Monthly Archives: January 2013

Carl Woese on biology as a fundamental science

James Shapiro’s Huffington Post blog carries a eulogy to evolutionary biologist Carl Woese, who died in December. Chasing through links about him, I find that Woese spoke to the argument I made here, and quite likely originated it, in 2004. His overview of evolutionary theory for the twenty first century is well worth reading here.

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Fearfully, wonderfully, selectively, neutrally…

It’s been pointed out that the concept of “Junk DNA” came not just from the observation of apparently non-coding genetic elements and their interpretation as “parasitic”, but from a theoretical prediction by the noted evolutionary biologist Susumu Ohno in 1972. Ohno said that in mammals, natural selection could only cope with a limited number of harmful mutations without being swamped, with deterioration and extinction as the result. He estimated that, given known rates of mutation, a maximum of 30,000 genes could be subject to selection. This makes intuitive sense – even under the best circumstances how could the environment select the best combination of hundreds of thousands of finely varying … Continue reading

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Truth and genre

When I posted recently about David Attenborough  I mentioned that I mistakenly thought I’d blogged about science documentaries before. But my intention, had I actually done so, would not have been to criticise their truthfulness, but to use them as an example of the inescapability of genre considerations.

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The myth of common descent

Denyse O’Leary says something on Best Schools  that I too have been intrigued by for some time. Many (though not all) biologists hold to “universal descent from a single cell” as a dogma central to evolutionary theory. That’s odd, because historically even Darwin, at the dawn of knowledge about early life, spoke of life “breathed into a few forms or into one”, really only implying that there has been divergence rather than stasis. Since then, apart from the opinion of those like Carl Woese that the superkingdoms of life represent separate origins, we have a large body of evidence about horizontal gene transfer and symbiotic events at key evolutionary points. … Continue reading

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Teleology and theodicy again

Once more I’ve missed contributing to a thread on BioLogos, this time not because of technical problems but because I thought the conversation had died last week. Steve Lemke’s essay on the problem of evil in evolution gave rise to a late reply from Ted Davis, which raised once more the scientific difficulty of holding that there was no animal death before the fall, the problems that inevitably brings to theodicy, and quoting R J Russell’s suggestion of going “beyond mere kenosis” to an eschatological model of theodicy in order to mitigate this. I’ve commented on Russell’s phrase directly here, and on the historical novelty of the so-called “traditional” view … Continue reading

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Ted Davis’s challenge to Evangelical thinkers

In the last post I mentioned Ted Davis’s summary of his series Science and the Bible. At the heart of his article is a list of what he takes as key and non-negotiable Evangelical doctrines: The uniqueness of humans, who alone bear the “image of God.” The fall of Adam and Eve, the original parents of all humans, from a sinless state, by their own free choices to disobey God. The responsibility of each person for their own actions and beliefs, within a universe that is not fully deterministic. The redemption of individual persons by the atoning sacrifice of Christ. He goes on to say this: The 64-dollar question is: … Continue reading

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The Scandal of the Evolutionary Mind

The final part of Ted Davis’ s somewhat loosely-entitled series  Science and the Bible has appeared over at Biologos. It is really a summary calling for theological engagement with evolutionary science along the lines of Mark Noll’s 1994 book, Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. What was rather depressing was less the article itself than some early responses.

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Yesterday, today and forever

I’ve remarked before on how uncommon it now is to find straightforward Evangelical teaching on evangelical websites, especially in the US. Nearly everyone wants to distance themselves from biblical inerrancy, probably through wishing to distance themselves from Fundamentalism and crude literalism. I think this is because, as I mentioned in the post linked above, on that side of the Atlantic (and because England catches a cold when America sneezes to an increasing extent over here) “Evangelical” has ceased to mean “united to Christ by faith in the Evangelical doctrine of the Reformation”. Instead it implies only “believing one has a personal relationship with Jesus”.

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Myth and wildlife documentary

The Daily Telegraph today reports some criticism of David Attenborough’s new blockbuster series on Africa. It’s the old complaint about anthropomorphic treatment of animal life, in this case the heart-rending mood music and scene-cutting surrounding a mother elephant’s leaving the herd to stay with her dying calf until all life was gone. Older readers (surely that’s all of us here!) will remember that the same criticism was levelled by serious naturalists about Walt Disney’s 1950s True Life Adventures, and not without justice: they were inspiring entertainment rather than scientific reportage. Similarly, it’s been noted that the American viewer, for other than dispassionate scientific reasons, appears historically to have insisted on … Continue reading

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C S Lewis on Evolution

The Magician’s Twin is a new book about C S Lewis’s relationship to science, and to scientism in particular. It’s a good read. But it’s published by the Discovery Institute, so BioLogos felt the need to produce a series debunking it. Children, children. In fact after an initial post met with a fair amount reasoned dissent, author David Williams significantly revised his planned series, and it became quite a useful discussion board for a time (until I lost my ability to post there and gave up following the thread – though I’m thankfully restored to grace!). But in response there has been some activity regarding C S Lewis on Uncommon … Continue reading

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