University survey affirms we are ‘Bound to Believe’

Universities across Canada started their new academic year this past September.  Hundreds of thousands of students, from around the world, descended on campuses across Canada to participate in orientation events, meet old friends and new, and start another chapter in their student careers.

I was at McMaster University and joined in on some of the orientation events at the start of the year.  Though I was a bit more ‘of age’ than most, I also met old friends, made some new ones and partook in some orientation events.  My participation also confirmed a new stance in what psychologists are now saying about our Spirituality – that it is innately hardwired into us.  At an orientation event, I conducted a ‘Spiritual Interest Questionnaire’ for a TV draw.  Out of 375 entrants the responses for the first question were:

  1. In my view God…
  • __7%_  doesn’t exist
  • _10%_ doesn’t matter to me
  • _19%_  is someone I’d like to know more about
  • _49%_  is close to me
  • _15%_  Don’t know

What may seem surprising is that half the respondents indicated that God was ‘close to them’!  And almost one-fifth indicated a desire to know God ‘more’.  This tells us there is a lot going on in our brains when it comes to God, and it agrees with current research.

Research of Pascal Boyer

Cognitive psychologist Pascal Boyer, in the recent Nature article Religion: Bound to Believe? (NATURE Vol. 455, October 2008, pg 1038-1039) asked “why and how is religious thought so pervasive in human societies.  He was challenged with an issue perplexing to his atheistic beliefs.  If the relevance and case for God seems so weak (from the standpoint of the atheistic establishment in academia that he is part of) why then is it so prevalent and pervasive across all societies and throughout history?  The common assumption that people with religious faith are just superstitious and ignorant seems inadequate to explain the widespread and persistent occurrence of religious faith.  Caricatures common in media and academic circles of religious people depicted as ‘simple’ distorts the breadth of the phenomenon. This has puzzled many thinkers. Boyer argues that research has shown that people have “a slew of cognitive traits that predispose us to belief” and this is only recently coming to light because cognitive research now

“asks what in the human make-up renders religion possible and successful.  Religious thought and behaviour can be considered part of natural human capacities, like music, political systems, family elations or ethnic coalitions.”

And why is this part of our natural capacities?

“… humans are very good at establishing and maintaining relations with agents beyond their physical presence ; social hierarchies and coalitions, for instance, include temporarily absent members. This goes even further. From childhood, humans form enduring, stable and important social relationships with fictional characters, imaginary friends, deceased relatives, unseen heroes and fantasized mates Indeed, the extraordinary social skills of humans, compared with other primates, may be honed by constant practice with imagined or absent partners.”

His conclusion?

“religious thoughts seem to be an emergent property of our standard cognitive capacities. Religious concepts and activities hijack our cognitive resources, as do music, visual art, cuisine, politics, economic institutions and fashion. This hijacking occurs simply because religion provides some form of what psychologists would call super stimuli. Just as visual art is more symmetrical and its colours more saturated than what is generally found in nature, religious agents are highly simplified versions of absent human agents,and religious rituals are highly stylized versions of precautionary procedures.”

In other words, our brains are wired to have non-physical ‘friends’ just like we are wired for musical, artistic, political, cuisine and fashion expression.   So, in fact, it is not surprising that half of my survey felt that God was ‘close to them.’  Boyer argues that this is the natural way for our brains to operate, even in a setting (i.e. university) where this is considered a naive or foolish way of thinking.  This should give us some food for thought.

All our other capacities, be they physical, aesthetic, or social, are met and satisfied through existing things.  We do not have capacities and needs for which there is no external corresponding answer.  On a physical level we get hungry – and find there is food to meet this capacity.  We have innate aesthetic capacities and find there is music, drama or art ‘out there’ that can meet these needs.   As CS Lewis stated:

“Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”  Mere Christianity p. 67-68

On every level we find that where we have an innate need or capacity, it is not there vacuously or by faulty happenstance – our needs fit like a lock-n-key system in a Reality that can meet them.  They are not dangling orphans.  So when we turn to our spirits and we find that (according to Boyer) “the path of least resistance for our cognitive systems” is to sense that God is close, perhaps that reflects the truth of the matter.  It would be peculiar indeed if this pattern of inner-capacity-matching-an-outer-Reality breaks down only at this point.  Usually when we consider the question “Does a personal God Exist?” we only look on the God-side of the question.  It is an interesting twist to look at the human-side of the question and when we do, we find that we seem to be made to believe.

We saw in the Session on the Basis for Morality that current research is also showing that we were made to be moral, built with an objective moral compass.  Boyer builds on this rather recent knowledge to show a linkage with our morality to our disposition to religious belief.  As he writes

It is a small step from having this capacity to bond with non-physical agents to conceptualizing spirits… socially involved. This may explain why, in most cultures, at least some of the superhuman agents that people believe in have moral concerns. Those agents are often described as having complete access only to morally relevant actions. Experiments show that it is much more natural to think “the gods know that I stole this money” than “the gods know that I had porridge for breakfast”.

Why are we bound to believe?

So Boyer is showing that these different but innate capacities of morality and religious belief integrate within us.  We were made to believe and to be moral.  Looking at how modern psychology is starting to see how our minds are set to function strongly affirms how we were originally made in the image of God.  As the old saying goes, “If it looks like a duck, and it quacks like a duck, then maybe … it’s a duck”.  The human disposition to morality and an innate belief in God lends support to the idea that there is a God who has indeed made us this way.  It is the simplest and most straight-forward explanation.

Of course, this is a controversial conclusion so there will always be attempts to advocate natural explanations for this innate convergence between morality with an innate religious belief.  As Boyer states about our innate tendency to religious belief:

Perhaps one day we will find compelling evidence that a capacity for religious thoughts, rather than ‘religion’ in the modern form of socio-political institutions, contributed to fitness in ancestral times.

In other words, Boyer envisages that ‘perhaps one day’ a Darwinian survival-based explanation for our religious predisposition can be developed.  Dawkins tried to develop just such an explanation for our innate morality, attributing it to genetic ‘misfirings’ when he conjectured:

what natural selection favours is rules of thumb … rules of thumb, by their nature sometimes misfire… Could it be that our Good Samaritan urges are misfiring, analogous to the misfiring of a reed warbler’s parental instincts when it works itself to the bone for a young cuckoo [bird of another species]… I am suggesting that the same is true of the urge to kindness – to altruism, to generosity, to empathy, to pity … it is just like sexual desire… Both are misfiring: blessed, precious mistakes” The God Delusion p 220-221

I do not doubt that scenarios like this appear progressive and modern to many people.  But a misfiring here and another there in our brains explains many disorders and problems that many of us cope with but it will not explain the convergence of our widespread and different cognitive systems to religious belief.  As Boyer describes it:

there is no unique domain for religion in human minds. Different cognitive systems handle representations of supernatural agents, of ritualized behaviours, of group commitment and so on, just as colour and shape are handled by different parts of the visual system. In other words, what makes a god-concept convincing is not what makes a ritual intuitively compelling or what makes a moral norm self-evident. … The evidence shows that the mind has no single belief network, but myriad distinct networks that contribute to making religious claims quite natural to many people.

