‘Induction over the history of science suggests that the best theories we have today will prove more or less untrue at the latest by tomorrow afternoon.’ Fodor, J. ‘Why Pigs don’t have wings,’ London Review of Books, 18th Oct 2007


Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Dawkins and a 'national disgrace'

According to a Mori poll in the UK, 29% of science teachers want to allow teaching of creationism in school science classes. Presumably that includes intelligent design, which is usually lumped into a ‘one-size-fits-all’ creationism. Furthermore, 73 percent of science teachers think creationism should be discussed in other lessons. Dawkins calls the fact that 29 percent of science teachers want to allow creationism to be taught in schools to be a ‘national disgrace.’

Richard Dawkins and Steve Jones give their views on creationism teaching poll

Quarter [29%] of science teachers would teach creationism

Firstly, I will leave aside the interesting question of how Dawkins might consider something to be a ‘dis-grace’ when he himself believes ‘grace’ to be a meaningless concept in the first place. But on the question of a ‘national disgrace;’ when a majority of teachers want to respect children’s worldviews in schools it is odd that something can be a ‘national disgrace.’ Or even for a large minority, surely they should have their views respected in a democracy. I would suggest that giving a small clique of secular humanists and atheists ‘carte blanche’ to dictate education policy that disrespects children’s worldview in a multi-faith society is the real national disgrace here. But Dawkins wants to re-educate teachers until they all accept evolution as fact, or if they don’t presumably to remove them from their jobs. It would seem that Dawkins and friends do not have much respect for a free society. AC Grayling has also called for an ongoing ‘war’ against religion in general, mainly on the basis that religion is the cause of war in the first place. I’ll let that one sink in.

Secularists' vital war on religion - AC Grayling

But what Dawkins cannot stand is that the reason that intelligent design is gaining ground is because science itself is advancing, and knowledge about the biological complexity of life is leaking out despite attempts to stifle knowledge by the powers that control science education policy. But if Dawkins is serious about preserving belief in evolution then he needs to stop children finding out about the incredible complexity of the cell. Here are a few tactics he could use to keep the sheep in check and maintain the Darwin dogma.

1. Dumb down biological science and hide knowledge about the degree of complexity of the cell until children are thoroughly indoctrinated into evolution.
2. Publish textbooks with out-of-date research or use already falsified evidence - they will be too young to know.
3. Use emotional, polemical and rhetorical arguments against intelligent design proponents and therefore use fear and peer pressure to stop children asking awkward questions, or investigating the evidence outside of the narrow curriculum and risk switching sides.
4. Misrepresent the arguments of intelligent design proponents, and use logical fallacies in criticisms of intelligent design. Furthermore, do not give children the skills necessary to recognise logically fallacious arguments.
5. Bamboozle and confuse children with fallacious arguments so that they give up science altogether – and the Darwin myth is preserved in them for life.

Towards a Human Ecology - Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict XVI has caused controversy by saying that mankind needs saving from homosexuality.

The Pope commented in his address to the Curia, the Vatican's central administration, that behaviour beyond traditional heterosexual relations is "a destruction of God's work" and that the Roman Catholic Church had a duty to "protect man from the destruction of himself" and urged respect for the "nature of the human being as man and woman." adding that just as "The tropical forests...deserve our protection [so does] man...'

Quite predictably the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement responded with their own over reaction, denouncing the comments as "totally irresponsible and unacceptable in any shape or form." The implication being that freedom of speech does not extend to any negative comments relating to the effects of a gay lifestyle. The Rev Sharon Ferguson, said: "It is more the case that we need to be saved from his comments. It is comments like this that justify homophobic bullying that goes on in schools and it is comments like this that justify gay bashing."

No, the Pope did not seek to justify homophobic bullying, which would have been wrong, and Christians are called to love all irrespective of their lifestyle choices, but neither should discussions relating to the implications of a particular social issue be placed out of bounds. There are important questions that arise from a number of social movements such as militant feminism, the gay lobby, materialism, excessive capitalism and extreme environmentalism, and if these are allowed to develop without question will lead to the reduction of the human population and to greater social problems, and this by design of some of those involved in the movements (the environmental movement especially). The growth of gay sentiment though will reduce the birth rate in the west if unchallenged, and is focused to a particular age group in western culture implying that it is a lifestyle choice, not a matter of genes. In that light the Pope's comments are perfectly acceptable, although without reading the full text it is not possible to know if he made his comments in the wider context. I suspect he did from this phrase "What’s needed is something like a ‘human ecology’’; a perfectly valid argument that seeks to defend humanity.

Pope says humanity needs 'saving' from homosexuality Nick Allen, Daily Telegraph, 23rd Dec 2008

Monday, 22 December 2008

Christmas Contrast

Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, asks us to put away principles and remember unconditional love for individuals in a Telegraph article.

Put aside your principles and remember: all you need is love - Rowan Williams

Williams comments;

"But that's one reason why we tell this [Christmas] story repeatedly, the story of the "unprincipled" God who values what others don't notice, who relates to people we'd all rather forget, whose appeal is to everyone because he has made everyone capable of loving response. At least once a year we all – Christians or non-Christians – need to hear again that permission to be free from principles so that we can ask the question about specific human lives and destinies, about the unacceptable cost of programmes and systems when they are only about me and people like me.

And when that question is asked, says Karl Barth in his sermon, what begins to come through "the eternal light that requires nether fuel nor candlestick"."

Meanwhile over at the Guardian in 'Comment is Free' AC Grayling is rallying the troops for a continued war against religion.

Secularists' vital war on religion - AC Grayling

Sadly, the militant secularists fail to see the good in the Christmas story, but want to impose their philosophy on everyone else, even if it is by force and the denial of liberty for religious believers - as has happened under atheistic regimes around the world.

Grayling lumps all religious beliefs together, the good and bad, in his simplistic scheme and comments;

"Secularists in the west say to the apologists of the religions: your beliefs are your choice, so take your place in the queue. They also say: you've had it your own way for a very long time - and committed a lot of crimes in the process - and you still fancy yourself entitled, but you aren't. You don't smell too good at times, so don't try to tell me what I can read, see on TV, do in my private time, think or say. In fact, keep your sticky fingers off my life. Believe what you like but don't expect me to admire or excuse you because of it: rather the contrary, given the fairy-stories in question. And when you are a danger to the lives and liberties of others, which alas is too frequently the wont of your ilk, we will speak out against you as loudly, persistently, and uncompromisingly as we can."
Undoubtedly a lot of wrong has been done in the name of religion, but what of the good? And what of the bad done by the secularists? If I was moved to buy AC Grayling a Christmas present I think it would a mirror.

Andrew S

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Premier Radio - Unbelievable

Premier Radio - a radio station with a Christian theme - often has some interesting programmes. There are a number of items on the Premier Radio programme 'Unbelievable' that I found to be of interest.

Stephen Lloyd was on against Denis Alexander on the 29th November discussion Alexander's new book and what evolution theory means for Christianity. Also there was an item about the recent Dawkins vs Lennox Oxford debate on the 8th November. Also a programme discussion disagreements about Christian Zionism on the 6th December that may be of interest to some as well with Stephen Sizer and Geoff Smith.

You can listen if you scroll down the page and click on the items.

http://www.premierradio.org.uk/shows/saturday/unbelievable.aspx

Scientific American - who's telling the porkies?

The latest issue of Scientific American has an article by Eugenie C. Scott and Glenn Branch entitled ‘The Latest Face of Creationism in the Classroom’

Not being an American citizen it is perhaps not for me to comment on American education policy, but the article provides some humorous circular reasoning. At one point it says that evolution is not ‘scientifically controversial,’ and anyone who says it is, ‘miseducates students about evolution.’ Presumably if evolution wasn’t controversial the authors would not have felt the need to write the article. But in the article there is precious little evidence to justify their position, but lots of empty rhetoric.

"Vast areas of evolutionary science are for all intents and purposes scientifically settled; textbooks and curricula used in the public schools present precisely such basic, uncomplicated, uncontroversial material. "
But that sounds like; ‘evolution is true because we say it is true – and it’s in our text books – so there!’ Now am I supposed to be persuaded to believe evolution on that basis? And what about that NHM / OU text book entitled ‘99% Ape?’ a figure which is now known to be false, but taught as a ‘truth’ in popular level science?

But the statement goes on. “Telling students that evolution is a theory in crisis is—to be blunt—a lie.” Yeah right – but what of the evidence? Is it possible that some are instead ‘Telling lies for Darwin.’?

“Moreover, it is a dangerous lie,… Students who are not given the chance to acquire a proper understanding of evolution will not achieve a basic level of scientific literacy. And scientific literacy will be indispensable for workers, consumers and policymakers in a future dominated by medical, biotechnological and environmental concerns.”
Is that a veiled threat? Those of us who have bothered to look at evolution in depth and noted the scientific problems, paradoxes and oxymoron’s, are in a stronger position to be able to think freely, having resisted the “dumbing down” of education standards in the US and UK by those who wish to be philosopher kings. An interesting book by Peter Harrison, (The Bible Protestantism and Natural Science) has shown that science developed in the west because of a commitment to truth as a result of the Protestant Reformation. Christians are thus the guardians of truth in science, not enemies of science. Evolution needs challenging on logical grounds, for the sake of science, and should not be accepted on the basis of blind trust.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Creation dialogue with the EA?

