I get some questions

Over on another post, a visitor left me a comment, asking my input. The entry with the comment is here: https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2014/07/27/answers-to-questions-for-theists/ but I will repeat the comment below for context and simplicity; any readers are obviously welcome to add their helpful input.

This is almost completely off topic, but I couldn’t find a place on your blog to send you a message, so I apologize in advance for making your comment section skewed. You mention several times that you and your wife have conversations on faith. I would dearly love some insight on these conversations, because I (the atheist) only found out my husband’s church was creationist AFTER he’d already been a few years attached to the congregation and my son came home one Sunday last year with a coloring sheet that had a dinosaur coming off of the ark. I seriously thought creationism was a punch line, to be laughed at like the flat-earthers we learned about in history. No one really believes those silly things, right? It’s okay to send the kids to sunday school. What could possibly go wrong? Ugh.

We now fight constantly about our young kids’ (4 and 14 months) exposure to religion. I want to compromise and try to find another church with him, one that is still engaging and exciting for him that won’t teach the kids creationism, but his only response is that I should “just come to church with him sometime.” (I went once. I didn’t like it.) Like I’m going to suddenly convert and not give two shits about what they’re teaching the kids?

He feels attacked, and I get that. I told him I like the people in his church and I’m not asking him to not be friends with them anymore, I just don’t like what they teach the kids. He hears none of it. Do you have any advice as a former YEC on what I can possibly say to him? Or what kind of nutty mediator would take on such a dispute? The whole situation is exhausting.

There is a lot here that strikes a chord with me and it has prompted me to reconsider a series of posts on the subject, an idea I abandoned because they were all personal to my own relationship and I was uncertain how open I wanted to be about it. These posts would all take time to write but I’ll certainly do something on the subject in coming months.

So, on with the points raised.

My wife and I do talk faith on occasion. Personally, I’d like us to interact on the subject more than we do, the difficulty is that I suck up regular podcasts and blogs on the interaction of faith and non-faith. The subject interests me greatly because as someone who has been on both sides, I understand well the arguments and intellectually I enjoy the discussion. My wife, on the other hand, is comfortable in her faith and having never been on the other side, doesn’t get my position at all.

What this means in practice is that when I start a conversation on faith (and it is normally me who starts it) I come in running, so to speak, having already considered both sides of the conversation and spring it on my unsuspecting wife. Having been caught off-guard like that, it is hardly surprising that that the conversations are rarely stimulating. The other disadvantage my wife has here is that I have an answer for pretty much everything she says, because I’ve already been there and considered it. She does not share my thirst for the challenge of this form of discussion and so she’s rarely prepared for what I will come up with. On more than one occasion she’s admitted to being intimidated by knowledge of the subject. That’s not because she’s unintelligent, she is both wise and clever. It’s simply a by-product of our mismatched passions.

We’re still working out how to have these conversations in a fruitful and productive manor, because it isn’t easy. When she’s simply not in the mood to have the conversation, it becomes painfully obvious very quickly and my only option there is to stop. There simply is no point having the discussion when the other partner just isn’t in the mood.

I get where you are from in terms of what is being taught to the children. I’m at an advantage in that my wife would not accept creationism, she never did. Therefore, if someone in the church taught our daughter anything creationist, she would back me up when I inevitably object. Beyond that though, I do struggle with the idea that we each get to give her our own worldview and our daughter should be free to make her own choice. It may sound like an honourable thing on paper, but I don’t consider fables a worthy alternative to truth. I wouldn’t let a doctor treat my daughter with any form of homeopathic remedy, so why should I tolerate her being told the philosophical equivalent each Sunday?

It’s a difficult challenge and I’ve had to learn to step away from that one for the moment because it’s more important that my daughter has parents that are not fighting. It isn’t always easy.

Specifically on the exposure of kids to creationism, I’d suggest in this instance to try to introduce scientific literature into life as early as possible to counteract. Using cience topis that are in the news is a good way, it doesn’t have to be something that specific challenges creationism. The current project to make the first landing on a comet is a good example. It needs to be done in an open an honest way so as not to be seen as to be undermining the other parent. One thing my wife has brought up is that on matters of science I get to be the parent who answers the questions because it’s my passion and the limey daughter seems equally inspired and so we talk science together a lot. The flip side is that Mrs limey then says that it should be natural that for matters of religion, she should get the say. We’re still working that out because I think I should get a say on religion too because that conversation is something I have valid input on. If passion is the criteria, it’s also a subject I am passionate about. Just because I don’t go to church, doesn’t mean I’m not informed about what goes on.