Our dispositions do not come from one spot in the brain, but from a myriad of interconnected regions that work together – hardly the expected outcome of a few ‘misfirings’.  So perhaps the Apostle Paul’s comments are apropos when he states that “claiming to be wise they became fools”  because Boyer tells us that to snuff out our disposition to believe and instead engender disbelief (which many of us are able to do) requires that we engage in “deliberate, effortful work against our natural cognitive dispositions”.  To explain such deeply ingrained and interwoven predispositions as being simply due to ‘misfirings’ strikes me as rather foolish.

It might be wiser to conclude again with St. Paul that “God has made it plain”, especially in how we have been made.  Convoluted conjectures to explain away the simple and plain perhaps instead reveal another disposition, hearkening back to a rebellion and corruption from that initial Image, showing we are now armed with a propensity to “suppress the truth … about God” (Romans 1:18-19).

Does Evolution make sense in light of biology?

A few years ago I had the privilege to have a public discussion about evolution at McMaster University with Dr. Jonathan Stone who is a computational biologist, the professor at Mac who teaches biological evolution, and who is also the associate director of the Origins Institute at McMaster. We had the discussion recorded and I just got around to uploading it.

We had chosen beforehand to frame our discussion from a well-known quote coined by one of the leading evolutionary biologists of the 20th century – Dr. Theodosius Dobzhanksy. His pithy statement was:

“Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution”

This declaration has made its way into almost every university textbook on evolution. So Jonathan and I thought that this statement would be an ideal one to frame our discussion around. He defended the proposition while I refuted it. We had 30 minutes each for our opening arguments and then shorter intervals where we could rebut the others’ points.

It was a pleasure to share the platform that night with Dr. Stone in a public venue on campus. Though we had opposite convictions on this issue I found him to be a gracious speaker who stuck to the issues.

For some time I have been wanting to put this up so that others interested in this topic can view our discussion. You can view the entire 97 minute event as one video here, or you can view it in chunks below since I broke the evening down into three main sections: Jonathan’s opening argument, my opening argument, and then our rebuttals. Unfortunately the last minute or so was cut off in the last video. I hope you find it that it stimulates your thinking on this topic.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

…But Corrupted (Part 1 – like orcs of Middle-earth)

In my last post I looked at the biblical foundation for how we should see ourselves and others – that we are made in the image of God. But the Bible develops further on this foundation. The Psalms are a collection of sacred songs and poems used by the Old Testament Hebrews in their worship. Psalm 14 was written by King David ca 1000 B.C. and records the state-of-affairs from God’s point of view.

The LORD looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one. (Psalm 14:2-3)

The phrase ‘become corrupt’ is used to describe the entire human race. Since it is something we have ‘become’ the corruption is in reference to that initial state of being in the ‘image of God’. This passage says that the corruption demonstrates itself in a determined independence from God (‘all’ have ‘turned aside’ from ‘seeking God’) and also in not doing ‘good’.

Corrupted – Thinking Elves and Orcs

Orcs were hideous in so many ways. But they were simply corrupt descendants of elves

To better understand this think of the orcs of Middle Earth in the Lord of the Rings as an illustration. Orcs are hideous creatures in appearance, conduct, and in their treatment of the earth. Yet orcs are descended from elves that had become corrupted by Sauron. When you see the stately majesty, harmony and relationship with nature that elves had (think of Legalos and the elves of Lothlorien) and realize that the depraved orcs were once elves who have ‘become corrupt’ you will

The elves were noble and majestic

get a sense of what is said here about people. God intended elves but what he found was orcs.

This fits exactly with what we noted as a universal tendency among all people in Session Two – that no one lives according to their moral grammar of right and wrong. So here we arrive at a perspective that is very instructive: The biblical starting point of people as sentient, personal, and moral, but then also corrupt, fits with what we observe about ourselves. It is shrewdly spot-on in its assessment of people, recognizing an intrinsic moral nature within us that can easily be overlooked since our actions never actually match what this nature demands of us – because of this corruption. The biblical shoe fits the human foot. However, it raises an obvious question: why did God make us this way – with a moral grammar and yet corrupted from it? As Christopher Hitchens complains:

“… If god really wanted people to be free of such thoughts [i.e., corrupt ones], he should have taken more care to invent a different species.”  Christopher Hitchens.  2007.  God is not great: How religion spoils everything.  p. 100

But this is where in his haste to vent on the Bible that he misses something very important. The Bible does not say that God made us this way, but that something terrible has happened since the initial creation to bring about this difficult state-of-affairs. An important event happened in human history subsequent to our creation. The first humans defied God, as recorded in Genesis, and in their defiance they changed and were corrupted.

The Fall of Mankind

This landmark event in human history is often called The Fall. And we can perhaps understand it better if we think through what Adam faced in his relationship with God when he was created. To give us some further insight we turn to a mid-8th century BC, Old Testament prophet Hosea. As he recounts in his book, his wife had repeatedly cheated on him and run off in a string of affairs. In the midst of his pain and betrayal God commanded him to go and find his wife, reconcile with her, and win her back. Then this episode is used as a picture to show how, in God’s eyes, the Israelites at that time were like the cheating spouse, but God, like Hosea, was willing to reconcile if they would only come clean and come back to Him. In that plea comes a comparison to Adam:

“O Israel and Judah, what should I do with you?” asks the LORD.  “For your love vanishes like the morning mist and disappears like dew in the sunlight. … I want you to show love, not offer sacrifices.  I want you to know me more than I want burnt offerings. But like Adam, you broke my covenant and betrayed my trust. (Hosea 6:4-7)

In other words, what the Israelites of Hosea’s day were doing was continuing what Adam, the first man, had started. There had been an agreement between God and Adam, similar to a marital contract of faithfulness, and Adam violated it. The book of Genesis records that Adam ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. There had been a covenant or agreement between God and Adam that he would not eat from that tree – all others were available for him. It was not that there was anything special in the tree itself, but its presence gave Adam a free choice as to whether to remain faithful to God or not. Adam had been created as a sentient person, who was both made and placed into friendship with God at the same moment. Adam had no choice regarding his creation, but God gave him the opportunity to choose concerning his friendship with God, and this choice was centered on the command not to eat from that one tree. Just like the choice to stand is not real if sitting is impossible, the friendship and trust of Adam to God had to be given in the context of a viable alternative, and thus Adam was given a choice as to whether he would remain faithful in his agreement to God or not. We look more closely at this account – and how & in what way we ‘miss the mark’ in the next post.

