an atheist viewpoint

thoughts from a non-theist

A rebuttal to ‘Life on Earth; Chance or Design?’, a talk given by Philip Mallinder of the Christadelphians

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A couple of years ago I decided to go along to a talk being given at my parents church. I’d recently been taking an interest in Evolutionary Biology, trying to learn as much as I could about the subject. I’d read a lot of books, watched a lot of lectures and documentaries, and felt I’d got a basic grasp of the principles involved. I’d also gone out of my way to explore the counter arguments posited by Creationists and advocates of Intelligent Design. As a result I was interested to see what Philip Mallinder, a Christadelphian and (apparently) a Scientist specialising in Molecular Biology, would have to say on the issue.


I must emphasise that by no means am I an expert on this subject, I have an interest and have tried to read as much as I can in a short period of time, but I do feel that I understand the arguments on both sides.


I had my sneaking suspicions that Mr Mallinder wouldn’t be presenting a strictly even handed explanation of the scientific facts right from the off, due to the talk being designed as a preaching effort by the Christadelphians (who had leafleted the Knowle and Dorridge area heavily during the preceding weeks) But I set aside my prejudices and went along with my mind as open as I could possibly manage, without my ‘brain falling out’


The title of the lecture hadn’t filled me with hope either, the use of the word ‘chance’ indicated to me that the speaker had little understanding of the concept of natural selection. As American biologist, Douglas Futuyma says,

‘natural selection itself is the single process in evolution that is the antithesis of chance. It is predictable.’ (http://www.actionbioscience.org/evolution/futuyma.html)

Chance is not a major player beyond initial mutations that can give an organism an advantage over its neighbour. If Mr Mallinder could make such a fundamental error in the title, what else could he get wrong?


Regardless of my misapprehension, I settled in my seat and as the lecture began I was relieved to see that the leafleting campaign had been somewhat unsuccessful, noting that there were no visitors present who weren’t in some way connected with members of the Christadelphians. I had worried that ‘normal’ people would have gone along and been faced with bad science and outright misinformation presented as fact by Mr Mallinder, I was pleased to realise that this fear was unfounded.


The lecturer started out by showing a PowerPoint slide of the Earth, and saying how wonderful and incredibly complex our world is. No problems there, I fully agreed with him. However, he then followed by saying that he hoped his lecture would supply some answers to ‘opponents of Design and Creation’, an immediate admission that he intended to argue from a Creationist/Intelligent Design viewpoint. Already I was wondering why he hadn’t just called the lecture ‘Life on Earth; Created by God’, as all pretence at being open to any other option had been dropped.


He then switched to attacking atheists, singling out Dr Richard Dawkins and showing a slide featuring a quote where Dawkins describes those who don’t acknowledge the validity of evolution as wrong, stupid, brainwashed, deluded, or wicked (The God Delusion). Mr Mallinder used this as an opening to claim that atheists are ‘on the attack’ and trying to disprove the existence of a supreme being (something that is simply untrue, most scientists are no more interested in disproving the existence of ‘God’ than they are in proving Unicorns or Fairies). Now, Dawkins has a well deserved reputation as ‘Darwin’s Rottweiller’ but Mr Mallinder’s use of one of his more inflammatory quotes, presented out of context to an audience of people containing very few who would have read or watched any his work was disingenuous and, to my mind at least, designed to push the pro-Creation audience even further into accepting whatever he intended to present them with.


Incidentally, the fallacy of his statement that ‘atheists are on the attack’ could not be clearer. In fact belief in Creationism from fundamentalist believers of numerous faiths has led to teachers becoming concerned about teaching evolutionary biology in science classes in case they offend Christians, Muslims, et al (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/7028639.stm). In the USA this is even more marked, with various school boards pushing to have Intelligent Design given equal time in biology classes, despite not having any basis in actual science.


The Kitzmiller vs. Dover Schools District Board case is a well documented recent example of proponents of Evolution having to defend science from the desires of the religious to move their beliefs out of the RE classroom. In December 2004, eleven parents of children in Dover, Pennsylvania took the local School Board to court over a statement that the board had instructed be read out before any science classes about evolution. The statement reads –

The Pennsylvania Academic Standards require students to learn about Darwin’s theory of evolution and eventually to take a standardized test of which evolution is a part. Because Darwin’s Theory is a theory, it is still being tested as new evidence is discovered. The Theory is not a fact. Gaps in the Theory exist for which there is no evidence. A theory is defined as a well-tested explanation that unifies a broad range of observations. Intelligent design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin’s view. The reference book, Of Pandas and People is available for students to see if they would like to explore this view in an effort to gain an understanding of what intelligent design actually involves. As is true with any theory, students are encouraged to keep an open mind. The school leaves the discussion of the origins of life to individual students and their families. As a standards-driven district, class instruction focuses upon preparing students to achieve proficiency on standards-based assessments.”

Teachers in the district refused to read out the statement, saying that they would not break their regional code of education, a code that prevents them from teaching anything they believe to be false. Also three members of the schools board resigned in protest. The case was eventually settled on the 20th of December 2005 when John Edward Jones, a Bush appointed Federal Judge, ruled that

The proper application of both the endorsement and Lemon tests to the facts of this case makes it abundantly clear that the Board’s ID Policy violates the Establishment Clause. In making this determination, we have addressed the seminal question of whether ID is science. We have concluded that it is not, and moreover that ID cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents.” (taken from the conclusion of the 139 page decision issued by Jones – http://www.pamd.uscourts.gov/kitzmiller/kitzmiller_342.pdf )

The court had found Intelligent Design to not be a ‘science’, and had also ruled that it was unconstitutional to teach it in classrooms in a country that insists on separation of Church and State. It is evident that, far from being ‘on the attack’, evolutionary science is having to defend itself from the increasing desire of Creationists to get their voice heard in the classroom.


