Wednesday, January 27, 2016

A Huge Win For Ken Ham

Ken Ham has, apparently, won the ongoing battle involving hiring practices for the Ark Encounter.  Religion News Service reports:
U.S. District Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove wrote in his 71-page opinion on Monday (Jan, 25) that while Answers is “clearly a religious organization,” tourist destinations could be affiliated with religion if they serve the state’s “secular” goal of boosting local revenue.

“Bringing non-residents into Kentucky who will spend money on food, lodging, gas, and tourist attractions will increase revenues and benefit the state’s economy through jobs and spending,” Tatenhove wrote. “Such a purpose is plainly secular.”

The 510-foot replica of the Ark will be used to tell the story of the great flood from the biblical book of Genesis. Developers have said that the incentives would be used to help fund future projects, which would be based off other biblical stories.

“The law is crystal clear that the state cannot discriminate against a Christian group simply because of its viewpoint, but that is precisely what happened here,” Answers in Genesis President Ken Ham said in a statement. “The decision today is a victory for the free exercise ofreligion in this country.”
Ken Ham has argued that the Ark Encounter has been unfairly persecuted by people that have worked to keep it from being built. This is a huge win for him.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

A Plea For the Importance of East Asia in Human Origins

In response to the discovery of new archaeological evidence from the island of Sulawesi, the Conversation makes a plea for the role of East Asia in human origins, who argue that eurocentrism and Africacentrism have ruled the roost in hominin research.  The article lays out some of the research that has gone on in the last 150 years or so, ending with the recent discovery and controversy surrounding Homo floresiensis.  The author suggests that we are missing some very important information:
Stone tools and animal fossils dated to between 100,000 and more than 200,000 years old have been found in Walanae Basin of Sulawesi: the oldest archaeology in the island, and showing it was inhabited by a unknown archaic species long before modern humans were on the scene.
Sadly, no human bones were found, so we have no idea who made the tools.

I suspect they were made by a species that we don’t see anywhere else. Not
Homo erectus, nor Homo floresiensis, but a novel one. Why?

Sulawesi sits on the eastern edge of the famous biographic zone ‘Wallacea’ - marking the transition from an Asian ecology to an Australasian one - and has a truly remarkable fauna and flora.

It’s also located just to the north of Flores and so was probably on the North-South migration path for many animals including early humans.
The mammals that inhabit Sulawesi today are remarkable for their diversity: of the 127 endemic mammals that inhabit Indonesia, 62 percent are unique to Sulawesi.
Among the primates, there are seven endemic species of the monkey genus Macaca and at least seven Tarsier species probably more.
In my view, the same kinds of evolutionary pressures that led to this remarkable diversity of non-human primates would have acted also on the early humans inhabiting the island.
A couple of hundred thousand years is plenty of time for new species to form.
This is not the first argument to be made for non-existent evidence. That argument has been made variously to explain the transition from one of any number of australopithecines to early Homo and archaeological evidence for Middle Palaeolithic populations in Japan is sitting off the coast of south Japan in several different scenarios.While it is quite interesting to contemplate the peculiarity of the faunal diversity of Sulewesi, it is a far cry to posit a new species responsible for the tools that might be there.  It is quite true that we do not know exactly what is going on with H. floresiensis or the strange island from which it hails, but that does not warrant a separate species.

He is, however, correct that East Asia has often been seen as secondarily important in hominin circles, and the recent discoveries in south China ought to strongly suggest that this is not so. 

