What Darwin Got Wrong and Why Creationism Isn’t Science

It has been a year since the showdown between Bill Nye “the Science Guy” and Ken Ham “the Six-Thousand Year-Old Earth Guy”. Bill Nye caught a lot of flak from scientists for debating Ham because a “debate” implies two equally credible options. Even the BioLogos Foundation (dedicated to an evolutionary understanding of creation) discouraged the Ham/Nye debate because debates imply that you must choose between evolution and faith. ham-vs-nye-debate
Public debates are favorites of creationists – the limited time format and simplified concepts needed for a non-scientific audience usually favor the creationist debater. Debaters often employ the “Gish Gallop” (named for a famous creationist), a debating strategy in which an opponent is deluged with small arguments that can’t possibly be answered in the allotted time. If all arguments are not refuted, the creationist debater declares victory.

Debating Canada

When the Institute for Creation Research scheduled their November 2014 anti-evolution “Origin Summit” on the campus of Michigan State University, their first move was to organize a debate. Unfortunately for the group, the science faculty banded together and refused to participate in a debate with the creationist group.

Not only did the science faculty refuse to debate, they refused to comment publicly or on the record until after the event was over. The faculty of MSU steadfastly refused to elevate the status of creationism to science.
A few Michigan State students did, however, set up an outreach booth as a good-will gesture to the summit attendees. Even so, the student volunteers chose not to engage in debate.

The outreach booth organizer explained:

We don’t debate evolution because it’s not debatable. It’s like debating the existence of Canada.

Darwin Editorial_cartoon_depicting_Charles_Darwin_as_an_ape_(1871)

Certainly no scientist has been more maligned or been the subject of more unflattering caricatures than the author of evolution theory, Charles Darwin. But Charles Darwin wasn’t the only or even the first of his day to suggest that living things evolved from a common ancestor. Other scientists had suggested it, including Darwin’s own grandfather.

Darwin developed the theory of evolution in the late 1830’s, but he never published a paper– he planned to present it in one all-inclusive book. Meanwhile, another naturalist (as biologists were called at the time), Alfred Russel Wallace, had arrived at a very similar theory of evolution. Both Darwin and Wallace presented papers in 1858, but the papers were ignored. It was Darwin’s book On the Origin of Species published the following year that caused a scientific and cultural earthquake.

Darwin’s big idea eventually revolutionized science and became the foundation for all of modern biology. Darwin said that evolution occurred because of natural selection: living organisms vary, and some of these variations will better suit individuals to the environment. Individuals that are better suited for the environment will live longer and produce more offspring, thus passing down the traits to future generations. Beneficial traits are retained, useless or harmful traits disappear. Over time, a new species will emerge.

Darwin Was Wrong

Darwin himself realized that there was a gaping hole in his theory: offspring obviously had a mix of their parents’ traits, but how were traits passed from parents to offspring?

Little cell seeds – that was Darwin’s answer. According to Darwin, each cell in the body sheds little cell seeds (Darwin called them “gemmules”). Little cell seeds from both parents blend together to form the offspring. Some gemmules are stronger, so they dominate over the others.

Big problem: if traits are blended in offspring, it would not be very long before beneficial traits are diluted out of future generations.

Darwin’s explanation of how traits are passed from parent to offspring was, in a word, wrong.
Lacking an answer to the problem of heredity, enthusiasm for Darwin’s theory waned.

Super Monk to the Rescue!

While Darwin was busy in the 1850s developing his theory and writing his book, an Augustinian monk was painstakingly carrying out detailed botanical experiments in Brno Abbey (now part of the Czech Republic). Gregor_Mendel_ovalThe Abbey had a long history of scientific inquiry – specifically in the areas of agriculture and plant science. Gregor Mendel studied the inheritance of traits in pea plants – wrinkled or round seeds, yellow or green pods, and other easily identifiable traits.

(Raise your hand if you remember working out Punnett squares in school – you may thank Brother Mendel for that.)

600px-Punnett_Square.svgAfter eight years, thousands of crosses, and meticulous statistical study, Mendel determined that traits are not blended in offspring but are inherited whole.
Mendel published his work in 1866, but no one paid attention.
Almost twenty years after his death, Mendel’s work was rediscovered, breathing new life into Darwin’s theory. Before long we discovered that DNA is the chemical that holds the information for traits in all living things… then off we went, full-steam ahead into the 20th and 21st centuries and the age of genetics.

We now understand that traits, inherited from parents, are combined in unique ways at conception. Unless you are an identical twin, you differ genetically from your siblings. In addition, mutations (copying mistakes in DNA) occur frequently, and these can change a trait. When humans or any living organisms are born with traits that better suit them to their environment, their chances for surviving and having lots of offspring increase.

Embarrassing Progress

Darwin’s “gemmules” idea was utterly wrong, but his theory of evolution by natural selection has stood the tests of time and countless scientific inquiries. Matt Simon, writing in Wired magazine said this:

Being wildly wrong is perfectly healthy in science, because when someone comes along to prove that you’re wrong, that’s progress. Somewhat embarrassing progress for the person being corrected, sure, but progress nonetheless.

What Makes Something “Science”?

Science theories explain. A science theory isn’t speculation or even an “educated” guess. A science theory is an explanation that fits the evidence. For an idea to gain the status of “theory” in science, it must be confirmed consistently by observation and experimentation. As new evidence is discovered, a theory may be adjusted or tweaked, but the underlying principles remain unchanged.

Gravity is a theory. The earth orbiting the sun is a theory. There’s also germ theory and molecular theory. And, of course, evolution theory. As precise as these are, they are still incomplete. We are still tweaking as evidence unfolds.

Darwin theorized that all living things evolved from simpler forms  because of natural selection. What Darwin did not know was all the ways natural selection occurs. We are learning more and more about the “how” of natural selection and how species separate from each other, but the theory – the fact – of evolution remains true.