The point of the lecturer bringing atheists into the debate was, as far as I could tell, to equate acceptance of evolution with non-belief in a ‘supreme’ being. It appears that, in Mr Mallinders mind, Atheism and acceptance of evolution are the same thing. Again, this was a very emotive tactic for Mr Mallinder to employ as he was aware that the partisan audience would be mostly of the opinion that to deny the existence of ‘God’ is to commit the only ‘sin’ that cannot be forgiven (‘But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin. ‘ Mark 3:29, NIV). Mr Mallinders goal to link acceptance of evolution to denial of ‘God’ was, to my mind, a dishonest and misleading route to take.


Mr Mallinder then claimed that ‘over 40%’ of scientists believe in some kind of ‘God’. On the surface this is surely intended to impress people. After all, if those clever scientists believe in ‘God’ then there must be something in it? Scientists are smart cookies, they have to be to pass all those exams they need to sit to become scientists! More than a quick glance at the figure causes the whole thing to seem less impressive though. Surely if only 40% believe in ‘God’, that means that the majority don’t? Also he failed to mention that over 99% of scientists globally accept evolution as fact (‘Why Darwin Matters’ Shermer). To be honest I wasn’t expecting him to present any figures that would undermine his own argument, but I feel it was a dishonesty to the audience to be so selective with his statistics, statistics for which he conspicuously didn’t cite a source. (I believe the source of his ‘40%’ to be a survey carried out for an issue of the ‘Nature’ journal in 1996, by Edward J. Larson and Larry Witham)


Throughout the lecture Mr Mallinder repeatedly referred back to the Bible, even going as far as to say that the sheer number of people who believe it to be true was proof of its accuracy. He also used Biblical quotes as evidence to support its provenance! Sadly this argument is entirely circular, as any attempt to ‘prove’ something using faith alone is doomed to be. One cannot give a lecture claiming to be from a scientific viewpoint and invoke ‘faith’ as part of that argument – ‘It’s true because the Bible says so’ just isn’t good enough.


When William Paley and his watch was brought up as the next point I started to realise that Mr Mallinder intended to use typical Intelligent Design arguments to make his point. The Watchmaker analogy was a teleological argument published by Paley in his 1802 work “Natural Theology, or Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity collected from the Appearances of Nature”. The analogy is this –

In crossing a heath, suppose I pitched my foot against a stone, and were asked how the stone came to be there; I might possibly answer, that, for anything I knew to the contrary, it had lain there forever: nor would it perhaps be very easy to show the absurdity of this answer. But suppose I had found a watch upon the ground, and it should be inquired how the watch happened to be in that place; I should hardly think of the answer I had before given, that for anything I knew, the watch might have always been there. (…) There must have existed, at some time, and at some place or other, an artificer or artificers, who formed [the watch] for the purpose which we find it actually to answer; who comprehended its construction, and designed its use. (…) Every indication of contrivance, every manifestation of design, which existed in the watch, exists in the works of nature; with the difference, on the side of nature, of being greater or more, and that in a degree which exceeds all computation.”

Paley’s analogy is flawed on many levels, and it is a sign of the desperate need of believers in Creationism to find something to back their beliefs up, that they are still referring back over 200 years to an idea that was roundly debunked by the work of Darwin less than a century later.

Unfortunately the idea of a pocket watch being a good example is somewhat undermined by the processes that had to take place for a watch to exist in the first place. Whilst a craftsman could make a complex watch, it is important to remember that he is depending on many many years of improvement and alteration carried out by successive generations of watchmakers. A watchmaker could no more make a working watch without cumulative experience and training to draw on than a complex organism could instantaneously spring into existence without many generations of slow refinement. If anything the complexity of a watch argues in favour of natural selection; experiments over time with what does, and does not work, have led to the complex mechanical time pieces we are familiar with today.

Mr Mallinder then moved onto the mousetrap as an example of something irreducibly complex. The idea here is that some things appear to need so many simultaneous developments to work that they could not have possibly evolved. The mousetrap is used as an example; take away any part, say creationists, and the whole ceases to work. This is, yet again, a completely false argument in favour of Intelligent Design. Professor John McDonald, of the University of Delaware, even went as far as showing how a mousetrap is in no way irreducible. (http://udel.edu/~mcdonald/mousetrap.html). That a cat could also be described as a ‘mousetrap’ far more complex than a man made one was not mentioned, perhaps because a cat could still function as a catcher of rodents even if it had many parts missing?

I had suspected that the argument Mr Mallinder would present would ultimately depend on Irreducible Complexity and so almost laughed out loud when a cross section of a bacterial flagellum appeared on the projector screen. The flagellum has long been the ‘poster boy’ of the Intelligent Design advocate, so complex that they claim there is no way it could have been evolved. In his introduction to this part of the lecture, Mr Mallinder recommended the book ‘Darwin’s Black Box’ by Michael Behe, but made no mention of the afore mentioned Kitzmiller vs Dover Schools District Board trial where Judge John Edward Jones, in his ruling stated that; ‘Professor Behe’s claim for irreducible complexity has been refuted in peer-reviewed research papers and has been rejected by the scientific community at large’. That Mr Mallinder’s argument was so dependent on the voracity of Behe’s claims put the remainder of the lecture on very shaky ground in my opinion.


