Posted by: paulgarner | July 4, 2012

Phil Senter on melon-chomping tyrannosaurs

Phil Senter shows no signs of letting up in his anti-creationist crusade. For those just joining us, Phil is a palaeontologist at Fayetteville State University in North Carolina and over the last three years has written a stream of papers intended to refute creationist claims. These include papers about Lucy, vestigial organs, the Kachina Bridge “sauropod”, dinosaur baraminology (parts one and two) and Flood geology. The July/August edition of Skeptical Inquirer (organ of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry) has his latest offering.

In this new article he tackles what he describes as “the Melon Rex Myth”, the idea that the sharp, recurved teeth of Tyrannosaurus rex and other theropods were originally used for herbivory and only after the Fall co-opted for carnivory. He points to creationist literature claiming that the incrassate teeth of Tyrannosaurus rex were shallow rooted and thus not well adapted for predatory behaviour, and illustrating the tyrant lizard king munching on melons. In fact, Senter shows that tyrannosaur teeth had very deep roots and in any case were continuously replaced from beneath by new teeth. Furthermore, palaeontological evidence such as serration marks on bones, molds of bite marks and preserved stomach contents leave little doubt that theropods with similar (“ziphodont”) teeth were using them for carnivory and scavenging. He also shows that modern herbivores with sharp canines (such as the giant panda and fruit bats) cannot serve as modern analogues for “herbivorous theropods”, since none of them possesses ziphodont teeth and they do not routinely use their canines for food processing.

Of course, the greatest irony about such arguments is that they are completely unnecessary. As Senter himself points out, young earth creationists “have long recognized that each baramin (“created kind” of organism) has diversified into many species since it was created” and that baraminological studies have revealed evidence of continuity between carnivorous and herbivorous coelurosaurian theropods. He concludes: “It is consistent with the YEC worldview to infer that God originally created theropods with herbivore-style teeth like those of Falcarius and Jeholornis and that ziphodont and incrassate teeth arose in later generations as a result of the Curse.” However, he adds that he will mourn the passing of the Melon Rex Myth since it has given him “countless hours of joyous chuckling”.

Reference

Senter P. 2012. Dinodang: the Melon Rex Myth. Skeptical Inquirer 36(4):52-57.

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Posted by: paulgarner | July 3, 2012

Creation and evolution in France

Last week I was in Belmont-Luthézieu in the rural southeast of France speaking at a retreat for church pastors and their families. Our hosts were Francis and Donna Foucachon of Huguenot Heritage Ministries. Several nationalities were represented at the conference including France, the UK, the USA, Germany, Holland and the Ukraine, and we enjoyed wonderful surroundings, fine French cuisine and great fellowship.

I was delighted to share the speaking with Dr Gordon Wilson, Senior Fellow of Natural History at New Saint Andrews College in Moscow, Idaho. The overall theme was ‘Genesis: Creation and Evolution’ and Gordon and I each gave four talks:

  1. Creation or evolution: what’s at stake? (PG)
  2. The new creationism: building scientific theories on a biblical foundation (PG)
  3. Baramins and the boundaries of biological change (GW)
  4. Fossils, formations and phylogenetic trees (GW)
  5. Desert or deluge? Recent research confirming the global flood (PG)
  6. Young earth creation (GW)
  7. Claws, jaws and dinosaurs (PG)
  8. Predators, parasites and pathogens (GW)

In addition there was lots of time for questions, debate and discussion, whether over the dinner table or around the evening bonfire. We also spent an afternoon at Les Grottes du Cerdon, a magnificent show cave carved into the Jura Limestone, which afforded us the opportunity to think about its origin and history. The convivial atmosphere made for a thoroughly enjoyable conference and I trust that those who attended went away with much to think about.

Posted by: paulgarner | June 20, 2012

Debate: Do we live on an old or young earth?

Here’s an announcement just posted on the Biblical Creation Ministries website:

Steve Lloyd took part in a debate on the age of the earth on Monday 28 May 2012 at Gunnersbury Baptist Church in London. Hugh Ross and Ken Samples from ‘Reasons to Believe’ defended an old earth position. Steve and Andrew McIntosh presented young earth positions. Justin Brierley of Premier Christian Radio chaired the debate. The evening was recorded for Premier Radio and it was broadcast as the ‘Unbelievable’ show on 17 June 2012 and is available for download here.