Science theories have predictive power. A good theory allows scientists to make predictions that will turn out to be roughly correct. When Darwin died, the fossil record was not nearly what it is today. And there certainly was no genetic evidence, much less mapping of genomes.

Yet – fossils of both plants and animals were found just where we expect they’d be found – just where Darwin’s theory predicts they will be found. For example, fish are found in older rock than are amphibians, and Tiktaalik (the famous fish to amphibian transitional fossil) was found in between. meetTik1

The explosion of genetic data over the last two decades doesn’t just show apparent relationships between living things, it shows actual relationships. DNA evidence is the smoking gun – concrete evidence of the interrelatedness of all living organisms.

Is Creationism Science?

In courtrooms across the United States, as well as in state boards of education and textbook hearings, advocates have fought for creationism (and its science-y sibling, intelligent design) as an “alternative” theory to evolution in science classrooms.

Both young earth creationism and intelligent design claim that all life was designed and created specially, uniquely, and separately. If this is true, then all predictive power is lost. If every organism is self-contained, there are no patterns to discover. There are no relationships to discover. Any direction we look for new information is just a shot in the dark.

Kenneth Miller is a biologist, author of a best-selling biology textbook, and a Christian. As an expert witness in the landmark Dover court case, Miller argued that creationism and intelligent design have no place in the science classroom. If non-natural causes are considered legitimate science explanations, Miller reasons, then all science ground rules change.

Why bother to conduct an exhaustive molecular search through primate virus genomes to find the source of HIV if it was sent from God as a divine warning? Why study the physics of light if the rainbow is a phenomenon given to us by a “whimsical” designer (according to William Dembski, a leader in the Intelligent Design movement)?

sciencefun.wordpress.com

sciencefun.wordpress.com

 

Science is predictable and explainable because it deals with natural causes.
Young Earth Creationism and Intelligent Design can’t predict. They can’t explain. They aren’t science.

What Does the Theory of Evolution Say About God?

Nothing.

The theory of evolution says nothing about God. The theory of evolution says nothing about how life began, or how matter came into being. The theory of evolution explains how life developed once it got going.

Darwin could not have imagined the vast and diverse evidence we have now that supports his theory.

Francis Collins said it succinctly:

Trying to do biology without evolution would be like trying to do physics without mathematics.

ccat reading

***************
The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
*************

string theory

What’s New in Human Evolution and the Monkeys in my Family Tree

Obviously, the scientists in my family go WAY back. This newspaper ad, (circa late 1800s), features my great-great- grandfather, Stephen Kellogg. Professor Stephen Kellogg croppedProfessor Kellogg, that is: a “scientific masseur” and “suggestive therapeutist”. Family lore is that his wife subsequently left him, not keen on the idea of her husband seeing the local townswomen in various stages of massage-necessitated undress (not to mention the wide possibilities of suggestions in “suggestive therapy”).

The “professor” is an interesting bud on my family tree. And branching off all around him are greats and greats of aunts, uncles, and cousins. My family tree tells me that I descended from the illustrious Professor Kellogg – he is my ancestor, I am his direct descendant. All the aunts, uncles, and cousins many times removed are my relatives, some more closely related than others. They are my relatives, but not my ancestors.

Our Common Ancestor

“If we came from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?”
A Twitter feed I follow called “Take That Darwin” trolls the twitterverse daily and retweets all the variations of the “why are there still monkeys” meme along with snarky responses (“Wow! Have scientists never thought of that??”). Irritainment, I know.

Short answer – people did not “come from” monkeys. Monkeys are still around because monkeys did not “change into” humans.

However, humans share a common ancestor with the great apes, specifically chimpanzees and bonobos. Genetic analysis estimates that the last common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees lived between eight million and five million years ago. After that, the family tree branched off in different directions – modern apes preceded by their (now extinct) ancestors as well as great aunts and uncles and cousins; modern humans preceded by their (now extinct) ancestors as well as great aunts and uncles and cousins.

Family Tree or Family Bush?

Until the late 1990s, the record of human history was fairly straightforward. The human family tree was scraggly – basically just a trunk and one or two branches. Here’s what we thought: about 4.4 million years ago, the very first hominins (the science word for humans and their ancestors) appeared in east Africa. The most famous early hominin is “Lucy” (her science name is Australopithecus).

About 2.2 million years ago, our genus, Homo, appeared. About one million years ago, members of Homo left Africa and moved into Asia. Separated from their kin in Africa, a new species of Homo arose in Asia called Homo erectus. Homo erectus moved into Europe and became Homo neanderthalensis (the Neanderthals).

These two Homo species thrived for hundreds of thousands of years until a new species of Homo charged out of Africa and took the planet by storm. The new kids on the block were us – modern humans – Homo sapiens. We were so good and smart and talented and verbal we out-competed or killed off all other Homo species until we were the last group standing, approximately 30,000 years ago.

Or so we thought.

Turns out, the human family tree is a bit bushier – not quite the straight shot we once thought from Lucy to Homo erectus to Neanderthals to us. Over the last several decades, a wealth of new fossil finds has changed the picture.

Scientific American (Sept. 2014)

Scientific American
(Sept. 2014)

In addition, evidence from genetic studies has fine-tuned it all. (Side note: it is hard to overstate the impact of modern genetics on evolutionary biology – it is the smoking gun of evidence predicted by the fossil record.)

Evidence now indicates that some of the early hominins left Africa thousands of years before Homo, but died out.

There is also evidence that for several thousand years, our direct ancestors shared the planet with some of our close relatives (other hominins) who were not in our direct lineage – hominin aunts, uncles, and cousins, so to speak. These hominin aunts, uncles, and cousins eventually went extinct, with modern humans the lone survivors.