The British Centre for Science Education (BCSE) forum sometimes makes illuminating reading. According to their website the BCSE 'is a group dedicated to promoting and defending science education in the UK.' Their main goal though is removing any discussion about intelligent design or creationism from the classroom.

I don't usually make a point of responding to them on this blog, but a response is in order to set the record straight from some of the latest comments on a thread entitled Paul Taylor comments on Dr. Denis Alexander

Michael Roberts comments "it is not Denis who has caused division. Over the years he has strived to be as peaceful as possible. The division is caused by those who have tried to force a YEC position on other Christians."

Another Christian contributor says "I still think think the YECs are going to cause a major split within the church Michael, along similar lines to the reformation with most (if not all) evangelicals siding with the YECs. The Evangelical Alliance appears to be completely ignorant as to what is happening. Some sort of statement of faith from them would go a long way in addressing the situation but they (the Alliance) don't seem to want to say anything, perhaps for fear of upsetting the YECs (who are bound to be scathing in their response). It really is a different way of looking at Christianity. ... Quite an appalling situation and one that the Evangelical Alliance really can't ignore."

For the record; there is a strong desire amongst many creationists and intelligent design supporters to engage in respectful dialogue with other Christians through the EA, and some of us have even made representation to the EA to bring it about. However, nothing has come of this, and the current Head of Theology is clearly in support of the theistic evolution position.

For some evangelicals there is a strong desire to make Christian faith respectable to the world, even if it means isolating their 'embarrassing' brethren; which seems to be the position of Roberts and Alexander. I believe this is deeply misguided theologically, and there is a tendency to place more trust in the words of fallible scientists than in the words of Jesus - who called for unity.

Many of us have argued that Christians must seek to end division through respectful dialogue so that the church can be united first, and I urge the EA to establish its own forum to facilitate this dialogue.

And there is a case for Christians involved in science to hold science and scientists to account. Science requires dialogue, but evolutionists seek to close down the debate. There is a need to question the basis of foundational assumptions in science. Alexander says that Christians should let secular scientists get on with their work unhindered [Creation or Evolution p.351]. But we are faced then with having to interpret Scripture on the basis of the findings of secular scientists and unquestioned assumptions. Frankly that is a very unsatisfactory state of affairs.
Andrew S

Friday, 28 November 2008

Children are born with a belief in God

Researchers from Oxford's Centre for Anthropology and Mind have found evidence that children are predisposed to believe in God or a supreme being. This is because of a natural assumption that everything in the world exists for a purpose and was therefore created.

Dr Justin Barrett was reported in the UKs Daily Telegraph as saying that young children appear to have an inherent faith even when it has not been taught to them by family or school. Even children raised on a desert island without any external infuence would start out with a belief in God.

Commenting on the BBC Radio 4's Today programme he said;

"The preponderance of scientific evidence for the past 10 years or so has shown that a lot more seems to be built into the natural development of children's minds than we once thought, including a predisposition to see the natural world as designed and purposeful and that some kind of intelligent being is behind that purpose…if we threw a handful on an island and they raised themselves I think they would believe in God."

At a lecture at Cambridge University’s Faraday Institute, Barrett cited psychological experiments carried out on children that reveal an instinctive belief in children towards acceptance of design and purpose. This leads to a natural belief in creation rather than evolution, even when they are told differently by parents or teachers. Anthropologists have found that in some cultures children accept belief in God even when specific religious teaching is withheld. He commented;

"Children's normally and naturally developing minds make them prone to believe in divine creation and intelligent design. In contrast, evolution is unnatural for human minds; relatively difficult to believe."

Telegraph - Children are born believers in God academic claims

Andrew Sibley

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Support for Michael Reiss from unlikely sources

It is noticeable that many creationists and intelligent design supporters have written in support of Michael Reiss, despite the fact that Reiss claims to be a theistic evolutionist. The latest is a piece in the November issue of Evangelical Times by David Tyler, in which he welcomes Reiss’s call for respectful dialogue in the classroom so that the views of those who hold to different worldviews can be recognised, respected and treated fairly. Reiss has argued that disrespecting those who have different worldviews only turns children away from science and is therefore counter-productive to providing good science education. Many ID supporters and creationists broadly agree with this assertion and therefore welcome calls for respect in the science classroom.

What is also noticeable about the events surrounding Michael Reiss is the lack of comment and support for him from organisations such as the Faraday Institute (FI) and Christians in Science (CiS). A word search on the CiS website for ‘Reiss’ reveals only one entry in an article [1] merely as a mention of Reiss’s book under ‘Further Reading.’ On the FI website no results for Reiss were found.

One may wonder why there is such silence from CiS and FI when Reiss (who is a theistic evolutionist who held an important position) was recently treated so unjustly at the hands of some Fellows of the Royal Society. The article by Michael Poole and comments in the postscript of Denis Alexander’s book Creation or Evolution give some clues. Both quote Augustine, and use it to infer that creationists and intelligent design supporters are ‘disgraceful’, ‘dangerous’ and therefore an embarrassment to the gospel. This gives the appearance that some leaders in CiS and FI do not share Reiss’s calls for respectful dialogue, but instead wish to isolate IDers and creationists by misrepresenting their arguments and disrespecting their worldview. Poole's article has a prominent place on the CiS Home page and he seems to be the spokesman on education policy within the CiS.

I would love to be proved wrong on this, so perhaps if I have misunderstood the silence on Michael Reiss by CiS and FI then I offer my apologies in advance, but they need to demonstrate their support for Reiss and his call for respectful dialogue in the classroom through written articles on their websites to remove doubt.

[1] Michael Poole, 'Creationism, Intelligent Design and Science Education,' School Science Review, (90) 330, p. 123-130, September 2008 (and CiS Website)
http://www.cis.org.uk/assets/files/articles/SSR_Sept_2008_Poole.pdf

Andrew Sibley

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Creationism and Intelligent Design in science classes

According to the Guardian twenty-nine per cent of teachers believe that creationism and intelligent design should be taught as science. This figure comes from an online survey of attitudes to teaching evolution in the UK conducted by Teachers TV. Nearly half of the respondents said they believed that excluding alternatives to evolution was counter-productive and would alienate pupils from science.

Read the Guardian article - Creationism should be taught as science, say 29% of teachers

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Oxford University debate - Dawkins vs Lennox

Melanie Phillips offers her thoughts on the second debate between John Lennox and Richard Dawkins in the Spectator; this one held at Oxford University Natural History Museum, Tuesday evening 21st October 2008.

Melanie Phillips asks - Is Richard Dawkins Still Evolving?

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Kroto fails to convince

Harry Kroto explains why Professor Reiss was ‘asked’ to resign from the Royal Society in the Guardian 'Blinded by a divine light Creationists such as the Rev Reiss don't have the intellectual integrity to teach science.' (28/09/2008) Kroto may be brilliant as a scientist in his own field, but his knowledge of the philosophy and history of science is not so hot.

Kroto in the Guardian

Kroto comments that ‘It is clear that there is almost total ignorance about the real issues involved and a truly pathetic understanding of science – the culture that created the modern world – from anaesthetics and penicillin to jet engines and the internet.’ Interestingly Professor Peter Harrison of Oxford has argued that the Protestant Reformation, with its commitment to the literal reading of Scripture, enabled the development of science away from the pre-modern symbolic interpretation. In other words it led to the literal reading of nature. If you lose that where will science end up? Atheism will ultimately lead science to post modernism and hence destroy it because it takes away the notion of objective truth. Christian theism on the other hand is the true custodian of science because of its commitment to truth as an objective reality.

Kroto speaks about ‘intellectual integrity’ arguing that the religious person somehow lacks such integrity. He comments that the ‘fundamental philosophical issue’ is ‘the scientific mindset’ where ‘science is based solely on doubt-based, disinterested examination of the natural and physical world. It is entirely independent of personal belief.’ ‘…that is to accept absolutely nothing whatsoever, for which there is no evidence, as having any fundamental validity.’ But atheists deep down have an emotional commitment to the non-existence of God. The anger expressed when atheists are faced with the Christian challenge reveals an underlying emotional need to deny faith; as former Westminster Chapel Minister RT Kendall said, deep down atheists hate God, which is why they get so angry when pressed.

Further there is no evidence for atheism; there is no evidence at all for the non-existence of God. The truly honest intellectual position from a scientific perspective is to say that one cannot know whether God exists or not when starting science, and then proceed from an assumption that a deity may or may not exist - but also to accept that science may provide clues to God's existence when nature is studied closely, which is what the design argument does claim. Science must also recognise that there is knowledge, including knowledge about God, that lies beyond science. Scientism, the belief that science is the only source of objectively verifiable truth, is a self refuting fallacy because that statement is not objectively verifiable. Atheism then is as much belief as theism. Kroto comments that ‘only those questions that can be formulated in such a way that they can be subjected to detailed disinterested examination, and when so subjected reveal unequivocally and ubiquitously accepted data, may be significant.’ But all of science is based on untestable foundational assumptions because it is impossible to develop an infinite regress of causality. Why must atheistic assumptions have priority over theistic assumptions? Does Kroto know absolutely that there is no God? Of course he doesn’t, it is an emotional response and one based on belief. Pretending that atheism is superior to other foundations for science does not represent intellectual integrity.