The recording begins with four opening presentations of 15 minutes each (Steve is the fourth speaker), followed by a round-table discussion, then questions from the floor and finally closing statements of 5 minutes from each speaker.

I hope you enjoy listening to the discussion. You may find Steve’s presentation somewhat different to what you expect.

Posted by: paulgarner | June 11, 2012

Microbes and the dolomite problem

Among the geological challenges facing creationism is how to explain the deposition of thick and extensive carbonate sediments during the Flood. Some of us suspect that microorganismal blooms played a major role, and indeed much of the micritic lime mud in the Palaeozoic may have been generated by cyanobacteria (Pratt 2001).

Intriguingly, a forthcoming paper in Geology suggests that microbes may also have helped generate dolomite deposits. Dolomite formation has been an enduring mystery for sedimentologists. Copious amounts of primary dolomite occur in the geological record, even though it forms today in only a few restricted localities such as hypersaline pools and lagoons. Stefan Krause, lead author of the new study, says, “As these systems are very limited in space, there is an explanation gap for geologists for the widespread presence of fossil dolomite.”

In the new paper, Krause et al. (2012) propose that large amounts of primary dolomite can form when quantities of organic matter in the sea bed are degraded by sulphate-respiring bacteria. This suggests some interesting avenues for developing catastrophist models of dolomite formation.

References

Krause S. and five others. 2012. Microbial nucleation of Mg-rich dolomite in exopolymeric substances under anoxic modern seawater salinity: new insight into an old enigma. Geology doi:10.1130/G32923.1 (Advance online publication)

Pratt B.R. 2001. Calcification of cyanobacterial filaments: Girvanella and the origin of lower Paleozoic lime mud. Geology 29:763-766.

Posted by: paulgarner | May 25, 2012

Is Adam everyman?

One of the hot button topics in evangelical circles today is how we should understand Adam, as he is presented to us in the early chapters of Genesis and in the New Testament.

The traditional view that Adam was a single, historical individual through whom sin and death entered the world is being challenged. According to some, Adam was not a historical individual and there was no historical fall. Rather we should see Adam as “everyman” and the fall as something we each experience as we are awakened to our own sinfulness and alienation from God.

This view is not a new one, although it is only more recently that its appeal has grown among professing evangelicals.

I was reminded of this recently when reading volume one of the Collected Writings of John Murray (Banner of Truth, 1976), a book we have been studying at a series of men’s breakfast meetings at our church.

Murray was Professor of Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia from 1937 to 1966. In an essay entitled ‘The Relevance of the Historical’, he has some very pertinent things to say concerning Adam and the way that we relate to him.

Here is an extract from Murray’s essay, in which he addresses comments to “unsuspecting evangelicals” that we would do well to ponder:

Theologically speaking, at least, the most influential movements within Protestantism deny the historical character of what is recorded for us in Genesis 3. And we risk all reputation for scholarship and hope of being worthy of theological respect, if we maintain the historical authenticity of this chapter. Genesis 3, men say, is myth or legend, not history but story, portraying what happens to all men, but not a once-for-all series of events with abiding implications by virtue of the relations that Adam as the first man sustained to all men. Adam is every man; we are all Adam; we all sin as Adam sinned.

This might appear to be an effective way of maintaining, notwithstanding the denial of the historicity of Genesis 3, the fact that all have sinned. To unsuspecting evangelicals it becomes an appealing apologetic for the universality of sinfulness. But a little examination will show the fallacy.

It is not true that all sinned as Adam. There is a radical difference between Adam and posterity. We all come into the world as sinners. Adam and Eve did not. If we are all Adam, then two positions basic to the Bible’s view of man are denied – the imputation to us of Adam’s sin, and the doctrine of original sin. The beginning of our sinfulness was not by voluntary defection and transgression, as in the case of Adam, but by divinely constituted solidarity with Adam in his sin. And original sin, means that we are by nature dead in trespasses and sins, not by acquisition as in the case of Adam and Eve.

