Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Lord, make me a better enemy


A while back, I posted an article about the anthropology meeting that I attended in Atlanta, where I wrote this:
I suppose some might think that I should be more indignant because of all these evolutionists undermining the truth or some such, but I'm far more unsettled by fellow evangelical Christians promoting evolution than by non-Christians doing it.  They really should know better.
Almost immediately, I got an email from a guy challenging me to explain what I meant and recommending that I check out the BioLogos website where I could learn more about Christian approaches to evolution.  This week, Jim Kidder posted a response on his blog, and he also took me to task for the very same phrase.  Jim wrote, "My initial reaction to this statement was to think that I had been insulted."  I must have hit a nerve.

I suppose I should apologize or defend myself, but as usual, I see bigger things here.  I didn't set out to insult anyone, but people took umbrage anyway.  The reactions led me to wonder why anyone who's been involved in this creation/evolution debate would ever expect anything different?

Let's just lay all the cards on the table.  Everyone in the creation/evolution debate insults everyone else all the time.  I can't see how it's possible not to.  Young-age creationism is an intellectual embarrassment, a scandal of the evangelical mind.  It's bad science and bad theology.  The strident commitment to this pseudoscience brings shame on the gospel and drives people away from Jesus.  Sound familiar?  Well, that's pretty insulting when you're on the receiving end.

Evolutionary creationism is a lie.  It's an ungodly compromise with the world.  It's promoted for the approval of people not the approval of God.  It's basing our thinking on man's fallible opinions rather than God's unchanging Word.  Evolutionary creationism undermines the authority of God's word, and it's an attack on the very person of Jesus Christ.  Any of that sound familiar?  Well, it's pretty insulting, too.

Here's the problem: We don't say these things just because we want to hurt people.  These are deeply held convictions, and we believe them.  Most of us have come to our beliefs through soul searching and (sometimes agonizing) effort.  Everyone has sacrificed something for these beliefs.  Some of us have sacrificed a lot.  Maybe we find more tactful ways to say these things, but most of us can still read between the lines.  No matter how we express these convictions, we're bound to insult someone.

But it's worse than just personal insults.  We have entire organizations dedicated to spreading their views and undermining everyone else.  They all have basically the same sort of message: "My ways of reading the Bible and science are the only correct ways, and everyone who disagrees is absolutely wrong and dangerous."  One organization might be "nicer" than another, but that doesn't change the underlying message.  These organizations are all trying to get the evangelical public to accept their view as correct and to ignore that other guy (who is totally wrong and destroying the church).

Think about it.  Imagine that a group of Christians thinks you're so dangerous that they band together to oppose you and thwart your work.  How could you not be offended?  Maybe they try to be nice about it, and they don't really mean anything personal, but that doesn't make it any better, does it?

Sometimes I sort of wish it was just a matter of perspective.  It might be nice to say, "Hey, Jesus is our saviour, so let's just not fight over these secondary issues."  We don't do that though, because none of us believes that these are secondary issues.  For most of us, these issues hit on our very ability to know anything.  For me, I can't see how we separate a straightforward reading of Genesis 1-11 from all its doctrinal richness that touches directly on the nature of sin, the purpose of salvation, and the coming judgment.  If I can't believe what seems so obvious in Genesis, why should I believe what seems so obvious in Matthew?  Likewise, an evolutionary creationist looks at nature and thinks that evolution is so obvious that to question it is to question our ability to understand anything.  It's so obvious that if it weren't true, God would be guilty of falsifying evidence.  If evolution is wrong, either God is a liar, or all of science collapses.  These are not secondary issues.

As disturbing as it is to admit, the body of Christ is at war.  That's just incomprehensible, but there it is.  Other Christians have become my enemies.  I've written about this before, and I still won't sugar coat it.  We're battling over fundamental, irreconcilable differences.  We can't all be right.  We can't all win.  We won't agree to disagree.  It's just too important to let it go like that.

That war, more than anything I've written here, breaks my heart.  How did we get here?  How did the church go from the thrill of Christ's resurrection to shrill accusations of heresy?  How could the world ever know we are Christians by our love for one another?  Does it really boil down to "I'm right, and everyone else is wrong?"  How is that not sinful pride?  What can we do about this?

I've thought about this a lot.  I've written about my ongoing conversations with Darrel Falk, who is an evolutionary creationist and strongly disagrees with my position on young-age creationism.  Last year, we had a little exchange on my blog (parts I, II, III, IV, and V) and that seemed to hit a nerve with a lot of people.