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Off-Topic: The Scapegoating of Larycia Hawkins and Another Evangelical Becomes Disillusioned

I have not been following the Larycia Hawkins Wheaton College controversy as well as I should.  I know that Wheaton is terminating her contract because of her public statements that Muslims and Christians worship the same God (a statement absurd on its face) but there is, as usual, considerably more to the story that Benjamin Corey, over at Patheos, delves into.  About the actual controversy, he writes:
At first it seemed like Dr. Larycia Hawkins would clearly be reinstated. Her statement that Muslims and Christians were both “people of the book” and people who, along with Jews, worship the God of Abraham, has been supported by well-respected evangelical theologians. When asked for clarification of her views in comparison to Wheaton’s statement of faith, Dr. Hawkings has consistently complied in great detail– fully affirming Wheaton’s entire statement of faith. I’ve read her personal statement of faith myself, and it’s not some liberal manifesto– it’s solidly evangelical. I could see how her statement of faith would put her at odds with liberal colleges, but evangelical ones? Absolutely not.
Yet, it seems that they are going about terminating her anyway.  Why?  Corey has some ideas:
Evangelicalism now is far closer to the fundamentalism they reacted against than perhaps anyone would have anticipated. Evangelicalism is the fundamentalism of our time. It’s fascinating from an anthropology standpoint, but tragic for the Kingdom Jesus came to establish. And this brings me to the real reason Dr. Hawkins is being terminated from Wheaton College:

The glue that holds fundamentalism together is the agreement upon a common enemy to fight, and Dr. Hawkins has rejected the notion that Muslims are the common enemy.

And this is a deal-breaker for Wheaton, whether they’ll have the courage (and self-awareness) to admit it or not. Even an informal student of culture can easily see that evangelicals in America, for the last several years, have consolidated around the agreement that Muslims are the great enemy of our time (Exhibit A: Franklin Graham’s Facebook page). For Dr. Hawkins to say she “stands in solidarity” with Muslims is a betrayal of one of their deepest held beliefs, and this (to them) makes her untrustworthy.
Read the whole piece.  I have read Dr. Hawkins' statement of faith and, while I accept that she wants to bring solidarity with Muslims into the mix by arguing that Muslims worship the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,  that makes a hash of many other aspects of Christianity.  For starters, Muslims are staunchly unitarian, while one of the basic tenets of Christianity is the trinity.  Secondly, and relatedly, they reject the divinity of Jesus—and that is a deal-breaker— and elevate the profit Mohammed to a level that makes the Catholic veneration of Mary look positively mild by comparison.

So, we have established that Islam is not Christianity.  But what of Judaism?  If Dr. Hawkins had worn a Sheitel instead and pledged solidarity with Jews everywhere by saying we worship the same God, would she have gotten the same reaction?  Franklin Graham has recently argued that we need to support Israel because, in the final analysis it wasn't the Jews who nailed him to the cross, it was all of us.  Although this is a historically myopic position, Graham received no rebukes for these statements.  Consequently, I wonder if the primary reason for Dr. Hawkins' removal is not that she broke with received evangelicalism/fundamentalism, but that she supported, in at least some small way, Islam.  After all, it is the self-same Graham that has recently also argued that Islam needs to be repelled at all cost and Mr. Graham is held in very high esteem (as he should be) by most evangelicals.  

I would, therefore, suggest that, in the context of the current geopolitical climate with constant news stories of radical Islamic fundamentalist terrorism and the rise of ISIS, any support of Islam, however faint, is seen as conspiring with the Devil.  The College Board of Directors, to preserve its role in the fight (and to make sure that donor dollars keep pouring in) may have felt they had no choice but to go through with the termination, even in the face of limited evidence that Dr. Hawkins really had gone off the rails. 

I am not debating the merits of either Judaism or Islam in relation to Christianity.  I am staunchly Christian and find much in Islam very troubling.  Even moderate Islam seems deeply misogynistic and cruel by western and Christian standards.  I am, however, suggesting that Dr. Hawkins is being served up as a scapegoat in the broader war that evangelicalism is waging against one of its “enemies.”

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Another Example of Why There Should Be Science Tests For People Serving on Education Committees

This story made the rounds last week and the commentary I found was on Patheos.  Evidently, the Arizona Senate has selected Sylvia Allen to be their chairwoman.  Why is this an issue?  She is a young earth creationist, that is why.  From the story by Michael Stone:
In an assault on public education in Arizona, a Republican lawmaker who believes the earth is only 6,000 years old has been selected to lead the legislative committee overseeing education.

