutionist.” He suggests that it is a term without meaning for several reasons:
  • It does not necessarily apply to all who might be Christians that accept evolution—it includes people that are not scientists, despite making use of the “ist” suffix. 
  • He argues that we cannot apply the word “theistic” to the word evolution.  It is an inappropriate use of the word because it is being applied to the discipline of evolution, which is non-theistic. He writes: “Sir Isaac Newton earnestly believed in God's active, pervasive providence, but he never saw fit to christen his theory as “theistic gravity.” 
  • His final argument is that when we merge the two terms “theistic” and “evolution,” we conflate the metaphysical understanding of the process and the observational understanding of it.
I will have to think on his argument some, but he makes some valid points. He does not, however, tackle the phrase “evolutionary creationist”  Thoughts?

Friday, December 25, 2015

A Few Other Things I Picked Up

I also snagged these on Amazon.  It may take a bit to get through them but they look interesting.

The first one is written by folks from the Interdisciplinary Bible Institute. The second one by “Progressive Christian blogger” Fred Clark, who writes the "Slacktivist" blog for Patheos. Both are inexpensive. 

D.H. Williams: Retrieving the Tradition and Renewing Evangelicalism: A Primer for Suspicious Protestants

Just purchased this from the Amazon Store:

As readers of this blog will have guessed, I am growing increasingly disenchanted with modern evangelicalism (actually I have been this way for some time) and am trying to figure out “where to go from here.” I am not burned out on God, I am burned out on how modern evangelicalism is practiced by so many that I see: completely devoid of any engagement with the world on its terms. We don't try to help people understand our way of life or viewpoints, we just take potshots at modern science and wage a “war on culture.” Further, because the modern evangelical movement is so divorced from its roots, we can't tell people why we believe what we do. We have thousands of years of some of the best thinkers of all time on our side and we don't even know who they are or what they wrote.

In some senses, I am no different, because I have immersed myself so heavily in the science end of things. Consequently,I know why the science arguments put forth by many modern evangelicals are junk. The problem is that, because they don't want to engage the people promoting mainline, established science, the junk science keeps being recycled. The Ken Ham/Bill Nye debate was not really a debate and, in hindsight, little of value came out of it.

The one thing I have not done is construct a concrete, concise understanding of why I do believe what I do. Hopefully, this book, along with prayer, will help me clarify my thoughts

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Merry Christmas From Our House to Yours!!

From Jim, Melanie, Marcus, Madeline, Daniel and Daphne.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

John Wilsey: Is the Evangelical Right Actually Conservative?

John Wilsey, writing for the Christian Century asks a very important question: Is the Christian Right actually conservative.  The post is mostly an (well-deserved, IMO) indictment of modern evangelical Christianity:
Many on the evangelical right have also jettisoned the intellectual, credal, and liturgical traditions of Christianity. There’s not much new in that. The anti-credal trend goes back to early-19th-century America. But it continues, and this “crisis of authority” has profound ramifications, as Molly Worthen, Thomas Bergler, D. H. Williams, and other scholars have noted.

This is a major problem. If we take Russell Kirk’s emphasis on order in conservatism, then it is difficult to classify rightist evangelicalism as conservative. At the beginning of his Roots of American Order, Kirk defines order as “a systematic and harmonious arrangement” that “signifies the performance of certain duties and the enjoyment of certain rights in a community.” Disorder is “a confused and miserable existence” wherein “the commonwealth cannot endure.” Kirk’s understanding of order as central to conservatism is one rule by which we ought to measure the legitimacy of conservatism in American evangelical Protestantism.

As a result of turning away from objective authority, evangelicals have a sentimentalized religion. Sentimentalism yields a self-referential faith. Kirk calls this “egoism,” which is antithetical to “humility, charity, and community.” Sentimentalism turns inward and rejects the outside world. Self-help and self-defense messages abound, along with constant appeals to stay relevant for the young people. Bergler terms this process “the juvenilization of American Christianity.”
This goes hand in hand with the "Disney-ization of Christianity" and Mark Noll's perspective that the Scandal of the Evangelical Mind is that there is no evangelical mind anymore, but that the Church has abrogated its responsibilities in modern society and academia. Todd Wood, the young earth creationist down in Dayton, TN, lamented this a bit back, arguing that the church has set up a parallel culture with all the trappings of secular culture, only recognizable by the fact that its members go to church on Sundays.  Further, he notes that this culture is poorly done, which leads young people to abandon it.

So the modern evangelical movement spends that vast majority of its time focusing on the modern culture wars—homosexuality, gay marriage, pre-marital sex, evolution and other related issues—and in so doing, forgets that it has a rich history of three or four millenia, filled with some of the greatest minds that have ever lived. Consequently, instead of academic centers of Christian thought, we get the Creation Museum and pastors like Brad Shockley.  No wonder people are leaving the church in droves.

