Archive for the ‘Evolution/Creation’ Category

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What if God Threw a Flood and No One Came?

March 24, 2012

The folks over at Answers in Genesis recently tackled the question, “When exactly was the Flood?”. After consulting his Bible and with a little help from Bishop James Ussher, David Wright of AiG provides the answer:

Using the Bible, well-documented historical events, and some math, we find that the Flood began approximately 4,359 years ago in the year 1656 AM [anno mundi] or 2348 BC.

So there you have it. Only 8 people left alive on the planet in 2348 BC.

That got me thinking. What other “well-documented historical events” might have been going on in the 24th century BC? Let’s take a look …

 

Mesopotamia

Sargon the Great

Sargon the Great

It must have come as a real shock to Noah and his children when, in 2334 BC – only 14 years after the flood – Sargon the Great began establishing the powerful Akkadian empire. This task involved defeating in battle a variety of Sumerian city states, some of which had populations in excess of 100,000 inhabitants (e.g. Lagash and Uruk). By the end of his reign (2279 BC), Sargon’s vast empire stretched from the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf – basically the entire Fertile Crescent.

Such an empire only 69 years after the Flood is a feat indeed. But the real credit has to go to the four women on Noah’s ark. “Barefoot and pregnant” doesn’t begin to describe the work involved in repopulating the planet at the pace necessary to give Sargon armies to fight and people to rule.

 

Egypt

Down in Egypt, the United Kingdom established by Menes circa. 3000 BC was humming along nicely. By the time of Noah’s flood, the Egyptians were just wrapping up their 5th dynasty. Pharaoh Unas was, no doubt, quite perturbed to see his empire underwater, especially since he was in the middle of building a pyramid complex at Saqqara, which you can visit to this day.

inside Teti's pyramid

inside Teti's pyramid

Undeterred, the now soggy Egyptians moved seamlessly into the 6th dynasty with Pharaoh Teti at the helm. Teti built himself a nice pyramid complex too. Given that Teti came to power only 3 years after the global population was reduced to 8, you might have thought cheap labor for pyramid building would be hard to come by. Nonetheless, even Teti’s high court officials were building themselves massive funerary monuments during his reign.

 

Indus Valley

ruins of a bath in the Harappan city of Mohenjo-daro

ruins of a bath in the Harappan city of Mohenjo-daro

By the time of the Flood, the vast Indus Valley Civilization had been in existence for about a millennium. It was now at its zenith in the period known as the Mature Harappan Period (beginning in 2600 BC). We don’t know as much about the Harappan culture because we still haven’t interpreted their script. But the archaeological record evidences large cities, hundreds of settlements, impressive architecture, and a rich material culture.

What we can say with confidence is that the Harappan were excellent swimmers. Their population managed to tread water for the entire year of Noah’s flood, allowing their civilization to continue uninterrupted for another 4 centuries before a gradual decline from 1900 to 1700 BC.

 

I could go on. In fact, it’s hard to pick a spot on the globe that didn’t have some form of continuous civilization both before and after 2348 BC.

The problem gets even worse for AiG because they take the Tower of Babel story as literal history as well, which forces them to push the beginning of all civilizations another 100+ years into the future to 2200 BC.

I’m not sure if it’s hilarious or just plain sad to see them teaching good Christian folk that Egypt was founded in 2188 BC. For reference, this date falls at the tail end of the 6th dynasty, after the entire Early Dynastic and Old Kingdom periods. That’s 1000 years of Egyptian history swept under the rug. 2188 BC is also 3-400 years after construction of the Great Pyramids and Sphinx of Giza. I guess they were built by aliens after all.

Insistence on a literal global deluge is a cardinal doctrine among most young earth creationists (YECs). YEC claims are regularly challenged on scientific grounds. This is to be expected when your theory defies modern geology, biology, paleontology, physics, astronomy, and genetics. Less frequently do we hear YEC claims held up for comparison against history. But there too, the YEC must continually dismiss the conclusions of professional historians, archaeologists and anthropologists, choosing instead to construct yet another alternate version of reality.