Senator Sylvia Allen of Snowflake, Arizona is the new chairwoman of the state Senate committee that oversees education-related legislation. Allen was selected by fellow Republican and Senate president Andy Biggs on Monday to be the new chair of the Arizona Senate Education Committee, according to a report issued by 12News.

Allen is a controversial figure: a radical Christian extremist who believes the earth is only 6,000 years old, she previously suggested legislation that would mandate that every citizen be compelled “to attend a church of their choice” every Sunday.

In addition to her religious extremism, she is also a conspiracy theorist, who believes the U.S. government regularly sprays its citizens with mind-controlling chemtrails.
Once again, there should be a basic science test that people in public office should have to take before they are selected to education committees. It took Texas years to rid themselves of Don McLeroy and his position that someone had to “stand up to the experts.” Yet another Republican beclowns themselves. 

Sunday, January 03, 2016

Brad Kramer Profiled on Slate

Brad Kramer, the content manager for BioLogos has been profiled on Slate.  In an article titled How an Evangelical Creationist Accepted Evolution, the focus of the post is how he came from a background in young earth creationism to accepting the science of evolution. There is, however, a good deal on how the acceptance of evolution is changing among today's late teens and early tweens:
The number of young evangelicals who hold this softer position is growing, says Jonathan Hill, a sociologist who has studied trends in attitudes toward science among the religious. They aren’t necessarily embracing evolution, but there is hope. “Younger evangelicals are no more likely to accept evolution than older evangelicals, but they are less likely to reject it,” says Hill, based on his research for the survey National Study of Religion & Human Origins. “And they are especially less likely to be ‘hardcore’ evolution rejecters who are certain of their beliefs and believe this is an important issue.”

Uncertainty, in this case, is a good thing: It means they’re open to considering new ideas. Among young evangelicals Hill surveyed, 25 percent of respondents reported that they simply had no idea what they believed about evolution, compared to 14 to 15 percent among those 30 and older.
For Kramer, and probably many others who travel down this path, the journey was grueling and tortuous. When sent by a friend to the Talk Origins and Panda's Thumb sites:
To Kramer, the sites sounded hostile—as if they were “written as a direct attack on my faith” and “intentionally trying to jab a sharp stick in the eye of the Christians.” But they also sounded true. It was as if he had stumbled into a Pandora’s box, opening up question upon question that he felt ill-equipped to answer. For instance: OK, let’s say that an evolutionary process did take place. But if God was perfect, and God had chosen to use evolution, then why was evolution so flawed? “It was almost like my beliefs were colliding with reality,” he says. “There were just pieces in my mind that I could not put together … It was very scary.”

Kramer felt sick. “That’s when things got kind of messy,” he says. For about six months, he left his church and began questioning his faith. While he never fully embraced atheism, he experimented with being agnostic, trying to reconcile the puzzle pieces in his head. But despite his doubts, in the end there were just too many compelling reasons to come back: He liked his faith, his community, and, OK, also a girl in his youth group. “I kind of hobbled back to my faith,” he says. “Evangelicals were my tribe. And it’s kind of hard to let go of something.”
In many ways, his journey mirrors that of Glen Morton, a geologist who began to doubt the validity of the young earth geological arguments.  Morton also spent some time in the dark before finding his way back to the fold.  His final thoughts are those of many of us who walk this fine line:
“We call ourselves creationists, and we’re stubborn about that,” says Kramer of BioLogos. “We purposely live between the cultural categories, because we disagree with the way in which the lines are drawn.” If you asked Kramer whether he believes in the words of Genesis or the words of Origin of Species, in the biblical God or the science of evolution, he knows what he would choose. It’s the same answer he’d give if you asked him whether the recent Homo naledi discovery is scientific or divine, or whether his 2-year-old daughter Josephine is a gift from God or nature. “I’d say both,” he says. “One hundred percent both.”