There is a very real danger in situations like this that each parent suspects the other of trying to pull the child to their side of the fence. Openness is the key if there is any mistrust on issues of faith then it will undermine the marriage.

On conversations specifically.

Conversations can be difficult.

I’ve made the mistake of calling religion bunk. It didn’t go down well and wasn’t especially wise. It’s not easy for my wife to be married to a man who once shared her faith and now looks down on it. For a very long time she struggled with the notion that I was secretly considering myself superior to her and that she was stupid for still believing. That wasn’t true, and still isn’t, however, I didn’t do anything to dispel that misunderstanding and so it’s hardly surprising there was an uncomfortable atmosphere for some time.

In a relationship like this, it is very difficult for the Christian partner to not feel attacked every time religion (or even the church) is criticised. For them, the church and their religion are part of who they are and to criticise one is to attack them. It is a separation and distinction that is almost impossible for them to make. I should have known this because I was there once, but it is still something that I struggle to comprehend. I don’t know what all the answers are.

The questions above, are serious because they come from the heart and here I feel that I have not given them enough of an answer. Hopefully in further postings I’ll be able to address some specific elements on a personal perspective. As can be seen though, this is still an area where I am learning too. I am sure there are many others who are learning this unexpected road too.

Vegetarian Carnivores

One element of creationist theology that I never made my mind up about was the idea that there was no death before the fall and all animals lived in harmony together. The conclusion from this is that predator animals, like Lions, did not eat meat. Instead all animals ate the available fruit and vegetable matter. I guess that eating an apple or grass doesn’t count as death.

Would a tree being felled not have counted as death either? I have yet to see a creationist comment on vegetation dying counting as death in this context. One would guess not and so since they ignore it, I will too.

I do know that in my creationist days I did ponder about animals eating animals before the fall and how fitted in with what we read of the pre fall world. It is a challenge on which the bible says nothing. What creationists believe on the matter is inferred, something that should be done very cautiously.
Answers in Genesis has a post on subject where they confidently state that animals where vegetarians before the fall (http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/nab/origin-of-attack-defense-structures). One example this article suggests is:

chameleon tongues could have been used to reach out and grab vegetarian foods

This strikes me as a very inefficient method of getting food that literally hangs there waiting for a passing animal to pick and eat. Some fruit can also be stubbornly difficult to pull off the stalk. Sadly, like all pre fall animals behaviours, there is simply nothing that can be pointed at as evidence to inform this, or any other, suggestion. The creationist throws it out there as a possibility, maybe even a belief. It is almost as if they are challenging the faithful to contradict them.

I can’t find the post now, but on another creationist blog I read, the writer postulated that plants may have had the right nutrients that today’s carnivores didn’t need to eat meat because their dietary needs were satisfied by these plants. Quite why the animals and plant kingdoms had to change so much as a result of the fall is never properly explained.

The justification behind this idea is that Genesis says that there was no death before the fall. Yet, on another literalist blog I see that this idea is called into question (http://www.toughquestionsanswered.org/2009/06/04/was-there-death-before-adam/). If creationists want to maintain that pre fall animals did not eat meat then the need to come up with something that is more substantial than a loose and questionable reading of Genesis.

This would be a great time for them to take a leaf out of the science handbook and propose a method by which this mechanism can happen and what, if any, evidence might indicate it. When that is done, the evidence can be looked for and the idea tested. Until that happens the suggestion of vegetarian lions is not and can not be taken seriously.

This is another example of how creationism is not only not scientific, it is simply interpreted guess work.

More Flood Stuff – part 2, Rocks and Fossils

 

In part 1 I whittle on about Flora and Fauna (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2014/03/24/more-flood-stuff-part-1-flora-and-fauna/)

Geology and the Flood

Moving on from animals and plants, the mechanics and timescales of the flood as described in Genesis requires some very serious geological events. The word cataclysmic hardly seems appropriate; the activity would have been utterly incredible. Creationists will argue that it was the events of the flood that created the mountains we see today and that most of the flood water came from below the ground.

