Why liberal Christians should fight Creationism

Slacktivist Fred Clark bounces off that depressing, depressing poll result on American’s acceptance of the historical fact of evolution in a series of posts that beautifully encapsulate the liberal Christian frustration with YEC‘s and what he quite correctly characterizes as the relatively recent, highly non-conservative Biblical “literalist” movement. First, there’s exasperation at the sheer perversity of it:

It’s hard to know what that means, exactly, to “believe in” or “not believe in” evolution. It’s like not believing in Missouri, or not believing in thermal conduction. Those two examples are a bit different from one another, but they both get at aspects of what this odd sort of disbelief entails.

“Not believing in Missouri” doesn’t affect the Show-Me State one way or another. To say that you don’t “believe in” Missouri is really to say that you deny it exists — that its existence is a fact you refuse to accept. …

On the other hand, if someone tells you that they “don’t believe in” thermal conduction, it’s likely that they’re not so much saying they deny its existence as that they don’t understand what you mean when you say “thermal conduction.” For all their supposed disbelief, after all, they still avoid sitting on metal park benches in the winter. [Italics sic.]

Then, there’s vexation that people who subscribe to such nonsense claim to do it in defense of the value of Scripture:

[Literalism’s children, YECism and “Left Behind”-style apocalypticism] are new and radically innovative ideas introduced or adopted by people who had set out, initially, to uphold “the authority of the scriptures” (to use one of their favorite phrases). That this effort to defend the Bible’s “traditional” meaning has resulted in their introducing replacement meanings that override and disregard its traditional meaning is bitterly ironic, but this irony is lost on them.

And, finally, there’s anger over the very real consequences of literalism for faith:

House-of-cards fundamentalism allows for no distinctions between babies and bathwater, between the central tenets of the faith and the adiophora and error. So once one part of this belief system begins to collapse — as it inevitably will since young-earth creationism is disprovable — then it all has to go. …

The second reason that creationism or “creation science” is a pet-peeve of mine is that I spent many years working on behalf of the Evangelical Environmental Network to try to persuade evangelicals that “creation care” was not just permissible, but a responsibility. This is made much more difficult when the audience you are addressing — as was sometimes, but not always, the case — regards the first 11 chapters of the Book of Genesis as a “literal” journalistic account and only as a literal journalistic account. [Italics sic.]

Biblical literalism is bad theology, and that’s bad for the Church. If the Church is the expression of Jesus’ example and teaching in the world (Christ’s body, you might say), then Biblical literalism is literally preventing the expression of Jesus in the world.

Edit, 19 Feb: fixed broken link to that depressing, depressing poll result.

Want to speciate? Stay home.

ResearchBlogging.orgI’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: the formation of new species is almost always an accident. There you are, adapting to changes in your obligate pollinator, or the local environment – and suddenly, you can’t mate with the folks on the other side of the mountain. That’s the lesson I take from an article in last week’s PNAS, which suggests that a diverse group of birds got that way by being homebodies [$-a]

Oriental white-eye
(Zosterops palpebrosus)

Photo by Lip Kee.

The authors (including Jared Diamond, who communicated the paper to PNAS), set out to determine why there are so many species of white-eyes, a group of songbirds distributed across Africa, Southeast Asia, and the southern Pacific. They built a phylogeny for the group, calibrated it to real time using the geological dates of origin for Pacific islands occupied by white-eyes, and then estimated the rate at which the group produced new species. They found, as reported by Wired.com, that the largest group of white-eyes have one of the fastest species-accumulation rates recorded in vertebrates, about 1.6 new species every million years.

That’s a weird result, when you think about it – we’re talking about birds, and widely-distributed birds, here. All things being equal, speciation is facilitated by lack of movement – Appalachian salamanders, for instance, diversified largely because they’re too gimpy to move between stream drainages very often [$-a]. Furthermore, the authors say, white-eyes don’t display a lot of ecological differences that might contribute to isolation. So how did they speciate at a record-setting pace?

The solution? The authors propose that white-eyes are prone to rapid changes in their dispersal ability. As evidence, they cite numerous cases in which white-eyes must have crossed great distances to colonize one island, then failed to make it across much smaller distances to colonize others nearby. Nodding to Diamond’s groundbreaking work on human history and cultural evolution, they compare this to the colonization of Polynesia, in which people stopped traveling long distances as the chance of discovering an uninhabited island decreased.