In the Image of God

In the last few posts I looked at ‘signs’ in some landmark passages from the Old Testament that allude to Jesus.  I did so primarily because they are clues that point to a Divine Mind revealing Himself through these remarkable allusions. But they are also clues to help us understand ourselves.  And to continue with that I want to consider implications of what the Bible says about the origins of mankind.  Using the Bible to understand our beginnings is considered the height of folly in many modern circles.  However, at the very least, an open-minded recognition of the bankruptcy of ‘scientific’ evolutionary theories shown here, and the recently confirmed genetic fact of interbreeding between homo sapiens and neanderthals – predicted from the Biblical narrative – should allow anyone, believer and unbeliever alike, to have the freedom to consider what the Bible says about our beginnings, and to think about what it means.

So, in this spirit of considering, I want to chart an understanding of what the Bible teaches about us by looking at a passage from the creation account.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness…” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:26-27)

“In the Image of God”

Now what does it mean that mankind was created ‘in the image of God’?  It does not mean that God is a physical being with two arms, a head, etc.  Rather at a deeper level it is saying that basic characteristics of people are derived from similar characteristics of God.  So for example, both God (in the Bible) and people (from observation) have intellect, emotions and will.  In the Bible God is sometimes portrayed as sad, hurt, angry or joyful – the same range of emotions that we humans experience.   We make choices and decisions on a daily basis.  God similarly in the Bible is described as making choices and coming to decisions.  Our ability to reason and think abstractly comes from God.  We have the capacities of intellect, emotion and will because God has them and we are made in his image.

At a more fundamental level when we consider these aspects of ourselves we see that we are sentient beings, self-aware and conscious of ‘I’ and ‘you’.  We are not impersonal ‘its’.  We are like this because God is this way.  In this fundamental perspective, the God of the Bible is not portrayed as a pantheistic impersonality as understood in Eastern religions, or like the ‘Force’ in Star Wars.  And because we are made in His image, neither are we.

Why we are Aesthetic

We also appreciate art and drama.  Consider how we so naturally appreciate and even need beauty.  This goes beyond just visual beauty to include music and literature.  Think about how important music is to us – even how natural it is for us to dance.  Music so enriches our lives.  We love good stories, whether in novels or plays, or more commonly today, in movies.  Stories have heroes, villains, drama, and the great stories sear these heroes, villains and drama into our imaginations.  It is so natural for us to use and appreciate art in its many forms to entertain, reinvigorate and rejuvenate ourselves because God is an Artist and we are in his image.  It is a question worth asking.  Why are we so innately aesthetic, whether in art, drama, music, dance, or literature?  Daniel Dennett, an outspoken atheist and an authority on understanding cognitive processes, answers from a materialistic perspective:

“But most of this research still takes music for granted.  It seldom asks:  Why does music exist?  There is a short answer, and it is true, so far as it goes: it exists because we love it and hence we keep bringing more of it into existence.  But why do we love it?  Because we find that it is beautiful.  But why is it beautiful to us?  This is a perfectly good biological question, but it does not yet have a good answer.”[1]

Why indeed if everything about us as humans must be explained based solely on survival fitness and differential reproductive rates is art, in all its forms, so important to us?  Dennett, probably the world’s leading thinker on this question from the materialistic evolutionary perspective, tells us that we just do not know.  From the Biblical perspective it is because God is artistic and aesthetic.  He made things beautiful and enjoys beauty.  We, made in His image, are the same.

Why we are Moral

In addition, being ‘made in God’s image’ explains the innate moral grammar or Tao we looked at in Session Two.  Because we are made in God’s image and morality is intrinsic to His nature, like a compass aligned to magnetic North, our alignment to ‘fair’, ‘good’, ‘right’ is because this is the way He is.  It is not just religious people who are made in this way – everyone is.  Not recognizing this can give rise to misunderstandings.  Take for example this challenge from Sam Harris.

“If you are right to believe that religious faith offers the only real basis for morality, then atheists should be less moral than believers.”[2]

Harris is dead wrong here.  Biblically speaking, our sense of morality comes from being made in God’s image, not from being religious.  And that is why atheists, like all the rest of us, have this moral sense and can act morally.  The difficulty with atheism is to account for this objective basis of our morality –  but all of us have it hard-wired into us (as Dawkins says) because we are in His image.  Dawkins’ speculations about the cause of our innate morality from a materialistic perspective are less than compelling.  Being made in God’s moral image is a far simpler and straightforward explanation.

Why are we so Relational

Thus Biblically, the starting point to understanding ourselves is to recognize that we are made in God’s image.  Because of this, as we gain insight into either God (through what is revealed about him in the Bible) or people (through observation and reflection) we can also gain insight into the other.  So, for example, it is not hard to notice the prominence  we place on relationships.  It is OK to see a good movie, but it is a much better experience to see it with a friend.  We naturally seek out friends to share experiences with.  Meaningful friendships and family relationships are key to our sense of well-being.  Conversely, loneliness and/or fractured family relationships and breakdowns in friendships stress us.  We are not neutral and unmoved by the state of relationships we have with others.  Now, if we are in God’s image, then we would expect to find this same relational tilt with God, and in fact we do.  The Bible says that “God is Love…” (1 John 4:8).  Much is written in the Bible about the importance that God places on our love for him and for others – they are in fact called by Jesus the two most important commands in the Bible.  When you think about it, Love must be relational since to function it requires a person who loves (the lover) and a person who is the object of this love – the beloved.

Thus we should think of God as a lover.  If we only think of Him as the ‘Prime Mover’, the ‘First Cause’, the ‘Omniscient Deity’ or perhaps as the ‘Benevolent Being’ we are not thinking of the Biblical God – rather we have made up a god in our minds.  Though He is these, He is also portrayed as almost recklessly passionate in relationship.  He does not ‘have’ love.  He ‘is’ love.  The two most prominent Biblical metaphors of God’s relationship with people are that of a father to his children and a husband to his wife.  Those are not dispassionately philosophical ‘first cause’ analogies but those of the deepest and most intimate of human relationships.

So here is the foundation we have laid so far.  People are made in God’s image comprised of mind, emotions and will.  We are sentient and self-aware.  We are moral beings with our ‘Moral grammar’ giving us an innate orientation of ‘right’ and ‘fair’, and what is not.  We have instinctive capacity to develop and appreciate beauty, drama, art and story in all its forms.  And we will innately and naturally seek out and develop relationships and friendships with others.  We are all this because God is all this and we are made in God’s image.  All these deductions are at least consistent with what we observe about ourselves as we laid this foundation.  We continue in the next post to look at some difficulties.