Beyond that, the layers of rocks we see today and the fossils we see in them are all formed from the flood events. Did the rocks before the flood have layers?

Rock layers deposited by a global flood could be believed if they were flat. There is still an issue over how the layers are so easily defined because layers deposited at the same time would have some mixing and the change between layers would be expected to be more blended rather than distinct. Another issue to consider is that today rock layers can be curved or even vertical. Sediment does not settle in stacks or neatly along a curve, rock layers that curve or stand up, but remain uniform, will have been bent after they formed because if the sediment was loose at the time it would have been shifted off its neat and even layers. Considering uplifted rock, this can only be done very slowly over many thousands of years because if rock bends quickly it tends to crack and break, hence earthquakes. This means that non flat rock layers could not have been formed as part of a global flood and the associated mountain upheavals, unless a miracle is invoked to keep the rock intact.

This miracle requirement rather makes a mockery of the whole idea of using geologic study to confirm creationist accounts. When the miraculous is required to complete the explanation then by definition, naturally explainable actions are done away with and cannot be used.

But look at all the fossils

Creationists also point at the flood as the cause of the fossils that we see today because all the animals that died in the flood would have been buried by the subsequent sedimentary layers. This, they say, is why fossils can be found halfway up mountains and it is a better explanation than plate tectonics pushing the sea bed up and creating mountains.

The mechanisms at play here are a problem for creationists. If the creationist explanation were true, I would expect the larger heavier animals to sink faster, along with the heavier sediment and the smaller lighter animals to settle slower, like the smaller lighter sediment. I would also expect the dead animals to drop quicker than most of the sediment and so the resulting layers would show more animals at the bottom and fewer and smaller animals at the top of the sedimentary layers. This is not at all what we see in the fossil and rock layer record. The observed evidence completely contradicts the expected result.

The timing of the flood events are also out of order. The claim is that the mountains were formed at the start of the flood as part of the “waters of the deep” bursting forth and supplementing the rainfall. This would mean that the mountains were formed before the sediment had settled and buried the animals and people. Talking of which, where are the people fossils?

Looking at the fossils in more details we can see that the vast majority of fossils show species that are not alive today and fossils that exactly match species we know and love today and conspicuously rare. The answer is typically that not all the animals which survived the ark also survived to today. For the flood account to be the single source of all (or at least most) fossils then the fossils what we see ought to be representative of the animals that were saved on the ark. Therefore besides dinosaurs, we should also see dogs and rabbits. I would also expect to see a drowned city full of bodies of modern humans fossilised, including evidence of clothes in the fossil. This is an example of a prediction based on creationism that should be possible to confirm but is lacking.

How long does it take to form a fossil?

The process of creating a fossil requires significant timescale because a chemical process is required to replace minerals in the dead body with the minerals from the surrounding material. It seems this process typically requires water and pressure. (http://www.discoveringfossils.co.uk/whatisafossil.htm) these mineralisation processes occur at rates that can be measured, which is how ages can be determined. Note the following AiG article on the subject spends precious little time talking about the actual fossilisation process (http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/nab2/do-rock-record-fossils-favor-long-ages).

If fossils could be formed in just four thousand years, then scientists would be able to show that by burying an animal in the right conditions and showing that the process had started in only a few decades. This is a simple experiment that creationists can do to show the world how right they are.

Too many holes

The flood story is a very dramatic story but simply doesn’t hold water as an historical event. The bible account is vague and leaves way too much open for the readers to insert their own facts. This is what creationists do constantly and they should be honest about what they are doing and they should be even more honest about how critically they view the evidence of the world against what the bible says because none of it matches.

More Flood Stuff – part 1, Flora and Fauna

More Flood Stuff – part 1, Flora and Fauna

In my researching for my last flood post (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2014/03/06/animal-evolution-post-flood/) I found much more that I wanted to comment on and so left the bits that were not specific to animal evolution for another post.

The more I look at creationist claims, the more I see a dependence on the flood story. The flood account is crucial to the creationist because of the evolutionary argument and how it dictates global geology. Every discussion on the age of the world and animal evolution will at some point include the story of Noah, his ark and the flood that saved them. As such, the flood account is of huge importance to the creationist and so it shouldn’t be surprising that there are a lot of words dedicated to the subject.

With that out of the way, let’s hit the myth some more.

