Genetic Mutation since the Flood

Here is a very good blog post talking about genetic mutation and why the genetic variation we see in humans today is far too great to have occurred in the short period of time that a literal biblical flood requires.

http://ogremk5.wordpress.com/2011/12/13/the-flood-and-mutation-rates/

Now, I’ll be honest in that my understanding on genetics is such that I can’t make any serious contribution to the subject, either for or against. However, as a layman, the concepts discussed and the time periods required make sense and so I trust that what has been written is true.

I find it interesting that something so basic as the huge variety of human genetics and the time it takes for variations to appear, is such that it renders a literal interpretation of the bible impossible.

How to argue with a Creationist

I have decided to create this post in response to a question asked me by Stuart on his blog here (http://pseudoastro.wordpress.com/2011/11/28/mistakes-in-science-apparently-means-creationism-is-true/).  Stuart’s blog is an excellent resource against pseudo astronomy and his associated podcast is equally recommended.

First, the caveats, there is no way that I can produce a cover all guide in a single blog post so no doubt there will be specific examples of cases where my advice and suggestions don’t apply or fall flat. Also, my guide is based on my personal experience of being a creationist for many years before abandoning my Christian faith. Other people may have had differing experiences and therefore offer different advice, I don’t claim to be an authority on arguing.

The point of this post is to give guidance and suggestions to those who wish to engage with creationists in a constructive manner. My standpoint is that creationism is incorrect and the ultimate aim of arguing with a creationist is to get them to understand and accept that.

Understanding the Creationist Stance

Before engaging a creationist, it is helpful to understand why they hold to the views they do and why your arguments often appear to fall on deaf ears.

There could be a variety of reasons why a creationist holds to their views and while it is true that the bottom line is that God did it; there could also be a variety of other reasons stacked on top of that.

For me, I was convinced by creationist books on the subject. They argued that science shows that the earth can not be millions (or even billions) of years old. Yes I was convinced by the falsified Carbon-14 argument, among others.

Its not just the science though. Believing in the inerrancy of the Bible is important and when a creationist takes that view and they decide that a literal creation is what the Bible actually says (which is arguably false, but a whole other discussion and not in the scope of this post) then the misunderstood science is secondary. The primary reason for the creationist belief is that God exists, the Bible is real and therefore the Genesis account of creation is accurate. The science that supports it is not the final proof or the major proof, its just a supporting cast member. The bad science is believed because it supports the premise. It doesn’t matter how many times you explain it, the science is not the major contributor and if you successfully explain the science but don’t challenge the bigger picture, the incorrect science will come back because it is supported by the belief.

The science does not dictate the worldview and so a correction will not necessarily lead to a change in understanding or in what is believed, or even in a change in the way science is viewed. In fact it could erode trust in the scientific method.

The creationist believes in the unchanging inerrancy of the Bible and the Word of God. This is a mind-set that holds that what is good and true has not changed. The scientific method causes a problem for that mind-set because scientific understanding changes over the years. It is seen as unreliable and malleable. The concept of self-correction over time is problematic and at worst is seen as dishonest. When explaining this to a creationist, do not expect them to get it the first time, or the second, or even the third. It could causes massive cognitive dissonance in the creationist mind and so explaining this to a creationist who does not seem to get it, should be done gently, politely, respectfully, as though to your own child.

Confront the Science

This may seem like a contradiction of some of the comments above, but the only real way to confront the creationist is to stick to the science. Science is evidence based and you are on good and solid ground explaining to them how the science works and why they are misunderstanding the evidence and the motives.

If you start entering the realm of the religious beliefs then you will have a harder time because there will be all sorts of religious experience backing up the concept of a personal God. To a Christian, God is real and to a Creationist this is packaged up in a far larger world view and attacking the core of that belief by trying to argue the nonexistence of God is pointless. You’ll only end up is a “yes he does”, “no he doesn’t” type discussion, which is counterproductive.

When a creationist makes their science claim, explain what is wrong about it and why, be specific and avoid being confrontational. If they act hurt and claim that you’ve insulted them, be quick to apologise and back up your scientific points in calm explanatory manner. The aim is to get them to trust you, its not just about getting them to understand the science, its also about getting them to trust that, despite the major ideological differences, you are not out to make them look foolish. Be interested in the discussion, don’t make it all one way, if they feel that you’re lecturing them and not paying attention to their points, then you will lose them.

Don’t let the conversation meander

One common complaint that I have seen aimed at creationists is that they keep changing the subject. I know I have been guilty of that in the past when arguing as a creationist and I know that its deeply frustrating. This is not a conscious tactic to throw the discussion off track. Its more a case of, the creationist has got frustrated with the current topic and doesn’t feel like they are getting anywhere and so uses another subject to try and make the point. Its not being intentionally devious, as I have seen many people suggest, its simply trying to explain their point.

