The rearguard

Élisabeth-Louise Vigée LeBrun- Portrait of a GirlEqual marriage is won, in the UK and US. Equal marriage in church is coming. But a few sad obsessives still keep up the bad fight. Homosexuality is Evil, they cry, worse than murder and child abuse! The End of the World is coming!

Don’t look at Geoff Arseaile’s blog, it excites him too much. I found him posting on how homosexuality inevitably leads to incest and paedophilia, and when I commented he started fantasising about my genitals. So much for his pure Christian mind. He then posted on how our civilisation is failing, and our Christian culture is dead. This is the fault of those in the 60s who tried to modernise the church, he thinks. On the same blog his pal Chalcedon451 bemoans people saying homosexuality is natural- even in the Church!- and the ministry of women. It is unclear whether he thinks women’s ministry is an attack by Satan or not.

“Dr” Fred Pontius has not edited his about page, so I have no idea in what way he claims to be a “doctor”. He posts on how children should be given “gay conversion therapy” and the number of LGBT folk. If the proportion is 1.7% rather than 4.5%, what? Smaller minorities are easier to persecute? He has other concerns as well: when a scientist tried to prevent teaching of Creationism as “science”, Pontius accused him of an apparent crusade against Christians who simply disagree with him. Though he posts a huge amount, it appears I am his only commenter this month.

I don’t see the point in debating these people any more. I have said it all, why should I repeat myself? The argument is won, and that feels so real to me after attending that wedding. Similarly with creationists: I have gained some appreciation of the complexity and order of the geologic column, and made my point that what creationists say about the Bible is as ridiculous as what they say about geology; I have nothing more to say, and since they are highly unlikely to admit they are wrong there is little point in debating them, though I am grateful to commenters on Tim’s blog saying sensible things about geology, whom I have learned from. Perhaps I should find something else to blog about.

Trust IV

Cesar Boetius van Everdingen Trompe l'oeil with a bust of VenusCreationism debates led me to biostratigraphy, the science of dating strata according to the life-forms fossilised therein, and particularly biostratigraphy from trilobites. Consider all that wonderful detail! There are ten separate Orders of trilobite- an Order is divided into family, genus, species- and 20,000 identified species over 291m years. Not everything is clear: 54m years after trilobites first appeared, the order Phacopeda appeared, and in 2009 when that page was last updated it was unknown from where. Perhaps it still is. From the wee drawings, my Ordovician trilobite looks like a Proetida, of the order which survived into the Permian.

Tim’s answer was that the strata were laid down by the Flood, and dating strata by species and species by strata is a circular argument. Well, the same species in strata a thousand miles apart indicates a similar age, and radiometric dating from one might be repeated for confirmation, but need not be. A series of strata may be upside-down because of metamorphic folding or whatever, but this does not refute the basic idea. If the strata were laid down in the Flood, I would expect the Orders to be far more higgledy-piggledy, and theories why one species was better adapted than another to be more difficult to sustain.

Everdingen, LucretiaNo, I had no belief in Creationism before, but now I have a Refutation I am entirely happy with. I imagine a conversation:

And I do a Happy-dance, because I have won, beyond all possible doubt. At least in my own mind. Or I say, Look at this! Isn’t it fascinating! Isn’t it beautiful! And am surprised when others don’t see it the same way.

Yet there are still scientists who are creationists, and intelligent non-scientists. Those scientists produce arguments to convince lay-people that Creationism works, such as the spurious distinction between observational science and historical science- all those trilobite fossils have been observed, measured, Everdingen, four muses and Pegasus on Parnassuscategorized- and possibly they do this with the conscious intention to deceive, for the greater good of preserving a view of the Bible as literally true, inspired and inerrant; and possibly they do this because the Bible is inerrant, and therefore the evidence cannot indicate anything else. I don’t like to think of them deliberately lying, but it is possible.

With my high intelligence, I still hope to work things all out so that I can understand. Yet I see everything through a glass darkly, and Creationists assert their views, and conservative Christians and trans-excluding “radical” “feminists” alike say transsexualism is wicked and perverted and sick and dangerous and wrong and completely stupid and a sign that the person is damaged and SHOULD BE CAST OUT

-sorry about the shouting. I have retreated to my living room because in my experience the world outside is scary and bad things happen and I get really hurt. This shows I must be wrong about something. If you assess people’s assertions by the success they have made in the world, you weigh me lightly.