However, we must address the Flagellum before we can move on. It is indeed a tremendously complex biological ‘motor’ and it is hard to see how something like that could develop. It is not impossible though, and recently scientists have been able to prove that many parts of it exist in more primitive forms doing other jobs in other organisms (such as the type III secretory system). As I said at the beginning of this article, I am no expert, but Dr Kenneth Miller of Brown University is, and deals with the Flagellum in great detail in his article ‘The Flagellum Unspun’, where he says the following about the argument for Irreducible Complexity using the Flagellum as evidence

If we are able to search and find an example of a machine with fewer protein parts, contained within the flagellum, that serves a purpose distinct from motility, the claim of irreducible complexity is refuted. As we have also seen, the flagellum does indeed contain such a machine, a protein-secreting apparatus that carries out an important function even in species that lack the flagellum altogether. A scientific idea rises or falls on the weight of the evidence, and the evidence in the case of the bacterial flagellum is abundantly clear.

So thoroughly dismantled has the irreducible complexity argument been that it is foolhardy to try and argue the existence of a ‘creator’ from it. Yet this is what Mr Mallinder did for the remainder of his lecture.

Citing first cell membranes, then various enzymes, he time and time again said ‘this is so complicated I can’t see a way that this could possibly have evolved, can you?’. He also claimed that the partial success of scientists like Jack Szostak (http://www.hno.harvard.edu/gazette/1996/09.12/CreatingLifeina.html) in creating basic life building structures in a lab were failures as they had not proved anything. However, he didn’t mention that a small amount of success had been achieved in a brief period of time, or that nature had had many millions, if not billions of years to throw up a self reproducing organism.


One of the most bizarre statements in the whole lecture was when Mr Mallinder said (and I paraphrase) ‘How did this enzyme know to develop in such a way that it would break down alcohol in the body?’. He seemed to be inferring that evolution has a final goal in mind, that it ‘knows’ what it is trying to make, an idea that anyone with even a passing knowledge of the mechanics of natural selection would find laughable.


And that was about it for his argument. He returned briefly to attack Dawkins’ ‘faith’ in evolution, though didn’t mention any of the other scientist who are very vocal about the facts of evolution; the Catholic Dr Kenneth Miller, or former fundamentalist christian Michael Shermer, for example, both men who have stated that religion and evolution needn’t be opposed to each other. Missing the obvious irony in stating that his ‘faith’ was far more well founded than Dawkins’, he again reiterated his belief in the accuracy of the Bible. He finished by stating that evolution is just a series of ‘hypotheses and assumptions’, and bringing up a copy of the first slide of the evening with the words ‘In the Beginning God created the Earth’ added.


The floor was then thrown open to questions and I couldn’t resist seeking clarification on one matter. ‘Philip, would you describe yourself as a Young Earth Creationist or are you an advocate of Intelligent Design?’, I asked. I had noted that he had used the ‘classic’ Intelligent Design arguments throughout his lecture so wanted see where he stood. If he answered that he was a Young Earth Creationist then I could put him in the ‘bad scientist’ box, if he claimed to be a believer in designed evolution then he would be on very shaky ground with the fundamentalist church he is a member of.


His reply was initially intended to throw me off, I feel; ‘I believe what it says in the Bible’. I am not sure that Mr Mallinder was aware that I had been brought up in the Christadelphian faith and had studied Theology at university, and that I’d know what it said in the Bible.

‘Well, if you take the Bible as being literal, the Earth was created by God in one week around 4000BC, is that what you believe?’

He eventually had to admit that’s what he believed. I saw no point in asking any more questions of him. Other members of the church did ask a couple though, including the breathtakingly ignorant ‘If evolution is happening why don’t we see partially evolved creatures all around us?’ (I resisted the urge to explain to this individual that everything living at the moment is in a constant state of flux, as evolution has no ‘end point’)


I think the most puzzling thing overall for me was this; why, when he belongs to a religious group that holds Genesis to be literally true, did Mr Mallinder use the arguments developed by Behe and his fellow Intelligent Design followers? After all, those who advocate Intelligent Design are not deniers of evolution, they are religious people who have been forced to try and bend science and faith into a new shape due to the overwhelming evidence against their previously held world view. When presented with the undeniable facts of the age of the cosmos, Earth, mankind et al, ‘Creation Science’ was forced to remodel itself as ‘Intelligent Design’, tacitly accepting that evolution was fact but twisting it into a form that wouldn’t paint ‘God’ entirely out of the picture. I can understand why people who are willing to accept evolution as a fact but don’t want to give up ‘faith’ in a ‘God’ would want to do such a thing, but a fundamentalist Christian?


Creationism isn’t the same as Intelligent Design, Creationists believe the world to have been brought into existence as is. They believe that there are no fundamental differences between animals that existed in those first few days of ‘creation’, and those we see around us now. In their most extreme form they believe the world to have been built and inhabited by ‘God’ in the space of a literal 7 day period. That this is provably incorrect presents them with a major problem.


None of which explains at all why Mr Mallinder, a Young Earth Creationist, didn’t just stand up and say ‘God created the whole Universe in a week, that’s what the Bible says, I believe the Bible to be correct, so that’s what I believe. Furthermore I don’t need to prove anything to you because the Bible is self-evidently correct’. Is the ‘faith’ of believers so threatened by the relentless march of science that they are unable to merely ‘believe’? Do they have to seek for ‘proof’ in the world around them? As author (and atheist) Douglas Adams pointed out in the “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy”; ‘proof denies faith, and without faith [God is] nothing’.