Recent discoveries also indicate that modern humans were emerging, filling Africa, and migrating out of Africa during a time of climate changes, specifically the waxing and waning of ice ages. The superior brains, dexterity, and language of modern humans probably allowed them to survive while earlier humans went extinct.

And it appears there was another reason for the replacement of the Neanderthals by modern humans in Europe: modern humans and Neanderthals interbred. In fact, the genomes of non-African people today are up to 3 percent Neanderthal.

The human family tree is evidently full of branches, all of which eventually came to a dead end except one: Homo sapiens – us.

What Makes Us Special?

Our Skeletons. The human skeleton, unlike the skeleton of the chimp, allows upright posture, walking on two feet, and fine motor coordination. Two characteristics that initially allow scientists to distinguish early human fossils from chimp fossils are found in the skull. In humans, the opening for the spinal cord is forwardly placed, allowing for upright posture.

Teeth are also telling – the canine teeth are small in humans and large in chimps; human teeth are arranged in an arch, chimp teeth are in a rectangular configuration.

large canines in chimps ARKive image

ape,               "Lucy",              modern human

ape, “Lucy”, modern human

 

Skull and teeth traits emerged early in the hominins, but other traits that are hallmarks of the human body emerged in our forebears piecemeal over millions of years: a large brain, a long flexible thumb, long legs, a short and broad pelvis, a long flexible waist, and low shoulders.

Human femurs (thigh bone) point inward, allowing upright walking; chimp femurs are splayed outward – a sign of a knuckle-walking chimp.

chimp, "Lucy", modern human

chimp, “Lucy”, modern human

When scientists find fossils with some or all of these traits, they know they’ve found a human or a human relative, not an ape.

Tools: Tool use really took off with the appearance of the genus Homo, but there is evidence that tools were used at least a half a million years before Homo arrived. The Homo groups used fire, clothing, and built shelters. The more sophisticated tools of Homo allowed more efficient hunting and butchering of animals, fueling the growth of a large brain with a protein-rich diet.
But even the large brain in the earlier members of Homo did not result in the success achieved by modern humans.

Symbols. What really made us who we are happened relatively quickly (in evolutionary time). About 100,000 years ago, a Homo group in Africa acquired the ability to use and understand symbols. This unique cognitive ability distinguished Homo sapiens from all other groups. Humans could engage in shared tasks such as hunting big game and building complex societies. They developed language and communicated abstract ideas. Humans are alone in the ability to discern what another person is thinking in order to work toward a shared goal.

So Where’s the Missing Link?

“Scientists have never found the missing link!” is often a throw-down argument used to topple claims of human evolution. Lancelot Link Secret Chimp
Actually, there isn’t a missing link between apes and humans.
There are multitudes of links. There is a wealth of missing links. The bushy tree of human evolution is full of them.

Scientific American

Scientific American

“Lucy” and her close cousins are excellent examples of the transition from ape to modern human. Lucy’s skull is small and chimp-like, so she had a small brain. But her teeth were more human – small canines with arched tooth rows. In her middle, she was a mixture of ape and human traits. But her lower body was almost modern human.
The fossils that date from the time of Lucy and her cousins to the early Homo groups become less and less ape-like and more and more human-like as they progress to anatomically modern humans.

Answers in Genesis, Ken Ham’s creationist organization and the most prolific producer of young earth, literal seven-day-creation writings, rejects all evidence of human evolution and the existence of any “missing links”. The proof, they say, is not in the fossils, but rather in the “Biblical Worldview”:

Therefore, a now-extinct ape with a unique pelvic anatomical design should not even be considered as a possible missing link. There were none. Anatomical variations do nothing to threaten biblical authority or to support evolution. …Adopting a biblical worldview means accepting God at His word.

A Creating Creation

Accepting the natural history of human beings does not have to threaten faith.
The real threat to faith is equating a “biblical world view” with a 6,000 year-old earth and a literal, historical, and scientific interpretation of the Genesis creation stories.

There is absolutely nothing in evolutionary biology that dismisses God or devalues faith. Charles Darwin recognized that his ideas would be perceived by some to be irreligious and he addressed the religious objections head-on. Why would someone hold religious objections to the origin of man, over time, using natural processes, Darwin asked, but not object to the natural processes that, over time, bring about the birth of a baby?

And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of each kind, cattle and crawling things and wild beasts of each kind.” And it was so. God made wild beasts of each kind and cattle of every kind and all crawling things on the ground of each kind, and God saw that it was good (Gen. 1:24-25).

In 24, the earth is commanded to “create”. But in 25, it is God who creates. Inconsistent?
Not at all.
Here’s Robert C. Bishop, writing at BioLogos:

…these verses are telling us that God and creation are both at work fulfilling God’s purposes in bringing forth and sustaining living creatures.

In other words, God created a creation capable of creating.

Biologically, we are related to all living things – we are part of one big family tree.
Chemically, we are made of the same stuff as the universe.
Truly, we are creatures of the dust and clay.

And none of that contradicts faith in God. None of it demeans or devalues God – a God who loved his creation so much that he stepped down and became part of his creation, part of the family tree, a creature of the dust and clay. God with us.

ccat reading

 ***************
The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.

*************

anthropologists-dream

 

 

 

 

An Identity Crisis and a Cosmic Jerry Springer (Reading Genesis, part 3)

They were supposed to be God’s chosen people, a light to the nations.

They were supposed to have possession of a land.

They were supposed to worship in a glorious temple.

They were supposed to have a son of David on the throne forever.

Instead, they were carted off in humiliation, their capital and temple in ruins. Instead of being a light to the nations, they were ridiculed by them. David’s dynasty was dead and buried, and never again would a son of David sit on Israel’s actual throne.

The exile to Babylon was the most traumatic event in Israel’s national history. The returned exiles, joining the rag-tag survivors who weren’t carried off, struggled with national self-identity:

“Who are we? Are we still the people of God? After all these years and after everything that’s happen to us, are we still connected to the Israelites of old – the people to whom God spoke and covenanted?”

