Should Intelligent Design Be Taught in School?

I wasn’t going to blog on this subject until later, but a college instructor (Dr. Christopher O’Brien) posted a rather uninformed review of Seeking God in Science: An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design. The review referenced the first part of my review of that same book. I thought I would use Dr. O’Brien’s post for a “teachable moment.”

The blog starts out like most blogs that are uninterested in finding out what science really says about origins. Dr. O’Brien claims that in this blog, I repeat “the same worn out creationist canards throughout his site but obscures them within a cloak of scientific-sounding vocabulary.” This, of course, is nonsense. It is an attempt to sidestep the science and hope that no one notices. It is a common rhetorical technique, typically employed by those who do not have the courage to face opinions that contradict their own.

In any event, I want to mention Dr. O’Brien’s post because it is a classic example of how incorrect assumptions lead to incorrect conclusions. After once again trying to smear creationists rather than honestly address their arguments, the author of the post says:

Wile apparently believes this is sufficient for an instructor like me to start teaching ID in the classroom as a reasonable alternative to evolutionary theory.

This, of course, is also nonsense, and it shows that the author should stop making assumptions and actually start reading what he claims to have read.

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Seeking God in Science: An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design – Part 1

I usually love to read the works of atheists, because they tend to remind me how irrational the atheist faith is. For example, I love reading PZ Meyers, because not only is he an excellent writer, but his writing is so emotional that it displays the fact that his atheism comes not from rational thought, but from some deep-seated anger or resentment that he harbors. In the same way, while Richard Dawkins knows a lot about biology, he is very sloppy with data, and he seems to be virtually unaware of how logic works. His writing makes it very clear that his atheism is not the result of rational thought. I even love it when “Norwegian Shooter” comments on this blog, because his refusal to look at even the simplest data makes it clear how desperately he clings to his atheistic faith.

However, there are some atheists who make me uncomfortable, and Dr. Bradley Monton is one of them. In his newest book, Seeking God in Science: An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design, he demonstrates quite clearly that not all atheists are irrational. This, of course, makes me uncomfortable, because it is easier to dismiss the atheistic view when it is represented by buffoons like Myers, Dawkins, Hitchens, and the like. When it is represented by people like Dr. Bradley Monton, you have to at least sit up and take notice.

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Genesis and The Big Bang – Part 2

In part 1 of this review, I told you the things I liked about Genesis and The Big Bang by Dr. Gerald L. Schroeder. Now I want to move on to the things I didn’t like about the book. As I already mentioned, Dr. Schroeder seems firmly committed to the Big Bang model, despite its many problems. However, that’s not my main concern. While there are a lot of problems with the Big Bang model, there are some data that support it, so it is not irrational to choose to work with that paradigm. My problems with the book go much deeper than that.

My first problem is that Dr. Schroeder has either not investigated the myriad of opinions of ancient Jewish theologians, or he conveniently doesn’t tell the reader about them. He wants to make the case that he is getting his theology from sources that have not been influenced by modern science. He chooses four theologians (Onkelos, Rashi, Maimonides, and Nahmanides) that he says have “withstood time’s test,” and he says:

Because their commentaries were written long before the advent of modern physics, we avoid the folly of using interpretations of tradition that may have been biased by modern scientific discoveries. (p. 18)

I have two problems with this statement. First, there are many more than four ancient Jewish theologians who have “withstood the test of time.” I am not even Jewish, and I can name several more off the top of my head: Philo Judaeus, Akiba ben Yossef, Saadiah ben Yosef Gaon, Abraham ibn Daud, etc., etc.

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Genesis and The Big Bang – Part 1

Dr. Gerald L. Schroeder is a very original thinker. I recognized that when I read one of his previous books, The Science of God. Dr. Schroeder holds an earned PhD in physics and earth science from MIT and currently is an international consultant on radioactivity and a faculty member at Aish HaTorah College of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem. As an orthodox Jew, he takes the Old Testament very seriously. He believes that the days in Genesis are definitely 24-hour days, but he also believes that the earth is billions of years old. In fact, his writings indicate that he is a theistic evolutionist.