Ultimately, though I believe them to be utterly wrong in their faith, I have more respect for Christians who take the Bible entirely literally than those who pick and choose which bits best fit ‘reality’. At least the blindly faithful, who would deny the existence of dinosaurs even when standing beneath a skeleton of a prehistoric monster in the British Museum, are keeping true to the wishes of their ‘God’, as laid down in ‘his’ book. After all, if Jesus believed the Genesis account to be what actually happened, what kind of ego does it take to claim to know better? Believe in the truth in the teachings of Christ and you pretty much have to accept the rest of the Bible as being literal.


The others, those who preach Intelligent Design as anything other than lazy pseudoscience, those followers who sneakingly know that there’s something worrying about their religious texts not matching the reality of the material world, the ones who will try and reconcile the irreconcilable, those are the ones I have no respect for at all.

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19 thoughts on “A rebuttal to ‘Life on Earth; Chance or Design?’, a talk given by Philip Mallinder of the Christadelphians

  1. As a Christadelphian myself, I am very glad to see critical reviews of our public presentations. It's important for our community to be aware of third party views, and it would be dishonest of us to give public presentations whilst caring nothing for their effect on our audience. I am one of many Christadelphians who are concerned with the prevalence of Young Earth Creationism in our community (especially since this is anomalous in the our community's history), and disappointed in YEC abuses of 'Intelligent Design', misuses of Behe (who believes in common descent), and misrepresentations of evolution. You might be interested to know just how forward thinking some of the earliest Christadelphian commentators were.Robert Roberts said that there was 'a time when the earth was a molten mass, incapable of sustaining life, either vegetable or animal', that 'the starry heavens show us (through the telescope) bodies in various stages of development' and that these are 'stages through which it is probable the earth has come', that 'if the universe has been a progressive development, there must have been a time—inconceivably remote truly—but still a time when it began to travel from its invisible state of abstract power to its present state of concrete form and glory' (The Christadelphian, (22:405), 1885).Simons and Roberts agreed that geology teaches us that there was a time on earth 'when animal life, if not totally, was nearly unknown, and only the lower order of vegetable life covering its face', that this lasted 'many thousands of years', during which 'the earth was undergoing wonderful and necessary changes to fit it for a creation of a higher order'; furthermore, when this stage was over 'it was replaced by a creation of a higher order, when animal and vegetable forms of a far more wonderful structure were brought into existence and most admirably adopted to the atmosphere, climate, and peculiarities of that creation', that this also lasted 'many thousands of years, before it was 'swept away, and a grander creation built on its ruins', and 'so on, stage after stage' (The Christadelphian, (21:177-178), 1884).I understand where you're coming from when you say 'I have more respect for Christians who take the Bible entirely literally than those who pick and choose which bits best fit 'reality'', but this is actually a common mistake. A proper use of hermeneutics does not constitute such arbitrary picking and choosing, it's simply intellectual honesty.Read a novel, a historical work, a newspaper, a magazine, and you effortlessly apply such hermeneutics without even thinking about it. A miracle described in a poetic narrative or a prophetic polemic is more likely to be intended as a symbol, whereas a miracle described in a historical narrative or an eschatological covenant is more likely to be intended as literal. Similarly, we read without confusion the various weird descriptions of events we find in poetry, understanding that the genre is an indication they are not to be taken literally, whilst reading a newspaper article completely differently. We see supernatural events in a movie without being convinced that the movie was trying to persuade us that the events literally took place (with the exception of movies purporting to represent real events; but again the genre of the self-described documentary informs us of the authorial intent).It is actually intellectually dishonest to interpret everything in the Bible in a woodenly literal manner.

  2. "I am one of many Christadelphians who are concerned with the prevalence of Young Earth Creationism in our community"I have to comment here that, in my 20 years in the UK Christadelphians, I met virtually no-one who didn't believe in a literal 6 day creation roughly 6000 years ago. Jesus believed that the story of the Flood was literally true (he comments on it in the NT), do you agree that he was wrong to do so?If you believe the howling nonsense of the flood story, then why not just take a couple of extra steps and believe that the Genesis account is literal? If you believe some of the Bible to be literal and others not, where do you draw your lines? The text itself isn't clear at all as to what is literal and what isn't, and it doesn't help when characters that you believe to have literally existed make reference to events that your claim to be stories as if they are real. Ultimately, if we are an evolved species, the Genesis narrative is incorrect, Adam and Eve never existed, Original sin is a myth, and Jesus died for nothing. By removing the Genesis creation story from the real world you remove the whole reason for the rest of the Bible.