Post-exile Israel wanted identity. They wanted restoration. If they could not go back to the glorious past, they would bring the glorious past into the miserable present.

It was in this context that the Old Testament as we know it took shape. Oral traditions, ancient records, documents and liturgies were compiled and organized into the “books” of the Old Testament. The experience of the exile framed and interpreted Israel’s ancient stories.

The Old Testament is not history in the sense that twenty-first century people understand history. It is instead:

… a document of self-definition and spiritual encouragement: “Do not forget where we have been. Do not forget who we are – the people of God.” (Peter Enns, The Evolution of Adam).

Ancient Stories

As far back as two hundred years before Christ, biblical interpreters realized that the first five books of the Old Testament, specifically Genesis, did not come down to us composed of whole cloth. Multiple, often contradictory versions of stories in Genesis have made Bible students dig deeply for centuries.

Trying to force a modern understanding of science into ancient documents misses lots of boats. Not only do we miss the message intended by the original authors and compilers, we also force the Bible to be something it is not – a scientifically accurate natural history of the earth.

The mid-nineteenth century was an uncomfortable time for Christians. Archaeologists unearthed documents with creation stories and flood stories from the ancient near-east, eerily similar to Genesis but predating Genesis by millennia. And in the same ten-year span, Charles Darwin added insult to injury when he demonstrated that humans share a common ancestry with all life.

But modern science wasn’t going to go away, and neither was the archaeological evidence.

The people and the nation of Israel did not spring up isolated on an island. Israel grew and developed surrounded by its near-eastern neighbors. Israel shared similarities in language, governing, family structure, agricultural practices, and understandings of how the world worked with all of the other Mesopotamian people of that time.

Why should Israel be different? Why would Israel, unlike everyone else in the world, escape the cultural influence of its neighbors?

The stories of Israel are similar to the creation stories of other Mesopotamian people because they share a common culture and a common framework for understanding the nuts and bolts of how the world began.

An Ancient Framework

enumaelishLike Genesis, the ancient Babylonian creation story, Enuma Elish, begins with watery chaos. The divine spirit in both Enuma Elish and Genesis exists independently of matter. In both creation stories, darkness precedes creation. In both, light is created before the sun, moon, and stars.

In Enuma Elish, the goddess Tiamat represents the chaos. The word for chaos in the Hebrew of Genesis is linguistically similar to Tiamat.

In Enuma Elish, Marduk is the king of the gods and creator of human beings, and he is also Tiamat’s great-great grandson. After lots of loud inter-god family fights, throwing chairs and plotting revenge, Marduk “tames” the chaos (Tiamat) by slicing her body in half. Marduk then uses half of her body to hold back the waters, creating the heavens and the earth. In Genesis, God creates a solid dome (the firmament) to hold the waters in place.

Enuma Elish is also like Genesis in the order of creation of dry land, the sun, moon, stars, and humans, all followed by a time of rest. Enuma Elish is written on seven tablets; the Genesis story occurs in seven days.

Israel, as a people of its time and culture, understood beginnings according to this framework, but told the story differently. Israel told the story differently because they were the people of God – the true Creator God.

To the ancient Babylonians, cosmic matter always existed. The gods arose from that matter and created the earth. Israel told the story of an eternal God who existed before matter and who brought matter into being from nothing.

There is no cosmic battle between warring gods in Genesis: God tames the chaos, but chaos is impersonal, not a god or goddess.  God alone created the world by an act of his sovereign will, not as the result of a Jerry Springer-like family feud. 

Most ancient people personified and worshiped the sun, the moon, and the stars. They personified and worshiped animals, rivers, and groves of trees. They worshiped kings and mighty men as gods.

stelaofnabonidusane90837

But not Israel. The story told by Israel declares that there is one creator God of all. The sun, the river, and the Pharaoh are not gods – they were created by God.

Genesis and Science

If we want to have a meaningful conversation between evolution and Christianity, we must hear Genesis in its ancient voice, not impose upon it questions it will not answer or burdens it will not bear (P. Enns, The Evolution of Adam).

If the Genesis creation story is literally true, all of modern science collapses – not just biology.

If we try to “read between the lines” of Genesis to find modern science (a la Intelligent Design), we are still trying to make Genesis something it is not.

Genesis cannot bear the burden of modern science because it isn’t science.

 The Big (Church) Chill

When you look at who’s going to church in America and who’s not, right now the fastest growing group are those who have been active church-goers in the past but are no longer in a church. In their just-published book Churchless (2014) the Barna Group calls this demographic the “de-churched”. Currently, one third of Americans are “de-churched”.

churchless-coverThe reasons for de-churching are varied and nuanced, but “the church is antagonistic to science” is a consistent theme. Young adult dropouts (and older ones as well) believe that the church is out of step with modern science and even anti-science. Young adults struggle to reconcile their faith with a desire to enter a science-related profession.

The de-churched are having their own sort of identity crisis:

“Who are we? In light of modern science, can we still be the people of God? 

The drop-outs aren’t looking for quippy, confident answers about believing God rather than scientists – they are “seeking an honest conversation about reality” (Churchless, 2014).

An honest conversation about Genesis would be a good start. The Genesis creation story can be truth without being factually true.

***************

I believe that the heavens declare the glory of God.

I believe that day after day the cosmos pours forth speech and

night after night the cosmos reveals knowledge.

I trust that the evidence and knowledge that is revealed is true because

the Creator of the cosmos is Truth.

***************

 

Indiana Jones and A Tale of Two Books (Reading Genesis, part 2)

George Lucas and Indiana Jones couldn’t have made a better story. In a library that had not checked out a book in several millennia, archeologists discovered stacks of clay tablets in an ancient language.