[1] Daniel Dennett.  Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon.  p. 43

[2] Sam Harris. 2005. Letter to a Christian Nation p.38-39

System upgrades shows hopelessness of Darwinian evolution

In my Part 1 post I asked the question if it is really possible to ‘modify a machine while it is running’ like the evolution story maintains and also requires for it to be even plausible.  I used the troubled upgrade and shutdown of considerthegospel.org to raise the question.

Irreducible complexity & evolution of the Giraffe neck

To continue along this line, think for a minute about the well-known tale of the evolution of the long giraffe neck – a rather trivial ‘modification’ when compared others that must have occurred if this story is true.  The popularized idea is that in times of drought the giraffe ‘ancestors’ (something like a horse) with longer necks could reach leaves higher up in trees, and with this selective pressure, over numerous generations successive giraffes developed longer and longer necks.  The  image below illustrates this account.

Darwin's evolution of giraffe
This illustrates the standard ‘story’ of giraffe evolution whereby with selective pressure the longer necks were more adaptable in times of drought.

It seemed so intuitively obvious that it has become a persuasive icon for the evolution story in the popular culture.  But look again at this story with some scientific skepticism.  The long neck and limbs of the giraffe must work in conjunction with the circulatory system that brings blood to the head.  Because the head is about 2 meters above the heart, the blood pressure produced by the heart is about 2x that of a mammal of comparable weight.  That is just a matter of the physics of fluids.  But if the blood pressure is to be that high then the artery walls must also be stronger or the giraffe will die of internal bleeding.   The neck length, heart pressure and arterial wall strength must all be balanced.  But now think for a moment what happens to the giraffe when he suddenly drops his head to the ground to drink.  Instantaneously the head goes from 2m above the heart to about 2m below the heart.  And now the extra blood pressure of the heart is a liability because the increased pressure in its head would blow its brains out.  The reason that this does not happen is that the giraffe has a special organ in his head, unique to giraffes, called the rete mirabile, that regulates the surge in blood pressure.  Without that organ all the other component adjustments of heart and veins would be useless – it would die every time it lowered its head to drink.
And then when the giraffe raises his head again after his drink it should faint from the blood loss from the brain.  When we stand up suddenly we can sometimes feel dizzy.  This is because as we stand up the blood drains from the brain.  Consider the blood drain on the brain when the head goes rapidly through a 4m elevation change.  What keeps giraffes from regularly fainting after they drink is that they have a unique set of one-way valves that regulates blood drain from the brain.  Without these valves, having all of the rete mirabile, the stronger heart, and the stronger vein walls would all be useless because the giraffe would still regularly faint after his drink.

Structure of giraffe showing what it takes for it to be able to take a drink
The interrelated system of features, organs and modifications that are required just for the giraffe to do a simple thing like take a drink.
From Davis & Kenyon. Of Pandas and People. 1993 p.70

These structures are illustrated in this diagram.  When actually looking ‘under the hood’ at what is required even for a relatively simple modification like the elongation of a neck the evolutionary story rapidly goes from an obvious icon to one that raises lots of questions.  The problem is that very few have bothered to look under the hood.  They preferred a sure-sell story.

Stephen J Gould on the Giraffe Neck

The late Stephen J Gould, well-known Harvard paleontologist had this to say about the giraffe neck story in an article in Natural History. (The Tallest Tale, Natural History v105 p18-23+, 196)

I made a survey of all major high-school textbooks in biology. Every single one — no exceptions — began its chapter on evolution by first discussing Lamarck’s theory of the inheritance of acquired characteristics, and then presenting Darwin’s theory of natural selection as a preferable alternative. All texts then use the same example to illustrate Darwinian superiority — the giraffe’s neck.

In the realm of giraffes, current use of maximal mammalian height for browsing leaves does not prove that the neck evolved for such a function…Why then have we been bamboozled into accepting the usual tale without questioning?

He concludes:

Darwinian evolution may be both true and powerful, but if we continue to illustrate our conviction with an indefensible, unsupported, entirely speculative, and basically rather silly story, then we are clothing a thing of beauty in rags—and we should be ashamed,

So it turns out that the giraffe account, when finally analyzed has turned out to be nothing more than a ‘tale’ that has ‘bamboozled’ us and is ‘indefensible, unsupported, entirely speculative and basically rather silly’ – and this from a world’s leading scientific supporter of evolution.  Thus, when the cold light of reality shines on this story that it really turns out to be nothing more than a propaganda piece – meant to bamboozle us.  That should make us step back and ask some larger, more fundamental questions.

Biological systems are irreducibly complex

How do irreducibly complex systems evolve slowly and gradually when all the component parts need to be there from the beginning for the system to work at all?  Think now beyond the giraffe neck to the supposed evolution of the fish to amphibian/reptile and then to mammal.  This would have required the two-chambered heart of the fish becoming three in the amphibian and the circulation of the blood change from heart->gills/lungs -> body to a dual cycle of heart-> lungs -> heart -> body.  And then on to four chambered hearts in mammals. How does the heart ‘work’ while it is in-between chambers?  When the circulation system has left the single cycle of the fish but not yet arrived at the double cycle – how does the transitional organism (never found in the fossil record mind you) even survive?  Think about how when we want to ‘just’ adjust valves on our hearts we get the best-trained surgeons, shut the heart down and thus bypass the heart.  With the best of our intelligence we can’t modify the machine ‘while it is running’.  If we can’t make minor adjustments to valves without shutting the machine down and bypassing it how would random chance do any better in changing complete circulation paths and developing heart chambers?  How does something live in the ‘middle’?

Darwin’s Challenge to Darwinism

These examples highlight a fatal problem with the Darwinian story.  Darwin himself stated the seriousness of it:

“If it could be demonstrated that any complex organism existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down”
C. Darwin Origin of Species 6th ed. 1988 p. 154

Yet instead of honestly and directly addressing these challenges textbooks take the approach of developing scenarios in story form.  As my university invertebrate textbook describes the process:

Almost any kind of scenario can be concocted to explain how one group of organisms might have arisen from another.  … narratives are often based on a priori assumptions about hypothetical ancestors. … virtually any complicated evolutionary transition can be described on paper, given enough imagination …
Richard C. Brusca & Gary J. Brusca. Invertebrates   1990. p880

…any number of evolutionary pathways can be .. made to appear convincing on paper by imagining .. hypothetical ancestors or intermediates, but one must always ask whether these hypothetical creatures would have worked?” (ibid. p. 120)

That makes good scientific sense!  Let us ask whether these hypothetical creatures ‘would have worked’!  When we do that, when we observe how interconnected systems need all the components in order to function at all, when we recognize that for all machines and systems (like my website) non-trivial modifications require that the machine be shut off until are the components properly integrated then we can see the difficulty of the Darwinian claim.

