Monday, 26 December 2011

Thought of the day - creation is about purpose

You will find a lot of catchy phrases used in Christian discussions about origins, of which theistic evolution has a fair few. One of the most well known is perhaps that science tells us how, the Bible tells us why. This has been paraphrased numerous times, including "the Bible tells us how to get to Heaven, not how the heavens go" or the more scientifically appealing "the Bible is the rock of ages, it does not teach us the age of rocks". But saying that the Bible teaches us the why of creation leaves a lot to be desired. The overall theme of Genesis 1 is purpose, which itself deserves to be repeated. It is this point which seems to be missed by not just creationists, but Christians of all stripes. A theology of creation cannot simply be about how God produces creation (whether you see it as using naturalistic processes or not) but must also strongly emphasise purpose.

I've said many a time that when God created the light and separated it from the darkness, He set them in a proper relationship with each other in order to created something new - day and night. (I use this point for two reasons, as God is not said to have created darkness, but also the emphasis of proper relationship, which can be used to understand the presence of death in evolution.) Day and night have purpose. The purpose of the first day might be explicitly clear, but this is not quite so for the other days; fortunately we can see for ourselves what purpose they hold just by observing those created things (does anyone believe dry land is useless?).

The whole issue of "kind" in Scripture is a sticking point for many creationists. Earlier today I read the following listed amongst some theological "non-negotiable" points (according to Douglas Groothius apparently):

2. God created each “kind” specially, not through a long naturalistic process of macroevolution. However, we cannot say with certainty that a biblical “kind” corresponds to what biologists call a “species.”

I have a few points I would normally use to respond to this and would like to expand upon one of them:
  • Evolution is, in a sense, reproduction after the "kind". Or, to put it scientifically, the daughter clade is always part of the parent clade. 
  • Kind is not defined in the Bible, so any attempt to use it to dictate science is flawed. 
  • The creationist usage of kind rests on some philosophical presuppositions which are not inherently Biblical (for more on this point, see here). 
  • The description in Genesis is about what God wants from them, not how He created them. 
The final point is the one I would like to expand upon (though I am sure many more points could easily be made). In some of my discussions on Genesis I have emphasised that creating according to their kind is to bless them to reproduce; as can be seen from simple observations, organisms continue to reproduce with members of the same "kind" and produce offspring of the same kind. In line with this blog post's theme, it is not enough to say that is simply a blessing. Instead, while it is a blessing, it is also their purpose. In creating them according to their kinds, God is giving them purpose and blessing them with it. 

This theme of purpose is most evident when humans enter the scene. The ancient Hebrews would have seen their own purpose in the creation story, it fit them right into God's created order. Man is given dominion, then God blessed them and told them to multiply. The creation week is even rounded off with the blessing of the seventh day, giving it purpose. 

So to sum up, creation is not about what God was doing at a specific point in history, it is about purpose. It is about the purpose of man in creation, of every organism, of the celestial bodies and so on. These purposes are ongoing, just as creation itself is. Any theological reading of Genesis which focusses solely on how things were made, with no mention of purpose, is not capable of doing justice to the text. Genesis 1 is not about the how of creation, but the purpose of all that God has made. 

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Christmas Art

So far I have shown three pictures I have drawn, here is another, quickly drawn for Christmas. Sorry about the poor quality image:


Yep, that's an ankylosaur dragging a present sack, with a Rhamphorhynchus on its back carrying mistletoe and wearing a Santa hat, while underwater is a Santa hat sporting ammonite swimming near a Christmas tree crinoid. I won't pick at this picture, it could obviously be significantly be improved, but it was a quick and cheerful sketch.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Helpers of your Joy

Over the past few weeks I found myself discussing on a Facebook group called Helpers of your Joy and have no idea how I got there. I mostly ignored it, as they all bicker about the same, very dull, theological ideas and it is proving to be a very poor group for helping anyone's joy. I spotted that a friend had posted there about Genesis and decided to join in, as the majority there appeared to be very uninformed creationists.

I gained quite an audience in doing so as well. My discussions with them went public, with any of my friends on Facebook being able to watch. Many found it entertaining, some were horrified with how I was being treated, and many even made it clear that Christianity is difficult to take seriously when it is represented by the people in that group.

