April 2010

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Some months ago, Paul Garner launched his New Creationism blog, which pushes a dual agenda of promoting his book (also entitled “The New Creationism”), and a general belief in literal bible-based creationism. Paul presents himself as follows:

Paul Garner is a researcher and lecturer with Biblical Creation Ministries and the author of The New Creationism (Evangelical Press, 2009). He has a degree in Environmental Sciences (Geology/Biology) and is a Fellow of the Geological Society. He is married with two children and resides in Cambridgeshire, England.

I’m not sure where he studied for his degree in Environmental Sciences, but he does liberally sprinkle geological references within articles in his blog. Unfortunately, he’s felt it necessary to suspend commenting on his blog (actually, I’d observe this is frequently the case with creationist sites). The Biblical Creation Ministries, for whom he works as a researcher/lecturer

[…]is a charitable trust that supports two creation speakers. Our aim is to help people trust the Bible’s account of earth history. We believe that the book of Genesis is foundational to the Christian gospel and vital for a correct understanding of physical and biological origins.

The BCM supports two speakers, one of whom is Paul Garner. Amusingly, there is a page at the BCM site which outlines their beliefs (Statement of Faith ), which ia rather illuminating, particularly the sections near the bottom of the page concerning Creation, Fall, and Flood – and implications for scientific and historical study, notably the final bullet point:

No apparent, perceived, or claimed evidence in any historical or scientific field of study can be valid if it contradicts the record of Holy Scripture. Evidence is always subject to interpretation by people who are fallen, fallible, and limited in knowledge.

Over the last few months, Paul’s been blogging favourable reviews of his book, and to his credit has alerted the reader to a rather negative review over at the christian Premier Community Forum, in which a poster Michael takes issue with one specific chapter (Chapter 5, Is the Present the key to the Past?). Now, I’m not particularly familiar with geological processes, so I generally don’t take part in such discussions (this is no exception), but I’d note that the discovery of “deep time” is one largely derived from geological study, so it’s rather interesting that a graduate in geology takes a strict YEC interpretation of the world around us.

At the moment, the thread spreads over about five pages. Some sample quotes from Paul Garner:

No, Christians should put Scripture first, not science. Giving science the priority really would be putting the cart before the horse. And if you read my book, you’ll discover that it’s all about scientific work being undertaken by Christians – work that confirms the Scriptural framework of a recent creation and global flood.

and

And in my view the Bible’s record of creation and the flood counts as evidence.

I think this pretty much sums up why any of the statements and claims made at the New Creationism can not be taken as serious science.  Articles on the conformity of geological observations with biblical writing are just not tenable, and frequent discussions of the origins of species within a framework of spurious concepts such as baraminology are similarly unscientific.

Why would any rational investigator make direct observation and experimental work subservient to a historical document espousing a mythical worldview?

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With the media insanity of the General Election now upon us, it’s always interesting to know what your MP or candidate MPs believe.  Particularly where odd beliefs are concerned.

I came across The Skeptical Voter, which is rather interesting.  For example, at the page Early Day Motion 2708: Science Education, we can see who signed the Early Day Motion

“That this House shares the concerns of the British Centre for Science Education that the literature being sent to every school in the United Kingdom by the creationist religious group Truth in Science is full of scientific mistakes and fails to disclose the group’s creationist beliefs and objectives; and urges all schools to treat this literature with extreme caution.”

There’s also ample opportunity to see the dumb things your elected representative might have said on matters ranging from homeopathy to abortion to climate change and more.

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The Daily Telegraph reported yesterday that a new hominid had been discovered in South Africa (Missing link between man and apes found – Telegraph).  Apparently the discovery is of a skeleton (or, as it turns out from a quotation from Phillip Tobias skeletal remains from several individuals) and this is quite exciting since hominid fossils are usually pretty fragmentary. Apparently the fossils represent an intermediary between Australopithecus and Homo habilis and are about 2 million years old. There’s to be an announcement on Thursday, followed by a TV series.