But it seems like the whole educational and academic enterprise rather prefers to push misleading ‘stories’ in the name of science.  When one sees how stories are ‘concocted’ with ‘imagination’ to ‘bamboozle’ us we may want to ask – Does the emperor really have any clothes?

Maybe it is worth a more thorough investigation.  Perhaps a good place to start is a university debate I participated in (link here), and a critique of human evolution I did in a university anthropology class (link here)

ConsidertheGospel System upgrade shows hopelessness of Darwinian evolution (Part 1)

Two days ago I finally was able to complete a ‘system upgrade’ for considerthegospel – this website which is powered by WordPress. You can loosely think of using WordPress to write website content similar to how MS Word is used to write content on your computer. However, because it is hosted on a website, WordPress is supported ‘behind the scenes’ by a database (MySQL) that stores all the information and an HTML scripting language (PHP) that handles all pageview requests. In other words, WordPress works in conjunction with MySQL and PHP and all the server hardware in an integrated system to dynamically produce the webpages of considerthegospel.

Soon after launching considerthegospel I found that my web-hosting provider was limited to older versions of MySQL and PHP – meaning that I also could not use the newer releases of WordPress. I had tried to just upgrade WordPress and with the problem with PHP and MySQL compatibility was unable to edit content. I needed to call in an expert to go back to the old version of WordPress. With his help I got it going but I was stuck in a version of WordPress that was rapidly becoming obsolete.

So I had been looking to move considerthegospel to another web hosting provider and obtained an account, and copied the considerthegospel content there. But there can only be one unique URL (www.considerthegospel.org) at a time so I applied to transfer the ‘considerthegospel’ address but it took time to go through. Unfortunately the transfer happened the day we left on a long trip and I could not set it up on the new account. So while we were travelling the content was stored in a temporary subdirectory. This was the reason I was unable to upload new posts for the last month, because I had lost my domain with my old provider, but had not setup with my new provider. Two days ago, I took the website down and configured the address with the new hosting provider and uploaded the content. Considerthegospel is now on another server, with a new web-hosting provider, and it is running the latest versions of MySQL, PHP and WordPress which brings with it several functional increases (like the ability to run multiple versions).

This rather tortuous upgrading process of a system made up of interdependent components (web-hosting provider, address, PHP, MySQL, WordPress, etc.) each of which is required for the whole system to function, and each of which must be compatible with all the other components for the system to function at all, reveals the shear wishful thinking behind the Darwinian evolution story. This story purports to explain the origin of a myriad of biological systems, each with numerous inter-connected components – all of which are necessary for the system to function – as a result of random and successive changes of the various component parts. And on each step along the way in the process the transitional creature must function since it must survive. Note the great faith taken by this textbook in ascribing almost godlike powers to evolution.

“Evolution is like modifying a machine while it is running” Campbell and Reece. Biology 6th Ed.  2002 p. 477

But can we humans really modify our cars, computers and other interconnected systems while they are running?  I had to take my web system down to configure it. My computer is off when I replace the motherboard. And my car is in the shop now – with everything shut down – while repairs are made to it. If you view that statement not as an article of faith, but recognize that is exactly what the Darwinian evolution story must explain for every biological system – and you then try to do that with a few examples you will realize the extent of the problem.

Take birds for example. In the Darwinian story they evolved step-by-step from reptiles. Now reptiles have a lung system, like mammals, where the air is brought in-and-out of the lung to alveoli though bronchi tubes. Birds however have a totally different lung structure. Air passes through the parabronchi of the lung in one direction only (kind of like how air passes through a vacuum cleaner – straight through). This difference is illustrated in the following figures.

Structure of reptile lung
Reptile Lungs: Air passes in and out bi-directionally

 

Structure of Bird Lung
Bird Lungs. Air passes straight through uni-directionally

How is the hypothetical half-reptile and half-bird going to breathe while its lung structure is step-by-step being rearranged? Is it possible for a lung to work at all if it is part-way between the bi-directional structure of reptiles and the uni-directional structure of birds? Not only is being half-way between these two lung designs NOT better for survival, but the intermediate animal would not be able to breathe – it would die in minutes. I have read countless evolutionary texts and articles and have not come across even one attempt to explain how this would work.  This is just one example out of the myriad that exist.  We continue in the next post with a couple more and insight from the well-known late paleontologist Stephen J Gould.

 

The Faith of a World’s leading Evolutionary Anthropologist

Recently, evolutionary anthropologist Richard Leakey, famous for being the son of Louis and Mary Leakey, and for discovering the Turkana boy hominin fossil, had gave a revealing interview. Here is an excerpt.
“In an interview with the Associated Press (AP), Richard Leakey, a 67-year-old, Kenyan-born Stony Brook University professor, paleoanthropologist, and avowed atheist, said that he believed scientific discoveries over the next 15 to 30 years will have reached the point that “even the skeptics” will be able to accept the theory put forth by Charles Darwin in his 1859 book Origin of Species.”

The Faith of Richard Leakey

Leakey here touches on a point that I find curious. He ‘believes’ future discoveries (and rather far in the future) will prove to be so convincing that people will have to accept non-design explanations. But is he saying this as a scientist? Observation is the cornerstone of the scientific method. But how can we ‘know’ what we will observe in the future? In point of fact, there is no scientific way to know what we will observe in the future. The scientific method is inherently limited to observations that can only be made in the present. So what is the basis by which Leakey makes his predictions for future observations? It is by faith pure and simple.
When Richard Leakey says this, he is not speaking as a scientist, but as a believer. This shows that everybody, secularists and atheists included, has faith in something that cannot be proven by observations made today. Leakey may be right and perhaps observations will be made in the future, but that belief cannot be proved or disproved today – it can only be believed or not believed.