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The Origin of Information

March 10, 2011

Over at Biologos, Dr. Dennis Venema has begun a series on Evolution and the Origin of Biological Information. A frequent refrain from the promoters of “intelligent design” is that natural processes, namely mutation and natural selection, are incapable of producing complex genomic information.

Unfortunately for the ID movement, this claim is simply wrong. Very wrong.

Dr. Venema will be exploring some documented examples of evolution doing exactly what the peddlers* of ID theory say it can’t – producing novel functioning genes. Stay tuned.

 


 
*I don’t think it unfair to describe Stephen Meyer and the other fellows at the Discovery Institute as peddlers. When they start publishing their work in recognized peer-reviewed publications, I’ll gladly find a new descriptor. But so long as they choose to publish directly to lay audiences while avoiding the scrutiny of their peers, they’re simply peddling their unsubstantiated pet theories to the public.

 

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The Genesis Code, Part IV

February 21, 2011

This is my final post in a series about the movie “The Genesis Code”. For earlier posts, see Part I, Part II, and Part III.

We’ve got one day left to go …

Day 6 (250 Mya to 6000 years ago/appearance of Adam)

Genesis 1:24-31

And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. … God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.

As usual, the movie does not quote the relevant passage from Genesis, preferring to summarize it inaccurately as follows, “Day Six, the land animals become dominant and God created man in his own image.” As you will note from the above passage in Genesis, there is no reference to land animals becoming “dominant”. The land animals are made on Day 6. The reason for this sleight of hand will become apparent momentarily.

The movie’s scientist character tells us that 250 Mya there was a mass extinction that killed 90% of all life on earth, “followed by a rapid repopulation, mammals, land animals predominating, and then the first hominids.”

The bit about the mass extinction event 250 Mya is correct. It’s known as the Permian-Triassic Extinction Event. The repopulation was actually quite slow, not “rapid”, but this is a minor quibble. The reference to repopulation by mammals is puzzling. The periods following the P-Tr Extinction Event were the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous. In other words, it was the age of the dinosaurs, not mammals. During those periods, mammals were quite small. It was not until the Cretaceous-Tertiary Extinction event 65 Mya, which led to the extinction of the dinosaurs, that mammals finally had an opportunity to exploit larger body sizes and diversify into the position of dominance on land that the movie is referring to.

The real problem for The Genesis Code when it comes to Day 6 is the fact that Genesis describes God making all land animals on Day 6. The earliest evidence of land-dwelling tetrapods dates back to 395 Mya, with the recently discovered footprints in Poland. That is 145 million years too early for the time frame allotted to Day 6 in the movie. In fact, by 250 Mya (the beginning of Day 6 in The Genesis Code), the land was already teeming with life, including pelycosaurs, amphibians, therapsids, archosaurs, and cynodonts. Knowing that land animals were abundant long before their time frame for “Day 6”, the movie has to ignore the plain meaning of “God made … all the creatures that move along the ground” and substitutes the “land animals become dominant” reading of Day 6, hoping that no one has brought their Bible to the movie theatre.

Conclusion

The Genesis Code purports to demonstrate that the Bible and science can both be true. This is a laudable goal, but it cannot be accomplished by pretending that Genesis contains a coded message that accurately describes the history of the universe and life on earth. In order to make their case, the makers of this movie have repeatedly twisted the language of Genesis and grossly misstated the scientific facts.  It is telling that on the Endorsements page on the movie’s website, there doesn’t appear to be a single endorsement from a scientist.

The order of events in Genesis clearly does not line up with the scientific record. No matter what time frames are assigned to each day of creation, it’s never going to be the case that birds (Day 5) came before land animals (Day 6). It’s never going to be the case that fruit-bearing trees (Day 3) came before aquatic life (Day 5).

After walking us through his trainwreck of an explanation of the Genesis “code”, the movie’s physicist hero proudly proclaims that, “Science has proven what religious leaders have been unable to prove for thousands of years.” His sister chimes in with, “Science has just caught up with the truth of the Bible.” The irony is that, if one accepts that the account in Genesis is meant to be a scientifically accurate account of material origins, then the contrary is true: science has disproven the Bible. This is the danger in trying to use ancient texts for purposes for which they were never intended.