To go back to an old, clichéd phrase, I might have light enough for one step. I might trust my intelligence and instincts enough for that.

A creationist

File:Baby Orangutan 2 (7109564287).jpgMeet Tim, a Young-Earth Creationist, who examines the scientific evidence and finds it supports his theory. How?

First, humanity is bad. He produces several bible verses to show this. For him, this presumably refutes my Creationism argument. We are to blame, not God, and by sending us a saviour God did more than we deserve. If life evolved, suffering entered the world other than through Adam’s sin, and so God must have designed it.

What does he think of the Bible? It is more reliable than science, because its account does not change. In 2011, he cited a 1995 article from Time magazine which discussed an observation that the Universe was expanding unevenly, to claim this. I was aware that a star cluster in our galaxy was calculated to be 16bn years old when the Universe was thought to be younger, and Tim points to estimates (in 1995) ranging from 8bn to 20bn years old, not acknowledging that by 2011 the consensus was for 13.7bn. Now, it is 13.8bn. The Bible is clear- the world was created in six days- but File:Baby Orangutan 3 (7109563039).jpgscientists disagree and keep changing. The oldest known star, according to current models of stellar evolution, is 14.46 ± 0.8bn years old. For Tim, all stars including the Sun were created on the fourth day, three days after Light was divided from the darkness.

Tim, why stop in the 1990s? At one point, some scientists believed in Phlogiston, and some disputed that theory. Come on, Tim: scientists dispute- Therefore Creationism!

Poor man. The delight of increasing knowledge through dispute, argument and evidence is lost to him.  Though how wonderful, to mock, and belittle, and feel superior to those who achieve far more than he!

He collects facts and articles and tries to make them fit his falsehoods. Often, he pretends that they do. For him almost any discovery can be pressed into that role, and his blog could be treated as an eclectic mix of scientific curiosities, if you could ignore the constant refrain of “Therefore Creationism!”

He believes that natural selection of the fittest, and slow change by genetic mutation, cannot work. To argue this he says humanity is degenerating genetically. Our random mutations generally make us less fit, but do not prevent us from breeding and maintaining those mutations. He asserts that if bears move into the arctic, and become white, that is a loss of information rather than a gain. Some strains of H5N1 flu are less effective at multiplying than others- Therefore Creationism!!- yet flu still infects people, and any flu vaccine is a gamble, a choice of which might be the most troublesome strains that winter.

He is incorrigible. Too much in love with his own cleverness, he will not listen to those who could free him from his folly. Like those opposing equal marriage, or climate change deniers, he can only change by realising how stupid he has been, which is so painful as to be unimaginable for him.


Michelangelo- The torment of St AnthonyCreationism is incompatible with far more important beliefs in Christianity. How do I argue that, and what is the point of arguing it?

Consider strata, which creationism says formed in the Flood, but geologists say formed over billions of years through different processes of accretion and transformation; or the genome, which shows that each species analysed uses the same genetic code, making a single ancestor likely; or the size of the Universe and the speed of light, indicating a Universe billions of years old rather than thousands. All this evidence refutes creationism, and anyone studying physics, biology or geology to degree level will see that evidence. The vast majority of them agree that young earth creationism cannot be true.

Countering that evidence is a reading of the first two chapters of Genesis which ignores the differences between them, most notably that in chapter 1 God created humans last, on the sixth day, male and female; but that in chapter 2 God created a man, then plants, then animals, and finally a woman.

If young earth creationism is true, then God has created the evidence which these people use to refute it; or allowed Satan to deceive them, so that they imagine evidence shows what it does not. This is a particularly horrid trick for God or Satan to play; for the scientists seek truth, which is a good thing to do, and through their good impulse to seek truth God deceives them, to drive them from Creationism and Christianity alike, so that they will go to Hell.

That God would play such a trick may be seen in the words of Jesus: The reason I speak to them in parables is that “seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.” However, Jesus also compares God to a father, and when we say the creed we affirm this: If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him! Ours is a God of love. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.

How can we go out and make disciples of all nations, if God deliberately creates evidence to drive people away? My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples: How, if Satan ensnares them? God is Love, 1 John 4:16; For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, John 3:16.