Friday, December 18, 2015

The Case of Eric Metaxas or "Evolutionary Theory as Bug Zapper."

Eric Metaxas is, by all accounts, a very dynamic and charismatic speaker, who has written a very highly regarded book called Seven Men: And the Secret of Their Greatness.  This book, which has been read by my son Marcus, who thoroughly enjoyed it, was on the New York Times bestseller list for some time.

Unfortunately, as with all Christian public speakers, eventually, they get drawn to evolution.  They simply cannot help themselves.  We saw this recently with Ben Carson, now we see it with Eric Metaxas.   He has an article on the Christian Post called "Unlocking the Darwin Debate."

Aside: Okay, I get the need for revenue but The Christian Post has to be one of the most irritating websites I have yet encountered.  It has obnoxious video ads that you cannot turn off, bottom banners that keep popping up even after you have read them and buggy scripts that freeze the browser. I have already complained once to them.  

Onward. He writes:
Of course, like digital code on a hard drive, DNA can be corrupted. The most recent iteration of Darwin's theory claims that these corruptions — called mutations — are the engines of evolution.

But here's the problem: We don't have a single example of a mutation resulting in a net gain of information. Not one.
How does he know this? Has he read the genetic literature?  What does he mean by a “net gain of information?” Mutation is not the engine of evolution. That is a simplistic, inaccurate view of evolution, written by someone who hasn't done the basic research on the topic. Evolution is a complex process that involves not just mutation but genetic drift, flow and selection.  Even that is a simplistic description.  The idea that mutation cannot lead to a gain in information is nonsense.  There are plenty of examples of mutations in which there is a gain of information.  In fact, when a mutation happens, there is not a loss of information, there is simply a change of information.  What happens when a mutation happens that is beneficial and selection acts upon it to spread it throughout the population?  How is that a loss of information?  Further, there are numerous instances in which genes have been duplicated through mutation, resulting in gain of information.  As the New Scientist points out:
Several species of abalone shellfish have evolved due to mutations in the protein “key” on the surface of sperm that binds to a “lock” on the surface of eggs. This might appear impossible, but it turns out that some eggs are prepared to be penetrated by deviant sperm. The same thing can happen in fruit flies, and likely in many other groups too. In yeasts, the mutations that led to some new species forming have not only been identified, they have even been reversed.
The idea that mutation conveys loss of information is also clearly refuted by the evidence from the fossil record of common descent. We can see in the fossil record where species have arisen. This can only happen through the processes of drift, flow, mutation and selection. In all cases, this is clearly a gain of information.

It is disappointing that speakers like Metaxas feel that they must tackle evolution with the gusto that they do other areas of their faith.  That he is such a dynamic speaker is surely a draw to the modern evangelical crowd.  That he knows nothing about evolution is lost on both him and his audience. 

Rise of Anti-Evolution Bills: UPDATE

PhysOrg also has a post on this research that includes an animated GIF to show the progression.  From the post:
The study also found that antievolution bills show evidence of 'descent with modification,' suggesting that anti-evolutionist legislators copy bills recently proposed or passed, rather than writing new bills from scratch. In addition, although the antievolution bills usually avoid mentioning creationism, most could be tied directly to creationism through statements in the legislation or by the bills' sponsors.

"Creationism is getting stealthier in the wake of legal defeats, but techniques from the study of evolution reveal how creationist legislation evolves," Matzke said.
I will be curious to see how the Discovery Institute spins this.

Nick Matzke Tracks the Rise of Anti-Evolution Bills in the United States

The Los Angeles Times is running a story about Nick Matzke's efforts to chronicle the rise of anti-evolution bills in the United States.  The catch: he is using evolutionary principles of descent with modification to show where they came from and how they "adaptively radiated."  Karen Kaplan writes:
The forces opposed to teaching evolution in U.S. public schools just got a new reason to resent the bedrock scientific theory: A researcher has used the principles of evolutionary biology to show that laws ostensibly aimed at improving science education are firmly rooted in efforts to make classrooms safe for creationism.