The sad fact is that thousands of evangelicals will flock to this movie. Given the big name actors and the high production values, they will assume that the producers must have invested equally in scientific quality control. They will walk away thinking that their faith in the Bible is well-placed because of the book’s prescient foretelling of the discoveries of modern science. This is particularly problematic for young people, who are thereby set up for a spectacular crisis of faith when they encounter credible scientific information later in life.

For anyone interested in how the Christian faith can co-exist with credible science, I would recommend skipping The Genesis Code and spending a little time with the resources over at the Biologos website.

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The Genesis Code, Part III

February 20, 2011

I’m continuing my examination of the scientific claims in the new Christian movie, The Genesis Code, which I began in two previous posts (Part I and Part II). We’re on to days 4-5 of creation:

 

 

Day 4 (1.75 Bya to 750 Mya)

Genesis 1:14-19

And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day.

The Genesis Code tells us about Day 4 simply that “the sun, the moon and the stars appeared.” The use of the word appeared is, of course, intentional. Genesis 1:14-19 is clear that on the 4th Day God made the sun, moon and the stars. But the writers of the movie have to obscure this because they know that the sun, moon and stars were in existence long before 1.75 Bya.

Having redefined Day 4 to be the day on which the heavenly bodies “appeared”, the movie then proceeds to tell the audience that during this time frame, due to rising oxygen levels, the earth’s atmosphere went from opaque to translucent such that the sun, moon and stars could be seen from earth for the first time.

Why God would decide to put the sun, moon and stars in the narrative according to when they became visible from earth (as opposed to when they were created) is not explained. After all, at 750 Mya there still were no life forms on earth capable of seeing the heavenly bodies.

Moreover, it’s not at all clear to me that the scientific claim is correct. It’s true that the earth’s oxygen content was rising during this period. But that process began billions of years before 1.75 Bya and continued well past 750 Mya. I haven’t been able to locate a reliable source as to whether the various heavenly bodies became visible from earth during this period. But I have some real doubts, particularly with respect to the sun. The only reason that oxygen levels were rising was because oxygen was being produced in abundance by photosynthetic life on earth, which means that the sun (albeit a dimmer sun) must have been visible from earth long before 1.75 Bya.

 
Day 5 (750 Mya to 250 Mya)

Genesis 1:20-23

And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.” So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the fifth day.

It is apparent from the above text that for Day 5 we should be looking for the appearance of “every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it” and “every winged bird”.

The scientist character in The Genesis Code tells us, correctly, that initially, sea life would have been dominant. He then tells us that at 530 Mya the Cambrian explosion occurred, “when every species of land animal literally appeared at the same time”.

Really? Are you kidding me? You would think that having spent roughly $5 million on this movie, the producers could have spent a few bucks to hire a bona fide scientist as a consultant. Would it have hurt them to at least borrow a high school science textbook? Or to check the Wikipedia entry for “Cambrian Explosion”? It is at this point in the trailer that one becomes painfully aware that the makers of this movie employed no credible scientific quality control.

As anyone even remotely familiar with the Cambrian fossil record can tell you, the life forms that emerged in the Cambrian were a variety of bizarre sea-dwelling creatures. They included trilobites and early brachiopods and arthropods. In the Cambrian there were zero, count them zero, land animals. The transition to land did not occur into roughly 400 Mya.

It seems fairly obvious what has happened here. The scriptwriters have confused species for phyla. The Cambrian does contain many of the phyla that continue to exist today. But there is an enormous distinction between species (a very narrow category) and phyla (a very broad category). The phylum of chordates, for instance, includes all mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish. What did the Cambrian chordates look like? Like Pikaia, as depicted here:

Or Haikouichthus, as depicted here:

That’s as close as you come to a fish, reptile, amphibian, mammal or bird in the Cambrian. Not exactly “every species of land animal”, is it?

Even if the claim were that the major phyla “literally appeared at the same time,” this too would be wrong. The so-called Cambrian explosion lasted tens of millions of years and many of the phyla that appear in the Cambrian have evolutionary precursors in the earlier Ediacaran fossil record.