What is the point of this argument? Could not the Creationists see the evidence of geology, physics or astronomy and realise they are wrong? Well, they do not. Rather, they deny the evidence. This argument takes something they believe, and respect, and uses it to persuade them. If you do not respect the Bible, the argument will be unpersuasive, but then you will not be a Creationist, and the argument will be unnecessary. If you do not understand its value, ask yourself how people can debate the character of King Lear- he never existed!

When I communicate, I seek to speak in such a way that my hearers will hear. The problem comes when someone is so benighted that s/he thinks humanity is simply evil, and “Love” means saving a few million, and sending billions to Hell.

Meanwhile, in Egypt…

Mummy portraitThere are records of Egyptian civilisation going back three millennia before the Roman conquest in 33BC, with nothing to say of the Flood, or the Tower of Babel, or the Exodus; and I write as an excuse to exhibit this gorgeous mummy portrait, encaustic from the third century.

Onywye. Bishop Ussher, and Answers in Genesis, put the flood at 2450 BC or 2348 BC. Other literalists put it as early as 3835 BC. By Genesis 11:10-32 there were nine generations between Shem son of Noah and Abraham, or 292 years after the Flood. Sometime in this, the Tower of Babel story happened (Genesis 11:1-9) though Genesis 10:31 describes separate peoples with separate languages as the descendants of Joktan, five generations below Shem. It is hard not to see contradictions in all this. Ussher put the Tower of Babel at 2242 BC, and claimed God appeared to Moses in the burning bush in 1491 BC.

3835 BC is in the Naqada 1 period of Upper Egypt, before writing. Naqada is a cemetery of three thousand graves discovered in 1892. The Fayum-13burials are simple: the body lies in the foetal position wrapped in animal skin, with simple offerings of flint knives, ivory combs, and pottery. The graves were dated initially by the pottery, which Flinders Petrie hypothesised evolved gradually from globular vessels with functional handles to cylindrical forms with decorative handles.

2348 BC is the Fifth dynasty of the Old Kingdom, when Unas was king. (Pharaoh was a title from the New Kingdom.) Egyptian dates may be fifty years out at this period, and Unas was the last king of the fifth dynasty, succeeded by Teti. Dynastic numbering comes from Manetho, a historian from the 3rd century BC. However Teti’s chief wife was probably Unas’s daughter, and the change in numbering may come from moving the site of the royal palace, rather than a Flood.Mummy portrait

In 1491 BC the king was Thutmose II. At this time Egypt, united and prosperous, had conquered the Mediterranean coast as far north as Syria, where the trade routes from Mesopotamia to Africa circled the Arabian desert. Fleeing, Moses would have had to go a lot further than the Red Sea to evade the king (still not a Pharaoh). Egyptian records are not noted for candour: they boast of conquests, with pictures of a huge king bestriding tiny corpses of enemies, even where context indicates defeat; but there is no indication of ten plagues, or the deaths of the firstborn.

Ramesses II built the new capital of Piramesse in the 13th century BC, thought to be the city named in Exodus 1:11. At the end of that century, the Merenptah victory stele has the only mention of Israel in Egyptian records.

What have I achieved: not just mockery of literalist Biblical interpretation, but contrasting it with patient reasoning from archaeological evidence. This post is worth seeing for those pictures, made centuries after the real events described: especially the first, whose painter well those passions read, which yet survive. I have taken facts from The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, and worthless gibbering from Answers in Genesis.

Faith v Science Christians listened to the Bishop of Exeter in 1884, they would not feel the need to deny reality, and there might not be the anti-theist backlash of Richard Dawkins and others. In his Bampton lectures to the University of Oxford, he criticised the refinements of interpretation of the rabbis which “tended to encourage the hypocrisy which our Lord rebuked”, and saw “something of the same spirit in the attempt to maintain a verbal and even literal interpretation of the Bible, filling it not with the breath of a Divine spirit, but with minute details of doctrine and precept often questionable and, whenever separated from the principles of the eternal law, valueless or even mischievous.”

Frederick Temple had preached to the Royal Society at the time of the Wilberforce-Huxley debate in 1860, and later became Archbishop of Canterbury. The Church of England has not had difficulty accepting the revelations of science since.

In the time of Galileo there was no real conflict between the revelation of the Bible and astronomy, he said, and in 1884 none between evolution and the Bible, only with a particular biblical interpretation. Christians finding their interpretation was untenable sometimes rejected the Bible whole, and scientists knowing their science to be true and believing those lovers of the Bible to understand It, saw no alternative to rejecting the Bible; but this was unnecessary.