In the early 1850s, archeologists excavated the library of a Babylonian king (Ashurbanipal) in the ancient city of Nineveh. The trove of clay tablets was treasure. There were records of laws and administration. There was literature. And in the religious texts, there was a story of creation.

In the story, order is created out of chaos.

In the story, light exists before the creation of the sun, moon, and stars.

In the story, the sequence of creation is division of waters, dry land, creation of lights, creation of humanity – all followed by a time of rest.

This Babylonian creation story is called Enuma Elish (from the opening phrase “When on high”). Enuma Elish is dated at 2000 BC, but it appears to have originated in even older Sumerian stories (3000 BC).

It was a bombshell at the time. Enuma Elish was far older than the Genesis creation story. Until the discovery of Enuma Elish, the Genesis creation account was unique. Not only was Genesis not unique, it wasn’t even original.

And to top it off, just a few years later (1858), Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species.

Stop the ride, we’re getting dizzy. roller_coaster_scream

Genesis After Darwin

Just as mid-nineteenth scholars/theologians were grappling with Enuma Elish, here comes Darwin. Popular lore presumes that all scientists immediately discounted everything about Genesis, while fundamentalist Christians (who were not bright enough to understand the science) held to it.

Reality was a bit more complex. There were churchmen and scientists who rejected Darwin’s claims for a variety of reasons which were not always religious. At the same time, a group of 717 “gentlemen” – many of whom were leading scientists of the day – signed a document affirming “science as a gift from God” and that “the author of both (science and scripture) would not allow them to ultimately contradict” (David Wilkinson, in Reading Genesis After Darwin).

As far back as the time of Isaac Newton, British scientists questioned a 6,000 years-old earth. Even in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, geologists had demonstrated that the earth was far older than the 4004 BC start date popularized by Bishop Ussher. Scientists and theologians in the nineteenth century debated the specifics of geologic history, but Christian writers who believed in a young earth were the exception, not the rule.

Even Darwin did not set off an immediate religious firestorm – Darwin was not the first to suggest the idea of evolution. Darwin was ground-breaking because he described the mechanism of evolutionary change (natural selection).

Most nineteenth century Christian leaders and scholars were not all that upset about the evolution of plants and animals. They weren’t all that upset about a very ancient earth. They were not even upset about a non-literal reading of Genesis. The upsetting part was the idea that human beings were in the story, too. To many Christians, the idea of humans sharing a common history with all life diminished the dignity of humans. How could man be a moral being if he shared history with the common animals?

 

Even so, B.B. Warfield, founder of the Princeton School of Theology (which birthed the American fundamentalist movement), said this:

I do not think that there is any general statement in the Bible or any part of the account of creation, either given in Genesis 1 and 2 or elsewhere alluded to, that need to be opposed to evolution.

Other scientists, including the noted botanist Asa Gray, saw God in the elegant process of evolution.

In the Christian world contemporary with Darwin, evolution was not collectively panned. There was a sense that because God was revealed ultimately in Jesus, the Christian faith was not dependent on the design argument (D. Wilkinson, Reading Genesis After Darwin)

A Tale of Two Books

The publication of Darwin’s Origen of Species on the heels of the discovery of Eluma Elish forced a conversation on Biblical interpretation like never before.

Fast-forward to the twenty-first century, and again the concurrent publication of two books is driving a conversation among Christians.

Richard Dawkins, a British evolutionary biologist and go-to guy for contemporary atheism, published his best-seller The God Delusion in 2006. Dawkins makes no bones about it – “scientific creationism”, “intelligent design”, and of course, a literal Genesis, are complete nonsense and unworthy of attention, except for ridicule.

That same year, another best-seller – The Language of God – was published by an American who will go down as one of the premier scientists of our generation – Francis Collins. Dr. Collins led the Human Genome Project, now heads the National Institutes of Health, and is a frequent public voice for all that is cutting-edge in science. Dr. Collins is also a committed and vocal Christian.

Like Dawkins, Francis Collins has no interest in making Genesis a science textbook.

Unlike Dawkins, Francis Collins believes that the Bible enriches our understanding of science and science helps us better interpret and understand scripture (Reading Genesis After Darwin).

Dawkins argues that modern science is completely incompatible with belief in God. Ironically, many Christians agree with him.

Collins (and many scientists like him) are authentic examples of why that isn’t so.

 The Options

In a twenty-first century conversation, Christians have three options for reading Genesis:

Option One – Reading Genesis Literally and Historically. Option one reads the opening chapters of Genesis and interprets exactly as written. The entire cosmos was created in six 24-hour days. All life was created separately and specially. The earth is about 6,000 years old, based on genealogies in Genesis. No additional considerations are needed because the text is taken at face-value. There is a sense of security in believing “what God says and not what man says”.

But for those who read Genesis literally and historically, there are things that cannot be ignored. A literal belief means a stand against the vast, vast majority of modern science and scientists. It means a stand against the science that is trusted for medical care, disease research, agriculture, aviation, engineering, and energy. The science concepts that explain the origin of the cosmos and development of life on earth are the same concepts that support our modern lives. If young-earth creationism is true, modern science collapses. Literalists have to own the contradiction.

Option Two – Forcing Modern Science into Genesis. Option two wants to find modern science in the Genesis creation story. In order to account for an old earth, some have suggested that there is a huge gap of time between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2. Others have proposed a “day-age” solution where the days of creation are actually millions of years. “Intelligent Design” is a well-organized, well-funded movement that recognizes a very old earth, but holds to special creation of living things in the sequence found in Genesis.