Having demanded that the atheist position must take precedence over theistic or religious influences in science, Kroto then wants to believe that this is a ‘freethinkers perspective.’ Hardly – it is another type of dogmatic hegemony imposed upon science, this time by atheistic belief.

Kroto wants school children to read Sam Harris’s ‘Letter to Christian Nation’ so that the ‘flock may understand what intellectual integrity and true humanity actually involve’ and ‘see that the really "vicious" people are the religious ones who are dragging us back into the dark ages, rather than humanists struggling to save the Enlightenment.’

Forgive me for mentioning where atheistic humanism led the world in the last century; to Marxism, Hitler’s fascism, Pol Pot, Lenin, Stalin etc etc. The removal of Reiss by Kroto, Roberts and Dawkins may be seen as a ‘vicious’ act against a man who desired respectful dialogue. Even Dawkins thought it a ‘witch hunt,’ although one he accepted. In a multi-cultural nation, how can atheists claim the sole right to dictate what is taught in science, and in such a dogmatic manner? Atheists such as Kroto need to provide a reason why science should hold to objective truth in a world without ultimate meaning and value.
Andrew S

Monday, 29 September 2008

Book Review of 'Creation or Evolution - Do We Have to Choose?

Book Review of 'Creation or Evolution – Do We Have to Choose?' by Denis Alexander. Reaction by Howard Taylor - September 2008

This is a good book highly to be recommended. For whether one agrees with his main thesis (evolution was God’s clever method of Intelligent Design) it is good to get to grips with the case that Theistic Evolutionists make. The Christian Faith of Denis Alexander shines through much of the book which is full of Biblical references with very helpful guides on how to approach the Bible and Genesis 1 in particular. (I hope though that his methods of interpretation don’t make the mistake of separating into non-interactive compartments the ‘spiritual’ and the ‘physical’.) It would be wrong of me to judge him even though I disagree with his main thesis, I am now going to give my main criticisms of his argument under various headings. The criticisms do not mean that the book is not a worthwhile read for people of varied opinions.

Title
The title is in the form of a question: Do we need to decide between creation and evolution? Actually this reviewer gives the same answer as Denis Alexander: No! Clearly one can be a Christian and believe both the fundamentals of the Biblical creation story and also believe that evolution was God’s clever way of accomplishing the biodiversity we have around us today. I was a once a Theistic evolutionist and I believe my Christian Faith was real. Denis Alexander is another good example of a person who believes in Christ and also believes in evolution. It should not be a certain dogmatic interpretation of the Bible that leads one to hold that evolution and Christianity are incompatible. I doubt evolution because I don’t believe it happened – at least to the extent of making the whole of vegetable, animal, and human life related.

Objection to Evolution.
I repeat that the reason I reject evolution now is not dogmatic Biblical creation but rather the weakness of the case for evolution as well as the strong very logical case against it.

Evolution and atheism.
Of course the theory of evolution, if true, does not prove atheism because it can’t tell us where matter and energy come from or how life got started in the first place. Many who support evolution, prophecy that a physical theory supporting the origin of life will be found one day but like all prophecies that hope is based on a particular belief system. We will turn to that later. It also does not claim to explain what consciousness and reason are or how they came about even though they are very important in understanding the human condition. But because evolution attempts to explain the development of our physical life, it does make reflection more comfortable for the atheist although it does not really back his position – the most basic constituents of human life being beyond evolution’s, or any scientific theory’s scope.

The Mystery.
Denis Alexander claims it is a mystery why so many people reject evolution. I don’t believe much of this rejection is a mystery at all. The fact is that many people have come to evolutionist talks and asked perfectly reasonable non-dogmatic questions. They have often asked them in a friendly polite way. But over and over again their questions have not been taken seriously but they have been accused of ‘junk science’ or similar bad positions when they have made perfectly reasonable points. When taken aback by such abuse, it is not surprising or a mystery why they turn against the theory of evolution. People supporting the theory of evolution would gain much more respect if they were more honest about its difficulties and not keep giving the impression to the general public – that the theory is all sown up, while admitting grave concerns about the theory when talking among themselves. In the main part of Denis Alexander’s book, though, he is not a bit like that. It is written in a kind, thoughtful and non-confrontational manner. But sadly he does use condescending remarks elsewhere in public forums. Also in the postscript he reveals something of his arrogant self. I did not want to use that word but he uses such terms as ‘dangerous,’ disgraceful’ and therefore ‘embarrassing’ to describe the ID people and anyone who dares to publicly doubt evolution. It is then, not a mystery that so many are turning against the theory. One should expect it.

The scientific establishment would be open to criticisms of the theory if the criticisms were at all valid. Prestigious publications such as The New Scientist would welcome articles criticising evolution were the arguments putting up a good scientific case. This is what Denis Alexander says. I doubt it actually. On the very day that I write this it is reported on the BBC web site “Professor Michael Reiss has quit as director of education at the Royal Society following the controversy over his recent comments on creationism. Last week Prof Reiss … said creationism should be discussed in science lessons if pupils raised the issue.” The Spectator has a blog with the heading: ’Secular Inquisition at the Royal Society’. Lord Winston who is a member of the Royal Society reacting to his stepping down said: "I fear that in this action the Royal Society may have only diminished itself. This is not a good day for the reputation of science or scientists. This individual was arguing that we should engage with and address public misconceptions about science - something that the Royal Society should applaud “. I have known many professional academic scientists in my time. The majority believe in evolution – not because they have examined the evidence – but because ‘everyone believes it’ so they must be right! The relatively few who have examined it are not convinced (this includes biologists). After many years of chatting with them and unsuccessfully suggesting they go public, I am convinced that many do not do so, because they do not want to put their head above the parapet for fear of their career being damaged in a serious way.

Phillip Johnson. DA says of Phillip Johnson that he stopped believing in evolution after reading The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins (true, so did I). He says he gave it up because Richard Dawkins uses the book to promote atheism (not true that he gave it up for this reason). He gave it up because he believed The Blind Watchmaker was a dishonest book covering up weak arguments with rhetoric. (I too was converted to the anti-evolution cause for the same reason.)

Chance and God’s Providence.
First he, like Richard Dawkins, denies that evolution is a chance process. He says Natural Selection is a ‘law-like’ process. This is partly true but natural selection is only part of the story. It does not change anything but rather preserves those changes which have happened at random and are beneficial to an organism’s survival.

Second, DA points out that all Christians believe the hand of God guides their lives yet their lives are made up of a myriad of seemingly trivial and chance events. Yet even these seemingly small events can have a major influence for God’s purpose for our lives. So DA rightly argues. Christians believe that when these small events have the potential for major Divine consequences, God actually intervenes to use them for His purpose. In many chance events – those which bear no significance – God leaves them to do their little job and that is all. He leaves well alone the ordinary chance events – which have no ultimate Divine purpose. The question is ‘Does He intervene in any of the seemingly ‘random’ mutations on which natural selection works? DA thinks No! So according to him evolution is built on a random process even if a non-random process then takes over. It is therefore for him, difficult to maintain then that our physical being was created in the purposes of God.

Speciation. He tells us that there is good evidence for this. He refers to different kinds of similar fish that live in the African lakes. They all were descended from a common ancestor but now cannot interbreed with one another. They have become different species, This is probably true, but that is not the point. Different species may emerge but that does not explain the existence of the fish as a whole animal in the first place. To make a case he would need to show how entirely new organs in the fish species had come about through the process he describes. This is crucial to the case he wishes us to examine.

Descent with variation. He makes a reasonable case for descent with modification. But that is a non-controversial point, Even if it could be shown that there was such a thing as descent with variation, it does not show that all species are related to one another. It would show that some species are related to some other species. It does not follow that all species are related to one another. That is another crucial point in the discussion.

Interpretation of Genesis 1. - Origin of Life. DA admits that there is no theory yet as to the origin of life. He makes a prophecy that one day there will be a theory. But like all prophecies it is based on a belief. If evolution contains the belief that life will be shown to have a physical origin then the theory is not metaphysically neutral even though it claims to be. Atheist evolutionists hold that there is only one kind of reality – the physical. Theistic evolutionists hold a similar view about created material. They hold that God only created one form of material and that is matter/energy. Granted that it is very important, it does not follow that it is the whole story of nature. Indeed Karl Popper and Bertrand Russell held that is was not. What is more they both believed that to fully understand the important physical world one has to realise that the non-physical and the physical interact. That is what anti-evolutionists are claiming. That has been the belief of most scientists down the ages. The all pervading belief that only the physical exists, or that all physical events have physical causes, is a new theory, not backed up by empirical verification or experiment. It is a prejudice.