The bishop says that the heart of Christianity is not belief in specific doctrines, but relationship with the person Jesus Christ, whose tenderness cannot endure that a single soul should perish. Seeing the Lord’s character, let a man put before his will the Lord’s commands, the aims, the self-restraints, the aspiration the Lord required in his disciples. The voice of God speaks to all, but the ability to hear it depends on our spiritual faculty. Believers and unbelievers might prefer scientific evidence of God, to walk by sight and not by faith, and want indubitable miracles. It has not pleased God to furnish such proof.

Science should help us to interpret the message of God. Knowing the origins of the Earth gives us a clearer understanding of the meaning of the first chapters of Genesis. Knowing history helps us understand the historical books of the Bible. Science is the counterpart of religion and has its share to take in the conduct of life and the formation of opinion. And the believer is bound to recognise its value.

Science has value because of the uniformity of nature, but there are two classes of facts excepted from that uniformity: the miracles of God, and the actions of the human will. Science might seek to ignore these exceptions, as a schoolboy learning Newtonian mechanics might dislike friction, which mars its clarity. Yet we sense our responsibility for our actions, and feel our conscience’s promptings. And miracles are exceedingly rare, and the freedom of human will works within narrow limits only slowly affecting the mass of human conduct. Full human knowledge comes when in the physical and spiritual worlds are united.

Half an hour with Ken Ham

Is Creationism a viable model of origins in today’s modern scientific era? No. For anyone interested in origins- biologist, physicist, astronomer, or lay person with an interest in the world- particularly Young Earth Creationism requires denial of evidence. Raymond Damadian, born 1936, is a YEC, but the education required to produce comparable achievements in his field, now, would include evidence clearly refuting YEC.

All that said-

How persuasive is Ken Ham as a speaker? Can I set aside my knowledge, and my commitment to the opposing point of view, to assess this? Here he is in debate on 4 February. His main half hour presentation begins at 27.30.

It is breathtaking. He takes so much. For example, at the end he argues that children should be taught creationism and not Darwinism in schools, because if they have the wrong theory they may make the wrong deductions about their world, and lose out. I want to say, wait a minute, that’s my argument: but rather it is that children should be taught truth as best we know it, not by ideology; and that would indeed cut both ways, if YEC had any credibility.

That, though, is nothing. He steals the word “Evolution” itself. He notes how Darwin’s Finches have different beaks, and how this shows Evolution. Darwin said all organic beings which have ever lived on this Earth may be descended from one primordial form. Genesis 1:25 says God made the beasts of the Earth according to their kinds. He identifies the “kinds” as Families, one rank above species, so Noah did not need to take so many animals on the Ark, and the Families have evolved into the different species we now observe. Rather than a tree of life, he says there is an Orchard.

No proper scientist could believe such crap, I say, which creates an opening for him: he dredges up two or three who have published proper peer-reviewed papers, yet believe YEC. Had I simply said the overwhelming majority of proper scientists are Darwinist, he could not refute that so easily.

He distinguishes observational from historical science. Observational science tells us what is happening now, and can be shown by experiment. Historical science cannot experiment, because we cannot see what happened 13.8bn years ago, or six thousand years ago- we have to infer it from evidence. I deny the distinction, but he repeats it several times: his supporters could take away that argument for their rhetorical arsenal.

All across the world, at the Cretaceous/Palaeogene boundary, there is a thin layer of clay with iridium concentrations fifteen times Earth normal; but iridium is far more common in asteroids. It is postulated that this iridium comes from the Chicxulub impact. Go on, explain that, Ham. Oh, I am so angry with him, despite his great charm- he called himself a “bloke”, explaining this was an Australian word. English too, of course.

I loathe his argument that the only sure foundation of science or morality is the Bible: if we reject that, we cannot resist gay marriage or abortion; and have no ground for postulating universal natural laws, if the Universe came into being randomly. Wrong, Wrong, I say. Ignorant YECs will go away reassured by his arguments.

Rearguard action

File:BU Bio.jpgHow could amphibians become reptiles, or egg-laying mammals become marsupials, or small shrew-like creatures become ruminants and carnivores? Evolution is the simple answer, and the mechanisms are being worked out. But not all the mechanisms are absolutely clear, and this is a way to attack “neo-Darwinism”.