When this happens, don’t ruin all the hard work by letting your frustration out, gently steer the conversation back to the topic on hand because it means that you have reached their level of knowledge on the subject so keep on it and reiterate in an non threateningly way as possible why the science you are promoting is correct, references count and it strengthens your argument and stops it being a mere internet opinion. You are at the point where real education of them can make progress, don’t squander it by insulting them, reassure them that the science is credible and give them reliable places to learn more about the subject in hand.

Being wrong hurts

Remember, that while you are trying to convince them of the reliability of science, they are trying to convince you of the reliability of the Bible. If you show them that they are wrong on a point and it is demonstrable, then it create a very real conflict in their mind. It hurts mentally and it generates all sorts of emotional issues. In some cases it leads to a questioning of the very reality of God. I’ve been there and I can testify that it really can be a very unsettling and even frightening place to be.

This is not the time to press an advantage. This is the time to reassure, it is more important that they trust you at this point because then you will have a chance at a conversation again. If you become yet another sceptical atheist who likes to drive home the point, you may lose the chance to discuss again.

The reason for this is that when confronted with challenging evidence that leads the creationist to genuinely doubt, they will seek solace in something that they do trust. This could be another piece of misunderstood science or the infallibility of the Bible. Let them have the break and collect their thoughts again. Encourage them question the evidence that has just been discussed. Trying to knock down as many dominoes as you can in a single discussion will only reinforce the protection they will seek from that which they trust and will reduce the trust in you.

Don’t Be a Dick

Seriously. Just don’t.

I’ve implied it in the comments above the importance of being polite and respectful. This is very important, especially if you want to convince someone of the error of their logic and beliefs. I’ve been on the receiving end of dickishness from friends (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2011/06/01/when-friends-are-unkind/) and I can testify that it is deeply unpleasant and does not help the person you are conversing with. In my case it caused me to entrench my creationist position and in all likelihood delayed my acceptance of evolution.

I understand the desire to belittle the person who holds to an untrue position through ignorance, however it helps no one. There may be a small pleasure derived from this, but ultimately what good does it actually serve? Surely the satisfaction of successfully demonstrating to someone why the scientific method works and why evolution is correct after all is much greater! Mocking people is easy, it takes effort on your part to be polite, accurate and respectable. If you want to be respected and listened to, then the least you can do offer the same courtesy to the other party.

What if I can’t help it?

If you really can’t stop yourself from insulting and belittling the person you are engaging then its probably best you exit from the conversation. If you can’t respect the person you are having a discussion with then you are no better than the common internet troll. They’ll think less of you as a result and, more seriously, you’ve probably made the job a lot harder for the next person who has a discussion with the YEC in question.

What if I know that this person will never be convinced?

How does that make it okay to be a dick?

Okay, I know it can be fun to let off steam and troll about on the internet a bit and see what dust storm you can make. I’ve done the same myself a couple of times, so I’m not exactly perfect either.

When discussing with someone who you are sure won’t be convinced first its important to make really sure of that. I was once sure that I’d never be anything other than a YEC, and now not only am I not a YEC but I’m not even a Christian either. So don’t write everyone off just because of what you think.

The people most likely to not be convinced are those who already have a vested interest in creationism. That will be those who have either got a blog and regularly post about creationism, or those who are published or those who are in positions of responsibility within a church. They have something very big to lose if they show any weakness in their YEC stance and so its even more important that you show yourself to be respectful in your discussions because every diskish thing you say will only be turned into a reason why atheists are wicked and evil. By being a dick, you are helping their argument.

Consider the audience.

Another reason to behave with this kind of person is that they will have an audience. What you say is not just being judged by the YEC you are engaging with, but also by those read your comments. Make your arguments well and be respectful and you will win respect from the audience, even if your discussion partner won’t. If doesn’t matter how good your points are, as soon as you sink to dickishness, that is all you’ll be remembered for.

The Unchanging Dogma

Another thing to consider is that much of Christian doctrine teaches about how God and his creation is unchanging. This dogma about nothing changing causes a problem when discussion science. Many creationists will have a hard time accepting basic science concepts because the idea of science and scientists changing their minds or getting things wrong is a major issue. I remember very well the issues I had trying to get my head round the changing world science and how evidence is sometimes overturned by fresh discoveries.

Another thing that creationists like to bring up is science fraud.