University Evolution Text summarizes most compelling evidence for Evolution

But we can, using reason and logic from observations we have on hand today make judgments. So let’s continue where we started in the last post to look at similarities in architecture across the biological world. The quote below is taken from a university text entitled Evolution and from the chapter entitled ‘Evidence for Evolution’. In going to this source we drill down to the nub of the matter to look at the foundational evidence on-hand today.
Patterns of Relationship provide the Most Powerful Evidence for Evolution
Although direct observation and the fossil record each provides powerful support, the most compelling evidence for evolution comes from the patterns of similarity between present-day organisms, which reveal features that are shared across all organisms: a nested pattern of groups within groups, consistent across many different traits, and a correspondence between biological relationship, geological history, and geographical distribution
Universally Shared Features [subcaption]
The full extent of this similarity [of biological life] was revealed when the universal principles of molecular biology were discovered in the middle of the last century. Almost all organisms use DNA to encode their genetic information, which is transcribed into RNA and then translated by a single universal genetic code into protein sequence. … Indeed the basic machinery of replication, transcription and translation is conserved across all living organisms. The success of molecular biology lies in the essential universality of its mechanism….  Any code that maps the 64 triplet codons onto the 20 amino acids would work and could be implemented just as easily by an appropriate set of tRNAs. Evolution 2007 by N.H. Barton, D. Briggs, J. Eisen, D. Goldstein, N. Patel.  p66-67
In other words, this textbook is saying that if we want to get directly to the most compelling hands-down evidence that we have observed in the last 100 years for evolution it would be that there is the same DNA code across all organisms, that there is a secondary (and also universal) code in the RNA to transfer the information stored in the DNA to the protein assembly, and that this code universally maps ‘triplet codons’ (i.e. 64 sets of three DNA/RNA instructions) to the 20 different amino acids (which are like the ‘letters’ used to build the long protein string out of which we are made).

Bioinformatics Text: Human Designed Information System Architecture

In my previous Post I introduced the textbook on Bioinformatics – the science of mapping and storing genetic information on computers worldwide so that this information can be analyzed by scientists. Here is how this science is described.
As mentioned primary databases are central repositories and distributors of raw sequence and structure information. They support nearly all other types of biological databases … therefore in the biological community there is a frequent need for the 2ndary and specialized databases to connect to the primary databases and to keep uploading sequence information… All these create a demand for linking different databases. The main barrier to linking different biological databases is format incompatibility as current biological databases utilize all three types of database structures. Essential Bioinformatics. 2006.  Jin Xiong. p16-17
In other words, biological information scientists, in order to design a robust and efficient genetic information storage, retrieval and processing system to conduct their research with have: 1) primary databases, 2) secondary databases connected to this primary database to process specific information, and 3) a major problem is that there are different database structures that are not compatible.
Let’s make a comparison between the genetic architecture of information in living organisms and that designed by information scientists by putting these quotes side-by-side
The ‘most compelling evidence for evolution’ quoted in evolutionary text
Information science quoted in Bioinformatics
“…all organisms use DNA to encode their genetic info”…
“…primary databases are central repositories and distributors of raw information…”
“which is transcribed into RNA and then translated by a single universal genetic code into protein sequence.”
“…in the biological community there is a need for the 2ndary databases to connect to the primary databases…”
“…Indeed the basic machinery of replication, transcription and translation is conserved across all living organisms…”
“… All these create a demand for linking different databases.”
“The success of molecular biology lies in the universality of its mechanism….”
“…The main barrier to linking is format incompatibility as current databases utilize 3 types of structures…”
When placed side-by-side, we can see that the architecture of both systems are described very similarly. In both there is a primary database (the DNA in organisms) housing the raw information, secondary databases (RNA in organisms) to transfer this information to processing sites, and finally the processing sites (protein assembly in organisms). The only real difference is that the human engineered system is NOT universal and this creates problems in the implementation of the human designed system. In other words, if the human system had a universal structure, like the information system in nature, it would be better designed and more efficient.
The reason that there are different structures in the human systems is that there were different researchers that began this work in different parts of the world. If they had coordinated their efforts from the beginning they would have adopted one universal system. However, since bioinformatics is an architecture designed by intelligent agents the obvious parallel to the genetic information system in nature is that of being designed by a Mind. The fact that we observe (today!) one universal genetic system that stores, retrieves, utilizes and duplicates information at an efficiency, speed and fidelity that information scientists are still striving to achieve, speaks volumes to the inference that there is One Design Mind behind it all.
In fact, if chance and random processes has produced the one natural information system that we do observe, and this same chance and random processes have been in operation through all time why do we find no evidence in organisms today, or from those of the past, that there has ever been another information system architecture that has also arisen by these same natural processes? If there were several different systems out there we could deduce either that there were several designers out there (like the Greek Gods of old) or that indeed there is a natural process that spontaneously develops information system architectures.
This is why Leakey must appeal to the unobservable future, and base his appeal on faith, pure and simple, because the fact of the matter is that the ‘most compelling evidence’ we do observe today actually infers a Design cause much more naturally than a mindless natural cause. But though it may be more logical and reasonable from the observations we make today, it is far less popular. Therefore world-leading evolutionary scientists, like Leakey, by faith “are sure of what they hope for and certain of what they do not see”
Why should we form beliefs simply from world opinion shapers when theirs is simply faith anyways?  Why not investigate for ourselves?  Here is a good place to start on a biblical theme and here is a good intro on human evolution – Leakey’s specialty.

Computer super-virus shows anomaly of evolutionary thinking

News broke out in global media outlets at the end of May about the most sophisticated computer malware virus ever discovered. Dubbed Flame, it has infected hundreds of computers across the Middle East. Here is how media outlets describe it:

From Macleans

Kaspersky Lab, a Russian cyber security firm, has discovered that thousands of computers in the Middle East (mostly government machines, mostly in Iran) have been infected with a malicious piece of software they are calling Flame. Flame is insidious, destructive, and very cool. And no one will ever take credit for building it.

Similarities between Flame and the Stuxnet and DuQu viruses are leading to speculation that the programs were all created by the same people. Stuxnet, which bloodlessly set back the Iranian nuclear program by as much as a decade, is widely believed to be the product of an Israel-America cyberweaponry team-up. Of course, neither country has confirmed this.

From Discovery News

The most sophisticated and powerful cyberweapon to date — a Swiss Army Knife spy tool that can evolve and change to deal with any situation — has been discovered on the loose in several Middle Eastern countries, security researchers said Tuesday.

The Worm.Win32.Flame threat, or “Flame” for short, was likely built by the same nation-state responsible for the Stuxnet virus that targeted Iran’s nuclear power plant in 2010.

Flame can grow and change, too: What makes this cyberweapon so powerful is the ability to be reconfigured with new modules that turn an infected PC or industrial control system into whatever tool a spy dreams up.

From CBN

Experts see similarities between Flame and the Stuxnet virus, which disrupted Iran’s nuclear centrifuges in 2010. Stuxnet was widely believed to be the work of Israeli intelligence, leading to speculation that Israeli programmers may have struck again.

From Surface Earth

According to a wired.com report, The Flame virus is twenty times more complex than the Stuxnet virus , which struck Iran’ s nuclear facilities in 2007. Flame can take screenshots, and capture messages sent over an infected network, and even use the computer’s microphone to record conversations.