We are dealing with the gospel in our day, and dealing with sin as that in relation to which alone the gospel has meaning. The whole question of Adam and of the record in Genesis 3 is basic. If we adopt the dialectical approach and interpretation, then we have failed to assess the human situation in sin to which the gospel is addressed. There is a fundamental error in our construction of the existential, and, deflected by this error, we cannot bring the gospel in the marvel of its grace to bear upon the real truth of sin in its gravity and depth. In reality it is the failure of relevance. For as the preachers of the gospel encounter the sinfulness of men, whether it be in the squalor and wretchedness of what we call the slums or in the façade of complacency of the opulent suburbs, the only explanation of the tangle of iniquity and the web of misery is the doctrine of original sin which Genesis 3 in the context of the biblical interpretation alone provides. ‘The judgment was from one’ (Rom. 5:16).

Posted by: paulgarner | May 23, 2012

Couple of Nature highlights

In my book, The New Creationism (ch. 2), I briefly drew attention to some remarkable design features of our Sun, including the fact that many Sun-like stars produce enormous superflares, but our Sun does not. A paper in this week’s Nature reports new data from the Kepler satellite that may help to explain why.

Superflares are many thousands of times more energetic than typical solar flares. Although superflares can occur on Sun-like stars, Maehara et al. (2012) conclude that they are more frequent on rapidly rotating stars and on stars with ‘starspots’ much larger than the sunspots with which we are familiar. Fortunately it seems extremely unlikely that our Sun will ever host a superflare.

And in an online preview of a forthcoming paper, Pierce et al. (2012) present a quantitative analysis of limb mobility in the iconic Devonian tetrapod Ichthyostega. The new reconstruction indicates that Ichthyostega could not have pushed its body off the ground or moved its limbs in an alternating sequence, like more terrestrial tetrapods. One of the implications is that the tetrapod trackways described in 2010 from the Middle Devonian of Poland could not have been made by a tetrapod with the skeletal morphology and limb mobility of Ichthyostega.

References

Maehara H. and eight others. 2012. Superflares on solar-type stars. Nature 485:478–481.

Pierce S.E., Clack J.A. and Hutchinson J.R. 2012. Three-dimensional limb joint mobility in the early tetrapod Ichthyostega. Nature doi:10.1038/nature11124 (Advance online publication)

Posted by: paulgarner | May 22, 2012

How wrong can you be?

In the USA there is the National Center for Science Education. Here in the UK we have our own self-appointed anti-creationist watchdogs. Morbidly fascinating though they are, my usual policy is to ignore them and devote my time to more interesting things. But sometimes they are just so wrong…

I know, I know…

In response to a question on its discussion forum, here’s what the official spokesman of one of these watchdogs said about me earlier today:

Yes. He runs his own ministry, Biblical Creation Ministries, which, last time I looked, had an annual income of around £45. It’s a business, basically. Such full time creationists have a “rate card” for events where they push their crapola. Garner appears to be a full timer and he has a side kick, John Peet, who works for BCM part time but is otherwise retired. Garner also gets money from his book and, presumably, the DVD associated with it.

Before setting up BCM Garner was an “adminstrator” for a company in Cambridge. I’ve no idea what the term “administrator” means here (even though I have a master’s in the subject). It could cover anything from clerical work to the CEO’s position.

Now, tedious though it is, let’s examine this statement one clause at a time.

“He runs his own ministry, Biblical Creation Ministries”. Wrong. I am employed by Biblical Creation Ministries. BCM is run by its trustees, to whom I am accountable as an employee.

“which, last time I looked, had an annual income of around £45”. I take it he means £45K. Actually that figure is about four or five years out of date, as BCM’s annual returns available on the Charity Commission website will show.

“It’s a business, basically”. Wrong. It’s a charity and, as such, a non-profit-making organisation and bound by charity law.

“Such full time creationists have a “rate card” for events where they push their crapola”. I have no idea what others do, but I do not and have never had a “rate card” or charged a fee for speaking. If asked, we explain what our expenses are, but all gifts are voluntary donations and go straight to the charity, certainly not to me personally. Incidentally, we have never turned down engagements on the grounds of cost.

“Garner appears to be a full timer and he has a side kick, John Peet”. Wrong. My co-worker in BCM is Dr Steve Lloyd.

“who works for BCM part time but is otherwise retired”. Wrong. Dr John Peet has never been employed by BCM part time or full time. He did, for a while, serve in an unpaid capacity as a trustee.

“Garner also gets money from his book and, presumably, the DVD associated with it”. Only partly true. I receive a small amount of royalties from sales of my book, but unlike J.K. Rowling I won’t be retiring on them. I receive none from sales of the Set in Stone DVD, which is not associated with my book.