  3. //I have to comment here that, in my 20 years in the UK Christadelphians, I met virtually no-one who didn't believe in a literal 6 day creation roughly 6000 years ago.//That's extraordinary. But you were familiar with the extensive discussion of the issue in our community, right? You were aware of the quotations I provided from the Christadelphian Magazine, right? You were aware that Old Earth Creationism was the majority position in our community right up to the 1960s, right? You were familar with the English brother Alan Hayward's criticism of Young Earth Creationism and the global flood interpretation, published repeatedly in the Christadelphian Magazine, and the publication of his work 'Creation & Evolution', which Glen Morton says convinced him that YEC was wrong?Here's what Glen Morton said about it.//During that time, I re-read a book I had reviewed prior to its publication. It was Alan Hayward's Creation/Evolution. Even though I had reviewed it 1984 prior to its publication in 1985, I hadn't been ready for the views he expressed. He presented a wonderful Days of Proclamation view which pulled me back from the edge of atheism. Although I believe Alan applied it to the earth in an unworkable fashion, his view had the power to unite the data with the Scripture, if it was applied differently. That is what I have done with my views. Without that I would now be an atheist. There is much in Alan's book I agree with and much I disagree with but his book was very important in keeping me in the faith. While his book may not have changed the debate totally yet, it did change my life.//http://www.answersincreation.org/whyileft.htm//Jesus believed that the story of the Flood was literally true (he comments on it in the NT), do you agree that he was wrong to do so?//No I don't believe he was wrong to do so. Sure the flood happened, there was a literal flood. No doubt about it.//If you believe the howling nonsense of the flood story, then why not just take a couple of extra steps and believe that the Genesis account is literal?//The flood story isn't 'howling nonsense', there's an overwhelming agreement for a local flood from both the textual evidence and the physical evidence. And I do believe the Genesis account is literal; it's literally ANE theological polemic with soft concordism. The real problem with your questions about the flood and the Genesis account is that you're actually asking me 'Do you interpret these accounts according to the superficially literal meaning of the English words used in standard modern Bible translations', and my answer to that is 'Of course I don't; I follow standard academic principles of hermeneutics and interpret the source texts according to their ANE milieu'.//If you believe some of the Bible to be literal and others not, where do you draw your lines? The text itself isn't clear at all as to what is literal and what isn't, and it doesn't help when characters that you believe to have literally existed make reference to events that your claim to be stories as if they are real. //See my most recent post on hermeneutics. Let me know if I can help you understand this better.//Ultimately, if we are an evolved species, the Genesis narrative is incorrect, Adam and Eve never existed, Original sin is a myth, and Jesus died for nothing.//I'm fairly sure you realise that what you've said is a non sequitur, and that Christadelphians don't believe in 'original sin' anyway.

  4. I also meant to make mention of brother Alan Fowler's 'Drama of Creation'. Another English brother with a view of creation which wasn't YEC. It was published decades ago; I read it when I was young (our family had a copy on our bookshelf). It's still in print.http://www.printlandpublishers.com/display.php?id=8Brother (and professor), Stephen Snobelen is another who has commented extensively on alternative translations. Time prohibits me from making an extensive list of others who have done the same.

  5. Looks like one of my posts didn't make it through. Here it is again.//I have to comment here that, in my 20 years in the UK Christadelphians, I met virtually no-one who didn't believe in a literal 6 day creation roughly 6000 years ago.//That's extraordinary. But you were familiar with the extensive discussion of the issue in our community, right? You were aware of the quotations I provided from the Christadelphian Magazine, right? You were aware that Old Earth Creationism was the majority position in our community right up to the 1960s, right? You were familar with the English brother Alan Hayward's criticism of Young Earth Creationism and the global flood interpretation, published repeatedly in the Christadelphian Magazine, and the publication of his work 'Creation & Evolution', which Glen Morton says convinced him that YEC was wrong?Here's what Glen Morton said about it.//During that time, I re-read a book I had reviewed prior to its publication. It was Alan Hayward's Creation/Evolution. Even though I had reviewed it 1984 prior to its publication in 1985, I hadn't been ready for the views he expressed. He presented a wonderful Days of Proclamation view which pulled me back from the edge of atheism. Although I believe Alan applied it to the earth in an unworkable fashion, his view had the power to unite the data with the Scripture, if it was applied differently. That is what I have done with my views. Without that I would now be an atheist. There is much in Alan's book I agree with and much I disagree with but his book was very important in keeping me in the faith. While his book may not have changed the debate totally yet, it did change my life.//http://www.answersincreation.org/whyileft.htm//Jesus believed that the story of the Flood was literally true (he comments on it in the NT), do you agree that he was wrong to do so?//No I don't believe he was wrong to do so. Sure the flood happened, there was a literal flood. No doubt about it.//If you believe the howling nonsense of the flood story, then why not just take a couple of extra steps and believe that the Genesis account is literal?//The flood story isn't 'howling nonsense', there's an overwhelming agreement for a local flood from both the textual evidence and the physical evidence. And I do believe the Genesis account is literal; it's literally ANE theological polemic with soft concordism. The real problem with your questions about the flood and the Genesis account is that you're actually asking me 'Do you interpret these accounts according to the superficially literal meaning of the English words used in standard modern Bible translations', and my answer to that is 'Of course I don't; I follow standard academic principles of hermeneutics and interpret the source texts according to their ANE milieu'.//If you believe some of the Bible to be literal and others not, where do you draw your lines? The text itself isn't clear at all as to what is literal and what isn't, and it doesn't help when characters that you believe to have literally existed make reference to events that your claim to be stories as if they are real. //See my most recent post on hermeneutics. Let me know if I can help you understand this better.//Ultimately, if we are an evolved species, the Genesis narrative is incorrect, Adam and Eve never existed, Original sin is a myth, and Jesus died for nothing.//I'm fairly sure you realise that what you've said is a non sequitur, and that Christadelphians don't believe in 'original sin' anyway.

  6. "The flood story isn't 'howling nonsense', there's an overwhelming agreement for a local flood from both the textual evidence and the physical evidence."The Bible clearly says the whole world was flooded, right up to the height of the highest mountains. That clearly did not happen.From what you're writing it seems to me that you're making excuses for the errors in the Bible….but I suppose that's something the believer has to do, as the whole thing is so nonsensical.

  7. //The Bible clearly says the whole world was flooded, right up to the height of the highest mountains.//On what basis do you make this claim? Please supply evidence from the relevant scholarly literature, addressing in particular the fact that in the Ancient Near East no one even had a concept of the entire globe, and phrases such as 'the entire universe' were used to describe limited locations such as the Sumerian kingdom.//From what you're writing it seems to me that you're making excuses for the errors in the Bible….//No, I'm explaining to you how professionals assess literature from which they are chronologically, historically, geographically, culturally, and sociologically isolated. This is verifiable.I follow standard secular academic principles of hermeneutics and interpret the source texts according to their ANE milieu. Do you?

