‘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

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.