June 13th, 2011 by M. French

This month’s Christianity Today cover story concerns ‘The Search for the Historical Adam’, and includes thoughts from various Christian scientific and biblical camps on the historicity of Adam.

Fuz Rana and Hugh Ross from Reasons to Believe (great scholars we’ve had on The Line of Fire multiple times) gave the following response to the article, which Rana describes as unbalanced, calling it “more of a mouthpiece for theistic evolution”:

[Link to Audio]

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In the audio file, Dr. Rana responds to the assertion from BioLogos in the article that “… the human population, … ‘was definitely never as small as two …. Our species diverged as a population. The data are absolutely clear on that.'” with the following statement (the models he mentions are the ones that are used to make the claim that BioLogos is making here):

These models are not that robust, they are prone to error, so … for us to completely abandon the historic Christian faith in light of the evidence from genomics that indicates a recent origin for humanity, from a single location, from a small population of individuals arguably traceable to a single man and single woman, to throw that all out, and the historic Christian faith out the window, based on population size estimates, when we know these estimates are crude, that to me is very short-sighted, and its a defeatist attitude I think, on the part of at least some evangelicals.

The article that Rana mentions on the results of a genetic experiment involving sheep, which shows how models may predict larger original population sizes than there actually were , is below:

In 2007 a research team reported on the genetic diversity of wild mouflon sheep on one of the islands that are part of the Kerguelen sub-Antarctic archipelago. This group of sheep provided researchers with an unprecedented opportunity to study the effects of population dynamics on genetic diversity in small populations.

In 1957 a male and female yearling were placed onto Haute Island (an island in the Kerguelen Archipelago). These two sheep were taken from a captive population in France. By the beginning of the 1970s, the number had grown to 100 individuals and peaked at 700 sheep in 1977. Since that time the population has fluctuated in a cyclical manner between 250 and 700 members.

Given that the population began with only two individuals (the founder effect), has experienced cyclical changes in the population size, and was isolated on an island, the researchers expected very low genetic diversity (measured as heterozygosity).

Using mathematical models, the heterozygosity of a population can be computed at any point in time from the heterozygosity of the ancestral population (which was known for the original mouflon pair) and the original population size.

What the researchers discovered, however, when they measured this quantity directly for the sheep on Haute Island was that it exceeded the predictions made by the models by up to a factor of 4. In other words, the models underestimated the genetic diversity of the actual population.

As we attempt to sift through the various biblical and scientific evidences on the historicity and meaning of the Adam of Genesis, lets keep in mind these words from agnostic mathematician David Berlinski on where evolutionary biology as the exclusive mechanism for the diversity of life we see really stands with regard to testability and coherence:

“Before you can ask ‘Is Darwinian theory correct or not?’, You have to ask the preliminary question ‘Is it clear enough so that it could be correct?’. That’s a very different question. One of my prevailing doctrines about Darwinian theory is ‘Man, that thing is just a mess. It’s like looking into a room full of smoke.’ Nothing in the theory is precisely, clearly, carefully defined or delineated. It lacks all of the rigor one expects from mathematical physics, and mathematical physics lacks all the rigor one expects from mathematics. So we’re talking about a gradual descent down the level of intelligibility until we reach evolutionary biology.”

– from Expelled April 18 2008 29.33


Marcus French is the Editor of Voice of Revolution, and helps produce the daily syndicated radio talk show, The Line of Fire.

Posted in Featured Articles, News, Philosophy & Science Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,

June 25th, 2009 by Marc Thomas

Science is a somewhat ambiguous word. Often, it is taken to mean the interpretation of empirical evidence indicating a phenomenon, physical effect or biological function. Modern society, to a certain extent, is based heavily on the idea that we should shape our function and everyday living by scientific finding and fact. However, this was not always the way of things…

As an introduction, I would like to say, that it is the way of Man to struggle to believe what can be proved by hard fact. Man is, for the most part, a disbelieving being. While we are children, we are told fairy tales and have facts hidden from us that may be detrimental to our long-term character if discovered too soon (imagine the horror of a two year old finding out the real ‘facts of life’). It is in our youth that we begin to ask questions about what we have heard and we shed the old ‘childlike belief’ for a more rational explanation of things.

Unfortunately, we do not naturally retain a good amount of ‘childlike’ faith and this must be regained through self-examination and grace, but that is not the issue here.

It is also the nature of Man to be in disagreement with one another. Socio-psychological perspectives change our ideas greatly and one man argues from his rational thought process only to be ‘beaten down’ by the ‘trump card’ of scientific observation. In our modern culture, it is almost always the case when discussing the existence of God that the conversation turns to some question on the origin of man. Here, expectations, which are often unrealistic, are placed upon the man who uses a purely reasoned argument instead of a purely empirical one. Regrettably, this can lead to the ‘unscientific’ side appearing weak on fact or, as some insensitively put it, disillusioned.

We sympathise with those who feel ‘blinded by science’ and want to take a chance to re-evaluate the idea that arguments based on scientific evidence can be used as a trump-card against philosophical or ‘reasoned’ arguments, or as Thomas Henry Huxley, an English biologist once put it, The great tragedy of Science — the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact.”

The Meaning of Meaning

Ironically, the meaning of meaning is complex. Even in the root origin of the word, semantics or the study of meaning means ‘significance’[i]. For example, when Pilate asks Jesus “What is truth?” [ii], he is asking a semantic question i.e. what should I understand to be the meaning behind the word truth?

Language is nothing but a common schema of words, symbols or actions attached to associated meaning. To demonstrate, if I were to look at an apple on the table and say it looked ‘scrumptious,’ the meaning would be obvious to somebody sitting on the other side of the table that knows the same language as I do. However, one of the great problems that we face in a ‘global village’ world is the language barrier. A recent study showed that there are only 328M English-speaking people in the world, but it also appeared at the same time as the one millionth word mark was surpassed by the English language[iii]. Clearly, the English language is a ‘common schema’ that is not so common.