This option attempts to take science seriously, but still treats the Genesis creation story as a scientific account. This option has both theological problems and scientific problems. For example:

  • most agree that the meaning of “day” in Genesis is a real, 24-hour day
  • the order of appearance in Genesis of different kinds of living things conflicts with genetics and the fossil record

Option Three – Making Peace with Genesis and Modern Science. In Reconciling the Bible and Science: A Primer on the Two Books of God, Lynn Mitchell and Kirk Blackard explain that nature and the Bible are God’s two books – his two revelations. Both books reveal truth about God. Here’s Mitchell and Blackard:

No conflict exists between biological evolution and the belief that God is the source of all there is, with a creative plan that includes natural consequences and divine governance over a continuing and ever changing process…the theory of biological evolution, based on empirical evidence, makes no claim as to why life originated or who was or is the moving force.

Next up in this series on reading Genesis:

How do the ancient Babylonian creation stories differ from the creation story in Genesis? Why is it important?

How was Genesis intended to be read and understood? How would the original hearers have heard the creation story?

 

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I believe that the heavens declare the glory of God.

I believe that day after day the cosmos pours forth speech and

night after night the cosmos reveals knowledge.

I trust that the evidence and knowledge that is revealed is true because

the Creator of the cosmos is Truth.

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2010-08-30-2010-8-30-Science-Cat

The Gungor Conundrum and a Showdown in Big D (Reading Genesis, part 1)

Grammy-nominated and Dove Award-winning Christian singer/song writer Michael Gungor (front man for the band Gungor) is in hot water. A church cancelled a September gig and Ken Ham is really, really mad at him.

shorefire.com/client/michael-gungor

shorefire.com/client/michael-gungor

There have been quiet rumblings about Gungor before, but following a February post on the band’s home page, suspicions picked up steam. An on-line response by the e-magazine World to Gungor’s post quickly made the internet rounds.

According to World, Michael Gungor, creator of beautiful, deeply spiritual, award-winning Christian music, is “drifting from Biblical orthodoxy”.

Because he no longer believes in God or in Jesus as the son of God?
No.
Because he no longer believes that the Bible is God-breathed and useful?
No.
Because he no longer believes in miracles or the resurrection of Jesus?
No.
According to his critics, Michael Gungor is drifting from the foundational principles of Christianity because he doesn’t believe in a literal, seven-day young earth creation or in a literal, world-wide flood.

Literalists assumed that because Gungor and his band sing a lot about “creation”, they must be young-earth creationists. Gungor’s response: “Gungor is not, and has never been a fundamentalist band seeking to spread young-earth, biblical literalism across the planet”.

It Says What It Says

Michael Gungor is in hot water and accused of unorthodoxy because he doesn’t read Genesis 1-11 as a literal, historical recounting of events. Actually, a literal-only approach to the Bible is a fairly new development in the 2000+ year history of Christianity.

Important theological writers in the early centuries of the church did not insist on a “it says what it says” approach to scripture interpretation. Of course early church writers did not recognize the conflict between modern science and a literal reading, but they still were not literalists.

Origen

Origen of Alexandria (born 184/85 AD) was a brilliant and influential voice in early Christianity. During Origen’s lifetime, the church in Alexandria emerged as a theological and intellectual hub of Christianity.

One of Origen’s most important contributions was the publication of a Greek translation of the Old Testament. Origen used the earliest Greek translation (the Septuagint) as well as newer Greek translations and older Hebrew translations in his massive Old Testament work. Origen was the first Christian scholar to deal with the variations found in multiple translations of scripture and how those variations impacted the meaning of the scripture.

Origen also taught that scriptures were multi-layered and the student of scripture must drill down and unpack all the meaning found within. Interestingly, Origen developed this approach to scripture in response to early unorthodox teachings (heresies), particularly the Gnostic teachers. It was the Gnostics (the unorthodox) who were reading scripture in a literal and “it says what it says” way. Purely literal readings of the Old Testament lead the Gnostics to teach that God was petty, erratic, and had a physical body.

Augustine

Augustine of Hippo (born 354) is considered by many to be one of the most influential Christian thinkers in history. He was a prolific writer and was profoundly influential on the protestant reformers.

Augustine was definitive on this point: although God speaks to the Church through scripture, the Word of God is Jesus Christ. Like Origen, Augustine taught that scripture is multi-layered in meaning. Augustine also insisted that the original intent of the Biblical authors be considered.

Augustine and the Genesis Creation Story

Augustine wrote extensively and specifically about the creation story in Genesis.  Augustine did not read the creation story literally – not because he wanted to accommodate modern science, but because the text did not demand a literal reading.

Augustine rejected the notion that God created the universe in six 24-hour days. According to Augustine, the entire universe was created in an instant and the creation story is a metaphor describing various dimensions of creation.

Although he lived many centuries before Darwin and modern science, Augustine cautioned Christians not to harm the gospel message by imposing meanings to scripture that are demonstrably untrue. Note how contemporary this statement sounds – here’s Augustine:

Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics…

If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven…?

Showdown in Big D

The Dallas Morning News recently featured nine men, all Ph.D.s, all working toward the same goal: prove, using science, that the Genesis creation story is literally true – a historically and scientifically accurate account. These researchers at Dallas’ Institute for Creation Research are starting out with a belief in literalism and going on a hunt for facts to back them up. ICR

Henry Morris III, CEO of the Institute, readily admits that these professors are pariahs in their fields. Because ICR professors reject evidence accepted by virtually every scientist in the world, it’s a showdown in Big D: ICR vs. science.

Suddenly, Augustine doesn’t sound so fourth-century.

According to Morris, the very principles of Christianity are at stake:

If God really does exist, he shouldn’t be lying to us … And if he’s lying to us right off the bat in the book of Genesis, we’ve got some real problems.

Morris and ICR are laying down the law that a literal Genesis is a requirement of real Christianity.

That’s also why Ken Ham is mad at Gungor:

Gungor’s recent statements are particularly damaging because they may mislead youth and discourage them from accepting the Gospel of salvation.

The Two Books of God

Mark Mann, writing at BioLogos, called creation and scripture the “two books of God”.