The find is deemed to be so significant that Jacob Zuma, the South African president, has visited the university to view the fossils and a major media campaign with television documentaries is planned.

This all sounds a little familiar – remember the Darwinius masillae frenzy (see Darwinius masillae and Darwinius masillae – the BBC World Service gets it…)?  Hopefully this fossils will live up to the promise. The eminent human anatomist and anthropologist Phillip Tobias, who is one of the few scientists to see the fossils, is certainly excited, and is quoted as saying:

He said: “To find a skeleton as opposed to a couple of teeth or an arm
bone is a rarity.

“It is one thing to find a lower jaw with a couple of teeth, but it is
another thing to find the jaw joined onto the skull, and those in turn
uniting further down with the spinal column, pelvis and the limb bones.

“It is not a single find, but several specimens representing several
individuals. The remains now being brought to light by Dr Berger and his
team are wonderful.”

All very exciting, and I’m looking forward to Thursday already!

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The Templeton Prize was recently awarded, garnering considerable criticism and gossip in the scientific blogosphere.  Partly this was due to the venue chosen to host the event (the American National Academy of Sciences), but also in part due to the sport of guessing who would be the recipient (the Templeton Foundation appeared to forbid discussion of our guesses as to the likely recipient).  In the end most of the guessing seemed to be in error – the recipient turned out to be Francisco Ayala.  While best known as a population biologist and evolutionary geneticist, he was ordained as a Dominican priest in 1960 (though his Wikipedia page indicates he left the priesthood in the same year).

The science magazine New Scientist has an interview with Ayala, in the wake of the award (Templeton prizewinner: We need science plus morality).  In the interview, the usual subjects are touched upon.  Typically, in response to  “You won for arguing there is no contradiction between science and religion. Many disagree.”, Ayala responds:

They are two windows through which we look at the world. Religion deals with our relationship with our creator, with each other, the meaning and purpose of life, and moral values; science deals with the make-up of matter, expansion of galaxies, evolution of organisms. They deal with different ways of knowing. I feel that science is compatible with religious faith in a personal, omnipotent and benevolent God.

I kind of take exception to this response, principally because is implies those of us who hold no religious beliefs are somehow lacking in morality.  Further, this “different ways of knowing” is, it seems to me, something of a cop out, particularly in light of his statement that “Religion deals with our relationship with our creator”.  Different ways of knowing what, exactly?  What indeed does “knowing” mean?  As an atheist, who sees no evidence for any god, it looks to me as though religion is “a way of deluding” oneself rather than a different “way of knowing”.

I also (personally) cannot see how “science is compatible with religious faith in a personal, omnipotent and benevolent God”, given that science requires an evidence-base.  That’s not to say that I accept some individuals are capable of such compatibility – after all, there is evidence that some people are capable of this duality.

At the same time, some scientists claim they can use science to prove God does not exist. Science can do nothing of the kind.

Hmm…well I suggest that an observation that there is no evidence for a deity leads me to think there is probably no deity, a probabilty which approaches unity. Asked “Why do you say creationism is bad religion?”,  Ayala responds:

Creationism and intelligent design are not compatible with religion because they imply the designer is a bad designer, allowing cruelty and misery. Evolution explains these as a result of natural processes, in the same way we explain earthquakes, tsunamis or volcanic eruptions. We don’t have to attribute them to an action of God.

I suspect that (in light of Ayala’s refusal to answer the interviewer’s final question on whether he believes in God), he may well be talking in general terms.  But you’ve really got to accept that an omnipotent and all-seeing deity (were one to exist) allows these natural events to happen, even though such a hypothetical deity is supposed to be omnipotent.  At the very least one would have to attribute non-intervention as carelessness!

All in all a rather unsatisfying interview (after all it’s just a brief opinion piece), and one that might well serve to harden agnosticism/atheism.  Perhaps not what the Templeton Foundation would really exist.  I’m unable to comment at the New Scientist site, as one has to be a subscriber to do so.

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