How can a theistic evolutionist believe that the days of Genesis are 24-hour days? That’s where his original thinking comes in. As a PhD physicist, he understands that defining reference frame is very important. After all, we know the rate at which time passes depends on the reference frame in which you are measuring time. For example, time passes more quickly on the GPS satellites than it does here on earth. If this were not taken into account, your Garmin would not lead you to your destination. Thus, the question in Dr. Schroeder’s mind is not “How long were the days of Genesis?” He is convinced they were 24 hours long. The question in his mind is “In what reference frame did those 24 hours pass?”

In The Science of God (and in this book), he gives us the answer to that question. He says the reference frame is not that of earth. Indeed, earth doesn’t become the focus of the creation account until after a couple of days pass. As a result, he thinks that the reference frame in which the Genesis days are defined is that of the universe as a whole. This produces an interesting effect.

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Great Question, Josiah!

Josiah, a frequent commenter on this blog, asked an excellent question in a post on my previous entry. I started to reply to his question, but I realized the answer would make a good blog entry. Josiah asked whether or not “cooperative relationships in the animal world” are a problem for evolution. He doesn’t think so, but the author of one of his homeschool books thinks it is. What do I think?

Well, let’s start with the terminology. A relationship between two or more individuals from different species is called symbiosis. However, that word has grown to refer to different kinds of relationships. It can refer to a relationship in which all participants benefit, a relationship in which only one participant benefits but the others are not harmed, or a relationship in which one benefits and another is harmed. Thus, to specifically talk about cooperative relationships, we use the term mutualism, which refers specifically to a relationship in which all participants benefit.

Josiah mentioned a couple of examples of mutualistic relationships. One was the tick bird, which eats ticks off a rhino’s skin. This is beneficial to the rhino, which becomes relatively “tick free,” and it is obviously beneficial to the bird, as the bird has a fairly safe place to find food. The tick birds also warn each other (and the rhinos) about any incoming danger. The other example was the single-celled protistans (flagellates) that live in a termite’s gut and digest cellulose. The termite (indeed, all multi-celled animals of which I am aware) cannot digest cellulose on its own, and since wood is 50% cellulose by mass, this would be a problem for an animal that eats wood. However, the flagellates in a termite’s gut digest the cellulose, which allows the termite to eat wood. Obviously, both participants benefit in this relationship. Are these kinds of situations a problem for evolution?

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It’s A Wonderful Time to Be a Young-Earth Creationist

In 2005, Mary Schweitzer and her colleagues published an “astonishing” result – they had found soft tissue in a Tyrannosaurus rex femur.1 Given the fact that such dinosaur bones have been supposedly lying around for 65 million years or so, no one expected them to contain soft tissue. Indeed, laboratory studies seem to indicate that soft tissue decays in a matter of 50 weeks or so,2 and it was thought that proteins would break down after only 30,000 years, unless special circumstances were present.3

Even when special circumstances are present, the molecules that make up soft tissue are not supposed to last for 65 million years. A multidisciplinary approach to the problem of biomolecule decay in fossils led to the conclusion that under nearly ideal conditions, DNA should decay to the point where it becomes undetectable in just 125,000 years, and collagen (a protein) should decay to the point where it becomes undetectable in just under 3 million years. 4 Nevertheless, Schweitzer and her colleagues found collagen in a bone that is supposedly more than twenty times as old.

It is not surprising, then, that many scrambled for any explanation other than the fact that Schweitzer and her colleagues had found soft tissue and collagen in the T. rex bone. For example, some researchers tried to produce a study indicating that the soft tissue found wasn’t soft tissue at all. Instead, it was a biofilm made by bacteria.5

As much as old-earthers would want what Schweitzer and her colleagues found to be anything but soft tissue, her results are now unequivocal. First, Schweitzer has found soft tissue in another dinosaur fossil that is supposed to be 80 million years old! 6 In addition, another group has made a soft tissue find, and in my opinion, it is even more remarkable.