Oh look a dinosaur

AiG takes a stab at the dinosaur issue (http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/nab/what-happened-to-the-dinosaurs) and brushes off their fate as little more than ‘oh dear they, they failed to survivce’. Of all the different species of dinosaur, are we supposed to simply accept that not one managed to live long enough after the flood to be described by later generations? The AiG article criticises scientists for being curious over their fate and for admitting that we don’t yet know the full story and for continuing to try to solve those mysteries. To AiG its simple, they existed but they don’t now and that’s because the world is sinful and man isn’t perfect so those the flood didn’t kill died anyway. Who needs curiosity when there is a simple answer? I’m guessing lions, crocodiles and eagles were luckier in the lottery of God’s judgement.

I find the AiG explanation both dismissive and depressing. Are they not at all curious over where the post flood dinosaurs went and how they died out?

It is precisely because of suggestions like that, that secular scientists point at creationists and accuse them of not doing any science. Those accusations are justified because all AiG does is critique scientific results and frame their objections in a creationist tone. In the AiG article I have linked to above, there is actually no scientific study, just conjecture, objection and bible references.

Oh the Plants, what of the plants

Recently there has been a lot of rainfall in my part of the UK; rainfall to such a level that many farms in the area have been underwater for 2 months or more. Near my house there is some open land that was underwater for months last winter and then again this winter. As I write this the standing water has almost all gone and some areas are now dry enough to walk on again. There are patches of rotten grass and shrubs. Plants do not do well when underwater for months at a time.

The idea that, after a year under a global sea, trees would be able to blossom again to the point a bird could take a leafy branch only weeks after being exposed to air again is simply impossible. For that to work the tree could have only been fully submerged for a few weeks, certainly not months. A tree submerged for that period of time would have died and been unable to grow again. This is the same for pretty much all plants. The land near me will survive and grass and shrubs will grow again quickly, that’s because there are plants close by which have not been submerged and, being spring, there will be seeds and pollen in the air to take up the place of the dead plants. Also, the water on this land is fresh, not salty. A global ocean would still be a salty ocean and that is even more devastating to submerged plants.

If we take the flood story at face value and assume that the earth was fully flooded at the end of the 40 days of rain and then it slowly began to drain away, then the draining needed to happen rapidly for the world to not be utterly devoid of useable vegetation. However, many creationists accept that the ark would have been afloat for about a year. This means that in order for high up vegetation to survive, the water would have had to keep rising after the rain stopped in order for the submerged time to be drastically reduced. This requires interpretation of the events because there is not enough detail in the story to know for sure. AiG are shameless in their adding of detail where it suits them (http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/aid/v7/n1/how-did-plants-survive-flood). You will see in the article that they confidently state that plants must have had built in survival mechanisms, more incredulously they roll out the tautology that of course plants survived because we see plants today. Neither of these are satisfactory explanations.

To address the salt water issue, the AiG article above posits that the seas were less salty at the time of the flood and became more salty post flood. I’m not sure if they also mean they were less salty before the flood. This might have had an effect on the ability of plants to survive a prolonged period underwater, but the period of time is still far too long, even for fresh water. As already stated, plants today don’t last more than a few weeks under water.

Have they since evolved to become less tolerant of being submerged?

The other problem for the salinity argument is that today we see fish that live in salty water and fish that live in fresh water. Both types can be sensitive to changes in the levels of salinity which means the mildly salty water of the global flood would have killed both types of fish. Presumably those fish have evolved since the flood and are now less able to live in water with those salinity levels and require either fresh water or more salty water.

The arguments for the flood are deeply flawed and simply do not hold together either logically or scientifically.

Stand by for part 2, geology and fossils.

Animal Evolution Post Flood

 

I have previously commented on the flood story and how it featured in my deconversion process (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2011/08/04/noah%E2%80%99s-ark-gilgamesh-or-just-a-story/).

However, a recent exchange on Bruce’s blog has prompted me to comment on the curious case of animal evolution post flood (http://brucegerencser.net/2014/02/creationism-atheism-science-trumps-biblical-literalism/). The original post on Bruce’s blog is my own guest post which he kindly put up for me, and part the conversation that followed centred on what happened to the animals after the flood. This is what I want to specifically comment on now.