  8. I'm a Christadelphian who accepts evolution, and is unimpressed by public lectures attacking evolution given by my fellow believers. I hope that critical reviews such as yours will help spur us to move away from a fundamentalist reading of Genesis.What does concern me about your approach however is that you're making the same mistake made by the literalists. The latter reject science because it clashes with a literal reading, while you reject the Bible (in part) because science refutes a literal reading of it. The problem here is assuming that the only way to read Genesis is in a wooden literal manner. Even a casual reading of Christian history shows that non-literalism is hardly new.I'm no fan of Augustine, but centuries ago, he correctly noted that scientific ignorance from Christians was counter-productive:"Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of the 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; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn." Augustine – "The Literal Meaning of Genesis"Augustine argued that the universe was created instantaneously, instead of over six days as a literal reading of Genesis would appear to teach. He of course was wrong. However, Augustine's comments are useful in that they show a non-literal reading of Genesis is not something which Christianity cobbled together after scientific evidence refuted special creationism.Calvin is also another Christian theologian whom I do not regard with great favour. In his commentary on Genesis, he notes that a literal reading of the creation narrative is difficult to sustain, and argues that the Bible is not a science text. Rather, it is pitched towards a non-scientific audience, and accommodates their pre-scientific world-view."For it appears opposed to common sense, and quite incredible, that there should be waters above the heaven. Hence some resort to allegory, and philosophize concerning angels; but quite beside the purpose. For, to my mind, this is a certain principle, that nothing is here treated of but the visible form of the world. He who would learn astronomy and other recondite arts, let him go elsewhere. Here the Spirit of God would teach all men without exception; and therefore what Gregory declares falsely and in vain respecting statues and pictures is truly applicable to the history of the creation, namely, that it is the book of the unlearned.” The value of Augustine and Calvin here is that both argued against a naïve literal reading of Genesis well before the evidence for an ancient earth, let alone evolution was discovered.Non-literal readings of the creation narratives are hardly new, and are not motivated purely by the evidence from science. Rather, they are motivated by a careful reading of the genre of the text, and a recognition of the ANE background of the creation narratives.Therefore, when you argue:“Ultimately, if we are an evolved species, the Genesis narrative is incorrect”you are postulating a false dilemma, since you are arguing that the only way to read Genesis is in a naïve literal manner, without recognising that there are excellent grounds for reading it as a polemic against ANE creation myths, structured in a literary framework and accommodating extant cosmological views.

  9. I'm a Christadelphian who accepts evolution, and is unimpressed by lectures such as these. Publicly endorsing special creation is not going to impress scientifically informed visitors, and I hope that critical reviews such as yours will help spur us to move away from a fundamentalist reading of Genesis.What concern me however is that you're making the same mistake made by the literalists. They reject mainstream science because it contradicts a literal reading of the Bible. You reject the Bible because you also read it literally, and know that such a reading can't be sustained in the light of modern science. Both YECs and yourself have made the mistake of believing that the only way to interpret the Bible is literally, without every justifying that reason. Non-literal readings of Genesis have existed for centuries, and they were not primarily motivated by scientific evidence refuting literalism.I'm no fan of Augustine, but centuries ago, he correctly noted that scientific ignorance from Christians was counter-productive:"Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of the 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; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn." Augustine – "The Literal Meaning of Genesis"Augustine argued that the universe was created instantaneously, instead of over six days as a literal reading of Genesis would appear to teach. He of course was wrong. However, Augustine's comments are useful in that they show a non-literal reading of Genesis is not something which Christianity cobbled together after scientific evidence refuted special creationism.Calvin in his commentary on Genesis, he notes that a literal reading of Genesis is difficult to sustain, and argues that the Bible is not a science text. Rather, it is pitched towards a non-scientific audience, and accommodates their pre-scientific world-view:"For it appears opposed to common sense, and quite incredible, that there should be waters above the heaven. Hence some resort to allegory, and philosophize concerning angels; but quite beside the purpose. For, to my mind, this is a certain principle, that nothing is here treated of but the visible form of the world. He who would learn astronomy and other recondite arts, let him go elsewhere. Here the Spirit of God would teach all men without exception; and therefore what Gregory declares falsely and in vain respecting statues and pictures is truly applicable to the history of the creation, namely, that it is the book of the unlearned.”The value of Augustine and Calvin here is that both argued against a naïve literal reading of Genesis well before the evidence for an ancient earth, let alone evolution was discovered.Non-literal readings of the creation narratives are hardly new, and are not motivated purely by the evidence from science. Rather, they are motivated by a careful reading of the genre of the text, and a recognition of the ANE background of the creation narratives. Therefore, when you argue:“Ultimately, if we are an evolved species, the Genesis narrative is incorrect”you are postulating a false dilemma, since you are arguing that the only way to read Genesis is in a naïve literal manner, without recognising that there are excellent grounds for reading it as a polemic against ANE creation myths, structured in a literary framework and accommodating extant cosmological views.

  10. "On what basis do you make this claim? Please supply evidence from the relevant scholarly literature, addressing in particular the fact that in the Ancient Near East no one even had a concept of the entire globe, and phrases such as 'the entire universe' were used to describe limited locations such as the Sumerian kingdom."Ah, but your own holy book makes this claim – if the Bible isn't inspired then it is worthless….and your god claims the whole world was flooded. Or are you saying your god isn't powerful enough make sure the people he trusted to spread his message got their facts right? Perhaps he's deliberately trying to mislead people? Is that it? Or does he only want self-satisfied 'scholars' in his Kingdom?