The experts believe that this level of complexity indicates that Flame was created by a government rather than an individual criminal or group of hacktivists. Commentators quoted in the Telegraph have suggested that Israel, China, or the United States may be responsible. Israel and United States were widely suspected of creating the Stuxnet virus, and Iran claims that it has noted significant similarities between Flame and Stuxnet, although the western cyber security firms investigating Flame disagree.

From National Post

He said there was evidence to suggest the code was commissioned by the same nation or nations that were behind Stuxnet and Duqu, which were built on a common platform.

Both Flame and Stuxnet appear to infect machines by exploiting the same flaw in the Windows operating system and employ a similar way of spreading.

That means the teams that built Stuxnet and Duqu might have had access to the same technology as the team that built Flame, he said.

From New York Times

Flame, these researchers say, shares several notable features with two other major programs that targeted Iran in recent years. The first virus, Duqu, was a reconnaissance tool that researchers say was used to copy blueprints of Iran’s nuclear program. The second, Stuxnet, was designed to attack industrial control systems and specifically calibrated to spin Iranian centrifuges out of control.

Because Stuxnet and Duqu were written on the same platform and share many of the same fingerprints in their source code, researchers believe both were developed by the same group of programmers.

From The Globe and Mail

In addition to its massive size and many modules, the software’s sophistication is evident from the way it infected machines in the first place. To get on a host computer, Flame was designed to provide a fake Microsoft security certificate. Pulling that off, experts say, would have required incredibly advanced knowledge of cryptography, indicating that math geniuses were among Flame’s authors.

Notice what these articles tell us that software security experts are deducing:

  1. A common design team developed both the Flame malvirus and the earlier discovered Stuxnet and Duqu viruses because of similarity in architecture between them.
  2. The ability of Flame to adjust and change (evolve) means that experts and resources on the level of nation states are behind this virus. This was not made by a bedroom hacker.
  3. Complexity of the malware is broadly measured by its functionality. It can do many things, more things than Stuxnet, and is thus considered more complex.

This reasoning and these deductions seem so reasonable to us that we, without much thought, follow along in their line of reasoning. And that should make us re-think another line of reasoning that is directly confronted by this logic. Notice what the following university textbooks quotes tell us about evidence for naturalistic evolution.

It became apparent that animal species that were similar in their anatomy also had similar genetic instructions. Researchers have also shown that, even though the wing of an insect and the arm of a primate look very different, the same basic instructions are used during their development. … The only explanation for these similarities and this connectedness that has withstood scientific scrutiny is evolution, and the only mechanism for evolution that has withstood scientific scrutiny is natural selectionBernard Wood. Human Evolution. 2005. p. 22

Hox gene expression provides the basis for anterior-posterior axis specification throughout the animals. This means that the enormous variation of morphological form among animals is underlain by a common set of instructions. Indeed hox genes provide one of the most remarkable pieces of evidence for deep evolutionary homologies among all the animals of the world.  Developmental Biology 8th Ed. 2006. SF Gilbert. p. 725

These two university textbooks (and many others could be cited) are telling us that similarity in genetic code is ‘one of the most remarkable pieces of evidence for deep evolutionary homologies’.   Really?  So why does similarity in code between computer viruses indicate to computer experts a common design team behind them?  These are very analogous comparisons and yet the conclusions drawn are opposite.

So how strong is this evidence for evolution? A couple of years ago, because of my background in software development and database design I picked up a university textbook dealing directly with sequencing of genetic information and storing that information in computer databases. Note how an expert in DNA sequencing data sees similarity in genetic information.

It is important to distinguish sequence homology from the related term sequence similarity because the two terms are often confused by some researchers who use them interchangeably in scientific literature. To be clear, sequence homology is an inference or conclusion about a common ancestral relationship drawn from sequence similarity comparison when the two sequences share a high enough degree of similarity. On the other hand, similarity is a direct result of observation from the sequence alignment. Sequence similarities can be quantified using percentages… In dealing with real research problems the issue of at what similarity level can one infer homologous relationships is not always clear … Essential Bioinformatics Jin Xiong 2006 p 32

In other words, the homology (i.e. evolution) is just an inference from the data. Therefore other inferences could also explain the data. But Xiong notes that the scientific literature ‘often’ (his word) confuses the inference with the data itself. If this is the case, then these researchers will not recognize other inferences since they think that their inference is really data.   The issue is not with the data, but with the mind interpreting the data.

The inferences drawn from the experts who reported Flame should lead us all to recognize that there is another good inference that can be drawn from similarity in DNA sequences between organisms. Similarity in code naturally infers common designer. And this makes sense. The reason that the iphone, ipad and the ipod share common features has nothing to do with evolution. They share common features because they share a common design team – those working in Apple. The fact that so many textbooks do not even acknowledge this very natural inference should raise our curiosity. The design inferences from Flame, in a context outside of biology, should prompt us to also consider design inferences in the natural sciences.

We recognize a mind behind the Flame virus because the code shows plan and purpose.  No one disputes this.  We can use this same reasoning to see if biblical events also exhibit verifiable plan and purpose.  You can be the judge, but the remarkable coordination of events separated by thousands of years in the sacrifice of Abraham and the inauguration of Passover lead me to think there is a Mind behind the coordination of these events.  And since they are converging on the same point it is reasonable to deduce that it is the same Mind behind these events, in the same manner that software experts deduce the same design team behind Stuxnet and Flame because of similarities between the two.  This mind is different than a human mind since it also makes verifiable predictions deep into the future.

Interesting to me, these  leading computer software experts were curious about the virus and investigated it with an open mind.  Why should we be afraid to do likewise with this Mind?  We might discover something life-changing.

 

 

BBC Reports Startling Genetic Tests – Neanderthal in Your Bloodline

I had been planning to put up a few posts dealing with theories of Jesus after his death since we are in the Post-Easter weeks, but I came across a fascinating article at BBC on Neanderthals, and given that I have also just put up the FAQ presentation on human evolution I thought this article deserved some attention.  In this FAQ I showed that recent research demonstrates that we modern humans have Neanderthal blood coursing through our veins (in the 3rd video of the FAQ: What about Human Evolution?).  The BBC article, entitled “How I traced my ancestry back to the Stone Age”, is the story of how a journalist had some of her DNA sequenced by sending a vial of her saliva to a DNA testing center from which they traced her genealogy.   Apart from her European Jewish ancestry she learned something else from her test results.

Another exciting thing I’ve learned goes all the way back to the Stone Age. The test I used has added a feature that lets you see what percentage – if any – of your DNA comes from Neanderthals, and 2.7% of mine is Neanderthal.