The Argument from Design. I get the impression that DA is embarrassed by this ancient argument. But he should not be. The argument contends that the natural world is so complex and suited to our survival that it needed a Designer. Therefore there is a God who designed it. Although many believe that David Hume in his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, attacks the argument from Design, actually he doesn't really. Most people regard the sceptical Philo as David Hume’s mouthpiece but Philo only criticises the use to which the Argument From Design is put, not the argument itself. He actually thinks that the universe exhibits design. His main point is that the kind of design that the designer uses is perhaps remote from the kind of design we find among human beings for example when we design a bridge. According to Hume (in the words of Philo) we cannot deduce anything about the character of God, or his method of design, from the natural world but that does not mean we cannot deduce there was/is a Designer. In fact in the third sentence of his earlier work The Natural History of Religion of 1751 David Hume actually says the following:

The whole frame of nature bespeaks an intelligent author; and no rational enquirer can, after serious reflection, suspend his belief a moment with regard to the primary principles of genuine Theism and Religion.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

The Knives are out for Palin

It’s incredible how quickly politics descends into character assassination. Within hours of Sarah Palin being chosen as running mate for John McCain in the presidential election race, journalists and Democrats were making personal attacks on Palin, rather than just opposing her political views. Even before she mounted the podium to give her first speech as the candidate for Vice President, she had suffered terrible jibes about her family. But the worst attacks were, believe it or not, from this side of the Pond rather than by Americans, so desperate is the left-wing establishment in Britain to see the back of Republican government in America. First they were incredulous at Sarah Palin’s decision to go ahead with her pregnancy when it was discovered that her unborn child had Down’s Syndrome. Surely that decision was a sign of Palin’s courage as a mother, and is something to be applauded? But liberal pro-abortionists are too selfish to consider bringing up a child that would be more demanding in time and effort, and might hamper their careers.

Then they accused her of hypocrisy, because her 17-year-old daughter is pregnant, and Palin, as a Christian, opposes sex before marriage. Did they stop to think that she might be hurt by the fact that her own daughter had failed to live up to the principles she believed in? How does that make her a hypocrite? It merely makes her a mother in distress, having to cope with a teenage pregnancy, like millions of other mothers of teenage girls. Then they went digging about in her past, looking for a skeleton in her closet. What was the best they could come up with? She once recommended that creationism should be taught alongside evolution in classrooms. According to one Times columnist (Sarah Vine, 4 Sept), this makes her some sort of lunatic. Well, forgive me, but aren’t there a few bigger issues to worry about? Her views on Iraq, Iran’s nuclear weapons programme, Russia’s invasion of Georgia or the global economic situation, for example? Is her belief in creationism the most damaging thing they could come up with? And in any case, she’s not applying for a job in science.

But of course, because she thinks students should be taught all the views on origins so they can make up their own minds, rather than just the single one promoted by atheists, it is automatically assumed that she believes the earth was created only 6,000 years ago. In fact, she has never stated that she believes that. She has said she doesn’t claim to know how the world was created. But that point aside, the Times attack shows a complete lack of understanding of the widely differing views of those who believe in a Creator. Some believe God used evolution. Of those who say he didn’t, some believe the world is billions of years old, some say it’s between 10,000 and 100,000 years old, and some stick to 6,000. But everyone is lumped into the same ‘loony fundamentalist’ category as soon as they mention anything about creationism.

Whatever your views on the age of the earth, there are some sound scientific reasons for remaining open-minded on this issue. All the dating systems used to establish the millions-of-years scenario are based on unprovable assumptions. While making those assumptions might be the only way that any scientific attempt at dating ‘deep time’ can be made, it is worth remembering what those assumptions are. Radiometric dating assumes that:

(1) the radioactive element decays at a constant rate
(2) the rock being analysed is not contaminated by infusion of excess end product
(3) the rock contained no end product when it was formed
(4) leaching of the parent element out of the rock sample did not occur.

These are not safe assumptions to make. For example, the Potassium-Argon, Rubidium-Strontium dating and Uranium-Lead dating methods all suffer from both leaching and contamination problems, because Potassium, Rubidium and Uranium salts are highly soluble, so leaching is possible. Leaching of the parent element out of the rock would dramatically increase the age of a sample. Recent studies of Mt. St. Helens rock known to have come from the 1980 eruption yielded erroneous dates numbering millions of years. Similar studies at the Grand Canyon found volcanic rocks dated at the top of the Canyon, which should be the youngest and most recent, were actually older than those found at the bottom! In fact, there are many examples of dating that do not give the millions of years required for evolution to be a viable theory, yet these are always rejected because it is assumed that they must be due to some kind of mistake because they don’t fit the evolutionary timescale.

While personally I am comfortable with the fact that the earth itself might well be millions of years old (for me, it doesn’t necessarily conflict with the Bible’s account of creation), it’s not something that should be so aggressively and dogmatically promoted by scientists as hard fact. And it certainly shouldn’t be used to question the sanity of a politician. By doing so, journalists only reveal either their lack of understanding of the scientific issues, or their prejudice against those who differ with their own assumptions.

Written by Andrew Halloway - a freelance editor, writer and publishing consultant, editor of ‘Good News’ newspaper and contributing editor of ‘The Delusion of Evolution’.

Monday, 22 September 2008

Steve Fuller in support of Michael Reiss and academic freedom

Steve Fuller offers his thoughts on the removal of Michael Reiss from his position at the Royal Society, and what it means for academic freedom.

Fuller states that the furore over Michael Reiss’s comments on creationism signify a worrying tendency that is bad for academic freedom and for science.

Read more >> Steve Fuller - Science shouldn't shut down discussion, Index on Censorship, 21/09/08

Andrew S

Ten more Darwin Quotes

Nick Spencer of Theos has an article in the Times Online ‘God, Evolution and Charles Darwin’ (17 Sept 08) in which he offers ten quotes from Darwin's life. [1]

Spencer thinks Darwin was one of the most brilliant scientists in history and ‘thoroughly decent, honourable and likeable.’ Whether Darwin was such a brilliant scientist is open to debate with persistent claims that his work was not all his own, (i.e. Roy Davies, The Darwin Conspiracy, 2008) but Darwin also got caught up in the racist zeitgeist thinking of the late nineteenth century that some of his free thinking friends were engaged in. Darwin was indeed a complex person with friends and acquaintances with various beliefs and worldviews. Darwin was perhaps agnostic, and was influenced by the progressive scientism of Comte.

Theos and Faraday are engaged in a research report to ‘Rescue Darwin,’ thinking he has been misunderstood. So in response to Spencer’s Darwin quotes, here are a few more that he might like to add to his report.

(1) When we descend to details, we can prove that no one species has changed …nor can we prove that the supposed changes are beneficial, which is the groundwork of the theory. Nor can we explain why some species have changed and others have not.
Letter to G. Bentham May 22, 1863

(2) With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated; and those that survive commonly exhibit a vigorous state of health. We civilised men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination; we build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed, and the sick; we institute poor-laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of every one to the last moment. There is reason to believe that vaccination has preserved thousands, who from a weak constitution would formerly have succumbed to small-pox. Thus the weak members of civilised societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly any one is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.
The aid which we feel impelled to give to the helpless is mainly an incidental result of the instinct of sympathy, which was originally acquired as part of the social instincts, but subsequently rendered, in the manner previously indicated, more tender and more widely diffused. Nor could we check our sympathy, if so urged by hard reason, without deterioration in the noblest part of our nature. The surgeon may harden himself whilst performing an operation, for he knows that he is acting for the good of his patient; but if we were intentionally to neglect the weak and helpless, it could only be for a contingent benefit, with a certain and great present evil. Hence we must bear without complaining the undoubtedly bad effects of the weak surviving and propagating their kind; but there appears to be at least one check in steady action, namely the weaker and inferior members of society not marrying so freely as the sound; and this check might be indefinitely increased, though this is more to be hoped for than expected, by the weak in body or mind refraining from marriage.
The Descent of Man (1871) pp. 168-169

(3) At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace, the savage races throughout the world. At the same time the anthropomorphous apes, as Professor Schaaffhausen has remarked, will no doubt be exterminated. The break between man and his nearest allies will then be wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilised state, as we may hope, even than the Caucasian, and some ape as low as a baboon, instead of as now between the negro or Australian and the gorilla.
The Descent of Man (1871) p.201

(4) Last night Dicey and Litchfield were talking about J. Stuart Mill's never expressing his religious convictions, as he was urged to do so by his father. Both agreed strongly that if he had done so, he would never have influenced the present age in the manner in which he has done. His books would not have been text books at Oxford. - To take a weaker instance Lyell is most firmly convinced that he has shaken the faith in the Deluge far more efficiently by never having said a word against the Bible, than if he had acted otherwise.
Letter to George Darwin, October 21/22, (1873)

(5) P.S. Oct 22nd …I have lately read Morley's Life of Voltaire and he insists strongly that direct attacks on Christianity (even when written with the wonderful force and vigour of Voltaire) produce little permanent effect: real good seems only to follow the slow and silent side attacks.
Letter to George Darwin October 21/22, (1873)

(6) I should prefer the part or volume not to be dedicated to me (although I thank you for the intended honour), as that would, in a certain extent, suggest my approval of the whole work, with which I am not acquainted. Although I am a keen advocate of freedom of opinion in all questions, it seems to me (rightly or wrongly) that direct arguments against Christianity and Theism hardly have any effect on the public; and that freedom of thought will best be promoted by that gradual enlightening of human understanding which follows the progress of science. I have therefore always avoided writing about religion and have confined myself to science. Possibly I have been too strongly influenced by the thought of the concern it might cause some members of my family, if in any way I lent my support to direct attacks on religion.
Letter to Edward Aveling (Son-in-Law of Karl Marx) 13th October, (1880)

(7) I could show fight on natural selection having done and doing more for the progress of civilization than you seem inclined to admit. Remember what risk the nations of Europe ran, not so many centuries ago of being overwhelmed by the Turks, and how ridiculous such an idea now is! The more civilised so-called Caucasian races have beaten the Turkish hollow in the struggle for existence. Looking to the world at no very distant date, what an endless number of the lower races will have been eliminated by the higher civilized races throughout the world.
Letter to W. Graham, 3rd July, (1881)

(8) It has often been said, as Mr. Macnamara remarks, that man can resist with impunity the greatest diversities of climate and other changes; but this is true only of the civilised races. Man in his wild condition seems to be in this respect almost as susceptible as his nearest allies, the anthropoid apes, which have never yet survived long, when removed from their native country.
The Descent of Man (1882) p. 188

(9) On his standard of proof, NATURAL science would never progress, for without the making of theories I am convinced there would be no observation.
The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin (Vol. II) p. 108

(10) ‘Origin of Species: The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life’ Full title of Darwin’s book first published in 1859

Sourced through Steve Jones’ website http://bevets.com/equotesd.htm with some corrections made after checking the Darwin Correspondence Project http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/

[1] http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/faith/article4772296.ece
Andrew S

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Dawkins digs himself in deeper

Why was Richard Dawkins battering away at his keyboard before breakfast on Tuesday morning (16 Sept. 08), before his toast, marmalade and English tea were cold?