In both these cases, its important to point out that science self corrects. Scientists are typically honest people looking for answers in the world around us. Explain that being wrong is a good thing because it means more stuff to explore and explain. Point out that every fraud and incorrect belief in science has been found and corrected by scientists. The scientific method self corrects over time as the evidence pile mounts up. Discovering more stuff does not decrease our weight of evidence.

Change is good.

I’m out of my depth!

What if you are being having a discussion with a YEC and you find the conversation going all over the place or they are making comments about stuff that you are not sure about? I say stick with it. They might be far more experienced at this kind of discussion than you are. Use it as a learning experience and a pointer of what areas you could research more. Next time you’ll have a better answer.

Final thoughts.

This document is a quick ‘brain dump’ and is by no means intended as a complete guide. It is based on some of my experiences and no doubt some who can be bothered to read this far will be able to come up with other suggestions and ideas. If so, please make a comment.

Can You Adam and Eve It?

I don’t remember exactly when it was, but at some point in a lesson, someone asked the question about how did Adam and Eve’s sons have children when there were no other references to women being created after Eve? Not an unreasonable question to ask and certainly one that children will zone in on sooner or later.

People tend to only remember Cain and Abel, but the Bible does specifically mention that Adam and Eve had more children, including daughters. The answer given at the time was that the only possible solution is that Adam and Eves sons must have married their sisters. Cue sounds of ‘ewww’ from the assembled class.

If someone believes in the literal seven day creation and that all of mankind is descended from Adam and Eve, then there really is the one conclusion to come to. That first family had no option but to engage in incest. A titbit I would repeat years later as a leader on a Christian summer camp when faced with the same question, provoking the same ‘ewww’ response.

What about the ribs!

The knowledgeable will know that Eve supposedly came from Adams rib. This was used to confirm the fact that men have an extra rib on one side of their body; or rather a missing rib on one side of their body.

Firstly, why should Adam having his rib removed to create Eve mean that all his descendents will also have one rib missing? People who have parts of their body removed do not produce offspring with that same part missing. The assumption that God removing Adams rib means that all men will have a missing rib has no basis in Biblical teaching or logical thought.

As a child I accepted the fact without question. Even if the Genesis account of Adam and Eve was true, there is no reason at all, anywhere, that equates to all descended men having a missing rib.

As it happens, men do not have a missing rib. It proves nothing on its own, but it’s a daft thing to believe anyway.

Critical Questions

Reading those first few chapters of Genesis with a critical eye brings up many questions. Why put a mark on Cain when everyone one around would have been related to him anyway and so know what he did? Why would Cain have to build a city when there would not yet have been enough people about to justify a city? Did he build the city single handed? How long did that take? So many questions.

Not to be taken literally

Now would be a good point to bring in the fact that serious scholars do not consider that the beginning of Genesis was written to be a literal account. It is meant as an indication that God created everything and that sin is a human thing and that God reserves the right to punish his creation. That’s very simplistic, but the main point I want to make here is that to the early writers and those who would read this years later; this is not meant to be a description of what God did, merely a setting up of what we see is God’s creation.

The literal interpretation is a much more modern thing.

Still, as a young child with no reason to question this further, I didn’t. So the seed that was to become an adult creationist was sown.

Let’s Start at the Very Beginning

I certainly don’t consider my upbringing typical. In fact I know its not typical, but it does go a long way to explaining my early beliefs.

I grew up in the Central African country of Zambia, my parents having moved there a few years after independence, taking me with them as a small child. The environment I grew up in was therefore as a white minority, the whites we knew were pretty much all involved in the missionary arena . My mother came from a very strong Brethren tradition but my father came from a less religious background so I am not entirely sure how he came to be involved in such a strong Christian movement.

Missionary School

School was a boarding school in the far North Western province of Zambia. A school with all white teachers, all Christians of course and a very heavy Christian missionary ethos. Discipline was strict, some kids didn’t like it there at all, I don’t recall having any strong feelings either way, I just got used to the routine and dealt with it.

Getting to and from school was always an adventure. For the first few terms I flew in a small 6-seater Cessna plane. Flying through rain was interesting; flying over bush fires could be somewhat concerning, especially when the rising heat caused the plane to loose height due to the reduced lift. One particular large fire I remember caused a very alarming and prolonged period of height loss. Needless to say, most flights involved me heaving up my guts at some point.

The Teachers

Given that this was a boarding school and at that time, the only school I had attended (Sunday school and nursery school excluded) it would be fair to say that the teachers had a huge impression on my life. In fact, from those very early years, I remember more about the school than I do about my home life.