This creates a problem for us as people who need to communicate and classify things. We have different definitions of words because our language is complex and our understanding of the definition of a word changes both our interpretation of the word and how we apply the classification of the word to our own lives. Continuing in the same stream, let us ask the following question of ourselves, “What do we understand by the word science?”

We will look at this question in three parts:

  1. We will explore the literal meanings of science
  2. We will explore the wider usage of the word science
  3. We shall look at two ‘branches’ of science and particularly at one, which has less value accounted to it in our culture.

Literally Speaking

As we have already discovered, and deduced from conversations and debates, Science is generally taken to be the empirical basis on which natural processes stand – that is to say, evidence defines Science. Rightly so. Excepting Proto-Indo-European origins, all western usages of ‘Science’ can be traced back to variations on ‘Knowledge.’[iv] Later we will deal with two distinct ‘branches’ of the term, but for now, we will take Science to be the knowledge of some natural process.

Biology, physics and chemistry are the three foundational disciplines of Science. In these areas of study and experimentation, we divine the natural processes and systems behind everyday life through empirical testing and then make an interpretation of them based solely on the findings of our experimentation.

Of course, interpretation and evidence are unhappy bedfellows. They do not go well together at all, one is highly subjective and the other highly objective. It is possible that our perception of the evidence before us is entirely misguided by our individual bias, or as Aristotle puts it, it is evidently equally foolish to accept probable reasoning from a mathematician and to demand from a rhetorician scientific proofs.”[v]

However, it is also admissible to say that we may eliminate our bias and regard all data in an experiment only for what it is. Although it is not generally an accepted view, it is none the less possible, but remains entirely in the hands of those qualified to obtain accurate evidence through experimentation.

In the light of Aristotle’s writings, we are presented with an interesting issue in the definition of science. The science, of which we have thus far spoken, the knowledge of natural process, is not the only usage of the word. Let us turn to an overview of some other usages.

Contextual Usage

Findings in a recent study[vi] conducted at Reading University (UK) places the oldest words in the English language to be: I, We, One, Three and Five. The earliest English speakers often had trouble asking for two cups of sugar from their neighbours (i.e. “Do you have two cups of sugar.”) In addition to the difficulties experienced by Anglo-Saxons when baking cakes, the study also demonstrates that words change their meaning over time.

As previously stated, Science is quite a narrow concept in our culture, but the concept has a far wider historical usage than is often accredited it. Let’s look at some examples.

‘Conscience’ is a compound word used to describe the idea of knowledge of right and wrong of some kind. ‘Ideology’ has the ‘science of ideas’ listed as one of its usages. Ironically, ‘sciolist’ is the name given to someone with a superficial knowledge of academic matters but has the same Latin root as Science. For Kant, Aesthetics is the science, which treats the condition of sensuous perception i.e. the knowledge of senses.

Surely, unable to deny our own narrow concept of Science, we should attempt to come up with a more diverse classification of the term.

Next time, we will take a look at a better classification of the word Science.

[i] The word ‘semantics’ is taken from the Greek word ‘semantikos’ meaning ‘significance’ and ultimately, from the Greek word for ‘sign.’

[ii] John 18:38 – Pilate’s intention in this verse is debatable.

[iii] http://www.nypost.com/seven/05162009/postopinion/opedcolumnists/the_english_conquest_169585.htm?page=0

[iv] http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=Science

[v] Bekker Number: I.1094b24

[vi] http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/7911645.stm

Posted in Philosophy & Science Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

May 21st, 2009 by M. French

In the wake of news concerning the “missing link” fossil, an internet poll was recently released by OneNewsNow asking the question “Do you believe you evolved from an ape-like creature?”. With the site geared toward a predominantly conservative Christian audience, the results were overwhelmingly negative. PZ Myers, a biology professor frustrated with the poll, posted the following article on ScienceBlogs.com, entitled OneNewsNow.com makes the most truly stupid polls:

Would you believe what kind of inane question they’re asking now?

Do you believe you evolved from an ape-like creature?
Yes – 7.10%
No – 91.07%
Unsure – 1.83%

Gaaaah. I am an ape-like creature. My mother and father are ape-like creatures, as are my brothers and sisters and grandparents and distant relatives and ancient ancestors, going back tens of millions of years. And I’m proud of them all, every one of them, except for the lackwitted atavisms who squat in squalid ignorance at Christian news sites, congratulating each other on how their ancestry is only 6,000 years old…and every one of their parents was a similarly mindless blob with no connection to the deep history of life on earth.

Following the article’s posting, ScienceBlogs.com readers started going to the OnewNewsNow poll to change the results. One commenter said: “… we rock. Just sat there and clicked refresh on the poll for a couple of minutes. Watching yes creep up and no creep down.” followed by “Awesome, the poll is currently crashing at a rate of 2%/min…”, “almost 50/50 now…”, and ” “Boy, that handy ‘refresh’ thing they have under the poll is great. You can watch the numbers change practically in real time. Right now, it looks like it’s moving at about .01% toward ‘Yes’ every second. Wheee!” By the end of the day, the poll had swung from over 90% “no,” to over 80% “yes.”

Internet polls are notoriously unreliable, and quite prone to yielding skewed results like these (click here to find out how a 21-year-old college dropout named Christopher Poole was voted the most influential person in the world on a Time Magazine poll), thus it comes as no shock that the poll was affected in this way. It does however serve as a snapshot of the larger conflict going on with regard to human origins.

Posted in Culture, News Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,