The book of Creation reveals God, and declares his eternal power and divine nature.
The book of Scripture reveals God’s relationship with human beings.

Mann writes that the two books of God can and should be read together in harmony:

Ultimately, they cannot contradict each other because the source of both of them is the same God and if they seem to be in contradiction it is because we have misread one or both of them…

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I believe that the heavens declare the glory of God.
I believe that day after day the cosmos pours forth speech and night after night the cosmos reveals knowledge.
I trust that the evidence and knowledge that is revealed is true because the Creator of the cosmos is Truth.

wormhole

 

 

Science this Week: Paleo Summer and the Original Big Tex

In the 1960s, if you were lucky enough to get the snack-sized Fritos in your lunchbox (as opposed to the more frugal handful from a regular-sized bag in a baggie), you were no doubt a collector of the free prizes tucked inside the Fritos six-pack box. Pencil-top erasers (the unfortunate Frito Bandito) were big, as well as various collector series. My husband’s favorite was the pterodactyl from the dinosaur series.

frito dinosUh-oh. Snack-food science fail.

A Pterodactyl Is Not a Dinosaur

This summer I visited my favorite pterosaur at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.
Lumped in with the dinosaurs and mistakenly identified as forerunners of birds and bats, pterosaurs struggle for a little paleo respect. Pterosaurs lived with dinosaurs and went extinct about the same time, but they were not dinosaurs.
Pterosaurs were winged reptiles and were the first flying vertebrates. The commonly used term “pterodactyl” is actually just one kind of pterosaur.

No flying animal has approached the size of the pterosaurs. Birds and bats took to the skies in the 66 million years since the pterosaurs went extinct but none have even come close to the largest of the pterosaurs.

Pterosaurs started small during the Triassic Period (230-200 million years ago). During the Jurassic and the Cretaceous (200 to 65 million years ago), enormous pterosaurs evolved.

The Original Big Tex

The largest found so far is Quetzalcoatlus northropi, with a wingspan of 10 meters (35 feet). Quetzalcoatlus is my favorite.
Quetzalcoatlus is a Texan, a native of Big Bend National Park. The largest animal ever to fly is from Texas. Of course he is.

Howdy, Folks!
Howdy, Folks!

The Houston Museum of Natural Science has amazing Quetzalcoatlus casts on display in their Hall of Paleontology. The Houston Museum is unique in that its paleo skeletons are not displayed in boring, lunch-line rows. Rather, the fossils and casts are in action: predators and prey – pursuing, eating, menacing.

This leads me to yet another reason to love Quetzalcoatlus: the display in the Houston Museum.

Usually, museums hang pterosaurs from the ceiling.

Houston displays a nesting pair on the ground.

Here’s why that’s cool:
Pterosaurs’ wings are made of skin stretched over the arm, hand, and fingers of the fore-limbs. The fourth finger (like our ring finger) was especially long. In Quetzalcoatlus, it was extremely long.

Although Quetzalcoatlus flew, they were too large for tree-dwelling. They nested on the ground.

How would you sit down if your ring finger was almost as long as your body? Think about it, then look at this photo of my recent visit with Quetzalcoatlus :

janet with quetzalcoatlus
The seated display of Quetzalcoatlus allows you to understand visually that her wings are fingers (with an extremely long ring finger) as she sits near her nest.

The Quetzalcoatlus in the background is standing on all fours (remember, he is a reptile). What would you look like, standing on all fours with a ring finger almost as long as your body? Look at the photo and see how he stands and what he does with that long fourth finger.
Fossilized footprints of pterosaurs indicate that they walked on all fours. The Houston display reinforces this in a way that a traditional hanging display cannot.

New This Summer! Pterosaurs in 3D!

Pterosaurs had very thin bones, making them lightweight and maximizing their strength-to-weight ratio. Thin bones means they do not fossilize very well. As a result, we have few good pterosaur skeletons and rarely have more than one example per species.

Until now.
Announced this summer (but found in 2005) was a spectacular find in northwestern China. The forty complete adult pterosaurs, multiple bones of others, and a clutch of five beautifully preserved eggs were found near an area of a large freshwater lake.
The newly identified species has been named Hamipterus tianshanensis. Hamipterus had a crest, pointy teeth, and a wingspan of more than 3.5 meters (11+ feet).

Until this find, we only had four pterosaur eggs – and they had all been flattened during fossilization. But the five found in China are the first eggs preserved in 3D. The eggs were pliable with a thin eggshell outside and a thick membrane inside – similar to the eggs of a modern snake.

This magnificent find also indicates that pterosaurs lived in large colonies, often near shorelines where they could eat fish and lay eggs in moist sand. Large pterosaurs would have had a hard time flying in wooded or mountainous terrain and are most often found in places that would have been open and near water.

There’s An App For That

Are you ready to go on a pterosaur hunt? There’s an app for that!

A new website links a huge pterosaur database with Google Earth. PteroTerra lets you see where in the world your favorite pterosaurs were found. Clink on a link and you’ll see a map, wingspan, and when it lived. Look at the big world map and you’ll see the distribution of pterosaur fossils around the world. Paleontologists can use this tool to map trends in pterosaur evolution.
Bookmark it on your smart phone, tablet, or computer now!

Here’s one more. Want something to do while waiting in life’s lines? Download the new Pterosaurs iPad App created by The American Museum of Natural History (free!). While you’re at it, download Pterosaurs: The Card Game (also from AMNH; also free for iPad).

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Hipster ScienceCat

Hipster ScienceCat

Nones on the Run and the Lonely Middle Ground

Where were you in ’82? 80s-fashion

In the last thirty-two years (or less), how have you changed? Hopefully your tunes are smaller now and you probably aren’t sporting a sweatband as an accessory.

What about your worldview? Your theology? Have you ever tracked your own thought evolution from childhood to adulthood to where you are now?