After all my experiences with Darrel, I can say that I still have no idea what to do about this war.  We get together for a weekend, and we pray together.  We read scripture together, and we talk about our differences.  Then we go our separate ways, and I always feel a gnawing, nagging ache.  Even though our personal relationship grows, the intellectual divide is still there.  I wish that were not the case.  I wish that we would see the light, whatever that light is.  I pray that the Spirit would guide us into truth, whatever that truth is.  But the differences seem as strong as they were when we started.  To be honest, I sometimes despair that we'll ever be able to work out even the smallest of differences.  And if we can't do that, with all our intense effort, then what hope is there for the rest of the war?

More than anything else in this war, in those moments of despair I find what it is to trust Christ.  As I work so hard to explain why my beliefs are important and compelling, I know Darrel will not be convinced.  Darrel won't convince me either, and he knows it, too.  The situation seems hopeless, and that's just the kind of situation that Jesus loves to put us in.  After all, if this were just a misunderstanding, we could work it out ourselves, but this isn't just a problem we can figure out on our own.  There will be no progress here without intense prayer.  Only Christ can break this deadlock.

So the war drives me to Christ, and I pray the strangest prayer I could imagine:

Lord, make me a better enemy.

I don't know what that means exactly, but if I have to be in this ideological battle, then I need to be a better person for it.  Heaven knows I haven't done a very good job in the past.  I need to figure out how to love my enemy, even if I don't want to.  I can't change anyone else, but I can let Christ change me.  So I need to find Christ in the struggle.  In those moments of hopelessness, I have nowhere else to turn.

To those offended by my "really should know better" crack, I'm sorry I offended you.  I'm sorry we're even in this war.  But I'm not sorry for my convictions.  I believe what I believe.  I believe God wants me to believe what I believe, and I don't think I can say much about my beliefs that won't offend you.

Maybe we should pray about it?

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com. If you enjoyed this article, please consider a contribution to Core Academy of Science. Thank you.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Registration for Origins 2016 is now available

The annual conference of the Creation Biology and Creation Geology Societies will meet at Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA on July 20-23, 2016.  That's just two months from now!  For more information on registration and tickets, visit the registration website:

http://origins2016.eventbrite.com


Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com. If you enjoyed this article, please consider a contribution to Core Academy of Science. Thank you.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Homo naledi feedback



Now that folks have had some time to look over all those Homo naledi papers from JCTSB, I've started getting some feedback.  I thought it would be good to consolidate it all in one blog post.

Over on his blog Naturalis Historia, Joel Duff discussed the papers at length.  He's been pretty critical lately of AIG, to the point of drawing the ire of Ken Ham himself, but he's far less critical of our discussion of Homo naledi.  He still thinks young-age creationism is wrong, but he shows a surprising willingness to engage with creationist ideas.

The comment section is full of interesting ideas and questions.  A user going by the name "wowfunny251" had this to say:
Homo Naledi only presents a problem for YEC’s because of their view on “kinds”. If you allow a “kind” to be narrower, more like a species. It isn’t implausible that God created several species of extinct bipedal primates including Homo Naledi.
That's actually ad hoc.  Instead of trying to interpret fossil evidence (and ecological evidence and genetic evidence and anatomical evidence and biogeographical evidence) that overwhelmingly supports limited speciation, we should just shrug our shoulders and say that "God just made it that way"?  That's not better than a young-age creationist explanation.  It's worse.

Next we find this comment from Paul D:
Creationists can explain these hominids as special creations or varieties of ape, but there is nothing in the creationist paradigm (“theory” is too generous a word) that would have predicted these discoveries.
That is uncomfortably true, and I've pointed out that very thing before.  On the other hand, I'm not sure that there's anything in evolution that would have predicted Homo naledi.  Evolution certainly would predict the general idea of hominins that possess "primitive" traits of great apes and "derived" traits modern humans, but there isn't much that would guide us in knowing exactly which combination of character traits we should find.  Predicting organismal form is tricky for everyone.