While that’s not unexpected – almost everyone of non-African descent does have a little bit of Neanderthal DNA in them [1 – 4%] – I find it fascinating to think that somewhere up the line, I was a twinkle in a Neanderthal’s eye.

What was Neanderthal man (and woman)?

Apart from being fascinating at a personal level, this has direct implications on human evolutionary theory.  Neanderthals have probably been the showcase ‘ape cave-man’ popularized across our culture for the last 150 years as scientific ‘evidence’ bolstering the story of human evolution.  Neanderthals did indeed have skull morphology different than the typical morphology we see in people today.  But there are variations in skull morphology across all sorts of human and animal populations.  A species can exhibit great variability in traits, and it comes from having many alleles within the population.  As alleles are lost the variability is decreased and the population loses the ability to adapt to new environments.  I noted this kind of process in the ‘evolution’ of the soapberry bug and saw that this was simply a loss of some alleles – not an evolutionary gain of new information.

In any case, the question had always been an open one as to whether the difference in skull morphologies of Neanderthal and Homo erectus from that of people today was due to evolution, or just due to the inherent range of skull shapes built into Homo sapiens.  If that were the case it would just prove that Homo sapiens come in various skull shapes just like we also come in, for example, different skin colors.  But that reasoning – sound though it was – would have done little to bolster the evolutionary story in popular imagination so instead Neanderthals were portrayed and illustrated as brutish, savage and ape-ish – they were the last rung on the evolutionary ladder until Homo sapiens evolved.

The Neanderthal Narrative & Image in our Culture

Neanderthal skeletons were first discovered in the mid-19th century, around the time of the publication of The Origin of Species, and thus became compelling in the mind of the public at that time ‘proving’ evolution.  The Neanderthal ‘story’ was largely framed by Boule, a prominent paleontologist of that time. The following quote from an anthropology text shows how Boule went about developing the Neanderthal story.

Unfortunately his (Boule’s) model was riddled with errors. Most of the mistakes stemmed from Boule’s preconception that Neanderthals did not fit into the human evolutionary mainstream. Having already decided that they were very primitive, he exaggerated their differences … barely upright with their heads so far forward they could hardly stand, shoulders hunched, and knees bent. He even gave them an opposable big toe similar to that of the apes… After Boule, even reconstructions of facial characteristics emphasized the primitive; in most, Neanderthal was given a vacuous and rather stupid expression – an open mouth and dazed look … When examining the evolution of Neanderthals, we cannot help but consider the evolution of thinking about them…[1]

Boule's image of Neanderthal
Boule's Neanderthal

We can see here that ‘preconceptions’ were the driving force producing a story.  The data (Neanderthal skeletons) were interpreted, and this from the context of a pre-existing belief system.  Thus, even in a secular context, a ‘myth’ was produced by a ‘priest’ (Boule), replete with objects of veneration (the reconstructions) that told a story (vacuous and stupid Neanderthal gives rise to sophisticated modern man) that was ‘believed’ by the educated masses in the same way that primitives believed their religious myths.  And contrary to the claim of ‘critical suspension of disbelief’ that naturalism is supposed to engender, the facts had nothing to do with it.  Religion is certainly no prerequisite for the development of mythology.

And as with Neanderthals, I show in the FAQ presentation that all other popular ‘ape-men’ stories are really just that – stories driven primarily by imagination and preconceptions rather than by hard data.

But Neanderthals Really are … Us

But with Neanderthal we now come full circle from Boule.  Just as the author of the BBC article discovered, both you and I have Neanderthals in our genealogy.  Neanderthals, as well as Homo erectus are Homo sapiens pure and simple.  As the textbook I used in my FAQ class presentation summarized it:

In this scenario for the evolution of modern humans it would be difficult to draw a line between say, Neanderthals and early modern humans in Europe and between Homo erectus and early modern humans in Asia… these gradations, together with the melding effect of the gene flow that has occurred between geographical regions, justify including Homo erectus and all the regional hominin variants that came after it in a single species … Homo sapiens.[2]

We can be sure that interpretations of all sorts will be developed around this new information of Neanderthal’s blood coursing through our veins.   But given our understanding that variance in skull morphology is best understood as gradations within Homo sapiens we should treat with skepticism those stories that rely simply on these differences to project an evolutionary ‘just-so’ narrative.  Otherwise we risk repeating the gullibility of the educated that believed Boule’s stories of his day, now known to be so wrong, simply because their imaginations were tickled.

Neanderthal as per BBC article
Neanderthal as per BBC article
An image of Neanderthal using DNA data
An image of Neanderthal using DNA data

[1] Kenneth L. Feder & Michael A Park, 1997. Human Antiquity: An introduction to Physical Anthropology and Archaeology 3rd ED. p. 278-279

[2] Bernard Wood.  Human Evolution. 2005 p. 136

What about Human Evolution?

[See my related post on whether there was a real Adam or not here and a Noah or not here (and that controversial flood here)]

Recently I had the opportunity to present a scientific critique of human evolution in a university human evolution anthropology class. I recorded the presentation and Q&A which followed and then spliced it into the three videos below. My overall conclusion, referencing in part the textbook and scientific journals, is that the human evolution story is just that – a story – which says more about our society and culture than anything derived from hominin fossil data.

In the first video I discuss how it is our worldview which moves us to interpret data in a certain way, rather than the data forming our worldview. I cite from the textbook used in the course to provide some examples of this. I then look at how the fossil hominin data is to all practical extent removed from investigators. I introduce the Catalogue of Fossil Hominids – a catalogue of discovered fossil hominids up to mid-1970’s – and contend that the fossil data is actually much better than we are usually led to believe – it just does not follow the standard evolutionary story so we do not know about it.

 

 

In the second video (a continuation of the same presentation in class). I systematically go through the most ancient hominin candidates that are typically proposed as the first human ancestors that diverged from apes 5-8 million years ago. I analyze Ardipithecus, tchadensis, Tuang skull (an australopithecine), australopithecus afarensis (ie Lucy), australopithecus africanus, Laetoli footprints and homo habilis and argue that all of these do not readily fit within the standard evolutionary story. I look at fossil hominid KP271 which we usually do not hear about since it does not follow the standard story.

 

 

In the third video I examine the standard homo specimens: homo erectus, archaic homo sapiens (ie Heidelbergensis) and Neanderthals. I look at 2010 Neanderthal nuclear DNA sequencing data results which show Neanderthals interbred with modern homo sapiens and that therefore all these homo species can be seen as varieties of homo sapiens – this is one conclusion supported in the textbook. Funny thing, the BBC reported the same thing just after.  The video then follows the Q&A time where the class interacted on the material I presented.