But once again, the movie seems to have completely forgotten the text of Genesis. We’re not even supposed to be looking for land animals in Day 5. We’re supposed to be looking for “every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it” and “every winged bird”. From 750 Mya to 250 Mya we certainly do find a lot of aquatic life, but notably missing are the cetaceans (e.g. whales), sirenians (e.g. manatees) and pinnipeds (e.g. seals), which did not return to the water until about 50 Mya (way too late for Day 5).

And of course the most glaring problem for Day 5 is birds. Even primitive birds like Archaeopteryx don’t show up in the fossil record until 150 Mya, well outside the movie’s time frame for Day 5. How does the movie account for this? It doesn’t. It just quickly moves on to the next day, assuming (perhaps correctly) that its target audience is as scientifically illiterate as the scriptwriters.

Frankly, if The Genesis Code were a high school science project, it would be well on track to a solid F.

More to come … [Click here for Part 4]

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The Genesis Code, Part II

February 19, 2011

In my previous post, I discussed the central premise of “The Genesis Code” movie and noted that its attempt to reconcile Genesis with modern science rested on a quack theory of physics that isn’t taken seriously outside of creationist circles.

Leaving aside that premise, I want to consider the video’s description of the 6 days and how they correspond to the actual history of the universe. Not everyone would insist, as this movie does, that the 6 days were 6 literal earth days. Many Christians, realizing that the Universe is much older than 6000 years, have attempted to interpret the 6 days as 6 epochs of time that correspond to actual history. The Genesis Code does much the same thing. Let’s see how they do.

Day 1 (15.75 Bya to 7.75 Bya)

Genesis 1:1-5

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.

The Genesis Code tells us that at the moment of the Big Bang, all of matter, time and space were created. The earth only existed in the form of stardust that would later congeal to form the planet.

For some reason the movie doesn’t have much to say about the first 8 billion years of the universe’s existence (although it’s possible that this portion of the trailer has been edited). There’s no mention here of the fact that the first stars began to shine approximately 100 million years after the Big Bang. I would have thought that would fit nicely with the creation of light in Day 1.

The movie appears to make no attempt to explain why the first two verses of Genesis describe a pre-existent earth covered in water. This makes perfect sense when one considers how other ancient near eastern creation accounts (such as the Enuma elish) described the gods bringing order out of watery primordial chaos. It makes no sense whatsoever for a time period in which the earth does not yet exist.

Day 2 (7.75 Bya to 3.75 Bya)

Genesis 1:6-8

And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.

For some reason The Genesis Code doesn’t quote the above passage for Day 2 (as it did for Day 1). Rather, an actor tells us that according to the Bible on Day 2, “The heavens as we know them were created and the chaos that would eventually become the earth was separated from the rest of creation.” This is disingenuous. Day 2 in Genesis does not describe the formation of the earth or the heavens. It describes the creation of the sky. It presumes that the earth already exists and that a separation of the waters below from the waters above is necessary to create the sky. Again, this makes perfect sense when one considers that ancient cosmologies presumed that the earth was covered by a vaulted dome that held back the waters above.

The scientist character in The Genesis Code proceeds to tell us that during this time period (7.75 Bya to 3.75 Bya) the Milky Way formed, as did our sun and the earth. Pinning down when the Milky Way formed is not easy because it’s a very slow process. But the time frame given in the movie is definitely wrong. From what I can discern, the Milky Way is estimated to have formed between 13.5 Bya and 8.8 Bya. The earth and sun did form around 4.5 Bya, so at least that claim is correct.

But why are we even talking about the formation of the Milky Way, the earth and the sun? That’s not what happens on Day 2. Where is the remarkable scientific confirmation of the Bible’s claim that on Day 2 the sky appeared by separation of the waters? There isn’t any evidence for this, of course. In fact, the temperatures on earth for almost this entire period wouldn’t have even permitted liquid water (until 4.4 – 3.9 Bya).

Day 3 (3.75 Bya to 1.75 Bya)

Genesis 1:9-13

And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good. Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day.

The Genesis Code conveniently truncates the above passage down to, “The oceans and the dry land appeared, as well as the first forms of plant life.”