Too Many Animals

The most obvious criticism of the ark story is the sheer number of different animals we see about us today. An ark of the dimensions described in Genesis simply could not hold a pair of every animal species alive today. In addition to that there are those that have gone extinct, both recently and those we see in the fossil record. There are also unknown animal species for which there is no record that we know of. Then there are some species of animal for which more than one pair is required, according to the Genesis account.

On top all those animals being squashed into the ark, there is the delicate matter of food, water and waste. All those animals needed to eat and drink and defecate. Many of them would have been carnivores and so animals as food would have been needed to be brought on to the ark, as well as food for the food animals.

The Genesis flood account does not give an indication in advance of how long the flood was to last. In fact the preparation details are quite vague. The dimensions for the ark are given but nothing about how many decks, how much open air space how far up the side the door should be, how to manage storage and other practicalities. The door shutting account though does imply that once the rain started, there was no going outside until the ark was grounded. That’s a long time to be cooped up indoors.

Talking of time, about one year is the generally accepted length of time that the ark was afloat. I am surprised I haven’t seen a claim for a miraculous draining, in the same way that there is a miraculous claim for the water appearing. Such a claim would allow the time in the ark to be reduced and therefore many of the storage issues countered.

One year cooped up with not much of an outside view and a whole load of animals is a serious challenge. Who’d want to be a vet in those circumstances? Noah and his extended family would have had to work full time feeding and cleaning the animals and attending to any other needs. Would they have been able to get round all the animals needs each and every day? Personally, I doubt that very much.

I wonder how many generations of fruit flies they had to nurture during the voyage, and who was the poor soul who had to carry the tape worms?

The number and variety of animals to care for is simply too great for a boat that size. Even if we ignore the arguments over dinosaurs being on the ark and just stick to animals that are alive today, the ark simply is not big enough to hold a representative pair of every animal.

Kinds vs Species

The most obvious creationist rebuttal to this is that animals in the ark were split into kinds, not species. Kinds are typically described as a family type that includes multiple related species. The most obvious example would be a pair of wolves, from which all dogs have descended. I wonder if creationists will would include foxes and jackals in that group, which would have been the pair on the ark? This can only work if all species families break down that easily. The argument might work for dogs or cats; but what about Elephants, Giraffes Rhinoceros, Hippopotamus and numerous other animals which are very distinct and don’t easily fit into this creationist model? In fact, the kinds argument is so vague that is simply not enough detail in it for there to be any scientific test. It is hardly surprising then that this language is solely used by creationists and there is no biologist that actually recognises it as fitting within the species hierarchy.

If this creationist suggestion were true, there would be a prediction we could make from it that could be tested. For example; if all species alive today were descended from representative kinds that were on the ark, then we should be able to break animal species into groups that match those kinds and DNA evidence would show a familial link. These species groups would show distinct DNA similarities within the groups and distinct differences between groups and when mapped into a tree there would be multiple roots and evidence leading back to the ark resident pair.

However, this is not what we see. DNA evidence shows that all species are related, to varying degrees, and that the tree has multiple branches and there is no single bottle neck to which multiple strands lead. The creationist prediction fails.

Evolution or not evolution?

The craziest irony about the creationist kinds into species suggestion is that it flies in the face of the creationist belief that evolution has not occurred and that all species were created during creation week. The idea that all living creatures alive today have evolved from previous forms is denied by creationists. They simply do not accept that along the way separated groups of one species have each evolved into different and separate species. Yet, in order to get from a parent kind to multiple descendent species it is precisely this form of evolution that is required and suggested.

No doubt the creationist will object to that and claim it’s not the really same thing and probably roll out the standard micro / macro defence; a defence that I used many times myself in the past. The trouble with this argument is that minor changes across generations are all we ever see. Major changes never happen, they only become apparent after many generations and many minor changes. The creationist objection simply doesn’t follow for another reason, that is that to get from a parent kind into multiple child species, there needs to be a speciation event, something that creationists continue to deny ever happens, yet to get multiple species from a single pair this is exactly what is required.

Creationists who argue that animal kinds came off the ark and became the many species we see today need to ask themselves, what animals it was that came off the ark what processes changed one pair of animals into multiple different species. Species that will be visually and genetically different today to their ark bound brethren. They also need to ask themselves what animals actually went onto the ark, would we be able to recognise them if we saw them today if the kinds into species argument is correct?