K.H. Kozak, D.W. Weisrock, A. Larson (2006). Rapid lineage accumulation in a non-adaptive radiation: phylogenetic analysis of diversification rates in eastern North American woodland salamanders (Plethodontidae: Plethodon) Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 273 (1586), 539-46 DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2005.3326

R.G. Moyle, C.E. Filardi, C.E. Smith, J. Diamond (2009). Explosive Pleistocene diversification and hemispheric expansion of a “great speciator” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106 (6), 1863-8 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0809861105

Isn’t dating Darwinian enough already?

Sent to me by Roxy Allen, who seems to be out to wave public misperceptions about evolution in my face (on Darwin Day, she pointed me to that depressing, depressing poll result): Darwin Dating is your go-to for eugenic relationship-building, or so it claims.

Sick of dating websites filled with ugly, unattractive, desperate fatsos? We are.

Darwin Dating was created exclusively for beautiful, desirable people. Our strict rules and natural selection process ensures all our members have winning looks. Will you make the cut?

Obvious issues: (1) members are actually self-selected, as long as they send in a reasonably good photo; (2) since when are photos on Internet dating sites honest indicators? (3) do you really want to go looking for a mate amongst attractive/dishonest people who self-selected for a pretend-exclusive fringe dating site? Bio-nerd issue: attractiveness may have little relation to true Darwinian fitness (i.e., ability to successfully raise lots of offspring).

Edge essayists on religion vs. science

Bouncing off Jerry Coyne’s essay on the (in)compatibility between science and religion (which occasioned a rant from me), Edge asked a long list of big names – including the authors of the two books to which Coyne was responding – to comment on the question. It spans the full range from conciliatory to cutting, and all of it is well worth reading.

Via Open Culture

Darwin’s 200th: Coverage highlights

I shall update this post as the day goes on.

Olivia Judson writes that Darwin “makes an easy hero”:

His achievements were prodigious; his science, meticulous. His work transformed our understanding of the planet and of ourselves.

At the same time, he was a humane, gentle, decent man, a loving husband and father, and a loyal friend. Judging by his letters, he was also sometimes quite funny. He was, in other words, one of those rare beings, as likeable as he was impressive.

Boingboing harshes everyone’s buzz with depressing poll numbers.

It’s Alive makes snarky hay of Darwin’s Victorian approach to conservation.

On Deep Thoughts and Silliness, Bob O’Hara uses Darwin’s ignorance of the mechanism of inheritance as a jumping-off point for a nice thought about the collaborative nature of science.

Propterdoc worries about whether over-promotion of Darwin’s 200th is bad for biology’s image.

The Daily Mammal discusses Darwin’s speculations about land-to-aquatic transitions in mammals.

ScienceBlogs, as usual, has more going on than I can follow and still do my work. But it looks great.

On Morning Edition, the inimitable Robert Krulwich considers how Darwin’s work was shaped by his wife’s faith and the death of their eldest daughter.

Susan Brooks connects progressive theology and politics to acceptance of evolution

… progressive Christian theology … has long emphasized the continuity of the human with the rest of creation. Progressive Christians by and large oppose regarding human nature as fixed and static and a unique “lord of creation.” The inescapable learning from evolutionary biology is that human beings are deeply creatures. We share 90% of our genes with mice. If that doesn’t take the “lords of creation” down a peg, I fail to see what will!

Sally Steenland suggests that the big day should prompt religion and science to kiss.

The other big 200th today

I’d be deeply remiss if I neglected to mention that today is also the 200th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln.

Sarah Vowell, Lincoln’s leading hipster advocate, says it best in The Partly Cloudy Patriot:

How many of us drew his beard in crayon? We built models of his boyhood cabin with Elmer’s glue and toothpicks. We memorized the Gettysburg Address, reciting its ten sentences in stovepipe hats stapled out of black construction paper. The teachers taught us to like Washington and to respect Jefferson. But Lincoln – him they taught us to love.

I suggest, as a sample of his speeches, the second inaugural, which concludes appropriately for our turbulent present:

With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan – to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.