  11. I'm a Christadelphian who accepts evolution, and is unimpressed by public lectures attacking evolution given by my fellow believers. Publicly endorsing special creation is not going to impress scientifically informed visitors, and I hope that critical reviews such as yours will help spur us to move away from a fundamentalist reading of Genesis.What concerns me about your approach however is that you're making the same mistake made by the literalists. The former reject much of mainstream science because it contradicts a literal reading of the Bible. You reject the Bible because you likewise read it literally, and realise that such a reading cannot be sustained in the light of what modern science tells us about our evolutionary origins. Both YEC and yourself have made the mistake of believing that the only way to interpret the Bible is literally, and both you and they have never justified that hermeneutical approach, merely assuming that an inflexible literalism is the only way to read Genesis.Centuries ago, Augustine noted how unhelpful scientific ignorance from Christians was:"Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of the 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; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn." Augustine – "The Literal Meaning of Genesis"Augustine argued that the universe was created instantaneously, instead of over six days as a literal reading of Genesis would appear to teach. He of course was wrong. However, Augustine's comments are useful in that they show a non-literal reading of Genesis is not something which Christianity cobbled together after scientific evidence refuted special creationism.Calvin, in his commentary on Genesis, noted that a literal reading of the creation narrative is difficult to sustain, and argued that the Bible was not a science text. Rather, it was pitched towards a non-scientific audience, and accommodates their pre-scientific world-view:"For it appears opposed to common sense, and quite incredible, that there should be waters above the heaven. Hence some resort to allegory, and philosophize concerning angels; but quite beside the purpose. For, to my mind, this is a certain principle, that nothing is here treated of but the visible form of the world. He who would learn astronomy and other recondite arts, let him go elsewhere. Here the Spirit of God would teach all men without exception; and therefore what Gregory declares falsely and in vain respecting statues and pictures is truly applicable to the history of the creation, namely, that it is the book of the unlearned.” Augustine and Calvin both argued against a naïve literal reading of Genesis well before the evidence for an ancient earth, let alone evolution was discovered. They show that non-literal readings of the creation narratives are hardly new, and are not motivated purely by the evidence from science. Rather, they are motivated by a careful reading of the genre of the text, and recognising the ANE background of the creation narratives.Given this, when you argue:“Ultimately, if we are an evolved species, the Genesis narrative is incorrect”you are postulating a false dilemma, since you are arguing that the only way to read Genesis is in a naïve literal manner, without recognising that there are excellent grounds for reading it as a polemic against ANE creation myths, structured in a literary framework and accommodating extant cosmological views.

  12. //Ah, but your own holy book makes this claim – if the Bible isn't inspired then it is worthless….and your god claims the whole world was flooded.//This is the fallacy of petitio principii, begging the question. It's circular reasoning, without any evidence being presented to support the conclusion. Please provide relevant historical, lexical-syntactic, and textual evidence. Only citations from the relevant scholarly literature are acceptable.//Or are you saying your god isn't powerful enough make sure the people he trusted to spread his message got their facts right?//No I'm not. On the contrary, the earliest detailed expositions of the flood (the Jewish Alexandrian philosopher Philo and the Jewish historian Josephus), both interpreted the flood as geographically local. [1] [2] The understanding of the flood as geographically local was preserved and articulated in some detail in the later rabbinical literature.___________________[1] ‘Since the deluge of that time was no trifling infliction of water, but an immense and boundless overflow, extending almost beyond the pillars of Hercules and the great Mediterranean Sea, since the whole earth and all the spaces of the mountains were covered with water; and it is scarcely likely that such a vast space could have been cleared by a wind, but rather, as I have said, it must have been done by some invisible and divine virtue.’, Philo, ‘Questions and Answers on Genesis’, II.29, in Yonge, ‘The Works of Philo: Complete and Unabridged’, p. 824 (1996).[2] ‘Hieronymus the Egyptian, also, who wrote the Phoenician Antiquities, and Mnaseas, and a great many more, make mention of the same. Nay, Nicolaus of Damascus, in his ninety-sixth book, hath a particular relation about them, where he speaks thus:— (95)“There is a great mountain in Armenia, over Minyas, called Baris, upon which it is reported that many who fled at the time of the Deluge were saved; and that one who was carried in an ark came on shore upon the top of it; and that the remains of the timber were a great while preserved. This might be the man about whom Moses, the legislator of the Jews wrote.”’, Josephus, ‘Antiquities’, 1.94-95, in Whiston, ‘The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged’ (updated ed. 1987).