On top of all that, the creationist then has to explain how those changes happened in only a few thousand years, there are simply not enough generations to produce the species variety we see today.

The Geocentric Argument

 

This head shaking story appeared in my news feed recently (http://phys.org/news/2014-02-americans-unaware-earth-circles-sun.html). Like some of the commentators, I would like to know more detail about the nature of the questions and who was asked. Given the small numbers involved (only 2,200) it is possible to create such a set of questions and pick a demographic that skews the result to create whatever headline you wish. I’m not saying that is what happened, just that there is far too little information and the sample size far too small for this to be truly something that can be extrapolated out to cover the whole population of the USA.

However, if you do decide to do a search on geocentrism (the belief that the earth is the centre of our solar system) then some properly head scratching pages do come up; http://www.genesis-creation-proof.com/geocentricity.html being a good example. The beauty of this one is that it shows you precisely why biblical literalism is a bad idea (even dangerous?). The site rings all the same alarms for me that many conspiracy sites ring, that is the lone enthuse with little or no backing from a wider organisation. In other words, a fringe whacko who does not represent the wider majority who are biblical literalists. Another such site is http://www.evidencechart.com/charts/10.

The point that these sites help to make is that for those who wish to base their scientific claims on bible verses is that there will always be problem verses that simply cannot be taken as scientific fact but, equally so, there will also be some enthusiastic individuals who wish to make that claim and fly in the face of hard proof. Thus the blurry line between interpretation and literalism will always exist.

Geocentrism did seem obvious for a while. There was always a problem though; the retrograde motion of the visible planets (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Retrograde_and_prograde_motion) throws a hefty spanner into the mix and to stick with a geocentric model of the solar system means one has to come up with some impressive adjustments and gymnastics to account. Seasons also cause a problem because it requires the path of the sun around the earth have a significant wobble; this needs an explanation. These two pieces of evidence are what I would have replied to this blog post had I known about it at the time (http://thonyc.wordpress.com/2012/08/11/we-live-in-a-geocentric-world/).

The kicker for geocentrism, of course, was the telescope. This earth changing invention allowed man to gaze at the stars and see so much more. The planets were shown to have moons of their own, something that clearly didn’t revolve around the earth. Even more amazing, Venus and Mercury showed changing crescents while Mars, Jupiter and Saturn were always full. That needed a very good explanation and really should be the last nail in the geocentric coffin for anyone who would stop and think and just five minutes.

Geocentrism Therefore Creationism.

Anyway, the news at the top of this post prompted me to dig a blog post out of my saved archives, http://thenewcreationism.wordpress.com/2014/01/15/well-evidenced-theories-can-be-wrong-poorly-evidenced-theories-can-be-right/. It is one I saved specifically because I consider it nonsense and wanted to keep it for when I felt the need to comment, that need is now.

The post above is short so won’t take much time to read, but makes an intriguing claim. Essentially it says that geocentrism was logical because that what the available evidence implied at the time. No matter how much the people believed it and wanted it to be true, it was always wrong and later, better evidence revealed that. The author then makes an analogy with evolution and attempts to put evolution in the place of geocentrism by admitting that it looks obvious. That doesn’t make it true aparently. He then goes a step too further and implies that the heroes of creationism are the Galileos of today. What an insult!

He’s wrong of course, very wrong.

Geocentrism wasn’t easy to overturn; there was an established worldview that required the earth to be the centre of everything and that philosophy would not be challenged. It was evidential weight that forced it into a minority view, one that really should be history by now. No one would ever seriously suggest that there is a controversy between geocentrism and heliocentrism and certainly no one would want both ideas to be taught in the classroom for students to make up their mind which one they want to adopt.

The true analogy with geocentrism is creationism; they are both idea born out religion and appear to make logical sense when looked at superficially. However, go deeper and the there is greater complexity that a simplistic worldview simply cannot explain and both idea crumble under evidence that is crushing.

No, the creationists of today are not Galilean heroes bravely fighting an established order trying to tell the world the truth; they are religious literalists cornered into a philosophy that has an ever shrinking platform and their worldview is so narrow they simply won’t accept what the evidence says because the consequences and cost are potentially enormous.