“Before setting up BCM Garner was an “adminstrator” for a company in Cambridge”. Wrong. I did not set up BCM; its first trustees did that. Furthermore, my previous employment was not as an administrator; it was as a senior information scientist.

So, let’s sum up. Two short paragraphs, at least six errors, some outdated information and a bit of erroneous speculation. Not bad for an organisation that calls itself “the most authoritative body in the United Kingdom on creationism and Intelligent Design”.

Posted by: paulgarner | May 21, 2012

Still Set in Stone: A Response to Stephen Moreton

On 14 April 2012, Dr Stephen Moreton of the British Centre for Science Education (BCSE) posted a critical review of the Set in Stone DVD on the Amazon.co.uk website. As the Biblical Creation Ministries website says, “Although it is not our intention to get embroiled in lengthy discussions with internet critics, we felt that some response to Dr Moreton’s comments was in order.” Our response to Dr Moreton’s review can be downloaded here.

Posted by: paulgarner | May 17, 2012

Time Matters

So there I was, browsing the earth science shelves in Waterstones when I picked up a copy of Michael Leddra’s Time Matters: Geology’s Legacy to Scientific Thought (Wiley-Blackwell, 2010). It’s an accessible introduction to key geological concepts and the historical context in which they were developed. But flipping through its pages, I did something of a double-take when I spotted a reference to my own book, The New Creationism.

In fact it turns out that the author has included references to a number of creationist and anti-creationist publications written from a Christian perspective, including Tom Vail’s Grand Canyon: A Different View, David Snoke’s A Biblical Case for an Old Earth and Denis Alexander’s Creation or Evolution: Do We Have to Choose?

There are several references to The New Creationism in the text (although it is misnamed The New Creation in some of them). Leddra refers specifically to my chapters on radiometric dating (pp.51-52), the ice age (p.150), the fossil record (pp.205-206) and catastrophic plate tectonics (p.245). The New Creationism is even highlighted in the bibliography for further reading.

I should make it clear that Leddra is not endorsing my book or the creationist ideas that it presents. Far from it; he says he includes them so that students are aware of what he perceives as their shortcomings. Nevertheless, it is refreshing to see a text of this kind referring to up-to-date creationist books and even encouraging others to read them for themselves.

Posted by: paulgarner | May 16, 2012

Creationist books in UK public libraries

MacDonald and McMenemy (2012) report a survey of 68 UK public library authorities designed to find out whether creationist or intelligent design (ID) materials have been donated to them and, if so, how the books have been catalogued.

The authors set the scene with a brief introduction to the origins debate. They contrast creationists with “those advocating rational scientific theories, such as natural selection”. Hands up if you’re a creationist who also accepts “natural selection”. Yeah, me too. I don’t imagine that the theistic evolutionists will be wildly happy at being lumped in as a subset of “old-Earth creationism” either. But quibbles aside, the results of the survey are actually quite interesting.

The response rate was 96% (65 of 68). Most authorities (75%) reported no donations of creationist books or materials. That was surprising to me; I thought the level of donations would be higher than that. Of the donations that had been received, most were from a Christian viewpoint although several libraries reported receiving copies of the Islamic Atlas of Creation (and which has been put to such ingenious use in the past).

But what surprised me most was the number of authorities reporting that they had purchased creationist or ID materials themselves. All the library authorities in Northern Ireland, Yorkshire and Humber, East Midlands and Wales reported making such purchases, as well as at least 50% of the library authorities in the other regions.

Perhaps less surprising was the fact that there was a lot of variability in how these materials were being catalogued. Creationist books were classified as religion by 51% of authorities and as either science or religion (depending on the item) by 42% of authorities. One authority classified creationist books as science and a small number (6%) had or gave no information on how they classified these books.

Intelligent design books were classified as either science or religion (depending on the item) by 43% of authorities, as religion by 34% and as science by 18%. One catalogued ID materials under social science and two had no information on how they had been classified.

MacDonald and McMenemy suggest that library authorities should be more consistent in how they classify this “controversial material”, but I wonder whether the diversity of the material is at least partly responsible.

Reference

MacDonald A. and McMenemy D. 2012. Availability and organisation of creationist literature in UK public libraries. New Library World 113(3/4):107-117.

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