Posted on his blog at 8:55am is a statement that he wishes to get into the press, apparently with some urgency. “I’m working on getting a version of this published somewhere in the British press” he said at 8:55 am.[1]

The statement appeared in the New Scientist at 6:52 pm with the disclaimer “Before Michael Reiss stepped down as director of education for the Royal Society, Dawkins sent New Scientist his thoughts on the creationism row that blew up last week.”

Dawkins - New Scientist Statement

But at 9:22 am Dawkins states that the Royal Society has issued a press release with his own adage. ‘The Royal Society has just publicly announced that Michael Reiss has resigned from his position of Director of Education. I have refused to comment to the press, other than to refer to my comment, posted above, BEFORE the news of his resignation was announced.’[2]

So between 8:55 am and 9:22 am Dawkins gets his thoughts emailed to the New Scientist, just before the announcement. It might seem then that the reason Dawkins was writing furiously during breakfast time was because he knew that Reiss had been forced to resign and wanted to manage the news in his favour by getting his statement out first; although I think Dawkins only digs himself, and the Royal Society, in deeper.

Lord Robert Winston, professor of science and society at Imperial College London, commented: "I fear that in this action the Royal Society may have only diminished itself. "This is not a good day for the reputation of science or scientists. "This individual was arguing that we should engage with and address public misconceptions about science - something that the Royal Society should applaud." Dr Roland Jackson, chief executive of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, said Professor Reiss's departure was a "real loss" and commented that the Royal Society should have ‘supported him’ to ‘further a reasoned debate.’

BBC 16-09-08 ‘Creationism biologist quits job

But what of Dawkins’ statement: Firstly, Dawkins does not think that Reiss’s actual statement is ‘inappropriate’ for the Royal Society, so his statement isn’t the reason Reiss should resign. Reiss was only asking for respectful discussions in the classroom reaffirming his own belief in evolution. Dawkins has himself also discussed creationism in the classroom with school children for his own television documentary.

Dawkins then divides scientists into two ‘camps,’ between the ‘accommodationists,’ who ‘‘respect’ creationists while disagreeing with them,’ and the ‘rest of us, who see no reason to respect ignorance and stupidity.’ Presumably though even the ‘accommodationists’ don’t respect what they perceive to be ‘ignorance and stupidity,’ but instead they are willing to show respect to those people they disagree with. Dawkins statement is vague and incoherent thus leaving room for interpretation, and the statement only makes sense if Dawkins was implying that it is ignorant and stupid people who should be disrespected. Therefore it would seem that he wants people to consider that it is acceptable to disrespect others on the basis of their beliefs. But Dawkins cannot say this openly because while he is insinuating incitement towards intolerant hatred and bullying behaviour he wants to keep his own hands clean in order to point the finger at religion as the source of intolerance and hatred. This rhetoric of his is dangerous because some will read it to imply that it is acceptable to disrespected people, not merely challenge their ideas. Dawkins is well practiced at writing such vague statements, and Christians have faced increasing personal disrespect and vilification for their beliefs because of this type of ‘couldn’t care less’ rhetoric that Dawkins engages in through much of his writing. This is also the basis for the attacks against Michael Reiss; it is prejudice.

Later in the statement Dawkins asserts that the respectful approach of ‘accommodationism’ is ‘on the brink of scientific dishonesty’ and ‘devious.’ Does Dawkins really believe that showing respect to people with whom one disagrees is dishonest and devious?

Dawkins comments further that to ask for Reiss’s removal on the grounds of his holy orders is ‘close to a witch hunt’ and he finds it a bit squeamish. However, he believes that a vicar cannot hold a position at the Royal Society as a spokesman; if the Royal Society is seeking to show respect to those they disagree with. How odd!

Dawkins states “Unfortunately for him [Reiss] as a would-be spokesman for the Royal Society, Michael Reiss is also an ordained minister. To call for his resignation on those grounds, as several Nobel-prizewinning Fellows are now doing, comes a little too close to a witch-hunt for my squeamish taste. Nevertheless -- it's regrettable but true -- the fact that he is a priest undermines him as an effective spokesman for accommodationism.”

While Dawkins finds this ‘witch hunt’ a bit squeamish he believes that Reiss should have a choice over what position he should resign from, stating that ‘Perhaps, rather than resign his job with the Royal Society, Professor Reiss might consider resigning his Orders?’ So while Dawkins seems to want to distance himself from a perceived ‘witch hunt’ he is merely holding the coats of those throwing the stones because he believes that Reiss cannot hold the position while being an ordained minister. Dawkins cannot wash his hands of the intolerance that he is whipping up through his books and statements.

Dawkins would have been better off enjoying his breakfast - as the saying goes, when in a hole stop digging.

The Royal Society comments in its statement that “Some of Professor Michael Reiss's recent comments, on the issue of creationism in schools, while speaking as the Royal Society's Director of Education, were open to misinterpretation. While it was not his intention, this has led to damage to the Society's reputation. As a result, Professor Reiss and the Royal Society have agreed that, in the best interests of the Society, he will step down immediately as Director of Education, a part time post he held on secondment.”

So let us get this straight, misrepresentation of a statement damages the Royal Society? But Dawkins reveals the real reason why Reiss was forced out. It was because Reiss was an ordained minister in the Church of England, and Dawkins and friends consider this unacceptable. Many will conclude that the Royal Society has damaged its reputation by its own actions.

There is also some irony that this attack on a Church of England vicar by the Darwinistas took place at the same time as Rev Dr Michael Brown of the Church of England has suggested that it ought to apologise to Darwin.

[1]Dawkins 1
[2]Dawkins 2
Andrew S

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Child abuse in the classroom?

The Daily Mail is reporting that a publicly funded research project 'No Outsiders' (funded to the tune of £600,000 by the Economic and Social Research Council) is calling for sex education, including exploration of gay lifestyles, to children as young as five. Of course the Daily Mail loves to stir up the news to sell papers, but the idea that adults should teach children as young as five to explore their sexuality strikes many as a form of child abuse. Make up your own minds whether the Daily Mail is stirring it up by reading the piece - Teach 'the pleasure of gay sex' to children as young as five, say researchers

The comments of Simon Fanshawe, who is making a documentary for BBC 3, are also of relevance to this discussion Simon Fanshawe - Homosexual U.K. Documentarian Says Gay Lifestyle a "Sewer" of Casual Degrading Sex, Drug Abuse and Misery

There is sad irony that secular humanism, which seeks to remove discussions about creationism in schools, instead reduces humanity to mere physical objects, thus losing sight of the soul and spiritual make-up and needs of children and adults. Human beings were created to be temples of God's Spirit, not objects of lust and selfish gratification. Christians then believe that all people are worthy of respect and honour. While Dawkins claims that educating children about creation in schools is a form of child abuse, the evidence would suggest that secular humanism is instead opening the door to real abuse because it leads to a loss of respect towards other people.

Greg Haslam, minister of Westminster Chapel was interviewed for the BBC about creationism in schools, and commented that;

"The materialist explanation of the creation has nothing to offer - if we came from nothing and go into nothing, then that encourages people to lead reckless and materialistic lifestyles... Evolution is a world-view that leads to futility. It's no wonder people are dissatisfied with it." (In Who are the British Creationists?)
Andrew S

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Reiss under attack from some Royal Society members

Some members of the Royal Society are attacking Michael Reiss for his recent comments that discussions about creationism should be allowed in schools. Clearly they are angered by this. Sir Harry Kroto and Sir Richard Roberts, both Nobel prize winners, and others, have demanded the sacking of Reiss as the Royal Society’s education director. This follows Reiss's claim last week that creationism should be discussed in schools' science classes if raised by pupils.

Roberts thinks it is; ‘…outrageous that this man is suggesting that creationism should be discussed in a science classroom. It is an incredible idea and I am drafting a letter to other Nobel laureates - which would be sent to the Royal Society - to ask that Reiss be made to stand down.'

Dawkins commented that the idea that a; ‘clergyman [can be] in charge of education for the country's leading scientific organisation – [is a] a Monty Python sketch.'