Getting the Hump over Camels

Recently an item giving unexpected news appeared on my science feeds. It seems that camel domestication in the Middle East happened too late for the references to Camels in the Bible (http://www.natureworldnews.com/articles/5900/20140205/earliest-camel-bones-contradict-bible-archaeologists.htm). PDF of the report here: http://archaeology.tau.ac.il/ben-yosef/pub/Pub_PDFs/Sapir-Hen&Ben-Yosef13_CamelAravah_TelAviv.pdf

The conclusion, according to the report, is that this is more evidence that those parts of the Bible are invented by later societies. That’s a big claim.

As is often the case with items like this, there is a frustrating lack of detail and a high volume of sensation. This is a shame because as far as I am concerned, this is a very important discovery and the impact with regards to Biblical events should be weighed against other similar evidence and conclusions should be cautious, pending more detailed analysis.

The camel domestication is dated from bones and coincides with the arrival of mining in the area. I didn’t see if there were any other dating methods used to cross check the dates found. What is found is that there is consistency across the sites measured, showing that domestication happened at a specific time, so whatever the date is, it would seem to be accurate for the arrival of domestic camels to the area.

There are older bones found and these are claimed to be from earlier wild camels. The reasoning behind this is not found which is a big shame because this evidence really is needed in order to back up the sensational claims. I really do hope that there are going to be follow-up reports with more detail on the results.

What is certainly true; is that if these dates are correct, then it is a very serious blow to the credibility of the Bible. Certainly when it comes to the stories relating to Abraham anyway, if those can’t be trusted, then what else can’t?

There are obvious Creationist objections, like the dating methods used. Creationists will always attack a dating method when it comes up with something that contradicts the Bible and this is exactly what is seen on the AiG website (http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/2014/02/10/carbon-dating-camels). However, what you don’t see there is a counter interpretation using that same evidence. Instead what is seen is a fall back to the Bible and the assumption that the researchers got something wrong. I wonder what they’d have said if the same testing had shown camels were domesticated at the right time, would they raise the same objections to the dating methods? I doubt it.

In Defence of Ken Ham

Yes, you read that right.

I’ve not yet watched the whole of the debate video on YouTube, but I have read a fair bit of commentary in the last day. Predictably, creationist sources say their man did good and science still starts with the rejection of god, while science sources are pulling apart the creationist claims as they have done for years.

One part that seems to me to have gained the greatest notoriety is the responses to the question “What would make you change your mind?”

Many have jumped on Ham’s response that he’s a Christian and so basically nothing could persuade him that is wrong. While it is fully understandable that a science mind would see that as closed minded, mocking it for what it seems misses the big picture behind that statement.

In my Christian days, I would have answered similar. To the Christian, the salvation that God provides is the whole point of life and it shapes everything. Christianity is not just a belief, it’s a lifestyle. The whole point of the Christian faith is that the effects permeate the whole of your being and shape your whole life and, through the Holy Spirit, one becomes a different person. With that level of immersion, it is simply not possible to answer a the question posed with a glib, “If someone showed me the evidence.” This is especially so if you believe that the devil is involved in misdirection and that he will tempt you with doubts and lies.

So Ken Ham’s response to that question is exactly what one should expect from someone who takes their faith seriously and wants to guard themselves from what is perceived as bad and spiritually unhealthy. Scoffing at the answer reveals a lack of willing to understand the subject.

Of course that doesn’t mean his arguments are right, they’re not. He is however being genuine and honest in his response and it shows how deeply seriously he takes his Christianity and how much it means to him.

To Ken Ham, his creationism is part of the package of his Christianity and the two can not be separated. Show him that creationism is wrong and you challenge the very core of his Christianity. That is not an easy ask and it will never happen in a single conversation or even a single piece of evidence. For me it took years, lots of evidence and it was a major head fuck.

 

But what about the Christians who don’t accept literal creation?

There are many more liberal Christians who don’t accept literal creation than there are creationists. That’s a good thing. However, ask them the question of what would cause them to change their mind about their faith and you’ll get similar answers. Accepting evolution does not change the value of their faith to them and some will simply choose not to consider that they might be wrong.

 

What question should be asked?

I think the question was too simple and was not the right one to ask. Instead I would seek to separate Christianity from a literal creation and ask a question such as, “How would it affect your Christianity if you were shown that evolution was true.”

If I had asked that question I am not sure how I would have answered but I think I would answer that it would cause be to question my faith. In the end, that’s exactly what happened.