Once again, the movie has omitted portions of Genesis that its makers know are completely inconsistent with the scientific data. The passage does not say that the “first forms of plant life” emerged. It says that the land produced seed-bearing plants and fruit-bearing trees. These are very late evolutionary developments. Seeds don’t appear in the fossil record until roughly 400 Million years ago, at the earliest. It’s even worse for fruit. Flowering plants (which are required to produce fruit) don’t appear until 140 Million years ago. According to The Genesis Code, Day 3 ends at 1.75 Billion years ago! So the Genesis Code is off by 1.3 Billion years for seeds and 1.6 Billion years for fruit.

So what does the scientist in The Genesis Code tell us occurred on Day 3? He says that at 3.8 Bya the earth cooled, liquid water formed, and almost immediately the first plant and animal life, photosynthetic algae and bacteria appeared.

He’s roughly correct about the earth cooling and bacteria appearing shortly thereafter, but the reference to plant and animal life is nonsense. From 3.5 Bya to 1.75 Bya, the only life forms that existed on the planet were simple prokaryotes and bacterial mats known as stromatolites. In fact, the first animal life doesn’t appear until approximately 600 Million years ago and plants don’t appear on land (the entire gist of Day 3 in Genesis) until about 450 Million years ago.

In essence, the movie has taken a time frame in which life on earth was dominated by nothing more than simple single-celled organisms and tried to tell us that this somehow fits Day 3 in Genesis during which all vegetation is said to have appeared.

Once again, The Genesis Code resorts to misreading Genesis and misrepresenting science in order to make the two fit.

To be continued … [Click here for Part 3]

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The Genesis Code

February 19, 2011

There is a new movie being aggressively marketed to evangelicals in the U.S. called “The Genesis Code”. It features such notables as Ernest Borgnine and Fred Thompson (the former Republican presidential hopeful). The movie appears to center around a budding romance between a young Christian girl and a hockey jock. The jock rejects Christianity because he can’t get past the irreconcilable differences between Genesis and modern science. The girl enlists her lab coat-wearing brother to come up with a solution.

I wish I could tell you that the solution was the discovery that Genesis addresses similar themes as other ancient near eastern origins legends and was never meant as a scientific description of the material origins of the universe. Nope. The solution, dubbed the “Genesis Code”, is that Genesis turns out to be scientifically accurate after all. When Genesis says that God made the world in 6 days, it really means that God made the world over 15.75 billion years. That’s right, modern science and Genesis are telling the exact same story and science is only now catching up to what the biblical author already knew.

Now, to be fair, I haven’t watched the movie, which was just released. But there are several trailers on the movie’s Youtube account and they include the following clip which contains an explanation of the “Genesis Code”:

For anyone with a basic working knowledge of modern science, the above video was probably enough to make you want to put your fist through your screen. But it went a little fast (as is necessary for good sleight of hand), so let me attempt to break it down.

The Time Frames

For some reason, the movie pretends that the age of the Universe is 15.75 billion years old. I have no idea where they’re getting this. Current estimates are 13.7 ± 0.13 billion years. It’s hard not to suspect that the numbers were fudged to make the math work.

In order to cram 15.75 billion years into 6 days, the movie appears to be taking the idea proposed by D. Russell Humphreys in his 1994 book, “Starlight & Time” that if our galaxy were in the center of the universe (we have no reason to think it is) general relativity could distort time such that, while only 6 days were passing on earth, billions of years were passing out on the edges of the universe. If this doesn’t sound right to you, you’re not alone. Dr. Humphreys’ hypothesis has been uniformly criticized. Even old earth creationist Hugh Ross at Reasons To Believe has denounced the theory as “irremediably flawed” and “exhibit[ing] profound misunderstandings of relativity theory and cosmology.” According to Ross, “not one person competent in general relativity and cosmology theory who has examined Starlight and Time has given a ‘pass’ to this theory,” and even Humphreys himself has abandoned most of his central ideas.

Judging from the trailers, the movie presents these claims about time dilation without even a hint that they are controversial (to put it kindly).

In my next post, I will examine the claims made in the movie about how the 6 days (or “Passages of Time” as the movie calls them) match up to the scientific evidence.