Kroto commented that; 'The thing the Royal Society does not appreciate is the true nature of the forces arrayed against it and the Enlightenment for which the Royal Society should be the last champion.'

So much for respect for people of faith and free speech in an organisation that is allegedly committed to non authoritarian science. Robin McKie, writing in the Guardian, commented in the headline that scientists must ‘nail’ the creationists.[1] This does make one wonder about the state of mind of some of these secular humanists who seem to have deep seated insecurities as observed by outward displays of intolerant language, and through seeking to eliminate their opponents.

At the end of the day the Royal Society’s motto is 'Nullius in verba' which translates, 'on no one's word of authority.' It seems though that it is perceived religious authority that some members of the Royal Society hate more than their own authority, which they seek to bring to bear on science. Or perhaps they are blind to this determined authority that they use to ban open discussion about origins in school science classes. Michael Polanyi instead argued that there can only be general authority in science based on freedom, truth, and conscience.[2] And that is something the Royal Society scientists cannot ‘nail’ down how ever hard they try.

As an aside, it is interesting to read the history of the Royal Society where Joseph Lister was arguing against the Flood geology of Nicolai Steno on the basis that there was a plastic theory at work in the earth that could generate fossils. Steno's Flood geology correctly predicted the organic origin of fossils. The plastic theory of fossil formation was later rejected, but a Platonic 'plastic theory' of evolution as a 'source of generation' under David Hume and Erasmus Darwin was developed instead.

[1] Robin McKie, Our scientists must nail the creationists Guardian, 14 Sept 08

[2] Polanyi, M., Science, Faith, and Society. Oxford Univ. Press, 1946.
Andrew S

Friday, 12 September 2008

Robert Winston Rejects Deterministic Science

Following Professor Reiss's comments, reported on this blog, Professor Robert Winston has now criticised 'science delusions' and 'deterministic' science at the British Association Festival of Science in Liverpool. He accuses militant atheists such as Richard Dawkins of damaging science with their rhetoric. It seems as though they are having an exiting time in Liverpool questioning some sacred cows.

Winston comments that; "Far too many scientists including my good friend Richard Dawkins present science as...factually correct. And actually of course that clearly isn't true." "I think that...it is actually...irresponsible. I think it poo-poos other people's views of a universe about which none of us know clearly or absolutely"

Rejecting a misplaced certainty in science, Winston commented further that the traditional "deterministic" approach to genetics is 'too simplistic.'

"We can't any longer have the conventional understanding of genetics which everybody pedals because it is increasingly obvious that epigenetics - actually things which influence the genome's function - are much more important than we realised . One of the most important aspects of what makes us who we are is neither straight genes or straight environment but actually what happens to us during development."

Clearly such evidence calls into question the type of neo-Darwinian explanation involving 'selfish genes' favoured by Richard Dawkins.

Winston also criticised the idea that science can be separated from technology and the application of science as he believes they are interconnected. Scientists must therefore have an eye on the application of science in their work.

Read the Guardian Science Blog 12 Sept. 2008 Winston - science delusions
Andrew S

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Professor Reiss and teaching creationism in schools

Professor Reiss, director of education at the Royal Society, has again argued that science teachers should allow discussions about creationism and intelligent design in schools. Banning such teaching he argued is counterproductive and alienates children from science.

"My experience after having tried to teach biology for 20 years is if one simply gives the impression that such children are wrong, then they are not likely to learn much about the science…"

Reiss is also an ordained Church of England minister. Speaking at the British Association, Festival of Science in Liverpool he commented that science teachers should consider creationism as an alternative world view, and not see it as a "misconception." He commented that good teaching is about respecting the students' views. "I do believe in taking seriously and respectfully the concerns of students who do not accept the theory of evolution while still introducing them to it."

Prof John Bryant, who is a retired professor of cell and molecular biology at the University of Exeter, agreed that alternatives could be admissible for discussion in science classes. "If the class is mature enough and time permits, one might have a discussion on the alternative viewpoints [to evolution]." (Although he doesn't think intelligent design or creationism should be placed on an equal footing).

Reiss was also critical of Prof Richard Dawkins for saying that teaching creationism is akin to child abuse. "This is an inappropriate and insulting use of the phrase child abuse as anybody who has ever worked [in this area] knows."

Professor Reiss is not a creationist, but a one-time 'evangelist' for Darwinism who now recognises that respectful dialogue is the way forward with the present impasse between evolution and creation. I think this is a welcome development that can only increase understanding of the complexity of biological life for both sides.

Read the articles in the press

Daily Telegraph article
Times online article
Reiss - Guardian science blog
Guardian article

Andrew S

Sunday, 31 August 2008

Pedigree dogs - or mutant monsters?

A very interesting programme on the problem of inbreeding with pedigree dogs has recently been shown on BBC 1 in the UK; “Pedigree dogs exposed,” Tuesday 19th August 2008 21.00 BST. Although this programme didn’t set out to be anti Darwinian, there are some very interesting observations that come out of it that are really quite damaging to neo-Darwinian explanations. In fact the programme stated that the whole concept of purebred dogs came out of the eugenics movement of the 19th century.

It would seem that some breeds of dogs are so inbred that genetic defects are becoming a major problem, and are in fact leading to great suffering for the dogs. A related study by scientists at Imperial College London has shown that the 20,000 strong population of Boxer dogs has the genetic information of only 70 animals, the 12,000 Rough Collie’s contain the genetic information of only 50 dogs. See also:

Calboli FC , Sampson J, Fretwell N, Balding DJ, "Population structure and inbreeding from pedigree analysis of purebred dogs," Genetics, 179(1): 593–601, 2008. doi:10.1534/genetics.107.084954

Two observations come out of this. Firstly, a great deal of morphological change can occur in a short period of time and yet not turn a dog into something that isn’t a dog. Changes in size, shape, colouration etc. occur, but still they are dogs, while the gene pool becomes ever more focussed on a few individuals. Large changes can occur by isolating and expressing pre-existing genetic information in a species without generating new information.

Secondly, the compounding of harmful mutations is a major problem for inbreeding in small populations in the wild, so much so that it risks the viability of the breed / species itself. The problems association with the tumours on the faces of Tasmanian Devils is a case in point. And yet evolutionists will say that such small inbreeding populations have been an important part of the evolutionary process. The evidence suggests a different account, as it would constantly place evolving animals on the edge of extinction. Evolutionists will of course claim that artificial selection is not the same as natural selection because natural selection will weed out the unfit animals whereas human breeders don’t. But even that doesn’t help much as Haldane’s paradox highlights. Beneficial mutations are much rarer than harmful ones, and are more likely to be found in very large populations. But small, or isolated populations are required to get those mutations to spread through a population. The speed at which mutations become fixed in a population must also be sufficiently slow to weed out the far more numerous harmful mutations. Evolution then would require at the same time the benefit of very large populations and very small ones - without the overwhelmingly observed side effects that develop from compounding harmful mutation in small populations. Thus the gene pool of large populations cannot change much at all over time; while the gene pool of very small inbreeding populations in fact degrades making the species less fit overall.

It’s worth reading the Question Darwin blog for a more complete review of the evidence presented in the programme. Question Darwin Blog - Pedigree dogs, Genetic Entropy and Denial

Some video clips are available on the BBC website.

Video clip 1
Video clip 2
Video clip 3

Andrew S

Friday, 29 August 2008

Review: Creation or Evolution: Do we have to choose?

Denis Alexander has a new book out; Creation or Evolution: Do we have to choose? This is an interesting and important question to ask, but Alexander doesn’t deal with the complexity of the question particularly well.

The question can be answered as no, we don’t have to choose. All Christians accept that microevolution has occurred, including the pioneering creationist Henry Morris, and Alexander acknowledges this; but he downplays the question of the scale, speed and direction of evolution, believing instead that evolution should be accepted as a universal scientific theory. Creationists believe that evolution is limited to change within species, perhaps with limited speciation. It is clear that in his book Alexander seeks to adapt Scripture to fit with the currently accepted evolutionary scientific theories. According to Alexander’s scheme of things, Scripture is not allowed to shape science, but science is allowed to shape the interpretation of Scripture even when that science is open to change, as is often the case. This approach is unsatisfactory for a number of reasons, not least because it places the interpretation of Scripture at the mercy of changeable science and the latest 'fashionable' scientific theories.

There is also a dualistic separation of science and faith in this scheme, and Alexander (p.185) comments that there is one great dualism between creation and the Creator, although the New Testament reveals that Christians and the Church are designed to be God’s tabernacle, a temple of biological flesh in which God seeks to dwell in unity with all believers. The dualism in separating matter and spirit though derives from Galileo where science offers the how questions about the world, while faith provides the why questions. This position was though derived from the Islamic scholar Averroes who brought the works of Plato back into western thought. Platonism divides the material from the spiritual in a strict dualism. However, Judeo-Christian theology is interwoven with real physical events as can be seen for instance throughout the Bible where the miracles of Jesus have prophetic, theological significance. But Alexander argues that the Creation account was never meant to be considered a miraculous series of events, again playing fast and loose with theology to support his weak argument.