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Darwin’s Legacy: A Biblical Worldview

I have a stack of journals and other periodicals that I read in order to keep up on what is going on in the world of science. Currently, I am working on the ones that came in late July. However, for some reason, the March 23 issue of Answers Update from Answers in Genesis got mixed up with the late July materials. As a result, I just read this:

The horrible school shooting in Finland in 2007 is a prime example. The killer stated: “I am prepared to fight and die for my cause . . .I, as a natural selector, will eliminate all who I see unfit…It’s time to put NATURAL SELECTION & SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST back on tracks!” This student was only carrying out in practice what he had been taught concerning origins, as well as the lack of purpose and meaning he found in life. Herein lies Darwin’s terrible legacy, which has affected all modern cultures. 1

In other words, Charles Darwin left behind a terrible legacy – one of violence and evil. Many other Christian works say similar things. For example, a book that claims to give people a “Biblical Worldview of God and Truth” says:

Darwin’s Tragic Legacy…his 1859 book…gave rise to the controversial theory of evolution. Sadly, 150 years later, modern evolutionary theory has become the basis for most biological studies and is taught as fact in our schools and universities, despite the truth that scientists are no closer to proving the theory after all this time. Meanwhile, the biblical account of God’s creation of the universe is no longer taught in most schools due to legal challenges brought by those who do not believe in God or the authority of His Word. 2

So according to this book, Darwin left behind a tragic legacy that has destroyed modern education.

Of course, both statements are seriously incorrect. Darwin certainly did not leave a “tragic” or “terrible” legacy. In fact, Darwin was a great scientist who left us a rich legacy of solid scientific data and conclusions. Sure, some of what he believed was wrong, but that can be said of almost every great scientist from the past. More importantly, a lot of what Darwin believed is correct. In fact, the great irony of all this is that both sources I quoted are from young-earth creationists, and without Darwin, it would be impossible for young-earth creationists to have a Biblical worldview!

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Poor PZ

As I have said before, PZ Myers is my favorite atheist. He says exactly what he thinks (no matter how stupid it is) and does so in an engaging, witty way. For example, this is probably my favorite PZ Myers piece I have ever read. It lampoons my position, but it is awesome!

So I had to feel a little sorry for him when someone with a BA in mathematics was able to fluster him during a Q&A session:

P.Z. Myers’ evolutionary equivocation

Of course, the physicist mentioned in the article also did a good job of showing how little evidence means to poor PZ.

40,000 Generations of Escherichia coli Data Support the Creationist View of the Genome

Jeffery E. Barrick and his colleagues have published the results of one of the most interesting evolution experiments I have ever read.1 Actually, the genius behind this experiment is Richard E. Lenski, who is on the author list as well. Lenski started an experiment with E. coli almost 20 years ago, and it is still producing excellent results. Essentially, the experiment followed twelve populations of E. coli over all those years. The focus of the paper was one of those twelve populations.

In the experiment, the bacteria were grown on a minimal medium with glucose as a limiting nutrient. Each day, a small sample of the culture was removed and placed in a fresh medium. Periodically, samples were frozen so that they could be analyzed in detail at any time.

Thanks to the wonderful technology we have today, the entire genome of E. coli can be sequenced in a “reasonably short” amount of time. So this paper reports on the results of comparing the genome of the original bacterium to that of the bacteria after 2,000, 5,000, 10,000, 15,000, 20,000, and 40,000 generations. The results were “rather surprising,” according to the authors.

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Was There Animal Death Before the Fall?

Anyone who has read this blog for a while knows two things about me. First, I am a young-earth creationist. Second, I am skeptical of most young-earth creationist theology. For example, as I have written before, while I believe that the days in Genesis 1 are 24-hour days, I do not think they must be interpreted that way. Indeed, a good number of early church fathers didn’t interpret them that way. They didn’t think the days in Genesis 1 had anything to do with time. Instead, they thought the days were simply a means by which Creation could be ordered. Since many in the early church were willing to think that the days in Genesis 1 were not 24-hour days, why do many modern young-earth creationists insist that they must be 24-hour days? Is there something that today’s young-earth creationists know that Origen, Clement of Alexandria, Athanasius of Alexandria, Augustine, and Hilary of Poitiers didn’t know?

Unfortunately, the shoddy theology of most young-earth creationists doesn’t stop with the insistence that the days in Genesis must be 24-hour days. Another unfortunate claim most make is that there was no animal death before the Fall. Like the insistence that the days in Genesis 1 are 24-hour days, this claim is based on an incredibly inept view of Scripture.

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