  13. Hello AlexI agree with much of what you have said here – I have likewise come to a realisation that the evidence presented against evolution is weak, to put it mildly. One point I want to make though is about this comment:———————-After all, those who advocate Intelligent Design are not deniers of evolution, they are religious people who have been forced to try and bend science and faith into a new shape due to the overwhelming evidence against their previously held world view.———————-This isn't correct. It appears that you have taken the views of a small number of ID proponents such as Michael Behe (author of Darwin's Black Box and expert witness at the Dover v Kitzmiller trial) and confused them as being the beliefs held by all ID proponents.In fact, Michael Behe's views are by no means accepted by all ID proponents. He believes that life is irreducibly complex and yet he still accepts the theory of common descent – he just believes that God is personally responsible for the diversity of species rather than mutation/natural selection etc.However, other intelligent design proponents disagree with Behe, instead claiming that not only is life irreducibly complex, but that there is no common ancestor of all species and that instead God created all species in a complete form in Eden.And ID proponents are not in agreement with the age of the earth either – it is true that the likes of Ken Ham, Kent Hovind, Casey Luskin and Jonathan Wells all accept a young age for the earth (~6,000-10,000 years old), however there are a number of others who support the idea of an old earth who also accept ID, such as Hugh Ross, Stephen Meyer and David Snoke.So no, it is incorrect to suggest that ID proponents are nothing more than closet evolutionists. Don't get me wrong – I have no interest in defending ID since I am not a supporter of ID – but it does help your credibility to use correct definitions when trying to debunk somebody.One other point – my own experience of Christadelphians in the UK is similar to yours – that most of them are YEC and I wrongly assumed that this was normal across the whole denomination. However, outside the UK (such as in Australia) there is a far greater diversity of views about Genesis including a significant number of old earth creationists and even a handful of theistic evolutionists (such as myself). Even within the UK you will find a number of old earth creationists. Alan Hayward, for example, was a British Christadelphian who published a number of books in which he defended the old age of the earth.And as another commenter has rightly pointed out, if you go back 100 years ago, you would be hard pressed to find any young earth creationist Christadelphians as the overwhelming majority (including John Thomas and Robert Roberts) accepted that the world is many orders of magnitude older than a mere 6,000 years. OEC was originally the majority view amongst Christadelphians – YEC did not become the predominant view until after the publication of 'The Genesis Flood' (by Whitcomb and Morris) in the 1960s, a book which unfortunately received rave reviews in the Christadelphian magazine. Nowadays YEC is the norm, partly a result of this, which may explain your YEC upbringing.Anyway, that's enough from me.

  14. "However, other intelligent design proponents disagree with Behe, instead claiming that not only is life irreducibly complex, but that there is no common ancestor of all species and that instead God created all species in a complete form in Eden."If that's what you think then you clearly have no idea what ID is.ID and Creationism, though both claiming 'goddidit' are very different beasts. Ken Ham, the lying moron from Answers In Genesis, is NOT a proponent on ID."And as another commenter has rightly pointed out, if you go back 100 years ago, you would be hard pressed to find any young earth creationist Christadelphians"You'd be hard pressed to find many Christadelphians full stop.Dave, don't come on here and say that I don't understand what ID is when your knowledge of it is practically non-existent, and what you do know you've got mostly wrong.

  15. //If that's what you think then you clearly have no idea what ID is.//So you're saying that ID isn't the belief that life is irreducibly complex?//ID and Creationism, though both claiming 'goddidit' are very different beasts.//Dave hasn't disagreed with this. //Ken Ham, the lying moron from Answers In Genesis, is NOT a proponent on ID.//Dave didn't say he did.//Dave, don't come on here and say that I don't understand what ID is…///He didn't say that Alex. He said 'it is incorrect to suggest that ID proponents are nothing more than closet evolutionists'. Most people who believe in ID don't believe in evolution. Why do you call them evolutionists when they don't believe in evolution? That's the question Dave is asking; why you call someone who doesn't believe in evolution, an 'evolutionist'. Ken Ham doesn't believe in evolution, so is he an 'evolutionist'?

  16. "Dave didn't say he did."If he didn't then he needs to learn how to construct points that match what he's trying to say – "And ID proponents are not in agreement with the age of the earth either – it is true that the likes of Ken Ham, Kent Hovind, Casey Luskin and Jonathan Wells all accept a young age for the earth (~6,000-10,000 years old), however there are a number of others who support the idea of an old earth who also accept ID, such as Hugh Ross, Stephen Meyer and David Snoke."

  17. "So you're saying that ID isn't the belief that life is irreducibly complex?"Stop putting words into my mouth. I was responding to this from Dave – "However, other intelligent design proponents disagree with Behe, instead claiming that not only is life irreducibly complex, but that there is no common ancestor of all species and that instead God created all species in a complete form in Eden."The ones that claim that life was formed complete and in one go are NOT proponents of ID, they are believers in a magical creation event. Really, you'd argue with yourself if there was no-one else there, wouldn't you?

  18. So, Fortigurn, do you agree that David's description of ID proponents was in error?David, don't try to tell me what ID is, I've read VERY widely on this subject, and know what I'm talking about.Behe's version claims that evolution happens but that it's guided – it's basically a 'god of the gaps' argument, and one that was completely torn apart by Kenneth Miller of Brown over twenty years ago. Behe trots on with his idea, but there hasn't yet been demonstrated a single irreducible form that can't be explained by natural evolution….not one.

  19. //The ones that claim that life was formed complete and in one go are NOT proponents of ID, they are believers in a magical creation event.//I'd like to see some evidence please. You are saying that ID is incompatible with special creation, yet the majority of ID proponents are creationists. This was exposed dramatically in the Dover trial. A key Creationist work had been republished, replacing the word 'creationist' with the word 'design proponent'. It was a rough copy/paste job which left embarrassing evidence of the replacement.>Of Pandas and People (1987, creationist version), p. 3-40: “Evolutionists think the former is correct, creationists accept the latter view.”Of Pandas and People (1987, “intelligent design” version), p. 3-41: “Evolutionists think the former is correct, cdesign proponentsists accept the latter view.” >http://pandasthumb.org/archives/2005/11/missing-link-cd.htmlThis was critical evidence in the trial which established that ID proponents are nothing more than repackaged Creationists; they believe in special creation by God, not in evolution.//So, Fortigurn, do you agree that David's description of ID proponents was in error?//Not at all. He said 'it is incorrect to suggest that ID proponents are nothing more than closet evolutionists', and he's right. They aren't, they overwhelmingly accept special creation; Behe is an exception.By the way, both Dave and I agree with what you say about Behe. He already told you he doesn't accept Behe's arguments.

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