Thomas Torrance instead argued that there should be no division between nature and the supernatural in Christian theology, and Alvin Plantinga has asserted that Christians are perfectly entitled to conduct theistic science starting from what is known from faith and Scripture. However, Alexander doesn’t address such comments from leading theologians, but places more faith in the word and work of scientists and in effect relegates the importance and character of theology to a place of subordination to science. Another Christian theologian, Gavin d’Costa, has argued that theology needs to be ‘prised free of its subservience to the Enlightenment model of the university,’ because theology is instead based upon revelation by the Holy Spirit. D’Costa argues that the real intellectual threat to theology does not come from atheists, but from ‘…theologians who don’t do theology properly.’[1] Alexander does provide a few useful insights in the opening chapters on the Genesis account, but spoils this because he is forced to interpret Scripture in light of his own view of science, not questioning the foundational assumptions of such science.

Alexander provides some useful material on microevolution and limited speciation that may be observable in nature, but having raised interest in such observable science, he then moves on quickly to discuss unobserved macro-evolutionary changes. Sadly, many Christians will not spot the subtle shift in reasoning here, but be blinded by a false authority in science, (when no such authority can exist because of the nature of true science). His book in fact has some notable endorsements by theologians, such as J.J. Packer, who seem beguiled by evolution and do not seem too concerned about the consequences for faith. At times Alexander speaks of evolution as being established truth, but also notes in other places that scientific explanations can only be ‘consistent with’ the evidence. The apparent contradiction does not seem to bother him. His strong commitment to Darwinism is really based on faith, but he leaves the impression in the mind of the non-scientist that macroevolution is proved scientifically.

Alexander is in fact involved with Theos and his own Faraday Institute in a project that seeks to ‘Rescue Darwin’ from ideology and therefore to undermine both atheists and creationists as a ‘plague on both your houses’ according to Paul Woolley of Theos.[2] Alexander then is seeking to argue that evolution was developed as a purely scientific explanation and is therefore compatible with Christianity. This approach is really quite na├»ve (and that is the kindest thing I can say about it) as it fails to address the overwhelming evidence that various non-Christian ideologies influenced Darwin’s work. A number of sources from philosophy and the field of economics and social theory, such as Thomas Malthus, Auguste Comte, Adam Smith, Erasmus Darwin and David Hume, influenced Darwin. We would challenge Denis Alexander, Theos and Faraday Institute to address the strong evidence that Darwin’s work was never free from such ideological foundations.

Much of the book is written in a reasonable manner, except in the three-page postscript where he launches a bitter attack against fellow believers. He infers that Christians who reject evolution are ‘dangerous,’ disgraceful’ and therefore ‘embarrassing’ to the gospel, and that such attacks against evolution are ‘divisive and split the Christian community.’ According to Alexander then ordinary Christians are not even allowed to have honest doubts about Darwinism, or if they do they must keep quiet and just trust the scientists to get on with their work. Quite frankly Denis, such comments do not generate trust, but are a cause of further division and distrust. Many will find these comments to be rather arrogant, and it seems to be an attempt at bullying Christian opponents into submission. I cannot see how this is in accord with the gospel of Christ. The work of Alexander and Theos seems to be an attempt to isolate and separate creationists from other Christians, and thus divide the Christian community instead of seeking to include all Christians and build unity. Discussing points of disagreement in a respectful and loving manner is of great importance to the evangelical Christian community. Creationists have genuine concerns about evolution, not least that it is the cause of loss of faith amongst many young people who struggle with their faith. This is because there is a perception that evolution means that Christianity is not grounded in evidence in the material world, but faith is instead just a blind leap in the dark. The type of science Alexander is engaged in is one that divides the material realm from the theology. These issues need to be addressed in a respectful and reasoned manner. Alexander’s comments instead are divisive and unhelpful, and if he finds some of his fellow Christians embarrassing then I would suggest his elevated position at Cambridge is a stumbling block to him. I think in hindsight he will regret inserting this postscript. Denis Alexander’s book, Creation or Evolution: Do we have to choose? is published by Monarch Books, (2008).


Andrew S.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Christian Darwinism and Christian unity

It would seem that the Christian Darwinists are engaged in an organised and concerted attempt to undermine and isolate Christian creationists and Christian intelligent design supporters. Denis Alexander in his new book infers that such Christians are 'dangerous,' 'disgraceful' and states that they are 'embarrassing.' He has articles in Third Way magazine and Christianity magazine that makes similar points.

Part of the Christianity magazine article is online here

Denis Alexander is working with Christian Think Tank 'Theos' in order to 'Rescue Darwin' from ideology. Libby Purves comments that "...the Theos think-tank about faith has set up a project with the Faraday Institute and a grant from the Templeton Foundation, to conduct a project aimed at the Darwin anniversary."

Libby Purves - The Times blog

Purves comments "Its director [Paul Woolley] writes to me:

"Basically the idea is to 'Rescue Darwin' from the crossfire of a battle (between the creationists and public atheists) that he had little personal interest in. There's more to it than that, but the main objective will be a kind of 'plague on both your houses', arguing that both the creationists/IDers and the militant atheists are wrong, that Darwinian evolution is compatible with Christianity, and that we need to treat Darwin as a supremely gifted scientist and not the mascot (or demon) for one anti/religious cause or another"."

Are we to infer from this that establishing the 'truth' of Darwinism is more important than developing Christian unity? Many of us have long called for respectful dialogue in this area to increase understanding, but some Christians seek to exclude and divide their fellow believers. So much for John 17:23, or the 'ministry of reconciliation' that Paul asserts Christians have in 2 Corn. 5:18.

If these Christian Darwinists wish a 'plague' on their fellow believers and plan to isolate them from public dialogue, then I wonder where Christ is in their endeavours? The idea that it is possible to divide Christians in order to promote the gospel is ever so slightly misguided. Secondly the idea that Darwinism is an ideology free theory and that Darwin was purely a scientist is rather naive. I would challenge Theos and Alexander to research the history and beliefs of those who inspired Darwin; people like Adam Smith, Thomas Malthus, David Hume, Erasmus Darwin, Auguste Comte, Charles Lyell, Geoffrey Grant etc. they may be surprised by what they find in terms of economic and social theory that run along atheistic, deistic and sometimes pagan lines of thought.
Andrew S.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Prince of Wales criticises GM crops

The Prince of Wales has criticised GM crops for threatening extensive damage to the ecosystem. He commented that GM was being developed for the sake of big business against the interests of small farmers around the world. Calling GM crops a "gigantic experiment with nature and the whole of humanity" he argued that it has "gone seriously wrong".

The Prince believes that relying on "gigantic corporations" for food production will end in "disaster" for the environment and humanity. Instead he argues that we should be developing "food security not food production." "If they think this is the way to go, we will end up with millions of small farmers all over the world being driven off their land into unsustainable, unmanageable, degraded and dysfunctional conurbations of unmentionable awfulness." This is a fair point regarding the social consequence of making poor farmers dependent on big agro businesses for the management of their farming practices, undoing centuries of tradition.

Of course Charles has come in for a lot of criticism from politicians, scientists and business for his comments. Undoubtedly this will result in some further comment from environmentalists, and although some of his comments might seem over the top they are very welcome for those who want to see a more organic, local and sustainable future for agriculture.

Prince Charles on GM crops
Andrew S

Dawkins on Ethics

Watching part 2 of Dawkins series on the Genius of Charles Darwin I couldn't help noticing how sad Dawkins looks sometimes. Human beings have spiritual needs that are met in worshipping God, and Dawkins refusal to acknowledge and worship God must be taking its toll on his life.

As for content; there was a glaring inconsistency in his questioning and comparison to apes. Thankfully apes don't ask questions about their origins, which makes one wonder why Dawkins does, if he thinks he is just a fifth ape. As Darwin questioned, who would trust the conviction of a monkey's mind?

Dawkins spent a great deal of the programme promoting himself, as if the series should really be entitled the Genius of Richard Dawkins. But Dawkins made some claims about ethics. Again there is inconsistency in Dawkins statements, firstly recognising that ethics haven't evolved, then explaining how he thinks they have evolved. Which is it to be?

Dawkins asserts that altruism has evolved so that we can be nice to each other, but if ethics are merely evolved and based on the sentiment of sympathy it must be recognised that hatred has evolved too because that is a sentiment as well, in which case one may ask which is the correct one to follow? But Dawkins, thankfully, thinks the Christian concept of love is of more importance than hatred. A shame that Hitler and communist atheists have not agreed. Both were inspired by Darwinism, but Dawkins ignored communism, and stated that Hitler was not a Darwinist. I beg to differ.

Any attempt to model ethics from nature falls into the naturalistic fallacy of Hume and G.E.Moore. How can anyone, they questioned, consistently develop ethics from facts of nature? Christians believe that human beings do have an inner witness to know right from wrong, even atheists, but it is one given by God, and easily suppressed because of mankind's selfishness. All of us, including Dawkins, need to submit to God so that we might be filled with Christ's transforming grace.
Andrew S.

Saturday, 9 August 2008

God and Evolution

Justin Thacker offers his view of Dawkins' programme ‘The Genius of Charles Darwin’ in the Guardian arguing that ‘God and evolution can coexist.’ Thacker makes some useful criticisms of Dawkins, not least his failure to engage with anyone other than 15 year old school children.

Justin Thacker - God and evolution can coexist

Thacker argues that Christians should accept evolution, commenting that ‘I'm an evangelical Christian, but I have no difficulties in believing that evolution is the best scientific account we have for the diversity of life on our planet.’ But creationists and intelligent design proponents also recognise that evolution can lead to greater diversity of life. Diverisification is not the problem. The problem is how we can account for a progressive increase in complexity from molecule to man that is the grand evolutionary claim.