I tried discussing Scripture with them, but they would only ever tell me that I was ignoring the Bible, despite the fact that I was explaining how I understood those verses. I tried discussing the science, but they were only capable of saying that the science was wrong or that there was some mass scientific conspiracy or that Satan was involved. In other words, their arguments were extremely poor and intellectually impoverished.

A common tactic on that group was to declare me brainwashed and make unsubstantiated conclusions about how I came to accept evolution and reject a literalistic Genesis. I informed them that I have never seen Genesis as literal, even as a child, to which they continued to make their unsubstantiated claim. I also informed them that I believed in God before understanding evolution, but again, they ignored my personal claims for their own claims which have no backing.

It might seem clear, but they were often not Christian in their actions. One even spoke to me constantly as though I was an atheist, despite my protestations. I continued to try to plough through their lack of charity, their lack of humility, their pride, their anger, their theological and scientific ignorance, and discuss with them, but to no avail.

Last night I got blocked, with no warning. I was told that the discussion on evolution should stop, so I suggested that a few other topics should stop as well, just to be fair. Here is the admin's explanation for why he removed me from the group:

 I told Jason we should just drop it and change the subject, and he come back with his, well people shouldn't speak about their personal lives, and what all God is doing in there [sic] life, etc etc

This discussion board is no place for that..........we are here to talk about the Bible, not man's theories.

There are so many problems with his claim, that I felt it might be worth addressing here.

  1. I never said that people should not speak about their personal lives, I specified careers and hobbies. If there is a moratorium on evolution, then this stops me from talking about my career (or rather, intended career) and hobbies. I am an undergrad palaeontologist, so if we talk about our careers I am entitled to speak about evolution, it is part of my course and part of my intended career. Additionally, as with any palaeontologist, I collect fossils occasionally and count that as a hobby, and fossils show evolution. Furthermore, I spend some of my spare time reading about evolution. So, to be consistent, it would only be fair if others were not allowed to talk about their careers or hobbies, otherwise evolution should be back on the table.
  2. I never said anything about stopping talking about how God works in our lives. What I actually said was that others should have to stop talking about how THEY do God's work. When I discuss evolution with creationists I believe I am doing God's work. I believe God led me to science and did so for a reason - so that I could show that the discoveries made studying God's creation are compatible with Christian thought and Scriptures. This means that if I talk about my work for God, then I am entitled to discuss evolution. Therefore, in order to be consistent, they should stop others from discussing their work for God if evolution is off limits. 
  3. When discussing evolution I discuss the Bible. I see the two as compatible. If anyone brings up any aspect of creation (which I also said should be off limits) then I am entitled to discuss creation as I see it - through evolution. If they do not like that then they should make a better Biblical case for their own creation beliefs. Really, they should do as God clearly does in Genesis 1 and respect diversity. Christians have different creation beliefs and we should be allowed to discuss them openly. On that group I met hostility, ad hominem attacks, censorship (eventually) and no respect at all. Is that the Christian way?
  4. They say they will not discuss man's theories, which is interesting (especially as many did not understand what a theory is). Young earth creationism fits their definition of "man's theories". So in order to be consistent, all creationists should be silenced. (I tried explaining to them the roots of creationism and how it is influenced more by man's philosophies than Biblical truth, but that went ignored, as it always does.)
There are some things they did not grasp, which could do with repeating:

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.
Amen.
Our differences on how creation occurred should be negligible compared to what is contained in the creed, but the actions and attitudes of creationists such as these is creating a gulf and causing damage to Christianity. What should occur is that we present our diverse understandings of how creation occurred, of how we approach science, and listen to each other carefully, in order to discuss fruitfully. Those in Helpers of your Joy are incapable of proper discussion and would rather be abusive and arrogant. If you ever stumble upon that group, please do not see it as representative of Christianity; it is not quite the loony fringe, but it is full of uninformed people so full of pride that they cannot acknowledge a simple fact we should all face in life: we might be wrong even when we feel certain that we are right. 

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Letting the Bible lead science?

I've posted a picture before which showed the ancient Hebrew understanding of the cosmos, see here. It is a useful image because it shows how a literalist should see creation if they base it on Genesis, yet few, if any, creationists see the world that way. If we turn to the Bible to dictate science, then these are the views of the world we get. Many creationists claim that the Bible does determine what is true science and also claim that the Scriptures got many things right which we are only just figuring out through science. If they were to do this properly, then the following image would be their world-view.