To a large extent, the teachers were very caring and loving. They had to be. They were not just our teachers, they read us stories at night, they comforted us when we needed it, they looked after us when we were unwell, they sat with us at meal times, they watched over us at play time, they taught us to swim, they taught us to play games. For children of that young age, they served a purpose as important as parents and were looked to as parent figures as well as teachers.

These are teachers whose names I still remember and who I would recognise in the street today. Not something I can say about all the teachers I knew at secondary school. Such is the impact they have on children so young.

Teaching

Generally the teaching was good. Specifically I remember enjoying Maths and French and the quality of this education was reflected in my class placements when I started secondary school in the UK.

Exploration of the world around us was actively encouraged. After all, we were living in the remote African bush, how could you not look around and not be amazed at the wonders of nature. The insects, wild fruit, trees and plants that were all around us were of a huge variety.

When it came to asking questions about these things, it was invariably the teachers who we asked and it was the teachers who we looked to for wisdom on these things. Of course the answers always fitted with a creationist perspective as that was all that was known.

Due to the environment we all lived in, no one questioned the existence of God. The teachers were all Christians, as far as I can tell all the parents were Christians too, Christianity was part of life and there was utterly no need or reason to question that.

Crossing out in the Text Books

One specific event I remember is when new biology books were delivered to the school and my class was the first to get them. On being handed out, our first instruction was to turn to a certain page and cross out a single paragraph. Of course we all read the paragraph before doing so, we were curious kids. I remember it talked about how fish, needing to find resources that were no longer available in their pond or pool would flap out of the water in search of other bodies of water. They would use their fins to help them move on the land and eventually, over many years and generations, these fins developed into legs.

I’ve paraphrased the content because, while I can remember the essence, I can’t remember the exact wording. We all laughed at the silly people who wrote than and crossed out the words with relish.

Now, in hindsight I can see that this is an inaccurate description of evolution and if I saw it in a text book today I’d be dismayed because evolutions does not work in response to animals using their limbs in a different way every now and then, that’s a incorrect description of the process of evolution. However, the reasons for crossing this paragraph out were not because it was evolutionarily wrong, but because it dared to suggest evolution at all. We were taught that everything is as it was created by God in the beginning.

Explore the World

As I have already said, the education received was not all bad, in fact quite the opposite; much of it was a very high quality. Its only the creationist elements that were very wrong.

Specifically I remember the encouragement to explore and examine the world. We were taught that medical discoveries were good because they came from the human desire to seek, to learn and to experiment. This desire was God given and is a good thing. I don’t remember much of science lessons but the explore and discover ethos was also there. If God had given us a wonderful world to live in, why shouldn’t we explore it for all the beauty that had been put there? It would be wasteful not to.

The school always had National Geographic magazines in the library and these were especially my favourite things there to look through. Other kids were reading Lord of the Rings or other great children’s literary novels. I just wanted to read the adventures in NatGeo and wonder at the fabulous pictures there. Specifically I loved the Kids Did It series. I remember the features of the Mount St Helens volcano, the awesome photos and the huge destruction.

I still am in awe of nature all these years later and its this hunger, started all those years ago, that has fuelled my journey from Creationist to atheist. Fuel that was placed and ignited by a desire to see the wonders of Gods creation.

Introduction

I guess this blog should really be called Confessions of a Former YEC, as I no longer identify myself as such. However, given that in this blog I shall be giving details of my journey into Fundamental YECism and on to atheism the title probably suits that context.

To clarify, YEC stands for Young Earth Creationist. That is, someone who believes that the 1st chapter of Genesis is a literal and accurate account of how the earth (and the universe) came into being about 6,000-10,000 years ago.

The journey into being a card carrying YEC is one of indoctrination, misguided teaching and a misunderstanding of science in a desire to prove prognosis. Its not all bad, it’s a path that is very definitely paved to good intentions and there is much from those formative years that I treasure still. Just because the science was wrong and the religion false, does not make the values invalid nor does it make the teaching incompetent.

The journey to atheism is the realisation of what science actually shows and the slow dismantling of all that was once held dear. This latter journey is still in progress and there is still much to learn and appreciate. Not everything that comes out of the mouth of an atheist is pleasant, I’ve witnessed more than my fair share of nasty atheistic rhetoric and it not at all becoming, if anything it slowed my journey down.

So that’s the introduction done. I have not yet mapped out any posts I want to make yet, but I have ideas I am forming so something will take shape over the next few weeks.

If anyone stops by here and deems it important enough to hang around or even has a specific question they’d like to raise on any aspect of the journey then I will do my best to be as honest as I possibly can. Maybe I’ll even make a post of the answer. Given the current climate of advancing scepticism and New Atheism (oh how I hate that term) I’d appreciate what comment people may have.