Here is a New York Times article from 2007. Darwin proposed “natural selection” as a way for species to change between generations: the best adapted creatures survived and procreated, the less adapted creatures did not. Since Darwin, understanding has grown about how genes may mutate producing physical changes.

Concerns about the sources of evolutionary innovation and discoveries about how DNA evolves have led some to propose that mutations, not selection, drive much of evolution, or at least the main episodes of innovation, like the origin of major animal groups, including vertebrates. much can we generalise from particular observations? The NYT article expresses some of the questions scientists debate. I would read it and move on. But in November, Evolution News discovered this article and fell on it with delight, finding inklings of heresy on Darwinian evolution.

Um. The general idea holds, and more observations are made, and there is disagreement on how to interpret those observations. This is not “heresy”, a deviation from Revealed truth, but new knowledge, filling in the gaps.

Evolution News has two attacks on Darwinism which it backs up from the article. The first is Uniformitarianism: does evolution work, now, in the same way it did in the Cambrian? The NYT says how there is a network of genes which builds the gut in starfish. Most can be altered and the embryo compensates, but there are five which cannot be modified: change one, and no embryo forms. There is no reason to suppose these five did not evolve normally, but once they have evolved they lock evolution on a certain path.

SandstarThere is a sudden change in the Cambrian from animals which absorb food through the skin to animals which form a tube through which food passes from mouth to anus. Thereafter, all descendants are tubes. Change back ceases to be an evolutionary option. Evolution News pushes this too far, claiming animals in the past developed in a manner entirely unlike anything in our present-day experience.

The second is abrupt changes in body plans. Evolution News misses out the information from the NYT that a complex eye may evolve from a simple eyespot in a few hundred thousand years. Twenty million years to evolve a spinal cord seems less unlikely. Thereafter, chordates- mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish- cannot lose it.

After a study involving Wikipedia over two hours, I have established that Evolution News manages to crow that evolutionary biologists cannot explain how animal body plans arose unless they reject what scientific experiments have taught us about how organisms develop only by missing out relevant information and conflating distinct matters. “Not all the work has been done” says the scientist. “We disagree about certain issues.” “Ha! Evolution is Wrong!” shouts Evolution News, capering joyously.

Creation Science

>Who wins Creation v Evolution debates? The Creationists, of course! Consider these sources: Conservapedia, which I found through the confusingly named bible science guy, and Creation Ministries International. The first time you go to that last site, you see a video welcome from a smiling man who invites you to consider the evidence. Then the page shows a video of Richard Dawkins not knowing what to say, then saying something which I had not thought accurate, unrelated to the question. Time to dig deeper.

The question was, Can you give an example of a genetic mutation or an evolutionary process which can be seen to increase the information in the genome? Dawkins answered by saying, There is a popular misunderstanding of evolution which says that fish turned into reptiles and we ought to be able to look around the world today and look at our ancestors, and see the intermediate between reptiles and mammals. But fish are modern animals descended from ancestors which we are descended from…. that was a long time ago, we wouldn’t expect to see that today.

Actually, I would have. We are not descended from chimps- the last common ancestor was around six million years ago. It does not survive. Lungfish, however- oops, on checking I find they are descended from the first lungfish too, or have convergent evolution. Then I thought of Amphioxus, and found the Lancelet is also our cousin not our ancestor.

Can an evolutionary process be seen to increase information? Here and here are answers. One says that The fuller answer requires some knowledge of information theory, and Shannon information but Professor Dawkins says natural selection increases the information content of the genome all the time- that is precisely what natural selection means and natural selection gathers up information from the environment, and builds it into the genome. So, say, Darwin’s finches on the Galapagos which still have differently shaped beaks according to their precise food sources show an increase of information from their common ancestor with less varied beaks.

Here is Dawkins earnestly explaining that a frog cannot turn into a prince, which misses the point of fairy-tales: imagining that one can is a good metaphor and a useful exercise in imagination; but then people like me who like to explain things very clearly may be easily mocked by people like me who like allusion and tangential metaphorical speech.

“Bible Science Guy” proclaims Creation in Six Days, 6,000 years ago. Worldwide Genesis Flood. I can refute that from my own understanding: for my Physics higher I learned of radioactive decay, and carbon dating shows organic materials living up to about 60,000 years ago. That is, for creation <10,000 years ago to be true, everyone who claims organic materials are older is either deluded by evidence put there by God to deceive God’s creation, or part of a Satanic conspiracy to delude the rest of us.