But Thacker also recognises this and comments “What people struggle with is the idea that all that is required to explain the whole of life's diversity is these kind of small-scale changes being replicated enough times. There is evidence that such macro-evolutionary changes have occurred, that the tree of life is in fact one, but Dawkins chose not to highlight it.”

Thacker is correct to note that this is the question that really divides Christians, and intelligent design theorists and creationists believe that the problem has not been closed by evolution.

So all Christians recognise that God and evolution can coexist, the problem is over the extent of evolution and whether God is allowed any direct input into his creation. Perhaps Justin Thacker, as head of Theology at the EA, would like to organise a forum for Christians on both sides to discuss these issues.

Friday, 1 August 2008

What does Denis Alexander know?

Denis Alexander has a letter in the New Scientist (3oth July 08) 'Advertising Ethics' in which he carefully equates the claims of creationism with astrology as being equally unscientific.

Alexander comments that we 'know from science itself [that the claims of creationism and astrology] are not true.' A strong statement to make. He then comments that 'Science continually throws up big questions, not least ethical questions, which science itself cannot answer.'

Presumably though the origin of life question is a 'big question' also. So some 'big questions' about unrepeatable events in the past have known answers in science, while other 'big questions' cannot be answered by science. I would gently suggest there is an inconsistency there Denis.

Interestingly Steve Fuller, in his latest book, 'Dissent over Descent' compares Darwinism to astrology. According to Fuller, astrology claims causality at a spatial distance, while evolution claims causality at a temporal distance. But I think the problem for Alexander is that he has the wrong view of science. Science is a process of investigation where findings are held provisionally, but Alexander is blinded by science as offering objective, absolute knowledge. Science becomes another word for truth. I would suggest that repeatable science comes close to this, but even here results have to be interpreted within a theoretical framework that is presuppositional, but when dealing with origin science the grounds are far less certain because of the non repeatability of the problem. All scientists can do is make inferences based on probability. So where does Denis get his certainty from to make such a statement about origins when his claims are not testable in science? I would suggest he is engaged in a rhetorical argument to hold together a paradigm that he is emotionally attached to.

Andrew S.

Sunday, 27 July 2008

150 Year Old Monkey Puzzle Tree facing the chop


I couldn't resist this story. Whether you believe in prophetic signs or not, I thought this an amusing piece in light of the forthcoming 150 year celebrations of Darwin's book Origins.

The reason the tree is under threat is because it would seem the tree's needle-like leaves are harming the children. In the same way many Christians believe that Darwin's long rhetorical argument in Origins has damaged the faith of millions of children taught to accept evolution and reject the power of God in creation.

150-year-old Monkey puzzle tree facing chop council says

The tree is at West Cross near Swansea. Any zealous minister's of religion living near Swansea who believe this to be a sign from God should resist the temptation to go out late at night and cut it down. ;o)

As for Darwin's writing; that will continue to be exposed as flawed in the light of advances in science that are revealing a degree of complexity that was unknown to Darwin. Science is opening up gaps in our knowledge faster than they are being closed.
Andrew S

Saturday, 19 July 2008

Viva la evolution?

Denis Alexander has written an article in Third Way magazine that is available online. This generated a lot of discussion, including a welcome dialogue with Rodney Holder. Thanks to Rodney for being willing to engage in discussion over this issue. Read more at:


http://www.thirdwaymagazine.com/334

Andrew S

Monday, 14 July 2008

ID friendly books under attack for speaking out.

Darwinists appear to be getting desperate in their attempts at silencing the design argument. Steven Poole for instance has written a vitriolic piece in the Guardian against Steve Fuller's latest book 'Dissent over Descent.' In fact Poole seems to be straining to find sufficient words strong enough to condemn the book. The Darwinian cage is clearing being rattled when his review so clearly lacks objectivity.

Steve Poole's hatchet job

Denis Alexander has also written a negative review of John Lennox's book 'God's Undertaker' in the August 2008 Christianity Magazine. Alexander seems driven by something in his determined work at undermining ID. I would suggest that a life long commitment to Darwinism might mean that there is reluctance to acceptance another interpretation of the evidence for personal reasons. One wonders what evolutionary science is when it is motivated by personal and cultural reasons in this way? There is some irony that in the run up to 150 year anniversary of Darwin's book, Darwinism itself is crumbling by its failure to engage in rational discourse with opponents and critics.
Andrew S

Monday, 7 July 2008

Biofuels responsible for 75% lift in prices

An unpublished report from the World Bank shows that the EU and US drive for biofuels has lifted the prices of world food crops by some 75 percent.

A basket of food prices by the study shows that food prices have risen by 140% between 2002 and February of this year. The report is so far unpublished, arguably to prevent embarassment to George Bush according to the Telegraph. But it has pushed 100 million people into poverty.

There are now calls to scrap the 10% target for biofuel use in petrol and diesel in the EU, and indeed the UK has moved in this direction. Others dispute the figure of 75%, but it is clear that the dash to biofuels has caused more harm than good with food prices rocketing and rain forests felled. A more measured response is necessary.
Andrew S

Ekklesia, Education and Intelligent Design

Trying to understand Ekklesia is not easy. One minute they are advocating inclusion and dialogue across faith boundaries, the next they are engaged in a political campaign to close down debate in faith education. Ekklesia formed out of ‘Workshop’ in 2002; they claim it is an independent theological training programme of the Anvil Trust. The Anvil Trust wants ‘inclusive Christian learning in today’s diverse world.’ Ekklesia state they want ‘freedom of expression,’ ‘non-compulsion in religion and belief’ the ‘engagement of theology with science and culture’ and ‘respectful engagement with those of other faiths.’

Why then are they so antagonistic to those who believe in divine creation or intelligent design, and are thus campaigning to restrict religious freedom in the classroom? Why are they seeking to deny human rights to those of traditional faith communities, I wonder? By campaigning along side the British Humanist Association, Ekklesia seem to be advocating a specifically secular humanist agenda in education by engaging in political activity against Christians, Jews and Muslims. And they accuse others of being ideologically driven. What of Ekklesia’s ideological motivation? I would suggest it is really metaphysical naturalism. Ekklesia comment that.

“Ekklesia has argued for some time…that ‘intelligent design’ is a serious category mistake and a corrosive force in both theological and scientific discourses. It brings the proper engagement of religion and science into disrepute, and it benefits those who wish to pursue dubious ideological agendas at the expense of a more complex common search for truth and wisdom.”[1]

I have previously commented why this is wrong, not least because it seeks to limit what God can and cannot do. It also limits what science can study and assumes a priori the truth of metaphysical naturalism. But I think part of the problem with Ekklesia can be seen from the following statement.

'… biblical literalists' Simon Barrow comments 'turn God into some sort of super-being, rather than the wholly unconditioned source, flow and destiny of all being and becoming – a very different notion, and central to the developed monotheistic traditions.' [1]

There seems to be a move away from a personal God who is revealed to mankind in Jesus Christ, in favour of some sort of vague theism at best, pantheism at worst. The Bible infact invites comparison between God and man through his creation in the image of God, and this is integral to the theology of the incarnation. Barrow calls for churches to engage in science and religion education to 'discern' the problems with creationism and ID commenting that.

“This is necessary not just to ensure that people are equipped to discern the real problems with movements like ID and creationism, but in order to negotiate the ethical, pastoral, political, economic, spiritual and theological challenges of new technologies, the bio-sciences, genomics and many other disciplines reshaping our world and our condition. The real task ahead of us is not defensive, it is profoundly creative.”[1]

Firstly, there is also some irony that Simon Barrow sees human endeavour in science in bio-sciences and genomics as ‘creative’ while denying the direct creativity of God in nature.

But there is also a subtle, but important distinction between a belief in human centred progress and belief in divine grace or providence that is at work in the world. All that we do as Christians, who are involved in science, must be done within God’s grace. Doing science as human centred progress is arrogant and in effect Faustian science. Such ‘progress’ has resulted in many mistakes through history and led to post modernism with its great distrust of science. There is some irony that Ekklesia, who say they are seeking to develop faith in a ‘post-Christendom’ world are engaged in propping up the failure of modernism in science.

There is also irony in that Ekklesia seek to deny human rights in education while claiming to be for education and human rights. Ekkeslia have no understanding that metaphysical naturalism is in effect ‘dumbing down’ science, because it seeks to teach one narrow philosophy as ‘fact’ and prevent children from thinking for themselves. This is a Platonic conception of education (from Plato’s Republic) based on a rigid class structure where only a small group should be allowed to think for themselves, the majority should be taught to accept facts sufficient to enable them to become competent warriors or productive workers. Karl Popper in Open Society and its Enemies noted that Platonism and Marxism were essentially tyranical and opposed to open societies. Is Ekklesia also opposed to an open society through its political activity against one section of Christianity? I wonder?

[1] Simon Barrow, Theology, science and the problem of ID, Ekklesia.
http://ekklesia.co.uk/node/6707
See also:
ISSR Statement falls back on Old Dogmas
http://www.csm.org.uk/news.php?viewmessage=99

Ekklesia tries to undermine Intelligent Design Initiative
http://www.csm.org.uk/news.php?viewmessage=70