Since 1982, Gallup has tracked American beliefs about creationism and evolution. The same questions were asked every two years and the responses tracked:

Which comes closest to your viewpoint?
• God created humans pretty much in their present form sometime within the last 10,000 years (traditional young earth creationism)
• Humans developed over millions of years from less advanced life forms, but God guided this process (evolution and God, sometimes called “evolutionary creation”)
• Humans developed over millions of years from less advanced life forms, but God had no part in the process (atheistic evolution)

Currently, more than forty percent of Americans believe that humans were created in their present form no more than 10,000 years ago – and this percentage has held relatively steady over the last three decades. Respondents who regularly attend worship services and those with a high school education or less were most likely to accept young earth creationism.

The percentage of Americans who believe “God had no part” (atheistic evolution) in human origins is steadily increasing – jumping from nine percent when tracking began in 1982 to nineteen percent this year.

At the edges of the science versus faith conversation are the two extremes: one group has hunkered down and held tight (science is wrong and Genesis is literal); the other has staked out ground and is growing (no role for God in creation).

What about the middle ground – the people who see no conflict between science and faith?
Over the last three decades, the percentage of Americans who believe in evolution and God has held steady – around 38 percent. But in the last four years, the percentage has dropped, and in 2014 was at an all-time low of 31 percent.

cake-eatingConventional wisdom says that if you have the opportunity to have the best of two worlds – if there’s an opportunity to have your cake and eat it – the smart thing to do is to seize it.
Given the opportunity to believe the science learned in school and maintain faith in God as the ultimate cause and source, you’d think the middle ground would be growing, not shrinking.

In the science and faith conversation, the middle ground is no man’s land.

It’s hot lava. HotLava

It’s a mystery. It’s a mystery particularly when contemporary world-class scientists like Francis Collins and Kenneth Miller are enthusiastic defenders of both evolution and faith. It’s a mystery because most evangelical colleges support both evolution and faith (although often on the down-low, behind closed doors in biology class).

Karl Giberson (What’s Driving America’s Evolution Divide) believes that the increase in the “God has no role” percentage tracks directly with the fastest growing religion in the United States: the nones.

One third of Americans under age 30 do not identify with any religion (Nones on the Rise, Pew Research Religion & Public Life Project). Giberson sees the extremist “you can’t believe both” approach to science and faith as a primary factor in the rise of the nones in the young adult demographic:

young American Christians, by the thousands, are rejecting a religion that tells them to reject science. Many respondents to the Gallup survey apparently perceive the choice to be between evolution and God, rather than between evolution-without-God and evolution-with-God.

Scot McKnight has a slightly different interpretation of the Gallup data. McKnight points out that in all age groups, unguided evolution tracks pretty closely with the number of “nones” in each group. In the graphic below, McKnight inserted the “nones” data next to the “evolution” data:

Gallup-Poll-on-Evolution-by-age-newApparently the under-30 nones aren’t the only ones rejecting a religion that tells them to reject science.

But contrary to Giberson, McKnight sees a reason for optimism in this fact: the under 30 group is the only group that favors God-guided evolution over young earth/special creation. McKnight is hopeful for the acceptance of “evolutionary creation” in the emerging adult generation.

Why They Left

The five-year study by David Kinnaman and the Barna Group haunts me. Kinnaman studied young adults who, though raised as regular churchgoers, left church after their teens. Kinnaman’s book You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving Church and Rethinking Church details the study.

Here’s Kinnaman:

No single reason dominated the break-up between church and young adults. Instead, a variety of reasons emerged. Overall, the research uncovered six significant themes why nearly three out of every five young Christians (59%) disconnect either permanently or for an extended period of time from church life after age 15.

And on that list of six significant themes?
This:

Churches come across as antagonistic to science.

Although it is encouraging that more young adults favor “evolutionary creation” over young earth creationism, we can’t ignore the fact that overall, young adults are leaving their faith and fueling the rise of the “nones”.

Take another look at Scot McKnight’s graphic. Gallup-Poll-on-Evolution-by-age-new

Interestingly, it is 30-49 year olds who are rejecting God-guided evolution at a higher rate than younger and older groups. What’s going on there? And how is this group – probably the age demographic of the leadership in most churches – impacting the exit of the young nones?

Claiming the Middle Ground

The extreme voices in the science and faith conversation – Ken Ham, Richard Dawkins – draw honest seekers to the edges, thus the shrinking middle ground. Anything else is defined as either a compromise of faith or of intellect.

What are committed people of faith to do when they want to love God with heart, soul, strength, and mind?

Ignore science? Pretend it isn’t so?

…or, revisit the way we read Genesis.

Deep breath. We’ve done this before.

In light of modern science, Christians revisited what they thought scripture plainly taught about the movement of the earth and sun.

In light of modern science, Christians revisited what they thought scripture plainly taught about the structure of earth’s atmosphere.

In light of modern understanding of human rights and the historical context of scripture, Christians revisited what they thought scripture plainly taught about slavery and most recently, segregation.

What Would it Take?

Toward the end of the Bill Nye – Ken Ham debate, the moderator asked this simple question to each debater: what would it take for you to change your mind?
Nye: evidence.
Ham: nothing.

What is it for you? What questions are you asking? What would you like to see addressed here in this blog? Comments? Evidences?

In your opinion, what is the biggest obstacle to accepting both science and a Christian worldview?
I would like to do a few posts on reading Genesis, and I’m thinking about an “Evolution 101” series covering the basics of evolution science.

Please leave your feedback, your comments, your suggestions!

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I believe that the heavens declare the glory of God.
I believe that day after day the cosmos pours forth speech and night after night the cosmos reveals knowledge.
I trust that the evidence and knowledge that is revealed is true because the Creator of the cosmos is Truth.

cat angular momentum