The analysis of dozens of bills introduced in state legislatures around the country reveals how a single innovation from a small Louisiana parish (population 156,325) was incorporated into 32 subsequent bills through a process the study describes as “descent with modification.” Two of those 32 bills became law and now “negatively affect science education” for students throughout Louisiana (population 4.7 million) and Tennessee (population 6.5 million)
The article is a phylogenetic masterpiece, showing stem and crown groups, based on the wording of different bills in different states.  There is one takeaway that is obvious, based on looking at the graph.  Bills have been forwarded in the following states:
  • Alabama
  • Florida
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Maryland
  • Michigan
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • New Mexico
  • Oklahoma
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Virginia
In other words, “all over the map.”  Only five of those are southern states, belying the notion that the Bible Belt is the only place you find this kind of legislation. His conclusion:
The creationist antievolution movement has reinvented itself not once but twice in the decade since Kitzmiller. The first guise was “academic freedom,” but after the success of the Louisiana SEA [Science Education Act], AFA [Academic Freedom Act] proposals were almost completely replaced with SEAs. The inclusion of global warming in the SEAs indicates that societal debate over evolution education has the potential to leak into other societal debates where high-quality science education is inconvenient to certain established interests. The passage of SEAs in Louisiana and Tennessee have spread language devised in Ouachita Parish, population ~150,000, to negatively affect science education in two states with ~11.2 million people. Additional policies on the books in other states (table S1) indicate that science educators have substantial work to do to ensure that science classes teach the best science available, rather than false critiques and controversies promoted by creationists. Advocates for science education should not be dissuaded by the strategic vagueness of SEAs: The creationist origins of modern antievolution strategies are clear (table S1), and at least 63 of 65 antievolution bills considered here can be tied directly to creationism through statements in the legislation or by sponsors (SM).
The article is free to non-subscribers (or at least it is at the present moment) and, despite being somewhat technical, is a good snapshot of how these bills have proliferated.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

ICR Planning Its Own Museum

Not to be outdone by the Petersburg, Kentucky, the Institute for Creation Research is planning a creation museum at its headquarters in Dallas, Texas.  Robert Wilonsky, of City Hall Blog, writes:
The institute, which spent months in court fighting the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board for the right to dispense master’s degrees in creationism, has been trying to raise funds to build the 30,900-square foot museum for years. There’s a concept proposal floating around that dates back to 2011.
In the September issue of its magazine Acts & Facts, its chief executive officer, Henry Morris III, says he finally got enough money to move ahead with the project.
The ICR, if you will recall, was once located in sunny California, near San Diego, but relocated to Dallas because they wanted to confer masters degrees in creationism to their students and the California Higher Education Commission said no.  They lost the fight in Texas as well and still cannot dispense graduate degrees in creationism.

The ICR has to get the project past city hall, which may be quite a hurdle because the location of the ICR is zoned for “Industrial Research.” It will be interesting to see how this one turns out.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

It Pains Me To Think...

...how many people there are out there like televangelist Brad Shockley, who displays not just a frightening ignorance of science but the Bible as well.  As David Edwards of Raw Story writes:
On Sunday’s broadcast of Let The Bible Speak, Shockley lamented that the creationist view on dinosaurs was “rarely credited” by the media.

“We often have a difficult time convincing others this is the proper explanation,” Shockley said. “The creationist accepts the teaching of Genesis and teaches that dinosaurs were created on day 5 [and] day 6.”

The pastor noted that humans were also created on day 6 and “shared this world with the dinosaurs” and “all of these events took place approximately 6,000 years ago.”

According to Shockley, schools were using dinosaurs to “indoctrinate” children with lessons about science and evolution.

“Realizing mom and dad couldn’t not defend their religious beliefs, they ignorantly stumble into believing the theories of evolution and abandon their faith,” he insisted. “Evolutionary doctrine on dinosaurs denies the Bible, creation, the existence of God and, by default, ultimately denies Jesus Christ is the son of God and our redeemer.”
At one point he quotes the book of Job's lurid description of behemoth, with passages such as “...a flame goeth out of his mouth...” and suggests that this is a trait that we associate with dinosaurs. No, in fact, we don't associate that with dinosaurs at all. We associate that kind of thing with dragons.He suggests that this is a trait that was lost over time, a convenient excuse for the fact that we have never found any such thing.  He argues that given the amazing things that we find in the animal world today, we should have no trouble believing in dragons.  Really??? 

Nothing short of amazing.  

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Ted Cruz on NPR

On the way in to work this morning, I heard part of an interview with Ted Cruz, who was asked pointedly if he accepted the current position on global warming.  He clearly said that he did not and said that the pursuit of climate change strategies are, in fact, thinly disguised attempts by liberal politicians and crony capitalists to gain power.  I think that he is, perhaps, at least partially correct about that.  I also know that the climate of the planet does change.  Our planet is 4.5 billion years old and has undergone considerable change.  What is not clear is how much we are responsible for the current trajectory.  Some, I am sure, but how much I honestly don't know.

Then, because he clearly rejected the science on climate change, he was asked if he accepted other mainstream science perspectives, such as, pointedly, evolution.  He refused to answer the question. Rarely have I seen a better evasion of a question. He remarked that it was the job of scientists to question all of science and then went right back to climate change.

He clearly doesn't want to rile a large segment of his base by coming right out and agreeing with evolution but he also doesn't want appear anti-science. I am quite sure that he has advisers that are keenly aware of how most Republicans are perceived with regard to science and they want to avoid the recent example of Ben Carson's missteps in this area. That Cruz launched his candidacy from Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia did not help, or that his father was quoted as saying that evolution is a lie perpetrated by Marxists. He has taken no official stance on this issue (unlike Carson, who thinks that Satan had a hand in crafting the theory!) but is not going to be able to avoid the question forever.