This image is found on the outer panels of the triptych The Garden of Earthly Delights by 15th century painter Hieronymus Bosch. An artist I am fond of, Bosch is well known for his often grotesque depictions, such as the image of Hell on the same piece of art. The outer panels, however, show the third day of creation, and it is clear that this understanding of the world does not match our modern understanding. This is how a creationist should view creation, yet they dishonestly do not.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Thought of the day - evolution, death and theodicy

Too often, creationists claim that evolution is a process which requires death in order to function. An example from Answers in Genesis is, "Evolution says death plus struggle brought man into existence".

There are a lot of questions we can ask here and a lot of potential answers. Did death come before the Fall? Does the death in evolutionary history contradict Scripture? Is there a Biblically consistent solution to this problem? In many of my writings on theistic evolution I have addressed this problem and do not intend to address it in the same way right now. Instead, I want to explain why I believe AiG and other creationists have made a mistake in their claim that evolution means death and suffering.

It is undeniable that death is common in the history of life (though suffering is not so simple and will be ignored for the time being). However, death is not a necessity for evolution. What evolution requires is differential reproduction, which means that organisms producing more successful offspring will find their genes proliferating. Being successful does not necessitate the deaths of others, but simply being better able to acquire resources and mate (for sexual organisms). Of course, being successful is better demonstrated when death is involved, but such death is not a necessity.

One might then claim that death is a consequence of evolution, but this is not so either. Death is a consequence of "go forth and multiply" as this increases competition for finite resources. Death is an evolutionary product in the sense that organisms are effectively programmed to grow old and die, but it is not a necessity even if it is likely to evolve.

So what a Christian really should be asking is "can God use death in a positive and fruitful way?" In order to answer that, they should look to Christ and the answer seems to be a resounding yes.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Pretty things and excuses

I have genuine reasons for neglecting my blog lately, as it has been crunch time for a lot of the work I have had. I've had essays, assorted assignments, presentations, practical work, and, of course, my dissertation (which I have fallen behind on). I do intend to share some essays on here at some point and also need to do an increasingly lengthy post about my dissertation. But for now, here are some nice images for you to look at.


The above chunk was found last year at Saltwick Bay, Whitby, and is a favourite find of mine. There's so much going on, with the imbricated belemnites and assorted ammonites throughout the piece (though note that the belemnites are only found on the top). Recently, I decided to have it cut in half, which I then polished and had varnished. Inside, the piece is even more beautiful, with the ammonites in different orientations and showing different diagenetic features, with some interesting infilling in the chambers and a fair amount of pyrite (which turned my hands black during the polishing). I gave one half away as a present for the palaeo Secret Santa.


 Below is the happy bivalve I found whilst doing a university assignment. This bivalve is Eocene age and I refuse to look up what species it is.


This is a Chasmosaurus I drew (or something similar) for a friend as part of their Secret Santa present. I based it on an image from a Japanese dinosaur book and changed it a little, such as giving it a little fuzz because I do that kind of thing.


This picture did not quite go as planned. I decided to do it as I had a presentation on stegosaur osteoderm function and the lecturer is an expert in pterosaurs. I could only find one picture online where pterosaurs and stegosaurs were in the same image, so I decided to draw my own. The pterosaurs are meant to be Dimorphodon and look a bit larger than intended, especially the one on the left, which also went wrong a couple of times. I'm pleased with the one on the right, though its tail needs to be moved a little, and the stegosaur (I think I based it on Tuojiangosaurus but I have already forgotten) is fine except for the thagomizer, which looks like it is the wrong way (it was supposed to look twisted, but I failed). Not a bad idea though, which I might expand upon, though I also might do a picture of a stegosaur from the side, with pterosaurs perching on the plates/spines.


I spotted an albino squirrel in Victoria Park, Portsmouth! This little critter was difficult to take pictures of as he scampered away, though a little later on he came right up to me as I ate my baked potato, he looked me in the eye, then ran off before I could get to my phone. Cheeky git.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Ankylosaurus

I am by no means a palaeoartist, but I did draw this the other day, for a friend. I'm not capable of looking at dinosaur skeletons and reconstructing them, so I simply look at artwork from dinosaur books and modify it a little.


I drew another picture earlier tonight, but I can't upload it yet, so it will be on here in a week or so. This may even become a regular thing...