The Validity of Debating Creationists

I’m very intrigued about tonight’s debate between Ham and Nye. The news and publicity that I am seeing about it is has been almost non-stop for the last couple of weeks. Though the mainstream media here in limeyland doesn’t appear to have picked up on it. I’m keen to see if it is reported at all tomorrow. I expect to see something in the morning news and later in the papers, I guess I’ll find out tomorrow. I’ll not be watching it live though, since it’ll be midnight here when it starts and goodness knows what time when it’s over. I expect I’ll check YouTube for videos tomorrow to see how it went. No doubt my feedly stream will be full of comment in the morning as well.

One of the hottest questions on the subject of the debate seems to be the validity of the debate rather than what the content is likely to be. The opinions here are almost as polarised as the subject itself.

I fully get the objections that vocal naysayers are raising. Debating Creationists does give undue validity to their opinions and making it this public, especially so. The Ham publicity machine has clearly been working very hard. The important point is, scientific truth is not decided by debate; it is dictated through evidence. Debating the validity of Creationism gives a platform to ideas which should have died out a long time ago and the debate format simply gives them life through the method of slippery rhetoric. Clever words do not truth make, regardless of how much the speaker believes it.

However, this does also give an opportunity for those creationists who are prepared to pay attention to the science to actually hear a science description from someone who is not trying to peddle religion off the back of it. When I look back at the science I read about in my creationist days, I can see how it was always shaped in a way that led to god. Creationists talking about science invariably frame the discussion to guide a god agenda and this is dishonest. When I read creationist comment on science now, I can see that clearly and it alarms me. Creationists who have relied on the likes of Ham and AiG to feed them these twisted versions of science now have a chance to hear it more clearly, if only they will have ears to hear.

I hope that Nye will rise to the challenge and give many creationists something serious and honest to think about and investigate. I hope he has good advisors and has had enough time to prepare because getting through to a creationist is not the same as explaining science to the secular layperson. If a scientific argument is seen as threatening to a Creationist, then it’ll be rejected. The science needs to be phrased in a way that invites (temps?) them to look deeper.

This event always springs to mind when thinking about discussions such as this: https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2011/06/01/when-friends-are-unkind/

 

Featured on Why Evolution is True

Well, yesterday didn’t turn out as I expected.

I’ve been following Jerry Coyne’s Why Evolution is True blog for a couple of years, so I know he likes to receive reader input on occasion. He had recently posted a link to a video on a child interacting with a gorilla at a zoo (http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2013/08/27/so-human-in-aspect/) so I decided to send him this photo of me as a child interacting with a monkey in Zambia. Jerry responded very quickly and asked if I knew the species, I didn’t, but a quick search seemed to identify it as a Blue Monkey.

34 - Matthew with Bungy

I also gave Jerry a little detail about the circumstances of my family being in Zambia and why I was following his blog. Jerry immediately showed an interest in my story and asked for more detail. The result was a rapid brain dump of my experience of leaving my faith and a post on his blog (http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2013/08/28/leaving-faith-behind-a-readers-story/).

I am touched that Jerry thought my story worth telling and I fear that I have not given the it justice. There is much to tell and it is impossible to make it succinct.

One thing that did become clear to me during my exchange with Jerry is that it has been far more emotional than I normally acknowledge. Not because of leaving the faith but because of the change in dynamics between those I love and call friends. It’s not that I am judged (at least I am not aware that I am) and it’s not that I am rejected (I’m not), it’s simply that on a basic level all my emotional interactions have changed and not always in an obvious way. Mostly it is in deeply subtle ways and it takes a long time to notice.

As I hint in my piece for Jerry, I waver constantly in my attitude towards Christianity and over the years this has taken its toll too. This is stuff I need to process to make sense of. I’ve made the intellectual journey, that was easy; the harder part is now sifting through the results and I’m clearly not done there yet.

That said; I’d like to thank Jerry for his interest and his kind offer to tell my story, it is appreciated. I’d also like to thank those who have come here from Jerry’s blog, the spike in visits has eclipsed my previous best day by a significant factor. I predicted 100x but I think it’s actually more like 50x. I have also gained some new subscribers, so thank you to you too.

I am now off to read the comments on Jerry’s post, I suspect I’m in for some serious limey loving.