Next, James asks:
According to Wikipedia, I get the impression that mainstream scientists also have a fairly diverse set of opinions on Homo naledi — it seems that some anthropologists are sceptical of the deliberate burial hypothesis and there are even a few who, like ICR, also doubt that they represent a single species.
I'm not so sure there is much of a diverse set of opinions about Homo naledi.  There are grumps who just seem to hate Lee Berger and will disagree with whatever he says.  Then there are those who find the whole burial idea to be hard to swallow for a variety of reasons, but these skeptics have yet to propose a better explanation of how the bones got into the chamber.  When I attended the Homo naledi symposium at AAPA2016, everyone seemed to be pretty excited to be there.  There weren't any "difficult" people in the audience.  We shouldn't let the press fool us into thinking that there is some massive argument going on over H. naledi.

As for ICR's assertion that there's more than one species in the Homo naledi bones, that is incredibly unlikely.  Here's why:



Adam Benton asks:
This exact same scenario played out with the discovery of Au. sediba. Wood claimed it was human, whilst AiG did not. Interestingly, the back and forth over the issue took place within the AiG research journal.  ...  Could this provide the template for the ongoing discussion over H. naledi?
No.

He continues:
To me this raises the question: do you think there is some sort of analysis Wood could perform they couldn’t dismiss off hand?
No, I do not.  Even if Berger's team found the remains of tools, jewelry, and musical instruments in that cave, a staunch person committed to keeping Homo naledi out of the human family could just say that H. naledi were pets (more about that later).

Moving on, I got an email from a reader who had a really interesting question:
One question for you re. Kurt Wise's excellent paper:
He states with approval 'we need to cease defining humanity on the basis of individual morphological features' and in passing notes 'success in defining the humanity of fossils based upon morphological characters (and even that is questionable)...'
Is this to be understood as a question mark over the status of baraminology - since as far as I understand this is very much relies on morphology since using DNA makes everything too similar? Surely Dr Wise does not mean morphology is totally out of the window otherwise we could say even a fossil cat might be a human. Thoughts?
Well, we've had a number of conversations about this sort of thing.  He's definitely pushing back against those who would say, "Look!  It has a different hip joint than I do!  It's not human!"  He's also challenging those who would argue that all these hominins challenge the image of God concept, since only Homo sapiens has the image of God.  Assuming that the image of God is only found in Homo sapiens is... well, you know what happens when you assume.

What does this mean for baraminology?  I've been wondering that from the start.  Should we really expect that morphology will guide us to the created kinds?  Should we be more or less skeptical of quantitative methods like BDC or MDS?  I'm not entirely sure how to answer those questions without more research.  On the one hand, I could be a curmudgeon and say that it's all hogwash (and I'd have good reasons to), or I could be starry eyed and profess my adoration for my infallible created kinds truth detector.  Or maybe I should just proceed with additional research that might validate or invalidate my work.  That's probably the more realistic response.

Over on Triablogue, we find these questions:
is it possible that the floor of the cave is higher than it used to be, due to cumulative debris building up over the intervening time? In other words, was there originally more space between the ceiling and the floor?
Yes, definitely.
What about the possibility of flooding? Would that deposit debris in the back of the cave?
No, there is no evidence of any of that in the Dinaledi chamber.  That point has been emphasized more than once.  These bones did not wash into the back of the cave.
The tacit assumption is that the agents who buried the remains were the same kind of creature as what was buried. However, humans sometimes bury animals.
That's true.  I thought of that myself, but I'm not sure it gets us anything.  As hard as it is to believe someone would crawl that far underground to bury their own child, I'm not sure it's any easier to believe they would do that for a beloved pet.  The only thing it would get you is the ability to affirm the burial hypothesis while saying that Homo naledi isn't human.

That's all for today.  Email if you have a question!

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com. If you enjoyed this article, please consider a contribution to Core Academy of Science. Thank you.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Homo naledi burial?

In a new post at Human Genesis, I tackle the question of how all those Homo naledi bones ended up in the Rising Star Cave.  Did Homo naledi use the Dinaledi chamber as their graveyard?  Or did the bones get there some other way?  I tackle those questions and the recent critique by Aurore Val in my post.

What's my personal take?  As hard as it is for me to imagine people crawling so far and so deep into a cave just to bury their loved ones, I don't think any other explanation really explains all the data available to us.  I definitely think there are still questions about the burial hypothesis, but it's the best explanation so far.

I also think that my creationist perspective gives an advantage to the burial hypothesis.  Whereas it would be terribly (if not impossibly) difficult to imagine an animal crawling that far underground to bury dead individuals, humans have complex emotional and even religious motivations that animals do not.  If Homo naledi is human as I contend, then perhaps motivation for the enormous effort of crawling so far underground toting a dead body isn't that hard to imagine.

