Creation,  Philosophy of Science,  Science

AiG vs. BioLogos: Dr Jeanson (AiG)

[DISCLAIMER: I’m ‘live-blogging’ so there will be errors, maybe many]

I’m at the Evolution, Genetics, and the Historical Adam Conference at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. The question for the conference is: Did Adam exist?

The debate has achieved critical mass and now has its own Four Views book, an accomplishment reserved for only the most debated of topics.

The speakers today represent two sides of the debate – Dr Nathaniel Jeanson argues that the Genesis account should be taken literally – six days, less than 10,000 years ago, and a guy, formed from the dust and the breath of God, called Adam, the first man. Dr Venema argues that Adam… well I don’t yet know but will let you know when he speaks… presumably that Adam, at least as Genesis describes him, did not exist.

Both represent leading Christian organizations devoted to their respective positions. Answers In Genesis, an organization known for a massive Noah’s Ark in Indiana and fronted by a brave Aussie, Ken Ham. AiG provide research and resources for Christians that support a literal reading of the opening chapters of the Bible.

Dr Jeanson holds a PhD in Cell and Developmental Biology from Harvard. And he is a young earther.   There are only 3% of American scientists who support his view and so he is a rare species (perhaps to be preserved).

Here are my notes from what he said:

Why still three percent and not complete agreement?

The 97% have two answers to this question, neither complimentary. First, the prior commitments are so strong–that the Bible should be taken literally etc–that they cannot give up those beliefs even though the evidence for evolution are sufficient to persuade anyone who is not so committed. Some, like Todd Wood, confess such a predicament. Alternatively, they are dishonest. Second, many accuse young earthers of plain lying. Jeanson says that BioLogos are supposed to provide humble data driven research but instead sometimes write ‘hit pieces‘ to discredit scientists working among the three percent. Jeanson accused BioLogos of disregarding the technical research of creation scientists. The American Scientific Association similarly accuse the opposition of dishonesty.

So, not very nice.

There is much more support among the general populace with around 30% of Americans who support some form of creationism. But it seems that even this is a little high. If so many scientists agree, why are we still having this debate? Surely it is done – over.

To answer this question we must ask what a species is. We recognize species by traits, elephants by their trunks, leopards by their spots, tigers by their stripes etc. If the species are inherited by next generation due to their genetics. If you want to know the origin of a species, you have to know the origin of traits and if you want to know the origin of traits you must know the origin of the DNA.

Nearly 100 years after Darwin wrote Origin we discovered DNA and by the late 20th cent we have enough DNA information to consider the source of traits by studying the DNA. Darwin’s views were so persuasive not because they included any direct evidence for the origins of traits/species, but because of the explanatory power of evolution. Key to a theory taking hold is that it is not disconfirmed by data and confirmed by observation.

The data Darwin used is not DNA analysis but patterns–classification of species with common characteristics. Humans have much in common and more in common with Primates than other species. Consider the following list with increasing members and decreasing common traits: Humans – primates – mammals – vertebrates – invertebrates. As evolution goes on we should expect patterns exactly like this. The key to providing evidence for Darwin’s theory is disconfirmation: does any of the data disconfirm his theory? In this case, no.

But neither does any of it disconfirm design. For example, human beings design things with characteristics in common. Consider the following pattern: Sedans – four-wheelers – land-based cars – engine powered vehicles – unpowered vehicles. Analogous to species hierarchies, artifacts fails to disconfirm the hypothesis of design.

There are a number of other non-disconfirming sources of data used by Darwin’s proponents. For example, appeal to bone structures. Bone structures are similar across species and so do not disconfirm evolution. But this is also fails to reject design since sedans of different kinds share a similar structure yet this does not disconfirm design. What about transitional species, species that seem to indicate a betwixt fish and animal? Similarly, there are examples of transitional vehicles (military boat/land vehicles).

There is some data that suggests that design is lacking. What about extra unused parts of animals? Doesn’t this indicate evolution and lack of design? The human anatomy–the appendix for example–does not seem to serve a purpose. But recent research shows it does have a function. What about the tail bone? This is not purposeless – anyone who has had a coccyx removed will tell you that it does serve a purpose – a-coccyx people will tell you that it is highly useful for bowel movements!

So, do DNA disconfirm design? Well, no. All the arguments above can be applied to DNA. In the same way blueprints for vehicles share many similarities, so do DNA data between species.

What is the function of DNA itself? If it is largely unused (like the tail is supposed to be), then it may not be designed. However, there is no evidence either way. We just don’t know yet. However, as evidence appears over time functions are being discovered for parts of DNA and there is no reason to think we wont keep discovering functions for DNA in the future.

What about pseudogenes? Pseudogenes are genes that appear to have had a function but no longer do. However, as discoveries advance, the amount of these so called pseudogenes shrink and if things keep going in the same direction, then we may discover that there are no pseudogenes.

Okay, next post will be from the opposition…

Assistant Professor of Philosophy and History of Ideas at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and The College at Southeastern.

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