Did Homo naledi bury its dead?

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com. If you enjoyed this article, please consider a contribution to Core Academy of Science. Thank you.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Let's talk about Homo naledi



It was a huge relief to launch Human Genesis and release the special issue of JCTSB!  I had been working on those projects since the day the Homo naledi papers were announced, and it was a lot more work than I expected (always is).  But I'm very happy with all of it.  Now at last I can start talking about Homo naledi, and that might be the biggest relief of all.

For those of you keeping score, here's where creationists stand on Homo naledi:

  • AIG's Mitchell and Menton think it's "most likely an ape," presumably based on how different it is from us (and other fossil forms that they also accept as human).
  • ICR's Clarey thinks the bones are a combination of human and non-human bones.  He wrote, "The scientists built an imaginary creature from bones that likely come from both humans and non-humans."
  • CMI's Peter Line took substantially longer to come to a conclusion than ICR or AIG, and he argued that it was probably a pathological form of human.
  • GRI's Ronny Nalin wrote that we don't know what Homo naledi was, although he did say it was likely post-Flood.  Like Line, he also took a bit longer than AIG and ICR to write up his thoughts.
  • W+W's Michael Brandt posted a very detailed discussion of H. naledi and argued that the remains should probably be placed in a completely new genus (not Homo or Australopithecus).  Consequently, he also claimed that H. naledi is not human.

So we've got nearly the entire array of opinions on this one.  You might recall the hubbub over A. sediba back in 2010, when I was the lone holdout against the unanimity of creationists claiming it was not human.  This time, things are considerably different, and that's kind of a relief.

In case you didn't get a chance to read the JCTSB articles, here's how things came out:

  • My baraminology study used characters published in the supplemental appendices to Berger's paper.  I found that Homo naledi unquestionably clustered with the cluster that contained Homo sapiens, which in my assessment makes it part of the "human" cluster (that is, descended from Adam and Eve).  I also found that A. sediba continues to cluster with the human cluster, and by using a set of characteristics from a different study, I found that the Dmanisi hominins are also part of the human cluster.  As before, I continued to find a discontinuity between humans and nonhumans in all of my analyses, which I take as confirmation of the creationist claim that there is a difference between human and nonhuman.  I think this study is a pretty big deal, since once again we find that purported intermediates do not collapse the separate human and nonhuman clusters into a single cluster.
  • To my surprise, O'Micks also submitted a baraminology study of Homo naledi that re-coded measurements from Berger's paper.  That was a different source of information than what I used, but the result was consistent: Homo naledi grouped with the human cluster, and there was a difference between the human cluster and other clusters of nonhumans.
  • Kurt Wise's assessment of the fossils basically reviewed and affirmed the conclusions of Dirks's paper.  Homo naledi was intentionally buried in a dark cave, and it would have required the use of torches or some other light source for the individuals to get the bodies back that far.  He argued that these attributes indicated that Homo naledi was most likely human.

Now you might be thinking that these three evaluations aren't really independent, that I went around and recruited only people who agreed with me to publish in this special JCTSB issue.  While it is true that I wanted to present a unified position in this special issue, the three technical studies all present different aspects of the discovery, and the O'Micks study really was independent, since I didn't even know it was coming.

So what does all of this mean?  It means that Homo naledi is weird.  I do happen to think there is more than enough evidence from the burial alone to argue that it was human, but I can also understand why there would be disagreement.  The body form of Homo naledi really is different from modern humans and Neandertals, and that is often judged to be a big deal by lots of creationists.

What surprises me is how hostile everyone seems to be towards the evidence for burial.  I understand why noncreationists would be skeptical: This "animal" has a brain the size of an orange.  Berger's research team are quick to point out that they aren't saying this is a ritual burial in the same way that Homo sapiens adorns their dead for burial.  They just call it "intentional body disposal," or as Lee Berger said at AAPA2016, "It's a ritual only in the sense that they keep doing the same thing [i.e., disposing bodies in the same location]" (that's a rough paraphrase).  I suppose for creationists who agree that Homo naledi was not human, even body disposal is too much to accept, but the evidence for intentional burial seems quite impressive at this time.

But this post is already too long, so I'll discuss a bit more about that next time.

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com. If you enjoyed this article, please consider a contribution to Core Academy of Science. Thank you.